Bittersweet Halloween

Every year we buy candy and put out some candles in red-colored holders for Halloween. Traditionally we get hardly any kids, which bums Debbi out because she loves seeing little kids in costume. We don’t get many because we’re on the edge of Apartment Central, on the wrong side of a major street from the rest of the residential area.

This year, though, we hit the motherlode, and went through most of our candy. Many groups of young kids were coming by as late as 7:30. I think it’s because Daylight Savings Time got moved back a week, so the sun didn’t set until 6:30. So it made Debbi’s day.

Unfortunately, I went upstairs to go to the bathroom, and happened to wander into the front room in time to see a trio of teenagers making off with two of my candleholders. I ran downstairs and put on my sandals and ran after them, but by the time I got there there were no candles in sight, and they didn’t know anything about it. So either I caught up to the wrong kids, or they got rid of them (or stashed them in their bags) and played dumb. My bet is the latter, but there’s no way to be sure. I looked around briefly with a flashlight to see if they threw them aside, but no luck.

I’ve always been aware that Halloween is also a night of teenagers (and some adults) playing pranks and generally misbehaving (a friend of mine and I nearly got mugged 20 years ago walking out on Halloween night, and I’ve also been hit with an egg once), so I knew there was a chance I’d lose the candles someday. Honestly, after 5 years I’m surprised this is the first time. But it’s still a bummer that people act this way. Oh well.

We also had a couple of men in a truck loitering around. They parked down the street, drove away, then came back and walked around. Debbi and I each talked to them, and it sounds like they were looking for an apartment complex, and had a number and a complex name, but not the street name. The number suggested that they wanted to be looking on the cross street (our street’s numbers don’t go up that high), so I directed them that way. I’ll never know whether I actually helped them, though. But hopefully they were just lost and that I helped them find their destination.

I don’t have many good memories of Halloween, but I like the idea enough that I keep trying.

Earthquake Time

Tonight we had a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in east San Jose. It was felt throughout the valley, although not by me, since I was running around on a frisbee field at the time.

Debbi says it spooked the cats quite a bit, and herself a little too. Subrata‘s wife Susan says a few things fell off at their house.

Fortunately there seems to have been only minor damage from the strongest Bay Area quake since 1989. Cell phone voice service was out for us for a while, but data still worked, so I sent Debbi and Susan text messages that we were fine. I bet some hidden damage will be found over the next few days, but it looks like we got away with one this time.

Anyway, if you were wondering, we’re okay here.

Just Ignore the Author Behind the Curtain

J.K. Rowling says that Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series is gay.

I hate it when an author makes statements like this about their story after the fact, and I’ve learned through experience to simply ignore them, unless I happen to be specifically interested in the author’s writing process (which, in the case of Harry Potter, I’m not). My feeling is that if a fact didn’t matter enough to actually make it into the book, then it ain’t so. That doesn’t mean that it ain’t not so, either. But once the story is finished and distributed, the author doesn’t get to fiat it into existence.

(In Rowling’s case, I also wonder why she bothers to bring it up now. Cynically, I suspect it’s just to keep her name in the news, now that Harry Potter Mania is fading.)

John Scalzi weighs in on the subject:

Do these facts mean that Dumbledore’s sexuality is unimportant to who the character is? Absolutely not. The moment Rowling said (or discovered, however you want to put it) that Dumbledore was gay, it made a difference in how she perceived him and how she wrote him. The only way Rowling’s statement of Dumbledore’s sexuality would be irrelevant or should be ignored by the reader (should they hear of the fact at all) is if there were proof that Rowling was tacking on the sexuality of Dumbledore after the fact of the writing, i.e., that Rowling had no conception of Dumbledore’s sexuality through all the books, and then is throwing the “dude, he’s gay” statement out there now just for kicks.

I’m in agreement with John on many things, but I think he’s got this one exactly wrong. I think his error is in confusing the story with the author; while the two are clearly linked, they’re not the same thing. Once the author has finished the story, it becomes a thing unto itself, experienced completely independently of further input from the author. In effect, once the story is finished, the author becomes just another reader of the story, her opinion no more important than that of any other reader for the purposes of interpreting and experiencing the story. Anything she left out of the story is not part of the story, even if it factored into how she wrote it. If it was left out, and it can’t be reasonably deduced from the text, then it’s not part of the story, and in this case, not part of the character.

Essentially (and I know I’m not the first one to say this), once the story is finished, it’s no longer the author’s story, it’s the reader’s story. I mean this in the experiential sense, not the legal sense, of course: The reader doesn’t own the story, but they do own their experience of reading the story, and their interpretation of the story, and I think it’s entirely fair to base that entirely on the story, and completely disregard elements which are not in the text.

I think part of the point of fiction is that it’s an experiential and interpretive thing. Having the author come down from on high and state “this is so” when it’s not even in the story undermines that part of the experience, and cuts out the possibility of interpretation.

John also says:

Going back to Rothstein, the best you can say for his argument is that it notes that Dumbledore doesn’t have to be gay for many of the influential events of his life to have had an effect on him. To which the correct response is to say, yes, well. And this would be different from the lives of actual gay people exactly how? We go through any number of events in our lives without our sexuality front and center — it would make sense an author would model a character similarly. But it doesn’t mean that at the end of the day that sexuality doesn’t matter to who the character is.

The crux of the issue is this: If you can’t perceive that the character is gay, then does it matter to you whether the character is gay? John thinks so, I don’t. It’s a matter of perception, because reading fiction is entirely a matter of perception. But once a story is finished, that something else went on behind the scenes, that the writer intended something which didn’t come through in the story, means that those elements actually don’t matter. Because if they did matter, then they’d be present in the story.

Which means that I’ll believe John Perry is allergic to blueberries when it shows up in one of Scalzi’s novels, and not before.

I don’t really care whether or not Dumbledore was gay, but having read the books, I see no strong reason to believe one way or the other. Unlike Ceej, who has some smart things to say about the whole brouhaha, I don’t think the Grindelwald stuff is compelling evidence.

Your mileage may vary, but the important thing is that it’s your mileage, not J.K. Rowling’s.

The Red Sox’ Coming Out Party

The really fun thing about the World Series for me was watching the Red Sox’ young players have their own “coming out party”. While the veterans on the club (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) all had fine series, the younger players were equally impressive:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (CF, rookie, age 23) went from playing in AA to hitting 438/500/688 in the World Series, with 4 doubles and a stolen base. It would be a stretch to say that he won Game 3 all by himself, but he was certainly the highlight of the game.
  • Dustin Pedroia (2B, rookie, age 23) hit 278/350/500 with a double and a home run. The potential 2007 Rookie of the Year was even better in the ALCS.
  • Kevin Youkilis (1B, age 28) actually was a rookie back in 2004, but didn’t play in the 2004 World Series. He only batted 222/417/444 in the World Series and missed out on most of the games in Colorado because of the lack of a DH, but he was a total monster in the ALCS, batting 500/576/929 (!) with 3 (!!!) home runs. He also went the whole 2007 regular season without committing an error (and then committed 3 in the playoffs). He’ll probably never be a star, but he’s put to rest speculation that the “Greek God of Walks” wouldn’t be very valuable because of a lack of power. He might have a better career than John Kruk did, even if he is already 28.
  • Jon Lester (SP, age 23) came all the way back from chemotherapy for cancer to pitch 5.2 shutout innings and become the winning pitcher in the series clincher. He’ll likely be the Red Sox’ 4th or 5th starter next year, assuming either or both of Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield head elsewhere.
  • Jonathan Papelbon (RP, age 26) didn’t allow a run in the Series and saved 3 games.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, rookie, age 26) isn’t a true rookie, as he was a big free agent pickup from Japan last off-season, but he was nearly the Sox’ “forgotten star” as he faded down the stretch, possibly because he threw more innings in 2007 than he ever had in Japan and just got tired. But he picked up his game in the ALCS and World Series, throwing two good games and getting a key base hit in Game 3 of the World Series. Japanese players often seem to do better in their second year in the Majors, so I fully expect Matsuzaka will be better next year than he was this year. Other than fatigue, I think there’s nothing to worry about here.

I love seeing young players do well, and it’s additionally encouraging that the Sox have a solid core of young players to build around for the next 2-3 years (if not longer). This doesn’t even count other “under-30-somethings” on the roster, like Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Manny Delcarmen.

The Red Sox’ future is already here, and it just won a World Series.

Champions Again!

Amazing – the Red Sox have won the World Series again!

It seems like only yesterday that they won for the first time in my lifetime. They went into a rebuilding phase after that, so I didn’t imagine they’d win it all again so soon, yet here they are on top of the heap once more!


Heading into the playoffs I thought either the Red Sox or Indians would go to the World Series, and probably steamroller the NL champion, and I was right as the Sox swept the Rockies, winning two blowouts and two one-run games. Mike Lowell won the MVP award, although there was plenty of credit to go around: Nearly every Sox hitter had a great Series, and some were simply insanely great.

Truth to tell, it was a pretty boring postseason: Only 5 of 7 series were sweeps, and only 1 went the distance, as the Sox overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Indians in the ALCS in what was a pretty good series, but the Indians’ pitching collapsed in the last three games.

What really made the Sox’ team click this month? Well, I think the Sox managed to rest their tired and injured players in September and fielded a healthy team which was hitting on all cylinders in the playoffs: David Ortiz’ bad knee didn’t hinder him, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima got some rest and were good enough to help (Okajima faded in the Series, though), and even Jon Lester pitched a great game tonight in the clincher. With a strong pitching staff and an overpowering offense, only Cleveland really had a team which could stand up to them.

So I guess the Sox are now the new Evil Empire, having won more championships in this century than any other team (a mark they also held in the 20th century until 1937 when the Yankees passed them). And despite Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell heading to free agency, they still seem well-positioned to contend for several more years, with plenty of young talent on the roster. And they have the financial resources to take big risks on big free agents without compromising the core of the team – a luxury few other teams can afford.

So it’s a nifty end to a nifty season. It feels a little anticlimactic because the Sox have been a leading contender since April, and only the Yankees’ late-season run at the division title and the ALCS really added much drama. Still, it’s nice to come out and win as favorites rather than as long-suffering underdogs. It made this a championship to enjoy rather than claw our eyes out in anticipation (as 2004 was at times).

Looking forward to next year!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 24 October 2007.

Somehow I’ve failed to post a single entry since last week’s comics reviews. I’ve gotta get it in gear!

  • Countdown #27 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Fables #66, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Wraith #4 of 4, by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Holz (Marvel)
  • Avengers Assemble HC vol 5 by Kurt Busiek, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis, Keiron Dwyer, Brent Anderson, Patrick Zircher, Yanick Paquette & others (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 83 HC, collecting Strange Tales #135-153, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Severin, Don Heck, Jim Steranko & others (Marvel)
  • What If? Featuring Planet Hulk #1, by Greg Pak, Leonard Kirk, Rafa Sandoval, Gary Erskine & Fred Hembeck (Marvel)
  It’s too easy to keep piling the criticism onto Countdown, but I will make the following observation: Paul Dini‘s track record as a comics writer isn’t too great. His tabloid-sized graphic novels with Alex Ross were pretty weak (Superman: Peace on Earth was probably the best), and apparently his other current series, Madame Mirage isn’t too great either – The Invincible Super-Blog makes this point concisely. Does this make Dini’s best comic work Jingle Belle? Erk.
Avengers Assemble vol 5 HC Avengers Assemble volume 5 finishes off Kurt Busiek’s run on The Avengers from a few years back. It’s surely one of the best runs the long-running series has ever seen (though I think Roy Thomas’ run in the late 60s edges it out). What made it work was that Busiek was able to work with the characters and develop them, and he also had a fundamental respect for what made the Avengers feel like they did at their best. Within this framework he told some terrific stories and had a run of excellent artists, lead of course by George Pérez, but the artists here are also quite good. Basically he successfully updated the team for 21st-century sensibilities without destroying what made it fun. Contrast with Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title, which has been, well, destructive and depressing.

Anyway, the centerpiece of this volume is a long story in which Kang the Conquerer comes back to conquer the 21st century. While you might say “What, again?!?”, like the earlier confrontation with Ultron, Busiek takes Kang to the next level: He uses his time-travelling ability to outwit the people of Earth and set them against each other, and manages to bring the planet to its knees. There are some lovely character moments in the series, including the resolution of several long-running plot threads involving Triathlon and Goliath, complete with a fairly brutal depiction of what a world war against (effectively) an alien invader might to do the planet, somehow all without getting too depressing. It’s a classic adventure yarn, which means it’s fun to read, suggesting the darker elements rather than getting bogged down in them.

It wraps up with a short story titled “Lo, There Shall Come… An Accounting!”, which is both an amusing glimpse behind-the-scenes of how the Avengers do their jobs, and a nifty little way for Busiek to bring his run to a definitive close.

Every fan of mainstream superhero comics should read these stories, because this sort of thing has rarely been done any better, by anyone.

Marvel Masterworks vol 83: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Speaking of reprints, I’m delighted to see Nick Fury getting the Marvel Masterworks treatment. The Steranko stuff was reprinted in paperback a few years ago, but it’s good enough that I’d like to own it in hardcover. This volume starts at the beginning of Fury’s run, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used the character as their own super-spy, back when super-spies were the hot thing.

S.H.I.E.L.D. was an international law-enforcement agency (although it was always portrayed as a U.S. agency) of which Fury becomes director. Fury is a no-nonsense World War II veteran with an eye patch who bring a certain rough-and-tumble attitude to the stiff-necked agency, with lots of high technology bridging the gap between them. Lee and Kirby of course play it for action and play up the gizmos, while Steranko – when he came on board – both emphasized the spy element, and used it as a venue to deploy his cinematic approach to storytelling, something which was as revolutionary at the time as Neil Adams’ commercial art sensibility was. This volume has a lot more of the former than the latter, but hopefully they’ll do a second volume. In any event, if you’re a fan of Lee/Kirby Marvel, then this one’s for you, True Believer!

What If? Featuring Planet Hulk Planet Hulk gets the What If? treatment, in an issue with a trio of stories written by regular HulkWorld War Hulk. In the second, the Hulk ends up on the peaceful planet he’d originally been sent to, resulting in a continuation of the Hulk/Banner conflict without anyone else around to bother. The third is a one-pager in which Bruce Banner lands on Sakaar instead of the Hulk, with predictable results, played for yuks with art by Fred Hembeck.

It’s not a bad issue, and all three artists are quite good, but I was disappointed that it was so predictable. Either Pak was phoning it in, or else this was an issue mandated by editorial, with all the imagination we should expect from such a thing.

In addition to the usual haul, Lee’s Comics had their annual Black October sale. These days I don’t have a lot I’m looking for that I can’t just get through my usual store, Comics Conspiracy, but I still like to go by nearby sales to check them out. It turns out I was pretty lucky at this one:

  I was pretty happy to pick up this issue of X-Men at a very reasonable price. It falls short of pristine, it’s still bright and shiny and in great condition. It’s a piece of my childhood that I’m happy to have on my bookshelf, even if it has been reprinted several times.
Rex Mundi: The Lost Kings vol 3 Rex Mundi seems to be getting a positive review every time I turn around. In the introduction to this volume, J.H. Williams III (who is an excellent artist, BTW) writes: “I feel when all is said and done this series will be looked upon by future readers as one of the more truly important pieces of comics work to make it to the published arena.”

It’s a pretty good book, but it’s not that good. It’s a fairly convoluted and slow-moving conspiracy story in an alternate 1933 in which the Protestant Reformation failed and Catholicism prevails in Europe. France is a world power and is bidding to become more of one. Our hero, Master Physician Julien Sauniére, uncovers a secret society and starts to peel back the layers of a two-thousand-year-old secret involving Jesus Christ and the lineage of the Kings of France. Characterization is not very strong, and it’s often difficult to work up the enthusiasm to follow the twists and turns of the conspiracies and secrets being revealed. And there’s rarely any substantial threat to the lives and well-being of the characters, so there’s rarely much urgency in the story. Just a lot of ambling around learning things. So it’s not a bad series, but I don’t think it’s a terrific adventure story, nor does it (so far) have anything profound to say about the human condition.

That said, it is a pretty good historical conspiracy story, so if that kind of thing is your cup of tea, I certainly recommend it.

This particular volume is a transition between the first artist (EricJ) and the current artist (Ferreyra). Ironically, I think the interim artist (Di Bartolo) is better than either of them, having the polish of Ferreyra while showing a wider range of expression than either of them. Funny that.

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game vol 2 HC The last issue of this second series of Scarlet Traces came out when I started reviewing comics weekly in this space, and I’d very much enjoyed the first series. This one isn’t quite as good, but it’s still enjoyable.

The premise is that after humans defeated the Martians in The War of The Worlds, we appropriated their technology and substantially ramped up our own. By “we” I mean “Britain”, which became the dominant world power, and in 1898 took the war to Mars. 40 years later, when this series opens, the war has not been going well, and photojournalist Charlotte Hemming embarks on a quest to find out exactly what’s going on. Backed by quirky-and-inventive artwork by D’Israeli, Edginton’s script evokes Alan Moore’s second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while telling a more focused story, and one with more than a little relationship to America’s current adventures in Iraq. It moves right along and has a satisfying ending.

I’m hoping there will be more Scarlet Traces in the future, as it feels like there’s plenty of space for further extrapolation. Time will tell.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 17 October 2007.

Wow, was this a big week:

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #57, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #7 by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek(DC)
  • Countdown #28 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #1 of 8 by Jim Starlin & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Ex Machina #31, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • SHAZAM: The Monster Society of Evil HC, by Jeff Smith (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 84 HC, collecting The Avengers #59-68, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan & Barry Smith (Marvel)
  • Primordia #1 of 3 by John R. Fultz & Roel Wielinga (Archaia)
  • The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite #2 of 6 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #11 by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Aquaman #57 So the latest Aquaman series comes to an end, with neither a whimper nor a bang. Both writers Kurt Busiek and Tad Williams took their sweet time developing the background of Arthur Curry, the new Aquaman, though at least Williams managed to tie up all the loose ends of previous writers in the series (although he left a few of his own). Although I was disappointed with Shawn McManus’ evolution of his art style as we saw in this series, it was overall enjoyable enough.

Aquaman has become something of a joke when talking about big-name superheroes. “Wow, he can swim and talk to fish, what a maroon!” “He can’t keep his own series, why does anyone bother?” “Okay, he was decent when Peter David and Grant Morrison were writing him, but otherwise he’s such a wuss!” And yet, DC keeps trying and trying with him, and his series actually last a pretty long time, as series go:

  • 4-issue mini-series by Neil Pozner and Craig Hamilton from 1986 is very well regarded.
  • 5-issue mini-series in 1989 paved the way for:
  • 13-issue series from 1991-1992. While this didn’t do so well, it wasn’t long before we got the:
  • 77-issue series from 1994-2000, which was first written by Peter David (this is when Aquaman lost his hand) and had an interesting denouement by Dan Jurgens and Steve Epting.
  • Finally, the current series launched in 2003 and lasted 57 issues with at least 4 distinct creative teams in 2 changes in direction.

A lot of characters would kill to have that amount of exposure over the last 20 years. So Aquaman might be something of a joke to some fans, but clearly there’s some market out there for him. I bet he’ll have his own series again before the decade is out.

The Brave and the Bold #7 Although I lovedlovedloved the first 6-issue story in The Brave and the Bold, issue #7 fell completely flat for me, and the main reason was the characterization: Power Girl came off as a complete clod, and seemed completely out-of-character. Power Girl to me is strong and assertive, yes, but she’s not head strong and mindlessly aggressive as Mark Waid portrays her here. While she’s willing – even happy – to punch things when punching is necessary, and she can get frustrated at times, she’s often entirely reasonable and quite thoughtful, none of which is in evidence here. Instead she’s played as a humorous contrast to Wonder Woman, for whom Waid plays up the peaceful, reasonable side as she tries to keep Power Girl from going off half-cocked. Neither heroine comes off well in this story.

And the story itself is a one-issue tale which ties in obliquely to the Book of Destiny from the first storyline, and since it’s a pretty lightweight adventure, the characterization missteps means it really doesn’t work at all. It has a few of Waid’s trademark neat ideas, but that’s truly too little, too late. It’s a big disappointment.

The Death of the New Gods #1 Once upon a time there was a comics artist named Jack Kirby who created some pretty amazing characters, stories and artwork at a little up-and-coming company called Marvel Comics. In the 1970s he found himself disagreeing with some of Marvel’s policies and directions so strongly that he left the company that had been built on the back of his labor and moved to DC Comics, the heavyweight in the industry at the time. There he was given practically carte blanche to create a bold new direction for DC, although he mostly had to work around the established characters to do so. Although I think his ride there was a lot bumpier than he’d hoped, he still created dozens of characters and a milieu often referred to as the Fourth World, a world of gods, demons, scientists, monsters, and men from the past, present and future.

Although I realize many people have a fondness for Kirby’s 70s work at DC – which was essentially his swan song as a major creative force in the industry – frankly I think it was pretty awful stuff. As an artist and designer, Kirby was well past his prime, and his art looked pretty comical compared to his heyday at Marvel. He handled the scripting duties for many of his books, a task for which he was especially poorly suited – his dialogue at its best seems stilted, and often it just seems ridiculous. But worst of all, all the characters are basically just dumb. Darkseid is about as generic a villain as exists in mainstream comics, of all the New Gods only Mister Miracle is at all interesting (and he’s saddled with that ridiculous red-yellow-and-green outfit), and the various ancillary creations (OMAC, Kamandi, Project Cadmus, etc.) were not much good, either, feeling dated soon after they appeared. (John Byrne is a fan of almost everything Kirby’s done and keeps reviving Kirby’s 70s creations. While his OMAC mini-series was excellent, his other such revivals have been dodgy at best, in my opinion. In particular the integral use of Darkseid and company in his Generations III series really crushed the life out of its story, I thought.)

All of which brings us to Jim Starlin’s Death of the New Gods, which is either an idea whose time has come, or one of the supreme pointless endeavors in DC history. Maybe both. The story spins out of Countdown (a bad start right there) in which at least one New God has died, and the carnage starts right quick in this first issue, with one of the major New Gods being taken down in the first cliffhanger (to the dismay and anger of some).

Starlin was one of the best writers around at one time; his Dreadstar series was one of the best comics of the 80s. But I think those days are long past, as I’m hard-pressed to think of a series he’s done in recent years which set the world (well, my world, anyway) on fire, especially when he’s playing with corporate characters rather than his own creations. Death of the New Gods starts off being more portentious than exciting, and though it will play out over 8 issues, the combination of irrelevant characters and a writer/artist who I think is no longer at the top of his game, as well as the tie-in with a weak maxi-series “event”, doesn’t bode well for it being much good, and the leisurely pace of the first issue doesn’t help, either.

SHAZAM!: The Monster Society of Evil Jeff Smith is the creator of one of the best independent comics of the 90s, Bone. His latest project is SHAZAM!: The Monster Society of Evil, a new take on the classic Captain Marvel character, starting with his origin and his first adventure. Smith is so earnest and bring so much energy to his work that the sheer enthusiasm behind the book makes it a joy to read, and as always his artwork is terrific.

The story does falter in places. For instance, Captain Marvel seems to be a separate person from Billy Batson, but he sometimes acts like he’s inexperienced, and it’s not clear what’s going on. Also, Sivana makes a valuable deduction, but there’s no sign of how he does it – arguably he got tipped off, but that’s pretty weak reasoning. And the plans of the Monster Society don’t really make a whole lot of sense – why do they have to wait so long, and meet such byzantine conditions, to do what they want? I guess Smith is just trying to evoke the sense of relative silliness of the original Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s, and it doesn’t stop the book from being fun, but it make it feel like less than it could have – and should have – been. Smith was much tighter with his plotting in Bone.

Still I enjoyed it. Mary Marvel is a riot, the Monster Society’s main threats are perfectly menacing, Sivana is his usual conniving, snivelling self, and in perhaps his best moment, Smith turns Mr. Talky Tawny – Captain Marvel’s tiger friend – into a character with dignity and some depth.

DC’s had a difficult time integrating Captain Marvel into their mainstream continuity, possibly because his happy-go-lucky world of bright colors and improbable characters just doesn’t mesh with the more serious characters and concerns of the DC universe. He feels more at home in his own milieu, and for that as much as anyway, we can thank Jeff Smith for giving him a place where he can be himself.

Comics I Didn’t Buy:

Apparently a new issue of Fables came out this week and I missed it. I’ll pick it up next week.

I passed on Marvel Zombies vol 2 #1 (Marvel, natch). The first series – written by the irrepressable Robert Kirkman – was amusing and surprisingly gory for a Marvel comic, but I think it pretty much explored everything worthwhile about this particular schtick. I might thumb through this series in the store, but I don’t want to spend money on it.

I also thumbed through the Capes vol 1: Punching the Clock TPB (Image), which is also written by Kirkman, with art by Mark Englert. This takes place in the Invincible universe, and it’s about a superhero company – heroes who, as the title says, punch a time clock and work regular hours. It seemed like a pretty lightweight story, with awkward dollops of sexual innuendo, but mainly I passed on it because Englert’s artwork just didn’t work for me. It reminded me a lot of Erik Larsen’s art, which is too cartoony and exaggerated for my tastes, only I don’t think Englert has Larsen’s sense of form or layout; everything looked very stiff.

It’s Rox vs. Sox!

Tonight the Red Sox completed their improbable comeback to win the ALCS, beating the Cleveland Indians 4 games to 3, after being down 3-1 a few days ago. I didn’t think they could do it, so color me amazed.

Now they’ll face the equally-improbable Colorado Rockies, who are going to their first World Series in team history, and who made it through an amazing winning streak to close the season before dumping the Phillies and Diamondbacks in two sweeps.

Go Sox!

(P.S.: If the Sox win the Series, they’ll have the most championships of any team in this century. That’s a distinction they held early in the last century, too, winning 5 of the first 15 World Series. The Yankees passed them when they won their sixth World Series in 1937.)

Welcome to the World, Isabella!

Yesterday we went to the hospital to visit our friends Lisa and Michel, since Lisa gave birth to a baby girl named Isabella! Isabella couldn’t wait, since she arrived about two weeks early – on the day that was supposed to be Lisa’s last day at work. (A friend of mine – who’s a mom herself – says that the last few days of waiting for the baby are the worst, so maybe this is all for the best.) Lisa’s tired (Isabella showed up not long after midnight), but she’s in good spirits.

That I can recall, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see a baby this tiny, less than a day old. (Well, I can always just walk into a maternity ward and look at the newborns, but that’s not what I mean.) She was pink and purple, she had a head of black hair, and her eyes were just barely open (she was sleepy and had just eaten), but her eyes tracked me as I moved side-to-side in front of her. She was perfectly happy just being held by her daddy.

I said to Isabella “Today really is the first day of the rest of your life!” And she didn’t start crying, so I guess she’s go a good sense of humor!

Competitive Success

The last two nights have been competitive ones. For those who don’t want all the cory details, suffice to say that Thuesday night we had out first ultimate frisbee game of the season, and it went really well! And then last night Subrata and I went to Superstars for Friday Night Magic, which also went surprisingly well for me.

For those who do want the gory details, read on…

Frisbee was one of the better first-nights-of-the-season I can recall having. Although I was not in top condition, I was not nearly as exhausted by the end of it as I’d expected, and I was still playing decent points as things were winding down. In the last game I even had a three-point run where I made a hard cut to catch a score, and two points later icked up a turnover and hucked it into the end zone for a score – very rare for me since my arm is mediocre and so I don’t huck much. Subrata and I also hooked up for a score in the first game, when I caught a turnover and saw him break in the end zone – he made a nice catch to grab it as it flew past the guy covering him.

I think we were lucky that the rain held off ’til Friday; it was actually a terrific night for frisbee. Next week is our team’s bye week, and then we’ll play every non-holiday week until the end of the year. (The spring half of the season’s schedule will be up around New Year’s, I assume.)

Magic featured a 10-person booster draft, and Subrata and I were in the same draft for a change. This was our first time drafting the new Lorwyn set, which has a tribal theme, which means in addition to the color divisions there are also “tribes” of creatures (goblins, merfolk, faerie, treefolk, elves, etc.) who span colors. So you can get additional synergy among your cards by having many cards from the same tribe, or from tribes which interact with one another. I’d done many single-player practice drafts of Lorwyn and felt ready to try the real thing.

Unfortunately, coming out of the draft I felt like I’d blown it completely: I ended up with a mix of blue/white/red with very little tribal interaction. I felt like the colors coming my way changed every 8 picks or so, and I had extended stretches towards the end where I was getting few-if-any cards in any of my three colors! So I worked to cobble together a deck, deciding to punt on white and going blue/red, mainly because that’s where most of my tricks and creature removal lay.

Things didn’t look much brighter after my first match, where I quickly lost the first two games (in best-of-three), and aso lost the consolation game, although I put up a good fight there.

For the second match I was up against Subrata, and to my surprise my deck suddenly came together, and I beat him 2 out of 3 games. The final match was against a regular at the store whom I’d played before, and again to my surprise I won two out of three, and the loss was by the slimmest of margins. So despite what I thought was a mishmash of a draft, I ended up with my best showing at a draft at this store to date!

I think I enjoy draft the best when learning a new set, since finding the emergent properties of some of the cards is a heck of a lot of fun. I’d reasoned out some of them in my practice drafts, but nothing beats actually playing with the cards. I think my deck’s best bit of interaction went like this:

  1. Played Flamekin Harbinger and searched my deck for my Changeling Berserker (which, being a Changeling, is also an Elemental).
  2. Championed the Flamekin Harbinger with the Changeling Berserker, removing the former from play.
  3. Played my Mistbound Clique, championing the Berserker (which counts as a Faerie since it’s a Changeling). This brings the Flamekin Harbinger back into play, so I get to search my library again, this time for Consuming Bonfire – an Elemental sorcery.
  4. Kill Subrata’s Changeling Hero with the Bonfire, since he’d just searched for it with his own Harbinger so I knew he was going to play it. He knew I had a way to kill it, but he had little choice at that point in the game, since I had a 4/4 flyer on the board.

(n.b.: Any game in which my opponent says “Damn you!” is a good game, regardless of whether I win or lose.)

Between our decks, Subrata and I both learned the value of Harbingers and Champions in Lorwyn. Green has two terrific harbingers: Elvish Harbinger also produces multicolored mana, and Treefolk Harbinger lets you search for Forests as well as some killer Treefolk, such as the Dauntless Dourbark that Subrata had, not to mention the Changeling Titan. (Happily, Changelings are also Treefolk, so Consuming Bonfire can take down the Titan easily enough.)

Subrata also noted (indirectly) that my deck had some nifty acceleration in it. The Inner-Flame Acolyte can target itself when it comes into play, meaning you get a 4/2 creature with Haste for 3 mana, making it highly desirable to make trades in the first two turns so the board is clear for it to thwack your opponent on turn 3. (I had two Acolytes, which was awesome.) And the Blades of Velis Vel can give two creatures +2/+0, which can work really well in trading small creatures for large creatures, or thwacking your opponent hard if he chooses not to block.

The other new mechanic in Lorwyn that I like is Clash. There are several good creatures in Lorwyn who are reasonably priced for their basic stats: I had two of them, an Adder-Staff Boggart which is 1R for a 2/1, and a Paperfin Rascal, which is 2U for a 2/2 – both perfectly reasonable. But when you play them, you Clash, which means the following occurs:

  1. You reveal the top card of your library, and have the choice of leaving it on top or putting it on the bottom. This is like doing a Scry 1, except that your opponent knows what the card was.
  2. Your opponent gets to do the same thing, which obviously isn’t good for you, but isn’t the worst thing.
  3. If you win the Clash, then your creature gets +1/+1, permanently. This means the creatures I had would be a 3/2 or a 3/3 respectively, for the same cost.

I was very lucky in winning my Clashes, I probably won 2/3ds of them, which helped make my desk faster. Clash is even niftier if you have what I think of as “Clash enhancers”, like Sylvan Echoes or Entangling Trap. Subrata had some of these enhancers, but fortunately they didn’t get into play early enough to hose me. Also fortunately, I didn’t play against someone with Hunter of Eyeblights, which would be death to such creatures.

(There’s some interesting stuff about the background of Clash here.)

I’m less impressed with the other major Lorwyn mechanic, Evoke. It’s sort of a “consolation prize” for a creature card if you don’t have the mana to play the creature, which is better than nothing at all, but it’s not usually a reason to draft a card. I don’t think I played a card with Evoke once during the night. It would be more useful if playing a card for its Evoke cost allowed you to play it as an Instant, but that’s not the case. Bummer. Contrast with the Champion mechanic where the “additional cost” of removing a creature to play the champion can actually be a useful bit of trickery rather than a penalty.

As for the other two Lorwyn mechanics, I think Hideaway is a neat idea, but the cards using it are of questionable value. Future cards might use it more effectively. On the other hand, the new Planeswalker card type is undoubtedly cool, as are all five of the Lorwyn Planeswalkers. Subrata drafted Jace Beleren, but fortunately I never saw him. (You can read pretty much everything you need to know about Planeswalkers here.)

So from first experience Lorwyn gets a big “thumbs up” from me. I still think I could have drafted better than I did, but I’m very happy that I fielded a competitive deck, even if I did sort of stumble into it. Next time maybe I’ll actually come out of the draft feeling like I have the building blocks of a solid deck. I still feel like I have some sort of mental block when drafting quality cards that work well together. If I ever figure out how to get past that, then I’ll be in a happy place.