Friday, September 23, 2011


*Note: I wrote this a really long time ago. I'm just too tired to give ya anything new*

“It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”—Robin Gibb

Words, communications—these are the most powerful weapons, the most effective persuaders, and the easiest tools in the world to abuse. Words can exalt, and words can debase. Words can both end wars and start them. Words can bring forth love, and they can also drive it away just as quickly. The mastery of words is something I strive toward constantly, and it is a personal battle well worth waging. With the right words, one could conceivably save the world—or destroy it. This, then, is the question: which shall I do? Shall I fashion myself as the world’s savior, or its destroyer? Shall I let love or bitterness guide me, as either force would motivate me toward equal levels of greatness? Will mine be a legacy of rage or benevolence?

Since early childhood, I developed a keen interest in the written word. Its many quirks and eccentricities thrilled me, and I resolved to learn them well. I devoured reading material with a voracious spirit that stunned my elders and garnered disdain from my less-inclined peers, and before long I knew that my calling lay not merely in reading, but writing as well. I was no speaker—true, I loved to talk, but I lacked the interpersonal skills to be anything more than unsettling when speaking to a crowd. People could see through me, and I found that disconcerting, so naturally my mannerisms would convey the unease I felt to the audience. Worse, those who didn’t find me disturbing simply found me humorous, which was yet another step in the wrong direction; my desired image was shot. So it was that my reputation of being a “creeper” was born, and since nobody would ever want to hear what a “creeper” had to say, I realized that it would be through my first love of print that my ideas would be acknowledged, and indeed, respected.

Those who would debate the undeniable power of words should look no further than the history books. They should look at the political juggernauts of the 1940s, from FDR to Winston Churchill to even the odious Adolf Hitler. What was key in their rise to power? Words. Communications. If Hitler were a sheepish, stammering fool with a soft, quavering voice, it would not have mattered what his ideas were, good or bad; nobody would have listened to him. Hitler knew what to say and how to say it, and before long, he was a force to be reckoned with. Although Hitler was a genocidal fiend, and I would never wish to be anything like him, he does drive home the point that charisma, both in literature and in life, is vital when it comes to getting what one wants in life. I lack charisma in my interpersonal communications, but give me a pen and paper—THEN you’ll see what I can really do. I can and will bend the inner workings of the world to meet my expectations, and all it will take is a long road of toil and a lot of carefully-chosen words.

It is ironic, really; I never wanted to be a leader. I lack the patience for leadership, and I have never before been an assertive individual. But a lot of things have happened in the past year to sway my judgement a bit. I have come to realize that people are indeed a great deal like sheep, and they are all-too-easily led. Once again, Hitler proves that with just the right verbal push, people can be persuaded to go along with anything, no matter how preposterous the idea or action may actually be. As far as I’m concerned, if people are willing to be led by idiots, I might as well become one of those idiots (figuratively speaking, of course). By this, I don’t mean I wish to become a politician—I do have some scruples. Rather, I’d like to try my hand at reshaping the way people go about living their lives. Media has done its fair share to ruin the way society functions, and as such, I feel that media may be just the thing to remedy society as well. It will not be easy to save society, however, as many do not wish to be saved. Deliberate ignorance runs rampant in our society, a by-product of our blind desire to avoid accountability, and like Stephen in the Bible, I run the risk of being stoned to death by the unwashed and uneducated masses who stop up their ears to avoid hearing the truth. This brings me to my ultimate question: is it worth it?

I ask myself every day as I contemplate my future. Is trying to save the world from its own stupidity really worth it, or am I wasting my breath by screaming at a wall? Can one man truly make a difference? Am I the man to do it? Why me? And then, finally, why not? Why can’t I do my part to try and fix the filthy mess our world has become? Why not make an effort to raise public awareness and get people to think? I can be Churchill. I can be Socrates. I can be whoever I want to be and more. I can be the one to make things good again. But that’s where my bravado ends. Even though I know what needs to be done, and that I have the ability to do it, I’m still left with the bitterness of life. I’m still left asking, “So what?” So what if I can change the world? Why do I need to be the good guy all the time? Why don’t I just use my skills, take what’s rightfully mine, and change the rules completely to suit me? Who cares about everyone else? They’re just going to turn on you anyway. “Oh, please, give that knife an extra twist; I think you may have missed that last vertebra.”

Thinking like that is the reason why people are so messed up. As humans, all we ever do is take advantage of each other, and that’s just not going to fly anymore. We should be beyond that by now, not from an “evolutionary” standpoint but from a societal one. We have all the resources we could possibly need to survive, and yet we still live in a world with crime, poverty and starvation. It’s going to have to stop if we’re going to make it much further in existence. As tempting as it may be to just throw all hope out the window and become a destroyer, it all comes back to Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. Power I have, in the form of my writing skills. I am every bit as adept in the use of the English language as a skilled blacksmith is at forging iron, or a renowned chef in blending ingredients to make a divine culinary delicacy, and it is my responsibility to use that power to benefit mankind. Wisdom, which at first seems a curse in the face of ignorance, is truly a gift, one which must be used to illuminate the dark recesses of the world we live in, not a hindrance to be cast aside or ignored. I have made my choice, and that choice is to conquer media and change the world for the better. What will you do?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Conflicting Desires"

I'm waiting on a video of me singing karaoke to upload to YouTube. While I wait on that horrific butchering of Alice Cooper to emerge into the vast, virtual world of the Internetz, here's a short story I wrote over a year ago in a creative writing class at Missouri State University-West Plains. Let me tell ya, I wrote my very best work for Dr. Craig Albin. He's an incredible teacher and an incredible person, and I strongly encourage anybody who goes to MSU-WP to take his English classes. Anyway, I'd been going through kind of a difficult time emotionally, and writing was a good way to vent. Here's the first thing I wrote in that class. I don't promise literary excellence, but I promise legit feelings. :)

Chris Roll
ENG 215
19 March 2010
Conflicting Desires
            Eric had spent the past year planning for this moment, and now, at long last, it had arrived. He smiled gently as he gazed at Stacey, the girl sleeping peacefully beside him. She seemed so small and vulnerable there, and yet so perfect, her head nestled in the soft, golden brown locks of her hair, and Eric reflected on how lucky he was to be there with her. Of course, “there” was the middle of a crowded movie theater, and even though Eric was an avid movie buff, the romantic comedy playing on the silver screen was just awful. And despite the fact that Stacey’s presence made the terrible film somewhat more bearable, she had fallen asleep within the first hour, leaving Eric to suffer alone. It would have been so easy to lay an arm across her shoulders, to subtly lean closer, to kiss her . . . but he didn’t. He wasn’t that kind of guy, and besides, he didn’t want to startle her. That would most certainly not be a good way to make an impression on the girl of his dreams.
            Finally the movie ended, and the audience slowly rose to leave. Eric softly prodded Stacey’s shoulder, and she awoke with a sleepy smile.
“I think I dozed off,” she yawned. “What happened?”
“He got the girl,” Eric said playfully. “Then they died. Painfully.”
“Shut up, Eric!” Stacey laughed, punching him in the arm as they moved toward the exit.
The air outside the theater seemed to have grown much colder since the movie began. As they walked across the crowded parking lot, Eric suddenly realized that Stacey was most likely freezing in her light jacket. Propelled into a state of frantic anxiety by the frigid air and the prospect of Stacey’s discomfort, Eric quickly weaved through the parked cars and set to work trying to unlock the passenger side door to his Taurus, dropping his keys twice in the process. Stacey would have giggled at his predicament but for the chattering of her teeth, which rendered speech—even laughter—virtually impossible.
            With a triumphant “I got it!”, Eric flung the dented, salt-coated door open, bowing slightly as Stacey got in. After some crafty maneuvering on the other side, Eric was finally able to get his door open and they were soon underway to Stacey’s apartment building.
            “So,” Eric said softly, his voice trembling a little, “what did you think of the movie? What little you saw of it, that is.”
            “Good,” Stacey choked out, shivering. “Please—turn the heater up!”
            “Huh?” Eric had forgotten to turn the heater on altogether, and he immediately cranked the knobs as hard as he could. “Oh, shoot, I’m sorry!”
            “It’s fine,” Stacey assured him, wringing her hands.
            “Well, I’m glad you liked the movie!” Eric declared, stealing a glance at the attractive girl sitting next to him and nearly regretting it as he narrowly avoided sideswiping a mailbox. “Yep, that was a good time. Good times, noodle salad, as Jack Nicholson might say.”
            Stacey just nodded, a small smile on her full, pink lips.
            “So, I guess I won’t be seeing you for a while,” Eric said casually, although his voice cracked a little. “Winter break in New York—gotta be exciting.”
            “I know, right?” Stacey agreed, eyes lighting up. “I’ve got to finish packing tonight, but it’s going to be amazing! Christmas Eve in Central Park—New Year’s in Times Square—oh my gosh, this is going to be the only good thing to happen to me all year!”
            A bit crestfallen, Eric stared straight ahead, and there were no more furtive glances in Stacey’s direction.
            The drive was short, but in the dark, icy night it seemed to take much longer to reach the apartments. Eric eased the car to a stop in front of the double doors and Stacey rummaged around in the backseat to get her things. Eric sat quietly, fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, staring anxiously ahead. But her perfect body was so close to him now, and the luscious, exotic scent of her perfume was almost intoxicating. She drew closer, and soon she was practically leaning against him.
            “Stacey,” he croaked nervously, his palms sweating and his pulse rising.
            “Yeah?” she replied, feeling around for her textbooks.
            “You know, I only say this because it’s the truth,” Eric mumbled, “not to start anything or make things awkward or anything. You know what I mean?”
            Stacey turned around, raised an eyebrow slightly, and nodded expectantly.
            “That girl at the restaurant was right, you know. You look . . .” How Eric wanted to say it! Beautiful. Amazing. Radiant. Stunning. Perfect. “ . . . awesome tonight.”
            “Thanks, Eric,” she replied, biting her lip slightly as she briefly, uncertainly eyed Eric’s Star Trek shirt and thick, unruly hair. “You look good, too.”
            “Stacey,” Eric said slowly, choosing his words more carefully this time. “I really, really like you.”
            Then, before she could potentially shoot him down, he added, “But if you only want to be friends, that’s fine. I mean, I know I’m never going to be, you know, that guy.”
            His voice trailed off, and he finally made eye contact, awaiting judgement. Stacey looked back at him with a knowing, almost saccharine smile.
            “Eric, you know I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” she said slowly, as if explaining to a small child why the stovetop burnt his little pink hand. “I value you as a friend, but friendship is all I can give you, do you understand?”
            “Yes, of course,” Eric replied quickly, flustered. “I mean, yeah. I didn’t expect—I, uh, yeah. Friendship. Can’t have too many friends, right?”
            “Oh my gosh, I am so glad we understand each other!” Stacey chirped, beaming at Eric. “Aren’t you?”
            “Yeah, definitely,” agreed Eric. He tilted his head slowly toward her with a wry smile. “Y’know, I think I’m going to call it a night.”
            “Ohhh, don’t go yet,” pouted Stacey. “I need somebody to talk to while I pack—for New York! Oh my gosh!”
            “Nahh, you’ll be fine. Really.” Eric insisted. “It’s late. I need some sleep.”
            “Oh, okay.” Stacey frowned, but her chipper smile quickly returned. “Well, don’t be a stranger! Keep in touch while I’m gone, okay? Call me!”
            “Yeah, sure thing.”
             As Stacey collected her things and walked away, Eric pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and sighed. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Then, taking a deep, cleansing breath, he cranked up his Frank Zappa CD and roared off into the night, leaving a spray of muddy slush in his wake.
            December soon gave way to January, and before long school was back in session. Eric returned every bit the unrepentant nerd he always was, but there was something different about him now. He no longer cared how others saw him, and for the first time in his life, he wasn’t afraid anymore. In many ways, getting shot down by Stacey had been just the motivator he needed to actually move forward and live his life. But even though he knew it was over between Stacey and him, her presence made him feel more insecure than ever, and as much as he loathed himself for it, his heart still jumped whenever he heard her say his name.
            Stacey had returned as well, and if there was any awkwardness on her end about being friends with Eric, she didn’t show it. Indeed, for some reason Eric couldn’t quite put his finger on, she seemed to have made him her personal confidant. She still gushed about New York at every possible opportunity, but now she had a different reason. Now the subject of all her conversations, text messages, and Facebook statuses was Brent, the “amazing” guy she met at Central Park, and how she couldn’t live without him. Soon she was telling everyone about their plans for spring break, and how they would be spending their summer touring the east coast. Eric didn’t understand why he was the one she was constantly trying to share this information with. Indeed, being her “friend” was the most excruciating pain he had ever known, and heartache grew inside him like a tumor. He tried to avoid her as best he could, regarding her with a nod or a simple “hi” whenever they met in the hall or in class and quickly retreating, putting forth every possible erg of willpower to act disinterested in her social life. But even though he always could walk faster than her, Stacey’s presence was ultimately impossible to escape—and it was slowly driving him mad.
            One afternoon Eric decided to go to the library to study his notes from Political Science. As he walked into the large, mostly empty room, he nearly jumped when he saw Stacey sitting in a corner, also studying. Already committed to studying in the library, Eric swallowed his insecurity, nodded cordially in Stacey’s direction and sat down at a nearby table, dropping his heavy backpack with a resounding thud. He smiled to himself as he pulled out a few textbooks and turned on his MP3 player, keeping his eyes trained away from Stacey.
            Eric tried his best to concentrate on the homework at hand, but the words on the page quickly started to blur into nothingness. How could he possibly concentrate with her so close? More importantly, could he bring himself to leave, knowing she was there?
            Nearly jumping out of his skin, Eric looked up to see Stacey sitting on the edge of his table, smiling down at him. She looked at him expectantly for a moment before asking, “So, how was the break? Did you have a good time?”
            Eric pulled the headphones away from his ears and made eye contact, mouth hanging slightly ajar. What the heck? Does she really want a straight answer here?
            “I’m doing okay, actually,” Eric said quietly, “I mean, the break really kinda sucked, because I was bored out of my skull . . . but I’m better now.”
            “Good, good,” replied Stacey, swinging her crossed legs off the edge of the table in a rocking motion. “So, what have you been doing lately? Talked to any girls?”
            Eric’s eyebrows shot up. He paused, trying to think of a flippant line from some old movie, then shook his head “no” with a sheepish smile.
            “Hmmm,” murmured Stacey, staring off into space before looking back at him knowingly. “So, I hear there’s this great new club opening up next week, and I was thinking maybe you and I ought to go. Who knows, maybe I can talk somebody into buying us some drinks?”
            Eric’s mouth hung open slightly, and he wasn’t sure whether to be angry or burst out laughing. Nevertheless, he managed to contain himself and spoke slowly.
            “Stacey . . . why are you even talking to me right now?” he asked, his smile now a bit quizzical in nature. “What is it you really want from me? I mean, seriously . . . what?”
            “You’re my friend,” Stacey answered quickly. “I just want to know if you’re okay . . . and how you’ve been doing. I mean, we never talk anymore. It’s like you’re avoiding me.”
            “Stacey,” Eric said carefully, picking his words as though they were his last, “I’ve been giving you exactly what you seemed to want—space. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t have to check up on me to make sure I’m not on suicide watch. I’m a big boy; I’ll live.”
            “Why are you being such a jerk?” Stacey demanded, wiping a moist eye with her fingertip. “I thought you cared about me.”
            Eric allowed himself to chuckle slightly.
            “I will always care about you, but seriously, if you really cared about my feelings, you wouldn’t constantly be going on about this Brent guy,” Eric said as gently as he could. Okay, so maybe there isn’t a gentle way to say this, he thought glumly. “Just tell me: Are you happy with him?”
            “Yes! I love him, okay?” Stacey blurted. “He’s so funny—and strong—and alive! I feel like I can be free when I’m with him—like I can cut loose and have fun.”
            “Ahhh, yeah, I see. As opposed to me,” Eric muttered, his smile taking on a cruel twist. “The straight-laced good guy.”
            “It’s not that,” Stacey protested, crossing her arms.
            “Then what is it? You know, I believed you when you said you weren’t looking for a relationship right now. I guess what you really meant was that you just weren’t interested in a relationship with me.”
            “Hold on, that’s not fair,” Stacey said softly, running a hand across her face. She slid off the table and sat down across from Eric, setting her elbows on the tabletop.
            “No,” Eric replied, suddenly scowling. “I’ll tell you what isn’t fair. What isn’t fair is having to spend what seems like an eternity trying to figure out why I’m not good enough, only to realize that even though I am exactly the kind of guy you need, I’ll never be the kind of guy you want. And you know what? That hurts! That’s why I have trouble just looking at you, and why I smile from ear to ear just to keep from screaming. And after all this time, I thought I just wasn’t good enough, but that’s not quite true, is it?”
            “Stop,” Stacey pleaded, a few mascara-tinted tears rolling down her face.
            “The truth is, I am the good guy,” Eric spat out, a bit more harshly than he had intended. But now the words flowed unbidden and unbridled; he could not stop if he wanted to. “I am good enough. I’m the smartest guy you know. I will always be able to make you laugh. I would always be in your corner, no matter what. I’m stable, I’m honest . . . and I would never hurt you. But that’s not good enough for you, so here we are. And I could obsess over why you don’t want me till the day I die, but that won’t do anybody a darned bit of good. So yeah, little by little I’m trying to move on. And you should, too.”
            Stacey stared at him blankly, as though she were assessing a child’s tantrum before meting out proper punishment. Then her veneer cracked, and anger bubbled forth.
            “I thought you were my friend, Eric,” Stacey snapped, crying freely now; they were well past the point of pretending. “I thought you said you would never hurt me—what do you think you’re doing to me now? Eric, what is wrong with you? You—you’re mean!”
            Eric started to speak, but Stacey raised a hand to stop him.
            “You’re being all self-righteous and acting like I wronged you somehow, as though that entitles you to be cruel and hurt me, but you have no right,” Stacey hissed through tears and clenched teeth. “I love you as a friend, but I am not, never was, and never will be attracted to you. I want you in my life, but not the way you want to be—and I’m sorry for that. But you were right about one thing: we do need to move on.”
            Eric stared at Stacey, unable to find the right words. They sat there for a moment, staring at each other in silence, waiting for the other to make the first move. Finally, Stacey scooped up her things and walked away without a word. Eric remained seated until she was gone, then stood up. Part of him wanted to follow her, to apologize and beg her not to walk out of his life again, but another, deeper part knew she was gone for good this time. He stared at the floor, then closed his eyes and sighed, standing alone in the middle of the library like a prize fighter in an empty ring. The torment, along with the confusion, was gone, replaced by the bitter emptiness of heartache he knew would haunt him far more viciously than anything she could possibly have done to him. Now he was alone, and all he wanted to do was drown in the cold, bitter ocean his life had become.
            Forcing his smile to return, Eric sniffed back a sob and looked to the ceiling, hoping to discern some divine message from the drab tiles. The only thing that sprang to mind, however, was just another meaningless movie quote, and he smirked glumly as he recited it to no one in particular.
            “Hail to the king, baby.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Of Chins and Chainsaws"

This is something I wrote for an English composition class several years ago, and it's probably the best essay I've ever written. It went on to win first place in a campus-wide essay contest, by unanimous vote. That doesn't mean it's good, mind you, but it's my very best work. Enjoy . . . or don't. But hopefully you will! :)

(Disclaimer: Good, bad or whatever, it's still my most prized work. So please, read, enjoy, share with friends, but don't plagiarize, or I will be very unhappy. Okay? Thanks, y'all.)

3 September 2008      
            The scene depicts a heroic figure standing tall against the forces of evil. There is an imperious smirk plastered across his face as he brandishes a large, powerful chainsaw in place of his right hand. A beautiful woman in a torn pink dress clings to his left leg for dear life as a sword-wielding skeleton crawls toward them. In the background we see that the noble hero is surrounded by a medieval army, who may or may not harbor some malicious feelings toward him and the fair maiden (but it is highly likely that their intentions are not noble). This is an iconic image, evoking many others from years gone by, ranging from the world of swords and sorcery created by the likes of Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta to one of Chevy Chase’s many horrific vacations; indeed, it even hearkens back to the days when the ancient Greeks and Romans carved idealized images of their gods into timeless marble. So what is it about this particular image that makes it special? What stands out most in the eyes of the viewer? More importantly, where exactly did it come from?
            A select group of people would recognize this image immediately as the beautifully painted poster for Sam Raimi’s 1993 film Army of Darkness, the final installment of the Evil Dead trilogy (which has an extremely dedicated cult following). The hero is Ashley J. Williams, a cynical college drop-out portrayed by the tall, clean-cut B-movie actor Bruce Campbell (notable for his trademark chin and Superman-like dark hair). Although one might dispute what possible merit the poster for a grisly cult movie might have when compared to similar works of epic art from a higher level of class and prestige, I prefer to ignore the conventions of what are considered high and low forms of art. Whether or not this work deserves to be compared to the paintings of Michelangelo or Da Vinci is a matter of personal opinion (although it is highly unlikely that a painting of Bruce Campbell will ever appear in the same exhibit as the Mona Lisa), but what it all comes down to is a simple question: do I like it? In a boundless sea of images, made nearly infinite by digital media, why am I attracted to this one? With so many great works of art to ponder, from Norman Rockwell’s work for the Saturday Evening Post to the breathtaking comic art of Alex Ross, why do I return to Army of Darkness?
            The attention to detail makes it clear that a great deal of time and care went into painting the image. The first thing one might notice is the sheer darkness of the background, which contrasts with the stark white complexion of the bare-chested hero. The second thing that sticks out (quite literally) is said hero’s rather overwhelming chin. And while he has a lovely damsel in distress on one leg, the other is being assaulted by several tiny doppelgangers, who are attempting to stab him with a fork and set his pants ablaze with a match. Also, there is a rather interesting meeting between two eras, as the hero’s contemporary attire, his chainsaw, and the battered wreckage of an Oldsmobile his right foot is firmly planted on seem to clash with the castle and medieval warriors in the background. The image is sly without condescension, and although at first glance it is just an attempt by its creator to be funny, closer inspection reveals the amount of love that was poured into it. Take, for instance, Ash’s cheeky expression, which conveys a broad range of possible thoughts, from “what, me worry?” to “God, I look good!” His very stance suggests that he is cut from the same cloth as many swashbuckling heroes before him, an unholy amalgamation of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, Captain Kirk, and of course Conan the barbarian.
            Of course, the fact that I like the movie (for reasons I cannot begin to understand or explain) helps, but I think the image speaks to a lot of people in that it appeals to our imaginations. What man hasn’t fantasized about being a great hero at some point or another, conquering insurmountable odds with valor and wit, while defending the life and honor of a gorgeous damsel in distress? Granted, these fantasies generally die out as adolescence gives way to the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood, but that is why the poster appeals even more to adults, because it reawakens the spirit of childhood long since left behind. So yes, as a tired, beleaguered, and imaginative college student, the image of this smug, time-displaced hero standing defiantly against the aptly-named Army of Darkness does indeed appeal to me. Another possible appeal to adults may be that Ash himself represents something more than most of us can ever hope to become. He has the perfect physique, flawless hair, and smashing good looks that make even the most prominent of Hollywood leading men feel inferior for a fleeting moment. It’s disheartening for most men, myself included, to acknowledge the fact that they will never be the six-foot-four heroic ideal. Nevertheless, Ash represents what most of us aspire toward, but can never be. Of course, the chainsaw is also a draw in and of itself. Not only are we envious of Ash as a heroic symbol, but we are also very much enthralled by his weapon—a giant power tool! The very fact that it is out-of-place in the medieval image is what makes it entertaining, and it also stands as a testament to Ash’s physical strength (I actually tried to heft a chainsaw of similar size into a heroic, Ash-like pose, and it took all of my might just to hold it off the ground with one arm!). 
            Another aspect to consider might be what women see in the image. I am not so arrogant as to presume to understand the artistic tastes of women, but I was able to draw a few conclusions after some careful pondering. Firstly, I tried to imagine how a woman might react to seeing the way the damsel in distress clings helplessly to Ash's leg, practically swooning in his manly presence. She is clearly in danger, but she seems oblivious to the utter bleakness of the situation, choosing to concentrate more on maintaining the fine balance between looking seductive and innocent. This naturally begs the question, of course: what does the female viewer make of this? Would she be offended by the idea of a woman being portrayed as an inept sex symbol, relying on the archetypical male to save her from the forces of evil, or would she simply find it funny? The answer (as horrifying as it is to make this comparison) lies within a literary genre almost expressly targeted at women: the romance novel. Whether we as men like to admit it or not, we have seen our share of romance novels at some point or another, and they all seem to have a common thread: the cover. Almost every romance novel has a lushly-painted cover of a scantily-clad, swooning woman falling into the arms of a muscular, bare-chested Lothario (who usually resembles the model Fabio to some extent or another), and quite a few show some ominous form of evil lurking in the background. The chainsaw also plays a part in the way women might perceive the image, albeit in a somewhat more lewd way (i.e. if Ash is that good with a chainsaw, what else is he good at?). Also, she might see the woman’s expression as more than just the lustful gaze of a medieval tart. She might instead point out a rather admirable quality: a woman’s faith in her man (and judging by the look on Ash’s face, he clearly has faith in himself). She fears nothing, because she knows Ash will protect her . . .  how unlike the men of today, who have seemingly lost all semblance of chivalry! Could it be that many women actually like the idea of a powerful, sensuous male protector, even in this age of women taking on more dominant roles in relationships? Could women actually be enamored by the sardonic wit of this smirking savior (whose most romantic line in the movie is “Give me some sugar, baby.”)? I believe the answer, in at least a select amount of cases, is yes.
            I think the image contains a lot of appeal for men and women alike, due to its quirky humor and painstaking attention to detail. But the ultimate question is this: why do I like it? What makes it special to me? Simply put, it appeals to my imagination. Despite its lack of originality and “taste”, it has an intangible, irreverent charm that makes it impossible to overlook. It may not be the scholar’s definition of high art, but it reminds me of years gone by, when I had time to daydream and imagine what the hero’s life could be. I can’t truly speak for anyone but myself, but this singular, timeless quality makes it truly special to me, and I hope others can find (or have found) the same sense of fun and imagination.

Some Long-Winded Rambling about Comic Books

Y'know, I really am a massive nerd. Like, ridiculously so.

 I started reading comic books 16 years ago. I had had a decent idea of who Batman and Superman were, and I got a Sonic the Hedgehog comic at one point, but the spark that started the blaze in my mind was my first exposure to Marvel. I remember the day I got my first Marvel comic even now, oddly enough. I had been with my parents as they sold candles and other items at a crafts fair. Afterward, they bought me Spectacular Spider-Man #221, dated February 1995, which featured the death of Doctor Octopus and incredible artwork by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz. But that wasn't my FIRST Marvel, in the strictest sense.

It was the previous Christmas. Mom and Dad had bought me a board game the likes of which I had never seen before, called "Marvel Super Heroes." Now, even though I knew what a super hero was, I had no idea what "Marvel" meant. Honestly, I'm still not a fan of the word, and it rubbed me the wrong way then. What a pretentious word, to tout one's product as being "Marvelous," or a "Marvel!" In my head, I always hear the word spoken in a snooty, Cruella De Vil kind of voice, but nevertheless, I knew immediately that there was something special about these super heroes.

Let's look at this from a 6-year-old's eyes (and in many ways, my views have not changed): Superman was as open and earnest and friendly as anyone or anything I had ever seen, but Spider-Man wore a full mask and bore the likeness of my least-favorite creepy-crawly--that latter detail alone was enough to intrigue me! Batman was dark and brooding, and he had those wicked wrist blades . . . but Wolverine? That guy had freaking STEAK KNIVES coming out of his fists, and didn't care if his suit was all shredded up. And let's face it, Lex Luthor just looks like a chrome-domed poseur when compared to a diabolical mastermind like Doctor Doom, and the Joker's smile was about as creepy as Captain Kangaroo's when compared to Venom's choppers.
I like to draw. I like X-Men. "X-Men" is the property of 
Marvel. I drew this for fun. Please don't copy, and Marvel,
please don't sue. Thanks!
My appetite for four-colored adventures swiftly became voracious, and I quickly began amassing a collection. Mom picked up a four-pack of #1's, including X-Men, Cage, Spider-Man 2099 and, to my shame, NFL SuperPro (unfortunately, only one, Spider-Man 2099, is still even remotely intact). Once I started reading X-Men . . . well, it was "Game Over." I'd never seen ANYTHING like that before. I had no idea what an "X-Man" was, either, but whatever it was, I sure liked it. Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Rogue and Professor X I knew from the board game, as well as the uber-menacing Magneto, but characters like Psylocke, Jean Grey and Gambit were new to me (I never did understand why Jean didn't have a codename; I had no idea it was the result of prior psychological trauma--or editorial laziness, one or the other). The X-Men became my all-around favorites for over ten years, and Uncanny X-Men is still one of the select few comics I keep on reserve at The Book Nook in West Plains for when I occasionally roll back into town, along with Captain America and Deadpool.

When I was around 7 or 8, my mom bought me a bag of old DC comics from the 1970s. OH, how I wish they were still fully intact! Anyway, these old-school mags consisted of two issues of Action Comics, one issue of Superman, two issues of All-Star Comics (starring the Justice Society. I knew about the Justice League, but the Justice SOCIETY was a foreign concept. Surprisingly, the old-fashioned JSA became my favorite lineup of DC characters, far overshadowing the more "contemporary" League, but I digress) and a really old Charlton comic called Midnight Tales. Now, I was not then nor am I now a big Superman fan, but there was something about those classic Cary Bates/Elliott S! Maggin written, Curt Swan drawn, covers by Nick Cardy and Neal Adams comics that really struck my fancy. That was an era of Superman comics I could enjoy--sure, they were cheesy, and more often than not he was just fighting common criminals, but sometimes . . .

After Nick Cardy, 1975. Superman and Green Lantern are the property
of DC Comics, and my art is purely for fun (although if, for some reas-
on, my work strikes the fancy of an industry professional, I will gladly 
offer my services and skills, limited though they may be.)
This leads into the greatest discovery of all. One of the issues of Action Comics, from 1975, was entitled, "Beware the Hero Killers!", and on the cover was Green Lantern lying dead with an irate policeman holding up GL's limp arm and pointing an accusing finger at a perplexed and frightened Superman, shouting, "You killed him! You murdered Green Lantern!" I didn't know anything about Green Lantern then, save that the folk rock singer Donovan claimed to have abilities that far surpassed both his and Superman's (in the truly odd '60s gem "Sunshine Superman"). It was a pretty epic yarn, wherein a shadowy figure hires two rock-like aliens of universal renown to off Earth's mightiest super hero. They take on human form and attack Superman, but it turns out that he is not their target: Green Lantern is, and they're using Superman to get at him. The shadowy figure turns out to be the evil mastermind Sinestro, and when he comes to collect GL's body, it turns out Supes was wise to the scheme and helped GL fake his death. GL takes out Sinestro and drops him off on Oa, and the issue ends on a jolly note. I was completely blown away, and as such, I started seeking out more adventures of this Green Lantern fella (off-subject, I recently drew an inverted rendition of the classic cover by Nick Cardy. Granted, it will look better in color, and my art still needs a LOT of work, but it was fun to take a stab at a personal favorite). Oh, and there was also a bonus feature by Mike Grell starring Green Arrow and Black Canary. GA's facial hair was truly unsettling, but the story was fun.

Same old deal. I like drawing Green Lantern.
I'm not making any money off this. You don't
copy, I don't get sued, we're all happy. 
Anyway, I became a hardcore Green Lantern fan from that day onward. Of course, due to the comics I had at the time, I was confused by the fact that there was this Green Lantern in the Superman comic and then a blond-haired, red-shirted Green Lantern in the Justice Society, and then there was this Guy Gardner guy (no pun intended) running around with the Justice League International. Needless to say, that took a LOOOOOONG time to straighten out, but now I love them all. However, part of the problem of starting off with old comics is that it leaves you ill-prepared for the shock-and-awe stories that predominated the '90s. I completely missed out on "Emerald Twilight" (I think it would have traumatized me anyway), and I had no idea that beloved classic GL Hal Jordan had gone nuts and been replaced by newcomer Kyle Rayner until I saw Rayner's likeness on a box of DC-themed macaroni and cheese. How sad is that? Not the best way for news about your favorite comic book character to be broken to you, let me tell ya. I immediately began amassing comic book knowledge, trying to figure out who this Rayner guy was and what happened to Hal Jordan . . . and I was not a happy camper when I found out. Making matters worse was when I learned DC had killed him off, and THEN, adding insult to injury, brought him back as the ghostly spirit of vengeance known as The Spectre. The poor guy could apparently have no dignity, in life, death, or anything beyond. I sullenly returned to my X-Men and Spider-Man comics, knowing that they would never disappoint me as Green Lantern had.

Flash forward a few years. Thanks to a truly clever writer named Geoff Johns (who completely screwed up some aspects of JSA but nevertheless saved them from certain death-by-obscurity), Hal Jordan was back in the saddle as Green Lantern. On Amazing Spider-Man, J. Michael Straczynski was doing no wrong, even with controversial storylines such as the Green Goblin fathering Gwen Stacy's children (horrifying, yes, but well written). On Astonishing X-Men, Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, etc) was masterfully crafting the best run the franchise had seen in years. In Captain America, classic teen sidekick Bucky was very skillfully resurrected by writer Ed Brubaker, leading to some of the most entertaining stories I'd ever read (Bucky even kicked the crap out of Wolverine . . . in the Canucklehead's own comic, to boot!). Man, I didn't think anything could derail my love of comics!
Disaster struck. "And they shall call it . . . 'BRAND NEW DAY.'" "Brand New Day" was the follow-up to a well-written but horribly-ended story called "One More Day," which, like most terrible stories that screw up everything the fans have come to enjoy, was mandated by the powers that be at Marvel. In a nutshell, Spider-Man makes a deal with the devil to save his critically-injured Aunt May's life. What's the price? His marriage to Mary Jane Watson, red-headed supermodel extraordinaire, will be done away with. Like, literally never happened. Like, the devil healed Aunt May in return for erasing Peter and MJ's marriage from continuity. Seriously, kids, I don't know what (Marvel Editor in Chief) Joe Quesada was thinking (or smoking. Or huffing. Or drinking. Or injecting). That was a laaaaame way to try to "fix" a character who didn't need fixing. By letting Peter Parker grow up a little bit, it made him more relatable as a character. Turning him back into a free-swinger (man-ho, to be quite blunt; Peter was portrayed as sleeping with at least three different women within a year of this storyline, as if purposely slapping longtime readers in the face) who can't hold down a steady job was cheap. 
It didn't stop there. The editors at Marvel decided to completely screw around with the character's status quo. First off, long-deceased character Harry Osborn (the second Green Goblin) was "revealed" to have 
been living overseas all along whilst in drug rehab. He's divorced and dimwitted and the perfect "buddy" figure for his equally untethered buddy Pete-O. As for longtime ne'er-do-well (re: buttmonkey) character Flash Thompson, I guess they felt it would be fun for his life to take another swish around the bowl, too. He went to Iraq and got his legs blown off . . . great. That's . . . real thrilling, people. Real original. The only good thing to come out of that story is that he's now the new Venom . . . which is intriguing. Also, perennial super-baddie Doctor Octopus, who had recently metamorphosed from a tubby nerd to a powerfully-built, menacing figure in a trench coat . . . was again changed into a bald, atrophied invalid on a respirator, because for some reason, the trench coat look from the movie just wasn't cool enough . . . *sigh*  Classic villain Hammerhead became a cyborg, the original Venom became a white-clad lummox named ANTI-Venom (although, admittedly, Zeb Wells wrote a great three-issue limited series that made me like him a great deal), the NEW Venom became the Scorpion again . . . ehh. Because of these sweeping changes, I cannot bring myself to buy Spider-Man comics anymore. "Brand New Day" killed Spider-Man for me, and even though it brought a lot of new readers on board, it cost Marvel a LOT of dedicated Spider-fans. Not everything about the run has been awful, though. Zombie-Kraven the Hunter is a neat touch, as is 3rd-rate Green Goblin Phil Urich killing 3rd-rate Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley and taking his costume for himself (I always hated how they resolved the Hobgoblin's identity mystery, and I'm glad Kingsley got taken out of the equation permanently). Still, I'm really wary of reboots, as they have a tendency to be just plain awful (remember Byrne's "Man of Steel?" I wish I didn't!).

Anyway, this ultimately leads up to "The New 52," which is DC's latest attempt at tying up old continuity and giving readers a fresh take on classic characters (completely ignoring the "if it ain't broke" axiom along with the fact that most of the characters they're rebooting have been rebooted plenty of times already, such as Supes, who's had a "Birthright," an "Infinite Crisis" and a "Secret Origin," none of which could quite nail his backstory quite right). I'm getting a little sick of world-altering crises, and even though this one at least has a reasonable explanation in the storyline "Flashpoint" I'm still not entirely sold. There are the familiar marriage screw-ups (i.e. Superman and the Flash are now bachelors, and even though the Flash supposedly remembers his old life, he's still dating someone else . . . ugh), the backstory screw-ups (so long, Ma and Pa Kent! We hardly knew ye!) and the WHAT THE HECK (Joker getting his face cut off)?!! Also, Superman loses the briefs, Wonder Woman regains hers, and everyone is now sporting a V-neck collar thanks to Jim Lee (I love the man's work, but seriously, why?!). 

For me, though, the worst thing about "The New 52" is that the classic, '40s-era characters, the Justice Society of America, who had ushered in the Golden Age of comic books and had experienced a huge resurgence in popularity thanks to Geoff Johns, were being swept out of the primary continuity of "The New 52" (the 52 new and/or rebooted comics that would herald the awesome power of retroactive continuity in action). Granted, DC has expressed interest in doing a "parallel earth" JSA series that would allow the team to do its own thing without being bound to the primary canon, much as the JSA existed in earlier comics. However, I still see it as cheap. The JSA as a concept deserves better than to be treated as a lesser group, and I think booting them out of the main story is a bad idea. Oh, sure, I'll read the new "Earth-2"-based comic just to give it a shot, and I hope it's excellent (I'm iffy on James Robinson, though; he's been flaky since Starman ended). In fact, I kinda hope it's the best of the batch, just so DC will remember that the JSA means MONEY--MY money, and the money of a lot of other people who love the old-fashioned heroes. I'm going to give "The New 52" a shot (Justice League and Green Lantern are waiting for me at my local bookstore back home, and I can't wait to take a gander), but honestly, I'm not too keen on it. I doubt the cosmetic changes will last particularly long (you don't redesign Superman, kiddies), and unless I'm sorely mistaken, I don't foresee some of the continuity changes sticking, either (although, granted, "Brand New Day" is going strong. I don't get it . . . I really don't).

What comics am I looking forward to most right now? 

First off, Green Lantern (DC). Johns writing, Doug Mahnke penciling--that's all I need. Throw in Sinestro as the lead character with Hal Jordan readjusting to life as a civilian and I'm there for the long haul. I know it's going to end with Hal getting the ring back, and I wouldn't have it any other way, but it's not about how long it takes you get there; it's how memorable the ride is.
Uncanny X-Men, the relaunch (Marvel). Thanks to the events of "X-Men: Schism," the X-Men are having some ideological disputes, with some following Cyclops and some following Wolverine, with a big battle between the two for good measure. I pick the same winner for the fight as I do for the better comic: Cyclops, thus I will be reading Uncanny instead of Wolverine and the X-Men. Cyclops is just a more fascinating, more powerful and more responsible character, and I'm eager to see where his story goes next. Little unsure about Colossus as the new Juggernaut, though, as he looks a little silly . . . *sigh* can't win 'em all.
Captain America and Bucky (Marvel). This one has been great so far, even though it's just been flashbacks with the "deceased" Bucky doing voice-over. Now, they left his story hanging in the main Captain America book, so I'm betting the Bucky who died in "Fear Itself" was just a Life Model Decoy. No way they'd go through the trouble of bringing the poor kid back just to kill him again.
Deadpool (Marvel). It's always stupid but it's also always fun. The pirate storyline was the best, though, second only to the one where Domino falls into a mountain of pancakes. Some stories, like the one where he goes into space and marries a hippopotamus-like alien, dragged on a little too far, though.
Justice League (DC). So I'm not too keen on the new continuity or the V-neck costumes. So what? Jim Lee's on a monthly book again! He's my favorite artist! Of course I'm gonna read it.

Aquaman (DC). Hold your horses, I know Aquaman is the absolute lamest character in the DC roster (second only, perhaps, to perennial Bat-baddy Maxie Zeus). Even the Prankster had more lasting appeal than this dunce, who doggy-paddled his way to the rescue with all manner of marine life in tow while wearing a skintight, salmon-colored shirt and green tights. I'm sorry, but even Marvel's Sub-Mariner, who wore a green Speedo and a belt with a seashell buckle, and had some seriously goofy little wings on his feet, had more dignity than Aquaman (first and foremost, he was ripped. Second, he had actual powers, whereas Aquaman . . . talked to fish). And Aquaman got even goofier in the '90s, when in an attempt to shake things up and make him a little bit grimmer and grittier, a story was written in which he got his hand chewed off by piranhas and replaced it with a harpoon. Riiiiiiiiight. So why am I excited about Aquaman now? Two words: Brightest Day. DC's 24-issue anthology of characters returned after the events of Blackest Night did more justice to Aquaman than anybody could have expected. While Hawkman and Hawkgirl's story felt more like filler than anything else, and Osiris and Maxwell Lord were scarcely mentioned in the main story, Aquaman, J'onn J'onnz, Firestorm and Deadman owned that book. Aquaman's supporting cast was quickly introduced and established, including his wife Mera, her "evil sister" Siren, his new sidekick Aqualad 2.0, and of course, his deadliest and most infamous foe, Black Manta (who is actually the new Aqualad's father). Plus, if nothing else, the scene where Aquaman accidentally summoned an undead shark was pretty epic. Anyway, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis were able to revitalize--no, scratch that, you can't revitalize something that was never lively. No, what they did was breathe life for the very first time into a very stale character, and since they're handling the creative chores on Aquaman's new series, I'm curious to see if they can maintain the level of epic they had in Brightest Day.
Detective Comics (DC). Okay, I'm sold. Batman interests me again. Tony Daniel is excellent as a writer and an artist, although I don't know why they redesigned Bats' suit again, though . . . they just did for "Batman Incorporated."
Avengers: X-Sanction (Marvel). Not gonna lie, this one really has me stoked. Cable is coming back, thanks to the team of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, and he's going after the Avengers. I feel that the character of Cable has been horribly misused ever since the "Dream's End" story from ten years ago (and I don't know what the heck Soldier X was supposed to be), and even though "Messiah Complex" was interesting in concept, Cable still didn't get the treatment he deserved . . . he just got older and took on more scars. He's got a lot of potential to be a great character, and I'm excited to see, first, how Marvel will explain his survival of "X-Men: Second Coming" and also what's motivating him to attack the Avengers (probably some futuristic "you're going to destroy the world, hurt my daughter, allow some atrocity to occur, date my daughter" kind of thing, ala Terminator). Loeb's writing has been mediocre since his run on Batman with Jim Lee, but this may be just what the doctor ordered. I'm excited.

Books I'm going to ignore:

Fear Itself (Marvel). It looked good. But now that I've read up on it, I have no interest in actually reading it. It's another example of a forced "big event" book that's a last-ditch attempt to drum up money. There are too many tie-in books, too many uninteresting elements and simply too plodding a pace. The death of Bucky was a bad move, as well, as it reeks heavily of "editorial mandate," but I'm pretty sure it's just a cover-up for future black-ops adventures, so I'll suspend judgement for now.
Green Arrow (DC). If it were a prequel, I'd read it. It's Oliver Queen as a high-tech hero with a bow, with stubbly facial hair instead of the "fancy lad" Van Dyke he's run around with for almost 50 years. I'd enjoy it greatly if this were him starting out on his path to becoming the braying liberal by day, street-level vigilante by night hero we know and love him as, but it looks like this is GA's new status quo, replete with a brand new supporting cast of unknowns. *Sigh* Green Arrow just hasn't been fun since Brad Meltzer left (and Judd Winick just ran him into the ground). 
Justice League International (DC). I picked up #1, and I was disappointed. Dan Jurgens is a talented guy. But he can't write funny. JLI is supposed to be funny. There are humorous aspects, but they're mostly confined to characters bickering with each other . . . which we've already seen in the original run. Also, it's a little weird seeing Booster Gold as leader, and more importantly, Guy Gardner as the seasoned veteran of the crew, taking on an almost Wolverine-like role whereas in the old series he was just the jerk of the group. I enjoyed Batman's involvement, but without a massive shift in direction, this one's getting cancelled. Aaron Lopresti's art is solid, by the way, but Booster looks ridiculous. Time to bring back the old costume, kids! 
The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel). Sorry, but while the foul stench of "Brand New Day" still lingers, I will not touch it. "Spider-Island" does look pretty good, though . . . if you can handle its links to "The Clone Saga" (which I actually didn't hate . . . that much). It's all leading up to "Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: The End of the Earth" (or something like that), which will hopefully resolve Ock's problems. If so, I might give Spidey another chance. If not, then I guess I'm done with Spider-Man for the long haul.
Wolverine and the X-Men (Marvel). The show was odd enough. I'm not interested in the comic of the same name, Chris Bachalo notwithstanding. I'm not really crazy about Jason Aaron's writing, and frankly, I feel like this is the book that's getting Marvel's primary backing. It's just like the brand-wide "Civil War" that split the Marvel Universe down the middle, but instead of giving us two well-developed sides to a reasonable argument, it said, "Okay, kids, Iron Man's an evil G-man now! Sic 'im, Cap!" (on that note, I think it was a VERY bad idea to position Iron Man as an antagonist in the same year his movie came out. Kids who wanted to read Iron Man after seeing the movie were very shocked and dismayed, I'm sure) Anyway, this is exactly what I fear will happen with "Schism." It seems like Marvel is very purposely putting the "cool kids" with Wolverine and the "old fuddy-duddies" with Cyclops, stacking the deck against the original X-Man. Well . . . I honestly think Uncanny is going to be better, and I hope I'm not wrong. Kieron Gillen has already proven himself as a solid writer, and I'm excited to see where this story goes. Wolverine . . . has grown boring. 
Wonder Woman (DC). No. Just . . . no. 

That's all for now, I suppose. I will work on making my thoughts more concise, less scatterbrained, etc., from this point on. :)