Saturday, October 3, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Post-Finals 2015

So Hawthorn and West Coast met in the Grand Final, as these rankings expected they would, and Hawthorn came out on top, which was expected as well. Watching the Hawks is kind of like watching a computer at chess. Hawthorn has now finished atop these rankings for a fourth straight year.

North Melbourne was perhaps the only significant surprise in September, or the only other team to raise its form in the past month. Sydney dropped back the most, but it was hit by injuries which likely made it play below its best.

Over the year Hawthorn held the top spot in the rankings for all but one week, all the way back in Round 2. Fremantle, Sydney, and West Coast – the other top four teams after the home-and-away season – were the only other teams to be in the top eight all season. The Eagles making the finals wasn’t a surprise at all to these rankings. The Eagles making the Grand Final was a surprise compared with their position at the start of the season, though less of one after Round 7. More surprising was the capitulation of Carlton and Essendon, particularly the Bombers after the first few matches.

Five teams had a highest ranking of third during the year: Fremantle – who was actually never ranked in the top two despite being the minor premier – Port Adelaide, Adelaide, Richmond, and the Western Bulldogs.

That’s it until 2016!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How Image Comics Have Left Marvel and DC For Dust

This is the current list of Image titles I read: Bitch Planet, Chew, Descender, The Fade Out, Lazarus, The Manhattan Projects, Saga, Sex Criminals, Southern Bastards, Velvet, We Stand On Guard.

This is the current list of Marvel titles I read: Avengers, Ms. Marvel, Star Wars, Thor.

This is the current list of DC titles I read: Batman.

In truth I have never been a big DC reader, except for the Vertigo imprint towards the end of its heyday. But I’ve always been a big Marvel fan, and now Image has well overtaken it.

In part this is because Marvel is now eating itself with its constant stream of re-treads and re-launches. Image though now has it beat for creativity hands down, and has for some time.

Marvel started off the century well, with its best stretch of titles since the ‘80s – including New X-Men, X-Force/X-Statix, the Ultimate line of comics, Brian Michael Bendis’ and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil, and Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. But Marvel just can’t get away from its roots as a superhero line. Even when it tried to branch out into other genres, such as Bendis’ detective-based Alias series, it still had to implant the story in its superhero universe.

Not that this necessarily has to be a bad thing. However Image Comics have now become the home for creators to launch their pet projects – top writers such as Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Kelly DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Greg Rucka, and Brian K. Vaughan – in tow with great artists such as Steve Epting, Sean Phillips, and Fiona Staples, as well as heretofore relative unknowns such as Chew’s team of John Layman and Rob Guillory. And of course, while I don’t read it regularly (preferring to wait for the omnibuses), there is Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Marvel’s top creators, the ‘architects’ as they are termed by the company itself (many of whom cross over with Image’s line-up of creators), are good at what they do, but all they can do really is play with the same worn-out sandbox and come up with slightly off-the-wall Avengers line-ups. Image is the home to the fresh new concepts. They play well to my twelve-issue theory; that is, that comic book series are at their ‘hottest’ for their first twelve issues before the concept starts to become stale. (See for example American Flagg, Animal Man, Astro City, Bone, Hawkeye, Incredible Hercules, Madman Comics, Planetary, Powers, Stray Bullets, and so on ...) It’s comics’ equivalent of the debut rock album.

Image’s current place used to be taken by DC’s Vertigo. One by one though the series that made Vertigo the ‘HBO of comics’ – Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, 100 Bullets, and finally Hellblazer and Fables – have ended, without anything substantial enough or (semi-)popular enough to replace them. If Vertigo were the HBO of comics, perhaps Image are the AMC.

It seems a little strange that the company which started off in the 1990s with mostly flashy, but god-awfully written titles should come to be the highest quality of the ‘big three’ companies. A lot of credit seems to go to current publisher Eric Stephenson. Stephenson’s own Age of Bronze series was somewhat acclaimed, and along with Astro City and Powers started to move Image away from its X-Men clones and towards more diverse, more thoughtful titles. He seems to be even better though as a talent-spotter or at least a facilitator for good creators and their work.

Also Image is probably not that concerned with selling movies or toys.

Don’t get me wrong: Image is hardly selling high literature here. Even Saga and The Walking Dead are just well-developed genre pieces. But as far as doing really good genre work, which is what ‘mainstream’ comics at their best do as well as any medium, Image is currently streets ahead.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Wooden Finger AFL All-Australian Team 2015

B: Heath Shaw (GWS), Alex Rance (Rich), Matthew Boyd (WB)
HB: Robert Murphy (WB), Michael Hurley (Ess), Sam Mitchell (Haw)
C: Dan Hannebery (Syd), Josh Kennedy (Syd), Andrew Gaff (WC)
HF: Chad Wingard (PA), Taylor Walker (Adel), Robbie Gray (PA)
F: Eddie Betts (Adel), Josh Kennedy (WC), Jake Stringer (WB)
R: Todd Goldstein (NM), Nat Fyfe (Fre), Matt Priddis (WC)
I: Nic Naitanui (WC), David Mundy (Fre), Patrick Dangerfield (Adel), Scott Pendlebury (Coll)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Victorian AFL Clubs: Isn’t There A ‘Big Five’?

Maybe I’ve missed it, but shouldn’t we be saying there are five big Victorian AFL clubs now: Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon, Richmond … and Hawthorn?

The Hawks have now won 12 premierships, making them one of the more historically successful clubs. They had the second-highest membership of any club in 2015, and have been near the top over the past few years. They had the third-highest average attendance of any club in 2015.

It seems to me the Hawks now have all the indicators of a ‘big club’. They have big rivalries with Essendon, Geelong, and to a lesser extent, Carlton and Collingwood. Indeed I’d say Hawthorn and Richmond sit alongside Collingwood as the ‘powerhouses’ in Victorian football at the moment, obviously helped by their on-field performances, while Essendon and Carlton have had their recent struggles.

Maybe it will change once Hawthorn starts to fall down the ladder again (I’m assuming that will happen someday). But there are at least two generations of Hawthorn fans now that have had great success, so I reckon their fan base will stick. Their pattern of success over those eras would now look fairly similar to the eras that built the fan bases of the other ‘big four’ Victorian clubs.

At the least, as much as I hate to say it, the Hawks are probably as big as Richmond now.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

AFL Power Rankings - Round 23 2015

Clubs resting players in the final home-and-away round of the AFL season not only raises questions about the ‘integrity’ of the competition it wreaks havoc with the rankings. Well, havoc is a bit strong, but it probably means we have to make some mental adjustments if we want to work out where each team is ‘truly’ at heading into the finals.

Serial offender Ross Lyon reduced the rankings’ ability to pick Fremantle’s good September a couple of years back by resting half his first-choice side and consequently getting thrashed by lowly-ranked St. Kilda. This year Lyon has done it again, with the result that the Dockers got well beaten by Port Adelaide on the weekend. We now have the curious result that the minor premier is not even among the top eight ranked clubs. This is not just the result of one week though, and even if the latest result was discounted completely Fremantle would still be considered here to be among the lower-ranked clubs in the top eight. Nevertheless, the rankings rate the Dockers as favourites to win their first final against Sydney, because of their home ground advantage.

North Melbourne is the other club that rested around half its first-choice side this week. But unlike Fremantle, even if the weekend’s result is completely discounted the Roos would still not be considered favourites to win their first final. Outside Hawthorn and West Coast though the other clubs look to be fairly close in ability, so North still has a reasonable shot at winning in the first week.

Based on the rankings and home ground advantages, and after doing the adjustments described above, here are my predictions for how the finals series will unfold:

Week 1
West Coast d Hawthorn
Fremantle d Sydney
Western Bulldogs d Adelaide
Richmond d North Melbourne

Week 2
Hawthorn d Western Bulldogs
Sydney d Richmond

Week 3
Hawthorn d Fremantle
West Coast d Sydney

Grand Final
Hawthorn d West Coast

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five – September 2015

5.The Knock – Hop Along

Hop Along are fairly anonymous, to the point that I keep thinking of their name as being Painted Shut which is actually the name of their new album. They sound like the quintessential early-‘90s alternative rock band fronted by a roughish woman, which makes them like, I don’t know … either Garbage or Belly I guess. Their latest album – which indeed is called ‘Painted Shut’ – is worth digging out of the bowels of Spotify or racks of Amoeba and giving a spin.

4.Harpooned – Wire

I only recently found out that Wire had released a new album this year. A new album from Wire is never going to sound as fresh as their first three LPs – not that I was around to hear them when they were originally released – and it does feel a bit strange to hear men of their vintage sing about ‘Blogging’, but it’s a good, solid album nonetheless. Final track ‘Harpooned’ is the one that stands out for me; an eight-minute slog that suggests to me Wire were also listening when the ‘90s came around.

3.Terrence Loves You – Lana Del Rey

I don’t think I’m alone in going ga-ga over Lana Del Rey’s first big hit ‘Video Games’ when it appeared on Youtube, and then being disappointed by pretty much everything she has done since. ‘Terrence Loves You’ still has many of the things that have annoyed me about her other songs; again seemingly trying to evoke some lost, ‘great’ 1950s Hollywood movie star romance that ended in a tragic car crash on the boulevard. But this is about as well as she’s ever pulled that shtick off, and as awkward as the line ‘But I still got jazz’ looks when written it sounds somewhat beautiful in this context.

2.Dream Lover – Destroyer

Destroyer’s ‘Dream Lover’ is possibly not even the best song of that name for 2015; the Vaccines’ own ‘Dream Lover’ was a stand-out track on their new album as well. The saxophone may just win it for Destroyer’s version though. The line ‘here comes the sun’ can’t help but feel to me like a Beatles allusion, even If it’s not really meant to be, and it brings to mind George Harrison’s porch-front guitar pickings layered over this cheerful track.

1.Anthem For Doomed Youth – The Libertines

Last month I implied that the Libertines’ comeback single, ‘Gunga Din’, was basically the type of track you would expect from them based on the stereotypes about them. Calling a track ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ probably tops that though – the title seems as close as anything to the band’s unofficial mission statement. (The title is actually taken from an English poem about the first World War.) So does the chorus: ‘We’re going nowhere/But nowhere’s on our way’. It’s also the line that has stuck in my head the most over the past month, and I put this track in the number one spot for this month purely for that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 22 2015

For the seventh week in a row we have a new club in third spot in the rankings behind the stable top two. From Round 16 to Round 22 third spot has belonged to, in order: Sydney, Fremantle, Sydney, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs, Richmond, and now Sydney again.

Amongst all of this movement, the gap has also closed between the top two – Hawthorn and West Coast – and the seven teams that are next in line behind them, one of which, Port Adelaide, has left its charge too late for finals this season.

With St. Kilda’s big loss against Sydney this weekend, the Western Bulldogs look likely to be 2015’s most improved club. According to the rankings the Dogs have improved by about six goals a match compared to the end of 2014. Conversely Essendon and Carlton have deteriorated by about the same amount, and are still fighting it out to see which club went backwards the most.