My Top 10 Favorite Comic Book Writers

The main reason I like comic books is they are a great marriage of writer and artist. For the next two posts, I will be discussing my favorite writers and artists of the medium. For now, I will focus on the writers.

10) Chuck Dixon –For most of the 90’s, Dixon was one of the best writers on Batman and the various spinoffs. He helped Tim Drake break out as a new Robin in his solo book. He created Bane, one of Batman’s most dangerous enemies. And he helped establish Nightwing as a solo hero by creating his home turf of Bludhaven, Gotham’s sister city.

9) Jeff Smith–Creator and artist behind Bone, Jeff Smith gets the nod here for his mastery in humor. He is excellent at pacing his stories in order to time his jokes perfectly, but he’s also just as good at creating a rich lore for his characters.

8) Denny O’Neil–For most of the 70’s and 80’s, Denny O’Neil helped to redefine Batman beyond what he was in the Silver Age, becoming almost as important as Frank Miller would become years later. In addition, he also was the creative team behind the establishment of the Green Arrow/Green Lantern team, helping to show how comic books can be a viable medium for political expression.

7) Scott Snyder–the most recent addition to this list, Scott Snyder was recruited to Batman during DC’s controversial New 52 rebranding. While I had my problems with the New 52, Snyder’s version of Batman was not one of them. I’m so glad they’ve kept Snyder on in the Rebirth version of DC’s universe.

6) Dan Jurgens–a writer and artist best known for creating Booster Gold and his work on Superman, especially the “Death and Return of Superman” arcs. During his tenure on Superman, he showed that Superman could indeed be a relatable character.

5) Kurt Busiek–creator of both Astro City and Marvels, both of which also feature the magnificent work of Alex Ross. What I like about Busiek is that he often uses the POV of the ordinary person, allowing the reader to imagine what it would be like to walk among the giants of the superhero world.

4) Grant Morrison–while some may consider Morrison to be overrated, I don’t think he is. He is a very surreal writer whose imagination creates intricate stories that I often have to read more than once in order to fully grasp. I especially love his runs on JLA and Doom Patrol.

3) Chris Claremont–While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men, I feel it’s the creative team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne that truly defined the team. He turned them into the dysfunctional family that they are best known as and weaved plots that often took a long time to pay off, but when they did, it was often awesome.

2) Neil Gaiman–Neil Gaiman is best known for his work on the Vertigo series Sandman, my all-time favorite comic book. It combined several genres–superhero, fantasy, horror, and mythology; weaving them all into an intricate tapestry that I would even recommend to those who don’t normally read comics.

1) Alan Moore–Time Magazine once made a countdown of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and bent their rules so they could include Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s epic miniseries Watchmen. This series is often celebrated for its excellent deconstruction of the superhero mythos. What I like best about Moore is his ambiguity. He often leaves the story up to your own interpretation. I think it’s great that he trusts the reader that way. And as for his worshipping a sock puppet, hey if his weird habits help him to create such awesome stories, then why not?

Come back next week, and I’ll talk about my favorite artists!

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Jason’s Jukebox: Counting Crows

This edition of Jason’s Jukebox covers one of my favorite folk rock bands, the Counting Crows. Named after a nursery rhyme, the group was founded by Adam Duritz in the 90’s. The current roster consists of:

  • Jim Bogios – drums, percussion (2002–present)
  • David Bryson– rhythm guitar, vocals (1991–present)
  • Adam Duritz – lead vocals, piano (1991–present)
  • Charlie Gillingham – keyboards, piano, accordion, clarinet, vocals (1992–present)
  • David Immerglück – rhythm guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, vocals (1999–present, session member 1993–1999)
  • Millard Powers – bass guitar, keyboards, vocals (2005–present)
  • Dan Vickery – lead guitar, banjo, vocals (1994–present)

august 1) August and Everything After (1993) *****

Singles: “Mr. Jones”, “Around Here”, “Rain King”, “A Murder of One”

This is one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard, and one of their best overall. “Round Here” is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, about a girl contemplating suicide. “A Murder of One” recites the nursery that inspired the band’s name.

Best Tracks: “Round Here”, “Omaha”, “Mr. Jones”, “Raining in Baltimore”, “A Murder of One”

recovering2) Recovering the Satellites (1996) ****1/2

Singles: “Angels of the Silences”, “A Long December”, “Daylight Fading”

This was the first (and so far only) Counting Crows album to reach #1. It marked the band’s change from a quintet to a sextet, with guitarist Dan Vickrey becoming a new songwriter and Ben Mize becoming a new drummer. Adam Duritz considers this his favorite.

Best Tracks: “Angels of the Silences”, “Daylight Fading”, “Children in Bloom”,  “A Long December”

desert3) This Desert Life (1999) ****

Singles: “Hanging Around”, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”, “All My Friends”

One of my favorite comic book artists, Dave McKean, did the cover for this album, using an image from the children’s book The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman. The album is pretty good, and a great way to continue into the new millennium.

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”, “Color Blind”, “Speedway”, “Kid Things”

hard4) Hard Candy (2002) ***1/2

Singles: “American Girls” , “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Richard Manuel is Dead”

This album contains the band’s first cover, “Big Yellow Taxi”. Having now heard the original, I think they did a good job. In fact, I know people who are surprised it’s a cover.

Best Tracks: “American Girls”, “Richard Manuel is Dead”, “Butterfly in Reverse”, “Big Yellow Taxi”

saturdau5) Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings (2012) ***

Singles: “1492”, “Come Around”, “When I Dream of Michelangelo”

This is probably one of my least favorite Counting Crows albums. It’s divided into two parts. “Saturday Nights” is the rock side, while “Sunday Mornings” has more of a country vibe. The second part isn’t as good as the first, but it’s not terrible. Ryan Adams guest stars on “Los Angeles”.

Best Tracks: “1492”, “Hanging Tree”, “Los Angeles”, “When I Dream Of Michelangelo”

underwater6) Underwater Sunshine (What I Did On My Summer Vacation)(2012) ***

This is the band’s cover album. The only song I was familiar with before I heard this was Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”. I still like the album, but I’d probably appreciate it more if I had heard the originals.

Best Tracks: “Amie”, “All My Failures, “Ballad of El Goodo”

wonderland7) Somewhere Under Wonderland (2014) ***1/2

Singles: “Palasides Park”, “Scarecrow”

Their first album with Capitol Records after leaving Geffen in 2013. “God of Ocean Tides” in particular was inspired by the tour that resulted in their third live album Echoes From the Outlaw Roadshow, Even with such a big gap from their heyday and the current scene, Duritz is still a great lyricist.

Best Tracks: “Earthquake Driver”, “God of Ocean Tides”, “Scarecrow”

Next time, I look at the classic psychedelic rock band The Doors!

 

45 Years of Roe V. Wade

coexistThis year marks the 45th anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Planned Parenthood may consider it a moment to celebrate, but I do not. Over 55 million lives have been snuffed out by abortion. I don’t call that “safe, legal, and rare”, or “only 3%”.

I once knew a fellow student in high school who had Down’s Syndrome. Do you realize that 90% of children who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted? That’s not a made-up figure.

Forty-five years has not made abortion safer. It’s made it still as dangerous as ever, for both the mother AND the child. There is no safe way to have an abortion. If there were, the child would be spared.

I want you people to know something: I am an adopted child. My father divorced my biological mother, who wanted nothing to do with me, and remarried. I could’ve been aborted, considering what my biological mother thought of me. And yet, the way the media plays up Planned Parenthood, you’d think the mothers who are “consulted” by them are only given one option. Adoption is a much better option than killing a child because that child gets a chance he or she may not have had.

Continue reading “45 Years of Roe V. Wade”

How To Manage A Facebook Group

I manage two groups on Facebook: Autistic Christians and Autistic Bookworms. Between them, I have over 1200 members total (although some members are in both groups, while others are only in one.) In fact, Autistic Christians has now hit the 500 member milestone! That’s the group that’s surprised me the most, especially considering how often I was attacked in autism groups before I formed the group (actually, I helped form it, but the original owner and I didn’t get along, so she sabotaged the group and I picked up the pieces.) I’ve decided I’m going to give advice on how to manage your own group.

  • Make your group unique. There are a lot of general interest groups out there. That’s fine if you want that, but it’s better to have a group for a specific purpose. That will attract more members.
  • Make a pinned post for your rules. Even if they don’t read the rules, they’ll at least know where they are.
  • Have only people you can trust as admins or moderators.
  • Only promote your group in other groups if the admins of the groups allow it. Some groups don’t like self-promotion.
  • Once you have enough members to unlock the “screening questions”, do so. This is a good way to figure out what kind of person is applying and possibly weed out a troll before they even get in the door. Most trolls will not take the time to fill out a question.
  • Make all bans final. If they’ve caused problems once, they’ll likely do it again. But if a person leaves on good terms and changes his/her mind, then you can let him/her back in.
  • Hold your admins accountable. If they abuse power, that makes you look bad for not watching out for them.
  • Try to have at least two or three admins, counting yourself.
  • Have fun!

One Faith, Many Paths: Jane Lebak

This month’s interview is with Catholic writer Jane Lebak!

1) What was your childhood like?

I grew up in New York City, so it was a strange distortion of too many crowds and too much isolation, but I think it was just right for making me who I am.  I went to high school in a different borough (the local public high school wasn’t a great place; I remember three high school girls attacking a cop in the hallway) and getting there required an hour and fifteen minutes on the subway in each direction. Because of the distance, I got a subway pass.

That was freedom. It was amazing to have complete freedom to wander Manhattan with my allowance and my bookbag. After school, I’d walk from 83rd Street and head down to wherever I wanted. Forbidden Planet (both of them!) or Strand Bookstore or St. Francis Bookstore…I found so many amazing little shops and awesome little stores with ethnic food, and I could go all over the place to explore and learn and experience. I loved that so much!

Contrast that with early release days, where if I bolted out of school the moment the bell rang, and if all the trains and buses were right there to connect, I could get home in time to watch the last fifteen minutes of Transformers. 

2) What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

My personal reason is that I’ve had personal experiences that lead me to no other conclusion. When you reach out and something reaches back for you, you have no more doubt.  When you fall and something catches you, you feel secure in what you felt. That’s not data for anyone else of course, but it holds me fast.

Overall though, and even before I had that kind of one-on-one experience, I knew order doesn’t arise from chaos.  Things fall apart on their own.  They don’t become more ordered or more complex.  So the tremendous complexity we see inside a cell or the way galaxies are constructed, for example, tells me something must have created and sorted, and organized everything that went into that.

3. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus?

That’s hard to pick. I like the Archangel Raphael in the book of Tobit. I used to have the worst crush on the Archangel Gabriel.  But on the human side of things, I really like the apostle Thomas because he seems to have this sarcastic and pragmatic edge that really speaks to me.

4. Favorite biblical passage and why?

“Kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss.” I love the sense of completion.  In some ways, these things could be opposites (think of the answer to “does this make me look fat?”), but with grace, they become complementary.  In the end, all our differences are harmonized so they retain their character but all work together to show the many facets of God’s glory.

Continue reading “One Faith, Many Paths: Jane Lebak”

Jason’s Jukebox: REM

The 1980’s were a great time for indie music (or alternative). You had great bands that gained mass popularity like Duran Duran, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, and The Clash. But one band that hovered under the radar for quite a while was REM. It’s also one of those rare 80’s acts that managed not only to survive the 90’s, but put out most of their best material in that decade. This time around, I’ll be looking at their albums.

The line-up:

  • Michael Stipe: vocals
  • Peter Buck: guitar
  • Mike Mills: Bass/backing vocals
  • Bill Berry: drums

murmur Murmur (1983) ****

Single: “Radio Free Europe”
Rolling Stone may have been occasionally out of touch over its lifespan, but it was on the right track when it gave the debut 4 out of 5 stars. Today, over thirty years after its release, it’s still one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard. I just wish Stipe was more coherent, but he fixed that later on, thank goodness.

Best tracks: “Radio Free Europe”, “Talk About the Passion”, “Perfect Circle”, “Sitting Still”

reckoningReckoning (1984) ***

Singles: “South Central Rain”, “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”

Producer Don Dixon wanted this album to rock harder than its predecessor, but it doesn’t really work for me. There’s some standouts, but I don’t like it as much as Murmur.

Best tracks: “Harborcoat”, “South Central Rain”, “Pretty Persuasion”

fablesFables of the Reconstruction ** (1985)

Singles: “Can’t Get There From Here”, “Driver 8”, “Wendell Gee”

This was the only REM album produced outside the US, working with Joe Boyd as their producer. The album is one of REM’s concepts (the other being Automatic For the People), exploring Southern Gothic themes. At the time, it was REM’s highest charter, reaching #28. However, Michael Stipe wasn’t fond of the result at first, but over the years he and Buck have changed their minds.  It’s not bad, but I’m not a fan.

Best tracks: “Driver 8”, “Green Grow the Rushes”

pageantLife’s Rich Pageant ***1/2 (1986)

Singles: “Fall On Me”, “Superman”

This was REM’s first gold album. It was REM’s first foray into political themes with songs like “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoya” heralding a trend that would continue for quite a few albums.

Best tracks: “Fall On Me”, “Cuyahoga”, “Superman”, “Flowers of Guatemala”

deadletterDead Letter Office ***1/2 (1987)

This is REM’s B-sides and rarities collection, so it’s only here for completeness. It marks the transition to Warner Bros and bigger fame. What really sells it are the covers.

Best tracks: “Toys in the Attic”, “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Femme Fatale”, “King of the Road”

documentDocument *****(1987)

Singles: “The One I Love”, “End of the World”, “Finest Worksong”

This was one of REM’s most important albums, marking the end of their status as solely alternative rock and the beginning of their more mainstream success. It was their final album with IRS, and their first with producer Scott Litt, who did phenomenal work with them over the years. For me, this was my introduction to the band, thanks to the loads of airplay “The One I Love” got. It’s still one of their best albums, even if I can’t sing around with “End of the World”

Best tracks: “Exhuming McCarthy”, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, “The One I Love”, “Fireplace”,  “King of Birds”

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: REM”

The Worst Christmas Specials

It’s that time of year! Time for the TV channels to put out their annual Holiday fare. And while there are some great classics out there, sadly they can’t all be It’s a Wonderful Life or Charlie Brown Christmas. So this week, here’s the worst Christmas movies and specials I’ve ever watched, in no particular order.

home alone 2Home Alone 2: Lost in New York–Hey, I got an idea! Let’s make a sequel to a great Christmas movie! And let’s only change the location and do many of the exact same gags again! And let’s have Kevin not learn a thing from the previous movie! Oh well, at least Tim Curry is in it.

flintstones Flintstones Christmas Carol–My biggest problem with this one was the Flintstones shouldn’t even be celebrating Christmas! They should be celebrating Saturnalia, or any of the other winter solstice festivals that came before Christ. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re going to say, “Jason, you can accept talking dinosaurs, cavemen using animals for electrical appliances, and cars you have to push with your feet, but celebrating Christmas is going too far?” Oh and how about Fred turning up the jerk meter way more than usual? Yeah, I hate this one.

hemanxmasHe-man and She-ra Christmas–Look, I can take a planet that’s never heard of Christmas despite being settled by humans. That’s fine. But here’s what ruins it–Skeletor’s heart grows two sizes because of the Christmas spirit! Are you kidding me? One of the greatest villains of my childhood turns into the Grinch?

Continue reading “The Worst Christmas Specials”