Unremarkable Us

After a hiatus of an untold number of years (20? More?), I'm going to try to bring my comics back on a regular basis. In fact, this is probably the most regular basis I've ever aimed to achieve.


I'll be trying to post three new Unremarkable Us comics to be up every Tuesday morning. (My actual goal is Monday night, but "Monday" implies first thing in the morning, so let's just make it Tuesday and call it even.) This may or may not have something to do with the fact that my comics for this week weren't done until about 4 p.m. on Tuesday... I'll try to keep to the schedule better in future.


So you know what's going on, in its current form, the comic is essentially a slightly exaggerated description of our life since M. got pregnant. While the specific gags didn't necessarily happen, the scenarios and events are pretty much what M. has been going through as we hurtle toward January.


Maybe some of this will be helpful or amusing for people; maybe it's just my way of understanding what's happening to us. Regardless, we'll try to be here every Tuesday with some fresh attempts to laugh at the whole thing.

Spidey's Home

In the first 10 minutes, Spider-Man: Homecoming corrects everything that was wrong with the Andrew Garfield version: a Peter Parker who cares more about people and being kind than anything else, setting up the reality of all the moral conflict to come as he's repeatedly given the choice between what he wants and what's right.

Michael Keaton takes a second-class (classic, but ultimately lame) Spider-Man villain and makes him the most articulated and terrifying thing in any Marvel movie to date. It's also nice to see a cast that's extensively ethnically diverse without feeling like it's checking boxes in a Beneton ad, though we must note they stopped short at colorblind casting any of the leads.

However, the film's organic feel is also its only weakness: it's too real to have a linear story arc that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the victories are all so harrowing you nearly weep with relief, yet so humbling that there's little to enjoy in the outcomes.

Perhaps that's what it should be, showing us that action isn't the fun stuff—it's the scary stuff, and we shouldn't hanker for it in a universe populated with real people. The fun stuff is with the people who make your life rich, not in putting them at risk.

But then, it also means we as the audience never get to enjoy the escapism of vicarious triumph. This Spider-Man is so real we never quite get to feel like we've left our own struggles at the door—which is both to its credit, and its limitation.


So I've been quiet on the blog for a while. Why? Because I've had a variety of jobs where all I do is write, so writing in my spare time has been less of a thing.


So what am I doing now? Vlogging in my spare time, of course! Having just returned to Canada after 16 years away, I'm trying to document some of the processes and conundra of getting settled over here. Check it out if you want to see me stumbling around in full colour!


And it seems that sometime in the last few years, the Flickr import widget on this site stopped working... so I will have to fix all my photos. Augh. Will get to that.

Dostoevsky’s Heroes

There seems to be a sense of gleeful abandon in the hate piled on Batman v Superman, with fierce denunciations of incoherent storytelling, excessive morbidity, unclear character motivation, and - worst of all - a lack of faithfulness to the source material.


Now, I’ll put this up front: I loved both Watchmen and Batman Returns, two films that get a lot of hate for being slow and dark.


Did Man of Steel earn dark? No. While I understand Snyder’s conceit that it was a formative Superman story, it’s implausible that someone who demonstrated such conscience in the middle act would have to murder someone to learn murder is never the answer, or realize that punching someone into a building might endanger innocent life.


For Batman v Superman, dark is earned. While Superman is still finding his feet, Batman has been at it for 20 years. He’s tired. He’s jaded. He’s lost a Robin and Wayne Manor. This isn’t the Batman of the mainstream comic - this is the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns. There are machine guns on the Batmobile. He’s been killing for years. And those crying foul over liberties with Batman’s principles would do well to read Frank Miller’s dystopian masterpiece: here we have a Batman broken by the cost of two decades of battle with nothing to show for it but ongoing crime.


Then this guy shows up who could stop any crime in an instant, but doesn’t. Yet he has so much power he can kill thousands by accident. How could a hero devoted to protecting the innocent possibly allow such a danger to exist?


That’s the surface part of Batman’s motivation. But as we see throughout the film, Superman’s very existence can damage the human psyche. Some worship him. Some see him as a hero. But for Bruce Wayne, who’s been frustrated by his own inability to end crime, he represents an invalidation of everything he is. With a veritable god around, is there even a point in being Batman? What were all his sacrifices for? Bruce Wayne turns to drink to quiet his constant existential demons, and his increasing brutality is just another inappropriate outlet. This is not a hero Batman anymore; this is one who must be reined in.


This film also addresses the question of whether Superman’s power is too much for one person to hold. While the MCU has many super-powered beings, as of the start of this film, DC has only one. Superman could kill us all, and we simply need to have faith that he won’t. Batman himself turned from a paragon of justice to someone who kills to get the job done. How could he be sure Superman wouldn’t do the same? And if he did, who could stop him? As (seemingly) the only other hero around, he has a responsibility to ensure Superman is either contained or destroyed. And nowadays, “destroy” is his natural choice.


This is why the story hinges on Batman’s faith in Superman’s humanity. While it could be argued that the transition is too quick when it comes, we must also remember that Batman is, though he doesn’t know it, seeking to reclaim his own humanity. The realization that he’s about to slay a man - not a god, but a man - who fears for his mother just as he feared for his own drives a nail straight into his heart. It may be contrived (what superhero movie isn’t?), but it’s not without logic or motivation.


As for Luthor, he has a similar existential problem. He doesn’t fear Superman thwarting some particular plan. The problem is, if Superman exists, what are his plans worth?


Luthor believes knowledge is power, and as one of the most knowledgeable people on earth, he’s at the top. Then Superman arrives and tilts the scales forever against him: no matter Luthor’s knowledge, Superman will always have more power.


You can see Luthor cracking during his library speech, as the thing that makes him feel useless stands there while he can do nothing. Nothing, except pour his mind into finding a way to destroy Superman, both eliminating the symbol of his inadequacy and proving that knowledge can defeat a god’s power.


And what kind of plan does he hatch? One that manipulates two heroes into mutual destruction while he prepares an insurance plan. It’s a complex scheme from a complex villain using only his intellect to destroy the most powerful thing on earth. It’s hard to follow, and should be, as it creates a worthy opponent for the detective Batman.


We must also understand that while we have a fallen Batman, we also have an incomplete Superman, traumatized by the idea that, despite his power, he’s unable to save his mother. That Batman refuses to help - and won’t even listen - drives this not-yet-self-accepting Superman to act in rage. The first appearance of Kryptonite is another shock. While the reaction is foolish, it’s set up by the story: only Superman’s humanity holds him back from killing Batman, yet the very symbol of his humanity is at stake, and the contradiction makes him prey to emotion.


This is not a film about physical goals, where villains want to steal something or destroy something or gain control over something. This is Dostoevskian: The characters’ actions have everything to do with their sense of who they are. For Batman and Luthor, Superman’s existence invalidates everything they ever thought themselves to be. And for Wonder Woman - who is, yes, important here - his dogged sacrifice represents a reason to fight for humanity once more. Her presence gives significance to his actions, and finally brings us around to what Superman can be at his best: the guy who does the right thing even when it’s the hardest thing to do.


Pants to Your Pictures

This has already been done brilliantly for Star Wars. But it's been on my mind, and the only way to get it out is to just do it. So here we have it: 21 of the greatest movie lines of all time, each markedly changed by the word "pants."

  1. "Trust me with your life, not your money or your pants."
  2. "No time to argue! Throw me the idol, I'll throw you the pants!"
  3. "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in pants anymore."
  4. "You had me at 'pants.'"  
  5. "I will have my pants, in this life or the next." 
  6. "You can't handle the pants!"
  7. "Pants, my dear Watson."
  8. "I have always depended on the pants of strangers."
  9. "Soylent Green is pants!"
  10. "Open the pants, HAL."
  11. "The pants of the many outweigh ..." "The pants of the few."
  12. "So you mean you put down your rock and I put down my pants and we try to kill each other like civilized people?"
  13. "I feel the need—the need for pants."
  14. "Please put down your pants. You have 20 seconds to comply."
  15. "Pants on, pants off."
  16. "Bust a deal, face the pants."
  17. "We want the finest pants available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now."
  18. "Say 'hello' to my little pants!"
  19. "If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of pants, pants I have acquired over a very long career. Pants that make me a nightmare for people like you."
  20. "All work and no pants makes Jack a dull boy."
  21. "Pants? Where we're going, we don't need pants."
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Shimoda Redux

Last weekend we headed down to Shimoda for what I realized was my first time in more than 10 years. We stayed at Kurhaus Ishibashi Ryokan, a 130-year-old spot in Rendaiji that happened to be absolutely empty due to a sudden group cancellation. Nothing in the area—not even food—but the atmosphere was incredible. It's the kind of place where ghosts would live, and probably do. They carved a tunnel through the mountain to get at the hot springs. And that 15-year-old Metal Slug game works perfectly.

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Dear Jon

I didn't know you in 2001, when I got on a plane on the morning of September 11 and found myself unbreakably connected to the United States of America.

I didn't know you as I watched CNN for five days in a basement in Winnipeg, wondering if the world had caught fire and just how much of it was going to burn.

I didn't know you as I read the foreign press in Shizuoka, wondering how so many had forgotten that in those first hours of uncertainty your nation's greatest voice of comfort had been nowhere to be seen, legitimizing nearly a decade of fear.

I didn't know you as I watched a man who should have known better raise imagined images and white powder as reasons to kill.

I didn't know you when everything was going so wrong and not even a whisper was expelled to oppose it.

Then I found you.

By then, three punks from California had begun to define the shape of the American Idiot. An angry man from Pennsylvania had spread the word to ridicule any Capital G. You weren't my first voice. But in a time when reassurance was something required like an I.V. drip, yours was the one voice that was there responding to it all day after day after day. 

When so much was reiterated verbatim, you set the standard for what informed commentary should have been.

You saw, you reflected, and you spoke from your heart. You became a warm moral center where once there had only been fear. 

You once rejoiced in a death. I still wish you hadn't. But I understand.

I know you. And I'll miss you. I'll miss your voice every Monday to Thursday, minus agonizing holidays every two months or so.

Someone is coming to take your place.

When I first saw him sit opposite you, he was so firm in his conviction that I knew the only possible place for him was yours. He will be brilliant. But he will be different from you. 

When I was 11 years old, I lost a man who used puppets in his hands to prove that childhood was both seditious and a delight. 

When I was 15, I lost a man whose cracked voice sang of a naked pain I intimately understood.

When I was 17, a heartfelt philosopher and his pet tiger were laid to rest.

Now I'm 36, and I'm feeling a little of the same. 

You're not dying. But the world will go on day after day after day, and your voice will no longer be there to help make sense of it all.


You were the heart of a connection that defied time and distance.

I wasn't the only one.

Thanks for making me feel like I wasn't alone.


8 Creepy Ways Attack on Titan Has Invaded Real Life

Attack on Titan is centered around the residents of an increasingly desperate walled city in a world overrun by man-eating giants. It’s perhaps best summarized in two minutes and 15 seconds of animation:

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Tested Development

So. Yesterday I took my first-ever test for entrance to a Japanese company. There seem to be various forms of these tests depending on your specialization, but mine was a simple aptitude test--essentially an interest-based career test of the kind given employees in big companies to sort people based on their inclinations and core thinking abilities.

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A Hero without Principles

Amazing Spider-Man (c) 2014 Sony Pictures
Amazing Spider-Man (c) 2014 Sony Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has technical merits. However, these merits are impossible to enjoy in a film drowned from beginning to end in the sickening narcissism of both its purported hero and supposedly tragic villains.


I give you The Amazing Spider-Man: a hero with no principles and no goals. He sometimes cares about a girl and sometimes wants to know what happened to his parents, but day-to-day he really only cares about doing what he wants to do--which happens to be helping people, it seems, because it gives them "hope." And what luck! He gives them this just by being himself. Not by being a better person. Not by sacrificing anything else in his life for the greater good. Just by being strong and smart and doing exactly what he feels like doing because that's how he feels. And look: by being himself, other people want to be like him. What a wonderful message for a self-obsessed age. And watching the box office dollars roll in, it would seem that this is just what everyone wants to hear.


Ah, but lovable doe-eyed Petey gives up Gwen for the greater good, right? No he doesn't. He gives her up because he can't face the guilt of having contributed to her father's death--his guilt, and his unquestioned inability to give up being a famous public figure, lead to his need to break up (And his principled stand on this issue is so strong that he will renege on it whenever he feels randy). We never see Peter torn between helping people and helping himself. We see him torn between two paths to self-gratification: the adulation of public heroism (and public vilification, which is a kind of adulation) and the love of a single woman. What about Aunt May? No, not her--she's just in the way of Spidey laundry.


This is the major problem with the reboot: The overshadowing death isn't Uncle Ben's. It's Captain Stacy's. And Captain Stacy didn't die because Peter was self-absorbed. Captain Stacy died because Peter existed. So the standard for Peter being a good person or bad person has nothing to do with his character--it has only to do with his presence. During an over-the-top car chase in the first act, rather than stop a massive truck from smashing through a set of cars (which Sam Raimi has shown us he could have done, assuming equivalence between a truck and a train), Spidey ducks out of the way only to come back after the carnage. This is a hero who says, "I'm here for you--until it's inconvenient for me, then you're on your own."


The long and short of it is that this Spider-Man is in no way heroic. Superheroes are heroic because, while they could decide that they are unconcerned with our struggles, they still feel a moral obligation to help the average Joe. This Spider-Man seems to feel obliged to help only because, as someone superior to everyone else, the world's problems must naturally fall on his shoulders. Not because someone died due to his inaction--because he's exceptional. And helping inferior people is what exceptional people do. Sometimes. When they're not busy dealing with exceptional-person stuff. Like obsessing about parents who unjustly abandoned them while feeling no responsibility whatsoever for the uncle they themselves abandoned.


Add to this a pair of villains who go from being apparently well-meaning if somewhat imbalanced individuals to homicidal maniacs due to a single rejection episode, and you have a two-hour cesspool of poorly justified destructive self-obsession. 


Electro could have been a tragic Frankenstein villain. Instead, because a group of random people roots for Spider-Man over him in his first public appearance, he decides everyone should die. Yup--that's his motivation. You don't love me because I'm me? Well, I'll kill you all. Thank you, Columbine.


Harry's the same. After a five-minute meeting in which Spider-Man refuses give him his blood--which he truly believes, based on a single night's research on a single computer file, is the only thing that can save him from a horrible death that won't happen for another 40 years--Harry decides that Spider-Man needs to die right now. And everyone who dies in the process of saving his own old-age skin is perfectly okay. This despite Harry having been Peter's best friend only 48 hours before--though not because they have a long history together, but because they talked for a few hours and remembered how they were friends eight years ago. And it's not like either of them developed any other close relationships over their entire time in high school and college. (Let that be the only mention I will make of this film's preposterous set of causes and effects--and its Attack-of-the-Clones-inspired need to intellectually dictate emotional importance rather than meaningfully display it.)


The original Spider-Man had a single moment of narcissism. Count 'em: one. Only once did Peter Parker step up for glory, himself, and his own objectives, and he immediately paid for it with the death of one of the only three people he loved. This new Peter Parker steps up for himself every day as a part of his playground vision of a hero, and not a single screenwriter or billion-dollar audience member seems to care. This Spider-Man says the world should glorify you for being you, and if that doesn't happen, it's the world that needs to change, not you. And that is what truly terrifies me.


On IMDB: http://imdb.com/title/tt1872181/reviews-580



M.'s parents' house
M.'s parents' house seen from her aunt's apartment

Urdaneta is about four hours from Manila by bus. The Greyhound-style buses advertised air conditioning and WiFi, though the latter didn’t seem to be working very well for me. Vendors filed on to sell snacks when we stopped, which seems to be a common thing in this part of the world. I also discovered that you had to pay 5 pesos to use a rest stop toilet, which is also pretty common.


Outside Manila, the roads clear up and the Philippine countryside is green and lush. Housing generally improves, more often than not composed of cinderblocks with a variety of styles of roofing, from corrugated steel to orange tile, though some are still accented with blue tarps. On the two-lane highway, the bus never missed an opportunity to pass anything moving at a slower clip, most notably the increasingly prevalent ‘tricycle’ mini-cabs.


The moment I arrived in Urdanetta, M.’s cousin looked at my bulky hiking boots and asked to know my shoe size. Twenty minutes later, we were a block down the street in M.’s family shop when a hand reached through the window with a brand-new pair of flip-flops in my size. You don’t wear bulky shoes in the Philippines. Most people in the countryside take tricycles just to avoid walking any distance in the heat.

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I recently received this forwarded mail from my mom. While it may well be apocryphal, as a firm believer that the world you get is the one you give away, regardless, I like the ethic.

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