Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The X-Men’s Iceman Isn’t Gay, Until He Is

Apparently in a recent X-Men comic, Iceman – a character who has been around since the 1960s – was revealed to be gay. My first reaction was, ‘That’s silly - Iceman isn’t gay’. But why did I think that?

Iceman, a.k.a. Bobby Drake, has been in several heterosexual relationships over the years. Truthfully the thought of him being gay has never crossed my mind. That may have been part of the point of the reveal, which I will get back to later. Hence the news of Iceman being gay struck me in a similar way that any sudden revelation that seemingly goes against a character’s long-established traits would do – as a ‘shock’ whose primary purpose was to gain attention, if not sales.

Some commentators, like the writer who made the reveal (Brian Michael Bendis), have suggested that this was not entirely out of the blue. One issue in particular that has been used to support the case that there were previous hints about Bobby’s sexuality is Uncanny X-Men #319. In that issue, Iceman and Rogue travel to the house of Bobby’s parents, and his dad makes some bigoted comments. I read this as nothing more than Bobby’s dad disliking that his son was a mutant, but others have apparently read it as more than that, with Rogue acting as Iceman’s ‘beard’ by accompanying him back to meet his parents. Though as is often the case with the allegorical nature of the X-Men, and their being despised for being different, the story could act as an allegory for a son dealing with his dad’s disapproval of his sexuality, even if that was not what the story was explicitly about.

Further, returning to my point from before, perhaps part of the reason why Iceman was revealed to be gay is because he has had girlfriends, and some readers would not have suspected it, hence forcing them to confront their assumptions. Still fifty years of continuity is a lot to overturn. I would have found the revelation more believable with a more recent character, and one that writers had not so clearly written as ‘straight’ in the past. In the end though, most long-time comic characters have gone through some major tweaks, and if the character is strong enough it generally does not make too much difference to how they are written. But if any long-time X-Man was revealed to be gay I would have put my money on the Beast   

Sunday, April 26, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 4 2015

Halfway through Saturday night I thought I would be writing this week about how Port Adelaide and Fremantle appeared to have closed the gap between themselves and the top two AFL teams according to these rankings, Hawthorn and Sydney. But then the Hawks and Swans had great second halves, and therefore the significant gaps between the teams remain. Port and Freo both look like they have a good chance to reach the top four though, and from there they would be as few wins away from the flag as any team.

I tweeted on Sunday morning that I was prepared to call the eight teams that would make this year’s AFL finals – in alphabetical order: Adel, Ess, Frem, Haw, NM, PA, Syd, and WC. These are, of course, the top eight teams in the rankings, and by a fair gap. Despite losses on the weekend for the Crows and Bombers I still stand by that call for now. Actually the team that I think may be the biggest chance to upset it is GWS, who has been clearly the big improvers for 2015.  While the Giants have played mostly lower-ranked teams to date, they have beat those teams by considerable margins, and they finished reasonably close to the highly-ranked Swans when they played them.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Charting the Number of Avengers Over Time

To mark the release of the new Avengers movie (review coming soon) Marvel this week released an ‘Avengers Magazine’.  In the back of the magazine is another list of every character who has been an Avenger, including when they joined the team and when they first appeared.

I have lamented before about how so many characters are Avengers now. I had the idea that I could use the magazine to quantify the rate at which the Avengers’ membership has expanded over time.

The graph below shows how many members the Avengers had in total after each year of publication. I have used the information in the Avengers Magazine even if I am not sure this information was totally correct (e.g. I thought Sharon Carter was a member of the Secret Avengers). I have also excluded all honorary members, such as Deathcry, Mar-Vell, and the future Guardians of the Galaxy.

Unsurprisingly the fastest rate of expansion in membership has been in the ‘New Avengers era’, although membership only started to really take off a few years after that series debuted. In particular, according to the magazine, there were sixteen new members in 2013. That was the year that Jonathan Hickman’s ‘Avengers’ greatly expanded the membership, and the ‘Uncanny Avengers’ team was introduced. The magazine also counts the characters in the ‘Avengers A.I.’ title, which debuted that year, as members. No other year has more than eight new members.

The other strong rate of expansion occurred during the late ‘80s-early ‘90s (which was the period that I started reading the Avengers titles). The Avengers had two teams during this period – East Coast and West Coast – which boosted the number of members, although obviously not at as high a rate as recent years.

Since I had the first appearance information to hand as well I was interested to see from which periods of comics the Avengers have drawn the most members from – see the graph below. I have counted characters from the 1940s such as Captain America and the Sub-Mariner based on when they first appeared in modern Marvel Comics.

Almost two-fifths of the Avengers members debuted in the first decade of the modern Marvel Comics, which began in 1961. About another thirty per cent come from the decade after that. This may not be all that surprising to those who think that many of Marvel’s best and most popular characters were introduced in the early Marvel books. However, the year in which the most number of Avengers made their first appearance was 2013, with Hickman’s ‘Avengers’ and the ‘Avengers A.I’ series each introducing several new characters.

By the way, here is the distribution across Avengers members of the number of years between when they first appeared in comics, and when they joined an Avengers team.

The most common gap is zero years, reflecting that several new characters over the years have been created specifically for the purpose of joining the team, though some may be surprised to realise that Captain America (based on his first modern appearance), Iron Man, and the Wasp are all included in this column. The average gap is fifteen years, and the median gap is eight years. The longest gap actually belongs to Flash Thompson, who first appeared as a high school bully in the Spider-Man strip in 1962, and joined the Avengers when bonded to the Venom symbiote in 2012.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 3 2015

Hawthorn re-takes the top spot on the rankings from Sydney this week. The Hawks had a big win over the Bulldogs which gained them a few ranking points even after accounting for the Dogs being one of the lower-rated teams, while the Swans could not similarly put away the Giants.

Speaking of the GWS Giants, they are breaking their record week after week for their best ranking in their short (mostly dismal) history, and are so far the most improved team of the season. At the other end of the improvement spectrum fellow newbie team the Gold Coast Suns have gone backwards the most of any team, followed by Geelong, Brisbane, and Carlton.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 2 2015

When going through where the AFL Power Rankings indicated each team was likely to finish in 2015, I said ‘don’t overrate a team’s final performance or two in 2014’. While I indeed meant this comment in a general sense, the case of Sydney and Port Adelaide was prominent in my mind.

Looking through predictions for this AFL season, I saw a lot of people were rating Port Adelaide as one of the top two teams, above Sydney. In part, this may be because Port has a relatively young team that would be considered likely to improve, which is fair enough. But I suspect it was also in part because Port ran Hawthorn close in their Preliminary Final, while Sydney unexpectedly got blown away by the Hawks in the Grand Final.

Port definitely played better in their last game for 2014 than Sydney did, and at a significant time of the season. However, at least according to the Power Rankings, Sydney has still generally been better over recent matches. This point was highlighted when the Swans easily accounted for the Power on the weekend.

Another point here is that just considering final ladder positions can be misleading in gauging the gaps between teams. The Hawks and Swans were separated by one spot after the finals, as were the Swans and the Power. But according to the rankings the gap between the former teams is much smaller than the gap between the latter, and the rankings say there is as much difference between Sydney and Port as there is between, say, Port and Essendon.

Of course, since I have just cautioned on putting too much weight on one performance, I should also say not to put too much weight on Port being done by Sydney by as much as they were, since there are still many weeks in the season left to close the gap. And by the way, because the match was in South Australia, I did tip Port.

Anyway the Swans are on top of the rankings again. The Swans held the number one spot for the final seven rounds of the season in 2014 before they surrendered it with their big Grand Final loss. But their impressive win in Adelaide, coupled with Hawthorn’s narrow loss, puts the Swans just on top.

Monday, April 6, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 1 2015

Welcome back to the AFL Power Rankings for 2015: it may be one of many AFL power ranking systems, but it’s the only one on this blog.

These rankings continue on from where they left off at the end of last season. Hence, Hawthorn, Sydney, and Port Adelaide are still the top-ranked teams, while Melbourne and St. Kilda remain at the bottom.

One of the big movers for this week, in the wrong direction, is North Melbourne. Following on from their big loss in the preliminary final last year the Kangaroos had another big loss to open up this season against Adelaide. This week they dropped from seventh to ninth in the rankings, which is their lowest position on the rankings since Round 14 in 2013.

Geelong has also hit a trough after its big loss to Hawthorn. The Cats fall to tenth spot, which is their lowest position since these rankings began in 2011. After many false finishes this may finally be the end of being at or near the top for one of the most successful modern football teams.

Adelaide, meanwhile, looked pretty good in their win on the weekend, although these rankings already rated them highly towards the end of 2014. The Crows remain in fourth place, but close the gap slightly with the third-placed Power. They are at this stage, according to these rankings, the team most likely to replace North Melbourne in the final four this year.

In other news, the Footy Maths Institute’s AFL rankings have also kicked off again, with some content and format changes for 2015. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five - April 2015

5.First Light – Django Django

This song has been out for a few months now, but I’ve grown more attached to it over the past 30 days. Remember U2 singing in ‘Beautiful Day’ about seeing the oilfields at first light? Well replace that with the power lines you see on your street and stretch that feeling out over a whole song, and you get a sense of the mood this song brings out in me.

4.Lampshades On Fire – Modest Mouse

I featured a song from Modest Mouse’s new album last month (‘The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box’), but on further listens this has emerged as my favourite track, albeit a more conventional Modest Mouse one. The lyrics seem to have an environmental bent, suggesting that humans manage to ruin any habitat they are in. This being Modest Mouse some lines seem to veer off from the main message (‘Our ass looks great inside these jeans?’ …), still the music chugs along with enough momentum that even the most abstract lines manage to get me humming along.

3.Dancing In The Corner – Monarchy

Could there be a more typical example of gloomy, us-against-the-world, teenage angst than the lyrics to this track? ‘We’re not welcome anymore … They don’t want to set us free/Fuck it we don’t need them… They can’t see/Born with dulled out eyes/They don’t understand who we are …’ Billy Corgan would be proud. Nevertheless, this slice of synth-pop is still able to draw me in, staying just the right side of sounding like Hurts.

2.Should Have Known Better – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens seems to re-enter the nostalgic territory of ‘Casamir Pulaski Day’ on this song, as he travels back to his childhood, and the time his mother left him in a video store as a young child. It’s a sombre, pretty song, the kind that Stevens’ has done many times more, but few times with as good a melody as this.

1.King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar

Some of favourite hip-hop/rap albums are those that get a bit creative/weird and sound a little less like hip-hop; for example Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Family’, and Outkast’s ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’. Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ fits that category I think, and I like it more than his previous one. Although I don’t like it quite as much as this reviewer. I don’t get Kendrick’s narratives as much as others seem to, so I couldn’t really tell you much about what ‘King Kunta’, my favourite track on his new album, is meant to be about. I gather than the reference to Kunta is meant to be a symbol for ‘black empowerment’. Regardless I love the beat, and the backing vocals (“what’s the yams?”), and so it’s been the track I’ve returned to the most over the past month.