Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Review: Deadpool Killogy by C. Bunn et al.

Deadpool Classic Volume 16: Killogy written by Cullen Bunn with art by Dalibor Talajic, Matteo Lolli, and Salva Espin

A trilogy of stories tell how Deadpool goes on various killing sprees, so naturally the trilogy is called a "killogy." If done right, the story could be a fun bit of light entertainment, right? We'll see...

The story starts out with Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. Deadpool is taken by the X-Men to Ravenscroft Asylum where they specialize in rehabilitating people like Deadpool. Unfortunately, the main doctor turns out to be the villain Psycho Man. In attempting to mind control Deadpool, Psycho Man accidentally releases a new personality in Deadpool who decides to destroy the entire Marvel Universe, heroes and villains alike. So Deadpool goes on a joke-filled killing rampage. It's not quite funny enough to justify the gore and the ending is a rather obvious use of breaking the fourth wall. I wasn't too satisfied with the first part.

The next story is Deadpool Killustrated. In an attempt to eliminate heroes in all the different Marvel multiverses, Deadpool uses science (!) to go into the "Ideaverse," where he can kill off all the classical literary inspirations for the Marvel characters. That would eliminate even the possibility of the heroes existing. The idea is fun, especially when they link characters like Moby Dick's Ahab to Hulk's General Thunderbolt Ross or Pinocchio to The Vision. But too many of the links are just random. At one point, Deadpool complains that killing these classical characters is a lot harder than it should be. That point was when he was taking out the sisters from Little Women, which really should have been a cakewalk for him. His complaint is completely unconvincing. So Deadpool Killustrated is hit and miss.

The book ends with Deadpool being told he is "the progenitor of all things" so in order to eliminate them he has to eliminate himself, thus Deadpool Kills Deadpool. But there's a good Deadpool out to stop the evil Deadpool, and a bunch of other Deadpools on each side. How many weird Deadpools can they come up with? My favorite was Pandapool, "the species that endangers you!" The self-aware and meta- shtick only goes so far, and this story outruns the fun by at least twenty pages.

Throughout the book, Deadpool mentions how he is a comic-relief or side character, and this book shows that, in spite of a lot of creative ideas, he doesn't carry a whole story without looking non-sensical and ridiculous (and not in a good way). I know it's intended as light entertainment, but it just doesn't hit the mark for me. I can't recommend it, in spite of some very creative ideas.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Movie Review: Passengers (2016)

Passengers (2016) directed by Morten Tyldum

The spaceship Avalon is taking 5000 passengers and 258 crew members on a 120-year journey from Earth to a colony planet. During a freak meteor shower, the ship is damaged and one of the hibernation pods opens 90 years before their destination. The man inside the pod, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), is a mechanical engineer who is now stranded on the giant ship with only the robot bartender (Michael Sheen) as anything close to human companionship. The rest of the interactive AIs on the ship keep telling him that the pods are fool-proof and can't possibly malfunction. Jim goes through every possible way to get back to hibernation or to wake up crew members to help him with the ship. Nothing works and he sinks into very dark times. He accidentally notices one of the other passengers, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and does research on her (all the passengers did video biographies, apparently), thereby falling in love with her. He struggles for months over whether he should wake her or not. Finally, the desperation of his loneliness drives him to wake her. They develop a relationship as the only two people on the ship. He doesn't tell her what he's done and hopes that they will be happy even though they'll never make it to the destination alive. Little systems keep glitching around them, hinting at greater problems to come.

The story has three definite stages. First is Jim's survival and his moral quandary over waking Aurora. Obviously (even to Jim) it's the wrong thing to do but the story won't go anywhere without him eventually doing it, opening up the second stage. Now, Aurora goes through a similar arc of trying to fix the problem and eventually coming to terms with the situation. The romance moves slowly and charmingly, and naturally dies when she finds out, which also seems eventual. The ship starts falling apart more rapidly at this point, causing the two to work together to get the ship back on line so the other 5,256 people on board can make it. This final stage of the story also seems inevitable and works out pretty much the way these stories always do.

The movie suffers from predictability. I know some people who were genuinely appalled at his decision to wake her and couldn't get past that. While I think it was wrong, I also realize the very human need for companionship and was moved by the depiction of the agony of his life. I was able to get past it. The actors are very charming and give good performances. The special effects look great and the plot is entertaining if not original. So the movie as a whole has good and bad parts.

I enjoyed the movie but think it's fairly average and the sort of movie you watch once and you're done with it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Valley Forge Historic Trail

After visiting the Visitor Center, we got in our car and followed the audio trail at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The first stop was at the Muhlenberg Brigade encampment, which also has a nearby redoubt (a defensive embankment). This area faces Philadelphia twenty miles away, so the soldiers quartered here would be the first to see the British approach (if they ever had).

I think that little lump is the redoubt

Muhlenberg reconstructed huts

The huts typically housed twelve soldiers or a few officers. The huts were built from nearby trees, so much of the area was deforested for the cabins and for firewood. The dwellings are simple, with just bunks and a fireplace.

Reconstructed hut

Two of my children playing in the fireplace

Most of the huts do not have bunks set up, but they do have the frames to give visitors an idea of the conditions. I would not have liked to be in one of the middle bunks.

Daughter poses by the bunks

Climbing the bunks

A more comfortable bed?

The officers had more space and typically a desk or other work area.

An officer's hut

The fireplaces were just for warmth. Cooking was done just behind the huts in open pits or ovens in an embankment. The soldiers were not allowed to eat in their huts to prevent vermin (who often brought diseases) in the huts.

A fire pit

Oven for baking bread

Back of the huts

The trail has several markers along the way describing which militias or troops were in which areas. The marker below says the Major General Nathaniel Greene's Pennsylvania and Virginia regiments were encamped here.

Greene's Division marker

The next stop we drove by slowly. It was the National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917 and modeled after the Arch of Titus in Rome. We thought the kids would not be too interested so we just took pictures from the road.

National Memorial Arch

Further down the road were the Pennsylvania Columns, which are not a stop on the tour. We slowed down as we drove through--luckily no one was behind us.

Pennsylvania Columns

The next stop was another drive-by shooting for us. This statue is of General Anthony Wayne (he has a lot of stuff named after him, including a town I once lived in). The figure on the statue appears to be looking towards Waynesboro, the general's home.

General Anthony Wayne

Further down the road is a covered bridge built in 1865 that is not part of the tour but is still cool (but not cool enough for us to stop or even drive through).

Covered bridge

About three-quarters of a mile down the road from the covered bridge is what remains of the town of Valley Forge. The town is on the Schuylkill River (the same river that goes through Philadelphia) and has a train station that was built in 1911.

Valley Forge Train Station

The rebuilt town looks suspiciously like the encampment huts, if you ask me.

Daughter walking into Valley Forge

The town has a statue of George Washington. He stands with a gentleman's walking cane rather than a sword. A sheath of thirteen sticks (symbolizing the thirteen colonies) is under his other arm.

George Washington

One building has the history of the town. The big industry there was iron works, so the "forge" name is entirely appropriate. It was a natural sport for a forge with the local river (the Valley River, so there's the rest of the name) for power, limestone for processing iron ore, and timber for charcoal to fuel the furnace. One of the buildings in the town was a storehouse for Revolutionary supplies. It was raided by the British before the 1777-1778 encampment.

Forge-related history

One stone building remains--the one used by General Washington as a residence and headquarters. The house belonged to Isaac Potts who moved out when the army requested the use of the house. Potts was reimbursed by the army. He moved to another home in Pottstown for the duration. Martha Washington came to live in the house for part of the encampment.

Washington HQ

The front door

Office inside

Upstairs bedroom

More casual bedroom

Even more casual bedroom

Attic room for storage and servants

Like many fine homes of the time, the kitchen was in a separate building, both to keep the heat from the kitchen out of the house in summer and to avoid burning down the whole house if a kitchen fire ever happened.


Kitchen storage

Kitchen house just about attached to the main house

View from the train station staircase

We skipped a whole loop of the trail that led to a redoubt and the artillery park where General Knox kept the cannons. We went straight to the Washington Memorial Chapel. It is an active Episcopal church and the bell tower is in regular use. Behind the chapel is a shop that sells souvenirs and lunch items, including local favorite shoo-fly pie. We did not visit the church since the children were so hungry. Maybe next time.

Washington Memorial Chapel

Proof that the bells are in regular use--parking for the carillonneur!

Shoo-fly pie!

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel so the toddler could get his nap in. The tour is well worth doing and perhaps we'll go back some day to see the parts that we missed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Valley Forge Visitor Center

At the end of 1777, General George Washington decided to encamp the revolutionary army in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia when the British took over earlier that year. Valley Forge was only a day's march from Philadelphia, making it easy to keep track of British activity. Washington's position was highly defensible--a high ground with a clear view to Philadelphia. The British would not be able to sneak up on the army. Washington's troops would have time to train together and become a more cohesive fighting force.

The area they occupied is administered by the National Parks Service, with a visitor center, some recreated structures, some original structures, some memorials, and a long driving trail showing the main features of the camp. Our visit started at the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center at Valley Forge

Almost the first thing visible when entering is a statue of George Washington on horseback.

General George Washington

Also commemorated is Prussian officer Baron von Steuben. He came from Germany to help train and unify the army. The Continental Army consisted of militias from the thirteen colonies, each with its own training (or lack thereof) as well as their own signals and commands. Von Steuben first trained 100 men who then went out and trained other men. With a six-month encampment, they had plenty of time to turn into a cohesive fighting force.

Baron von Steuben

The center has plenty of displays about the encampment with weapons naturally being prominent.

Swords and other bladed weapons

Rifle and supplies

Another display explains one of the defenses built by the Continental soldiers--the redoubt. Gabions, or wicker baskets with rocks and other debris, are buried in dirt to make a solid defense against cannon fire. Several of these earthen works were positioned around the encampment. Opposing British General Howe saw these as signs of an entrenched army and never attacked. The last time he assaulted an entrenched force was at Bunker Hill, a disaster for the British.

Model of a redoubt

Once completed, the encampment was temporarily the fourth largest city in the colonies. As such, it was home to a variety of people. Some of the soldiers' wives and children came to the camp. The camp included free men and slaves who hoped to become free men. Some Native American tribes fought on the side of the revolutionaries. Religious minorities like Catholics and Jews served in the Continental Army to defend their homeland and their religious freedom.

Display on the camp's diversity

More on the diversity

Native American items

Other items, such as cooking supplies, cards, dice, and other diversions were on display.

Cooking Equipment

Various forms of entertainment during the long, slow months

We watched an eighteen minute film about the encampment, ate a snack, and bought a CD to guide us on a driving tour of Valley Forge. We could have bought tickets for the trolley tour, but with the kids we wanted to have the freedom to linger at some spots or to skip over other spots. More on the ride in the next post!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TV Review: Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (1975)

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (1975) written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney

Third Doctor Tom Baker gets stranded by the Time Lords on Skaro, the home world of the Daleks. A Time Lord is there to explain their plan: they want the Doctor to alter the evolution of the Daleks, to find some weakness in them (yeah, good luck with that!), or to eliminate them. Skaro is at the end of their cataclysmic civil war, when mad scientist Davros created the Daleks so that his race, the Kaleds, would overcome the Thals, the other humanoid race on the planet. Companions Sarah Jane and Harry are also stranded with the Doctor. They find their way to the Kaled scientific base (an underground bunker, naturally) where they confront the Kaled military leaders, scientists, and Davros himself. Davros is in charge and has made a great deal of scientific progress but he's tipping over into the shouty madness of a megalomaniacal mass murderer, a perfect father figure/creator for the Daleks.

While the Daleks are their usual evil selves and Davros is his usual evil scheming self, the other characters have more depth. Many of the Kaled scientists and military have doubts about the Dalek project and are willing to overthrow Davros. As options start vanishing, the Doctor has to confront whether he will destroy the Daleks, essentially committing the sort of genocide that the Daleks themselves are bent on achieving. The show has some interesting moral reflections to go along with the well-paced plot and action. Davros' schemes are interesting and the make-up job is respectable if not perfect. This six-part show is very satisfying and well worth a watch.

Highly recommended.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects written and drawn by Andy Warner

Many common objects have interesting and unexpected histories and legends attached to them. This volume tells the stories of forty-five such items. Most tellings have some authentic history, though many items like tea and dice are so ancient as to have no definitive origin story attached. Many cultures have come up with common objects. Making a claim for uniqueness or originality is not always possible. Author Andy Warner has managed to find common threads and running gags to tie items together.

The information provided by the book is more like cocktail party trivia than in-depth history. Each item is covered in four pages through cartoons, so detailed accounts are virtually impossible. Often, entertaining stories are favored over origins or creations. The bit about barbed wire is all about the Texas cattle wars, when ranchers used the stuff to keep wandering herds off their property. The part about stamps is devoted to the guy who came up with postcards (so why isn't the four-pager called "Postcards" instead of "Stamps"?).  The trivia is interesting but feather-weight. Other stories, like the origins of velcro and microwave ovens, are very familiar.

The book is entertaining, but there's a lot more sauce than meat served up. Ultimately it's not satisfying.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth Part II: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection by Benedict XVI

Benedict continues his deep analysis of the Gospel texts to understand who Jesus is and what faith in Him brings about for believers. This book follows Jesus from His Palm Sunday entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem through the resurrection with an epilogue about His ascension. Naturally, other relevant texts from the Old Testament and the New Testament are referenced and explained in light of Jesus's passion, death, and resurrection. The songs of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and a surprising number of the Psalms have fuller and deeper meaning. The book is steeped in Holy Scripture.

The book is also very aware of recent scholarship about Jesus. Benedict frequently references the work of the historical-critical method without going into depth about the method. Rather, he uses their work to investigate who Jesus is and what faith in Him brings about for believers (i.e., Benedict sticks to his purpose!). Benedict has an awareness of academics and often references their work, not to engage in controversies, but to grow in understanding. He also references the Church Fathers and the great theologians from history such as Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas. The book never bogs down in scholarly conundrums or technical details.

Benedict stays focused on certain details and often admits that more can be said about the events and details than he presents. Such a claim is amazing considering the depth and originality of his own analysis. Consider his discussion of Jesus's trial with Pilate, where John quotes the crowd as demanding Jesus's death and saying that His blood will be upon them and their children. Historically, this text is used to justify anti-Semitic violence and hatred, a fact Benedict acknowledges. But he goes deeper and says that "the Christian will remember that Jesus' blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all." [p. 187, emphasis in original] The crowd is just as worthy as anyone else to be redeemed by His blood, even if they did not immediately intend it. Benedict also says the crowd was probably full of Barabbas supporters waiting for the moment when they could get their condemned man out of trouble by taking advantage of Pilate's Passover amnesty. The crowd certainly didn't represent the Jewish people as a whole. Benedict does go into detail when discussing events and issues when he deems it appropriate. Naturally Jesus's death and resurrection are so fundamental to Christian history and faith that endless details and meanings can be brought out of them.

This book is a wonderful presentation of Jesus in the definitive moments of His mission for us, that is, to reconcile mankind to the Father and to open up a greater intimacy between God and His creatures. Readers will find much to inform and inspire them to strive for that intimacy through greater knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth.