The Third Rail

Friday, July 12, 2002

Ultimates #5 – The best single comic of the year, and the best title in Marvel’s Ultimate series. I have always liked the Avengers, but the original title, despite some classic moments, never achieved the same level of pathos and excitement that the X-Men and Spider-Man achieved in their classic periods. However, despite their good writing, the other Ultimate titles are basically rehashing the feel of their respective series’ classic issues (Ditko for Spidey, and Claremont/Byrne for our merry mutants), while this version of the Avengers creates the sense of fresh excitement and possibility that the other titles are simply inspired by and thus can never generate on their own.

In this issue, the new team tackles the Hulk rampaging in Manhattan. There is a real sense of menace of the Hulk, and the fear he generates in everyone is easily apparent. Compared to the Ultimates Hulk, the original is a pussy. Compare this one quote to the mainline’s usual “Hulk Smash!:”

“You always make Banner look like an idiot in front of Betty, Pym. That’s why Hulk’s gonna tear off your head an’ use your skull like a toilet bowl!”

Plus it helps that in this one Ultimates issue, the Hulk kills more people than he probably did in his entire career at mainline Marvel.

The characters here show all the promise and originality than mainline heroes should have shown. Far from being a boy scout, Ultimates Captain America is a grizzled Army veteran who is obviously use to combat and understands how one wins a war. This is truly a man who inspires people when the stakes are high. After the Hulk demolishes Giant Man and Iron Man, Cap takes him down in about five seconds in an honest and believable way. Of course the Hulk doesn’t stay down, but it’s an effective way to show Cap’s cool and presence.

Henry Pym as Giant Man may become my favorite character as writer Mark Millar presents a real human being, not the continuity mess Pym’s become in the regular Avengers’ title. His literally huge presence is wonderfully cinematic, but his first confrontation with the Hulk shows that Pym knows nothing of how to fight a battle, and he gets his ass kicked. Unlike Cap this is a person merelt playing at being a super-hero, and it’ll be fun to see how the character develops.

Thor too is an interesting contradiction. A deluded man with the power must nuclear armed nations only aspire too, his views on politics and economics would only infuriate most Americans, but it’s a good way of blending contemporary Scandinavian social democracy with their ravaging Viking ancestors of yore. If Millar can refrain from the left wing totalitarian impulses he displayed in The Authority, it’ll be great fun to watch Thor play off his future teammates.

This issue was fun, and it’s been a long time I simply had fun reading the comic. This is why I first bought the full color press in the first place. A truly outstanding issue for a series which has yet to hit its stride. With Warren Ellis’ Planetary in hiatus, buy Ultimates.

Blade of the Immortal #70 – One of the best titles currently on the market, this issue marks part five of the brutal “Beasts” storyline which focuses on the Mugai-ryu assassins as our regular hero Manji recovers from the horrific injuries he sustained in the last story arc. After serving as little more than ensign targets over the past few story arcs, the Itto-ryu is finally showing some learning curve and becoming truly feared adversaries. After their slaughter of Manji, I expected a lull, but master craftsman Hiroaki Samura has only accelerated the plot by unleasing an unexpected attack by the rogue dojo. The murder of Shinriji and torture/rape of Hyakurin marks these guys as sick bastards, but also terrible opponents as Hyakurin was probably the most bad ass character after Manji himself.

It’ll be a long wait for the next issue as I eagerly anticipate the final showdown between Hyakurin’s teammate Giichi and her abductors.

Bone # 48 –A slow issue designed to set up the final story arc as the series reaches its end in issue #55. Everything is reaching its climax, but I had the most fun reading Phoney Bone explain how kings and taxes work, and how he’ll use one to get the other and retire. He probably used to work for the Enron subsidiary in Boneville before the series began. I’m a late comer to this series, and I’m only glad for that as I don’t think I could’ve waited the twelve years Jeff Smith took to finish this great story. The collected trade paperbacks should be found in any children’s library, but they’re fun for adults too.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

An interesting read, but the writer is letting his own assumptions get in the way of facts. Why would "all other fronts" indicate the presence of "sleeper cells within the us." What evidence, ANY evidence, indicates such cells even exist? The vast majority of muslims and arabs in america are here precisely because they wanted to get away from tyrants like Hussein. I doubt any such "cells" exist outside the imagination of conspiracy buffs and perhaps saddam hussein himself. And if they did, from what little activity we know of Islamic terrorism since 9/11, they are unlikely to do much harm. For Saddam to survive he needs a credible deterrent. I doubt he's the type of guy willing to die as long as some citizens of the Great Satan(TM) die as well. He's no martyr.

I'm sure hussein will try something, but it's not likely to be effective. In other words, it's bullshit, propaganda, and not very effective propaganda. Hussein has a weapons of mass destruction program, but how likely is it that it's created something and transported secretly to the United States where sleeper cells of 5000 radical Islamic terrorists will ruin the main street of thousands of American towns? It won't happen. Al Qaeda's big revenge for getting their ass whupped in Afghanistan and having everyone arrested all over the place was to shoot two people in L.A.

The threats are serious, but as we've found out the attacks on 9/11 happened more as a result of government incompetence instead of the brillance of our most vaunted foes. We know who these people were, we were warned beforehand, and our security leaks were well known. The problem isn't the enemy, it's that we lack the political will to fix the problem - and dubya still does. Otherwise we would have seen more people get fired and massive executive reform initiated. Instead we're too busy covering some bureaucrat's ass.

Coming soon: the comic books of the week reviews. I'm sure you're all dying to know. Ultimates #5, Blade of the Immortal #70, and Bone #48.

I'm glad for him and glad for Taiwan. But does America actually build anything anymore, or do we just push papers the entire day?

Al Gore. Super-hero. ANd for all those people who say a President Gore wouldn't have responded as forcefully as dubya, let's remember that Gore voted for the first Gulf War (buckinghis entire party), and had enough backbone to force Clinton to intervene to stop the massacres in the Balkans. I have a lot of confidence he would've responded just as well as Bush, although he probably would have handled our diplomacy with the Europeans better.

Yeah, bring it on. Let's see how soon you'll get your statehood then. What was it that a great man said, "I prefer a stand up fight to all this sneaking around?"

Al Qaeda intended to attack the vatican, the capital of the Catholic Church. While the main reason was that an attack on St Peter's Square would be "a more suitable target in order to carry out a slaughter with the loss of a considerable number of human lives," this indicates a greater war against all of western civilization, not just America, especially when compared with other information indicating that attacks against London were foiled on 9/11 as well only due to the rapid grounding of all international air travel. More info here.
I wonder if the same people who like to imply that america's actions brought on the attacks, would also admonish the Pope to ask why they hate christians. But then again, maybe the only evident answer would be that our enemies are hateful bigots. Hmm, that type of answer wouldn't swing well with those terrorist symapthizers who oppose the war.

As long as the good guys are pumping him for information.

The problem is how long do we want troops in Iraq, and what criteria will we send them brought home. They need to be there in enough time to stabilize the new iraqi government, but pulled out soon enough so that the arab world does not start complaining about the american "occupation" of iraq. After the initial conquest, there will be stunned silence, but we need a plan to get out troops out as fast as possible before it causes enough trouble that forces us to keep troops in so that we don't appear weak.

People like to blubber on about that "we" turned around Germany and Japan after the Second World War. What they forget is that 50+ years later our troops are still there. And let's remember, the reason the local population never rose up against us during the long occupation is that they knew the alternative was to eat Soviet shit for the next several decades, if not forever. What similar enemy exists that would cause Arabs to accept a long enough occupation to turn them around?

People who admonish us to stay in Afghanistan long enough to rebuild the country are usually the first to also complain when the natural consequences of such an occupation/pacification lead to deaths, like the recent bombing of the Afghani wedding party. But maybe they would prefer a situation like Lebanon 1983 when our troops didn't do anything but act as targets.

Sometimes I shake my head. Why couldn't we have capped his ass before? Then again, we're the same country that said, "No, Sudan, don't give us Bin Laden," several years ago. Let's remember that what decides wars is usually which side is least incompetent. Let's hope we shape up.

I hope he doesn't get killed. I wonder if he does if we'll ever hear about it.

Be very afraid. Via Charles Johnson.

This is actually quite true in the sense that the concept of the "market" (supply, demand, people freely engaging in mutually beneficial exchange) isn't an "ism," but the way life works. It even worked in the old Evil Empire, but in the form of black markets. The same is true anywhere one uses political power to prevent people from trading as they see fit whether it was Imperial Spain in the 1500's or the internet peer-to-peer exchanges today.

However, what the article doesn't address is that there are "systems" in capitalism - the various ways the market can be organized. Of course the market could be self-organized in an anarchic way, and some libertarians no doubt would prefer that, but usually it's the businesses themselves and the government that regulates them. While businesses often chafe under regulations, it's also true that many, many government laws are put in place on behalf of businesses to distort the market to their own benefit by hobbling the emergence of new competitors. The way the market is organized in the US is not the way it's organized in Japan, Britain, Germany, or even free-market havens like Hong Kong that libertarians and Friedmanites drool over. And it is certainly not the only way it could be in the US and still rightly be called a free market economy.

Given the scope and magnitude of such scandals, there are severe problems with how the US has organized the market, and it needs to be addressed. Simply sticking heads in the sand and saying it's only the work of bad men won't cut it. There are bad men everywhere. We have laws to protect us from them, and we need better laws (not necessarily MORE laws) and better mechanisms of enforcement to prevent this kind of fraud. The accounting profession is being completely discredited. People are losing faith in what their stock prospectuses have is actually the truth. What we are seeing now is the under the guise of the market, a giant criminal fraud is being perpetrated. If conservatives don't fix the problem themselves, then someone else will, and i'm sick already of how they've never forgiven FDR for preserving the market in the first place (yes, the New Deal was extremely flawed and it did not cure the Depression, but FDR did save the US from falling to fascism or communism internally during the Great Depression. Please forgive him for that.)

Years ago there was this great comic called Ragmop (that would be too left wing for my taste if it hadn't been so hilarious) which had a brief chapter at the end of each issue of "Adam Smith against Capitalism" that basically described how giant corporations of today do not fit into the profile of the market system described in the Wealth of Nations. That prompted me to begin reading WoN, and I've discovered a dirty little secret. Most conservatives haven't read it either, and know nothing about what they're defending. That's because they're not really defending the idea of the free market and liberty, but preserving their financial and political INTERESTS (and that of their friends) in the current economic system. "What, worry about $4 billion that were never there, hmm too bad, but we shouldn't worry about it because I've already made my money."

Feudalism is defined as public power in private hands. At that stage, "government" becomes nothing more than a protection racket. For years the leaders of the Republicans have been a bunch of rich people complaining about how poor they are, ever ready to give tax breaks to the rich, but never seeming to want to eliminate income tax for the lowest earning Americans first. Now we have evidence of mass corporate crime, and they're making excuses on why not to do anything. Be careful.

I generally like Andrew Sullivan although he does have some annoying ticks (like how he thinks the solution to priestly pedophilia is gay marriage!). And even this article has some good words, but when he blames the current scandals on Bill Clinton and the uncovering of them by the "Bush -era SEC" he eschews credibility. Are we really to believe that Bill Clinton ordered the SEC to not investigate companies in order to keep the economy growing during his impeachment? Oh, Sullivan doesn't say Clinton ordered anything, only that he let enforcement slip when he was too busy fending off impeachment. Doesn't he know how large the bureaucracy is? Is it really plausible to think that some SEC accountant just missed heading off Enron because he was too frazzled by the impeachment debate? C'mon.

Clinton certainly had serious ethical lapses, but to blame the current round of corporate greed on a moral relativism engendered by his actions is ludicrous. There are some things he could be blamed for (there seems to be a much higher acceptance of oral sex between teens post Lewinsky than before), but corporate greed? It's not like there's ever been any history of that before in this nation's history! Unless you discount the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Insider Trading scandals and much, much more. The fact is that the Wall Street Journal could field their own crime section every day if they wanted to, and could have done for a long time. Clinton is not the root cause for WorldCom.

And to extoll the "Bush-era" SEC as guardians of the corporate order, as if President Bush had anything to do with it? Business scandals can't go on forever as the money eventually runs out, and that's why those scandals are breaking now. Or maybe we're expected to believe that Dick Cheney after becoming Vice President improved the SEC even as his former company Halliburton descended into financial ruin on its own.

And the award for "duh!" this year goes to...

Or maybe, just maybe he doesn't want to raise his own kids. The question is whether living in America is so 'terrifying' that he leaves himself? Nahhh. Didn't think that way either.