Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy 85th, Stan!

You know, I have a bit of a confession to make. I used to think Stan Lee was, well...lame. I mean, to be fair, it was the 90s, and my primary exposure to his writing was 'Ravage 2099', but...I thought Stan Lee was lame, and untalented, and kind of an embarrassment to a comics industry that had come a long way since the Silver Age. I thought the reason he was hailed as such a great writer in his heyday was because guys like Neil Gaiman and Peter David weren't around yet, and that we had such great, sophisticated writers now that it made Stan Lee into a relic.

I'm sorry, Stan. I was young and stupid, and I hadn't actually read a lot of those old comics. I've spent the last year or so, now, reading what has become a whole bookshelf of classic Marvel, and it's made me realize that Stan Lee was brilliant. He managed to be self-aggrandizing without being obnoxious, a combination that's much harder than it looks; the gentle, almost self-mocking humor of his captions, the bombastic next-issue summaries, even the little footnotes where he'd say that he would have covered the page with word balloons, but with art like this, he knew when to sit down and shut up...Stan Lee sold his stories, his persona, his characters, and he knew exactly how to charm you into believing his line. He made you feel special and discerning for having the good taste to enjoy his writing, and while his brand of hype always promised more than it delivered, it never made you feel like you were getting cheated afterward. It's a trick that modern-day editors show every day that it's very easy to fail at, and fail spectacularly. Even the nicknames he gave himself and his collaborators were part of that same charming hucksterism; "Dashing" Don Heck, "Gentleman" Gene Colan, Jack "The King" Kirby, "Jazzy" Johnny Romita, and Stan "The Man" Lee. (Cribbed from Stan "The Man" Musial, no doubt, but charming nonetheless.)

I love his dialogue. For all that I believe Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby contributed greatly to the classic runs of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, I don't think either one of those series would have become as great as they did without Stan Lee presenting vivid portraits of them through their speech. Even today, you can take the tails off of the word balloons in an issue of the Fantastic Four, and you'll know who's talking; Doom's megalomaniac ranting, Johnny's youthful exuberance, and of course, the Thing. "Natcherly! The idol of millions ain't no weak-kneed pantywaist!"

Did he benefit from working with some of the best artists in the industry? Unquestionably. Spider-Man wouldn't have been Spider-Man without Ditko, and the rest of the Marvel Universe wouldn't have been the same without Kirby. But that's the nature of a collaborative medium. Lee and Kirby made each other better. It wouldn't have been the same without those many wonderful artists, but it also wouldn't have been nearly as good without Stan Lee. It certainly wouldn't have been as much fun.

So, having become older and wiser, but not yet as old and wise as the man I'm lauding, I say, "Happy 85th Birthday!" to Stan (the Man) Lee, a great writer and a legend in his own lifetime. Thanks for all the great stories!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How To Have a Good Chinese Meal

Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone who's seen 'A Christmas Story' knows that Christmas means Chinese food. So, in the spirit of the season, I present my guideline to how to go out for a great Chinese dinner, on Christmas or any other day!

Step One: Find a good Chinese restaurant. This is an important step. There's no point in saying to everyone, "Hey! Let's go out to dinner!" and taking them all to Panda Express. You need to find a place that does really good Chinese food; this might involve one or more "scouting meals", just to find a place that suits. Look for the following good signs that the Chinese restaurant is authentic.

a) They have soy sauce at the table, in jars. The only reason a good Chinese restaurant has soy sauce in little packets is for their to-go customers.

b) The cook and/or owner (it's always a good sign if the owner is actually working in the restaurant) is actually Chinese.

c) Many of the customers are actually Chinese.

d) Members of the owner's family are helping out (waiting tables, cooking, et cetera.) Really good cooking tends to be a labor of love, and nothing says love like child labor.

e) The portions are nice and big. A good Chinese restaurant generally serves a single portion that acts as about a should have enough leftovers for either a snack later, or to feel really stuffed as you leave the restaurant. (This is why you take other people with you. See Step Two.)

f) They're open Christmas Day. See introduction.

Step Two: Select your group of people. Ideally, the total number of people in your group should be divisible by three, just to make the portions work out well, but you're really more concerned with good conversation and fun people to hang out with, so don't be afraid to invite an extra person or two. You can always add on egg rolls or lo mein. If you don't have at least two friends you can go out for Chinese food with, go join a community theater group.

Step Three: Bring everyone to the restaurant. Do not order individually. This is vitally important. For one thing, you'll all wind up with way too much food. For another, the best part of eating Chinese is trying different dishes. Order two entrees for every three people, and try to vary the entrees as much as possible. If you have something you know is popular (having a favorite Chinese restaurant obviously means skipping Step One), go ahead and order multiples, but try to mix it up at least some. Passing around the entrees, piling your plate with different dishes, and telling people, "Mmm, you have to try this" is all part of the tradition. In the event of uncertainty, don't be afraid to order a bit extra...Chinese food makes great leftovers (although you'll need to cook fresh rice. Nothing tastes worse than reheated rice. It's like eating paste.)

Alternate Option: Order out, and have the food at home while watching a movie. (The only trick is to find a movie that will satisfy everyone concerned. No horror--you never know who might have a weak stomach. 'The Princess Bride' is never a bad choice for a large, mixed gathering, as only soulless demon-people dislike that film.)

So there you have it--the perfect guide to a fun night out. (In the Twin Cities, by the way, I recommend both 'Anna Chung's', in Eagan, and 'Seafood Palace', in Minneapolis. Both great family-owned restaurants that serve nice, big portions of great Chinese food. Try Anna's sesame chicken, it's the best in the world!)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dream Is Dead

The Miami Dolphins have, for the first time all season, failed to lose a football game. They managed to take it to overtime, but unfortunately failed to allow Baltimore to score a field goal, and subsequently won on a touchdown of their own.

Seriously, why wouldn't you start playing for the losses at this point? Win a game, and you're just another bunch of 1-15 schmucks. At least there's a certain perverse glory in going 0-16. You might be bad, but at least you're legendarily bad.

Or, at the very least, wait until next week to win, and ruin the Patriots' season at the same time...

Friday, December 07, 2007

So Good I Stole It

My room-mate, Tony, and I were discussing politics yesterday, and we got onto the subject of Mitt Romney and his difficult journey to the White House. We both agreed that his Mormonism was a stumbling-block to most Americans, but Tony provided the true reason we're not sure electing a Mormon is a good idea.

"We're all just worried that he's going to go on a diplomatic tour of Europe, and all of the other heads of state are going to pretend to not be home when he rings the doorbell."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bona Fide Shameless Plug

After what amounts to some three years of delays, 'Glimpse of the Abyss' should be showing up in stores this month. It's a sourcebook for the 'Feng Shui' RPG, from Atlas Games, featuring some of my writing, and if you're a fan of 'Feng Shui' (which might very well be, as 90% of my published work has been for FS), I'd suggest you buy it, as the publishers will be looking at 'Glimpse of the Abyss' as a barometer of the popularity of the line.

If that's not enough, it has flying heads, zombie bikers, demon kung-fu masters, eunuch sorcerers, and a little something I nicknamed "Corpse Factories". Oh, and killer nuns. Oh, yes, and I promise you'll never look at a dodo the same way again.