Thursday, September 20, 2007


I've hit a new stage in my whole collector-of-toy-cars phase: the sudden and insatiable desire to unload a big fat chunk of my collection on eBay.

Yes, the pile of over one dozen blister-pack sealed cars sitting in the top shelf of my wardrobe seems to practically be begging me to put it online and eventually into the hands of better owners whose ardor for them won't cool into indifference as quickly as mine has.

It really was all about the hunt, when I think about it; after I'd put them away in my closet and forgotten about them, there wasn't much else to say or do, especially considering I couldn't take them out of their blister packs and play with them.

There were a number of things that have brought about this feeling, but I think the first one is that I feel lately that I hit a different level last month when I picked up a couple of considerably pricier cars; I ventured into 1/43 territory, and with it acrylic cases, stunning details, and somewhat eyebrow raising prices that come with it.

I could put these cars, one red Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren and one silver Porsche Carrera GT, beside each other on the headboard of my bed and stare at them until I'd literally pass out. They kept me company when I was home sick all of this week and everyone was out. The other two cars that I "hung out with" were two of my four 1:18 scale cars: a silver Ferrari F430 and a silver SLR McLaren.

Looking at them, I eventually got to thinking "there are so few of these, but I get so much more satisfaction out of them than out of the dozens and dozens of little cars I've accumulated like lint in the last ten months or so. They cost a little more, but I enjoy them so much more, from the details, to the acrylic cases, to the way they just capture the essence of the cars after which they were modeled."

The perfect analogy, I believe, is a gastronomical one. A rib eye steak with potatoes and vegetables on the side definitely costs more than a small bag of nachos, but on the other hand it is so...much...more... filling, so much more satisfying.

Those little cars in their huge plastic casings have been my small bags of chips, which I'd buy on a whim, not really thinking much about them once they were stowed away. Now they're stacked in a pile, and all I can see of them is their packaging unless I make the effort to extract them from their hiding place. It was thus that I also came to realize that my new 1/43 cars, with their no-nonsense, rectangular, sturdy acrylic display cases, were much easier to store than those cumbersome Jada 1/64 Shelby Cobras and Ford GTs, with their preposterous blister packaging which, in true American tradition, occupies five times the space the actual car does. I realized that eighty percent of the ridiculous things is packaging.

My first impulse was to think: I'll hawk these 1/64s on eBay or at my forum and then use the money to buy a couple more 1/43s!

But then sobriety prevailed, and I wasn't about to just go out and spend the equivalent of thirty to sixty dollars on one or two cars, not when there are other immediate uses for the money.

The idea of selling the 1/64s has still stuck, though, and as soon as I reinstall the software that enables me to upload pictures from my camera, the toy pushing begins.

The nice thing about those 1/43s is that, near as I can tell anyway, the folks at the stores that carry them maintain a fairly generous stock, and because they're kind of pricey they aren't sold out in a hurry. So for the first time in a while, since I started collecting, I feel I can take my time, something I haven't felt since I first missed out on buying that silver Shelby Cobra so many months ago.

In short, I've made a resolution to swap quantity...for quality.

(I'm still hanging onto my garden-variety Matchboxes and Hot Wheels, though; they're pretty easy to stack and stow).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Children of War

While Marvel's Civil War was based in part on Mark Millar's idea of a superhero team in every one of America's fifty states, this did not actually play out in the miniseries itself. Instead it was used as the groundwork for a new series to be entitled Avengers: The Initiative, the story of young super-powered individuals who have to sign up with the government and train in order to be properly licensed as superheroes.

I am of the opinion that this title is the most compelling argument for staging the civil war within the Marvel universe, as it has provided both the perfect venue for launching fresh characters.

I skipped the first couple of issues with their "boot camp" theme, which seemed a re-tread of too many war movies, but when the ball started rolling with the third issue, I came on board.

The members of the core team (so far) are, in no particular order other than those I can name: Cloud 9, Hardball, Komodo, Trauma, Ultra Girl and Thor Girl. The veteran Avengers who appear in these pages include Yellowjacket, Justice and War Machine.

The fairly eclectic mix makes for very interesting reading, even though none of the new heroes has a particularly original power, but superpowers, as with most Marvel books, are not this book's main draw. No, what's special here is the layers that slowly unfold as the series goes on. There are shadow teams and dirty secrets galore from the lowest members on the totem pole to the guys on the very top; in short, the stuff of pretty compelling drama for at least several months to come.

Issue #3 was, at least in part, about an attempt to hunt down superheroes on the run, specifically Spider-Man, while issues #4 and #5 dealt squarely with the events of World War Hulk.

The situations are so well conceived that neither they nor the characters' reactions thereto feel particularly contrived.

Writer Dan Slott shows he has the chops to handle such an important assignment as fleshing out Millar's idea. He and artist Stefano Caselli take the baton from Millar and absolutely sprint with it. Caselli's work is cartoony but wonderfully expressive.

I don't doubt that The Initiative as a concept has limited story mileage, but for now, there is just so much that can be done with these characters and the creative team seems perfectly poised to do it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Spidey Swansong by Joe and Joe

When J. Michael Straczynski started writing The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2001, I welcomed him with open arms, considering I had stopped buying the title for some months before of the hopelessly unreadable stories. I welcomed the high profile JMS seemed to bring to the book, which got star treatment that previously only the x-books had enjoyed, in the form of a star-caliber cover artist J. Scott Campbell and a significant upgrade in the palette of colors used.

As time dragged on, though, JMS's run became kind of hit-and-miss for me. I almost uniformly liked the first two years' worth of issues, but after that the quality in both the storytelling and the art seemed to dip, to the extent that when John Romta Jr. left to pursue other projects, I found myself dropping the book altogether, only to pick it up again when Spider-Man donned the "Iron Spider" armor.

Considering, however, that the story with which JMS is ending his run (at least for now) on Spider-Man, entitled One More Day, is hyped as one of the most drastic status quo alterations of recent memory, and considering it boasts art by Marvel's editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, I decided to give JMS a proper "send-off."

OMD, which springs out of the events of Civil War, marks something of a return by JMS to the form with which he drew me in as a fan over half a decade ago, before he got caught up in the ramifications of all his story ideas and subplots and before he decided to retcon a character who had been dead for three decades.

In a nutshell, this is about Peter trying to get help for Aunt May, who is dying from a sniper's bullet. He goes to Tony Stark, whom he betrayed during the Civil War by switching sides mid-war, and the predictable fight ensues. The story doesn't progress all that well, the only real events going on being the fight between Peter and Tony, but JMS' writing here feels a lot more like writing I enjoyed so much at the beginning of his run than the muddled mess it had become by the time I decided to take time off from the title.

The star of this book, however, would have to be Joe Quesada. From the expressiveness of his characters to the explosive nature of Peter's fight with Iron Man, Quesada perfectly justifies his presence on these pages, and they are wondrous to behold. Since he became EIC of Marvel it's always been a treat to see JQ's art, whether on various covers or on interior pages, such as the underrated Daredevil: Father series, which for all its late shipping back in the day, was magnificently illustrated. Seeing JQ on a Spider-Man book is something I have wanted to see for a loooong time, ever since Spidey made a guest appearance in issue #8 of Kevin Smith's Daredevil relaunch. The final page-and-a-half splash which has Spidey swinging off to visit Dr. Strange feels particularly rewarding. That Marvel are following this up by putting Steve McNiven on the book for a spell makes me feel all warm and tingly inside.

It doesn't really matter to me which way Spider-Man's status quo is headed; what I really want is a good story with good art, and I'm happy to say that Amazing Spider-Man #544, the first chapter of OMD, delivers on both fronts.

Here's hoping the rest of the storyline plays out well.