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Rainy Morning

We’ve been having a shortage of rain this winter – not quite a drought, but enough that the papers have started writing about it.

Well, after showers yesterday, it rained in earnest last night. Which is pretty much how I think of California: Nice during the day, rain at night. At least, that was the pattern back when I first moved here: The rain was tailing off when my alarm went off, and it was sunny by noon.

Hopefully we’ll get plenty of rain in February and March. It will help stave off the cold temperatures, if nothing else!

This Week’s Haul

  • 52 #38 of 52 (DC)
  • Fables #57 (DC/Vertigo)
  • Eternals #6 of 7 (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard #6 of 6 (Archaia Studios Press)

    Well, that was fun! Maybe a bit slight on the story side, but I enjoyed it. It looks like there will be both a collection and a sequel. And indeed, the creator has a home page for the comic.

  • Colonia: On Into The Great Lands vol. 2 TPB (Colonia Press)

    Colonia is a really neat comic: It concerns Jack, a young man, and his uncles Pete and Richard, who are all thrown from our world into a parallel world where the New World still has the feel of the 17th century age of pirates, and magical forces seem to be rampant. It’s inventive, funny, at times touching, and generally downright eerie.

    Creator Jeff Nicholson’s art style reminds me somewhat of my old buddy Scott Marshall‘s art. It doesn’t have the polish of comics from the big publishers, but who cares? It’s earnest and serves the story. Really, if the series has a downside it’s that it doesn’t come out very often. But hey, it’s publishing more frequently than Xenozoic Tales is these days!

    If you want to check it out, you could start with the first collection.

  • The Maze Agency vol. 1 TPB (IDW)

    Back in the days of the first independent comics boom, Comico Comics published a little series called The Maze Agency. Written by comics veteran Mike W. Barr and drawn by a newcomer named Adam Hughes, it was a mystery comic in the classic sense: Every story was a mystery that the reader could try to solve before the heroes.

    It worked quite well, actually, and was an entertaining read, even after Hughes departed to be replaced by considerably lesser lights on the art. IDW printed a short Maze Agency mini-series a year or two ago, and is now reprinting the original series in paperback. This is the first volume. If this is your sort of thing, check it out.

Uninspired

Clearly I haven’t felt like writing much lately – I didn’t realize until my little post on Tuesday that I didn’t update all weekend! Bad journaller!

Actually, I mentioned last week that I got sick the night of my birthday. Debbi was a day or two behind me and was flattened by it for several days. After running some errands on Saturday (such as having lunch at Shebele) and having dinner with friends, Debbi decided to just take Sunday off and hang out at home.

By contrast, I joined Subrata and company for some Magic. I had a much better draft than last time, putting together a fairly good Blue/White deck with some crafty creatures in it. I think I split the six games I played (though it helped that one game I got the optimal draw and Subrata got the pessimal draw).

It’s a little frightening to be getting into Magic again. 🙂

We’re both feeling better this week, but we’ve had a pretty laid-back week nonetheless. Gaming and comics last night, and frisbee in a little over an hour.

Hopefully I can get back to posting meatier entries sometime soon.

But It’s ‘Cozy’

And you thought housing where you live was insane. (via Iamza)

This Week’s Haul

I’m going to try a different format this week and see how I (and you) like it.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #48 (DC)
  • 52 #37 of 52 (DC)

    This issue reveals one of the ongoing mysteries of the series, and it’s not really a huge surprise to anyone, I guess. It was fun to read, though! Also, in this week’s text page in DC books, there’s a coded message regarding the “big” mystery of 52, so if you don’t mind getting spoiled, Comics Should Be Good reveals the secret.

    Yeah, not really a big surprise. It’s not like it’s something DC ever does anything with even when they do acknowledge it, anyway.

  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason #2 of 5 (DC/Vertigo)
  • Red Menace #3 of 6 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Avengers Assemble vol. 4 HC (Marvel)

    A few years ago, Marvel Comics published maybe the best run of the Avengers ever. Written by Kurt Busiek with art by George Perez (maybe his best work ever, too), it managed to combine good heroic adventure with a respect for characters and continuity and some of the best artwork in comics. It was fun, lavish, exciting, and thoughtful.

    This volume is part of that run, but unfortunately it’s the ugly stepchild of the set. See, Perez left the book after an impressive three-year run, and was followed by an awkward half-year of crossovers and fill-in artists.

    This volume includes the three-issue crossover mini-series Maximum Security, written by Busiek and drawn by Jerry Ordway. It’s not a very good story, and although I’m a long-time Ordway fan, this is not his most inspired work. (For better Ordway material, try Red Menace, above.) The premise is amusing: The alien community in the galaxy gets so tired of humans meddling in their affairs that they quarantine Earth and start using it as a penal colony. Unfortunately it’s got the tired old “It’s all a scheme by some old enemies” kicker and doesn’t rise above the level of workmanlike.

    Steve Epting is a very competent artist who followed Perez (following a one-issue Security tie-in by John Romita Jr.), but I don’t think his style fit the Avengers very well, being very dark and realistic. He’s followed by Alan Davis, who became the regular artist for a while. I like Davis’ work a lot too, and although he’s no Perez, he was a fine substitute. Unfortunately, his first story involved a town in Greece being transformed into a town of Hulks, which mostly leads to a lot of fighting and the amusement of seeing the words “Hulk smash!” in Greek (at least, that’s what I assume “Hoolk Dialysei” means).

    The volume ends with a pair of forgettable specials, one featuring the Hellcat, the other featuring the return of Ultron (again?).

    So, not a great collection. However, volume 5 should feature the end of Busiek’s run, with his epic “Kang Dynasty” story, and that is worth the price of admission. So my completist little heart doesn’t mind picking up this one.

  • Castle Waiting #4 (Fantagraphics)
  • Liberty Meadows: Cold, Cold Heart vol. 4 TPB (Image)

    Frank Cho first came to my attention when his university strip University Squared was collected some years ago. Well-drawn, irreeverent – if more than a little sophomoric – it was a nifty little package. Cho’s wacky humor and clean linework led to a daily newspaper strip, Liberty Meadows.

    Although it had a crushingly weak premise (wimpy Frank works at an animal sanctuary, pines after the sexy Brandy, and deals with the hijinks of the sanctuary’s residents), Cho’s twisted sense of humor and broad knowledge of pop culture was pretty amusing – for a while. But by the time this volume came around, things had gone horribly wrong: Cho was chafing at frequently being censored by his syndicate (and without the sense of humor about such things that, say, Scott Adams has), the wacky hijinks were becoming strained, and the strip was focusing on the romantic tensions among the humans. I think by this point Cho had ended the newspaper strip and was publishing new strips only in the comic book series (but I could be wrong). Spending more pages here on Brandy’s somewhat evil roommate Jen was sort of like Berke Breathed introducing Bill the Cat in Bloom County: It was when the strip jumped the shark.

    Cho has moved on to doing comics at Marvel, but it always seems to me like he’s mainly interested in drawing buxom babes. Now, this is virtually a tradition in superhero comics at this point, but I find it terribly difficult to take Cho’s art seriously at this point. Most of his female characters seem to have the same faces with different hairstyles, and as for drawing men, well, there’s this.

    Cho’s a hugely talented artist, and I guess I shouldn’t hold it against him that what he values in his career is not at all what I value in what I read. But it seems like a tremendous waste to me.

    Anyway. If you’re a big Cho fan, here you go. If you’re not, well, I’d suggest starting with the first volume and see what you think.

Doctor Who, Season Two

We finished watching the second season of the new Doctor Who series. As I did for the first season, here’s my ranking of the episodes, from best to worst:

  • School Reunion
  • The Girl in the Fireplace
  • Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
  • Tooth and Claw
  • Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
  • The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
  • New Earth
  • The Christmas Invasion (technially part of season one, but I saw it as part of season two)
  • The Idiot’s Lantern
  • Fear Her
  • Love & Monsters

Overall I was disappointed with this season, especially in comparison with the first season. There were several episodes which I thought were really quite poor (the last three in the list), and most that were either pretty shaky (“The Christmas Invasion” had some cute moments, but didn’t make a lot of sense) or seemed just rather routine (“Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel”). Fundamentally, I think the problem is that the stories strive to be creepy or suspenseful without having a solid plot. It’s situation-based plotting: “How can we get to the point that our heroes are about to be killed by a Christmas tree?”, or “How can we have people actually be sucked into a television set?”

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor: I think he’s fine, although I don’t think he’s nearly as good as Christopher Eccleston was as the Ninth Doctor. Eccleston really grabbed the role and made it his own: Different from his predecessors, with his own visual look, and convincingly coping with PTSD following the Time War. I don’t think Tennant comes out looking as good, and his manias and eccentricities remind me of both the Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy Doctors. Of course, it could just be that the writing wasn’t as good, and so the lead character didn’t feel as strong. Then again, Eccleston did have a really hard act to follow.

Okay, on to the episodes. Spoilers ahead:

As with “Dalek” in season one, “School Reunion” is the clear winner of the second season, and not just because it has Sarah Jane Smith in it (although she is my favorite companion of the original series). Although the emotional tension between the Doctor and Rose has never been a big seller of the series to me, retconning in Sarah’s crush on the Doctor, and her devastation when he abandoned her and never came back was just marvelous, and using her as a cautionary tale for Rose was equally clever. It’s an emotionally powerful story with a happy ending, as well as a treat for fans of the first series, to see Sarah Jane and K-9 again.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” is one of those stories whose plot doesn’t make a lot of sense (everything seems to work out just conveniently enough to hang a plot on), but it gets A’s for atmosphere and central tension: A woman in 18th century France has occasional visitations from the Doctor throughout her life, even as she is menaced by frightening-looking androids. Her attachment to the Doctor from these brief visits is very well drawn, and the episode as a whole has a wonderful sense of pyrrhic victory.

I was looking forward to the return of the Cybermen, but was kind of disappointed in it. The first two-parter (“Rise/Age”) was a decent adventure, but I was baffled by why the whole parallel-world angle needed to be introduced, since the Cybermen were a part of established continuity for the Doctor. The season-ender (“Army/Doomsday”) explained it: It was a convenient way to write out the whole supporting cast, and, I admit, a rather clever way. Plus it gave us the added bonus of answering the old question of what would happen if the Cybermen ever faced the Daleks (answer: The Daleks are seriously badass). And I admit that the appearance of thousands of Cybermen at the end of “Army” was very chilling.

(But: Raise your hands if you thought that the Genesis Ark would open and the Master would step out. I did!)

The other two-parter (“Planet/Satan Pit”) started off really strong (“What the heck is going on here?”), then kind of petered out (“Oh, it’s a Really Big Monster story and an excuse for the Doctor to pontificate to himself”). While I appreciate the effort to recapture some of the Tom Baker-era horror sensibilities (this one reminded me of “Planet of Evil”), I think bringing the devil into it and having the plot hinge on the Doctor making not one but two leaps of faith really undercuts the story. (And you know when I’m comparing you unfavorably to “Planet of Evil” that you’ve got some problems.)

In-between all these big productions, “Tooth and Claw” was a pretty good monster episode in Victorian England, with some terrific dialogue and an interesting teaser for the season’s running theme of the Torchwood Institute.

Speaking of Torchwood, I was troubled by how it was presented: Given that it was set up in answer to the Doctor, is ostensibly opposed to alien activity on Earth, and is over a hundred years old, it seems to clash rather badly with the presence of the Doctor-friendly organization UNIT in Doctor Who continuity.

The rest of the stories I thought were either unremarkable, or poor. I would like to say that I appreciated the spirit of what they were trying to do in “Love & Monsters” – not entirely unlike the Doctor Who novel Who Killed Kennedy in its portrayal of how the Doctor is perceived from outside his own adventures. I found the sitcom-like set-up of the story to be extremely bland, and the narrator, Elton, to be too goofy to be likeable. And the kicker at the end to be downright nauseating. A promising idea, but the story really went wrong at every turn, and it was the sort of story which was going to be a delicate balancing act from the get-go. Yick.

I was pleased with the handling of writing out Rose, although it’s sad that her Mum gets to have a happy ending and she doesn’t. (Although, if there is another Doctor in that parallel world…) I didn’t think the series really relied on the romantic tension between the Doctor and Rose, and I was glad it rarely became more than a vague undercurrent.

So all in all, the season felt like a step backwards. Ultimately, I think the problem was with the writing: Some uninspired or ridiculous stories, and not enough attention to premises that made sense. I also admit I’m eager to see the Doctor spend a little time away from Earth (only two stories in the season fit that bill). Here’s hoping season three will be better!

The Creeping Crud

Last night Debbi took me out for dinner at Don Giovanni’s, for a yummy meal. Unfortunately, as we were sitting there I said, “I think I’m coming down with something.” “Something” laid me low and we went to bed before 9:30. Overnight I developed a sore throat, too.

Usually when I get sick it happens just on a day when I really can’t take a day off from work for some reason or other. This time, happily, is different, so I’m home sick today. I slept nearly 12 hours, so I really needed it, and I’m just curled up on the couch this morning.

The cold snap seems to have broken last night, with some rain moving in, but it’s still pretty chilly out. My illness probably makes me a little more sensitive to it. But, I’ve just made some tea, and I’m getting a rotation of cats lying with me on the couch, so it’ll be okay.

I’m hoping I feel better by tonight.

Thirty-Eight

If it’s January 16, then I must be another year older! I turn 38 today, which is probably more amazing to only my parents than it is to me!

20 years ago I was mid-way through my senior year of high school. 16 years ago today the US launched Operation Desert Storm, thus making me profoundly worried that we’d institute a draft and I’d end up in the armed forces (it’s hard to imagine a career with which I’d be less well matched). 8 years ago I was more-or-less on the path to coming to California to work at Apple. Did I expect to still be there 8 years later? I probably didn’t think about it that way at the time.

This year seems to be off to a good start: I’ve been feeling generally upbeat and in an unusually silly range of moods (even for me). I must be feeling pretty comfortable with where my life is these days, and what I’m doing with it. You can’t put a price tag on that!

This Week’s Haul

Okay, at this point this is last week’s haul, but I’ve been a little busy!

I think Graeme McMillan’s review of JSA #2 (scroll down a bit on the other side of the link to find it) says everything I could say about it, and more succinctly.

I’m only halfway through the second Manhunter volume, which is (or at least starts with) one extended story. It’s pretty good, better than the first volume. The characterization is still not too deep, but the book as a whole is feeling more fully-realized.

I mentioned Jack Staff last week in connection with Paul Grist’s other series, Kane. Thumbing through this one again, I notice just how disconnected so much of the story is: Threads which seem barely connected, extremely nonlinear storytelling, etc. While I enjoy Grist’s sense of humor, I wish he could streamline his storytelling somewhat. Characterization really suffers, and it becomes difficult to care about all the little plot threads.

I think the fundamental problem with Jack Staff, though, is that its lead character is a World War II superhero (who resembles Marvel’s Union Jack). He’s very long-lived, his secret identity is a general contractor, and his motives and personality are really basically unknown. I keep expecting all of this backstory to go somewhere, but it never really does. I think that’s what makes Kane the better series: Despite being similarly disjointed, Kane is haunted by his past, and it colors everything he does in the present, and therefore despite all the side issues, it works as a portrait of a man trying to overcome the demons of his past (made all the harder by the fact that he feels his actions were justified, even if others don’t). Jack Staff is just this quirky enigma of a superhero.

Either that or I’m really missing something. (If it’s just supposed to be a loving tribute to some old British comic book characters then, well, shrug.)

A Little Party

Saturday night I threw my almost-annual birthday party (which means every few years I don’t have the energy and I don’t throw one). I get later and later each year with sending out invitations, and this year I didn’t send them until last Monday. This means a lot of people already have plans, but on the other hand the holidays leave me not too movitated to plan until after New Year’s.

Anyway, we had a small group this year, but it was a lot of fun anyway. Debbi and I spent most of Saturday shopping and cleaning the house. As usual, I bought cakes from The Prolific Oven.

The crowd this year included:

  • Me and Debbi
  • Josh
  • Susan and Subrata
  • Chad
  • James

(Several people didn’t view the Evite I sent out, making me wonder if it ended up in their junk mailboxes. Oh, well!)

Josh showed up first, and handed me a bag and said “This isn’t exactly a present for you…”, and I looked inside and it was a pair of cat toys: One a catnip sock and the other a cigar-sized potent catnip toy. We put the sock on the living room floor, and all the cats took turns licking it, grabbing it, rat-kicking it, and dragging it around. It’s their new favorite toy! They’re surprisingly egalitarian about it, taking turns with playing with it. Even Jefferson, who is not the most active cat in the world, enjoys rolling around with it! (It interacts well with the cat tunnel Mom gave us, as it gives them a target when running through the tunnel.)_

We haven’t left the cigar out much yet, since we don’t want to overload their poor little brains without supervision!

Chad gave me a Thumb Thing, which actually looks like it will be really useful for reading my mass market paperbacks.

We had a fun evening chatting, and then playing Apples to Apples, which Debbi gave me for Christmas. There’s a game that’s guaranteed to get a lot of laughs during a party!

I gave James one of my copies of Jack McDevitt’s novel A Talent for War, which is one of my favorite books. I own several copies because it had not been reprinted until last year, so I had horded a couple of the paperbacks. Even that was rendered kind of moot when I happened on a copy of the U.K. hardcover edition (geek geek). But I was happy to give it to him, especially since he’d already read and enjoyed its nominal sequels, Polaris and Seeker, and Talent is much better than either of those!

The cake always goes over well, but this year we decided – through happenstance, really, since drove past it while prepping for the party – to get ice cream from Rick’s Rather Rich Ice Cream – and it went over amazingly well. Several people got that “I’ll have to go check them out” gleam in their eye while eating the ice cream (which was just plain ol’ chocolate chip!), and Debbi gave me a hard time for only buying one quart for the party (she’d been pushing for two quarts). So that ought to push a little more business their way. CJ and David introduced me to Rick’s back when I first moved here, and then I forgot where it was until I passed it a few years later.

The fringe benefit of throwing a party is that now our house is cleaner than it’s been in months!

I really, really need to try to throw a party or two this year during the warmer months. Especially since several of my best friends (including Subrata) are allergic to cats, so being able to congregate on the patio would let them stay longer.

But as always it was a lot of fun to have this one, and it was worth all the effort!