Star Trek: Picard: “The End is the Beginning”

After “Remembrance” I’d thought maybe I’d write a review for each episode of Star Trek: Picard, but the second episode, “Maps and Legends”, didn’t feel like it needed a review. It wasn’t a bad episode, and certainly I didn’t expect it to be as good as the first episode as it was a hard act to follow, but it was mostly a moving-the-pieces-into-place episode, without much of a narrative arc.

The third episode, “The End is the Beginning”, jumped the quality back up and made me decide to cover both of them at once.

I figure if you haven’t watched the first episode, or if it didn’t grab you, then you’re not likely to be reading this, so I’m just going to jump to spoilers after the cut:

Continue reading “Star Trek: Picard: “The End is the Beginning””

Star Trek: Picard: "Remembrance"

Why did I even watch Star Trek: Picard? I noped out of Star Trek: Discovery after the godawful first episode. I’ve been pretty consistently disappointed with Star Trek ever since The Voyage Home back in 1986. I went into The Next Generation with optimism, but was quickly disenchanted with its character-light, conflict-free, unimaginative storytelling, bailing in the second season. I came back to it late in the third season (the series’ modest high point) when I started participating in rec.arts.startrek, but bailed again in the sixth season. I ejected from Deep Space Nine in its second season, and other than a brief fling with the first season of Enterprise, that was it for me and Star Trek on television. I did enjoy the first J.J. Abrams film, but the other two were pretty meh.

(In the unlikely event you’re curious what twentysomething me thought of mid-series Next Generation, you can read a bunch of my reviews here.)

That said, I do enjoy Star Trek: Nemesis, and I enjoy it more now than my review at the time says I did at the time. Indeed, I think it’s the best NextGen film, though it’s not perfect, but it boiled down NextGen to its two best characters: Picard and Data. It struggles to fully develop its themes, but at least it has themes.

Star Trek: Picard seems to have highly variable word-of-mouth. Some people love it, some people hate it. I inferred from context that big fans of NextGen did not enjoy it. So maybe that meant I would? And the more I learned about it, the more appealing it seemed: Michael Chabon is involved. Picard is struggling with recriminations in his retirement involving Data’s death and the destruction of Romulus (a plot point in the Abrams reboot).

And, well, Jean-Luc Picard was the best thing about NextGen.

So tonight I signed up for CBS All Access, and watched the first episode.

And it was a fine hour of television.

My spoiler-free reaction to the first episode, “Remembrance”, is that Picard is a deep character who is indeed dealing with some of the traumas of his career, and the story overall moves Star Trek substantially forward from The Next Generation, rather than just rummaging around in the show’s past. There’s drama and action, and the promise of a lot of suspense and ratcheting up of the stakes to come. But – perhaps most importantly – it moves beyond the feel-good utopian-future nonsense of The Next Generation: Picard is fallible, the Federation is fallible, people make mistakes and have feelings about it. Like humans.

A more spoilers review after the cut:

Continue reading “Star Trek: Picard: "Remembrance"”

Birthday Week

Last Thursday was my birthday, and we had a heck of a busy week around it!

For starters, we went to to Disneyland last weekend, flying down Saturday and coming back Tuesday, spending 2-1/2 days in the park(s). Since SuperShuttle has gone under, we tried Wingz, which is like Uber and Lyft except that they vet their drivers more carefully (or so I’ve read), and they primarily do airport transportation, where you can request a ride weeks ahead of time. Our trip to and from the Anaheim airport both went really smoothly, with friendly drivers who were on time and flexible. It was probably a little more expensive than Lyft, but not a lot. Would definitely recommend. We learned the difference when we used Lyft to get home from the San Jose airport on Tuesday and got a driver with a messy car with way too much air freshener.

The big change at Disneyland since our last visit (two years ago!) is the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (or “Star Wars Land” as lots of people call it). It’s still kind of in its formative stages, but it was pretty populated while we were there. The main ride, “Smugger’s Run”, is okay, being kind of a guided video game you play with 6 people, with excellent graphics. But the scenery in the area is the main draw, with an elaborate settlement with a large reproduction of the Millennium Falcon, as well as a small Resistance base in some nearby ruins (with a ride which opened the weekend after we were there). And also the second place in Disneyland that sells alcohol, a cantina you should reserve a spot in ahead of time. They also have a build-a-droid experience, and a build-a-lightsaber experience, and Debbi bought me the latter as a birthday gift. The lightsaber seems like it’s really high quality, with nifty audio and visual details.

Oga's Cantina
The interior of Oga’s Cantina.

We rode a lot of the old favorites, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 3 times. The Indiana Jones ride is showing its age and broke down a lot, including twice when we had fastpasses to it. Space Mountain was slammed as usual, and Haunted Mansion has gotten very popular lately, typically with a wait time double that of Pirates of the Caribbean. We rode Star Tours twice, though its current Rise of Skywalker form is not as interesting as what it was after its overhaul a decade ago, when you could go to 3 different world on each ride. Hopefully once RoS leaves theaters they’ll put it back to mixing things up on each ride.

My favorite ride used to be the Californian Screamin’ coaster in California Adventure, but they’ve reskinned it using The Incredibles – a film I’m not much of a fan of – and we didn’t get to ride it because – you guessed it – it broke down when we had fastpasses. Oh well! Alas, the nifty “tour of California” theme of California Adventure has now been erased by the Disneyfication of the park over the last decade, so it’s lost a lot of its charm. The new Lamplight Lounge is pretty nice, although I don’t think it’s displaced the Hearthstone Lounge for me (the best kept secret on the property, I think). A Bug’s Land is being demolished for – I believe – a Marvel superhero area, presumably to integrate with the Guardians of the Galaxy ride behind it. We also road Soarin’ twice, which is also not as great as its previous Soarin’ Over California incarnation was.

Anyway, that and our tired feet aside, we had a good time and will try to go back sooner than another 2 years!

My actual birthday rolled around on Thursday and I treated myself to my free Starbucks drink in the morning to go with the scones Debbi baked for me. I had a pretty quiet day at work – lots of people were busy so I went to coffee by myself, and in the rain yet! (But, I love rain.) The original plan was for me to grill hamburgers for dinner, but instead we went downtown to Don Giovanni, which was yummy.

And Friday we went to Sundance the Steakhouse, which is what I always pick for my “official” birthday dinner. Their Moscow Mules are especially yummy for some reason, and birthday mud pie for dessert is also a nice bonus. Debbi noticed that some of the crew from Fox’s NFL broadcast show were eating there, including Jimmy Johnson and maybe Terry Bradshaw, but we didn’t want to stare so I’m not sure. They were in town of course because the 49ers were hosting the Green Bay Packers in The NFL championship on Sunday.

Saturday I went to Isle of Gamers for the Magic Theros: Beyond Death prerelease. I had a pretty good deck, I thought, although nothing obviously broken. My first match was a tie, but with 2 more turns I think I could have won it. I won my second match easily, and then tied my third match (and we barely started the third game). I think I played pretty well, bit a 1-0-2 record was just barely better than break-even. Well, it beats a sharp poke in the eye! I can confirm that the card Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is a house. It almost singlehandedly won 3 games for me.

The deck I ran was close to what’s shown here.

Sunday we finally took down our Christmas lights, a week later since we were away last weekend, and then we watched football for the afternoon. The Niners annihilated the Packers, as the Packers’ offense was sloppy and the defense had no answer for Raheem Mostert’s run game. It was kind of embarrassing, really. The Niners face the Chiefs in 2 weeks in the Super Bowl.

I had today off for Martin Luther King Day, and Debbi didn’t. I think in 2023 MLK Day will fall on my birthday and I’ll get it off work for that reason (something that sometimes happened when I was a kid, as MLK Day was a holiday for some of my childhood in Massachusetts). I took care of some long-standing chores and finished Charles Stross’ latest Laundry Files novel, which means I’m caught up on his books for the time being.

And that was about it. Not a bad, um, ten days of birthday celebration of various intensities. But I’m kinda ready for life to get back to normal for a few weeks, anyway. More rain in the forecast tomorrow, so that’ll make me happy.

Finished!

1000 pieces and somehow we didn’t lose a single one!

Somehow it wasn’t wrecked by the cats sitting out overnight! (We put a towel over it each night before we finished it.)

The green felt underneath allowed us to move it and even roll it up while we were working on it (it ended up getting worked on in three different spots). But I think it was more of a hindrance than a help, because it was really hard to shift the pieces over when they were a little bit out of alignment.

Melancholy New Year

Today is the last day of my almost-two-weeks-off from work (I decided not to take Monday, December 23 off, although almost everyone else seemed to). We had a mix of busy-and-lazy for most of it: We went to San Francisco one day, Half Moon Bay another day, walked downtown on Christmas Day and got Italian for lunch, watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, watched a bunch of TV and movies at home, and had people over to hang out and play some games on New Years Eve afternoon. We’ve also been working on a puzzle, something we haven’t done in many years.

Debbi went back to work on Thursday, but I took a couple more days off, mostly hanging around at home.

But I’ve been feeling kinda down since New Year’s. A little of it is watching “The Time of the Doctor” leading up to midnight on New Year’s Eve – it’s not a very good episode – manipulative and frustrating in various ways – but its manipulativeness certainly includes the obligatory sadness that’s accompanied most Doctor Who regeneration stories since “Logopolis”. But this was the least of it – it just set the tone heading into the new year. (We shoulda just turned on one of the generic New Years Eve shows, but we had inertia after watching the far superior “The Day of the Doctor” previously.)

I think some of it is my age. I’ve been trying to think and talk about my age less since my birthday last year, but it’s difficult sometimes. This year I started thinking that I’ve probably got less than 40 more New Years to experience myself. Realistically unless I get in much better shape, I probably won’t be around to see 2060. We also have our 16-year-old cat, Roulette, who is really in great shape for her age, but we probably won’t have her for many more New Years either, and if she declines like Newton did over his last two years, it won’t be an easy time. Stuff I think of when the calendar rolls over, I guess.

Or maybe it’s a touch of seasonal affective disorder. Or despair over Trump’s latest act of idiocy and its fallout. Or not being ready to go back to work. Or being more ready to go back to work and get back to my routine than I realize. I dunno.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get over it. I have a puzzle to complete.

Getting Older is Strange

The first thing that made me realize I’m getting older is that I’m shorter: I’ve lost about an inch from my peak height. A couple of years ago I had to ask them to measure me twice at the start of my physical exam. It didn’t help.

But what made it hit home is that my vision has started going. I’ve always been nearsighted, but around age 47 I started getting what is colloquially called farsighted but which is properly called presbyopia, and which interacts poorly with nearsightedness (because without lenses I can only clearly see things close up, but I can no longer easily change my focus to view things that are close). This has been predictably annoying: Reading small text up close is getting harder. Bright light helps. iPhone flashlights are great for reading the menu in dark restaurants – you may have noticed older people using them. Well, that’s why.

This year I’ve had some new developments. In June I went running one morning as usual. After lunch I went for a walk, also as usual. Around 3 pm I got up to walk to coffee with my cow-orkers, and I had a serious pain behind my right ankle, so bad that I was limping with my foot turned sideways to mitigate the pain. I have no idea what happened, but this was about a week before our flight back east so I decided to give it a few days to see if it got better, by taking time off from running. It did. By Saturday it was a dull ache, and by our vacation it felt almost all better. But it hasn’t completely gone away, although it hasn’t impaired me at all since then. I suspect I pulled my Achilles tendon, but I don’t know how.

The latest thing is the bane of middle-aged overweight guys everywhere: Knee problems. My left knee started hurting when my dad was visiting at the beginning of October, and got worse over the next couple of weeks. And then my right knee started hurting too. So I took a 2-week break from running – though I substituted some walks instead – and things got better. It’s still not 100%, but I’ve been slowly ramping up my running, and have been glad not to have sore knees for the last couple of weeks. Debbi thinks I went too long before replacing my sneakers and inserts, so I replaced them when I started up again.

All of this is strange because I don’t feel older. A little slower, maybe, but I’ve never been terribly athletic and my physical endurance has always been pretty lousy. Most of my cow-orkers are over a decade younger than me, and I don’t feel like I have a problem keeping up with them. I’m just annoyed that some things aren’t working as smoothly as they used to. It could be a lot worse, I realize; this is just normal getting-older stuff.

Anyway, a week and a half ago I was doing some shopping and on impulse I bought myself reading glasses. They help. It’s weird.

New Internet

Tuesday we upgraded our Internet service for the first time in, well, a long-long time. How long? Before the upgrade we were getting 6 mbps download speed. Good enough for a lot of things, but downloading sizable things like, I don’t know, apps, took a long time. Good things there aren’t a lot of apps in the world!

Our ISP is Sonic, which is one of the few ISPs which has stuck up for net neutrality over the last few years. I signed up with them for DSL when I bought my townhouse in 2001, and later upgraded to their service called “Fusion” (which I think is basically ADSL), which was pretty good at the time, but not really up to the level of Comcast at the time. But I was happy with them because their customer service is great. And they don’t have any bandwidth caps. And frankly at the time there wasn’t really a better non-cable service available.

But now there’s fiber. Sonic has been rolling out their own fiber service, but it’s not available down here. Instead they resell AT&T fiber. So I signed up for their gigabit (1000 mbps) service. Which is 167 times faster than what we had, because that’s how math works! AT&T sent a tech out to install it Tuesday morning, and he showed up 5 minutes after the beginning of our service window. He was also great: We walked through the house showing him how things were laid out, and he was able to connect to our house’s in-wall ethernet easily enough, and from there it would connect to my AirPort base stations to use our existing wireless network. The service info said it could take up to 4 hours to install, which I had a hard time believing until he told me they had to run a cable from the telephone pole to our house. All told, it took about 2-1/2 hours to get everything set up and tested. The testing had a couple of glitches – a few devices needs to be rebooted to work correctly, not sure why, but things seemed fine and he left shortly before noon.

Well, there were a couple of follow-on issues:

First, I got a box for Voice Over IP phone service for our land line. (You can tell we’re Gen X because we still find having a land line useful. Although if it weren’t bundled with the service I’m not sure it’s that useful.) It turned out that it had a new phone number – annoying! I e-mailed Sonic, and it turned out that it was a temporary number and they moved our old number Wednesday night. So that was easy!

The other issue is that we’re only getting 100 mbps on our network, not a gigabit. And this is a bit harder to solve, because it turns out that the AirPort Express base stations we have only support 100 mbps on their ethernet ports. I’m not sure what’s up with the AirPort Extreme upstairs which shows the same behavior, but I suspect one of the three switches we have on the network might also only support 100 mbps. Still! It’s 17 times faster than what we had! (Because that’s how math works!) It’s already pretty great!

But, it seems I’ll want to upgrade our network sometime in the not-to-distant future, once annoyance at not getting full speed overcomes my inertia of having a network that already works. A couple of friends recommended UniFi, while another strongly recommended an Asus router. I know several people like Eero, but I’m a bit reluctant to go with an Amazon-owned product (or Google or Facebook, for that matter, all for the same privacy-related reasons). It sounds like UniFi has a lot of knobs which I probably don’t need (or maybe just don’t yet know that I need!), so we’ll see. I should probably audit the ethernet switches first. One thing at a time.

Anyway, it’s so much faster than what we had. Suddenly updating apps on our phones is blocked more on the installation step than the downloading step. Downloading podcasts is super-fast. Hopefully we won’t have any more “why is the network so slow?” issues. And while we’ve never had a serious problem streaming TV at the slower speed, this ought to relieve any concerns we might have, especially since we’re not 4K TV viewers yet.

Look at us, joining the 2010s just in time for 2020! Because that’s how time works!

Seeing J. Michael Straczynski

Saturday night we went up to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to see J. Michael Straczynski speak in promotion of his memoir, Becoming Superman. The talk had been postponed from mid-August because JMS had a freak accident and badly dislocated his shoulder while leaving for the airport.

The museum is in one of the busiest parts of the city, next to Fisherman’s Wharf, so we went up early and got an early dinner so we’d be there on time. We walked past the museum and noticed the talk had been moved from 7 pm to 8 pm. Huh, just a typo? I checked Twitter, and it seemed Straczynski had been stuck at the airport in Burbank for hours due to fog in SF. (The SF airport is actually about 10 miles south of the city, but in an area that arguably gets much more fog than the city itself!) Nonetheless, after killing some time at the Musée Méchanique, we were first in line when the doors opened at 6:30.

Fortunately, Straczynski was able to get a standby seat on an earlier flight and managed to arrive nearly to the original schedule! However, since the event had been announced to have been postponed until 8, he and his interviewer vamped for half an hour. The vamping, however, was just as enjoyable as the talk!

I haven’t yet read the book – I bought a copy as part of my ticket to get it autographed – but I’m quite looking forward to it. Because this event showed that Straczynski is as good at telling stories about himself as he is at telling fiction. (I’m a huge fan of Babylon 5, and have enjoyed many of his comic books as well.) After the “warm up” where he told a few stories of his previous visits to San Francisco, he bantered with the interviewer and related tales of his early life and career, through The Real Ghostbusters and Murder: She Wrote. Unfortunately time ran short for later stories and turned to questions from the audience, but nonetheless it was well worth the trip. He was funny, self-deprecating, and thoughtful. Afterwards he signed books and briefly chatted with attendees. I had him sign Becoming Superman and Midnight Nation, although if I’d thought of it I might have had him sign The Twelve instead – though they both hit me in similar ways, they just take different paths to get there.

Now, here’s the paragraph that I’ve written several times and just can’t get quite right, but I hope my meaning comes through:

I don’t really have “heroes” or “idols” among media figures. Many of them seem like good people, many of them have admirable stories, but it also seems like they often don’t live up to the hopes we vest in them. And, well, they’re only human. That said, I’ve been following Straczynski since the early 90s when he was promoting Babylon 5 online before it aired, and I’ve always thought of him as a good guy, a straight talker, someone who deals with people fairly. These days he’s quite active on Twitter and watching him politely but firmly stare down Twitter trolls can be a sight to see. His writing is fun, engaging, and thoughtful, and he pulls back the curtain to explain where he’s coming from. He owns up to his own failings. He’s not the only person with these traits, but what he writes and who he is speaks to me like few others do. And I was delighted to see that all of that comes through when seeing him in person, too.

Oh, and he was willing to have his photo taken with this guy:

I highly recommend seeing him speak if you have a chance. And I’m very much looking forward to reading his new book.

Audio Dramas by A.R. Olivieri

Last week I did a binge-listen of all of A.R. Olivieri’s audio drama podcasts. I recently started listening to the one that started last spring, Great & Terrible (because I’m about 8 months behind on podcasts these days), and something clicked and made me think I should go listen to them all. This isn’t as big a project as it sounds, because individual episodes top out at about 8 minutes, less credits. I started listening on Sunday and finished up on Thursday.

I casually follow what might be called the “audio drama community”, but mostly I’m a listener. From what I can tell, Olivieri projects an aura of obscurity, doing projects that are notably different from many other audio dramas, and also being personally something of a mysterious figure. His web site is pretty sparse, and the only info about him his this interview podcast, which I listened to after finishing (or catching up on) his series. I have no idea if all of this is intentional on his part, but it’s an interesting image. Many other podcasters are pretty transparent about their personas, at least in broad strokes.

His podcasts, too, are kinda quirky, with a distinctive – though evolving – structure which makes them stand out. For example:

  • Each podcast title & episode title is in ALL CAPS.
  • Every episode is almost exactly a round number of minutes, for example 3:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00. Sometimes they’re a second longer, but that might be a rounding error in my podcast app. While he sometimes pads an episode with music to get to this point, it seems likely that he plans or edits many episodes to fit into a specific amount of time. Does any other audio drama do this?
  • Only his first series, 2298, has introductory music, which comes in almost exactly 1 minute in. All the others have a cold open.
  • Every series except for Limbo has closing credits which are 30, 60 or 90 seconds in length. Most of the credits have a memorable turn of phrase where he says, “<this podcast> is written, directed and produced by… me! A.R. Olivieri.”, followed by some info about his Patreon.
  • His podcasts have music by a variety of performers (none of whom I’m otherwise familiar with), but they all feel somewhat similar – like they’re in a particular style which I infer Olivieri likes.
  • Structurally several of the stories are grouped into “chapters” of 2-to-4 episodes, although except for 2298 there’s no clear indicator in the audio itself of this; you need to look at the show notes.

It’s quirky, but I think a lot of it is cool, appealing to the structure work in me. It’s just… very different compared to other audio drama podcasts.

It took me a while to realize that many – maybe all – of his shows take place in the same world, and that he’s slowly revealing the nature of that world. There’s connective tissue, but where everything fits together is not entirely clear. I find this deeply neat, and it definitely elevated my interest in his shows to another level. I believe in one of his “thank you” shows he alluded to it being a single world.

Olivieri is clearly very respected in the audio drama community, and he gets several top-notch voice actors from other podcasts to appear in them. Some actors appear more than once, and it’s not always clear whether they’re appearing in different roles, in the same role but we don’t know that they’re the same role, or if there’s something else going on. (“There’s something else going on” is a recurring theme in his shows.) For example, Sarah Rhea Werner, who does the great Girl in Space audio drama and who recorded the interview above, shows up several times. She has a really distinctive voice, which which made me wonder, “Wait, is this character also this other character… or not?”

Olivieri also does voice acting, appearing in a few of his own podcasts as well as others. I first heard him as one of the two main characters in the SF horror drama Janus Descending, which is maybe the best performance I’ve heard by him. In his own dramas he plays an everyman sort of character, observing, commenting on and questioning the world around him, while in Janus he’s a scientist who gets thrown in way over his head and is by turns frustrated, panicked, annoyed, terrified, and angry. It’s quite a range.

At time of writing, Olivieri has 5 audio dramas of his own, 4 complete and one still ongoing. Here are some of my thoughts about them. Also, while I didn’t listen to them in this order, I think this is the best order to listen to them in, as least as of the time of writing:

2298: A dystopian story taking place in the titular year. Number 24 is a “profile” in the remnant of humanity, somewhere on Earth in an enclosed environment after civilization’s collapse led to an invasion and a new society being set up run by a computer system called the Network. 24 – voiced by Olivieri – is a happy young cog in the machine until a bird and some strange dreams lead him down a path outside the one the Network has assigned him. The story contrasts a totalitarian society to a free one through the eyes of someone who’s happy with the system he lives in. The ending hints at where some of the other shows are going, although I imagine that wasn’t very clear when it first aired in 2018.

Magic King Dom: This was the first show I listened to; it grabbed my interest because of its conceit of a girl who grows up in Walt Disney World after the end of the world destroys everyone else. Dom (voiced by Lysette Alvarez of Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services, whose performance is great) survives for 6 years by herself before she encounters other survivors in the park, who need her to escape. There have been two seasons so far, with the third and final one coming soon. The writing is pretty strong as far as it goes, but there’s an awkward discontinuity between the first two seasons and there are several bits I found hard-to-follow, so I’m glad I re-listened to it. I think the story takes place about a century from now. The second season is where the hint of the tie-in to 2298 appears, but it’s still not clear how it fits together.

Limbo: David (Olivieri) is a thirtysomething (?) man who dies and finds himself in a house her grew up in, alone, except that he receives one visitor each month. Only 6 episodes, but to be continued in the future. It’s the lightest on plot of all the stories, and if you prefer stories which focus on the background, foibles and anxieties of the main character, then this is the one for you. It’s not quite my thing, though, as I am more plot-oriented, and I felt this was basically a collection of settings and moods without a sense of moving forward. I’m also not sure what more there is to do with what’s here if it does continue as the final episode seems, well, pretty final.

Great and Terrible: This one is the story of a woman who was gifted and cursed with immortality (and maybe other powers?), but who has to kill someone every new moon or her life is forfeit. (No spoilers – it’s right there in the podcast description!) This is the slowest of slow burns: While it’s self-narrated from – it seems – centuries in the future, the whole story so far takes place in 1988, when the main character of Jane (Leslie Gideon) is in high school and acquires the curse. It’s weekly 4-minute (less credits) episodes, and after 8 months we’ve just gotten to the curse, but it is nonetheless quite good and at times arresting, and it’s the sort of story that could go on for many years at this pace, so I wonder if that’s what Olivieri plans for it – I hope so. The high school dialogue is perhaps just a bit too precious (TBF I wouldn’t want to write high school dialogue from that era, and Jane is only 3 years younger than I am!), but Gideon’s performance sells just about everything else. This is in my opinion Olivieri’s best series to date.

The Easiest of All the Hard Things: Kelsey (Lucille Valentine, who gave perhaps the most memorable performance in the first season of The Six Disappearances of Ella McCray) is stranded on an island with only a turtle for company when they find a cell phone, and work to charge it to hopefully get off the island. How did they get there? How do they expect to get a cell signal? Who left the phone? I found the last episode of the season pretty baffling, and the story overall felt slight compared to the others, although with more of a plot than Limbo. But overall I wasn’t sure what I should have taken away from it.

I definitely enjoyed the binge-listen, and found myself much better able to engage with the stories than I was when I’d just listened to Magic King Dom and Limbo, which are at the more surreal end of the spectrum. It looks like he has at least a couple more series planned, and I’m definitely curious whether the pieces across the stories will start to knit together more closely as time goes on. I hope so!

Childhood Comics

As far as I know, I started buying comic books in 1975. The 70s were a weird time for the comic book industry: In the 1950s the industry (such as it was) had a fair bit of genre diversity, with superhero, western, horror, and humor books all being published. The 60s saw superhero books move towards ascendency, and by the mid-1970s superhero books were clearly the dominant genre, with the other genres in decline. Other than Jonah Hex I’m not sure I saw another western title outside of a comic book store in the 70s. (In my lifetime, the arrival of a well-made western film seems to underscore just how dead the genre is.) There were a few horror books, and a smattering of other titles.

Uncle Scrooge #114 (1974)

We’ve been watching the new DuckTales cartoon (recommended!), and it reminded me of one of the few non-superhero books of that era that’s stuck in my memory. I’ve never been a big fan of the Disney characters, but I picked up a few of their comics when I was a kid, and the one I remember is “The Phantom of Notre Duck”, which I probably read when it was reprinted in Uncle Scrooge #114 (Sept 1974), and which I likely picked up as part of some supermarket bundle of books rather than through a newsstand or comics shop. These bundles were often 3-5 comics packaged together in a sealed plastic bag, usually with no connection to each other, and you usually couldn’t see what was inside other than the front and back issues. If this is how I acquired it, I probably bought it because it was in a bundle with some superhero book on the outside that I wanted.

I really have no insight into how these bundles were created, whether they were national or local, or what. I just bought ’em (or, well, my parents did). It looks like this issue was published by Gold Key and also printed with the “Whitman” logo: Whitman says the two were the same publisher, and that the Whitman logo was used for bagged comics, so maybe that was it. I have no memory of which version I owned.

The story (written & illustrated by Carl Barks) I mainly remember involved Scrooge and his nephews pursuing the Phantom throughout the Cathedral, with hidden doors & passageways, old rooms and ornaments, and the heroes eventually managing to corner the Phantom and figure out what it’s up to, and that it wasn’t all that sinister after all. But I haven’t actually read it in probably 40 years, as I likely purged it – perhaps long missing its cover – at some point in the 80s or 90s. But I recall it fondly as a spooky story, which I might want to track down and read again – it seems it’s been reprinted at least twice more since then, so it ought to be possible.

The Addams Family #1 (1974)

Recalling that book reminded me of another non-superhero book I read as a kid, coincidentally (maybe?) also from 1974, The Addams Family #1. Maybe this date is a sign that I actually read a few comics before the earliest ones I remember from 1975, I don’t know. I’ve long thought the first comic I read was Wonder Woman #220 (Nov 1975 – which means it was probably on the newsstands over the summer).

In any event, I am a huge fan of Charles Addams‘ cartoons, and I own a copy of almost every collection of his cartoons that have been published. But I didn’t become a fan until my dad bought me a copy of his last original collection, Creature Comforts (1981), so I had no attachment to this comic when I read it. It was just weird. It seems it was probably spun out of a 1973 cartoon series, which frankly I’d never even heard of until now. (I mean, maybe I watched it when I was a kid, but I have no memory of it!) I also didn’t watch the famous 1960s TV series, so I have no attachment to it, either. I do kinda dimly remember them showing up in Scooby-Doo.

I have almost very little memory of the comic itself. As you can see, the cover was sparsely drawn with no background, which stuck out to me at the time. My recollection is that it involved the family going on vacation in the spooky camper seen on the cover, and elevating the chassis on stilts several dozen feet in the air in order to drive over a traffic jam, but that’s about it. It seems it was a little different from that, and was directly adapted from one of the animated episodes. It appears to have been written and illustrated by Bill Ziegler, about whom I know nothing except for what’s written at that link. I bet it was pretty weak, though I also bet if I’d been a few years older I would have enjoyed the animated show.

Interpretations of the Addams Family are interesting to track, as a long-time fan. The ones I’ve seen do reflect Addams’ originals in general, especially their sense of family and mutual support in this group of oddball characters living in their own space within larger, “normal” society. But the details are often curious, especially the reversal of Pugsley and Wednesday’s characters in the 1990s films (although one can hardly object to them spotlighting Christina Ricci in her breakout role by giving Wednesday a more vivid and active characterization). I don’t know what this year’s film is like, although I’m not a fan of the character designs.

I’m not going anywhere with all this, except that we all have vague memories of our childhoods, some of them stick persistently in our minds for a long time, to the point that we no longer recall why they made us remember them at all. But at least with these I can go out and find copies of these two books and read them again and see if they stir anything up in me.