Friday, June 20, 2008

Head to Head: Marvel vs. DC

With the recent release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and the upcoming release of The Dark Knight, I thought this might be a good time to compare the the characters' respective companies, Marvel Comics and DC (or Detective Comics, as it was originally known. Please don't call it DC Comics, because if you do I'll go to an ATM machine, enter my PIN number, take out some cash money and hire a hitman assassin to kill murder you). I will compare the companies under the following categories: Best Hero, Worst Hero, Best Team, and Other Media. Let the battle begin!

Best Hero

Marvel: Spider-Man
Spider-Man is one of Marvel's earliest characters, and their most well-known. Spider-Man's alter-ego is mild-mannered photographer, Peter Parker. Parker gained his spider powers via a bite from a radioactive spider. His powers include spider agility, proportionate spider strength, a precognitive "spider sense" that alerts him to imminent danger, the ability to cling to and climb walls, and the ability to make women scream "Kill it! Kill it!" whenever they see him. As a result, Spider-Man spends much of his time running from shoe-wielding boyfriends and husbands.

Peter Parker, a brilliant scientist in addition to being a pretty OK photographer, designed a pair of wrist-mounted web shooters which produce a strong, sticky web-like substance, allowing him to sling webs all over New York City. It is these web shooters that make him truly recognizable as "Spider-Man," rather than "Sticky Bendy Guy." Spider-Man is haunted by Personal Demons, which force him to fight crime to atone for allowing a thief to escape a crime scene and eventually kill his dear Uncle Ben.

To sum up:

Powers: Spider agility, spider strength, spider sense, wall-crawling, implausible inventiveness, guilt.

Weaknesses: Rolled-up newspapers, redheads

DC: Superman
Superman is the archetypal superhero. His inception predates Spider-Man by almost 30 years. Superman is actually Kal-El, the last son of the explosion-prone planet Krypton. His home planet orbited a red sun, so somehow the radiation from Earth's yellow sun gives him amazing powers. He is invulnerable. He can fly. He's super strong. He's super fast. He can shoot beams of concentrated heat from his eyes. He has X-ray vision. He has super hearing. Basically, Superman can do anything, and nothing can hurt him. How's that for drama? Oh, wait. Superman has one fatal weakness. Chunks of his home planet (known as Kryptonite) landed on Earth, and their radiation is harmful to him.

As you can imagine, it's hard to build suspenseful stories based around a hero who has seemingly infinite power and only one weakness. There are only so many "villain with a chunk of Kryptonite" stories that can be told. Sure, Doomsday "killed" Superman, but Supes only considered that to be a temporary setback. He and his new Super Mullet were back in action quicker than you can say "Christ-like figure."

Superman's human identity is Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter (superheroes like working at newspapers, because that's the quickest way to get news. Or at least it was, 40 years ago. I suppose nowadays it'd be more efficient to monitor the blogs. But honestly, I don't think anyone wants to read a comic where the hero hangs out with Perez Hilton while waiting for Amy Winehouse to start lighting kittens on fire). Kent works at The Daily Planet, along with his on-again off-again girlfriend/wife Lois Lane. His childhood sweetheart was Lana Lang. His nemesis is Lex Luthor. There must've been a heck of a deal on the "L" blocks for typeset printers back in the '30s. Superman's main problems include feeling sad about not being able to save everybody all the time, and having too many women fall in love with him at once (more on that later).

So here's the breakdown on Superman:

Powers: Invulnerability, super strength, super speed, flight, X-ray vision, heat vision, super cold breath, easy-to-print primary color scheme

Weaknesses: Kryptonite, accident-prone reporters, Jesus complex

If you're asking who's more powerful, it's Superman hands down. But if you're asking who's more of a hero, it's got to be Spider-Man because he's actually risking injury when he fights evil.

Winner: DC

Worst Heroes

Marvel: Daredevil
Daredevil's superpower is blindness. That's right. He's super-blind. Great power. Now, I'm not going to say that blindness is a disability (though I suppose I could. I guarantee there are no blind people reading this blog), but calling it a superpower is a bit of a stretch. Daredevil can fight crime, but he can't legally drive a car. So I suppose he could attempt to drive, and then bring himself to justice. It doesn't help that one of his more prominent villains is named Bullseye. As in, "I wear a bullseye on my head so it'd be super easy to take me down IF YOU COULD SEE ME!" That's just distasteful.

Powers: Blindness

Weaknesses: Pretty much anything he would have to see to avoid. Bullets, knives, baseball bats, trash cans, steel chairs, angry cats, cars, bikes, trains, joggers, etc.

DC: Aquaman
Aquaman has the worst superpower in the DC universe. Or rather, the worst set of powers. He can talk to fish, and he can't breathe air. Pretty useful, eh? Not even Batman, a guy with no superpowers, would trade abilities with Aquaman. It's a wonder the Justice League ever brings him along on missions (see below). Aquaman also has an uncanny ability to be captured. All the time. He's the universe's answer to Harry Houdini (law of averages and whatnot). I'm pretty sure he accidentally captured himself a few times. Not that he's missing out on much, of course. We're talking about a guy whose idea of a fun Saturday night is going to Red Lobster and hanging out by the lobster tank to catch up on gossip. It's super hard to believe that the CW network opted not to develop the Aquaman TV series.

Powers: Talks to fish (not that they listen), can swim almost as fast as Michael Phelps.

Weaknesses: Air, loneliness, freedom, network mergers

I've got to give the edge to Marvel for having the slightly less useless character. Somehow, despite having superpowers, Aquaman manages to be less effective than a blind man. He's the John Tesh to Daredevil's Ray Charles.

Winner: Marvel

Best Team

Marvel: The Uncanny X-Men
Marvel's flagship team of superpowered individuals is the X-Men. The X-Men are a team of mutants, whose powers are the result of natural evolution. They are led by the handicapable Professor Charles Xavier. The X-Men regularly deal with the prejudices of a society unwilling to accept mutants into their ranks. Their main nemesis is Magneto, who has the power to manipulate metal and really mess up computer monitors and TV screens if he touches them. Prominent team members include Cyclops, who blows people up if he opens his eyes, and Wolverine, who is known for his healing powers, adamantium claws, and inability to beat Ohio State (that's right. Whatcha gonna do 'bout it, Michigan?).

DC: The Justice League of America
DC's all-star team, the Justice League, has had many different members over the years. From Batman and Superman to Guy Gardner and Booster Gold, the JLA has wavered in its prestige. A typical JLA mission consists of identifying a giant alien monster, throwing Superman at the monster, waiting for him to finish throwing the monster into space, rescuing Aquaman (somehow, he ALWAYS gets captured), and going back to their satellite headquarters to talk about how antisocial Batman is. Fun stuff.

I'll give this one to the X-Men, because they use more of an actual team mentality. The Justice League is basically just Superman and some other people. If the JLA were a band, Superman would leave and put out a solo album.

Winner: Marvel

Other Media

Marvel: Marvel has released many more movies over the last decade than DC, but many of those were clunkers. Yes, the Spider-Man movies were great (Spider-Man 2 is arguably the best comic book movie ever), but that doesn't excuse Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Elektra, Hulk, X3, or the atrocious Fantastic Four movies. Iron Man earned Marvel a lot of the goodwill it lost with its many bad films, and it looks like the company is trying to interconnect its films in the future (I'm already excited for the Avengers movie, and Iron Man 2 hasn't even started filming). As far as TV shows, Marvel has faired much better with cartoons than live-action shows. Many people of a certain age fondly remember the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons of the '90s. Marvel has yet to create a viable live-action TV show based on their characters. It's time to step up.

DC: DC hasn't had much luck with its superhero movies, and since they only use a few of their characters in movies the bad ones really stick out. We had to deal with 10 years of terrible Batman movies (yes, even the Tim Burton ones). Finally, though, Christopher Nolan has gotten the franchise where it should be, with Batman Begins and the upcoming sequel, The Dark Knight. Fanboys have been arguing about Batman Begins vs. Spider-Man 2 as the Best Ever for a few years, and The Dark Knight will likely be added to that debate. The Superman movies, well...oh boy. The original Superman movie would have been great if not for the ending, involving Superman flying backwards around the Earth, reversing Earth's rotation, and therefore somehow reversing time, which apparently is tied to the rotation of the Earth. Try not to think about it too hard, or your brain will bleed. Superman 2 was OK (enough so that I aped one of its more famous quotes for my blog title), except for the part where the President of the United States giving General Zod control over THE ENTIRE PLANET. I'm sure the U.N. was THRILLED about that move. The less said about the other Superman sequels, the better. Superman Returns could've been great, but since Brian Singer doesn't actually READ Superman comics, he based the movie on a pre-Crisis framework. To translate for you non-nerds, that means that he made a movie based on the 1970s Superman lore, rather than the very-different canon of the new millennium. It'd be like if Batman Begins had been based on the 1960s Batman series. Bad move. Not many other DC characters have had their own movies, so the company lives and dies by Batman and Superman. How many times do I have to ask for a Green Lantern movie? RotoScope it. It'll be awesome. TV-wise, Smallville has been going strong for seven seasons now. For those of you who haven't seen it, Smallville follows the problems of a young Clark Kent. Most of his "problems" revolve around the premise that pretty much every woman he knows is madly in love with him. Yeah, I know. I feel sorry for him, too. It's just more proof that Superman has never had a real problem in his life.

It's tough to call this one, because of the variety of media and the differing amounts of output between the two companies. DC, though, has produced quality results in movies, live-action TV, and animation, whereas Marvel has more mixed results in movies and has had virtually no success with live-action TV. I'll hand this one to DC.

Winner: DC

So it looks like it's all tied up. I guess I'll have to break the tie here. Guess what folks? Gorilla Grod is NOT a Marvel character. He's straight outta DC, and since I'm aping his name I'm giving his creators the edge.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Og: The Guy Who Invented Everything

I'd like to introduce you all to a friend of mine. His name is Og. Og has been dead for hundreds of thousands of years. The reason Og is significant is that, well...Og invented everything. Not "everything" everything, but a crapload of stuff. We'll be visiting Og again sometime in the future, but today's installment is an encounter between Og and his less spectacular brother, Urk. Og is showing Urk his newest invention. And now, I present...

Og Invents the Bicycle

OG: Salutations, Urk.
URK: Og.
OG: I'm so glad you came by today. I'm anxious to show you my newest invention. I'm quite proud of it, really, and I think it will do a fair bit of good for our modest community.
URK: What that?
OG: Oh, this? Well, this is the result of more than a few weary nights and a substantial bit of pondering. What you see here is something I like to call the "bicycle."
OG: You may call it a "bike" if your fancy is so tickled.
URK: Urk like bike.
OG: I'm happy to see that it meets your approval...or were you commenting on my allowance of the abbreviated form of the name?
URK: Urk like short words.
OG: Well, what do you think of the invention itself?
URK: Look dumb.
OG: Oh, come now. You can find nothing of merit in this marvel of engineering and aesthetic design?
URK: Wheel...
OG: Yes! You noticed! My last great machination, the wheel, proved to be quite indispensable to my current endeavor.
URK: Wheel dumb.
OG: Is that really a fair assessment, brother? You may recall that my invention of language seems to have worked out pretty well for everyone...even those of us who seem reluctant to master its nuance and artistry.
URK: Urk like short words.
OG: Yes, that has been established ad nauseum through constant demonstration on your part.
URK: How bike work?
OG: Oh yes! Once again my penchant for rhetoric has detracted from the matter at hand. The bicycle is a means of transportation which will allow us to traverse the terrain at a much more rapid pace than that to which we are accustomed.
URK: Go fast?
OG: Once again, brother, you have managed to cut straight to the point. Yes, it will allow us to move much faster.
URK: But...fall down?
OG: Now we are getting to the real brilliance of it all. Loss of equilibrium will not be an issue after a brief period of orientation to the new device. You see, the generation of adequate rotation of the wheels creates a gyroscopic force sufficient to promote and sustain balance upon the bicycle.
URK: Gyro...gyros...
OG: If go fast, not fall down.
URK: Urk like small words.
OG: Quite.
URK: What bike for?
OG: Well, the most prudent application for the time being would be for use when hunting. Increased velocity when attempting to overtake prey could, and most likely will, lead to a decreased distance for spear throwing, thus ensuring increased accuracy. I suppose over time, we could use bicycles for recreational pursuits, possibly in some sort of speed-related contest. We could bestow upon the winner a saffron-tinted vestment, or perhaps...
URK: Urk want try.
OG: Normally I wouldn't hesitate to acquiesce, but if you recall the time I invented fire you may agree with me that your prior tests of my accomplishments have yielded what could politely be referred to as "mixed results." I do believe you are still missing patches of hair around your neck.
URK: Fire hot.
OG: Quite. Now, why don't we wait to test out the bicycle until I feel you are equal to the challenge?
URK: Bike dumb.
OG: Whatever helps you sleep at night, brother.

Friday, June 13, 2008

R.I.P. Tim Russert

In a country where Anna Nicole Smith's death overshadowed all other news stories for a month, Tim Russert was one of the last remaining great newsmen. He was one of the best interviewers I have ever seen, and he was one of the only level heads in the world of punditry. I doubt that watching Meet the Press on Sunday mornings is going to be much of a priority for me anymore. Sorry if you wanted something funny today. I just don't feel very funny at the moment.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blind Review: The Incredible Hulk

This is still an experimental blog, and today's entry may seem strange, but I figure I'll give it a try and see what happens. This may end up being a recurring segment.

The idea behind a "Blind Review" is that I will review a movie that hasn't come out yet. I will comment on performances I haven't seen, plot points that may not be in the film, and I may add some stuff just for the sake of my own entertainment. Here goes nothing...

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk follows the story of scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a man who toils endlessly in an attempt to control his own destructive rage. In the opening credits of the movie, we are treated to a series of flashbacks outlining Banner's backstory. Bruce and his team created a machine that used focused gamma rays to create a natural-looking, full-coverage tan. The machine was the team's ticket to a Nobel Prize in Fake Baking. Unfortunately for Dr. Banner, during his test of the machine the, uh...flux capicitor...malfunctioned. The resulting burst of gamma rays not only irradiated his cells, but they instantly cooked every Hot Pocket within a five-mile radius.
Banner's custom tanning bed/Hot Pocket cooker

The massive dose of gamma radiation wreaked havoc on the good doctor's blood sugar. Bruce Banner was stricken with Super Hypoglycemia, a condition which would send him into a severe rage whenever his blood sugar level dipped. This rage manifested in Banner physically, transforming him into a massive green cartoon character known as the Hulk. The Hulk is a seemingly unstoppable force when unleashed.

The next flashback shows Bruce Banner in a McDonald's, attempting to order a Big Mac meal. The cashier informs him that it is 10:20 in the morning, and they will not serve Big Macs until 10:30. A panicked-looking Banner doubles over, clutching his stomach. The camera pans in on his eyes, which are squeezed shut. Suddenly (and quite dramatically!), he opens his eyes to reveal glowing green irises. Fade to black, with an animalistic bellow heard in the background. Fade in, showing the smoking crater where McDonald's used to stand.

After the credits, we find Bruce Banner waking up in a bed. Next to him is Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler. We see her from behind as she gets out of bed and pulls on a robe. She turns around. Her robe is open, but not enough to compromise the film's PG-13 rating. It is open enough, though, for the audience to see what seems to be a vertical row of stitches starting just below her ribcage and running all the way down the center of her torso. From this, we can confirm that this woman is the Hulk's lover. They are in a seedy motel, on the lam from the authorities. Which authorities? All of them. Cops, military, FBI, CIA, FCC, FDA, BET...the whole enchilada. Most of the movie is spent watching Banner and Ross sneak from town to town, hoping to avoid detection. Bruce must keep his blood sugar in check, lest he become a danger to those around him.

The authorities are thrown off the scent temporarily when Banner goes to a courthouse to legally change his first name from Bruce to David. Betty asks if he is doing this to throw their pursuers off course, but Banner tells her that the reason for the change is that the name Bruce is "just too gay." He is Jack's homophobic scientist. Unfortunately, Banner is taken to court by a rapper over the use of his new name, and he is forced to revert back to being Bruce Banner. The chase, once again, is on.

Banner's main nemesis in the movie is Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a psychotic soldier who is jealous that Bruce Banner has such a catchy (albeit kind of gay) name, while his own name sounds like something out of Hairspray. To aid his pursuit, Blonsky injects himself with Super Soldier serum. The serum has the unfortunate side effect of turning Blonsky into a massive reptilian creature named Abomination.

In the movie's climax, a very hungry Hulk is in the streets of downtown Los Angeles (nice place to hide from the public eye, jackass), cornered by the military. The soldiers are furiously lobbing cookies at the Hulk, hoping that he might eat one and balance out his blood sugar. The Hulk's transformation had been triggered by Bruce Banner's frustration at finding nothing but vegan restaurants along the streets of L.A. Their efforts are fruitless, though, as the Hulk is too enraged by the lack of substantial food to eat the cookies. The cookies merely anger him as they bounce off his computer-generated skin. Soon enough, Abomination shows up, ready to rumble. He and the Hulk begin to charge at one another, until Abomination realizes that he doesn't need to destroy Bruce Banner, because now HE has the cooler name. Instead, they work together to rescue Betty, who has been captured by...let's say the Green Goblin. Then it turns out that Bruce Banner and Emil Blonsky are actually the same person. Blonsky was a figment of Banner's imagination. Cue the Pixies song.

Overall, The Incredible Hulk is a disjointed and confusing movie. It's almost as if the writers just made it up as they went along, rather than take the time to write out a thoughtful script.

Rating: 2 Puny Human skulls. I'll work out the scale later.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Next YouTube Star

Sometimes, there are no words.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Clinton and Obama: The Private Meeting Transcript

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama met privately last week to iron out a few things. No one is completely sure what exactly they said to each other. Or at least, no one WAS sure. KBG has obtained a transcript of the meeting between the two Democrats (don't ask us how. We don't want to talk about it. And we still feel dirty), and now the whole world can know just what was said. For the purposes of the transcript, "H" stands for Hillary Clinton and "B" stands for Barack Obama.

B: Hillary! Glad you could make it.
H: How are you, Barack?
B: I can't complain. Would you like some coffee?
H: Barack, I watched my husband drink coffee for years. I've seen what it takes to drink coffee, and I can say with utmost certainty that I would not ever want to drink coffee.
B: Okay...a simple "no" would've been fine.
H: I'll just have some water, thanks.
B: Now Hillary, since we're meeting here in private, I was hoping we could work out a way to give the Democrats a definite candidate for the election in November.
H: Yes, I agree. Now, about your surrender...
B: My what?
H: Your unconditional surrender. Let's face facts, Barack. It's over. You lost. I've got almost as many delegates as you do, so I win.
B: Hillary, you're not making any sense. I've got more delegates, so I win. That's how it works.
H: Barack, once again you're showing your inexperience. I get to decide who gets the nomination, and I say I'm the nominee.
B: That's not how it works.
H: Yes it is.
B: No, it isn't.
B: ...Pardon?
H: I mean, uh, yes it is. My daddy said so.
B: Since when?
H: Since always. I grew up rich, so I get to do whatever I want. That's how it works.
B: Wrong party, sister. We're Democrats. We let the voters decide.
H: What about the Superdelegates?
B: Shut up, that's what.
H: Can I get some coffee?
B: Coffee?
H: Yes. I would like some coffee.
B: You said you didn't want coffee. You said you would NEVER drink coffee.
H: What? No. That's riciculous. I've always wanted coffee. I want to show millions of women in this country that a woman CAN drink coffee. Yes we can!
B: I told you to stop saying that.
H: What about that coffee?
B: Here, you can finish mine.
H: Barack, I will NOT suffer the indignity of taking your leftovers.
B: Hillary, have you been paying attention to the primaries? You've been taking my leftovers for months.
H: Which is why I'm winning.
B: No, you're not.
H: I will put your head on a pike and leave it on my front lawn as a warning to all the other senators.
B: What?
H: I said ""
B: Well, you're still welcome to finish mine.
H: Thanks, I think I will.
B: Now Hillary, I've been wondering why you claim such a strong connection to the blue collar workers despite being wealthy your entire life. It seems a little hypocritical of you to call me an elitist, especially when I'm the one who actually worked my way up in the world.
H: Barack, I understand what it's like to work hard every day and still make barely enough money to provide food for my family.
B: No, you don't. At all.
H: Well, I know what it's like to watch other people work hard every day, and then make barely enough money to fuel my own jet.
B: We're not getting anywhere here. How about this: you let me take the nomination, and I'll tell you where Bill's been going on Thursday nights.
H: Oh please...I know all about Tiffany. And Stacy. And Harold.
B: about I tell you where he keeps his private pot stash? You know, the REALLY good stuff?
H: ...Deal. But when you're President, I want three free murders, no questions asked.
B: No.
H: Two?
B: Can't do it.
H: One?
B: Fine, as long as it's not you-know-who. Not even I could cover up the murder of a former President.
H: Him? Oh, no, Barack. He's the least of my concerns these days.
B: And it can't be me, either.
H: Frick. Okay. You've got a deal.
B: Are you done with your coffee?
H: I will not finish my coffee until I know that my supporters have had a chance to make their voices hea-
B: Oh, come off it. Are you done?
H: Yes.
B: Okay then. We should probably kill some time before we leave, to make it look like we were discussing really important things. Do you want to play with my Wii?
H: I thought you'd never ask! Oh...wait. You mean Nintendo Wii, don't you?
B: Of course. What did you think I meant?
H: I, uh...oh, nothing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

College Students Want No Part of the "Real World" Unless It's a Show on MTV

I currently live in a college town, and today a female friend of mine asked me why it is that yet another strip club has opened its doors in our fair city. I told her that it was because we live in a college town, and college towns and strip clubs have always had a symbiotic relationship. This relationship is not a phenomenon in itself, but is actually part of a larger concept I have dubbed "The Circle of College Life." I'll break the concept down into bite-size bits for easier digestion:

Strip Clubs

The benefits for a strip club in a college town are twofold. First, the common stereotype/joke about strippers is that they're all working to "pay for school." Med school, law school, veterinary school, clown get the idea. But like any joke, there's some truth to it. There are some college girls who just flat out do not want to wait tables or work in retail. This leaves them with two main options for earning money: they can carry on a torrid affair with an aging English professor who buys them lots of stuff, or they can strip. The more talented girls will be able to find regular work at the clubs. The not-so-talented girls, well...that's why Amateur Night exists. This usually-weekly event is heavily publicized in college newspapers and on kiosks on most campuses. The purpose of Amateur Night is to bring in as many college students as possible. Females will flock to the club looking for an easy $200 payoff, and the male students will head to the clubs hoping to see that one hot girl from their chemistry class take off her clothes in public, which is way better than spending every night downloading her Facebook pictures. So the male students, by way of patronizing the local strip club, are in fact funding the tuition of many of their female classmates. This works out fine and dandy for the girls, but the guys soon find that their own funds are sadly depleted. If only there were some way for them to make their own quick cash...


College guys generally aren't any more keen on working in food service or retail than their female counterparts. The bills keep coming, though, and a body has to make a living somehow. Now, there's always the option of hanging around the bars at upscale restaurants and hoping to meet a wealthy, elderly widow lonely for "company," but that could involve psychological damage to such a degree as to rival most of the girls working at the strip club (at least THEY never hear the phrase "you remind me so much of my grandson...). Stripping is still an option, but women don't frequent strip clubs nearly as often as men, and many of the straight guys would be too homophobic to work at the gay clubs. Plus, there's always the chance that they could end up on American Idol someday, and the whole "stripper past" thing can really come back to bite them (right, David Hernandez?). The best option for many of these guys is to become small-time pot dealers. Any guy attending college is likely to know other people who attend college. And guess what? A lot of those people smoke pot. So do their professors. So do their professors' TAs. So do their professors' TAs' dogs. And so on and so forth. The point is, it's theoretically possible to be a pot dealer on a college campus without ever having to get off the couch. Students from the honors college buy it because they're stressed out about school. Music, Art and Philosophy majors buy it because they need "inspiration." Pre-Med students buy it for "research." Strippers buy it because they want to escape the memories of horny frat boys and sweaty middle-aged townies drooling over them. It seems like a pretty sweet deal until the dealer realizes that the Reagan administration put laws in place that make it less of a crime to punt babies into a campfire than to be caught possessing, smoking, or selling marijuana. Sometimes they decide that maybe the risk isn't worth it. And that's where that pissy new cook at your job came from.

So you see, the entire college town economy is dependent on college students not wanting to work a regular job. Not when there are degrading and/or illegal jobs around that pay better than a part-time gig at McDonald's. Some girls strip to make money. Some guys blow their cash at the strip club and start selling drugs. Some musicians buy pot from the dealers with the money they made playing a show attended by strippers and dealers alike. Some professors buy pot with the money they get from working at a college where many of the students have to repeat classes and pay more tuition because they were too busy working, drinking or smoking pot to actually do any studying. Then the dealers go back to the strip clubs. And thus, the Circle of College Life continues.

Puny human college students.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Head to Head: American Gladiators vs. Ninja Warrior

Today's Head to Head is an East vs. West battle of physical challenge-based TV shows. In the blue corner, we have American Gladiators! And in the red corner, hailing from the land of the rising sun...Ninja Warrior!

American Gladiators: The Lowdown

American Gladiators was the granddaddy of consolation prizes during the WGA strike this past November-February. I may not have been able to watch new episodes of Lost, or Chuck, or worst of all, The Office, but for a glorious six-week span I was able to relive my childhood by watching juiced-up mutants smack cops and firemen around with Nerf clubs. My reaction to the news that Gladiators was being revived on television was nothing short of unbridled joy. Then NBC sweetened the deal. I learned that the Hulkster himself, Hulk Hogan, would be one of the hosts of the show. Now, I wouldn't exactly call myself a Hulkamaniac, but I have a deep appreciation for the massive "WTF?" factor that comes with anything involving Hogan and the English language.

Much to my delight, the new incarnation of American Gladiators delivered the goods. The events were fun to watch, the Gladiators had developed pseudo-WWE personalities (I'm sure Vince McMahon is keeping a very close eye on the potential future talent), and yes, the Hulkster uttered some classic Hoganisms. The Gladiators were more than happy to pitch in with their own confusing zingers. American Gladiators is arguably the #1 source on TV for mixed metaphors. Typical Gladiator trash talk goes something like this:

"You may be from the Motor City, Steve, but tonight I'm the Rocky Mountains and I'm going to eat you up like a can of bananas!"

The most confusing ongoing verbal mix-up during the first season involved the largest Gladiator, Justice. There was a great deal of confusion regarding whether or not Justice had been "served" at the end of his events. Sometimes Justice got "served" when he won. Sometimes "Justice was served" when he lost. The American Gladiators production team never quite settled on which interpretation was correct.

The physical challenges in American Gladiators are quite formidable. Many times, the events involve the 150-pound "Contenders" facing the Gladiators, who outweigh them by at least a buck, in some sort of one-on-one contest. This usually ends the way everyone expects it to end. Occasionally, the Contenders compete in an event simultaneously, and this is usually their best chance to score points. Those points get added up over the course of the program, and at the end of the events the point differential determines the leader's head start in The Eliminator. The leading Contender gets a half-second head start for every point they have beyond their opponent's total. The Eliminator is a "grueling" obstacle course in which the Contenders race side-by-side. The winner advances in the tournament bracket, and the loser is eventually mocked on Best Week Ever. In the first season, the two winners of the tournament (one male, one female) were given the opportunity to become Gladiators themselves in season 2. This worked out well enough on the female end, since the overall winner was Monica Carlson, who stood 5'7'' and weighed 130 pounds (slightly smaller than the other female Gladiators, but still within the ballpark size-wise). The male winner, however, was the 5'9" Evan Dollard, who tipped the scales at a whopping 150 pounds. This was the result of designing The Eliminator to be much easier for smaller, faster Contenders. Great for TV, bad for selecting new Gladiators. I really expected Evan's Gladiator name to be "Pipsqueak." This season, he debuted as "Rocket." Every time he stands next to the other Gladiators he gives the impression of a kid brother who wants to hang out with his older brother and all his linebacker friends. It's amazing that the words "gee wiz" have not yet escaped his lips on air. Maybe it's just a testament to the show's editors.

Season 2 has arguably been better than season 1, unless you think ratings are important. So far this season we've seen a deaf Contender, and a Contender with a prosthetic leg. At this point, I'm pretty sure before the end of the season we're going to see a blind albino Contender with no arms. That's just good television.

Overall, American Gladiators is a very physically demanding show, but The Eliminator would be scoffed at by the contestants on our next show...

Ninja Warrior: The Skinny

Ninja Warrior pits individual contestants against a four-stage obstacle course in Japan. Now, calling the challenges faced by Ninja Warrior contestants an "obstacle course" is a bit like calling Kujo a puppy. The Ninja Warrior course is so extremely difficult that in over seventeen seasons, only two men have completed the entire course. Most of the 100 contestants are eliminated before the end of the first stage. "But Grodd, how do they get eliminated?" you may ask. Puny humans. The contestants are eliminated when they fall in the water under each obstacle. Or if they TOUCH the water. Or if the timer, which barely allows enough time for a flawless run, expires. So yeah, it's pretty tough. Every stage is more difficult than the last, and the entire course tests a wide range of abilities, such as speed, strength, stamina, and agility. The first three stages vary from tournament to tournament, but the final stage is always some sort of vertical climb involving a rope and a timer short enough to make Spider-Man pee his pants.

The one upside for Ninja Warrior contestants is that there are no Gladiators on the course. A contestant may fall off a log and disgrace not only their family but their entire ancestral lineage, but at least they won't have to deal with a guy named Wolf punching them in the throat. The show really serves to illustrate the differences between Eastern and Western culture. In the West, our obstacle-course shows always have a winner. You don't have to necessarily be great to win American Gladiators, you just have to suck less than your opponent. Kind of like how Paul Hamm won his Olympic gold medal in '04 (he has not had the same success with Ninja Warrior. Poor little guy just can't get up the Warped Wall). In the East, the culture is more about accepting failure with honor, however disgraced your ancestors might be. That's why the timer counts down on Ninja Warrior and counts up on American Gladiators. Because nothing's as American as making sure people don't feel bad about themselves. I blame the schools.

And the winner is...

Oh crap, did I forget to establish criteria for victory? Am I picking which show is more difficult? More entertaining? Am I judging based on the amount of subtitles? Well, I guess I'll have to break it down. Ninja Warrior's obstacle course is far more difficult than The Eliminator. American Gladiators provides opponents for its contestants, resulting in a more entertaining "battle" aesthetic. But Ninja Warrior always provides completely insane commentary from its MC. I guess this one's a bit of a toss-up. I'll have to leave it to the readers. Assuming there's more than one of you out there. One way or another, justice will be served. Or not. I'm still not sure how that works.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Detroit Pistons: The Cake is a Lie

It's deja vu all over again. Once again, the Pistons reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and once again they crapped out short of the Big Dance. And once again, Pistons fans must deal with the crushing disappointment that comes with supporting the NBA's biggest teases. The Pistons have played in the last six Eastern Conference finals. They have only reached the Finals twice, and only one of those trips ended with the Pistons as Champions. Clearly, something must be done. But what? Is the problem with the players? The coach? The front office? Here are my thoughts:

Flip Saunders is DONE. It's time for him to go. He is not a bad coach by anyone's definition, but it is pretty clear that he cannot get the Pistons to the Finals. Rick Carlisle was fired in '03 after the Pistons lost to the Nets in the conference Finals (the Nets? In the playoffs? Oh, how times change...). Even Larry Brown got canned after losing to the Spurs in the finals (though that had more to do with his off-the-court behaviors than with his actual coaching). Flip Saunders has lost in the Eastern Conference Finals each of the last three years, and I doubt he'll get a fourth chance. Joe Dumars is a man of decisive action, and he won't hesitate to pull the trigger if he thinks it's the right thing to do. Now it's just a matter of who Joe D will pick to succeed Saunders. Avery Johnson's on the market. Jeff Van Gundy could take the job, if he hasn't become too enamored with his commentary job. Zeke is available, but I doubt Pistons fans want any part of that particular Bad Boys reunion. I won't even try to predict who will take over as the new Pistons coach; I just know that Flip Saunders will be gone. Maybe he can fill the vacancy in Phoenix. He's a talented offensive-minded coach, so that might be a good fit for him.

For the first time in many years, I think the Pistons' roster is headed for a big shakeup. Tayshaun Prince is safe, and I'm pretty sure Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey have job security in Detroit. Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace are the most likely starters to be traded. They still have relatively high market value, and their inconsistent playoff performance could lead to them finding jobs elsewhere. If Rip Hamilton is playing for a different team next season, it'll probably be his choice and not Joe D's. If Dumars does unload Billups or 'Sheed, he may try to bring in a strong starting center and let Antonio McDyess come off the bench next season. Again, it's too soon to predict exactly what will happen, but I think the Pistons' roster will look very different by next November.

Shane Battier, at some point before he retires, will play for the Pistons. You can quote me on that.