Monday, August 8, 2022

Power Rangers Workout

I'm finishing up the first half of Power Rangers Dino Fury Season 2 and, to be honest, it's super cringey. Maybe you expect that from Power Rangers (and you should) but sometimes the cheesiness is also complemented along the way with character development and intriguing plot points. All the same, I'm sure I'll still watch the second half of the season when it hits Netflix. But in the meantime, there's plenty of Power Rangers you can enjoy, starting with the nostalgic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (especially since it's the only older series left on Netflix). While you're revisiting your childhood Power Rangers, throw in some of these exercises to get as fit as the Rangers.

  • Theme song - Wall Sit throughout
  • Morphing sequence - 10 reps jumping jacks 
  • Something explodes colorfully - 10 reps tricep dips 
  • Rangers go to Command Center - 15 reps push-ups
  • Monster explodes - 15 reps crunches
  • Villain's lair appears - 10 reps incline push ups
  • Monster grows - 10 decline push up
  • Rangers call the Zords - 10 reps squats 
  • Comic relief character appears - 10 reps leg raises
  • Rangers call weapons - 10 reps mountain climbers 
  • Rangers strike a pose - 15 sets calf raises 
"Now I'm the one with the muscles and the power!"
--Jason (Turbo movie)

Friday, August 5, 2022

What is The Sandman?

 If you aren't already familiar with The Sandman comic book series by Neil Gaiman, find the person in your social circle who owns the most black clothing and they'll probably know what it is. With a TV series coming to Netflix and two full-cast Audible titles accompanying the legendary comic, I think it's time to explain what us goth kids are squeeing over. 

Once Upon a Time in the 90's....

Most comics in the late 80's to early 90's can be split into three camps: Classic stories that still resonate with audiences and gave us the characters we know and love (X-Force, Knightfall), weird examples of masculinity that would never fly today (Spawn, The Maxx), and the edgy fringe stuff. Sandman comics belong in the third category, being edgy dramas about beings beyond the comprehension of mortals dealing with massive existential problems. The comics rarely featured battles, such as audiences are used to in comics, meaning giant muscle men bashing into each other or shooting improbable guns at each other, instead being more about the inner battles around ones purpose in an endless everchanging universe. The comics do take place in the DC Universe, and a couple cameos have popped up on both sides (The titular Sandman requiring the assistance of Martian Manhunter and Death relinquishing her powers to Lex Luthor being two examples) but the higher ups in DC's comic team have chosen to use Gaiman's characters and works sparingly if at all, out of respect and honor for the source material. 

Okay, so that's the dry history lesson, but what is it? 

The Endless

Full disclosure: I only relatively recently got into the Sandman stories because as a kid A: I was broke and B: I had little to no access to the comics even if I had money. It doesn't help that the concept is a massive existential nightmare that takes some thinking about to wrap one's head around, so don't feel bad if trying to understand this is like following the logic of someone who recently suffered a brain injury and is now high on the Oxycodone they were prescribed for the pain. I will do my best to explain the plot but bare with me, it's a weird one. 

Okay so back at the beginning of sentient life in the universe seven beings came into existence which would be the personifications of seven aspects of said life. These beings, called the Endless, safeguard their respective circles to help keep the universe balanced. The easiest thing to compare them to would be mythological gods, but in cannon a lot of the gods are still held under the seven Endless's sway. These characters are: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delusion and Destruction. Each have separate personalities and responsibilities in respect to their realms. Our main character is Dream, AKA The Sandman, AKA Morpheus, AKA the dude in all the advertisements who looks like the lead singer of The Cure. Back in the 20's a cult manages a complex ritual to entrap Death, Dream's sister (Oh yeah, they're all siblings, but their parents are explained way down the line as like the universe's embodiment and some sort of... Thing... I don't know...) and end up catching Dream instead. Dream is imprisioned until the 80's when he escapes out of his pokeball and sets out on a quest to restore his neglected kingdom. 

The first story arch, and probably what we're going to see most of in season one of the Netflix adaptation, is him reclaiming three artifacts he used to help wield his power, namely a helmet that he built from the bones of two gods who tried to usurp his kingdom, a pouch of sand that he can use to put people to sleep and effect their dreams, and a ruby necklace that amplifies his powers. He also needs to wrangle a few escaped dreams and nightmares who have snuck into the human world and are causing general mayhem across the populace. Along the way it's confirmed that he will run into Constantine, the very same from the movie only this time a woman, various of his siblings including fan favorite Death (more on her later) and Lucifer Morningstar, a version of the devil based on Paradise Lost and who got his own show for several seasons. 

Yeah, that Lucifer. 

Quick Geekout on Death

Death of the series is, as I mentioned, a fan favorite. She even has a Funko Pop of her comic book version that's been out years before the masses were exposed to the full glory that is The Sandman. This Death, portrayed in the comics as a spunky 80's goth, is a fun happy-go-lucky person who sees her job as essential to the process of life. She keeps an upbeat attitude knowing that right after a person passes from mortality they will be confused and scared, so she shows them that things are going to be okay. Death is a refreshing take not only on the titular Grim Reaper character but on the concept of death itself, not being something scary and awful but something natural and leading to the next step in a person's progression. Think of the Angel of Death from Touched By An Angel only less tall blonde guy and more spunky goth girl. 

What is the Appeal? 

The appeal to this entire franchise to me, besides the dark urban fantasy setup, is the interesting concepts Gaiman explores. Dream is imprisoned for decades and yet the world, for the most part, went on without him. Does that mean that he's necessary? Part of his job is to influence imagination through dreams, and keep all the stories that are told, but is that as important as the job Death does? We also explore how the Endless influence people's lives, like what Death means to people, like the fairness of it or if a life is worth living if it's just going to end, or is it better to follow one's dreams or live strictly in the here and now? The series is a beautifully written drama about the elements that, while completely out of the control of man, are well within other's control and how mortals react to them. 

If you don't believe me, give it a watch. 


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons: A Pandemic Retrospective

(Guest post by Kenton)

Creation, both as an action and as an idea, is fundamentally intertwined with our existence. Every meaningful activity, and every meaningful connection, from birth until death, springs out of acts of creation. We make food, we make conversation, we make friends, and take stories from childhood and make them into scenes. Imagination describes this idea well, and is embodied perfectly in Dungeons and Dragons. The game of Dungeons and Dragons calls for players to bring together their own characters, their own stories, their own ideas, and bring them to life with every turn. Whatever your mind creates, this game gives you the freedom and the capacity to make. It is as big as you can imagine! There comes a question, then: could a world of limitless boundaries be limited by a pandemic?

I have a good amount of experience playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). For full disclosure, my first time playing occurred just before the pandemic; and since then, I’ve only been involved with three other campaigns. For those who don't know, a campaign is typically an extended storyline following a set of characters spanning across one or multiple worlds. Most people involved in D&D, that I know, only ran into it, or had their interest in it rekindled, because the university experience brought them together with those who are really passionate. Mine involved college in a more roundabout way:

I met my wife at BYU, and her sister and brother-in-law introduced D&D to the both of us. My first experience was very simple: we stayed at their place once on vacation, and were given character templates to customize and work with. My wife was a High Elf sorceress of the aristocracy, very noble and snooty, but with high-minded goals. I was a rough Dwarf barbarian merchant who was on a quest to avenge the death of his swordsmithing father, and my sister-in-law was a mischievously clever Human rogue, out for adventure and robbery: to steal from the rich and give to the needy (she counted herself as needy too). The setting began in a typical pub, when a fight broke out where our three characters had to work together. After, the rogue pulled a clever fraud involving selling a horse that was actually her servant in disguise, and we then set out on our quest. That was our first session, and the rest was done online. Our party had no reason not to travel together, and had various adventures involving a bugbear, a necromancer, and a large city. We never finished that campaign (no relation to the pandemic), but it was a good introduction.

Ever since that original campaign, I’ve only ever played D&D one other time in-person: the rest were facilitated online. I like interacting with people, and so the pandemic was a little hard for me. Even so, I was glad that I could at least get some interaction through online sessions. Did it hurt, not being able to interact normally? I'd say it certainly did, and it does take away from some of the "tabletop" elements of the game. Sometimes it's easier to get distracted, to tune out, and lose track of what's happening. If you can meet in person, you will have a better time, no question, because of the natural interaction, the natural focus, and the better feeling of meeting together in person. However, D&D is also a game of connection, not just creation, and there will be times when the only way to connect with others is through Zoom or other channels!

When we got back from vacation, we were able to continue our campaign for a few sessions. Later on, I was able to join other sessions with my brother-in-law, and once they moved closer to us, they were able to start and continue campaigns with their friends back home. None of that would have been possible without that technology. Nor is it entirely a disadvantage either, because it's easier to share maps and PDFs or other visual aids, or even to discuss things privately between the DM (dungeon master) and one of the players when the need arises. Online D&D may not be the most superior experience; however, it still makes for a good one, and sometimes even makes possible what would have been impossible.

Connection, and creation, and recreation are intrinsic to our experience. We can't really separate these things out, and we can't really say we're living when those things aren't present. Could a pandemic hinder the traditional way of experiencing that connection with D&D? Maybe it could, but life finds a way. Even if it means we have to use pixels to see each other, and electric signals to reproduce our voices, the human experience endures and ascends past what seems to limit us, and we come out together in the end. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

6 Moments That Made Us Love Neville

Neville Longbottom may have once been the dorky little kid who tagged behind Harry, Hermione, and Ron. However, when push came to shove, we learned why he was a true Gryffindor. This last weekend we celebrated his birthday. So for his birthday, here are some of my favorite Neville moments.

“I'm worth twelve of you, Malfoy.”

Neville was the butt of so many jokes, especially in his early Hogwarts years. An easy victim for Malfoy’s bullying (not to mention Snape’s, but I’ve ranted enough about him). In a deleted scene in the movie, we saw Neville with the leg-locker curse, but in the book we get the aftermath of that scene. He was told to stand up to Malfoy. And while it may not seem like much, especially since he got beat up for it, dropping the above quote on Draco Malfoy probably took every ounce of courage that Neville had. 11-year-old Neville deserves all the love for that one.

“I award ten points to Neville Longbottom!”

I’m sure it was frustrating for Harry and his friends to encounter Neville on their way out the door. It’s not like they were trying to save the Wizarding World or anything. But after all was said and done and the Stone was safe, it was still the end of the school year. Neville probably didn’t think that Dumbledore knew he existed, never mind that he stood up to Harry and the gang. Yet during those final moments of their first year, Dumbledore awarding Neville his first points changed everything for the House Cup, making him Gryffindor’s hero.

“Has Neville never told you why he has been brought up by his grandmother?”

A misfit since the beginning, one of the first things we knew about Neville was being raised by his grandmother. It wasn’t until three years later that Harry learned why this was. A private family matter, as it was, Harry was heartbroken when he learned about Frank and Alice Longbottom. Breaks my heart too, especially now as a father… I can’t imagine my child having to live with that trauma. Even Harry thought that Neville deserved more sympathy than him.

“It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn't it?”

After Voldemort deceived Harry into thinking Sirius was being tortured, he and his friends rushed to find a way to London to help. Neville (along with Luna and Ginny) insisted on tagging along. Neville, who had been scared of his own shadow, was volunteering to join Harry on a mission to save his supposedly murderous godfather. That’s a true friend. And not only did he join Harry at the Ministry of Magic, but he held his own against the Death Eaters that ambushed them there. 

“We’re his army,” said Neville. “Dumbledore’s Army.”

While Harry and friends were off traveling and camping, trying to find Voldemort’s horcruxes and uncovering the mystery of the Deathly Hallows, Neville stayed strong amidst the anti-Muggle and anti-Muggleborn atmosphere. In the movie, we saw him stand up to Death Eaters on the train. But it didn’t stop there. He openly defied their Death Eater teachers and restarted Dumbledore’s Army under their noses. So when Harry, Ron, and Hermione returned to Hogwarts to finish off the horcruxes, Neville had a fighting force ready to go for them.

“I’ll join you when hell freezes over! Dumbledore’s Army!”

Neville’s finest hour! While Harry was playing dead to get back into Hogwarts, Voldemort made his speech to get some last minute followers and spare some lives. Instead, Neville stepped up and told him off. To whatever extent he claimed his role as the “Chosen One” he could have been, as he rose up against the Dark Lord, slayed Nagini (the last of the Horcruxes), and roused Harry and Dumbledore’s followers to fight against the Death Eaters and other dark creatures. If not for Neville killing Nagini, the Battle of Hogwarts could have ended very differently.

So here’s to Neville Longbottom, the bravest almost-Hufflepuff out there. Happy birthday!