Top Five: 1990s Marvel Comics

1990s Marvel Comics

A few weeks back on one of the comic book-related sites I visit, some of the guys were discussing their favourite 1990s Marvel comics. As you may know, the 1990s were not exactly a high point for quality comics; stylized art, big guns, big shoulders and big boobs were what seemed to sell, and variant covers and special bagged issues with trading cards and other gimmicks ruled the stands. Still, I read a lot of comics, so some of them must’ve been OK… right?

I think so. Here are five 1990s Marvel comics I enjoyed from 1991-1998 when Marvel, in my mind, righted its ship. (Note—I’m only considering ongoing titles, rather than mini-series like Marvels).

Namor, the Sub-Mariner by John Byrne (1990-1992)

This series didn’t look like much when it came out. Sub-Mariner, in his own comic? Even with John Byrne at the helm, didn’t seem like Namor was really a character that could carry his own book. And maybe he couldn’t, really, since Byrne filled it with guest stars! But either way, this was and is an excellent read, and some of Byrne’s best art in the 1990s. Byrne brought a lot to the character – while he’s often known for his “back to the basics” approach, it seemed to me that here, he was firmly taking Namor into the 1990s (they even declared it on the cover!), in bringing him out of the water, starting up a business, curing his “rages,” and having him fight for environmental causes.

The New Warriors by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley (1990-1992)

Man, did I love these stories! They’re pretty dated now—they’re very 1990s, and the dialogue is… well, it’s tough to read sometimes. But the 25 issues by Nicieza and Bagley are super-fun, they did a solid job capturing what it must be like to be a late teen with super-powers, and they dealt with some very real consequences too; the story where Marvel Boy loses control of his powers and mortally injures his abusive father is—while very comic-booky—still very affecting.

Fantastic Four by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan (1991-1996)

I’ll admit I haven’t re-read these issues since they came out. So I have no idea if they hold up. But, I was not a fan of Walt Simonson’s run on the title (that preceded the DeFalco-Ryan run) or the end of Steve Englehart’s run (that preceded Simonson) so DeFalco’s back to the basics approach, alongside Ryan’s solid, workmanlike illustration, was just what I needed. (Also, their first issue featured the aforementioned New Warriors. So that was a good start!) Sure, they did some of the most 1990s things ever—they had the Human Torch lose his mind, had Wolverine slice up the Thing’s face, put Sue in a skimpy costume and “killed” Reed—but I remember eagerly awaiting each next issue to see what was going to happen!

Avengers by Bob Harras and Steve Epting (1991-1994)

Ah, the forgotten era of Avengers! This run is, again, pretty 1990s—it’s got fancy foil covers, the Avengers started wearing jackets with straps and pockets all over them—but it’s entertaining and enjoyable. The highlight is the “Gatherers” story, that runs for about 2.5 years; it actually starts right before the most 1990s Avengers crossover ever, Galactic Storm. In Avengers #343-344, the Swordsman seemingly comes back from the dead, clamouring for revenge. But all is not as it seems; as the story unfolds (on and off) over the next 30 issues of Avengers, we learn Swordsman’s from an alternate dimension, where the Avengers—specifically, Sersi—destroyed the world. And he’s got friends too – alternate dimension versions of various Avengers – and they’re led by the mysterious Proctor. Maybe this doesn’t quite reach the pantheon of great Avengers stories, but it’s well worth a read and I look forward to it finally being collected, one day!

Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley (1997-2001)

This series… I mean, it’s been 20 years and I still can’t believe that they managed to keep the ending of the first issue a secret! Everyone knows the gig by now, about how the newest super-hero team, The Thunderbolts, turned out to be villains in disguise. And about how Marvel eventually took the series away and ran in a different direction—twice. But those first 50 issues, plus Avengers cross-overs and annuals, are excellent. They’re straight-up page turners, and you never know what’s going to happen next. And the characters ring completely true, in how acting the hero changes each of them over time.

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A few honorable mentions: Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run; David Michelinie’s Amazing Spider-Man run (this was hard to leave off the list); and Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which, truthfully, might be the best comic on this list, but was so hard to find in the 1990s thanks to its minuscule print runs, that I didn’t actually read most of it until the omnibus came out a few years ago.

Anywho, that’s 1990s Marvel Comics for you. I didn’t read much DC in those days, so that would be a much shorter list! Pretty much just Ron Marz’ Green Lantern, starring Kyle Rayner, and Grant Morrison’s JLA. Tough times for DC in the 90s!

Five thoughts on Game 16: Raptors 100, Wizards 91

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Nov 19

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors taking down the shorthanded Washington Wizards 100-91 on Sunday afternoon:

It was bombs away for the Raptors, right from the opening tip (and I love it)

The Raptors shot 8 three-pointers in the first 5:10. Sure, they only hit 1 (and finished 3-12 in the quarter, and 10-39 for the game), but I love the dedication to the three. The percentage is ugly, but as I’ve said before, they need to remain consistent in their attempts; they’ll fall, and for now they’ll keep the defense honest. The other great thing about it was just how many Raptors got involved in shooting them; 6 players had four or more attempts.

The Wizards’ three-pointers kept them in the game

Washington shot 11-19 for the game, and it seemed like every time the Raptors looked like they were gonna pull away, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris or Otto Porter canned one from deep. The Raptors did put the clamps down on the perimeter in the fourth though; they held the Wizards to just 1-4 from distance in the final frame.

It looked like Bradley Beal was going to bury the Raptors in the first half.

Beal had 23 points in the first half, and was generating offense inside (2-5 in the paint) and outside (4-6 from 3-pt range). But the Raptors switched things up in the second half, sticking closer to him on screens and forcing him to the outside, rather than the middle. He went 2-8 in the second half, and scored only four points—none in the fourth quarter. Various Raptors guarded him down the stretch, including Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and even Fred VanVleet, and they all deserve credit.

Bebe is the favored backup centre again, it seems

Lucas Nogueira was the first big off the bench again, and he played well in his 14 minutes, putting down three alley-oops and adding a block. Jakob Poeltl has remained ready though, and he added 4 boards and 5 points in 10 minutes, including a nice putback of an offensive rebound where he quickly went straight back up without bringing the ball down to gather (a young big man mistake; it’s possible he’s learning from Jonas Valanciunas, who has become a master at the quick putback, as seen in the first half of this game). Ultimately though, the Raptors went with Serge Ibaka at the 5 and Pascal Siakam at the 4 down the stretch. I’m not sure what prompted Dwane Casey to stick with Ibaka against Marcin Gortat (Siakam was having a stellar game and deserved the minutes) but it worked, as Gortat went 0-2 in the fourth quarter and the Raptors never trailed in the quarter.

Fred VanVleet giveth, and Fred VanVleet taketh away

I suspect I’m being too hard on Fred VanVleet overall. I should probably just chill; the kid is playing just fine in his role. But still. He has this amazing habit of doing something that makes me grit my teeth in frustration, then following it up with a positive play that makes me pump my fist—or vice-versa. To wit, after Kyle Lowry picked up his third foul with 3 minutes left in the first half and had to sit down, FVV came in and drove into the heart of the D, and kicked it out to DeRozan for a three. He then missed two wide open threes on the next possession. Or how about the fourth quarter? Casey stuck with FVV all the way down the stretch, including with Kyle and DeMar in a three-guard lineup. At one point, FVV hit a three, and on the next possession drove with nowhere to go and turned it over. He then forced a pass on the break when he had an open look, turning it over again; but two plays later he drove, spun and hit CJ Miles in the corner for an and-1 3! To cap it all off, with under two minutes to play, the much taller Markieff Morris buried a three over FVV’s outstretched arms (after a solid defensive possession, I must say); FVV came back the other way and answered with a three of his own. He giveth, taketh away, and giveth again.

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Overall, this was an extremely entertaining game. We even got another Lowry-to-DeRozan backcut alley-oop! That’s 3 wins in a row and 6 of 7. Can they keep it going Wednesday night in New York?

Why having a content marketing strategy “just makes sense”

Content marketing strategy

“If you have no plan, then that’s your plan.” I had a college professor who used to say that. He probably thought it was profound; I thought it was kinda obvious. 19-year-old me probably wanted to know why it was better to spend time making plans rather than just winging it, which always sounds like the best plan when you’re 19…

Older me knows that planning and preparation are almost always worth the time. Especially when it comes to content marketing.

Having a content marketing strategy that governs your activity is critical (and yes, I’ve tried winging it, to poor results). Here are a few simple reasons why investing the time into developing a sound content strategy just makes sense.

Your content marketing strategy helps ensure you’re putting your effort in the right place

“We need more content on our website.” “Our sales team needs more case studies.” The IT group wants a white paper on this.” We’ve all heard these demands! How do you know which one is the right one to focus your energy on? Your strategy is the foundation for your content creation efforts. It should tell you what your objectives are, who your audience is, what they need, how you’re going to engage with them and how you’re going to track, measure and report on your progress. In other words, it’ll help you ensure you’re not creating content just for the sake of creating it (and should tell you with some degree of certainty whether your sales team really does need another case study).

It helps you determine the right resources (including budget)

It’s easy to look at content marketing and think, “well, I need a couple writers and a designer, and I’m good to go.” But your strategy should inform who the right people are and how much money you need. For example, if you’ve determined that your objective is to grow brand awareness and that your audience is social-savvy and more likely to consume infographics and video content, then you know you need budget for video and that you need a videographer rather than another writer.

Your content marketing strategy holds your content team accountable and showcases their value

A lot of marketing execs still give content, or at least content creators, the side-eye because they think the writers just sit in the corner pounding on their keyboards and the VP isn’t sure how to measure or track what they’re doing. 20 years ago, these efforts really were difficult to track, but every bit of content can be measured and reported on today. And if your strategy is clear on what you’re tracking, and why, and what your overall objectives are, then your content team is accountable to something specific. And, if you do it right, you’re able to prove their worth when those objectives are met.

It’s your business case (and protection against cost reductions)

No one likes to feel like they have to justify their existence in an organization, but unfortunately, that’s part of the gig. Especially because we all know that, when the company has a rough quarter or two, marketing is first place the axe comes down. But if you’ve got a strategy that clearly defines how your content team is contributing to this year’s overall company goals, including revenue and retention, then that helps define your team’s value and helps the execs understand what they’re losing if they cut your budget or your headcount.

It sets the groundwork for content beyond marketing

So let’s say you’ve done your marketing strategy, you know who you’re targeting and why, you’ve got production ducks in a row and your publishing and deploying your content according to plan. All done right? Not quite! How are you leveraging that content beyond external marketing? How are you enabling your salespeople to use it? Are you using it to get new employees up to speed? The content you create for marketing purposes has many uses, and the more you use it for, the more you’re getting your money’s worth. The good news is, your external marketing strategy can easily be repurposed for other audiences.

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These are just a few, I hope, less obvious reasons you should invest time in a proper content marketing strategy. Overall your content marketing strategy should help ensure you, your content team and your entire marketing department developing and publishing content in the more effective way possible.

Image courtesy Startup Stock Photos.

Five thoughts on game 15: Raptors 107, Knicks 84

New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors Nov 17

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ beatdown of the New York Knicks on Friday night:

Injuries gave the Raptors a new look starting lineup

Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright all sat this one out. (Delon has a separated shoulder; no timetable for his return yet.) Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby started, and they did not disappoint. Siakam was everywhere, running the floor, moving the ball, even finishing delayed breaks with his left hand! And he guarded Kristaps Porzingis on the other end! (More on this in a minute.) Anunoby was equally impressive, guarding multiple positions and stretching the floor on offense. He somehow amassed a ridiculous +30 (!) in the first half. (Here’s an amazing stat: They ended up 10-10 from two-point range combined, but only went 1-11 from three-point range. In other words: Still lots of room for improvement.)

Kyle Lowry looked like his old self again

Lowry came out aggressive, going 3-4 with 2 assists in the first 8 minutes. (Another great stat: the Raptors assisted on 7 of their first 10 buckets, and 29 of 44 overall; they are so much fun to watch when they’re moving the ball.) Kyle ended up two rebounds shy of a triple-double in 32 minutes; one his 10 assists was a gorgeous alley-oop to DeMar DeRozan on a backdoor cut that brought the crowd to its feet, a play we haven’t seen those two connect on in some time. What’s really comforting, though, is the long-range shooting, which appears to be rounding into form. Lowry went 5-7 from distance, and is now 19-42 (45%) over the last five games.

Dwane Casey only played 11 guys!

Though I’m sure if even one of Wright, Powell and Ibaka were healthy, he’d have gone 12 deep again! A few bench notes: Lucas Nogueira was the first big in, ahead of Jakob Poeltl. Not sure what caused Casey to go that route; if I had to guess, the mobility of Kristaps Porzingis? But Bebe had 3 blocks, 3 boards and 2 alley-oop dunks in his first 7 minutes. (Of course, he also missed a three.) And when Poeltl did get in, he committed 3 fouls in 2 minutes. Yikes. Meanwhile Lorenzo Brown got his first action of the season, after being called up from Raptors 905 to take some of Delon Wright’s minutes. He was solid, playing 18 and while he didn’t score, he did nab 3 boards and 3 assists, and most importantly, didn’t force anything (0 turnovers). CJ Miles played great again, with an impressive 14 points on 3-5 shooting (he shot 6 straight free throws, after being fouled on 3-point attempts, to close out the first quarter) and he actually broke 22 minutes for the first time since October 27. He also added 2 blocks!

Kristaps Porzingies struggled mightily in this one

The unicorn didn’t look very legendary tonight, finishing with just 13 points on 3-13 shooting. I can’t complain; as a Raptors fan, obviously I want him to have his bad games against my team. But still, I was excited (like, nervous excited) to watch him play; he’s been sensational this season, keeping the Knicks afloat. Give credit to Pascal Siakam for some of Pozingis’ struggles; Pascal’s length and quickness really allowed him to stay with KP as he floated out around the 3-point line. But sometimes, even the greats have off nights. (Dare I point out that, despite KP’s off-night, the bigger problem might have been Doug McDermott? McBuckets came in with an 8-0 record against the Raptors! But Toronto held him in check (2-10) and finally managed to snag a W!)

The Raptors won this one by playing D, and by taking advantage of New York’s weaknesses

The Raptors defense was solid throughout, holding the Knicks to 33% shooting and using the aforementioned length of Anunoby and Siakam to stifle any momentum. But on the other end, the Raptors deserve credit for getting out on in transition off those NY misses (26 fast-break points) and for taking advantage of the Knicks lackluster defense (56 points in the point). Even when the Raptors committed sloppy turnovers and the Knicks looked like they might threaten, the Raps would get a stop and drive it into the heart of the defense on the other end, with DeMar DeRozan in particular muscling up tough shots around the rim (he finished 4-8 in the paint, and was fouled on at least two of those shots) . The Knicks may have cut the lead to 10 in the second half but the Raptors locked it down and won going away.

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The Wizards are back in town for another Sunday afternoon game tomorrow. Can the Raptors get up for this one against a full-strength Washington squad?

Review: Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Volume 1

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four V1

Continuing my Fantastic Four Fridays, I’ve decided to (try to!) go back and actually read the entire Fantastic Four run (of volume 1, anyway) from the beginning. I have no idea if I’ll actually complete this—I know slogging through the 100s will be tough—or how long it’ll take, even if I do finish it! But let’s give it a shot. I’ll be reading this in the Masterworks format, so let’s start at the beginning…

What is it? Fantastic Four Masterworks Volume 1
Who did it? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
When did it come out? 2003 (revised edition)
What does it collect? The Fantastic Four #1-10 (1961-1962)

The characters are fully formed right from the start

Sure, they’re fairly thin in the first couple issues; Johnny’s the hothead, the Thing is angry, Reed is steady, Sue is the mom, etc. But they’re consistent throughout these 10 issues. Reed and Johnny would be immediately recognizable today. Sue has obviously evolved significantly as society has become more egalitarian; in these early issues, she’s often little more than a hostage. But I’d say it’s The Thing that is the most different; for one thing, no one calls him Ben when he’s in his orange, rocky form; the rest of the team refers to each other by their first names regularly, but Ben is only ever The Thing. Which I found so… odd? Cold? Dehumanizing? And he’s just grumpy all the time—understandably so, given his situation, but he is definitely not the lovable Ben Grimm he would grow into. And yet, even so, the introduction of Alicia Masters in issue #8 sets him immediately apart from the rest of the team, as he’s actually the first team member to have some semblance of life outside the team.

The complexity of Alicia Masters is incredibly impressive

Alicia is by far the most unusual and unique recurring character introduced here. The complex relationship with her stepfather, the Puppet Master, is unusual for the time, as is, obviously her relationship with The Thing. And the fact that she’s blind is one of those strokes of pure brilliance; you’re left to wonder if she only loves the Thing because she’s blind and can’t see his hideous face, or if she loves him because her blindness allows her to see through his exterior to the person inside. (Also, make note of her “Is it you… you’re different…” comment when The Thing turns back into Ben Grimm… followed by her “Oh, it is you, the same wonderful man” as soon as he turns back into The Thing. John Byrne would pick up on this moment, tragically, years later.) And the relationship blossoms immediately; she first appears in issue #8, and then Ben is seen spending time with her in each of the next two issues.

These issues are relatively crude by the standards Stan and Jack would go on to set

That’s not to say there aren’t standout issues and brilliant ideas to be found. I mentioned Alicia’s appearance in issue #8. Returning Namor, the Sub-Mariner to prominence in issue #4 was another stroke of genius; notable here were both his “villain but not really” status, as well as the romantic was the dynamic introduced between him and Sue, and Reed as well. In issue #6 we get the first “super-villain team up” as Dr. Doom and Namor launch the Baxter Building into space; here, we get an even better since of who Namor really is when he realizes Doom is a true villain. In issue #2, shapeshifting alien Skrulls were petty cool on their own, but this issue stands out by showing us the first “world hates and fears superheroes” story, a staple that Stan and Jack would go back to again and again (Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men). And how about the Fantastic Four living in New York City, rather than a made-up locale, as established in issue #3? And going broke in issue #9? All brilliant ideas. But all of that said: There’s a sort of goofiness in some of the plots (Blackbeard?) and Kirby’s art is nowhere near as refined as it would soon become.

Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner obviously made quite an impression

Namor appears in issue 4; Dr. Doom first appears in issue #5. They team up in issue #6. Namor returns in issue #9, and Doom returns in issue #10. In other words, they’re the antagonists in half of these issues! Stan and Jack may have been winging it, but they clearly knew when something they created struck a nerve. It’s also interesting to note just how steeped these early issues are in the monster-comic era; the FF fight giant monsters in issue 1, 3, 4 and 9, and monstrous aliens in issue 2 and 7.

Dr. Doom’s first appearance is a bit… underwhelming

There are hints of the Dr. Doom we’d come to fear and respect in his debut issue: his college connection with Reed, his robot double, his ostentatious castle, his obsession with black magic and desire for the mystical gems of Merlin (found, oddly, in Blackbeard’s treasure chest). (I’m also a big fan of his tiger enforcer/sidekick!) But you gotta wonder: he’s smart enough to develop a working time machine and this is best plan he can come up with? I dunno man. And Reed, Ben and Johnny’s trip to the past is completely hokey, as is Reed’s “we’ll just bring back an empty chest!” trick. (Next issue, his plan to launch the Baxter Building into space is much more Doom-like.) I will give this issue credit for this, though; the Thing wants to stay behind in the past because he’s feared and respected in his make-believe role as Blackbeard. He eventually realizes his error, but note how, just three issues later, Stan and Jack give him a reason to alter his viewpoint: Alicia.

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I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read these comics in 1961. There are a ton of bold new ideas here, and refinements of older concepts, that had never been seen before. And for the most part they still hold up as fun, entertaining comics today!

Five thoughts on Game 14: Raptors 125, Pelicans 116

New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Nov 15

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ Wednesday night victory over the New Orleans Pelicans:

For eight minutes, it looked like it was gonna be a long night for the Raptors

The Raptors got off to an atrocious start in this one, and it looked like we were gonna have to chock this one up to the Raptors playing their first back-to-back of the season, on the road. At one point they had four straight turnovers, mostly due to lazy passes; and they were just as lazy gating back in transition, as the Pelicans scored 9 points off turnovers in those first eight minutes. They were getting beat on the glass, beat on cuts… it was just sad. Thankfully the bench came in and saved them, which is becoming a habit.

CJ Miles is beasting

A key part of that comeback was CJ Miles. He’s shooting without conscience, which is exactly what the Raptors need. I’ve said it before, he’s a threat and even his misses are good for the offense. He finished 5-9 from three, and contributed in other ways as well: a nasty one-handed jam off a Delon Wright offensive rebound, a lovely pass that led to a Jakob Poeltl dunk, and my favorite moment, a completely dismissive stare down of a riled up DeMarcus Cousins in the fourth quarter. He averaged 15.3 ppg on 57% 3-pt shooting on the road trip.

Does DeMarcus Cousins hate basketball?

I feel like Cousins is the most joyless player in the league. Maybe even in league history. He looks like he absolutely hates playing basketball. He seems to have nothing but disdain for the whole affair. I mean no one wants him (or anyone) to be Dwight Howard, goofing around from the tip, but come on man. Show that you like or are at least interested in your job! I’ll tell you this, from a fan perspective, he’s just awful to watch—and it’s sad because he’s so freaking good.

I am so bummed about Delon Wright’s injury

Wright injured his shoulder in the second quarter battling for a rebound; the Raptors are reevaluating him today, but it’s the same (right) shoulder he’s had issues with in the past. I would hate to see him miss time, not only because the Raptors need him but because he’s been playing so well, and so much more consistently, lately. The second-unit defense just won’t be the same without him. And his injury means more time for Fred VanVleet, which isn’t ideal—though I’ll be the first to admit FVV tends to step up when you least expect it! Like in the Wizards game when Lowry got tossed, or against the Celtics when he took the elbow that got the Raptors one final shot. Even tonight, he hit the three that gave the Raptors the lead at the end of the first half.

For the love of God, please stop reviewing fouls for flagrants

I blame Draymond Green for this, for that whole deal with the leg kicks and “unnatural acts.” But this has gotten ridiculous. Cousins runs into Kyle Lowry, and gets his knee up and is called for the offensive foul. Then they have to review it for a flagrant? What? In the fourth, Anthony Davis and Lowry battled for a loose ball, and in the melee Davis whacked Kyle in the face. Loose ball foul. Then they have to review it for a flagrant? What!?!? Give me a break, guys. Neither of them ended up being whistled flagrant; these are basketball plays. Bodies are crashing. People are gonna get whacked! (I sure do wish it wasn’t Kyle every damn time. The guy leads the league with 10 charges taken!)

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That’s a 2-1 mini-road trip for the Raptors, which is an excellent result. Now it’s home for two (before another 3-game road trip); first up it’s the new-look Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis on Friday, who currently sit one game behind the Raps in the east standings.

Five thoughts on Game 13: Raptors 129, Rockets 113

Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Nov 14

A few quick thoughts from the Toronto Raptors “signature win” of the season, a 129-113 victory over the Rockets  in Houston:

OG Anunoby probably played himself into more minutes

OG Anunoby started for the injured Norman Powell, played 30 minutes (his most of the season), scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting and finished a game-high +22. Dwane Casey doesn’t generally allow injured players to lose their starting spots, but, I wonder if OG might make Casey reconsider. I mean, James Harden is an MVP candidate, but OG held him to 8-25 shooting and frustrated him into 9 turnovers (and several fouls).

The refs were… confused? And the game was a bit out of control

Speaking of fouls, 83 foul shots were taken in this game. PJ Tucker got tossed, Mike D’Antoni lost his shit multiple times, Harden was in foul trouble but still shot 19(!) free throws himself, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 26 FTs… yeah, not super-fun to watch.

Casey went 12 deep again! Even with Norm injured

Sure, Alfonso McKinnie and Lucas Nogeirua only played a combined 7 minutes. But surely those minutes could have gone to Pascal Siakam (19), Jakob Poeltl (14) or, god forbid, CJ Miles (17). Overall the Raptors are continuing a disturbing trend of playing up to the competition, with solid wins against excellent Western conference teams on the road (Portland, Utah, Houston), but blowing games to undermanned teams (Boston, Washington) and nearly blowing it against Chicago. I feel like a more consistent performance will emerge when a more consistent rotation emerges.

CJ Miles is making his case, but is Casey listening?

Miles had his best performance since the first game of the year, going 6-9 from downtown and pouring in 19 points. And yet as noted above, he only played 17 minutes. What does the guy have to do to earn more?

The Raptors three-guard lineup was effective

I am not a fan of playing Lowry, VanVleet and Delon Wright together, but it worked on this night. (I’m not a fan of playing FVV at all, at this point.) This was the unit that lead the scoring binge in the second quarter (45 points) and started off the fourth quarter strong. It may have been Delon’s best game of the year, going 5-5 from the field and playing excellent defense on Eric Gordon down the stretch. You have got to love the length that OG Anunoby and Wright bring to the table; Siakam too. When they lock in, they really are an excellent line of defense on the perimeter.

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The Raptors close out this mini-trip in New Orleans against the Pelicans tonight—their first back-to-back of the season. Even if the Raps drop this one—and the Pellies will be looking for revenge after the Raps beat them last week—the Raptors will have a winning record through 14 games, which is an excellent result considering 9 of those games were on the road (8 of those against the West). Let’s hope they come through with a W either way!

Movie review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok's Cate Blanchett

Took in a screening of Thor: Ragnarok over the weekend, and wanted to share a few thoughts:

It’s good! (But come on. Not that good)

It’s currently 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten rave reviews. But I didn’t find it worthy of quite that much praise. Yes, it’s fun, entertaining, the action scenes are solid and the performances are great. And that’s all I ask for in a movie! But it’s a formula film. It’s incredibly similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to mix the humor with the space-faring zaniness. It ends with a “heroes vs. giant CGI army of nameless, faceless foes” which we’ve seen way too many times now (Iron Man 2, Avengers, Iron Man 3, The Dark World, Age of Ultron, Days of Future Past…). It had some great twists—Odin dying, Thor losing Mjolnir (and an eye). Some great moments —the Thor-Hulk battle, Thor channeling the lightning. The plot, dialogue, directing—all just fine. Overall it’s a very entertaining, fun and enjoyable two hours to spend at the movies. But I’m not ready to crown it.

It was funny, but, maybe it tried too hard to be funny?

I get that Marvel’s trying to balance out the tone in its films; you’ve got your Captain America films, which seem to be very serious; Iron Man and the latest Spider-Man, which are kinda wise-crack-y; Guardians and Ant-Man which were more outright comedies. Thor was always kinda lost. (As was Hulk, and part of the reason I think they never made another Hulk movie; and I think Dr. Strange too.) I’m not sure outright comedy was the way to go. I would have leaned more to the serious side; Thor, in the comics, was always very serious and I think Cap could have used another more serious franchise to balance it out.

Also I think the film should have been a little more careful not to make fun of super-heroes. It’s a fine line, and they crossed it a couple times, most notably with the incredibly predictable “Banner jumps out of the plane but doesn’t turn into the Hulk” bit.

I think the CGI Hulk is finally there

It’s been a long, slow process. The Ang Lee Hulk was definitely too cartoony. The Ed Norton Hulk was better, but still a little “off” in his movements. Avengers Hulk was much, much better but he still felt… flimsy? Like, he moved too softly and quickly to be the most powerful being on the planet, you know? This Hulk, in addition to having the best facial expressions of all, felt (mostly) big and powerful. There were a couple times he still moved too fast (think of an elephant or a rhino; they just can’t move that much mass that quickly) but overall—they nailed it.

The cast is uniformly excellent

Not a single weak link in the this one. Hemsworth has come into his own as an actor, and, even though I cold have used a less comedic bent to the film, kudos to the filmmakers for recognizing his comedic gifts. Mark Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson were excellent; Ruffalo’s franticness at becoming Banner, two years and a galaxy removed from the last time we saw him, was picture perfect. Thomson plays disaffected, then interested, then all-in very well. Tom Hiddleston simply owns that role as Loki now; he looks utterly comfortable in it. Jeff Goldblum is, well, Jeff Goldblum. And Cate Blanchett looks to be relishing every minute of her villainous turn. I would have liked to have seen more rom Karl Urban as Skurg, but, you can’t have everything!

Over the course of three movies, Thor actually had a real character arc

It’s easy to overlook this, because the first two Thor movies aren’t that memorable (I personally really liked the first one, though I hated the second) but Thor has gone on a real character-defining journey through his three films. He starts out, if you’ll recall, about to be named king at the beginning of Thor. But then he chooses to run off and fight the Frost Giants, breaking Odin’s trust and getting banished until he can learn some humility. Which he does, by willing to sacrifice himself for his friends and admitting that he still has a lot to learn to be king. Which he spends the Avengers and The Dark World doing, finally getting his chance to ascend to the throne at the end of that film; and he turns it down, again understanding that he’s not yet ready. In this one, he learns that Odin had to make tough choices as king—achieve rule through bloodshed, than banish his own daughter. Thor then has to make equally tough choices—sacrifice Asgard itself to save his people (and losing an eye). And that’s what makes him worthy to be king, finally.

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I have admit, I’m much more looking forward to the next two Marvel movies—Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War than I was to Thor: Ragnarok. Early trailers for Black Panther look awesome, and—though I’m skeptical that Infinity War will live up to the hype, with its dozens of main characters—finally getting the Thanos payoff will, hopefully, be worth the wait.

Five thoughts on game 12: Celtics 95, Raptors 94

Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Nov 12

The Toronto Raptors dropped a close one yesterday against the Celtics in Boston. I missed the game but I’ll offer a few observations based on the stats, highlights and post-game reports…

Norman Powell’s injury might be serious

Norm left the game with what they called a hip pointer, and didn’t return. He was on crutches after which isn’t a good sign. OG Anunoby started the second half in his place, which I think is the right call, based on his defence. The argument for CJ Miles there is strong but if Casey thinks he needs CJ’s offense with the second unit I can’t argue with that.

CJ Miles needs to play more

That said, CJ only played 21 minutes yesterday, and only averaged 16 over the previous three games. That’s pretty bizarre from a team trying to get better at spacing and shooting, to limit your best 3-point shooter’s minutes. I understand, again, Casey has a glut of wings to give minutes to, but, the Raptors need Miles’ shooting. He should be playing 23-24 mpg. I’m sure there are a few Fred VanVleet minutes that Miles can easily gobble up (and I would love to know why the heck FVV was on the floor for those final two possessions).

Pascal Siakam vs OG Anunoby is entertaining as heck

Speaking of the glut of wings, I’ve debated who of the Raptors young SFs deserve more minutes here, and although I’ve leaned towards Anunoby, Pascal Siakam continues to play extremely well. He played 19 minutes, had 8 points and went 2-3 from deep with 6 rebounds as well. With Norm out, both should see an uptick in minutes; they’ve both earned them!

It was the same old Raptors down the stretch

Lots of arguing about the final play selection. The Raptors had two chances, down 1 with the ball; on both, it was DeMar DeRozan iso-ball. In those situations, it’s hard to argue with the call; you want the ball in the hands of your best player. And on the second, DeMar generated a strong look, within 15 feet and just missed it. (If you want a counter argument, maybe it’s that one of those shots should have come from Lowry, who had what might have been his best shooting game of the year). What’s concerning is that it seems that’s what the Raptors were doing for the previous several minutes. We’ve seen it over the last two postseasons, that type of offense just doesn’t work. The Raptors need to keep the ball moving and work for better shots.

The Raptors are blowing great opportunities against important eastern conference foes

Last Sunday the Wizards were without John Wall and the Raps let that one get away. Today, the Celtics were without Kyrie Irving (and of course Gordon Hayward) and the Raps couldn’t put them away either. These games could come back to haunt the Raptors when it comes time for playoff seeding.

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The Raptors are in Texas tomorrow to take on the team with the league’s second-best record (behind Boston), the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have won six in a row—can the Raptors stop this streak?