Five thoughts on Game 20: Raptors 126, Hornets 113

Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors, Nov 29

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors giving away another third quarter, but hanging on to beat the shorthanded Hornets:

The Raptors’ third quarter problems persist…

Dwayne Casey sounded pretty livid after the game, with good reason. The Raptors gave away another third quarter with sloppy play: poor shots, unforced turnovers, poor transition defense, poor perimeter defense, poor rebounding position… I mean, it was embarrassing. And once again the bench had to come in and settle things down. I mean, there’s a small part of me that’s glad the fourth was interesting—blowout fourth quarters are boring—but I’d rather see a close game throughout, rather than watch the team choke away a big lead.

… as does their habit of playing down to shorthanded opponents

Once again a Raptors opponent was missing their best player and once again the Raptors struggled to take advantage. Kemba Walker is fully capable of going on a 19-2 run all by himself (like his team did to start the third); there’s literally no one else on this Hornets team to fear. And yet the Raptors let these guys hang around. I was really disappointed in the Raps’ defensive efforts; Walker is a tough guy to guard because he can beat you inside and out. But Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist… these are fairly one-dimensional players. They can’t shoot—yet the Raptors crowded them and allowed blow-bys to the rim. And that led to a ridiculous 35-11 free-throw differential.

It took him 20 games, but Kyle Lowry looks like himself

This was a vintage Kyle performance tonight; yeah, he sucked, along with everyone else, for the first six minutes of the third. But he was stellar in the first half (19 points, and helping turn a 7-point first quarter lead to 19 by halftime) and stellar in the fourth. He wasn’t going to let the Raptors give this one away; he went 3-4 from deep in the fourth, and found DeMar DeRozan on a drive that led to a DeMar hammer dunk that sealed it. He scored 36 on 18 shots with 8 made threes (a career high). He also took his league-leading 14th charge, and acquired approximately 23 new bruises, scrapes and cuts. Glad to see old Kyle back!

Lucas Nogueira is hurt again

Tell me if this doesn’t sum up Bebe’s career: Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were both battling foul trouble tonight, which gave Bebe an opportunity to play after being the odd man out the past several games. He comes in, hits a three, picks up three fouls, and leaves, injured, after 8 minutes. Sigh.

I’m actually a fan of Drake on the broadcast

If I only tuned in to the occasional game, having Drake chime in with Matt and Leo for a quarter might bug me – that’s not what I want to hear, right? But when you watch every day it actually adds a nice bit of color every once in a while! And he clearly is having a great time, he loves it, he’s funny… I dig it. And Matt and Leo seem to dig it too… And hey, if Kyle’s postgame interview is any indication, he digs it too. And that’s all right for me.

—–

The Pacers are in town Friday. Can the Raptors fix their third-quarter woes before then? Remember what happened the last time they played Indiana

Five things that are worth your time: November 29

Five Things: November 29

For the past year at Brainrider my colleague Jon Kane and I have been putting together a weekly internal newsletter, sharing five cool things we’ve read (that generally have some relevance to what we do at Brainrider) with the entire Brainrider team.

At its core it’s just curated content with a little bit of commentary. We send it out on Friday and then we share one thing a day via our intranet the following week. The whole thing was Jon’s brainchild and I give him all the credit. But I like the idea so much I’m stealing it for myself! (OK, I asked his permission so it’s not really stealing. But it’s more fun to say it that way).

On to the things! This week they’re I have four fairly long long reads to share; you might want to settle in with a coffee. But I am very, very certain that all of them are worth your time. And I wrap it up with a video that I am also certain is worth your time.

Luke Skywalker Speaks

Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

I love how totally at ease Mark Hamill seems with his life; he became a mega-celebrity right at the start of his career, and it probably completely derailed said career but he’s just steered into it, owned it and enjoyed it. I think there’s an obvious lesson in there for all of us.

A quote: “Mr. Hamill isn’t bitter or jaded, and he isn’t Luke, though he has retained some of that character’s incorruptibility. He’s gone from a new hope to an old hand, with a lined, expressive face and a gray beard, beneath which lurks a mischievous sense of humor, a yearning to perform and a joy in sharing “Star Wars” war stories.”

Gal Gadot Kicks Ass

Caity Weaver, GQ

Super-hero movies have become pretty formulaic these days, and Wonder Woman isn’t really all that different… except for its star. Gal Gadot embodies that character in a way I don’t think any actor in a super-hero role has done since Christopher Reeve in Superman (whoops, just aged myself there). It’s like she was born to play the part. This profile seems to indicate she’s just as awesome in real life as she was on screen.

A quote: “Gal Gadot is very hands-on. As in: When you meet her, she will put her hands on you many times, in many different places. Israeli culture is so touch-oriented that guides for Americans traveling there warn they may feel their personal space is constantly being violated in formal settings… Even as Wonder Woman sequels and spin-offs propel Gadot to new heights of global stardom, she probably will not lose this habit of touching, because she is a charming, beautiful woman, and it will never occur to people to shrink away from her.”

“That’s My Justice”

Jordan Ritter Conn, The Ringer

Brenda Tracy was raped by four college football players in Oregon in 1998. It took her more than a decade, during which she battled depression and contemplated suicide, before she realized she had within her the power to effect change in the rape culture found among men’s athletics, and football in particular, on college campuses. This story is equally horrifying for what Brenda went through, and uplifting for what she’s trying to do now. My words can’t express how impressive this story is.

A quote: “Tracy realizes she may have offenders in her audience. She targets her message, though, to the vast majority of the players in the room who are unlikely to ever perpetrate a violent act but have the ability to shift the culture among their peers. At Houston, she says: “You might think to yourselves, ‘I don’t commit rape. I don’t beat on women. Why is this my problem?’ I’ll tell you why it’s your problem. Because if women could stop sexual violence, we would have already done it. Eve would have done it. The first woman on the planet would have done it. And do you think that rapists are going to stop it? No. Of course not. So it’s up to you, the 90 percent of men who would not commit rape, to put an end to it.”

Promethea Unbound

Mike Mariani, The Atavist Magazine

This is one of the best things I’ve read in a very, very long time. It’s the story of a child prodigy and the challenges she and her family had growing up. You’d think that a girl who started taking college classes at age 8 and earned her degree at 13 would have it made, but young Jasmine (later Promethea) encounters one challenge after another, climaxing in a tragic act of violence, that derails her future.

A quote: “Solomon posits that “being gifted and being disabled are surprisingly similar: isolating, mystifying, petrifying.” The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t cover prodigies, and the rationale seems obvious: These children are overequipped for normal achievement. Yet their unique requirements for learning and the extraordinary burdens placed on their families make prodigies resplendent doppelgängers to developmentally challenged children.”

When every word doesn’t belong to everyone

Ta-Nehisi Coates, YouTube/Random House

What do words mean to different people; different groups of people, different races or genders? And why are some words acceptable in some groups but not others? The amazing Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why white people using the N-word is problematic, and why, if you’re not black, you need to be OK with not using it.

A quote: “My wife, with her girlfriends, will use the word “bitch.” I do not join in! I don’t do that. I don’t have a desire to do it. The question one must ask, if that’s accepted and normal for groups to use words that are derogatory in an ironic fashion, why is there so much hand-wringing when black people do it? … Why do so many white people have difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people. And I think I know why.”

That’s all for this week! I’ll have five more to share next Wednesday.

Review: Batman/The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition

Batman/The Flash: The Button

Before I read Doomsday Clock #1, I figured I should read Batman/Flash: The Button, the crossover that preceded it (and bridged the gap from DC: Rebirth #1). Luckily, it went on sale last week as part of DC’s Black Friday digital sale—some damn good timing there!

What is it? Batman/The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition
Who did it? Joshua Williamson, Tom King, Jason Fabok and Howard Porter
When did it come out? 2017
What does it collect? Batman (Rebirth) #21-22, The Flash (Rebirth #21-22

Batman/The Flash: The Button is ultimately a disappointing read…

There are some really cool things about this book, that I’ll get to… unfortunately, I’m not sure what the point of this story really is. The Reverse-Flash gets resurrected… only to be killed again. Jay Garrick, the original Flash, returns… only to disappear again. And they lose the titular button, without ever finding out anything about it, other than it has an odd reaction to Psycho Pirate’s mask. I get that they’re trying to save all the good stuff for Doomsday Clock… but give us something!

… and I’m not even sure what relevance this story has to Doomsday Clock

At least not yet. It sure seems like the only thing this story accomplishes is returning the button to the Watchmen universe, or at the very least, the hands of Dr. Manhattan. Which in itself is kinda weird… presumably it was Manhattan who resurrected the Reverse-Flash to retrieve it for him, and kills him after he does? He’s “God,” though—surely he could have just grabbed it himself? And as I said earlier, Batman and Flash learn virtually nothing, and lose the button. So I dunno. Hopefully we’ll learn that the story, or at least the button itself, has more relevance in Doomsday Clock.

Thomas Wayne’s message for Bruce almost makes the story worth it

This is by far the best part of the story—that Bruce Wayne briefly meets his father, the Batman of the Flashpoint universe (and the guy who originally killed the Reverse-Flash). Thomas Wayne has a message for Bruce: To give up being Batman, to live life, to be a father to his son Damian, to be happy. And at the end of the story Bruce is actually considering it. So many people, from Alfred to Leslie Tompkins to Selina Kyle, have implored Bruce to do the same, and he never does… but of course, his father saying it makes him think twice. It’s a moment that really works. And I’m definitely curious to see how it plays out from here.

The Batman vs. Reverse Flash fight is the highlight sequence of the book

The story starts with a bang—Batman examines the button, then the Reverse Flash appears and spends one minute brutally beating Bruce (though Bruce briefly gets the upper hand, because, hey, he’s Batman). It takes up almost the entirety of the first issue and it’s done in the familiar Watchmen-esque nine panel grid. Batman knows he only has to survive the one minute—that’s when The Flash will arrive—and he barely makes it. It’s a brutal sequence, brilliantly choreographed, and a small countdown clock in the corner only heightens the tension.

The art throughout is pretty damn solid

I’ve been a Howard Porter fan since his JLA days, and I know not everyone was a fan back then, but I’m pleased to see how he’s grown and his style evolved over the years. He’s also inking himself now so I feel like this is a more pure Howard Porter experience. and it doesn’t disappoint. That splash page where Jay Garrick returns is wonderful. Meanwhile, Jason Fabok (who handles the Batman side of the crossover) is one of the best artists in the DC stable right now. Batman is one of only two books I’ve been reading since Rebirth (Wonder Woman being the other) and he’s a big part of the reason why.

—–

Having read Doomsday Clock #1 I can say that the button doesn’t feature at all in that first issue, except in a teaser at the end where it appears to be in the hands of Lex Luthor. So its fate remains unknown… for now. As for this story, I recommend it if you’re up for the cool sequences noted above (and can grab it for cheap); but if you’re looking for some deep connective tissue between Rebirth #1 and Doomsday Clock, you’ll probably be disappointed (especially if you have to pay full price for it).

Review: Doomsday Clock #1

Doomsday Clock #1

I can’t remember the last time I bought a single, physical issue of a comic book. Age of Ultron, maybe? Regardless, the buzz around Doomsday Clock, DC’s maybe-sequel to Watchmen that maybe integrates the Watchmen universe with the DC Universe, inspired me to visit Silver Snail on New Comic Book Day last week to get a copy of Doomsday Clock #1 for myself.

Here are my thoughts (minor spoilers where noted):

What is it? Doomsday Clock #1
Who did it? Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
When did it come out? November 22, 2017

Doomsday Clock #1 exceeded my expectations

I’ve mostly enjoyed the comics I’ve read by Geoff Johns; some I’ve loved, in fact. And I like Gary Frank. In fact, I am a huge fan of the work those two did together on Superman. That, combined with the positive early buzz, set my expectations for this book pretty high! And it exceeded them thoroughly. It’s gorgeous. It’s written in such a way that is more than homage to Watchmen, and that could have easily derailed it, looking like a copy or a mockery… but it actually works. It put my right back into that universe. And the story drops you in the middle of a crisis (that I won’t spoil) and then tension is ratcheted up, and you really feel it. Furthermore, much like Watchmen #1, enough hints of several mysteries are dropped that you definitely want to read what’s coming next.

I probably shouldn’t love the overt Watchmen homages, but I do

That this is a continuation of Watchmen is right in your face; much like Dr. Manhattan’s giant blue penis in the big-screen adaptation, you can’t miss it. The cover layout is the same. The cover acting as the first panel of the story is there. The nine-panel grid, of course. The lettering and fonts, the colors, the titles, the quote at the end… the end pieces! I mean, this should feel hokey, or cheap, but… it just doesn’t. It works.

Let’s talk about Rorschach

(SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION)

It’s not a spoiler to say that Rorschach appears in this comic, since he’s all over the previews. But (another SPOILER ALERT, in case you ain’t paying attention) this isn’t the same Rorschach that we saw in Watchmen. It would appear that Walter Kovacs was indeed, annihilated in the snow by Dr. Manhattan, and another gentleman—an African-American gentleman—has taken up the role. It’s not clear why, or how he got the mask, but he’s clearly a bit… deranged, like the original. He has peculiar eating habits (likes his syrup, apparently), is oddly forgetful, lives in his car… yeah, he’s got issues. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s someone we know; as far as I can recall, the only black characters in the original Watchmen (Rorschach’s psychiatrist and Bernie the newsstand boy) were killed when the creature materialized in New York. (Although looking at those pages now… it’s possible young Bernie was shielded enough by old Bernie to survive…) (END SPOILERS)

I’m not up on current DC continuity, such as it is…

… so I was surprised to learn that, in the current DCU, Clark Kent’s adoptive parents were killed in a car crash when he was 18. I was even more surprised to learn that I had, in fact, read the stories where that continuity change was introduced: Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run. (That should tell you how much that run stuck with me… man, what a disappointment that was after Morrison’s brilliant All-Star Superman.) Clark’s nightmare about their death clearly means that night ties into this story somehow (assuming of course, Johns and Frank follow the track of the original Watchmen, where every panel and page meant something). Are we meant to think that continuity change happened because Dr. Manhattan manipulated the DCU? Or is it even more sinister than that? Can’t wait to find out!

I don’t want to get my hopes up too far

This issue did remind me of the first issue of Infinite Crisis, another Geoff Johns book that was a sequel to a legendary 1980s comic (Crisis on Infinite Earths). And I loved that first issue as well; I loved the ideas it presented (that the DC heroes had gotten away from what made them special), why it needed to tie into the original Crisis (the purpose of that event was to “clean up” the DC Universe and get their characters back to basics) and the way it brought back the original Earth-2 Superman and Lois and the Earth-Prime Superboy. It all worked! Unfortunately it fell apart by the end of the series. Editorial changes and delays plagued the book and the ending felt hollow. Let’s hope the follow through is better on this one.

—–

So the question is: Will I end up going to the comic shop next month to get Doomsday Clock #2? Will I settle for a digital copy? Or wait until the inevitable collected edition? Time will tell…

Five thoughts on Game 19: Raptors 112, Hawks 78

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks, Nov 25

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors blowout victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday night:

Early on, it was clear both teams were on a back-to-back

It was a slow, sloppy first quarter as both teams tried to find their legs after playing the night before. Each team had 6 turnovers in the opening frame, and yet neither team converted any of those turnovers into a single fast-break point; that’s the very definition of sloppy! For the Raps, it was clear they wanted to get their big guys going. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka combined for 9 shots early, and Jakob Poeltl came in and added three more; that’s 12 of the Raps’ 20 shots in the quarter. I appreciated that the Raps were trying to establish JV, as he struggled on Friday night, but I think he may have been pressing too hard—he had 3 of those 6 turnovers.

The bench dominated the second quarter

The Raps were without CJ Miles again, but it didn’t matter on this night. The Raptors all-bench unit (Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Lorenzo Brown, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam blew the Hawks out of the air in the second quarter, opening the frame on a 21-3 run. Fred VanVleet had another solid game; he’s really settled into his role now, and I have to respect that, after he struggled earlier in the year. The Hawks added 6 more turnovers in the quarter—Norm and Pascal each had 2 steals—and the Raptors turned them into 13 fast break points. Pascal, Norm and Poeltl combined for 38 points in the half, and the Raps turned a 3-point first quarter lead into a 28-point(!) halftime lead.

The Raps didn’t come out sloppy in the third

After getting killed in the previous two third quarters, and with a healthy lead already in this one, I suspected the Raps would go into a lull and let the Hawks back in it. Instead, they buckled down and didn’t let the Hawks catch their breath. Once again the Raps chose to feed JV, and he settled in and scored 12 in the quarter, on 5-6 shooting. The Raptors were +13 in the quarter, and that meant the starters could rest the entire fourth—a much-needed respite for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (each played less than 28 minutes). DeMar had another rough night so hopefully the rest will do him good!

Marco Belinelli is wasted on this Hawks team

Jack and Matt opined on former Raptor Marco Belinelli in the first quarter, and about how he could help a winning team. As he drained two threes I couldn’t help but envision him back in a Raptors uniform and I thought: I’d trade Lucas Nogueira for him in a heartbeat. Bebe still has potential and could use lots of playing time on a bad time to develop it. The Raps need more three-point shooters (and fewer centers). Makes sense! But I actually went to the trade machine to try this out – doesn’t work, unless you also throw Bruno Caboclo in too. I might still do it! Maybe.

That was a bogus flagrant on Jonas Valanciunas

The refs stopped play (in the middle of a possession) to review another “body control” situation—this time, JV caught Dewayne Dedmon with an elbow on the previous play. It was dumb enough to stop play—Jonas was gathering into his shooting motion when he was stripped of the ball, and his momentum kept his arms moving in an upward motion, and Dedmon stuck his face in. But not only did they stop play—they assessed him a flagrant 1! What a ridiculous call. Especially in the third quarter of a 30-point blowout.

—–

Overall it was an unsuccessful and unsatisfying 1-2 road trip for the Raptors. They don’t play again until Wednesday, the first of three in a row at home—here’s hoping they come out of that stretch better than 1-2!

 

“Be more passionate than ambitious”

Masai Ujiri says passion trumps ambition

That’s what Raptors President Masai Ujiri said to Bill Simmons when Simmons asked him, “what your best piece of management advice?” Ujiri was on Simmons’ podcast on October 25, and it took him a minute to answer; he’s probably more used to answering general basketball-related questions rather than workplace management questions.

Finally he said it: “Be more passionate than ambitious.”

I loved the answer. It really hit home and got the wheels turning in my brain. Because I agree: passion trumps ambition.

Here’s what it means to me:

Don’t get hung up on titles…

When I think about where my career might go next, it is nice to have that director title on my cv… but if my next role “only” comes with a manager title, it won’t be a step back—as long as I get to continue doing the things I’m passionate about. If I find a role that offers me team leadership and mentoring opportunities and the opportunity to work with good people in a marketing organization that demonstrably impacts revenue… then what does the title matter? I’m doing what matters to me. If you know what’s important to you, then don’t get hung up on whether the role comes with the right title.

… but don’t lose your ambitions completely!

Aligning your career to what you’re passionate about doesn’t mean you stop moving forward. It just means you strive for the things that matter most to you. To follow on from my previous example, if my marketing initiatives are delivering results, I’m going to analyze what’s working and/or learn something new, so I can continue to deliver even better results next time. Being ambitious, to me, means being driven to get better—and that means more than getting a title.

Ambition and ego can clash with collaboration; unity will get you farther

There’s an old expression, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” I firmly believe a group of people untied for a common goal will always go farther than a group of individuals. I love working with others, and that’s a huge part of the reason I’ve made my career in marketing; collaboration comes with the territory. But how many times have you seen someone’s personal goals throw a project off track, because they’re not aligned with the project goals? Far too often, I’d wager. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of “this isn’t what I want to be doing,” or “it’s not the way I’d do it” or even “how do I make this project make me look good” rather than focusing on what’s good for all. But if you’re all in because you’re passionate about what you’re doing? Then success is only a matter of time.

Passion is contagious; ambition is lonely

If you’re doing things you love, chances are it will energize you—and that energy will spread to others around you. And not just at work or in your team environment, but to your family and friends as well. Think back to when you did something that made you happy or proud; chances are someone commented that had an extra hop in your step or a permagrin, right? It’s notable, and it’s infectious. But personal ambition often has an opposite, alienating effect. When people sense that you’re only driven by your own goals, they’re more likely to be turned off than energized by it.

You’re not a failure if your job or industry isn’t your passion

I’m a B2B marketer, and I like being in this business, but I don’t consider it my passion; it’s the vehicle that lets me explore things I am passionate about, such as helping others succeed and creating things that make a difference. These are the things that matter to me. Would I one day like to combine these with other things I’m passionate about, like, say, comic books or sports? Of course! And I’ll continue to seek out those opportunities out, but I don’t need it all, all at once.

—–

I know I’ll be keeping Masai’s quote in mind as I consider the next steps in my career. What does passion mean to you, and does it trump ambition?

Image courtesy Sportsnet.

Five thoughts on Game 18: Pacers 107, Raptors 104

Toronto Raptors at Indiana Pacers Nov 24

A few observations from the Toronto Raptors loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Raptors’ second in a row on this three game road trip:

It was another game of runs early.

The Raptors started out 5-0, off of a Kyle Lowry three and a Serge Ibaka steal and dunk. The Pacers then went on a 12-0 run and it looked like this was gonna be a long night. But the Raps then went 7-0… before giving up a 13-0 run, while looking like the same team that rolled over to the Knicks in the third quarter on Wednesday. So the Raptors naturally decided to end the quarter on a 13-4 run. And Fred VanVleet kept it going with a little 6-2 run of his own to tie it at the start of the second.

Third quarters are becoming a problem

That’s two straight games the Raptors have had double-digit leads at halftime, only to give it up in the third and enter the fourth trailing. On this night, the third quarter certainly wasn’t as bad as Wednesday—the Raptors only lost by 11, not by 31—but still. It’s a little concerning that your starters—ostensibly, your best unit—can’t hold a 10-point lead.

Casey did some experimenting tonight

Some of this was due to CJ Miles absence (his wife delivered their first child on Thursday night) and Delon Wright’s injury, but there were a couple odd sub patterns in this game. DeMar DeRozan got a longer run with the bench at the end of the first quarter, and both he and Kyle played 39+ minutes—not ideal on the first night of a back-to-back. After being the first centre off the bench in recent games, Lucas Nogueira was behind Jakob Poeltl on this night—and he only played 2 minutes. Most notably, though, was Jonas Valanciunas starting the second half on the bench, with Pascal Siakam inserted into the starting lineup. This is a move that Raptors Twitterarti have been asking for; the thinking being, Serge Ibaka and JV can’t play together and Serge is better served playing centre. The stats back it up; the Raptors give up 113 points per 100 possessions with Serge and JV on the floor together, but are plus-10 when it’s Serge and Pascal. But it didn’t work on this night, as the Raptors squandered their lead with Serge and Pascal on the floor.

I honestly didn’t even know Lance Stephenson was still in the league

I was shocked when he got into the game; I assumed he’d played himself out of the league by now. Naturally he made me pay for my foolishness by catching fire in the second half and all but sealing the game: he went 6-7, 3-3 from deep and had 7 rebounds in 15 second-half minutes. He also committed two egregious fouls on DeMar DeRozan that weren’t called, that might have swung the game back in the Raps favor. I’ll let it slide, since I suspect Pacers fans are still smarting from the non-call that DeRozan got away with in game 7 against the Pacers two years ago.

This was not a good DeMar night

Aside from getting bullied by Stephenson and softballing the potential winning layup (there may have been contact, but come on DeMar—you gotta take it strong there), DeRozan only shot 6-16, only shot 2 free throws, and had 3 rebounds and 2 assists (and 4 turnovers) in 39 minutes. His backcourt partner picked it up with a near-triple double (24-9-10, include 5-9 from deep) but without CJ and Delon, the Raptors really need DeMar to be his usual self (or better) to win. 13 points (and lackluster defense) isn’t going to cut it.

—–

The Raptors need a strong performance in Atlanta tonight to salvage this trip. They’ve already allowed Cleveland and Detroit to surpass them in the standings (I know it’s way to early to scoreboard watch, but I can’t help it) and need to get back on the winning side of things!

Review: Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Volume 2

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 2

I continue my Fantastic Four re-read and review with a few thoughts on Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 2!

What is it? Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 2
Who did it? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
When did it come out? 2003 (revised edition)
What does it collect? The Fantastic Four #11-20 and Annual #1 (1963)

Issue #13 is Stan and Jack at the height of their zaniness—and brilliance

There is so much crammed into this issue! First, you have the FF being the first humans to walk on the moon (using an experimental drive Reed just whipped up from a meteor, NBD). Then the Russians being right behind them. Oh, and not only that—the Russians deliberately flew a copycat of the FF’s first spaceflight, in the hopes of gaining similar powers! That’s a brilliant idea from Stan and Jack, co-opting the space race into a super-powers race. Hey, and did I mention the Russian crew was one man and three apes? Yep. How about the Watcher? Yes, this is the first appearance of the “man in the moon” who watches over us. There’s also the little mystery of the “blue area” of the moon—an ancient city abandoned eons ago by some spacefaring race.

I only recently caught on to the “giant, floating Dr. Doom” cover trend

On the cover of his first appearance, a giant Dr. Doom looms over the FF on a view screen. In his next two appearances he’s on equal ground with the FF, but on the cover of #16, a giant Dr. Doom looks at a miniature FF in a magnifying glass. And thus the trend is born: Dr. Doom appearing far larger than the FF, either looming over the background or dominating the foreground. Look at the covers to #23, 39, 57, 84, 86 and Annual #2—giant Dr. Doom looms over the FF in each! And that’s only during the Stan and Jack days; future artists like Rich Buckler (#144), John Buscema (#198), John Byrne (#247, 259, 278), Ron Frenz (#320), Walt Simonson (#350) and Paul Ryan (#361) would all do the same. It’s a pretty awesome through line for  30+ years of Dr. Doom appearances!

The Thing’s gradual transition from angry to grumpy to lovably grumpy is so heartwarming

I’m not sure what prompted the change from Stan and Jack, but over the course of these issues, you can really see the shift in Ben’s personality. He’s not just angry all the time anymore, and before long, he actually starts joking around, using more slang and contractions, being joyfully dismissive of the Torch instead of annoyed by the Torch… basically he’s on the road to becoming the Thing we know and love. Johnny even comments in 17 you’re turning into Bob Hope! (Storywise, although I’m not sure this was Stan and Jack’s intent, you could very easily pinpoint this change on Ben’s relationship with Alicia.) Another gradual transition: The Thing’s appearance, from one big “lumpy” rock to a hide of sharply defined rocks. Check him out on the cover to #18; that’s pretty much how Jack would go on to draw him for years.

Stan and Jack’s treatment of Sue Storm ranges from progressive to medieval

In issue #11, Stan and Jack seem to be talking directly to the readers when the FF answer fan mail from fans who don’t think Sue contributes to the team’s adventures. Reed and Ben angrily defend her and Stan and Jack illustrate her value by recalling issues #2 and #5. All seems good! But then look at this panel in the very next issue:

Sue Storm from Fantastic Four #12

I mean, yikes.

Fantastic Four Annual #1 is the highlight of this volume

Issues #16 (featuring Dr. Doom and another brilliant, zany idea: The Microworld) and #18 (featuring the Super-Skrull) are both great; full of action and new characters. But it’s Annual #1 that closes this volume out, and it’s a corker: The Sub-Mariner has finally found Atlantis and reclaimed his throne; the history of Atlantis and Sub-Mariner’s origin is recounted (at the United Nations, no less!) and Atlantis declares war on the surface world. Yet even as Reed pushes back the invasion with an invention, Namor’s love of Sue Storm causes friction in his ranks, and his troops—and entire kingdom—abandon him. It’s a poignant climax that leaves you feeling pity for Namor for perhaps the first time. Meanwhile the backup story features an expanded version of the FF’s encounter with Spider-Man from Amazing Spider-Man #1; and the whole issue features pin-ups, diagrams and more. It’s truly a great package. Undoubtedly worth the 25 cents it would have cost in 1963!

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Next week we’ll move into the FF’s third year with Marvel Masterworks Volume 3, featuring the team’s first meetings with the Avengers and the X-Men!

Five thoughts on game 17: Knicks 108, Raptors 100

Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks Nov 22

Five thoughts on an incredibly dispiriting loss to the New York Knicks for the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night:

The Raptors started off well…

Right off the bat Kyle Lowry hit DeMar DeRozan on an alley-oop reverse, and that set the tone, as the Raptors guards came out aggressive. DeRozan then dropped a three pointer from the wing and and ended up with 11 points in the first 8 minutes. Kyle and DeMar played the entire first quarter; it led to an 8-point advantage at the end of the frame. The Raptors assisted on 8 of 12 field goals in the frame, and the ball movement was wonderful to see. It led to a Norman Powell three point barrage at the end of the quarter—he went 3-3 from deep in his first quarter back after missing three game with a hip pointer. Then in the second, an-all bench unit held serve over for the first 5.5 minutes before Kyle and DeMar came back. The Raps finished the second quarter +3 and had an 11-point lead at the half.

….except for Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka did not figure into that first half success. He was 0-7 from the floor, and did not acquire a single rebound or assist. He finished the half with no points, no rebounds, no assists, 2 blocks and 2 fouls. He played better in the fourth (4-6) but overall, he looks like he’s forcing things; he’s not passing the ball well and doesn’t seem to be in sync with the offense. I’m not sure what the solution is. He just doesn’t seem to be brining much to the table at this point. And I’m more than a little concerned about how his contract will play out over the next three years.

I guess we gotta talk about the third quarter

When your team wins 3 out of the four quarters in a game, you’re usually in position to win said game. When you lose that one quarter by 31 points however… it becomes a different story. The Knicks just completely obliterated the Raptors in the third, using a 28-0 run to win the frame 41-10 and turn an 11-point halftime deficit into a 20-point lead. What is there to say? The Raptors were bad on defense, transition defense especially; they were bad on offense, making lazy passes, forcing 3-pointers, going on-on-one; they were bad on the glass, getting outrebounded 17-5. (Obviously you can caveat the latter by pointing out that they went 1-16 while the Knicks shot 16-24, giving the Knicks far more rebounding opportunities.) I was physically uncomfortable watching the period; it’s like watching a friend get beat up knowing you can’t do anything about it.

Tim Hardaway Jr. had his way with the Raptors in this one

Hardaway showed that he might be worth that giant contract after all. He was, frankly, awesome in this game. He played extremely hard and aggressive, bullying his way to the rim and getting after Kyle and DeMar on the other end. He finished with 38 on 27 shots, and added 6 boards and 7 assists. He also clearly fed off the crowd in the third , where he scored 12 points; he’s clearly a good fit for the Garden crowd.

Let’s look for some positives

The Raptors bench once again proved they can pick it up when the starters are off; they outscored the Knicks by 12 in the fourth… Dwane Casey was much quicker on the timeout trigger than he’s been in the past, calling two during that Knicks run (to little avail, unfortunately) and subbing out his starting frontcourt when the wheels came off… Siakam once again played solid defense on Kristaps Porzingis (8-21) and was his usual speedy (sorry, hard-running) self in transition… Norm looked good in his return, off the bench… hmm, I think that’s all I got.

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They say basketball is a game of runs, and that sure was true tonight. Hopefully the Raptors washed the stink of that third quarter off in the fourth, and that’s what they’ll remember when they go into Indiana on Friday.