A Strange, Deadly Beauty

The title of this blog comes from a description of a scene from C.S. Lewis’ last book in his Chronicles of Narnia series, The Last Battle. (So if you haven’t read the book yet, skip to the next paragraph.) In one of the last chapters of the book, Aslan summons the giant Time, who blows his horn which signals the stars (which are people, unlike stars in our universe) to come home. The sound that his horn makes is said to be a strange, deadly beauty. It is beautiful and deadly at the same time because while it signals the beginning of the end of the old Narnia, it marks the beginning of the stars’ entry into the new, eternal Narnia. Thus while Aslan’s followers experience a thrill and terror on seeing the stars empty the night sky, all turns out well in the end.

I use this phrase to describe the scene of Johnny Storm’s ultimate sacrifice in Fantastic Four #587. Two panels are shown below:

For the last time, Johnny shouts “FLAME ON!” and confronts the wave all alone in an alien universe. The strange and deathly quality of the moment is apparent: Johnny knows he has infinetisimal chances of surviving the confrontation, that his body will likely be ravaged. Physically, it is terrifying to behold; and Ben Grimm, who can only watch in agony from the other side as the shielding slowly obstructs his view, feels this terror and horror as his other teammates never will when they return form their respetive missions and receive the shocking news.

But beyond the physical, in the realm of the spiritual, the scene is beautiful. Johnny made the noble, heroic choice to throw aside his then powerless friend Ben, stays behind, and gives his life so that his family, and the Earth might live. The greatest act of love, of giving one’s life, to save another’s. So while the devasted Fantastic Four will mourn the physical death of Johnny Storm, they should also celebrate the beauty that his soul attained in making his sacrifice. If Ben was on the verge of entering heaven before he was called back to earth, then Johnny must have entered it already.

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The Aftermath of a Fantastic Four Death, Part 2

In part two of my post on the death of the Human Torch I wrap up my readership of the Fantastic Four and conclude with the “Three” arc by Hickman.

My interest in Marvel’s First Family waned sometime during the tenure of Tom DeFalco. I would pick up individual issues now and then, when long-term X-Men writer Chris Claremont, Karl Kessel, and Mark Waid took over the title. A crucial storyline by Waid after issue #500 had the FF assuming rule of Latveria after their archnemesis Dr. Doom was deposed and his soul separated from his body. In the conflict, Doom possessed the body of the Thing and threatened to kill the Torch; Ben, still struggling to overcome Doom, begged Reed to kill him so that Doom would die as well. In anguish Reed killed Ben with an energized weapon, and preserving his body in statis, took Sue and Johnny to heaven (yes, heaven itself) to re-unite Ben’s soul and body. A discovery of that adventure was that Ben could not enter heaven because his body was being kept in the minimal state of life by Reed’s machine. In the end the quarter met with God Himself, Who let Ben return to earth.

And that brings us to the current death in the FF. Johnny died a heroic death, taking Ben’s place in the Negative Zone side of the portal and locking it, thereby stranding himself, alone, to defiantly face the billion-strong annihilation wave while Ben could only watch in horror and anguish as the portal cut off his view. The final appearance of Johnny was a two-page apread by Epting, his body lying on the ground, his head thrown back, eyes closed, the flame from his right arm trailing off from the air and his left arm raised but obscured from view as the insectoids swarm all over him. Many debated whether he actually did die in that spread, and if he went nova or not. One guess is that he waited for the wave to to get as close to him as possible before going nova, and either got cut short or was knocked dead or unconscious. Whether that was the case, an infant Annihilus could be seen flying over the scene.

The death of Johnny hit me hard. When I first read the page where Ben offers to stay behind, my first thought was that, his future appearance in the New Avengers and the upcoming Fear Itself wouldn’t happen after all. But when Johnny threw him through the portal and closed the energy shield, I froze in shock. Here was my favorite member of the Fantastic Four, the one I identified with the most because of his oftentimes youthful exuberance and sometimes callowness. It irritated me no end that writers would depict him as a playboy of sorts, dating women in succession and partying the night away. But all that went out the window with that noble sacrifice of his. As sad as I was by his death, I knew it was his best moment. When Johnny told Ben through the portal, “When you see Reed… you tell him… tell him this is where I made my stand”, it was his answer to a question Reed threw at him a few issues ago when he took Johnny to task for allowing his action to precipitate a minor near-invasion from the Negative Zone. Johnny steadied himself by defiantly stating that he wasn’t afraid of the billlion-to-one adds against him, and he shouted out his famous catch phrase, “FLAME ON!” in the face of the Annihilation Wave.

It made me cry. Not at the first reading. But when I re-read and re-read the issue. My heart felt heavy, the tears welled up, and I cried. Oh, I know of course this is only fiction, and back in the real world I went on as normal; but when I settled into my comic-fan mode, the emotions kicked in.

Cynical or jaded readers would claim that Johnny’s demise would be yet another case of a comic book death, meaning he’ll be resurrected (or just brought back, if he didn’t actually die), likely in time for what will be issue #600 of the Fantastic Four title in February 2012. And while part of me is accepting the strong possibility of that happening, overwhelmingly I do not want him to return. This might seem a contradiction to my professed favoritism for him, but I feel that Hickman gave him heroic send-off and a final legacy that shouldn’t be dimished by an attempt to bring him back, even if it were handled beautifully. I would feel that my emotions, and those of Reed, Sue, Ben, the children, and the rest of the Marvel Universe would be wasted. I would be disappointed if he came back in a hackneyed way and damage the story that Hickman wrote.

So Johnny, though the comic-book fan in me grieves for your loss, here’s to 50 years of providing readers around the world with some of the most memorable, amazing, and fantastic (pun intended) stories and adventures in pop-fiction. You threw aside the baggage of immaturity and faced death with steel-hard determination and equanimty. I will forever be a fan. And though now tears blur my sight as I type these final words and my heart is once again heavy, I salute you.

Johnny Storm may be dead, but his flame burns forever.

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The Aftermath of a Fantastic Four Death, Part 1

It’s been more than two weeks since Marvel Comics released the fateful issue #587 of Fantastic Four, which saw the conclusion of the “Three” story arc by Jonathan Hickman. Of the four members of the FF, it was Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, who fell in  battle, staying behind in the Negative Zone to seal the portal shut from the Annihilation Wave of their old enemy Annihilus. The reaction from long-time fans and casual readers ranged from outright shock and sadness to cynicism that Johnny’s death will be undone as yet another example of a comic book death. That has been debated so many times in the two weeks since the issue came out (and it was far-and-away the #1 issue in January sales in the US) that I need not dwell on it. Instead, I’d like to write about the impact of Johnny’s death on me as a comic book reader, and as a fan of the Fantastic Four. Part 1 will be a historh of my readership of the FF.

First, let me start off by disclosing that I am not of those fans who stuck with the FF through thick and thin over the rise and fall of the title’s fortunes. Being born nearly a decade after the FF’s introduction, I have only the faintest memories of when I first encountered the foursome. I do remember that in fifth grade, a classmate brought some FF comics with him, and the storyline was about Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny searching for the kidnapped Franklin and his nanny Agatha Harkness, tracking them all the way to the hidden town of New Salem where Harkness’es fellow witches and warlocks lived in virtual isolation from the outside world. There the Four confronted the villainous Salem’s Seven.

Jump forward to high school and scholarship stipends, which gave me and my schoolmates some spending money of our own! This was the start of John Byrne’s run on the FF, when he wrote so many stories many fans rank as among the classics. Among his most memorable decisions was to have Ben take a leave of absence from the team and replaced by She-Hulk; Sue unleashing unheard of uses of her powers and renaming herself as the Invisible Woman; and Johnny falling in love with Alicia Masters. (At least, that’s what Byrne intended.) Johnny, who had fallen in love with a succession of women (Dorrie Evans, the Inhuman Crystal, Frankie Raye), now found himself involved with the woman who is better known as Ben’s girlfriend! Well, with Ben off-planet on his own adventures, there was a gap that had to be filled. And although it ended badly between Johnny and Ben when the Thing inevitable returned to Earth and felt betrayed, it seemed to bring out the best in Johnny. After Byrne’s run, when Ben returned to the team and new writer Roger Stern (then writing Avengers as well) and Johnny and Alicia got married (in issue #300 no less), it seemed that the two would settle into the life of a superhero and his ordinary wife. Alas, things would not be that simple, and when Crystal rejoined the team to help fill in vacancies by the departures of Reed and Sue (to work out their parenting skills with Franklin), Johnny’s emotions for Crystal started to resurface. It was at this point where I stopped reading the comic, partly for the reason that I missed Byrne’s writing. I did learn though that Johnny remained faithful to Alicia and Crystal eventually left the team for the second time.

My readership remained spotty for years. I witnessed the return of Reed and Sue, the transformation of Sharon Ventura into a “She-Thing” (though thankfully she kept the Ms. Marvel moniker). My regular readership resumed in the 90’s with Tom deFalco at the hilt, where I learned to my shock that the Alicia that Johnny married turned out to be Skrull impersonator Lyja! Left for dead after a mission to rescue Alicia from Skrull captivity in suspended animation, she returned, powered-up, to seek revenge on Johnny for supposedly abandoning her. Although the storylines had her returning to Earth and forming an uneasy truce with her ex-husband, what could have been the possibility of reconciliation vanished and Johnny foreswore her. At this point I again left the FF.

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New Year, New Blog Website

So, I finally took the plunge and made the transition from Windows Live Spaces to WordPress via the free migration tool. It’s going to take a little getting used to, but I’m going to make it.

I kept my blog name but not the domain name “ravinray” as it’s already in use (sigh), so I used “geosray”. And why “geos” instead of “ravin”? There’s a good story behind that, but it will have to wait for next time.

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Smallest Commercial Car Ever?

While waiting for Toyota Philippines to bring the iQ to local shores, here’s a look back at a truly miniature car that mad quite a bit of splash in 1982.

I first saw it in an article in the now-defunct Asiaweek magazine. There it was, the three-wheeled Cub Commuter, from Convenient Machines, Inc. and manufactured in Taiwan. Imagine if Toyota shrunk down the iQ to the size of the Cub?

The Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum has this car in its collection which is on display. Click on the picture to see the page for the Cub.

Thanks to the Museum owners for letting me use this image to provide a link to their website.

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Two Weddings and No Funeral

What a way to start off 2010! January 2, yesterday, we attended the 50h wedding anniversary of our very good neighbors. Then today. January 3 (Solemnity of the Epiphany), was the wedding of the unica hija of my cousin. Two straight nights of sumptuous food. I’ll have a wedding hangover tomorrow morning and will find it hard to go to work, he-he.
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Bridging the ThinkPad/Ideapad Divide

With the sneak preview of two impeding ThinkPad models, the X100e and Edge, Lenovo is blurring the line between it’s business-oriented ThinkPad series and consumer-oriented IdeaPad series. Both sport the ubiquitous red TrackPoint as well as a trackpad with prominent buttons, and have the blue Enter key. Both are thin and lack optical drives. However, they apparently sport not a metallic case, but a plastic case similar to that of the IdeaPad lines. They also appear to be latchless, with the lid and display merely closing down on the keyboard. To top it all off, they will be priced below US $600, way below that of the cheapest ThinkPad currently marketed and on par with many IdeaPads.

The X100e has the dimensions of a high-end netbook, and as such overlaps with the IdeaPad S12 in features. And in a departure form all other ThinkPads, it will come in black, white, or red external cases, though the display bezel and case around the keyboard remains black.

The Edge, on the other hand, seems to compete with the IdeaPad U-series, being ultra-thin with a wider display. Similar to the X100e, it will come in black or red cases.

So now in a couple of months’ time we are going to see ThinkPads that don’t feel exactly like ThinkPads. That’s because their cases don’t resemble those of current ThinkPad models. In fact, take away the TrackPoint, remove the red ridges on the trackpad buttons, and they’d easily pass for IdeaPads. The X100e and Edge suffer an identity crisis, it seems. They’re like IdeaPads that want to be like ThinkPads. So why not call them IdeaPads? But there’s that red TrackPoint…

We’re in a quandary here. A lot of people are complaining that Lenovo is diluting the value of the ThinkPad brand by slapping the name on two laptops that happen to sport the TrackPoint but don’t share the, ahem, quality build the brand is justifiably renowned for. They say that the ThinkPad moniker should stay with high-end business-oriented laptops and that Lenovo should stick with the IdeaPad name for it’s low-cost consumer laptops. There are those who are saying instead that it’s about time Lenovo should aim the ThinkPad at the student or home user, IdeaPads notwithstanding. Lenovo wants to bring ThinkPad aesthetics and appeal to the masses, accordingly.

Should it? Apple took a stab at appealing to the masses with the candy-colored iBook G3 in 1999 (and it won a marketing coup when Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods character brought a tangerine iBook in her law classroom awash in black ThinkPads in the movie Legally Blonde, sending the message that it’s cool to be different and, well, fun.) It had the higher end PowerBooks at the same time, but both lines sold well while remaining distinct from each other. Lenovo is in the same position with it’s IdeaPads and ThinkPads, but now that the X100e and Edge are due, the overlap is going to be significant.

I believe this could have been avoided if the IdeaPad had a trackpad (ok, call it a TrackPoint) from the very start. A lot of IdeaPad S10 owners (like me) asked why couldn’t our units have TrackPoints. But apparently Lenovo feels (or felt) that consumer laptops don’t need a pointing stick. The demand was there though. Would it make the IdeaPad too similar to the ThinkPad then? Possibly, of course, but then it doesn’t have to be a ThinkPad-style TrackPoint. Not a red one, at least. Take a look at the ThinkPad logo:

It has the word “ThinkPad” in black letters when set against a white background, and a red tittle surmounting the “i” in clear reference to the TrackPoint. Now look at the IdeaPad logo:

It has four colors, with the “i” and “pad” in gray, “d” in light blue, “e” in “idea” in lime green, and “a” in “idea” in orange, with an orange tittle surmounting the “i”. Those same colors appear on the boxes of IdeaPads, with the side view of the profile of an IdeaPad gracing the box.

(Picture courtesy of Notebooks.com)

If we’re going to apply the same design principle as the ThinkPad logo, then IdeaPads would have cases in gray, blue, or lime green, and orange TrackPoints. Orange could also be used for the Enter key; or maybe not, as it is too bright for a key. Maybe the same light blue? So, similar but not identical to a ThinkPad. Are those colors too gaudy for a laptop? Well, Lenovo has used colors other than black or white in it’s IdeaPads.

Had Lenovo done this from the start,then maybe the ThinkPad X100e and Edge could have been renamed as part of the S-series and U-series, respectively.

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