Hello, blogging world. I want to introduce you to my love of CHRISTMAS. I just, seriously, really, okay, for real now, I just, really, really can't even sum up how much I love this season and how much I always have. Even before I could grasp what a calendar was and would have to ask my mom nightly if Saturday morning cartoons would be on when I woke up, I knew when Christmas was coming and what that meant. As a kid, it meant presents. I'm just going to be straight up honest. The religious aspect is there, and I totally celebrate all of that stuff, but when you toss a nativity scene and a G.I. Joe Rolling Thunder vehicle in front of a five year old, it's kinda obvious which one gets the attention. Now that I'm older I think that I appreciate the true meaning of it all a lot more. I'm a total fan of giving thanks, and looking back, and paying respects, and all that, so Christmas is great in that respect. I also really enjoy spending time with my family and doing all of our usual traditions.

These have in the past included:
- Putting up a tiny town of miniature houses (Liberty Falls) complete with a tree, tiny pewter figures, and bags of fake plastic snow.
- Arranging my international Santa Claus ceramic figures in a display.
- Celebrating with my mother's family on Christmas Eve, followed by the opening of one present after they all left.
- Wearing a new Christmas sweat shirt of some sort, always made by my mother, and usually involving my hand prints.
- Covering my bedroom in an obscene amount of Christmas lights.
- One year, I decorated the inside of my car with garland.

The traditions currently include (dates approximate):
- Going to Red Lobster on Christmas Eve (2003 - current).
- Watching Miracle on 34th Street on Christmas Eve (1996 - current).
- Family Christmas with my Dad's family, including Dirty Santa (or White Elephant, which is a name that has no Christmas cheer, or Chinese Christmas, which is what my Southern family calls it). A sub-tradition, the inclusion of cheap/nasty perfume Wind Song in the Dirty Santa/Chinese Christmas game (1993 - current).
- Hoppage Bowl. The family football game that takes place in East Tennessee, named after my great grand mother (2001 - current).
- Decorating the family Christmas tree and putting the most embarrassing pictures of me and my sister up front. Mine is my baby's first Christmas ornament where I look high. My sister's is a perfectly decent picture from when she was about 6 or 7, that I think she hates because she looks so uptight and prissy (1999 - current).
- Listening to my Christmas mix religiously. This is a special playlist that I've kept going for a while now, expanding and editing almost every year. I think I'm currently on the 4th version (2000 - current).

This year should be better than last year since I actually have a Christmas tree. That is awesome. That is covered in these.

I'm sure there will be many more Christmas blogs to come. I leave you now with one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite Christmas specials. The sarcasm in it is as beautiful as a freshly born reindeer.



Since all of the junk I've acquired in my last 23 years of living will eventually make its way to my tiny New York apartment, I've spent most of this evening going through it and throwing away the excess (I've said goodbye to a lot of Overpower cards). I just came across a journal I kept for my 4th grade class and, well, enjoy. My current thoughts will be in red.

My Earliest Memories
age: 3
Well, it started when I was three. I had a dream that Darth Vader standing at the edge of my bed. He was about to slice me when I darted up and ran to my mom's room. I'm assuming I didn't include my dad in this since he worked nights.
age: 4
I also remember once when I was taking a bath and grabbed my mom's shaver. Two minutes later I called for my parents. I had blood all over my face and hands.My mom nearly fanted. The funny thing is, I wasn't crying. That is funny.
age: 4
Then Preschool. I don't remember who my teacher was but I do remember that she was mean.
age: 4
Then things got better. for pre-kindergarden I had Mrs. Lisa. She was nice. I can remember playing with a potatoe head. I also remember stealing a little Transformers microscope. No way I'd fess up to that in writing then, with the crime still being recent.
age: 5
I was so excited about kindergarten. I had Mrs. Russel. She was okay.
age: 6
1st grade. Mrs. Portman. Bad memories.
age: 7
2nd grade. I had Mrs. Sperlich. I liked her. She visited me in the hospital when I was dehydrated and gave me an off-brand G.I. Joe. She bribed her way into this good review.


An Ordinary Saturday
I woke up, my parents are asleep. I go downstairs and watch Cro, Bobby's World, Sonic, Garfield, and X-Men. Then I will play wiht my puppy Lucky. He has a squeeky toy that I throw and he fetches it. Mom cooks breakfast and then it's time for the Tennessee game and I go to my room. I'll start to play with Legos, but soon I get bored. I beg my Mom to take me somewhere but she says no. Holy crap, that is such a depressing sentence. My mother probably said no because she knew 'somewhere' was a toy store and the trip would end with me begging her to "write a check" for a toy (because to a kid, "writing a check" means you don't have to pay for it).

I eat lunch and go watch more television. I will read a couple of comics and draw a few pictures.

Then we go out to eat with some friends. I have no idea who these 'friends' are. I think I added this after realizing how boring and depressing my ordinary Saturdays were.



The Rainbow
I saw a rainbow. It glitered in the sun. It's oclors were pink for beauty, red for love, and yellow for sunshine. It would be fun to slide down a rainbow. They would make wonderful Valentine's Day presents. Speechless.




I went to my grandparents house. My boy cousins who are my friends weren't coming and I was stuck with my two girl cousins and their brother who is 3 I didn't have very much to eat. My grandmother forgot to cook corn.


A wolverine is going to jump out at the fox and kill it. The people don't see it happen. This from the author of "The Rainbow." I had range! This entry creeps me out.



On Christmas Eve, I got 5 X-Men figures and one was a bendable one. A Street Fighter 2 and Jurassic Park for Sega. I also got a racecar, and a 10 inch tall Cyclops figure.

On Christmas Morning I got a Sega Genisis, 3 more X-Men figures, and an X-Men game for Sega.

At 6:00 we went to my friends house. We played Jenga, Boldardash, and watched a movie. They gave me Homeward Bound.

Sunday morning at 7:00 we drove down to my grandparents trailor. I got 17 comics, and two models.

Yesterday we took back the racecar and got 7 games. This has to be a typo. I don't think I ever owned more than 7 Sega games and one racecar for 7 games, of any sort, seems crazy unequal.



School is a place were you learn. You should behave and not talk during class because you might get a treat like watching a movie or have free time.

We come to school to learn not to play and make paper things. I made X-Men action figures out of paper.

Your attention should be on the teacher, not on X-Men or comics and cards. All lies.

You should act good and maybe you won't get your card turned. Card turned once is dictionary word. Card turned again is a long dictionary word. I remember that "run" was the grandaddy of dictionary words due to its never ending number of meanings. It's legend grew amongst students and teachers used it as a warning. "Be quiet, or I'll make you copy run!"

But you can have fun and play at another time because in class is not the time. If you don't pay attention in class, when the big test comes, you might fail it.

Why should you go to school? Because it teaches Math, Spelling, English, and Science. Remember, school isn't the place to play around. We must have gotten in trouble that day, because I can't think of any other reason to assign this. I did make it one page long though, showing that I knew how to stretch an idea for it's assigned length even then.


Gimme Thanks

The actual giving thanks part of Thanksgiving has always been somewhat unsaid in my family. It's usually more about the food and family than doing a roundtable "what are you thankful for?" discussion past the prayer said before eating. This is my first Thanksgiving after starting this blog so I think this is an appropriate place to, just, give some thanks. I'm in Murfreesboro right now, in my old living quarters. I got up at 8:30 AM (what?!), watched the parade on TV, and two Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials. It's been a relaxed morning.

On to the thanks!

I'm thankful for my car. Every time I come home I happily drive as much as I can. The joy I get from turning the radio up as loud as it'll go and singing along at full blast is unparalleled, especially when New York's alternative is the sometimes invasive and always public subway.

I'm thankful for "Tick Tick Boom" by The Hives. Have you heard this? As soon as the song kicks in, I can't help but be moved, physically, because the force of the music hits you like a sonic boom. Catchy, aggressive, cocky, complete rock and roll. The Hives do it right, and I'm listening to it in my car a lot.

I'm thankful for the Watson's pool girl still being around, no matter how long I go between seeing her Tennessee only commercials.

I'm thankful for all of my friends, in every location, shape, form, relationship, etc. I love getting to see my big social circle in Mufreesboro this week. It has not disappointed. No length of time away can dent these friendships, as far as I can tell. They're solid, the roots going back as long as 8 years. Sure Tofu House was closed last night, but that's not why I came home. I came home to see everyone. In New York I've been lucky to make friends that I can actually do things with, especially people that I trust and enjoy enough to perform with on a regular basis. That's pretty awesome. While most everything is different about hanging out in New York, a good time is a good time.

I'm thankful for the writers currently on strike. Their brave action and the sacrifices being made are going to make it that much easier for the next generation to survive in this ever-changing industry. I only hope that if ever put in that situation in the future, I will step up and act as courageous as they all did for the generation after next. Or generation after the generation that comes after the next one, depending on when I actually make it.

I'm thankful for having a job. Geez. I was an intern just a year ago, a recent college graduate, and I have now been employed for almost 11 months in the industry. That's pretty cool. And I'm thankful that the rest of the time I spend in New York is spent working on comedy. The UCB internship is almost over but I've enjoyed having an active part in the theater.

I'm thankful for my dogs, or really my dog Abby (Minnie growls at me now, which is fine, whatever). Abby has been with me since I was in the sixth grade. Sixth grade! Seeing how happy she was to see me, that just made me feel great. There isn't enough hanging out with dogs to do in New York.

I'm thankful for the current X-Men crossover, Messiah Complex. So far it's been pretty good and actually reminds me of the good ol' days. This could all go horribly wrong, since a lot of crossover events start out great and botch it in the ending, but as of right now, Thursday, Thanksgiving, it's pretty good.

And lastly, and not surprisingly, I'm thankful for my family who have done way too much for me in my lifetime. I wouldn't be doing anything that I'm doing now if they hadn't supported me every step of the way. I like seeing everyone, extended family and all, so coming home means that much more now that I only get to come home 3 times a year.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!


X15: Favorite Covers 100-91

X15 is a series of blog posts celebrating the 15 years of x-fandom I have experienced. From the 15th anniversary of first seeing the X-Men in Fox's animated series (late October 1992) to the 15th anniversary of my first comic book purchase (January 1993), I will explore every facet of Professor Charles Xavier's gifted youngsters.

More so than issues or single panel images themselves, comic book covers stick out in my mind as some of the most iconic and innovative works of art in the medium. When done right, a cover conveys what the issue is about in an exciting and eye-catching way. When done wrong, a cover is merely a pin up, a cheap pose by a popular character (Wolverine) to sell issues and maybe look good on a t-shirt. I've gone through my comic collection and beyond to find my 100 favorite covers of all time, in order!

100. X-Men Unlimited #1
Chris Bachalo, June 1993

99. Generation Next #1
Chris Bachalo, March 1995
98. Captain Marvel (volume 4) #21
Chriscross, September 2001

97. New Mutants #100
Rob Liefeld, April 1991

96. Uncanny X-Men #334
Joe Madureira, July 1996

95. New Mutants #60
Bret Blevins, February 1988

94. X-Men #112
George Perez, August 1978

93. X-Men #59
Neal Adams, August 1969
92. X-Factor #130
Jeff Matsuda, January 1997

91. X-Force #51
Adam Pollina, February 1996


X15: Cousins

X15 is a series of blog posts celebrating the 15 years of x-fandom I have experienced. From the 15th anniversary of first seeing the X-Men in Fox's animated series (late October 1992) to the 15th anniversary of my first comic book purchase (January 1993), I will expore every facet of Professor Charles Xavier's gifted youngsters.

Around the same time the X-Men cartoon debuted on Fox in late 1992, my older cousin Matthew began collecting Spider-Man comics and Marvel Universe trading cards. Truth be told, he might have been collecting them long before this but after being made aware of the Marvel Universe through X-Men: The Animated Series, I took notice of my cousin's collection. I distinctly remember a family get together at my late great grandmother's house in East Tennessee. I think most of the adults were playing volleyball. I was looking at a binder full of Matthew's Marvel Universe III trading cards.

There's going to be a whole other post about trading cards, the little pieces of pop art that I collected, traded, sold, reorganized and made like a mad man in my youth. But these cards introduced me to the wide world of Marvel. As a kid in 1992, Marvel had virtually no presence in mass media. Yeah, their comics were selling like hot cakes (half robotic hot cakes from the future...with big guns) but their presence was, well, non-existant on TV and especially in movies. I loved Batman from the Tim Burton movie that I was definitely too young to understand and the 1960s Adam West series shown on Nick @ Nite. And Superman, he sure didn't have any tv series or movies in 1992 but man, you can't escape Superman. He's the default superhero. He's who Gonzo turns into when he becomes a hero. Seeing a new whole world right in front of me, and a couple of the faces I recognized (Wolverine, Gambit), was fascinating.

From that point on, most of my interactions with my cousins hinged upon trading X-Men cards and playing X-Men. We would create characters, write comics, draw, etc. It was pretty creative. Unlike the G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles crazes of our youth, this new craze was not defined by action figures. While I did own and play with the X-Men figures (I was 8), I don't recall loading them all up and taking them with me to East Tennessee every couple months like I did with my G.I. Joes. This had to have made my dad happy, who always wondered why I couldn't just play with Travis and Tyler's G.I. Joes. He just didn't understand that my characters had to meet theirs in a bloody battle (one instance left Dr. Mindbender broken in pieces to be buried). My other pair of cousins, while we rarely played with the figures together, did enjoy them as much as me. Whereas I had X-Men figures, Matthew and Andrew had Spider-Man figures and built many elaborate cardboard warehouses and headquarters for them. I always envied their craftsmanship and their constant presence of a playmate. But then again, I probably didn't need anyone in the way of my plastic storytelling.

One night, maybe Easter 1993 (most of my East Tennessee visits occurred around holidays), our X-Mania reached a zenith. It was the rare occassion that all five cousins got to spend the night at my grandparents' cabin (usually I'd spend a night with Travis and Tyler, the next night with Matthew and Andrew, and I wouldn't sleep any since I rarely slept well away from home). Anyway, all five of us decided to play X-Men at night and outside! This intense battle lasted until it was time for us to go inside. And what did we do? We played X-Men some more! In one of the closets that we called the Danger Room! Where we would beat each other up! Whoah! The grand plan for the evening, as I recall, was to sneak out of the cabin and go to our grandparents neighboring cabin that we had just replaced. I'm not sure if it had been sold at that point, but we all assumed we could find the keys and get in so we could have a night full of eating candy (yep, this was Easter) and reading comics. And this wasn't dangerous at all, since the cabin is seriously maybe 50 yards away from the current cabin, with nothing but a steep decline and incline between them.

This did not happen.

Me and Andrew, the two youngest cousins, got to sleep in the back bedroom and the other three were forced to sleep in the living room where my grandfather was still watching TV. I remember Andrew and me listening at our door to him yell at the other three, telling them to go to bed while he watched (probably) a gospel show on TNN (The Nashville Network). Andrew and I, though, did eat candy and read comics galore. This is why my copy of X-Men Adventures #4 has chocolate on the back of it.

A couple years later, the collectible card game Overpower hit Electronics Boutique and Toys 'R' Us stores across Tennessee, and the impact on our lives was felt for a year. The card game replaced the old trading cards and action figure play and extended my cousins' (mainly Matthew and Tyler) interest in comics for a little while longer. We would seriously play and trade everywhere, from my grandparents' van to Prospect Baptist Church. I never, ever, won a game but I did have fun.

Then something happened. I guess we all hit puberty, went to high school, I made friends at home to be nerdy with, and my family seemed to cut back on trips to East Tennessee. Much like the kids on the playground in the previous blog, I was left holding the comic book mania torch while the rest of my cousins moved on to other things. This turned out to be okay since I got all of Matthew's Amazing Spider-Man and various other Spidey comics out of it. In recent years, Matthew has come back to the nerd kingdom and I again have a family member to talk comics with. So I got all his old comics and an adult x-cousin to talk to.

I guess it all worked out.


TV: Kid Nation "Not Even Close To Fair"

The last two weeks have seen Kid Nation reach epic heights and tragic lows. Can the kids bring it all together?

Starved For Entertainment

Savannah's given some great one-liners in previous episodes, most of them involving hogs or hay, and got major screentime in this episode. I relate to Savannah's home sickness. Granted, some of my home sickness stems from moving from Tennessee to New York City; Savannah still has plenty of the comforts of country living in Bonanza. But, really, it's the people that get to her (and me). The Kentucky pride ran rampant in this episode since both Savannah and Kennedy call the state home. They prepared a Kentucky dinner that Savannah hoped her grandmother would be proud of. Geez, that stuff gets to me. Savannah finally decided to tough it out at Bonanza after Kennedy put on a chicken mask and did a rap at the talent show. Oh, children.

The gold star this episode went to Kennedy, another member of the green district. The council decided to give the gold star to the winner of the talent show since rewarding hard work every week can overlook the physically weaker of the kids and making people smile is sometimes equally important. Kennedy does work hard and generally gets along with everyone, but she's also willing to make herself look like the abandoned child of a Mardi Gras store owner and Foghorn Leghorn. Bravo, Kennedy! I have to wonder how many of the reactions were mixed up with different acts. Surely not everyone was amused by Kennedy's act. I knew girls like Kennedy in middle school and I know what kind of reaction that act would get. Some laughs, but a lot of "wht-evrrrrr"s from girls like Taylor and the Taylorettes.

Okay...so...Kelsey isn't brain dead. She's actually a great little piano player. I don't even have anything else to write about her. I was just stunned beyond words to see her attack the ivories like that. She may not know anything about culture or personal space, but she knows how to jam.

Jared has moved to the forefront recently, in a move that both delights and worries me. I'm all for Jared, but before the last couple episodes he was limited to one mind-blowing statement and a goofy antic an episode. This much Jared could cause an overdose...but so far it is really just proving that he needs his own show. Jared memorized a monologue from Shakespeare's "Henry V" and bored/amazed the crowd with it.

Not Even Close To Fair

Warning, do not go to CBS.com and read their brief recap for this episode. It is not for this episode. It is for some future episode, and I've just had it spoiled for me. Curse the heavens.

Bonanza loses its third citizen as Randi, the Taylorette you never knew existed, departs for greener pastures. And by 'greener pastures' I mean a house, with a bed, and heating, and non-canned food, and TV. Did Randi ever even get a line? Or even a Zuckuss level background cameo? Her departure made both Taylor and the heavens open up; a giant thunderclap and rainstorm coincided with Randi raising her hand. I can't say that Randi won't be missed, but with the way the show's been edited, viewers won't notice. Parents signed away their kids to CBS and most of them haven't even gotten airtime. That's so wrong.

Just like Robin turning into Nightwing, Blaine has stepped out of Greg's shadow after moving districts and has instantly become the heart and soul of the yellow district. From being a compassionate leader and boss at the candy shop to being the brawn needed to get merchant class, Blaine has proven to have a personality that doesn't blow. I like Blaine! I would have never thought that! Even Blaine thought that Greg was being super immature after the move was made. I like that Blaine was the only citizen to approve of the job the council was doing after winning the gold star...and then changed his mind immediately when he heard about re-elections and nominated himself. Blaine really did deserve the gold star and I'm glad that he's become an individual after spending the whole season being Greg's sidekick. But, in true Greg fashion, his call home was played over the credits limiting the time and screen. That is so rude, but if there's one thing the WGA strike has taught me, it's that networks and studios don't give a crap about family.

Was that a stretch?

The green district almost had their fifth gold star winner with this guy, a down home good ol' boy with a knack for preachin' and workin'. The manipulative editing is starting to become even more obvious. I mean, yeah, it's obvious on all reality shows, but am I expected to believe that Hunter just now started being interesting, religious, and workmanlike? What else has he been up to? And for real, did he and Blaine really decide to go get water together and talk about their possible gold star-iness? Really? That's too coincidental. Hunter's a good kid and if the bad blood between green and the rest of the town passes, he may win a gold star eventually.

And the regret has set in. And the hatred from his district. And the threats. From Jared. Yes, threats from Jared. Guylan traded Emilie, who had become as helpful as a sack of potatos (to channel my inner Savannah), for Nathan who works hard but isn't a team player. The real reasons behind this argument weren't stated, because I can't imagine why the red district would be upset at losing Emilie, who refused to help, for Nathan. Maybe Nathan's short shorts, crocs, and bomber jacket don't fit in with the red district's dress code. Guylan has had it rough and with DK running against him next week, he'll get booted I'm sure.

Ms. President got herself in hot water this week. Refusing to shake up the green district was both smart and stupid. She knows how close her district is and, really, they are the most well adjusted and well rounded. Her district, however, wasn't so pleased and questioned her not letting anyone be accepted into their gold star lined bunkhouse. Laurel then made some, you know, arrogant remarks about her team having the most gold stars...hmm...but I still don't see what a lot of the fuss is about. Yeah, green has the most gold stars but they consistently lose in challenges (the fluke being last week). How are they the strongest or the best? And not every gold star winner has come from green. Greg has a gold star. Greg who threatened to punch Anjay in the face this week. It's obvious that the council isn't playing faves. And Michael is running against Laurel. The look on her face was heart breaking.

Mike talks like he's constipated.

Anjay, in English it means "can't catch a break." He has to put up with Olivia, who is probably whispering "murder a chicken in the center of town and bathe in its juices" in his ear while he sleeps to mess with his dreams, and the big brother/big alcoholic brother see-saw nature of Greg. He traded Nathan, which sent poor little Alex into a tailspin (come on, wasn't watching him worry just so gosh darn cute?) and Blaine, which cut their man power in half. He gained Emilie because he wanted a real challenge (but not Taylor, his saying he wanted someone like Taylor but not Taylor was hilarious) and thusly pissed off the girls who now have to worry about whipping her into shape. Geez Anjay, he cried this week! He doesn't even have the benefit of someone more capable/sane running against him in re-election like Blaine, Michael or DK. He has Greg.

Things aren't looking up for the town. I am worried!

And even though Taylor was a dictator, she made for great TV. There hasn't been enough Taylor lately, at all. Here's a little more Taylor, pointed out to me by my friend Lindsay.



My lack of confidence and belief in my own limited intelligence/vocabulary prevents me from giving a fully articulated post about what is going on right now. My job is not greatly affected by the strike and it's still business as usual. Still, being part of the improv community and a former Late Show intern, I know a great deal of people that are being affected by this and, being a middle-class white guy with black frame glasses, I fully hope to one day be in the WGA. I hope to make a living writing something that I'm proud of and I hope to be able to live off residuals when my employer figures out I'm just recycling material from Late World with Zach. It moves/touches/makes me have the feel goods when I see such a united front against what amounts to a circa Civil War-esque Tony Stark/S.H.I.E.L.D. organization (did you think I'd make it without a comic reference?).

Here are some strike-related links.

Late Show Writers On Strike
Deadline Hollywood Daily
Mike Still's writer's strike thoughts
Chris Gethard's writer's strike thoughts
The Office writers on strike video
Entertainment Weekly article
The super long but super informative WGA strike thread on the Improv Resource Center

My picture came from UCB NY alum and current UCB LA performer Eric Appel's flickr collection, viewable here. This is probably one of the best things to look at since it puts a real face on the strike. You won't recognize 90% of the people in these photos (although the pic of Jess Jackson with Tom Arnold is near pricless, as is the rest of Day 5) which completely destroys the argument that the writers are all a bunch of millionaires wanting to attach two-story arcades to their mansions.

I'm fine with this surprisingly strong TV season being cut short. Actually, in a season that has seen Desperate Housewives make a comeback, 30 Rock's handful of episodes destroy last season, and freshman breaths of fresh air Reaper and Chuck, it should be more apparent than ever that writers are absolutely essential to television. Today, the networks announced the trash that will be taking over the airwaves come 2008. Get a load of this, from today's Cynopsis:

Duel (ABC) "In this gamer, players have to bluff well to win."
Million Dollar Password (CBS) with Regis Philbin
Do You Trust Me (CBS) with Tucker Carlson
American Gladiator (NBC) with Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali
Amnesia (NBC) with Dennis Miller
The Moment of Truth (Fox)

And don't forget returning favorites Supernanny, Wife Swap, Big Brother, Survivor, The Amazing Race, 1 vs. 100, Deal Or No Deal, American Idol, Hell's Kitchen, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?, Don't Forget The Lyrics!, America's Next Top Model, Beauty & the Geek, and last and least...Pussycat Dolls.

And I'm not watching any of it. Matter of fact, once new episodes run out, I will not be watching any television or downloading/viewing anything online. It's all I can do to support the strike, I think, and I'll do it.


X15: Playing X-Men

X15 is a series of blog posts celebrating the 15 years of x-fandom I have experienced. From the 15th anniversary of first seeing the X-Men in Fox's animated series (late October 1992) to the 15th anniversary of my first comic book purchase (January 1993), I will expore every facet of Professor Charles Xavier's gifted youngsters.

Role playing is a big part of childhood, no matter who you are or where you grew up. In fact, I'd say that most childhoods are spent pretending that you are someone else doing things you have never done. The most fun I ever had in elementary school were the hours we would spend outside in the big playground (as opposed to the little playground, frequented by the kindergarteners). Most kids would swing, some would play sports, but a select few would consistently play ____. Like "play Ninja Turtles," "play G.I.Joe," play "Star Wars" (with the one other 2nd grader that knew what I was talking about) and, come third grade, "play X-Men."

I went to Wessington Place Elementary, a school which I just found out has since been renamed George Whitten Elementary, after my old principal. I inspected their website and found that both my 4th and 5th grade teachers are still there...after 15 years. Crazy.

Anyway, the animated series hit hard. I remember my third grade class being so swept up in x-mania, there was really no other choice for me but to become a fan. I know that I initially scoffed at the X-Men, being wary of something debuting with so much fanfare that I had never heard of. I haven't changed, by the way. Most all of the super indie cred bands that explode onto the scene I initially question. I didn't think the Strokes were much at first, but I came around on them quickly just like I did with X-Men. The year was 1992 and the spectator boom was in effect, with issues of comics selling over a million copies. Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld were ditching Marvel to create Image alongside other disillusioned Marvel superstars, adding to the idea of comics as viable a force in entertainment as film and tv. The creation of Image, with the big guns, robots, big boobs, and aliens, marked the height in the early 90s comic craze. The only Image characters I cared about were Jim Lee's Wild C.A.T.s, and even then that was only because of the awful cartoon that aired on CBS.

While the X-Men editors at Marvel were scrambling to figure out who exactly was going to make the comics they were producing (John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson had all left in the last few years due to the increasing importance of 'hot artists' over credible writers, just before the 'hot artists' themselves left in a huff), the cartoon based on those comics was a runaway success. The X-Men toy line was huge, the trading cards were bought and sold during reading time in class, and you couldn't turn around without seeing some chubby third grader wearing too-cool X-Men shorts and/or t-shirts (yep, totally had them). The X-Men were everywhere and, of course, this led to playing X-Men.

At the start of recess, the kids interested in playing X-Men would meet up. I don't even know how we found each other. Perhaps it was our mutual discussions of X-Men during the day, or maybe it was just those of us who didn't make a mad dash for the swings or kickball field. Doesn't matter, we all knew we were about to become more than third graders. We were about to become superheroes. I always chose to be Gambit, never really caring to join in the inevitable argument about who could be Wolverine. Honestly, playing Gambit and Wolverine were never that different. Both could fight, both were tough, the only real difference being powers and I would much rather throw pretend explosive cards. Plus, as Gambit, I could also be saracastic. There would always be the kid who wanted to be Beast or Cyclops, which always made me wonder about that kid. Going off of the cartoon, why would you want to be a character that was always in jail (Beast) or a super stick in the mud (Cyclops)? I know I liked Morph, the character added to the cartoon to be killed off in the first episode to add drama, but would never play him unless we were specifically playing an origin story of some sort.

The actual play was hilarious, looking back on it. I specifically remember being Gambit and doing all sorts of "martial arts moves" (a.k.a. jumping and kicking while yelling two letter non-words) against an unseen Sentinel while non-playing kids would laugh at me. Whatever, in my head I could have smoked them all with a kinetically charged ace. As a group of kids, we were very adamant about not repeating the format of episodes we had seen. We had a kid who was always Cyclops and would only repeat lines from the cartoon. He also had a slight stutter, so he'd constantly say "L-laser blasts huh? Here's one from a p-pro-pro!" We didn't like playing with him, but we did anyway...maybe out of pity.

I know girls were allowed to play with us but, unlike the neutral gender of improvisers, they always had to play girls. It was rare that we got to have a Rogue or a Storm, but I remember being filled with a quiet dignity when I could look over my shoulder and see pretend Wolverine, pretend Storm, pretend Beast and pretend Colossus fighting imaginary Morlocks with me. The notion of bringing non-cartoon X-Men into play was done once the class started to get more acquainted with the trading cards and guidebooks. Nightcrawler, Iceman, and the aforementioned Colossus were all added at some point or another.

Playing X-Men came to an end one day but we went out with a bang. One day on the big playground, my class got to play with another class (it was rare that two classes would be on the playground at once). This resulted in the biggest playing X-Men ever. I've always estimated around thirty kids, and that's the number I'll stick to, playing X-Men. I know I encountered another Gambit and I think some poor girl was actually Polaris. After seeing the mass destruction caused by our epic battle of good and evil, the teachers had a talk and told us we couldn't play X-Men anymore. And that was it. Looking back, this was actually the end of comics as a unifying force in school. Selling the trading cards was banished, discussing the cartoon was over, and playing X-Men gave way to sports and teasing (ouch). Most of the kids gave up on comics, as did most all of the spectators that started buying comics in the early 90s convinced they were going to be worth millions. The Image comics all ended up tanking, the x-books got darker and more depressing, and I was the lone kid that stuck with it.

This did not, however, stop me and my cousins. I was going to write about the times I played X-Men with my cousins but, after thinking about it, there is more than enough x-related cousin nonsense to fill another blog.


TV: Kid Nation "The Root of All Evil"

Divad has been lurking in the background since the show started, offering a line here and a background appearance there. Now I know she was spending all that time scheming. There's no other excuse (well, except editing) for her sudden collision with the main Bonanza kids. She's started a snack store and is heavily campaigning (making signs campaigning) for the gold star. At first I thought Divad was a quiet soul, her calming words and quiet resolve perhaps marking the beginning of Bonanza's own Oprah. Think about it; Divad had her shop destroyed by Jared and her face burned by grease. She reacted to both of these incidents with an "I must go on" coming out of her mouth and more snack foods being readied by her fingers. Then it came. The campaigning. The handing out snacks while the kids waited in line to vote. The voting for herself. The accusations that she actually doesn't work hard. Divad is sneaky! I doubt she'll ever get the gold star since the council noted that she's working hard in unimportant areas for the wrong reason. But, just like after getting jacked up in the face by grease, Divad is soldiering on.

"He's not gay, he's just homeschooled." My roommate said that and, really, doesn't that sum him up in a nutshell? He's finicky, OCD, the self-described 'outsider,' and hyper emotional. But, because of all of those things, he's also the hardest worker in Bonanza. Little Guylan had to tell him to go to bed instead of doing laundry into the wee hours of the morning. Nathan was almost the star of this episode, dealing with his own feelings of alienation and Jerkhole Greg. Greg himself has developed almost a split personality, both making Nathan feel like a worthless excuse for a kid and later a great man in the making. Nathan walked away with the gold star this week, even though I wasn't sure he should get it. I mean, yeah, the editing had me nearly in tears after his name was called (never a more manipulative show have I watched), but I think his determination and mindless devotion to work is unhealthy and could lead him to personal harm. As long as he remembers to have fun with that baseball and glove the council bought! Oh, wait...he'll probably enjoy making crafts.

KELSEY. SHUT UP. I can't think of anything nice to say about Kelsey, a girl who to date has just been another one of Taylor's acolytes. Oh, and she's the girl who didn't understand anything about any religion and didn't care to a couple episodes ago. In this episode, she straight up got in Jared's face and verbally assaulted him with, literally, eight questions/accusations a second concerning Jared's newly opened snack store. Instead of shoving Kelsey's face over, Jared shoved Divad's store over. Kelsey. Get. A. Grip. Calm. Down. You're annoying and way too intense without much brains to back it up. Even Taylor can come up with a somewhat coherent sentence.

I was actually rooting for Pharaoh to win the gold star. He's been a seemingly positive presence in Bonanza and helps out on a regular basis, even though he is on the yellow team. For real, I think anyone who has to put up with the Taylor/Leila/Kelsey trio on a daily basis and does work on top of that is gold star material. Ridiculous. He was even honest about his motivations, saying that his mother really needs the money. Yeah, Divad did the same thing, but who knows where her gold star money would go. A fleet of motorized mini pink cadillacs? Reconstructive surgery? Okay, that last one is um, sorta a good reason. But still, he's honest and I appreciate that. Much like Greg, I bet the council will wait it out a couple more weeks to see how dedicated Pharaoh is. I bet he gets it eventually.

Thank God! There hasn't been ENOUGH Jared since the show first started! There actually won't be enough Jared until he gets his own spin-off series, perhaps Little Apprentice or the pre-teen version of Flavor of Love. Jared was a bonafide superstar in this episode, from trashing a snack shop to making kitschy crafts to doing a PIMP STROLL, Jared owned this episode so hard! Words cannot express my reaction to the pimp stroll, mainly because the sounds I was making during this scene (the couple times it was viewed) can only be described as jubilant cackling. Really, Jared is wise beyond his years. He recognized how wrong it was for Divad to have the only snack store in town, he then recognized the error of his Hulk smash ways and apologized, and he put his artistic side to good use and made what are, actually, great products. I'd totally buy a Jared made "Bonanza City 2007" necklace. I don't think Jared will ever win a gold star, but I think he's at least winning some respect.

She dropped fifty cents into a bucket of straight up grody slop to find out how desperate the kids were for money. Pretty desperate. Sophia cracks me up. Beneath the reasonable demeanor and maturity, there's an insane mastermind underneath that is thoroughly pleased to mess with others for her own amusement. I love her. She'd be great on Real World if they were still casting intelligent manipulators.

A good episode. Next week looks iffy. A talent show? Hmm...

Holy banana bread, two LOLJARIDs this week! I could have done at least four.


X15: X-Men the Animated Series

On October 31st, 1992, X-Men debuted on the Fox network. The first of the two-part "Night of the Sentinels" storyline barely caught my attention. I remember that I was playing with action figures (probably G.I. Joe) and paying less attention to the television, as it was getting later in the morning. Little did I know that 10 AM on Saturday was soon going to become an event for the next five years and that that poorly animated show would become the most important artistic work in my life.

Because I like events, anniversaries, statistics and top ten lists, I've started a new series of blog posts celebrating and commemorating my 15 years of x-fandom. That's crazy to me, by the way, 15 years? My love of the X-Men has a driver's permit. There's no better place to start than where it all began.

The X-Men animated series is the longest running television series based on a Marvel comic. The show ran for five seasons (October 1992 to September 1997) and produced 76 episodes. In comparison, Fox's Spider-Man had 65 episodes and both 1967's Spider-Man and X-Men: Evolution had 52 episodes. Overall, X-Men proved to be a smartly written series that managed to adapt a nearly three decade long history into easily understood 20 minute episodes.

I haven't seen many of the episodes after the season two premiere (the two-part "Till Death Do Us Part") in almost a decade, but the first season is still crystal clear in my mind. Because I just transferred them over to DVD a couple years ago. And made my own box art. And menus. With special features. The first season, I have to say, is some of the most compelling animation I've ever seen (and no, I don't watch anime or anything on Adult Swim so my opinion is different). Each episode advanced an ongoing plot, Beast's arrest in the season premiere and his subsequent stay in jail being the most often depicted one. Every character in the series was surprisingly three dimensional and their relationships to the other characters were furthered and explored with the type of attention normally paid to hour-long dramas. I will always stand by my opinion that Gambit and Rogue were never better than how they were depicted on the cartoon. Both were charming, sassy, and full of catch phrases. Some of which I still drop into conversation today.

"With style, petit, with style." Gambit
"You look as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." Rogue
"Miss me petit?!" Gambit
"Ain't that enough?!" Rogue
"How you sweat so much, petit, and not lose weight?" Gambit

As a whole, the first season depicts the animated series' X-Men's first adventures in the public eye. The season is bookended with epic battles against the government made Sentinels, a metaphor for the X-Men battling humanity's distrust. Throughout the season, the team is tested by enemies both mutant (Magneto in "Enter Magneto") and human (Genosha, the "Slave Island"). Their adversaries run the gamut, from the pitiful and powerful Morlocks ("Captive Hearts") to the end of all himself, Apocalypse ("The Cure" and "Come the Apocalypse"). These battles open the X-Men to a new world, one of danger the likes of which they had not previously known. And at every step of the way, they are reminded of how much humanity hates them. The two-parter that precedes the season finale is entitled "Days of Future Past" and shows what happens when humanity's hatred leads a mutant to assassinate Senator Robert Kelly. Because of this build up, the moment in "The Final Decision" where the X-Men have to decide as individuals whether or not they want to risk their life for the very government that has been hunting them from the beginning is pretty darn moving. Yes, Jubilee's speech is way over-the-top, but seeing such emotion coming from events that happened in previous episodes is pretty unheard of for Saturday morning cartoons. That first season is pretty darn good.

The rest of the series is pretty foggy, but what X-Men gave me as a television viewer is definitely clear. The series taught me to appreciate three dimensional characters and got me used to the very Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque idea of serious dramatic conversations between light-hearted comedy and action. The long story arcs and the amount of time I spent analyzing every episode that first season definitely still rings true when I watch Lost. And, you know, the cartoon got me to start buying comic books. So, impact noted.

The animated series ended on September 20, 1997 with the episode "Graduation Day." At that point I had just started 8th grade. I was in a new school, a new house, and a new city than when the series had started. As great as the first two films were, nothing will ever really come close to the way the animated series adapted the comic. In 76 episodes they tackled "Days of Future Past," both "The Phoenix Saga" and "The Dark Phoenix Saga," the origins of every main (and some minor) character, the transformation of Angel into Archangel, and the "Phalanx Covenant." Whereas X-Men: Evolution strayed heavily from the comics and became something completely new, the first X-Men cartoon feels like the X-Men that I love. These episodes need to be on DVD now.