Friday, January 31, 2014

The Dark Knight: Shining Bright After 75 years

For 75 years, the Batman mythos has kept us captivated. In this the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the mysterious and haunted Bruce Wayne in Detective Comics issues 27 from May 1939, few characters have had as big an impact on the American pop culture psyche or the landscape of modern day icons. Batman represents so much more than a crazed eccentric in a mask it almost boggles the mind. 

Let's go on a journey.

An Unimaginable Tragedy

The spark event that transforms Bruce Wayne into the Batman is near legendary. Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered by a two-bit thug (Joe Cool),  in cold blood in front of 10-year old Bruce. Shot to death before his very eyes. The trauma and agony of such a profound loss could easily have broken any of us. What happens though is quite remarkable. Bruce embraces the death of his parents as the catalyst for doing his part to insure no one ever suffers this kind of tragedy ever again. Bruce embarks on a life-long quest, using the vast resources available to him via his wealth to build a machine of calculated vengeance. 

The Best of Us

Millionaire trust fund baby, Wayne chooses a life of seclusion and grim determination to become the Batman, scourge of the criminal underground. As the air to one the world's greatest private (though fictional) fortunes, Wayne could spend his days in hedonistic debauchery but instead chooses to set his resources for the greater good. Instead of being a victim he becomes a symbol of hope and the embodiment of vigilante justice we could all aspire to. With no apparent "Super powers" and gifted with an incredibly gifted analytical mind, he transcends his human flaws while embracing them, becoming a far greater 'hero' than many of his equally heroic fellow Justice League compatriots.

A Serious Attack On "Funny Books" 

Batman and comic books in American society fell under heavy scrutiny and criticism in the 1950s by way of Congressional investigation. Falling on the heels of the infamous McCarthy hearings, the US Government went on a morality-fueled witch hunt of the comics industry. Funny Books–as many would laughably dismiss them–were seen as pulp literature, lumped in with soft-core porn and throw-away periodicals. 

Many comics publishers–including DC comics, publishers of Batman and Superman–found themselves in legal and moral stand-offs with Congress. While many comic characters–and companies–did not survive this onslaught, Batman and his publishers were able to tough it out.

Darkest Night

As a result of the US Senate's investigation on whether or not comic books contributed to the delinquency of minors, the Comics Code Authority was established to monitor the 'moral character' of comic books. This lead, in part, to the development of the popular and campy Batman live-action TV series that began in the 1960's. While this did much to return Batman to prominence and was a ground-breaking series in many ways, the series did some harm to the validity of both Batman and comics overall. 

However, while the TV show was running on mostly comedic energy, the comics were full-on returning Batman to his former glory as an ace crime-fighter and champion of street justice. And in 1986, after more than 30 years of being a cultural buffoon, he re-emerged to take his rightful place among fiction's elite ranks dark heroes.

In February, 1986, the kid gloves came off. Fan fiction super savior, Frank Miller, writes an draws the now legendary graphic novel Batman: The Return Of The Dark Knight. The story chronicles an aged, weary, future Batman, coming out of exile to return justice to a world overrun by corruption, neglect and evil. The book sets the stage for Batman's cultural return to serious, adult-driven story lines that include battling drug dealers, the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. 

The Billion-Dollar Bat

Created by comic masterminds Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has not only resonated with whole generations of young men and boys looking to 'do the right thing', Batman continues to be a juggernaut at the Box Office, in the bookstores, comic shops and the list of collectables is as long as the Batman's list of adversaries. As a study, each installment of the Arkham video games outsells its predecessors. Christopher Nola's 'The Dark Knight' grossed more than $1.1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales. There is even a custom car dealer that will deliver a specialized, built-to-order fully operational Bat-mobile, complete with 'Bat-phone' and turbo-boost fire just for a mere $260,000. More Batman toys, t-shirts, lunchboxes, action figures, collectible items and likenesses enjoy healthy sales figures around the globe and is currently the world's fourth most recognized icon (following the Swastika, the Superman Logo and the Coca Cola symbol).

A Hero's Journey

Batman represents the ultimate hero. Focused, sharp, articulate, devilishly handsome, ├╝ber educated, tech savvy, unwavering when the going gets tough, looks out for those who can't protect themselves and works tirelessly to stay physically fit. Come on parents, isn't that the role model you want for your family–for yourselves? I certainly do. No powers from atomic bombs, no technology-drenched armor (although that one's debatable) and no mutant powers, Batman embodies what it means to be human. To overcome bitter, character-busting circumstances and become a beacon of hope and admiration to us all. If that's not a hero and a role model, then I don't know what is.

Sure, he's not real–but if we get another 75 years of that kind of narrative, well, that would be just fine by me.

P.S. – Don't believe Batman inspires people to do great things? Watch this YouTube clip.
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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pickup trucks may soon play nicer!

Three Reasons Pick-Ups May Soon NOT Be Public Enemy No.1

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows of my issues with pick-up trucks. The drivers (particularly of the larger or older ones) drive like bullies. They cut you off, drive up on you with their higher-than-other hi–beams blinding you, they're a blight on our environment getting commonly 14-17 mpg while spewing tons of CO2 into our air daily. 

What's worse, for some odd reason, there are no directionals built in to these metallic monsters because I have YET to see even one of them use a turn signal. Ever.

My theory is that the bigger the truck the bigger the jerk driving. Nothing has occurred to prove otherwise. And in case you're wondering, yes I do have friends and family members who drive these vehicles and I will say that–as always–no statement or stereotype is absolute. I will go a step further and say that drivers of smaller (more sensible) pickups tend to drive more like human beings (and not neanderthals) and often actually use pickups as utility vehicles

Hooray for progress!

Recent developments in technology (and public opinion) look to make Pickups more a part of 21st century civilization. Here are some reasons I hold hope for the future of pickups: 
  • 1. Pickups gettin' fancy. As more people buy pickups as SUV alternatives, they tend to want to take care of them more. Especially those with families who are apt to to drive with more responsibility then gruff, mean worker-men.
  • 2. Fossil fuel will make them dinosaurs. Ironic that the gas guzzlers will become extinct because as fuel costs rise, the tolerances for high fuel consumption drops. Dramatically.
  • 3. A kinder, gentler pickup. Ford recently announced they intend to build their new F-150 Series pickup with a lighter metal. Replacing 1,000  lbs of Steel with 700 lbs of Aluminum. This means lighter trucks not destined to total smaller cars. Especially if the truck is just as susceptible to damage as other vehicles.
One day soon, pickup drivers may drive with the same sense of community the rest of us do. Heck, I'd be happier with a 10% drop in sudden lane changes by pickups. See? I'm willing to take baby steps. How about you, pickup nation? 

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Random 2013 Rewind

It’s that time again already, True Believers – for a tally of 14 random thoughts about some memorable 2013 moments. Presenting 13 things we all lived through in 2013, filtered through the eyes of those of us in the corner.

Boston Marathon Bombing – My beloved home town was rocked in April when a series of explosions made a time-honored tradition a living nightmare. Dozens of fatalities and injuries befell the tightly packed crowd of fans and onlookers. Though Police shot and killed one suspect and have the other in custody, the most famous and sought-after marathon outside of the Olympics has been changed forever. Stay strong, Boston

Paula Dean – The famous Southern Chef got a good padlin’ when her show was dropped by The Food Network and several sponsors for the flagrant use of racial slurs and bigoted commentary. While I do appreciate this 'Duchess of Desserts' for being honest in her confession, c'mon Ms. Dean, look around–the world has grown up, maybe you should, too. "Geez, Toto, we're not in 1955 anymore." Someone please share this with Paula, more butter, less N-word. 

Nelson Mandela – Look up the definitions for bravery, dignity or class, and you'll find this man. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for a cause he was willing to die for—the undeniable rights for all people in his native South Africa defying the racial tyranny of Apartheid. Upon his release, he was elected the new President of his country. So what did he do at his inauguration? He invited the former head of Apartheid to his inaugural ceremony. Class act. R.I.P.

The Launch of ('Obamacare') – I will sidestep the politics of this issue and simply say that millions of Americans now have access to affordable health care that never had it before. That is an achievement of human decency on a level that'll NEVER be fully embraced or comprehended. Like anything new, the web site and and electronic enrollment didn't work but there are, today, millions of men, women and children who sleep soundly knowing they are covered.

Jodi Arias – When you are hopelessly, madly in love with someone and they reject you, what should you do? If your answer is to murder them, violently, then your name is Jodi Arias. In a modern day, real-life fatal attraction, the psychotic Jodi brutally butchers her former lover and goes on trial to become national news. A sad and twisted news item that will haunt us all and reminds us to be vigilant of everyone in our world, even those we love. 

Twerking – This one couldn’t go away fast enough. Ladies, here’s an idea; let’s fight for gender equality for more than 2,000 years and when we get close to said equality, let’s develop demeaning, unflattering and just plain vulgar dances that undermines all those efforts. After all, we always liked the way you looked anyway. I mean why go for brain when you got back? Honestly, it would be okay if this just suddenly... stopped.

Selfies – Let’s take two of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind; the telephone and the camera. Then merge them and take endless photos of ourselves–particularly in mirrors–and post them to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I don't know if I can think of a more useless, uninspired and utterly wasteful use of technology than what is personified in a selfie. Please pay no attention to the fact that I am typing this in front my bathroom mirror... ready? (click!) 

Government Shutdown – The gridlocked stalemate between the two major political parties caused the federal government to shut down–unnecessarily–for several weeks this past fall. Resulting in the NEEDLESS temporary suspension of the wages to millions of gov’t workers, the closing of parks, the mailing of federal benefits to scores of retirees and veterans, even endangering foreign policy by threatening a default on loan payments to foreign countries. (Sigh)

Ariel Castro  – After pleading guilty to kidnapping several young women and repeatedly rapping and torturing them for more than a decade, this convicted and sick-minded bus-driver-turned-sick-o pleads guilty of all his crimes, then kills himself days afterward. Those poor women will be traumatized for lives. Let’s just agree that this guy’s passing is not one for the ‘loss’ column. 

The Domination Of Streaming Entertainment – By the year 2020 which of the following will be completely obsolete? A.) DVDs B.) Blu–Ray Players C.) Cable TV or D.) All of the above. Yup, it’s ‘D’. Just think of how often you (likely) hear people catching something on YouTube, HULU, Crackle or NetFlix? While you may need to wait for the credit role on that one, one thing's for certain, streaming entertainment is here to stay.

Drones – Okay, none of us has our eye on this ball. We all have heard of how drones–pilotless aircraft controlled from far away–can conduct everything from humanitarian supply airdrops, to in-air refueling to spying to missile strikes on 'suspected' terrorists. Now even Google has committed to deploying drones to deliver packages to front doors, offices and housing communities everywhere with remote-controlled pre-programmed flying machines. Skynet anyone?

XBOX One vs The PS4 – Just when I was feeling confident about the state of gaming technology, here come new consoles! Well sort of. In a slightly baffling move by the gaming giants at SONY and Microsoft, new "next gen" systems were launched over the 2013 holiday season with really NO new games that anyone wanted and new shoulder shrug technologies. This has to be the biggest "meh" response to two gaming console launches... EVER.
The Climate – Okay, for some crazy reason this has become a political issue, which is the one polarizing topic I won't fully commit to on this blog. That said, worst-ever storms, earthquakes, hurricanes, Tsunamis, flash floods record snowfalls and blistering heat records and melting ice caps all point to the fact that something is going on with our world. There's a reason world leaders get together (G8 Summit) and talk about ways NOT to frak up our planet further. 
Kimye – The Dynamic Duo Of Dysfunction have been quite busy this past year. They made a video, a baby and every headline in every pulp magazine, periodical and TMZ-esque show worldwide. By the way, if your last name is 'West', don't name your kid 'North.' What's wrong with 'Adam'? And Kim, you're a Mom now, act like it, please. These two are the definition of a train wreck; you hate to watch but you I just can't look away.

Well, that should just about wrap up 2013 everyone. Keep tuning in as I'm sure we can spend another glorious year viewing everything from the corner. Dunce caps on... and... begin!

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