StormCloudsGathering: World War III The New Axis of Evil

You can call it World War III or you can call it something else. It is not a stretch to connect the dots between these ample sources.

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Comic Recommendations – January 27, 2016

Some good comics this week. I’m playing around with a Best Comic of the Week mechanic right now. It’s a work in progress…

THIS WEEK’S COMICS

All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 (Marvel Comics)

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This is probably my favorite depiction of the new Thor. Her sheer exuberance is really fantastic, especially considering her circumstances.

Cry Havoc #1 (Image Comics)

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Cry Havoc is a werewolf heart of darkness which features some interesting facts about hyena (and human) sexuality.

Ghostbusters International #1 (IDW Comics)

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The Ghostbusters have a cushy deal with the City of New York, but in Ghostbusters International they are looking at a much more profitable and therefore an incredibly questionable deal.

Also, what does the Tower card mean in Tarot? Is that supposed to be bad? Like, “Oh no! THE TOWER CARD”?

Hellboy: Winter Special (Dark Horse Comics)

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I already had plenty of reasons to go back and read through Mike Mignola’s entire Hellboy universe. I didn’t need another. I just need to find the time…

Old Man Logan #1 (Marvel Comics)

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This is probably my vote for comic of the week. When I saw that Lemire was writing this book with a character he’s already using in Extraordinary X-Men I was wondering how he would pull it off, but Old Man Logan‘s comparison between the current Marvel Universe that he is stranded in and the future he believes could still happen are really intriguing. Much like The Bride in Kill Bill or Arya in A Song of Ice and Throne, Old Man Logan has a list of people he needs to kill, and basically everyone left on his list would make a big wave if killed. This is really existing.

Prophet: Earth War #1 (Image Comics)

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Earth War is the last of four ongoing series comprising the Prophet saga. Having never read any of the first three, I found the mythology and POV really interesting, but I was slightly lost.

Has anyone out there read any of the previous Prophet series? I know I’ve heard of the original series… Did it win a bunch of awards? Or am I thinking of something else?

Revival #36 (Image Comics)

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Everything that happened with the Amish mother and daughter was golden. Who comes up with this stuff?

Saga #33 (Image Comics)

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I think the way to make it big at Image is to create a huge over-arcing story with just a ton of moving parts. You have to be obsessed with the motivations of your characters and let them go where they naturally would. That’s how you get something like Saga (or The Walking Dead). That’s how you get good stories when you don’t have 50-75 years of published universe to work in. Great work, Brian K. Vaughan. Saga is one of a couple of comics that continue to define success for independent comics.

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot and Katana #1 (DC Comics)

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From what I’ve been hearing Deadshot is the main character and Katana is one of the lesser known members in the Suicide Squad movie. I’m sure DC wants to get its watchers/readers caught up on who these characters are and what drives them.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #54 (IDW Comics)

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Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael are less the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than they are the Foot Clan now, and this change of identity is going to have some interesting consequences. Seeing a divide in the Mutanimals now that Hob has been found colluding with Hun, part of me wonders if this schism will lead to Mikey and a new crew (Slash, Mondo Gecko, and Sally Pride, for example) filling the role of the TMNT.

It also struck me that Kevin Eastman’s development of the original Eastman and Laird characters in this volume reminds me of Robert Kirkman’s development of characters in The Walking Dead. I read some of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, but I’m starting to wonder if the characters had similar depth and high quality arcs in the original series. In other words, I’m wondering if Eastman is one of Kirkman’s influences. Can anyone who has read these series shed some light on the comparison?

Victorie City (Image Comics)

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Victorie City has this interesting indie noir feel to it with a really unique art style. It might be worth taking some time to read.

BOOK CLUB: CIVIL WAR

This week I had the opportunity to read Cable & Deadpool #31, X-Factor #9, New Avengers #22, New Avengers #23, and Black Panther #18. The majority of these issues were fantastic. New Avengers #22 brought me to tears as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones had to decide what they were going to do in terms of registration, leaving me really excited for this year’s Luke Cage Netflix series. The next issue made me immediately want to read everything surrounding Spider-Woman as a double- / triple-agent loyal only to Nick Fury. Clearly the sum total is that I want to read the entire series of Bendis’ New Avengers and hisSpider-Woman mini-series. Those are definitely going in the book club queue. I’m a little annoyed that the repercussions of the marriage of Storm and Black Panther in Black Panther #18 are all but non-existent in current Marvel. By the time I started reading comics again in 2011, Black Panther no longer had his own title and Storm had been thrown into the background of the X-books. What happened?

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It is insane that I already have a contestant for best new series in January already. Clearly, the comic industry does not have the same release constraints that the film industry does for new product released in the first quarter. Old Man Logan just feeds into this positive feedback loop created by Extraordinary X-Menand Jeff Lemire working for Marvel. 2016 is looking to be a fantastic year for comics, so fantastic that I started a sentence with a number despite it being a pet peeve of mine. Feel that power?

Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens – In Search of Rey’s Last Name (SPOILERS)

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The biggest topic people have been discussing in just over a month since the release of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) is Rey’s heritage. I figured I would round up the best theories and the best evidence and we could get a better idea of where Rey comes from.

Rey, this is your life!

Luke Skywalker

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If you ask someone on the streets — because everyone on every street has seen TFA by now, right? — who Rey’s parents are, you’re likely to get some variation of this answer,

“Well, the obvious answer is that Luke is her father, but I’m leaning toward…”

The evidence that people will quote is ample, but it is incredibly fragile.

The first argument I encountered suggested that each trilogy has a protagonist that is a direct ancestor of the one before. In other words, the prequel trilogy (I-III) features Anakin Skywalker as its protagonist, the original trilogy (IV-VI) his son Luke Skywalker, and the sequel trilogy (VII-IX) his granddaughter by way of Luke, a young lady named Rey.

One crack in this particular theory is that it is not entirely clear that Anakin Skywalker is the protagonist of the prequel trilogy. It has often been cited as a weakness of Episodes I-III that George Lucas seemed to jump back and forth between Anakin and Obi-Wan in determining the protagonist of the series. In ethical terms, Obi-Wan Kenobi is certainly the hero, but a protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be “good.” A YouTube series attempted to edit The Phantom Menace, et. al., into awesome movies, and the first edit suggested was to make Obi-Wan the protagonist but to make the story about Anakin’s fall. This is the prequel trilogy that we deserve, but it is not necessarily the prequel trilogy that Lucas intended. That said, a shadow of a doubt might be all we need when it comes to suggesting that Anakin is not the protagonist of I-III. If we don’t have to look to the protagonist for lineage, it is easy to find Anakin’s grandchild in TFA — we need look no further than Kylo Ren, Anakin’s grandson through Leia.*

The remaining reasons people believe Rey is Luke’s daughter center around parallels between Rey and Luke (and occasinally Anakin/Darth Vader) throughout the film. The most compelling of these from my perspective is the comparison of “Rey’s Theme” with “The Imperial March” (Vader’s unofficial theme) and “Binary Moon” (Luke’s unofficial theme). Redditor swissvale_nick was able to recite a handful of parallels between Rey and Luke only moments after watching TFA for the first time, including similarities between Rey’s speeder bike and Luke’s X-34, between her AT-AT home and the AT-AT that Luke brought down, between Rey’s rebel pilot helmet and Luke’s, and so on, and so forth.

The parallels aren’t terribly compelling, in my opinion. What they prove is not lineage but similarity in role. Some have argued that parallels between Han Solo and Finn suggest that Finn will be Han’s spiritual successor, but I don’t hear everyone suggesting that Finn is Han’s son.

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There is a theory that Han’s “wife” Sana Solo from Jason Aaron’s Star Wars comic book arc “Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon” (issues 8-12) might be Finn’s mother, but that whole relationship was dismissed as a grift in the last issue so the theory doesn’t have much in the way of legs to stand on.

Han Solo and Leia Organa

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“…but I’m leaning toward Han and Leia,” is probably the most common alternative to the Luke Skywalker theory.

Before TFA hit theaters, I avoided all news and rumor sites. I watched a couple trailers and that was it. The fact that there was a spherical droid and X-Wing fighters flying low over water was enough for me. If I had been scouring the web at that time, I suppose I would have heard some of the first rumors that Kylo Ren and Rey are both the children of Han Solo and Leia Organa.

In Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, Han and Leia had twin children named Jacen and Jaina. Both trained with Luke in the ways of The Force (as did their little brother Anakin, but that’s not important right now). Jacen later became Darth Caedus and Jaina ended up having to kill him.

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The parallels to Kylo Ren and Rey are pretty obvious. Moreover, now that Disney has taken over the Star Wars franchise, there have already been a couple of modified ideas from the old expanded universe incorporated into current canon. In Chewbacca #5, it is revealed that Chewie has a son back on Kashyyk, which reminds readers of Wookiee Jedi Lowbacca from Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s Young Jedi Knights. Starkiller base itself is strongly reminiscent of the Star Forge from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

The trouble with the comparison with the Solo twins is that Kylo Ren and Rey are almost certainly not twins. According to The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary — which Wookieepedia** cites as a canon reference book — suggests that Rey is 19-years-old whereas most sources (all non-canonical) suggest that Kylo Ren is nearly thirty. The “shadow of a doubt” is not as important for this theory as for the direct lineage theory above. What is more important is the fact that extra-canonical sources from the pre-Disney days do not dictate what happens in current Star Wars. The extended canon has always been plagued by questionable legitimacy, and yet when I watched TFA there were people whispering that Kylo Ren was Luke’s son Ben Skywalker (from Gregory Keyes’ duology Edge of Victory) even after it was revealed that he is definitely Han’s son Ben Solo. If the extended universe has any affect on future Star Wars canon it will be as a brainstorm not a blueprint.

The on-screen cues that Rey might be Han and Leia’s daughter are probably the best evidence of the claim. Han and Rey bond amazingly in the short time that they share together, Kylo Ren has a hefty interest in Rey, and the Leia/Rey hug has been cited by some as the scene that proves it all. It has been suggested that the Han and Leia theory of parentage was disproven at the get-go because Han left Leia following Kylo Ren’s massacre, but there is certainly room in the timeline of events for Rey’s birth. My favorite counter-argument is that Leia was pregnant with Rey when Han left her, and he never even knew that they’d had a second child together.

I tend to dismiss most of the #TeamLuke arguments because they work just as well for #TeamHanAndLeia’s case without realizing the fact that the #TeamHanAndLeia arguments tend to do the same for #TeamLuke. Rey’s chemistry with father figure Han might just be meant to invoke Luke and Han’s friendship from the original trilogy, Kylo Ren might know that Rey is his cousin and not his sister, and Leia’s embrace would be just as warm for her neice as for her own daughter under the same circumstances. 

Obi-Wan Kenobi

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It took a couple of weeks for the Case for Kenobi to hit the scenes, but when it did people started jumping all over the theory that Obi-Wan is Rey’s grandfather. This is despite the fact that the primary argument people are using is that Rey and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the only “good guys” with English accents.

My first problem with this evidence is that there is no reason to believe Rey has to be descended from “good guys” (see the next theory). Rey could be a Tarkin or a Dooku and I wouldn’t cry foul. Luke was the son of the most powerful Sith warrior in the universe. Why couldn’t Rey come from “bad” blood? My second problem is that accents are acquired by nurture, not nature. In other words, she would acquire an English accent because she is around people with English accents, not because she is genetically linked to someone with an English accent. I feel like the accent is bad evidence for what could turn out to be a really fruitful theory.

Better evidence comes in the form of voice-overs from both Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan, Episodes I-III) and Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan, Episodes IV-VI) during Rey’s lightsaber-induced flashback scene. This is likely because Obi-Wan was in custody of Anakin’s lightsaber during the time between Episodes III and IV, possibly longer than Anakin and Luke’s tenure combined.***

To admit this as evidence, we would have to believe that Obi-Wan’s voice was some sort of memory (actual or genetic) that was activated by the lightsaber. I am more convinced that Rey heard Obi-Wan’s voice because the old Jedi was in possession of this lightsaber when he underwent the trials to create a Jedi ghost, an event that would have happened between Episodes III and IV. We would also have to either ignore the fact that both Luke and Yoda spoke in the flashback or admit that TFA is the long awaited third Three Men and a Baby film.

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My favorite reasoning for inviting Rey into the Kenobi clan surrounds a woman named Satine Kryze who served as the Duchess of Mandalore and who was featured on eleven episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

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During these episodes it was hinted that Satine and Obi-Wan’s relationship was a bit more complicated than that of a political leader and her Jedi protector. The most obvious purpose for a story arc involving romance between Obi-Wan and Satine was to draw a parallel to Anakin and Padme, but it is not much of a stretch to suggest that the parallel goes further and at least one child resulted from this relationship.

Many who are rooting for this theory enjoy it because this would embody a reversal of the mentor relationship. In both the original and prequel trilogies, a Skywalker was trained by a Kenobi. If #TeamObiWan is the real deal, we will witness a Kenobi getting trained by a Skywalker beginning with Star Wars, Episode VIII: To Be Announced (TBA).

The further we get away from the Skywalker family, the more difficult a big reveal is going to be. It would be much easier for Leia to say, “No, I am your mother.” Obi-Wan is dead, Satine has never been featured in a film (and she’s dead), and any children they might have had are complete unknowns in the canonical Star Wars universe.

There are a couple ways I can think of to make this work. The first work-around is for Obi-Wan to say, “Rey, I am your grandfather.” We have heard Obi-Wan’s voice in all seven films despite him only being alive for four of them. That’s right, Jedi ghost Obi-Wan Kenobi could be the one to deliver the information. The other work-around would be that Luke could tell her. According to the canonical Star Wars comic books, Luke is in possession of Obi-Wan’s journal. It would also be an amazing reversal compared to A New Hope, where Obi-Wan didn’t have the heart to tell Luke that Darth Vader was his father.

This theory might have legs…****

Darth Vader

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My biggest problem with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was that they introduced the time-turner and never used this device in any significant capacity throughout the rest of the series. Similarly, Redditor minqj notices that clones are referenced momentarily in TFA but otherwise only referenced in the prequel trilogy. He compares it to Chekhov’s (Anton, not Pavel) idea that a gun that is introduced is going to be used at some point in the story. Minqj believes that Rey is actually a clone of Darth Vader.

If Rey is Vader’s clone, the line, “I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people,” which most have used to suggest that Rey is either Luke or Leia’s child, takes on a really interesting meaning. Even considering this, I probably would have overlooked this theory if my first thought about Rey hadn’t been that Daisy Ridley is the spitting image of young Jake Lloyd who played Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Yes, the evidence is scant, but not nearly as scant as some of the ideas that I have listed in the Other Theories section.

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If we could judge a theory by the quality of its consequences, I think Rey being a Vader-clone might be the best theory we have. With Kylo Ren’s dedication to become more like Darth Vader, facing a rival who is a perfect clone of Vader would be the ultimate antagonism. This would also cast the line, “You’re afraid you’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader,” in a different light. If this were revealed at the end of TBA, we would have a brand new question to deal with: Where does this leave us in terms of Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship? Does he become her apprentice? Does he deny the truth and attempt to erase “the lie?” Do they team up to defeat Luke Skywalker when he becomes the new Sith Lord?

Probably the best consequence of this revelation was thought up by Redditor hochamole in a comment on the same post who suggested that Luke could say to Rey, “No, you are my father.” Since Han isn’t around to scratch his head and say, “Hey kid, I’m your father,” this theory has my vote for best appropriation of a classic quote.

It was also suggested that Rey could be Luke or Palpatine’s clone. This theory doesn’t hit as hard, but based on the lack of evidence it seems like any clone theory would probably have the same level of validity, at least until some other theories start to surface. Maybe we can get a better proof worked out in the comments.

The Force

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If you have a Facebook account and friends who care about things that matter, then you have already read that “nobody we know” is no longer a valid theory for Rey’s origin, “somebody we know” is no longer a valid theory for Snoke, and specifically that Snoke is definitely, totally not Darth Plagueis. These revelations tore apart some of the favorite theories that people were throwing out during the week or so after TFA’s release, but I think I might be able to reassemble pieces of each to satisfy some of the people who found that the horse they were betting on had been removed from the race. Rey was born through immaculate conception.

The best theory on Anakin Skywalker’s origin, based on Qui-Gon Jinn’s thought in The Phantom Menacethat Anakin was fathered by The Force itself and Palpatine’s suggestion that Plagueis had power over life and death in Revenge of the Sith, is that Sidious’ master Darth Plagueis manipulated the midi-chlorians in order to create Anakin Skywalker. Skywalker would be the most powerful Sith in the galaxy and he could be used to replace Palpatine should his weakness in battle bring about his end. If we understand this to be the truth and we fast forward to Return of the Jedi, Luke’s risky gambit to convert his father to the light side wiped Plagueis’ Plan A and his Plan B off the board in one fell swoop. As Plagueis’ Plan C and an homage to this likely (though unconfirmed) explanation of Anakin’s origin, Rey could be yet another soldier of Plagueis created by his power over the midi-chlorians.

In this sense, Rey’s parents (well, parent — specifically her mother) could be nobody, and yet she could be created by Darth Plagueis. True, we haven’t ever seen Plagueis, but his presence was certainly felt in the prequel trilogy. This theory would also bring Plagueis back into the lineup of possible villains despite the fact that we know him to be a separate entity from Snoke. In a lot of ways, this is a best of all worlds theory.

This also gives me a jumping off point for a much more fun theory that Bobby and I had about a week after watching TFA. It was one thing that one of Anakin’s parents was The Force, but wouldn’t it be something to behold if both of Rey’s parents were The Force? A big male mass of midi-chlorians met a big female mass of midi-chlorians, they started getting fresh with one another, and, badda-bing, badda-boom, they made a 100% force baby named Rey. Anakin was powerful, and Rey would be doubly so. Maybe Rey could be Anakin-squared in terms of power. We could take Plagueis out of the equation, because everyone has met The Force. I mean, if you read my review of the first six movies you already know that The Force was the main character of A New Hope.

Other Theories

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There are some who believe Rey is a Palpatine based on her fighting style. I love the idea that the greatest hero of the universe might be the child of the greatest villain. I mean, I’d have no problem seeing it happen again. Some even think that Luke might have hooked up with Palpatine’s daughter, which is a compelling story in and of itself.

Others believe Rey might be the daughter of Luke and Leia because of that whole they kissed even though Leia always knew thing… This would explain her inordinate abilities with The Force. All things considered, I’m not sure anyone sees this theory as anything other than a Star Wars joke.

Based on a fan theory that Boba Fett’s daughter (Ailyn Vel, according to the expanded universe Dark Horse comic Star Wars Tales #7) is going to be featured in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and that she (and possibly her father) were involved with the Battle of Jakku, some are suggesting that Rey is Boba Fett’s granddaughter through this unnamed pilot. I read a particularly out there theory about Boba’s daughter hooks up with Obi-Wan’s son on Mandalore, but there is basically zero support for this theory.

I’ve heard fans of Star Wars: Rebel root for Kanan Jarrus as Rey’s father, but their opinions appear to be based only on the ages matching up and the fact that they could see Freddie Prinze, Jr. (the voice actor who plays him on the show) playing him in the film.

Bonus Theory: Kylo Ren

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I would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to put forward a new theory about Rey’s parentage that blows all of the other theories away, so here it is: Kylo Ren is Rey’s father.

Leia knows Rey because the girl is Leia’s granddaughter, Rey resonates with Luke and Anakin’s lightsaber because she is Anakin’s great granddaughter, and Kylo Ren wants to destroy Rey because, like Saturn, America, and many species of fish, Ren is essentially eating his young.

Here’s how it works. Kylo Ren is not Rey’s 19-year-old twin (sorry, Solo twins fans), nor his 29-year-old older brother/cousin. His origin goes back much further in time.

Travel back with me to the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.

Han Solo wants to leave the Hoth base because there is nothing keeping him there anymore. It is clear that some sort of emotional situation went down between Han and Leia, that Han expected her to finally reciprocate his feelings for her, and that Leia — having just watched her home planet destroyed and making time for nothing other than the Rebellion’s military strategy — is cold and distant. I believe that the incident that prompted Han’s departure was an intimate encounter that came on when Leia dropped her guard and let Han into her heart. Ben Solo was conceived the evening before the incidents of Episode V.

Leia realized she was pregnant when they reached the Cloud City of Bespin, but before she could tell Han, Lando betrayed them, Vader and company took over, and Han was frozen in carbonite.

Kylo Ren would be born, in secrecy, between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

When Leia reveals Kylo Ren (the Ben Solo) to Han and Luke, Luke senses his incredible power. He (and to some degree, Leia) is the reason Luke starts his academy.

Kylo Ren comes of age and falls in love with another member of the academy despite Luke’s admonitions to the contrary. This is the point where Kylo Ren starts catching up on the lore about Anakin Skywalker and his fall to the dark side. He relates to Anakin’s struggles with his young wife Padme and knows that there wouldn’t be an Academy — or a Luke Skywalker, for that matter — without Jedi breaking their vows.

Luke sends away Kylo Ren’s lover and their newborn child Ren, and that is the last straw. The rest, as they say, is history.

* * *

Once the dust has settled from tearing apart these heaps of “evidence,” I think Rey’s father is most likely to be Luke Skywalker. If we were looking at a Rey Solo, it would make a lot of sense too. Daisy Ridley was quoted as saying her character’s solitude is a good clue, and the name “Solo” means alone. Of course, Luke and Obi-Wan were both hermits, dedicated to solitude for years. My wife doesn’t think solitude describes Han because he’s always got Chewy at her side.***** When it comes down to it, none of the evidence really matters. Luke Skywalker feels like the right answer. I’m going to listen to The Force on this one, but that’s probably not going to stop me from speculating on other possibilities.

 

* If you’re experiencing déjà vu in reading this passage, it is probably because I said the same thing in my post about the importance of family in TFA.

** The Star Wars wiki Wookieepedia has my vote for the best wiki title of all time. It makes me happy just knowing Wookieepedia exists.

*** According to Harry Potter wizard battle rules, Anakin’s lightsaber became Obi-Wan’s after their battle on Mustafar, but I don’t think Harry Potter is canon in the Star Wars universe. Their loss.

**** Only after re-reading this post did I realize I could have written, “Unlike Anakin Skywalker, this theory might have legs…” Is the sentence better or worse without the pun? What do you think?

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***** Amy brings a lot of sense to my theories, but she also brings a lot of nonsense. Here’s an example — Justin: “Who do you think Rey’s parents are?” Amy: “Banthams.” Justin: “Bantham? Do you mean a Bantha or a chicken?” Amy: “A small chicken… Wampas.” Justin: “Womp rats?” Amy, angrily: “WAMPAS.” To Amy’s defense, she was 75% asleep at the time. She probably doesn’t remember the conversation at all.

Comic Recommendations – January 20, 2016

More comics to cover and less text to wade through — I think the new posting format is working out pretty all right. Most of all, I feel energized to talk about comics. Short and sweet is not exactly what you expect from a blog that is not just long-winded, but the longest wind. Just consider this the party and the comment section can be the after party. Let’s get long-winded TOGETHER.

THIS WEEK’S COMICS

Batman #48 (DC Comics)

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The guy on the bench. He was totally who I think he is, right? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!?!?!

…and that last panel. Ooh. Gave me the chills. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “I am the one who knocks,” #AMIRIGHT?

Batman & Robin Eternal #16 (DC Comics)

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This is definitely the most interesting thing that has happened to Jason Todd / Red Hood since 2011’s The New 52, and it is probably one of the best things that has happened to him since Joker killed him. (For those of you who don’t know the second Robin’s backstory, the whole death thing didn’t take…) I hope now that J.T. has stared down his worst fear and his own mortality we might see him travel down some interesting and new paths.

Regarding the whole Azrael thing, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Jean-Paul Valley quite like this. I’m really digging where this is going.

Captain Marvel #1 (Marvel Comics)

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The current volume of Captain Marvel is a slow-builder, there is a surprising amount of character depth by the time you reach the last page. Issue #1 casts Carol Danvers as a starship captain like James T. Kirk (or at the very least a space station captain like Sisco) with a crew comprising some of my favorite heroes: Puck, Aurora, and Sasquatch of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight!

Pencil Head #1 (Image Comics)

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Judging by creator Ted McKeever’s strange displays of humor in Pencil Head, I don’t think he’d be offended if I described his semi-autobiographical first issue as naval gazing at its finest. I’m fairly convinced that the life of a comic artist involves, as the cover suggests, “Oddball Artists. Twisted Writers. Demented Editors. Office Politics. Hamburgers. and a Dead Stripper.” Well, most of those.

Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death #1 (DC Comics)

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As the husband of a geologist, I am loving how this Poison Ivy mini-series comes out in support of women in science. I just wish artist Clay Mann would stop buttoning and unbuttoning Pamela Isley’s shirt from panel to panel.

Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel Comics)

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Dan Slott and Mike Allred deliver more light-hearted fun as Norrin Radd and Dawn return to Casa de la Greenwood after months in space, but an entertaining inversion of Silver Surfer’s own origin story promises some serious repercussions in the issues to come. I think Slott and Allred’s post-Secret Wars volume might end up outshining their pre-Secret Wars volume. What do you think?

Star Wars #15 (Marvel Comics)

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If Jason Aaron knows anything, it is Obi-Wan Kenobi. During the voice-overs I could actually hear Ewan MacGregor speaking in my head, and I nearly laughed out loud when Obi-Wan greeted an angry Owen Lars as if everything was hunky dorey between them. I know that Star Wars: The Clone Wars covered how Jedi become Jedi ghosts, but I would love if Aaron’s “From the Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” went into Obi-Wan’s experience with this process. #FingersCrossed

 

NOTE: Amazing Forest #1 is a 2016 IDW reprint of a comic released in 2013 by Monkeybrain Comics. As a result, I have not included it in the list.

BOOK CLUB: CIVIL WAR

I had the chance to get through another big chunk of Marvel’s Civil War, reading Civil War: Frontline #2,Civil War: Frontline #3, New Avengers #21, Fantastic Four #538, Wolverine #43, X-Factor #8,Thunderbolts #104, Civil War #3, Civil War: X-Men #1, Civil War: X-Men #2, and Cable & Deadpool #30.

It is during this chunk of books that we start seeing things from Captain America’s perspective, and there are a couple of interesting things that come out of this. First of all, New Avengers #21 was really neat. TheNew Avengers tie-ins came highly recommended and I now know why — Bendis’s focus on Captain America’s history and perspective really puts some issues of Civil War into focus. I especially loved the foreshadowing in Dum Dum Dugan’s lie that allowed Cap to escape. Shivers. Later, when the Steve and Tony disagreement comes to blows in Civil War #3, I was pretty disturbed by the fact that the picture of Iron Man punching Captain America so perfectly mirrored the Captain America Comics #1.

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I’m not sure what we were supposed to think about this — Are they suggesting that America now belongs to some much more shady people? Is Captain America making a decision that might be good for his friends but bad for the American people? Or does this just represent betrayal plain and simple?

When I first started reading the Civil War preludes, I kept wondering why there was such a focus on Amazing Spider-man and Fantastic Four. Last week, the Spider-man emphasis became clear — Peter Parker has the most to lose if the world learns his identity and he makes it clear what is on the line. This week, the inclusion of the Fantastic Four is elucidated — just as the American Civil War of the late 1800s was said to put family against family, disagreements in the first family of superheroes make it crystal clear that Marvel’s Civil War will do the same. In Fantastic Four #538, it is clear that Reed and Susan will probably be choosing different sides while Ben (and Johnny, after he wakes from his coma) are going to have to decide between them. This is almost too heavy to read.

That’s all I have to say. What do you have to say? Hit me up in the comments section or on Facebook if there’s anything here (or elsewhere) that you want to talk about. Until next week, be civil to one another, my friends.

Longest Wind Briefs – 10 Cloverfield Lane, the Alien Franchise, and Kentucky Fried Chicken

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These posts are like tapas, only less expensive!

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Earlier this month, I scoured this year’s new movie schedule in order to get an idea of how many movies I absolutely must see in theaters. I came up with five: Captain America: Civil War (5-6-16), The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist (6-10-16), Independence Day: Resurgence (6-24-16), Doctor Strange (11-4-16), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12-16-16).

Of course, that was before J.J. Abrams surprised us by unveiling 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie that Abrams describes as a blood relative to the 2008 film Cloverfield. Here’s the trailer:

The Boring Brilliance of the Alien Franchise

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In the ’50s and ’60s, science fiction was depicted the future as an exciting time to live in. Everything was perfectly polished. Men and women wore skin-tight jumpers and we were all in peak condition. We had flying cars and silly ray guns and adventure was around every corner. It was a terrible lie, because everyone knows you can only be excited about something for so long. You watch a vine of someone teleporting from Earth to Venus, you share it with some friends, and in no time you have assimilated this information into the status quo. If you watch the same video a year later, you’re already bored with it.

This is why the Alien films are some of the best science fiction out there. When A New Hope came out in 1977, viewers were blown away by the giant Corellian Corvette, a bright and exciting space vessel that just kept getting bigger and bigger. In 1979, when the Nostromo comes on the screen, it just looks like some trash barge or oil rig in the middle of space. There are a lot of suspense-related reasons for Alien being exemplary in its genre, but it is exactly this boredom factor that makes it the best of the best.

The scene that originally brought me to this conclusion was Ripley’s epic battle with the alien queen at the end of Aliens (1986). In classic Japanese style, Ripley has donned a mech suit in order to battle a monster, but this suit was not built for battling larger-than-life beasts. It is basically the future’s equivalent of a forklift. The operator steps inside and can use hydraulics to lift heavy objects, to weld metal with less risk of harm, and to do various other shipping and repair duties. This was not a scene from Evangelion or Guyver; this was the equivalent of battling an elephant with a hi-lo. Hurley’s battle with the queen makes me proud of all the forklift drivers I’ve worked with over the years. Until we invent airlocks, you guys and gals may just be our last line of defense against rampaging biologicals.

The First Rule of Fried Chicken

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“I don’t know what to order,” Amy said as we stared at the menu. “I have never been to KFC before.” This wasn’t entirely true. While peeling apart a chicken thigh, Amy realized she had been to Kentucky Fried Chicken in the past, but only once. She could still count her experiences with the Colonel on one Ninja Turtle foot.

We each settled on a 3-piece chicken value meal with a drink, a biscuit, mashed potatoes, and macaroni, and I was actually surprised that I only got three pieces of chicken. Before you blow up at me, I used to work at a place called Chicken Express and on the first day I was taught that you always give the customer at least one extra piece of chicken. Nobody ever told me why, but I assumed that you always want to give people more chicken so they don’t complain. Because chickens naturally come in different shapes and sizes, a leg is not always the same as another leg. Some pieces might still be fresh but aren’t piping hot still. We would give extra pieces to customers to make up for chicken inequality. Once I knew about this, I started noticing it at other fast food fried chicken restaurants. This habit was not limited to Chicken Express. Over time, I’ve decided “Give ’em one extra” is the first rule of fried chicken.

Kentucky Fried Chicken broke the rules. I ordered three pieces of chicken and they gave me three pieces of chicken. Nobody shouted out, “Throw in an extra wing.” Just three pieces of chicken. After I discussed this with my wife, we compared our chicken thighs — they were all the same size! I hadn’t had a legitimate problem with the lack of extra chicken until I really started thinking about it. Real chickens come in different shapes and sizes, but KFC can guarantee the same size on each piece of chicken. Chickens were once an organic being, full of variance and life and unpredictability, but now they can be patented and grown to order. You have to wonder if there’s a point where these creatures stop being chickens and start being some mad product of mad science. Needless to say, the concept made me skeptical about ever returning to KFC. Amy was pretty much over it too, but mostly because she thought the food tasted gross.

The Birds Deserved Better

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I work on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t pity me, though. I make more money for working on Saturdays and Sundays. It pays the bills. I also get the opportunity to listen to some really cool programming on the radio. On Sundays, I listen to The Splendid Table and I get to bring home factoids to my wife (the extraordinary baker and cook) about how to cook pasta without using much water or whether cinnamon can be categorized as “spicy.” On Saturdays, I listen to Snap Judgment, a program where people tell stories.

Recently, I was listening to a Snap Judgment segment called “The Birds” featuring Nikki Moustaki, the author of The Bird Market of Paris. You can listen to this story here:

Because of an interesting series of events, Moustaki ended up with cages and cages full of birds at her apartment. When Hurricane Andrew hit, she waited until the last minute to evacuate, and when she did she was only able to take a few of the younger birds with her. Eventually the coast was clear — well, not really, because she described having to crawl over beached yachts in the middle of the street — and Moustaki returned to her apartment to find twisted cages, drowned bird, and one screaming lovebird. If you don’t know anything about lovebirds, these birds bond either to another bird or to their owner and they bond for life. Moustaki’s lovebird had bonded with her and she had left it to die…

If you know me, you know that at this point in the story I am balling. It is a Saturday afternoon, I’m on my way to work an eight hour shift, there is snow and ice on the road, it is cold as heck, and I can barely see the road for the tears in my eyes. Thankfully, I do not wear mascara, or I would have had an awkward day at work.

Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that I do not agree with what Nikki Moustaki did. I don’t care if most of these birds were gifts or if she acquired them of her own volition — the moment they entered her life and her home they became her responsibility. Those birds died a horrible death and the ones who survived went through unimaginable torture. Someone who allows that kind of harm to happen to creatures that she is tasked to take care of should be in jail, not telling quirky and whistful stories on public radio.

When I think about Moustaki’s love bird screaming in her apartment, the image that comes to mind is my 10-month-old puppy Tiberius making noises of unimaginable anguish in a bent and busted crate, surrounded by water, crumbled apartment bits, and carnage, and it makes me think, “Justin, you can never shirk on your responsibilities like this woman did. That little boy depends on you for everything. What happens to him is on you.”

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Before you start saying, “Oh, Justin, we know you would never do anything like that,” I want you to know that I have done something like that before. My brother once bought an albino rat from Chow Hound and put it in the dropbox at Hollywood Video while I was working there. The rat found a little recess in the concrete DVD depository, but I was able to pull him out with little more than a light nip to my hand. When I brought the rat home, my mom slapped me. She is deathly afraid of rodents, so she didn’t see my actions as charity. Neither would the rat. I was forced to keep the rat in our shed, and over the next week I suffered from a rampant case of “out of sight, out of mind.” I never once fed that rat, and when I first thought to bring some food out to him, my rat was just a pile of ribs covered with a thin layer of skin. The rat I was in charge of had died of starvation, which is probably one of the worst ways to go.

Some of you are going to say it was my brother’s fault for buying the rat and pulling the prank. You’re wrong. I could have returned the rat to Chow Hound. Others might think it was my mother’s fault for not allowing me to keep the rat in the house. You’re wrong. I could have given the rat to a friend or let him loose in the back yard. There’s probably a contingent of people who think it was nobody’s fault — I was just a kid and I didn’t understand the consequences of my actions. I was nineteen years of age when I started working at Hollywood Video, old enough to be charged as an adult for any crime I might be guilty of.

My personal belief is that if you have pets, you need to make sure that each and every pet is able to get to safety in the event of an emergency. If you cannot guarantee that your animals will have at least as good of a chance of surviving a fire, tornado, earthquake, or hurricane, then you need to find another home for that animal. I think this is also the case with children. If you have multiple children, you need to make sure that they have a fair chance at escaping your house during a catastrophic event. This might mean waiting until your first-born is old enough to climb down a ladder until you have your second born. Whatever it takes — your children and your pets are your responsibility. You need to have a plan to get them to safety.

I live on the third floor of an old apartment building with my wife and my dog. If there is a fire that blocks our front door, we would have to climb out our bedroom window and down the fire escape. When Tiberius was a much smaller puppy, my plan was much more simple. I would bust out the screen in the window and help my wife to climb down. After that, I would scoop little Tiber up and place him into my wife’s school backpack, which I would wear on my front side like a baby bjorn. That way if he wiggled himself into a bad situation while we were climbing down the fire escape, I would have more options for stabilizing the situation and I wouldn’t have to rely on my wife’s puppy catching abilities.

Now that Tiberius is much, much bigger, I’m not sure how I’d get him out of the apartment in the event of a fire. I’ve actually spent some time thinking over this issue for the past few days. I know there are dog harnesses that people use instead of attaching a leash to a collar, but could any of those harnesses hold a dog’s entire weight without doing physical harm while a dog is lowered 30-feet to the ground? What of a harness that could bind him tightly to my own chest or back? Does that kind of equipment even exist? I brought this question up to my wife and she matter-of-factly said, “We’ve got a big duffle bag. We could put him in that. It’s even got a strap that you can wrap around you.”

Amy’s solution would work — I know it would — but I still find myself going back to the question. It would work, but is Amy’s solution the best solution? I know I’m not the first person to have a fairly large pet in a residence that is not on the ground floor. How would you, the reader, solve this problem?

This post has been full of meanderings and I’m not sure there’s any uncomplicated way to tie everything together. When you let someone else into your life, everything gets messy. If you’re not responsible with the power you have over them, things get messier still. If you can come up with any conclusions from this mess, I’d be happy to hear them. I just know that Nikki Moustaki’s story on Snap Judgment hit me with a big, wet, mess of emotions and I’m still trying to put them all together.

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Concerning Your Right to Discuss Your Pay Rate at Work

 

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Whenever I get a new job, I take one evening off from everything and I read the employee handbook, sifting through the legalese in search of opportunities. If I can find any fringe benefits — retirement savings match, cell phone discounts, etc. — I am going to take advantage of each and every one. Everyone gets excited about a new job, but not everyone makes a holiday out of the ritual reading of the handbook.

There have been multiple occasions where an employee handbook I read specifically prohibited any sort of discussion of my pay rate with any of my fellow employees. This was generally seen as a pretty high level offense, something that could get you fired. I can’t remember many times in the couple of decades I’ve been working where I could afford to be fired or even laid off for even a couple of weeks. I toed the line and I kept my job and I thought I was the better for it.

We’ve talked about how many people don’t even know they could be claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and getting loads of money back come tax season. Well, now we need to talk about another issue people are not aware of, the fact that it is illegal for your employer to prevent you from talking about your wages with other employees. Enforcement of said “gag rules” are in direct violation of multiple federal and state laws. I thought it might be a good idea to delve deeper into this topic.

YOUR RIGHTS

Different employees are protected under different laws. For the majority of private employees, excluding

any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 U.S.C. 151 et seq.]*, as amended from time to time, (29 US Code § 152)

protection is granted according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) which is also know as the Wagner Act after New York Senator Robert F. Wagner. The specific clause that protects an employee’s right to discuss wage information with fellow employees is § 157:

Employees shall have the right to… engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…

Employers who get in the way of any of these rights are guilty of Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) and subject to corrective actions administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The wording within the NLRA does not make it obvious that the Act protects your right to discuss your wages, but subsequent rulings of the NLRB have clarified the issue. Employers cannot distribute or reinforce policy forbidding wage discussion (Service Merchandis Company, Inc. v. Priscilla Jones, 1990), discourage wage surveys (Texas Instruments v. Internetional Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO, 1980), fire employees who copy and distribute payroll data (Brookshire Grocery v. Mark Moise, 1989), fire employees who discuss wages (Ambriola, Co. v. Unnamed Charging Party, 2011), or decline rehire for employees who discuss wages (Custom Cut, Inc v. Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters & Joiners of America, 2003).

Between 1982 and 2014, ten states passed legislation against “wage secrecy.” These states includeCalifornia (Labor Code, Section 232), Colorado (Senate Bill 08-122), Illinois (ST CH 820 § 112/10),Louisiana (“Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act” – Chapter 6A of Title 23 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950), Maine (Chapter 29, S.P. 33 – L.D. 84, An Act to Ensure Fair Pay), Michigan (Mich. Comp. Laws Section 408.483a), Minnesota (Ch. 239 – H.F. No. 2536), New Hampshire (S.B. 207; Title XXIII, Chapter 275), New Jersey (Title 10. Civil Rights, Sec. 10:5-12), and Vermont (Title 21 (Labor), Chapter 5 (Employment Practices), Sec. 495 (Unlawful Employment Practices). I’m proud to say that my home state of Michigan was the first to adopt state legislation to protect wage discussion, and less proud to find that my three adopted home states of Ohio, New York, and Texas are nowhere to be seen on this list. The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act has a limited scope —

This Act applies only to any department, office, division, agency, commission, board, committee or other organizational unit of the state.

— but to my knowledge each of the remaining state laws applies to all employees within the state save for federal employees and those private employees excluded specifically by the NLRA.

Finally, President Barack Obama’s Executive Order — Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information establishes the right of employees of federal contractors to inquire about, disclose, or discuss their compensation with fellow workers. President Obama was quoted as saying:

Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it, not in federal contracting or anywhere else.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)) is a proposed bill that would presumably broaden the net of employees covered by such laws as NLRA, the various state laws, and Obama’s executive order, but we won’t know the details until some form of this bill is actually passed into law. In recent years, similar labor bills have experienced a great deal of resistance from Republican legislators and Republicans currently control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In other words, it may be a while before anything resembling the Paycheck Fairness Act is signed into law.

There are certainly some holes in the framework for many federal employees, most state and local employees, and a few subgroups of public sector employees, but I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone (or next to everyone) reading this article is protected by some statute or another and most likely the NLRA.

THE REAL WORLD

Most of us feel like the employers are winning. In recent years there have been more limitations than enhancements to a person’s right to collective bargaining passed. This is largely because of union corruption in past decades, but it removes some of the vital checks and balances that exist in favor of the employee. Henry Ford and John Maynard Keynes both predicted increases in productivity and decreases in the work week for the current generation. Their predictions for productivity have been spot on, but the resulting decrease in weekly labor has not followed, and economic inequality is being pointed to as the source of the discrepency. All additional profits from increased productivity have gone right back to the owners rather than being distributed to the labor force. We are thinking bigger about solving the world’s economic issues, but severely lacking the government and private industry support of previous generations.

I’m not going to split hairs about the issue of gag rules regarding employees sharing wage information with one another. Whether purposely or accidentally, people are getting paid less to perform more work because we do not talk about our wages. This is yet another method by which wealthy individuals continue to get wealthier while the median income either stays the same or decreases. I’m not going to fault the people of this country too much. I have seen my fair share of movements for wage equality over the years and I’ve seen a decent amount of bills signed into law as well, and yet wage privacy policies tend to harm women and people of color at much higher rates than anyone else. It is bad for everyone if our employers are able to constrain us from discussing wages, and it is much worse for minority groups who have already drawn the short straw on so many other issues.

How are employers able to get away with laws that discourage the discussion of wages?

Some are suggesting that the NLRB is not particularly tough on employers who break the rules. I cited a decent amount of cases where the NLRB took employers to court and ruled in favor of the employees, but the “punishments” for employers rarely go further than reinstatement of employees for wrongful termination, awarding employees back-pay for periods of unemployment, or posting notice in public places promising not to violate the law. I covered a couple labor disputes while I was a reporter for a local newspaper a few years back, and if justice was served it was certainly cold when it got to the table.

The main issue, however, is that most of us do not know our rights. As mentioned earlier, the IRS has amazing refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit available to poor people, but because they can’t afford accountants and the US tax code is complicated many people are not taking advantage of these credits. Similarly, most of us do not know that we have the right to disclose our wages to fellow employees under federal and in some cases state law. I would say that the majority of people I know are not aware that their right to discuss their wages is protected, and this reflects studies which suggest that well over half of private employees in the US believe their employers have the right to tell them no. In many cases, employees believe the right to discuss their wages is reserved for union affiliated employees only, not for the rest of us. This, like many of the other lies circulating about labor, is untrue, and these untruths have circulated at such a rate that I might just start believing someone is spreading them on purpose.

NOW WHAT?

If you have been discouraged from sharing wage information with co-workers either verbally, if you have been fired or denied rehire for talking about your pay rate, or if there has been any other form of retaliation for discussing how much you make, your first recourse should be to contact your regional office of the NLRB and file a complaint. If more people assert their rights there might be enough political capital for the NLRB to give harsher penalties to employers.

If your state is not one of the ten listed above, then you need to start protesting to get extended protection where you live. Get in your state legislators’ faces and don’t give up until the people of your state are protected. Feel free to use the NLRA and the laws of the states above as precedents and say, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

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We can all try to get further federal protection, but that is going to be an up hill battle. Congressional Republicans tend to oppose legislation such as this, and the GOP is currently in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Regardless of your personal political leanings, if you want labor protections you would probably benefit from a House of Representatives with more Democrats in it. That is how you pass a law like the Paycheck Fairness Act. A Democrat majority House is also the one condition required for me to be comfortable with a Republican President, but that is neither here nor there.

For those of us who are already protected by this law, we can pose a demonstration. I’m still in the market for a better name, but for the time being we can call it Paycheck Coming Out Day. A large group of people plans a day where everyone goes to work and shares their wage information. We would be armed with the right information, like what laws protect us, what precedents exist, and what we can do if our leadership retaliates in any way. I love using this blog for good purposes, but an actual demonstration would go a lot further toward disseminating information regarding labor rights. If anyone is interested in going through with this, drop me a line. I think it could be really fun, informative, and it would be in the service of justice, which is also a bonus.

Pay secrecy leads to pay discrimination, which further exacerbates income inequality. I don’t need to talk about what problems income inequality create. I just have to check the “All of the Above” box and leave it at that. I listed some ideas for action above, but I am all ears if you have your own ideas.

 

* The Railway Labor Act applies to employees of freight and commuter railroads, airlines, and companies directly or indirectly controlled by carriers who perform services related to transportation of freight or passengers. The purpose for the legislation was to prevent work stoppages that would cripple interstate commerce to the extent that people would be denied essential transportation services.

69 and British: Bowie, Rickman, et. al., and the Ties That Bind Them

January certainly started rough. On the 10th, we lost rock superstar David Bowie, and then actor Alan Rickman died four days later. I don’t know too many people who weren’t affected in a serious way by one of these two people, and in less than a week they were both gone.

Like all human beings, I have a knack for pattern recognition, so it didn’t take me long to notice that both celebrities were British, 69 years of age, and claimed by cancer. As a defense mechanism against my own woe — Bowie especially was pretty important for the majority of my family members — I think I naturally started working on a conspiracy theory. The Internet was quick to do the same with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan —

— but I personally think they are safe. Both safely entered their 70s years ago. It used to be that the best and brightest, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison included, happened to die at the age of 27. Now-a-days it seems like it is much more dangerous to be 69 and British.

I thought we could track people as they enter and exit this danger zone. The following celebrities are currently 69 years of age, British, and deserve some prayers and positive vibes.

Anthony Daniels

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If you don’t recognize actor Anthony Daniels from the picture above, maybe the following picture will ring a bell.

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Anthony Daniels is the only actor to be featured in all seven Star Wars films (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and The Force Awakens) with his portrayal of protocol droid C-3PO bringing comic relief to a series full of tragedy and conflict. He is expected to resume this role in at least two more films coming in 2017 and 2019. Interestingly, Daniels shares a birthday with recently passed 69 and British actor Alan Rickman.

Daniels hails from Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, UK, which places him firmly within the “danger zone.” He will be 69 until February 21, 2016.

David Gilmour

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David Gilmour is best known as the lead guitarist and co-lead singer of rock band Pink Floyd. Gilmour is an aviation enthusiast (“Learning to Fly”) and a personal hero of Longest Wind writer Stephan Mathos. It is not a wide known fact, but Gilmour is the godfather of actress Naomi Watts. It turns out her father was a roadie for Pink Floyd in the ’70s. In 2006, Gilmour was joined by David Bowie for a performance of the Pink Floyd hit “Comfortably Numb.” This concert would be Bowie’s second-to-last performance prior to his death.

Gilmour was born in Cambridge, England. He will be 69 until March 6, 2016.

Hayley Mills

Actress Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills is probably best known for her portrayal of twins Susan and Sharon in the 1961 Disney film The Parent Trap, in which she sings the duet “Let’s Get Together” with herself. During her time working with Disney, Mills was one of the most popular child actresses of the era. She was actually considered for the role of Lolita Haze in Kubrick’s Lolita, but Disney did not approve of the association so the role eventually went to Sue Lyon. My most beloved memory of Mills was her role as the title character in the short-lived series Good Morning, Miss Bliss which spawned Saved by the Bell. On April 18, 2008, Mills was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years later it was reported in Good Housekeeping magazine that she had experienced a full recovery.

Mills was born in London, England. She will be 69 until April 18, 2016.

Tim Curry

 

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Tim Curry hit the scene hard as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he haunted our every dream after playing the title character in a TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Both his mother Patricia and older sister Judy died from cancer in the last 20 years. In 2013, Curry suffered a major stroke, which left him wheelchair bound. Curry was the first member of the 69 and British club to be identified by social media, and many have already lamented the association with recently passed David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

Curry was born in Grappenhall, Cheshire, England, UK. He will be 69 until April 19, 2016.

Donovan Leitch*

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Singer Donovan of “Sunshine Superman” fame was born Donovan Philips Leitch. Though Donovan is best known for his own discography, he is also credited with teaching John Lennon how to finger-pick his guitar in 1968.

Leitch was born in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland. He will be 69 until May 10, 2016.

Brian Cox*

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Brian Cox is an actor who is probably best known for playing William Stryker in X2: X-Men United. In 1986, Cox starred as Hannibal Lecktor in the film Manhunter while Anthony Hopkins played King Lear at the National Theatre. In five years’ time, Hopkins played Lector (the correct spelling) in The Silence of the Lambs and Cox was now playing King Lear at the National Theater. Cox was fortunate to have worked with Alan Rickman in the BBC serial adaptation of Thérèse.

Cox was born in Dundee, Scotland. He will be 69 until June 1, 2016.

Barry Gibb*

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Barry Gibb is a singer and songwriter best known for his work with the Bee Gees. In 2003, brother and band mate Maurice Gibb died of cardiac arrest. In 2012, his remaining brother and band mate Robin died due to complications from cancer.

Gibb was born in Douglas, Isle of Man. He will be 69 until September 1, 2016.

Justin Hayward

 

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Justin Hayward is best known as the lead singer of the Moody Blues. The band’s album Days of Future Passed is often credited as the inspiration for the X-Men story arc (“Days of Future Past”) and film (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

Hayward was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. He will be 69 until October 14, 2016.

Phillip Pullman

 

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Phillip Pullman is a writer renowned for his fantasy series (though he might take issue with calling it “fantasy”) His Dark Materials. The first book Northern Lights was made into a film called The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. BBC is currently in the process of adapting the trilogy into a television mini-series.

Pullman was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England. He will be 69 until October 19, 2016.

* * *

I want to make it clear that this is not a celebrity dead pool. Some people noticed an anomaly in famous deaths and I am just doing the work to track and monitor this situation. More than likely this is an example of coincidental correlation and there is no underlying cause. At the end of the day, it can’t hurt to learn more about older individuals who have brought a lot of joy to a lot of peoples’ lives.

 

* I recognize that these celebrities were not born in England proper, but Scotland and the Isle of Man are close enough for concern.

Magic Wizards: Prime Speaker Zegana and Ezuri, Claw of Progress

I think it helps that when I play Magic: the Gathering with a group of friends, I do so with a guy who is a lawyer at heart, another who is a politician at heart, a woman who is a geochemist at heart, and another guy who is an engineer at heart. Throw in your friendly neighborhood logician/philosopher and you’ve got a group who really wants to know the ins and outs of the rules. You’ve also got a group of people who aren’t afraid to do their research. This is a good thing, because sometimes Magic gets messy, especially when you are playing Elder Dragon/Highlander (EDH), where every deck has somewhere close to 60+ unique cards and the interactions seem endless.

Unlike the previous post about Fellwar Stone, I feel fairly certain that the issue we are dealing with in this post is not outdated. It wouldn’t do for Wizards to ban two cards from Commander that are printed in their latest round of pre-constructed product, so this post should be safe for quite some time.

Does Prime Speaker Zegana trigger Ezuri, Claw of Progress?

If you’re familiar with the Commander 2015 pre-constructed deck Swell the Host, then you know it is built around a Legendary Elf Warrior named Ezuri, Claw of Progress.

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Because Ezuri gains experience whenever a creature with power 2 or less enters the battlefield under your control and uses that experience to put +1/+1 counters on other creatures, you want to be casting as many small creatures as you possibly can.

The deck also features a Legendary Merfolk Wizard named Prime Speaker Zegana.

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Zegana is a 1/1 creature which enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it, where X is the greatest power among other creatures you control. Zegana also works great when you need some card draw, because when it enters the battlefield you also get to draw cards equal to its power.

While we were playing the other night, a friend cast Prime Speaker Zegana while Ezuri, Claw of Progress was on the battlefield and it wasn’t entirely clear to all of us whether or not Zegana triggers Ezuri’s experience increase. On the one hand, the individual who cast Zegana thought that since the creature was 1/1 it would first trigger Ezuri’s extra experience and shortly thereafter would gain the +3/+3 from Ezuri (or maybe more — I don’t remember the greatest power among creatures but since Ezuri was out I know it was at least three). On the other hand, some at the table thought that Prime Speaker Zegana would not trigger Ezuri because the counters would arrive before Ezuri could check. Needless to say, we needed a third opinion.

This concern is not limited to Prime Speaker Zegana and Ezuri, Claw of Progress. The same issue could arise with any pair of cards in which the first card checks the power or toughness of creatures entering the battlefield and the second  card gains +1/+1 counters when it enters the battlefield.*

In the instance where Ezuri, Claw of Progress is already on the battlefield at the time Prime Speaker Zegana is cast, Zegana will not trigger Ezuri and the player in control of Ezuri will not gain any experience. Zegana will receive a minimum of 3 +1/+1 counters because Ezuri is a 3/3 creature. Though the printed power and toughness on Zegana is 1/1, there is never a time when Zegana is on the battlefield and has a power and toughness less than two.

If this is less than clear, we can examine what would happen if cards like Prime Speaker Zegana entered the battlefield as their printed power and toughness (in this instance 1/1), got checked by Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and following both of those steps, gained 3 (or more) +1/+1 counters. However, to drive the ruling home I would like to substitute for Zegana an Artifact Creature named Arcbound Bruiser which takes advantage of the Modular mechanic that was introduced in Mirrodin.

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Arcbound Bruiser has a printed power and toughness of 0/0 with Modular 3, which means that it comes into play with three +1+1 counters on it and it grants another Artifact Creature those counters when it enters a graveyard. If Arcbound Bruiser were to enter the battlefield with its printed power and toughness, as some might suggest Prime Speaker Zegana ought to, it would have a toughness of 0 and therefore go directly to the graveyard. It would not trigger Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and there would never be a target for the three +1/+1 counters. Oops. You just wasted five mana. It is because of issues like this that cards like Prime Speaker Zegana checks after its +1/+1 counters have been added. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and vice versa. If Arcbound Bruiser is a 3/3 and not a 0/0, then Prime Speaker Zegana will always be at least a 4/4 when Ezuri is on the battlefield and not a 1/1.

I hope this was informative. As for topics, the Commander 2015 deck Seize Control gains its name because you can dominate other creatures and make them your own. What is your favorite creature in all of Commander 2015 to steal and why? I know this deck can get insane, especially as you can seize control of another player’s commander, pump up your experience from two sources, and use the experience in two different ways. I’d love to hear of other insane combinations that are now available with a dominate deck and the option to get mana outside of your general’s colors.

 

* If you can think of cards that either check the power and toughness of creatures entering the battlefield or cards that gain +1/+1 counters when they enter the battlefield (outside of Ezuri and Zegano, of course), please let me know. If I can add those card names into the body of this post, it might help a few more people to find this page and understand the general rule.

Magic Wizards: Fellwar Stone in EDH

I wrote the following discussion of using Fellwar Stone in Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) before I learned that the rule which limits the color of your mana pool to colors in your commander’s identity was removed. I thought I would post the article anyways since it gives you an idea of how we would have dealt with this card in commander back in the day. Fellwar Stone is now able to produce any color of mana so long as your opponents possess a land that makes that color of mana. Problem solved. For a bit of historical Magic, read on:

How does Fellwar Stone work in EDH?

If you are used to playing other formats of Magic, Fellwar Stone is probably one of the most self-explanatory artifacts in the game.

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You pay two mana to play Fellwar Stone, it is an artifact, and when you tap it you can add one mana of any color that a land an opponent controls could produce. If your opponent has plains you can use Fellwar Stone for one white mana, islands blue, swamps black, mountains red, or forests green.

This card gets much more difficult when you’re talking about EDH. According to the rules of commander:

If mana would be added to a player’s mana pool of a color that isn’t in the color identity of that player’s commander, that amount of colorless mana is added to that player’s mana pool instead.

Furthermore, the following ruling was made on Fellwar Stone on 10/1/2009:

The colors of mana are white, blue, black, red, and green. Fellwar Stone can’t be tapped for colorless mana, even if a land an opponent controls could produce colorless mana.

Honestly, with the combination of these two rules it is unclear to me whether we should even allow Fellwar Stone into an EDH deck, and yet it is included in the pre-constructed Wade Into Battle deck for Commander 2015. The card does work, but it’s going to take a little bit of explaining to make sense of it.

For the sake of our discussion, lets pretend that I am playing with the Boros (red/white) deck Wade Into Battle, which includes Fellwar Stone as a mana ramp artifact, and that you are playing the Izzet (blue/red) deck Seize Control.

Since I am playing Wade Into Battle, I play Fellwar Stone looking to get some red or white mana to help me cast some of these big beasts as soon as possible. You are playing Seize Control and have already gotten a chance to play both a mountain and an island. It looks like I have my choice. Wrong. Because I can only add mana to my mana pool that exists within the color identity of my commander and Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas is a red/white creature, the only color of mana I would be able to produce from Fellwar Stone would be red.

This gets a little trickier when you don’t share any colors with your opponent. Let’s imagine now that I am still playing Wade Into Battle, but you are playing with the Golgari (green/black) deck Plunder the Graves. You have only a forest and a swamp, and since I do Kalemne is neither green nor black it doesn’t look like I can make use of Fellwar Stone. I wouldn’t be able to use it for colored mana because of the commander rule and I wouldn’t be able to use it for colorless mana because of the ruling on Fellwar Stone. At least, that’s what it looks like at first glance.

Looking a little bit closer at the rules, it appears that you can actually use Fellwar Stone while playing against any opponent who has at least one color of mana in their deck. A colorless EDH deck centered around Karn, Silver Golem, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre will still render Fellwar Stone useless. If I tap Fellwar Stone while playing against Plunder the Graves, I am tapping it for either one black mana or one green mana. Since I am tapping it for either white, blue, black, red, or green, and not for colorless mana, I am still obeying the ruling for Fellwar Stone. Now that I have tapped Fellwar Stone for green or black, the commander rule kicks in. Since I am tapping it for a color that isn’t in the color identity of Kalemne, the one mana that is added to my mana pool is going to be colorless instead.

Now for the less complicated explanation that doesn’t invoke either of the rules we just talked about.

If you tap Fellwar stone for a color shared by your commander, it will resolve as that color.
For example, if I am playing Wade Into Battle and I tap Fellwar Stone to take advantage of an opponent’s mountain, I will have one red mana added to my mana pool.

If you tap Fellwar stone for a color not shared by your commander, it will resolve as colorless.
For example, if I am playing Wade Into Battle and I tap Fellwar Stone to take advantage of an opponent’s forest, I will have one colorless mana added to my mana pool.

In other words, Fellwar Stone make sense in EDH. Wizards of the Coast was not stupid to add it to the pre-constructed Wade Into Battle deck. It is not as useful as it might be in other formats, but it is certainly a fairly useful card in terms of mana ramp.

Do you have any other questions about this ruling? Have you stumbled into another tough situation that you need a second opinion for? I’m happy to talk about other formats. I mostly just talk about EDH because that’s the only format I’ve been playing lately. I have a strong love for the other formats as well, and if you have a question it might be my only foray into standard, modern, or draft for the next few weeks. Whatever happens, lets keep talking about Magic. I needs it.