Saturday, January 26, 2019

Her Name Is Cassandra Cain

When I was a young lad, I was quite the avid comics reader. I loved the stories of heroes taking on enormous challenges and being pushed to the very edge of their abilities, all to stand up for a principle or to protect those who might not be able to protect themselves.

I especially gravitated towards Batman. He wasn’t an alien, with powers gifted to him by the color of our sun. Nor was he bitten by a genetically engineered spider or exposed to gamma radiation that caused his strength to increase exponentially. Granted, Batman does have the advantage of being a billionaire, but his powers are intellect, martial arts acumen, and, most important, sheer, indomitable will and determination.

I didn’t actively collect comics throughout much of my adulthood. I would occasionally stop by one of the comic book stores in my city and I would certainly catch all of the big superhero movies as they opened.

I got back into regular comic collecting a couple of years ago. I mainly focus on Batman, Nightwing, and Detective Comics. It was during a big story arc in Detective Comics that I discovered a character that I like even more than Batman.

Her name is Cassandra Cain.

Briefly, her history:

Her parents, David Cain and Lady Shiva, are notable assassins. Cassandra was raised by David to be a world-class assassin herself. He didn’t teach her to speak, write, or even read as a child. He thought that it all might detract from Cassandra’s focus on the killing arts.

David took Cass to make her first kill at the age of eight. She watched the man’s life drain from his body and she realized that deep down, she wasn’t actually the killer she was meant to be. She escaped from her father’s clutches and made her way across the world until she, of course, ended up in Gotham City and became part of Batman’s family. Her character has gone through a variety of iterations over the years… she has served as Batgirl, been known as Black Bat, and now goes by the code name of Orphan.

Cass is a world-class martial artist (in fact, even Batman himself admits that she could best him in hand-to-hand combat). She has an innate understanding of body language and physical cues, giving her the ability to anticipate an opponent’s moves. She is, essentially a killing machine.

One that refuses to kill.

What makes Cass my favorite is that she is all heart. She befriended Basil Karlo, AKA Clayface, as he tried to achieve some redemption after his stint as a supervillain. Cass, of course, sees herself as on a redemption path of her own, so she and Basil forged a close friendship during his time serving on Batman’s team.

When Cass’ mother, Lady Shiva, launched an all-out assault on Gotham, the two ended up in combat. Having fought her mother to within an inch of her life, Cass felt broken emotionally. The dichotomy of such a powerful warrior feeling broken really struck me to the core emotionally.

Cass refuses to be what others made her to be. She lives by her principles. She wields her not inconsiderable abilities for good, rather than evil… for life, rather than death. She may have the most dysfunctional parents imaginable and sometimes can’t even communicate well, but she still manages to be a great friend and team member. Cass is always trying to better herself and do right by the world. That’s what makes her a great character and someone that I think we can all identify with in at least some small way.

Cass has a large and passionate fan base, many of whom I have gotten to know via the magic of Twitter. I think we all appreciate her in different ways and for different reasons, but it seems that most of us agree that she is drastically underused and under-appreciated. Fortunately, the character of Cassandra Cain is starting to experience something of a renaissance. She is going to be a major part of a new DC Comics series, Batman and the Outsiders, which will be published sometime in the next few months. She has just appeared in the new animated series, Young Justice: Outsiders. Cass will also make her live action, big screen debut in the new Birds of Prey film (actual title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which is due out on February 7th, 2020. There will even be a new graphic novel starring Cass, from the new DC Ink young adult imprint.

When I first became a Cassandra Cain fan, I did a little research. I was curious about her character, how she came to be, and what books in which she’s appeared. One thing I learned (according to DC Comics canon, anyway) is that her birthday is January 26th. That’s today, by the way… so happy birthday to this badass, world-class martial artist and superhero who, in a lot of ways, is just like you and me.

Friday, September 21, 2018

SHORT STORY: A Bag of Rocks

I could see even from the other end of the street that the man’s gait was unsteady and slow. I imagined that he had been walking for some time. I thought I might help him get to his destination. Maybe get some karma points or whatever. I could probably use a few.
I had time. And I had seen him before. I pulled up next to him just as he reached the intersection. He was a smaller fellow, clad in a navy hoodie and cargo pants, worn backpack slung behind one shoulder. Older than me, but not old.
“Good morning,” I said as the passenger side window slid down.
He turned my way slowly and looked at me blankly, not slowing his gait a bit.
“‘Morning,” he said with a curt nod.
“Can I give you a lift somewhere?” I glanced down the street to see if any traffic was coming.
He stopped walking. “A lift?” It was as if the entire concept was foreign.
“Yeah, a lift,” I said as I came to a stop. “I can give you a ride. I can take you to wherever you’re going.”
Again with the blank look. “I… I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re walking,” I pointed out. “You must be going somewhere.”
“I’m just walking. That’s all.”
He slid the backpack off his shoulder. It hit the sidewalk with a resounding thump. The man massaged his shoulder. Whatever he was carrying was apparently quite heavy.
“So, um…” I looked in my rear-view mirror. Another SUV was approaching. “You… you don’t need a ride anywhere.”
The man shook his head. “Just out walking.”
“I see. Okay.”
The SUV pulled up behind. I heard the bleat of the horn. Time to move on.
“Alright, well…” I offered a perfunctory wave. “Have a good day, sir.”
I saw as I drove off that he offered his own wave.

I made it to the office early, about twenty minutes before my scheduled time. I made a pot of coffee. I poured my own cup, adding a dash of cream and more than a dash of sugar. I checked my email and perused Facebook. Upon punching in, I continued coding the mobile app that I had been working on. I was still struggling with how to integrate our database with e-commerce functionality so that customers could order parts directly from the app. Properly calculating shipping and handling, then adding that to the subtotal, was getting a bit messy.
I would probably figure it out, though. I usually did.

I chose to head straight home, rather than stop at the grocery store on the way. I had a couple of microwave meals in the freezer. I would just go tomorrow.
I turned down my street and saw a phalanx of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, as well as a group of onlookers nearby. I pulled into my driveway and as I got out of my vehicle saw a neighbor kid walk by, heading away from the crowd.
“Hey,” I called out. “What happened?”
“Some dude got hit by a car, I guess. They drove off. Cops are looking for witnesses.”
I nodded a curt thank you and headed towards the crowd. Patty, from two doors down, saw me approach.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “Just terrible. That poor man…”
“Was it someone from the neighborhood?” I asked her, but she was too overcome to speak.
I maneuvered my way into the center of the crowd. I saw a police officer and an EMS guy crouched over a still figure on the ground. A pool of blood issued from the left side of his head.
“I heard the car just tear down the street,” my next door neighbor, Albert, said to another officer, a younger guy who I imagined was a rookie. The Rookie hurriedly scribbled notes as Albert spoke. “I heard a screech and then a thump and that’s when I looked out my front window.”
“Did you see the vehicle?” the officer asked.
“I did,” Albert said. “A black Camaro. I think a 2016. I know my cars. I used to work in the service department at--”
“Did you get a plate number?”
“No,” Albert said softly. “Sorry.”
The EMS stood and I looked down to see the face of the walking man from this morning, the side of his head drenched in blood, his jaw askew.
Somehow I knew it would be him.
Yet another police officer, a big, beefy fellow with a booming voice, addressed the crowd. “Does anyone here know this man? Does he…” A pause. “Did he live in this neighborhood?”
His question was met only with murmured nos. I decided to speak up.
“I don’t know him,” I said. “Not really. I offered him a ride this morning. He said no. He said he was just walking around.”
Patty spoke up. “I’ve seen him, a couple times. Walking around. I never offered him a ride, though.” She took a deep breath. “That poor man. That poor, poor man.”
The Rookie stepped over and joined our circle.
“No ID on him,” he said to the other officer. “No wallet. Nothing. But I did find this.”
He hefted a backpack. The heavy backpack from this morning.
“What’s in it?” the other officer said.
The Rookie pulled it open and they peered inside.
“The hell is this?” the officer said. He reached into the bag and pulled out a rock. Then another. He looked at the Rookie quizzically.
The Rookie shook his head. “I thought maybe… amateur geologist or something? But half of this is just gravel. Dude was carrying around a bag of rocks. A nutjob, I guess, huh?”
No immediate reply told the Rookie that perhaps he misspoke.
“Well, he has to have some family somewhere,” the officer finally said.
The Rookie nodded slightly and stood there, silent, holding a bag of rocks.

I went home after a few minutes and popped a spaghetti and meatballs frozen dinner into the microwave. I looked at Facebook on my phone while I waited the four minutes and thirty seconds it took to heat it up. I saw that Beth was in Cozumel-- AGAIN-- with that rich asshole. They had posted some pictures. She still looked good. He still looked like a rich asshole.

The next day, I didn’t get to work too early… just a couple of minutes before start time. Somebody had already made coffee. I told Keith about the guy and the bag of rocks.
“Weird,” he muttered and turned back to his screen. He was coding a new page for the company website. Easy work if you can get it, I thought.
I was still on the shipping and handling issue with the app. I could finally get it to show up on screen, but now the drop down for the different shipping options didn’t work.
I would probably figure it out, though.
I usually did.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Please enjoy this story I wrote

The one voice sounded like hundreds.
Some yelling in anger.
Some screaming in pain or fright.
Some with unbearable grief caught in their throats.
Some with a soft lilt.
you are well and truly fucked. you understand this, right?
I took a step back. Another. Another. I was against the wall.
you understand this, do you not?
The voice wanted an answer.
More insistent: do you understand me?
I drew a long, slow, and deep breath. I hesitated. I needed to sound strong, and not squeak out a reply.
“No,” I finally said. “No.”
I crossed and uncrossed my arms. “No.”
The voice surrounded me.
The voice enveloped me.
And it rose, glowing in anger, casting a blood red glow about my living room. I slid right as his eyes tracked me. Perhaps I could make it to a window and make an escape.
A tendril, somehow glowing in a sleek obsidian, shot forth. I dodged. It struck the wall next to my head, missing by mere inches.
you will stay
Another black tendril. This one had apparently slid across the floor, unbeknownst to me, and slid up my back to wrap around my neck and lift me off the floor.
you will stay
My breath came only in short, ragged gasps. I grabbed the tendril with both hands and tried to pull it away from my neck.
you will STAY
My feet dangled a nearly a meter from the floor. I had no breath left. The world began to fade.
I held my daughter for the first time. Her eyes flickered open and locked with mine.
Her eyes locked with mine.
“You’re a hypocrite, Dad,” she shouted, her cheeks stained by cheers. “A hypocrite!”
I balled my fist and slammed it into
the mirror. I held the refracted, fractured gaze of my doppelganger. I glanced down at my bloodied fist and ever so gingerly pulled the shard of glass from my knuckle. I looked up again at the sad, broken face before me and
and said
enough of this
With nothing left in me, I still managed to grab the tendril and
I pulled. I pulled
with one shrill voice it said: no stop
I pulled harder than I thought possible
I suddenly found myself a heap on the floor. The tendril haphazardly waved about above me.
Slowly, I managed to stand.
Though all I could muster was a hoarse whisper: “Enough.”
The red glow became purple then blue and finally began to fade back into the dark. I braced myself against the wall. I looked out the window, spotted with rain.


Thursday, August 30, 2018


I no longer have a vehicle.
It’s a long story (and one that I am in no mood to rehash), but much of it has to do with the fact that the repairs that I would have had to make would have cost more than the car was worth. This isn’t as much of a tragedy as it may sound. I had owned the car for a good number of years and it was… well, let’s just say that it was somewhat past its prime.
Where I am fortunate is that I don’t live terribly far from my workplace. Prior to my car’s untimely death, my usual commute time was around five minutes, if that. Once I began walking to and from the office, my daily commute became about thirty minutes each way.
It’s not a bad commute, really. When walking, it takes a bit under ten minutes to make my way through my neighborhood, after which I cross a busy street. I walk past the local botanical center until I cross a pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River. Eventually, I cross what is known as the Arsenal Bridge (aka the Government Bridge). The Arsenal Bridge is quite interesting, in that it is one of the few swing span bridges in the United States. A portion of the bridge actually swings open to allow barge traffic through. All vehicular, pedestrian, and train traffic must stop to allow a barge through. It’s quite a sight to stand close as the bridge turns on its axis to be open to water traffic, then swing back into position.
The only downside to my walks were some exceptionally cold winter mornings. There is a great deal to be said for properly bundling up. Between good gloves, a headwrap, a stocking cap, and a good scarf I managed to brave those cold, dark mornings. Just as important as the aforementioned: footwear. I had managed to acquire a very good pair of boots. A well-made and well-insulated pair of boots is a walker’s best friend, especially in winter months.
Walking every day has a few benefits, the most obvious being physical fitness. A solid hour of vigorous walking burns a lot of calories and has some cardiovascular benefits as well. Just as important has been the uninterrupted time with myself. I have had a lot of time to just think. Sometimes that thinking was about myself and the trajectory of my life. Other times, I would work out the details of creative projects. I might set some goals, work through how to best deal with a challenge, or simply dispense with whatever might be bothering me on that particular day. Just as my physical fitness benefitted, my mental fitness did as well.
One thing that did not lend itself to a pedestrian commute was going to the grocery store. Imagine lugging a week’s worth of groceries home over a twenty or so minute walk. No bueno. Fortunately, one of my three sons now has his driver’s license and has been taking me to the store once a week. We have somehow managed to turn the weekly grocery-getting ritual into something of an enjoyable experience. Better yet, he will be an experienced and savvy shopper when it comes time for him to do so for himself.

Once the snow fully melted away, I noticed the large amount of trash underfoot.
  • Beer cans.
  • Soda cups.
  • Water bottles.
  • Fast food containers. (somebody in my neighborhood goes to Checkers quite often)
  • Liquor bottles (somebody in my neighborhood REALLY likes Cinnamon Fireball Whiskey).

I began to bring plastic bags with me each morning. I would pick up trash along the way. It was a great way to give my commute a sense of mission and meaning. I was helping the environment and making my neighborhood a nicer place. I actually posted on Facebook a couple of times about my new “hobby” and was really pleased with the positive response. A few people even stated that they would start picking up trash in their own neighborhoods. The only downside of this has been my new hyper-awareness of trash everywhere.
(and really, people… I think we can all do better in this regard)
It’s especially gratifying that so much good (pretty much all of the above) issued from a crappy event (that being, of course, the death of my vehicle).

I have acquired a bicycle a couple of months ago, which has cut my commute down to somewhere in the ten to fifteen-minute realm. I will probably get another car before too long (I imagine before winter sets in). I will still walk or bike at least some of the time, though. I really think that I would miss it if I didn’t.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hi Everybody

It's been quite some time since I have posted here.
I had been plotting a BIG NEW WEBSITE that would also serve as a platform for my blogging. I have put those plans aside, at least for the short and medium-term.
Expect some new words in this place soon.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dear Diary

Somehow journaling has been cropping up (and cropping up frequently) in my life as a topic of discussion. I started doing some heavy-duty journaling a few months ago, so I certainly have a few thoughts worth sharing on this subject.
To my mind, one the chief benefits of keeping a journal (at least the way I do it) is that it forces you to think. In order to get the day’s random swirl of thoughts into anything resembling a coherent sentence or paragraph, you will have to think. You will have to be at least somewhat rational (please note the use of the word “somewhat”). In doing so, you will often see where you may have judged someone too harshly, maybe taken something the wrong way, or one of a million other thinking errors.
Also to your advantage is the opportunity to read over your past musings. Since starting my journal document on April 3rd, I have noticed a distinct change in my tone. I have gone from whiny, despairing, and a little angry to confident and (more or less) ready for whatever comes next. Nothing beats having actual evidence of your own self-improvement.
I found that keeping my journal also helped me get back into a serious relationship with my my writing voice/ mojo. We were, perhaps, not on the best of terms for a little while, but my journal helped us get reacquainted and become best pals again.

That said, here are a few tips to get you started:
Remember that it’s whatever you want it to be. Your journal can be a daily decompress. It can be a bitch session. You can fill it with your hopes, dreams, plans, and goals. You can write a narrative of your life and turn it into a memoir. The key (I think, anyway) is to use your journal as a means to examine your life and eventually improve it.
You can use whatever medium you wish. I use a Google Doc and just type my little heart out. Many use a blank book, one of those fancy Moleskin notebooks, or even a plain old spiral notebook. Just make sure that whatever you use, it’s something to which you have quick and easy access.
It’s just for you. I would suggest that whatever medium you use, keep your journal secure. Knowing that your journal is secure gives you license to be honest. Thinking that your words may be subject to prying eyes might stifle what you want to say. Being honest and real is critical. I wouldn’t suggest that you start sharing your journal either. You might start writing for an audience and not yourself.
Keep it on the regular. I write something in my journal document daily, without exception. Your lifestyle might not lend itself to daily journaling, however. I would strongly suggest a minimum of once a week. It’s important to keep up some frequency, as well as a degree of recency to the events you want to examine.

In the end, journaling is well worth a shot. Who knows, it might even change your life.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Like many of you, I had a pretty sizable comic book collection in my younger years. And like many of you, I have absolutely no idea what happened to it. I remember some of the books I had. This one, pictured below, is said to be worth $75.00 to $100.00 these days.

Another comic I remember, the circa 1977 debut issue of the new hero Black Lightning, is currently going for up to $285.00.

So I might not have been able to pay for college had I sold off some of those books, but I think that I had a pretty respectable collection. It would have been nice to still have all those books, but they are now… who knows where. They are likely dust in the wind at this point.
Cut to many years later. My own children are now older than when I bought the aforementioned comics. We would sometimes go to one of the comic shops near my home. We usually treated ourselves to a theater trip when one of the big new superhero movies came out. In short: casual fans.
We were all out and about one day when we ventured into one of the aforementioned shops. The friendly proprietor informed us that the next Saturday would be “Batman Day” (I’m of the school of thought that every day is Batman Day, but whatever). He would have some grab bags for sale. $25.00 for around $70.00 worth of comics, graphic novels, and other merchandise.
I bought one, as did each of my twins. The shop owner wasn’t kidding when said that there would be north of $70.00 of value in that bag.  I found a couple of hardcover graphic novels, a paperback edition of Frank Miller’s classic, The Dark Knight Returns, along with a number of comics and other items. One of the comics in my grab bag was this one:

I have long been a huge Batman fan, so I read this one right away. The issue ended on a rather intriguing cliffhanger, so I soon acquired the next issue. And the one after that. And the one after-- (okay, as of this writing we are up to issue #14). I soon started buying All-Star Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Beyond, and Nightwing.
You may have noticed the DC Comics Rebirth banner atop the Batman cover. The DC Rebirth is a reboot/ reset/ initiative for the bulk of the DC Comics line. This reboot was about more than just book numbering… it was a rebirth of, as the powers that be at DC put it, ”optimism and legacy”.
The Rebirth branding also had some resonance for me personally. It was, obviously, a rebirth of my comic collecting hobby. I always had some comics around, odds and ends that I picked up here and there. I began frequenting my nearby shops, particularly on new release day. I started bagging and boarding my collection, and organized my books as well.
Collecting comics seems at once familiar and new. My inner pre-teen self is thrilled, while my adult side appreciates the opportunity to explore something new (ish). In addition, it certainly doesn’t hurt that my fifteen year old twins have also started collecting (anytime you can find an activity or interest you can share with your teenagers, YOU DO IT).
The storylines have been excellent as well. The multi-part “Night of the Monster Men” arc, played out over issues of Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing, was dramatic and action-packed. It had a great ending that solidified Batman’s place as my favorite hero.
“Night of the Monster Men” was followed up with “I Am Suicide”, another intense, multi-part storyline that took a deep (and dark) dive into Batman’s psychology.
All of the books that I have read so far have been compelling, well-written, and a lot of fun. Much of the art is spectacular too, as evidenced by this suitable for framing cover art…

So, of course, I’m thoroughly enjoying the stories and characters that I have been following. It’s also fun to stop in to the various comic book shops to pick up new issues and search for the pieces to fill the gaps in my collection. I am fortunate in that live within mere blocks of three different shops. Each one is different, and each one has its own charms. My kids and I frequent them all. It’s very easy to stop in to one or the other on the way to somewhere else, or walk to one on an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon.

I couldn’t be happier that the DC Universe Rebirth initiative parallels my own rebirth of sorts as a comic collector. I can’t say exactly why I drifted away from comics, but I’m glad to be back.