Blog Maintenance

I’m upgrading FP to WordPress 2.3.1 from 2.2.1, which seems to have broken the category list in the left sidebar. Hopefully I can get it fixed up fairly soon. I also upgraded a bunch of the plugins. Everything else seems to be working properly as best I can tell. Let me know if you notice anything else that seems broken and I’ll take a look.

I’ll also probably move off the Atom 1.0 for WordPress plugin sometime soon, which means the feed might get spammed with some extra posts at some point (especially if you’re reading it through the LiveJournal syndication feed, since LJ seems to be remarkably stupid at figuring out that a post is just one it’s already syndicated with some minor edits). Hopefully it won’t be too bad, though.

Fun fun.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #5, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Infinite Crisis #20 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Howard Porter & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Fables #68, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Salvation Run #2 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #4 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #552, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Nova #9, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #13, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
Salvation Run #2 The weird thing about Salvation Run #2 is that it features almost none of the same characters who headlined issue #1, which is to say that the Flash’s rogues gallery is shoved to the side in favor of, first, a group of truly marginal villains trying to survive in the alien world to which they’ve been exiled, and second, the Joker and another heavyweight villain who arrives at the end of the issue.

Willingham goes all-out with the brutality here, with minor characters being gruesomely mauled, and showing that the Joker – whom you’d think wouldn’t be in a great position to survive on an alien jungle world inasmuch as he has no super-powers and mainly relies on lurking in the shadows – can adapt with the best of them even among this group of psychopaths. Unfortunately, as much as I like Sean Chen’s artwork, I don’t think he draw a great Joker, and this is especially brought home by Dan Jurgens’ rendition in Booster Gold this same week.

We also get to see what a bunch of bastards the current Suicide Squad are, which seems like a rather simplistic reading of John Ostrander’s nuanced portrayal in Suicide Squad, which also came out this week.

In other words, it seems like Willingham is phoning in the script for this one, as it relies mainly on being shocking and bloody and not much else. So – as the saying goes – if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you’ll like. Personally, I’m disappointed.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #4 When you’re Grant Morrison you can get away with outlandish things in the mainstream DC Universe, such as taking the brain of General Wade Eiling – one of the main supporting characters in the 80s series Captain Atom – and planting it in the body of the indestructible construct The Shaggy Man.

But when you’re John Ostrander, you can go Morrison one better and integrate this idea into your own series, which is what we see in Suicide Squad #4, as Amanda Waller assembles a new Squad and recruits Eiling into it, despite the risks he presents. He also reestablishes the relationship of two of the main characters from the original series, even though one of them is the son of the original one.

Ostrander actually reminds me a lot of Bill Willingham as a writer, in that both of them take very calculated approaches to plotting their stories, and both can be cold and brutal in presenting the ramifications of their characters’ actions. I think Ostrander at his best is a slightly better writer, though, because I think his skill at characterization is deeper: Even his villains have the redeeming or likeable or sympathetic points (unless Ostrander clearly doesn’t want them to, a trait he reserves for only a few characters). And Suicide Squad is Ostrander near his best. Not only does it make me hope this mini-series spawns a new ongoing series after it, it makes me want to pick up the first series and re-read it.

The artwork by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs is also excellent, although Pina doesn’t quite have the flair for facial expressions to make the art really shine. He handles the fantastic visuals and the action scene just fine, though, and you can’t always have everything. Also, Riggs is a much better inker for Pina than the inkers he had on Manhunter, with a much smoother line which enhances Pina’s elegant layouts.

This is a really good series, and I still have no idea what the last 4 issues will be about. But it’s so good despite its unorthodox set-up that I expect it will be terrific whatever it is.

Nova #9 Nova #9 concludes Nova’s adventure fighting zombies in the severed head of a Celestial beyond the edge of the universe – a premise made for Chris Sims. There’s a lot to like here: Wellington Alves might not be quite as good an artist as his predecessor, Sean Chen, but he’s not far off, and he seems to be influenced by Stuart Immonen’s style, which is also a good thing. And Nova uses the tools at his disposal to deal with the zombie threat in a clever manner, and he heads off on his next adventure with some new allies behind him, and an old thread following him.

Some elements of the issue left me scratching my head, though: The zombie battle ended with a lack of closure regarding the central threat or the alien heroes he took over. It felt conceptually messy a threat with little reason for being, and Nova at its best (especially the first three issues) has been heavy on exploring reason or the lack thereof for things the hero encounters.

The issue also ends with a sort of crossroads for the series’ direction: Nova is still infested by the Phalanx technovirus, as are some of his former allies. Knowhere seems like a handy location for Nova to try to recreate the Nova Corps (which were destroyed – other than our hero – in the first Annihilation series). 9 issues in, I think it’s time for the series to establish its direction, or risk being the directionless muddle that Ms. Marvel became.

To be fair, the Annihilation Conquest issues (#4-7) were basically a distraction from the overall series, so I’ll be patient and see if Abnett and Lanning get the series back on solid ground. But I usually expect that after a year a series will be delivering on its promise. Nova started with plenty of promise, and by that measure it has 3 issues to start delivering.

B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 I’m running out of interest in the B.P.R.D. series of mini-series. This latest series was a set-up to reveal something about one of the main characters, but all of the interesting stuff happened in the last issues. The first four issues could easily have been compressed into a single issue. And then this last issue has a dangling ending – which won’t be picked up in the next mini-series, since that one takes place in the 1940s. So we’ll have to wait ’til the middle of 2008 for more progress on the main story.

B.P.R.D. is a perfect example of “uncompressed” storytelling: It lingers over details, presumably to build up suspense (it is a horror title, after all), but mostly it just feels slow. And since it’s a series of mini-series, it’s rare that anything important to the central story gets resolved. And honestly the individual stories are not very memorable; they’ve started to all feel rather the same.

So why have I been buying it for so long? Well, I knew after the first couple of series that it was going to be a long-haul story, but without having any idea how long the haul would be, I figured I’d keep reading and see where it was going. But there’s no sign that it’ll come to a conclusion any time soon, and I’m running out of interest.

Hellboy started off with a big bang, and as a series of individual stories each of which was inventive and weighty-feeling on its own. But Mike Mignola’s horror franchise has ended up as a very even-tempered series of undistinguished series which feel increasingly undistinguished. I don’t know whether publishing so many issues so regularly has diluted Mignola’s energy and creativity, or if he’s just not as interested in series he’s not drawing himself. Or maybe Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have just run their course.

But at this point I’m mainly buying the franchise on inertia. I’ve certainly done this many times before with other series, but once I realize that I’m doing it, that’s usually a harbinger of the end of the line for me.

Baseball’s Goddamned Sideshow

Today saw the public release of Major League Baseball’s Mitchell Report, which everyone was looking forward to because it named names of players who have allegedly used performance enhancing drugs.

Until and unless some of these players are convicted of violating the law, I think this is all a big sideshow. I simply don’t believe that ownership and management in baseball didn’t know or at least strongly suspect what was going on, and I think their inability to enact drug testing until 2002 indicates that they didn’t really care. Consequently, I don’t think they have a moral leg to stand on, and so I see the Mitchell Report as nothing more than a witch-hunt, with no practical benefit to the well-being of the game.

Commissioner Bud Selig said that the Report “is a call to action, and I will act.”

Give it a rest, Bud. Every time you make a public appearance it seems like you suck a little more of the joy out of baseball. The time to commission this report was 1995 – or at the latest, before 1998, the year of McGwire and Sosa – and it’s far too late for this to look like anything else than an attempt at media spin.

Do I care whether players were using steroids over the last 12 years? Yeah, a little bit. I’d rather they hadn’t, but it’s clear that few people – if anyone – cared for most of that time, and that not many in baseball cared. That’s just the way the game was for many years (maybe many more years than we think). It’s not a perfect world. That didn’t make it less of a fun game.

Act to keep people from using these substances in the future, and punish them if they do, but this looking-backwards crap is just bullshit. It doesn’t make anything better, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Least of all the fans.

Humanity Evolving Rapidly

Contrary to previous theory, it appears that the rate of human evolution has increased over the last few thousand years (via the San Jose Mercury News):

Until recently, anthropologists believed evolutionary pressures on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the past few years, they realized the opposite was true – diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long period.

Natural selection has affected humanity in many ways since the species appeared. My favorite concrete example from the article:

Although children were able to drink milk, they typically developed lactose intolerance as they grew up. But after cattle and goats were domesticated in Europe and yaks and mares were domesticated in Asia, adults with a mutation that allowed them to digest milk had a nutritional advantage over those who didn’t. As a result, they were more likely to have healthy offspring, prompting the mutation to spread, [University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John] Hawks said.

Humans in certain parts of the world have evolved slightly differently due to local conditions, too. This is a tenet of natural selection which often seems to be ignored: If local conditions differ significantly in two regions over a long period of time, a species which exists in both regions will see its two populations diverge as the populations adapt to their local conditions. (This assumes the conditions don’t kill off the population in one region, and also that there’s not significant interbreeding between the populations.)

This is really neat. It’s also good news, because it indicates that the human species is still quite diverse. Why is that good? Because monocultures tend to be a bad thing for a species’ long-term survival, since it makes them more susceptible to individual contagious elements against which they have no defense (such a problem seen in bananas and Microsoft Windows).

The article indicates that the rate of human evolution has increased since we became “domesticated”:

In the past 5,000 to 10,000 years, as agriculture was able to support increasingly large societies, the rate of evolutionary change rose to more than 100 times historical levels, the study concluded.

I have my own idea to add to this: I suspect people have assumed that evolution slowed down because there we tamed many hostile environments, so there were fewer pressures exerting natural selection upon us. Instead, I think that civilization has made our environments more constant and consistent, meaning what pressures there are are more persistent, and so we evolve in more of a straight line due to those pressures, rather than meandering around due to conditions that change every few years (or decades, or centures). With less genetic confusion, what evolution that does occur can occur far more rapidly.

On another, related note, the common wisdom seems to be that language has tended to evolve more slowly since writing and writing became more widespread, since writing fixes spelling and grammar in the mind of the literate population. I don’t know if language is subject to something like natural selection, but there seem to be some parallels there, and this makes me wonder if we’ll find that (for example) English is also evolving more rapidly than we think, just in a more constant direction and a more systematic manner than it used to.

R.I.P. Anita Rowland

Sad news: Anita Rowland passed away today, after a long fight with cancer.

Anita started her journal a few months before I started mine, and we read each other and exchanged e-mails from time to time for several years. She was part of the second wave of web journals, like I was. We met at a few conventions, and though I didn’t know her well, I always think of her as friendly and smiling and helpful.

I hadn’t heard she’d been this sick, though arguably I hadn’t been paying attention. She hadn’t updated her journal in quite a while; I guess she’d migrated over to Twitter which isn’t my thing – her last post there was on December 1.

Lots of people who knew her better than I did thought she was terrific, and I know they thought so even before reading today’s memorial comments. I’m sorry she’s gone.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 5 December 2007.

Okay, last week’s haul. I’ve gotta stop being so busy on Thursdays-through-Sundays…

  • The Brave and the Bold: The Lords of Luck vol 1 HC, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #21 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Jamal Igle & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #11, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Ruy Jose & Drew Geraci (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest #2 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man vol 86 HC, collecting Amazing Spider-Man #78-87, by Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema & Jim Mooney (Marvel)
  • Invincible #47, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • Rex Mundi: Crown and Sword vol 4 TPB, by Arvid Nelson & Juan Ferreyra (Dark Horse)
  • Atomic Robo #3 of 6, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Joshua Ross (Red 5)
The Brave and the Bold vol 1: The Lords of Luck HC Although I’ve been down on the two most recent issues of The Brave and the Bold, the first 6-issue story arc was killer: Batman and Green Lantern in Las Vegas, Green Lantern, Supergirl and Lobo in space, the Book of Destiny, the Lords of Luck, the Fatal Five, and Batman outsmarting the whole Legion of Super-Heroes. And of course that gorgeous George Pérez artwork. Now you can own the whole story in a spiffy hardcover collection with a few pages of annotations by writer Mark Waid.

Or you can wait for the inevitable paperback edition. But I didn’t.

Rex Mundi vol 4: Crown and Sword TPB Rex Mundi seems to be coming together – at last – with this latest volume. Juan Ferreyra’s a good artist, although maybe not detail-oriented enough for my tastes (lots of panels relying more on coloring than linework for their backgrounds, for instance), but the range of facial expressions he draws is impressive. Mainly, though, Arvid Nelson’s story is finally really moving. To recap, the story takes place in an alternate Europe in 1933 in which the Protestant Revolution failed, and sorcery works. Our hero, Dr. Julien Saunière, is seeking the answers to a centuries-old mystery about the Catholic Church and the kings of France. With both the Church and the Duke Lorraine following his every move, he seems to be getting closer, even as the fecal matter hits the fan in the form of war breaking out across Europe. Nelson turns the Axis/Allies alliances on their heads, although the Axis in this setting bears little relationship to the one from our World War II.

So my interest has been revived in the story. I think it would wear a bit better if the story were more character-oriented, although if Nelson has a bang-up ending in mind for the overall story then it could be just fine. I tend to be rather cynical when it comes to ongoing comic books, since it seems like nothing ever gets resolved (I have this problem in spades with TV shows, too), and it’s hard to see the current story going on for more than 2 or 3 more volumes. Nelson could throw a wrench in the works and send the story off in some substantially different direction, but that would be odd since so far the story has tracked steadily in a single direction. But it could happen.

Atomic Robo #3 There’s something about Atomic Robo that I don’t get.

The problem might be that it’s just one of several books being published today with the general theme of “adventurers with nonhuman backgrounds who tackle scientific/supernatural threats”. The best-known of these is the burgeoning Hellboy franchise at Dark Horse, of course. But Burlyman’s Doc Frankenstein is right in there, as are The Perhapanauts and The Umbrella Academy. All of these books have more of a pulp-magazine adventure feel than a superhero feel, and the characters often act on their own or outside of the public eye. I think Hellboy is the most popular mainly because he predates the rest of the current generation by a decade or so (plus he’s been in a feature film).

But Atomic Robo doesn’t really stand out. It seems to focus on the outright mayhem part of the adventures more than the other titles, but that doesn’t leave a lot of room for characterization, and the plots are very simplistic.

Robo himself is a smartass, and a little melancholy about some elements in his past, but that’s about all I’ve gleaned about the long-lived protagonist of the series, who was constructed by Nikola Tesla in the early 20th century. The stories don’t have much of a period feel, and this issue – about a mobile pyramid threatening Egypt – takes place in the present day. (It also ends with a big explosion, so abruptly I wondered there were pages missing.) We’re getting very brief vignettes about Robo, but not much depth. I think the creators have greater plans for the character, but I don’t think they’ve led with their best foot forward in this mini-series.

Still, with three issues to go there’s still time for that to change.

Holiday at the Park

Our weekend hasn’t all been the glamour and excitement of steam-cleaning the carpets, although I did do the stairs today. No, instead last night we shlepped our way up to the city to go to AT&T Park (home of the Giants) for the Genentech holiday party, Genentech being Debbi’s employer.

We ended up leaving about 45 minutes later than usual, but we still got to the park 35 minutes early, which was even early enough to park at the optimal parking lot. We met up with a couple of Debbi’s friends, and in fact we were the first ones in line to get into the park.

Park Scoreboard

It was a pretty neat party: They’d set up an ice-skating rink and a little sledding hill on the field, along with a large dance floor. They had caricature artists and photo stations around, lots of food, and beyond the outfield bleachers some fire pits set up to making s’mores.

Field Panorama
(Click for larger image)

We indulged in several of these activities – with no lines since we’d gotten there so early – and especially enjoyed making s’mores. We also had a snowball fight when we got down to the field near the sledding hill. Plus, I got to enjoy some parts of the park that are usually covered in kids and have long lines when I go to a ballgame there. The cable car, for instance:

Hangin' on the Cable Car

Around 9:30 there were fireworks!


I also astonished Debbi (and a myself a little, too) by running into someone I knew at the party – a woman who used to come to my book discussion group. Seems I know a lot of people out in this little Bay Area place!

This was a novel event, making good use of the park’s space for something pretty neat in the temperate climate. I was a little disappointed in the food, which often seemed on the cold side, but otherwise it was a fun time. And a lot less crowded than I’d expected – although some lines got long, there was plenty of elbow room and even places to sit.

And Debbi was happy because she got to hang out with friends, and see snow and fireworks. It helped make up for not going to Disneyland for Christmas this year.


This weekend we’re doing something we should have done long ago, indeed should have been doing regularly since I moved into my house: Steam-cleaning the carpets.

I borrowed a Bissell 9200 ProHeat 2X from my friend James, set it to the “Heavy Traffic” setting and went to work on the bedroom shortly before noon. It works really well! Since it’s been years since the carpets got serious cleaning, I ran over it twice before putting it on the “Rinse” setting and doing it a third time, and at the end the carpet looked so much better than it did before. I did the upstairs hall afterwards, too.

It’s amazing how much cat hair and carpet fuzz I picked up with it – despite having vacuumed the carpets before using the cleaner. It also took me a little while to realize that the thing uses a lot of water and cleaning formula, though I bet it would use less if it weren’t set on Heavy Traffic. We used the whole bottle of formula that James gave us, so we went out and bought several more, since doing the living room and stairs is likely to take at least one full bottle. (Incidentally, the bottles were cheaper at Fry’s than they are at Amazon.) And we might give it all one more pass next weekend (did I mention the carpets haven’t been cleaned in six years?). And I know that it’s worth emptying out the waste-water and cleaning out all the fuzz whenever the clean water tank runs out during cleaning. It’s a little extra work, but everything runs a little smoother if I do that.

I always have a good feeling when finishing a project like this. Okay, I’m not quite finished, but I’ve done a lot of it, and I can see real results. And that’s case for happiness.

One Thing After Another

After getting back from our vacation I made an appointment with the eye doctor, figuring this would be the last of my appointments for the year. I went in on Tuesday morning and everything checked out fine, so that was easy.

The “last of my appointments” part, not so much. Debbi had noticed a little puddle of oil underneath where I park my car in the garage, and I confirmed that I have a small oil leak. So I’m taking my car in to get it fixed. Hopefully it’s just a leaky seal. Actually I’m not so worried about what it will cost, I just want them to be able to find and fix it. It’s worth some money to have some certainty that my car is working right.

I also talked to a neighbor about the termite inspection we had recently, and it sounds like we do have sights of termites around the building in the complex. Not really a surprise, since termites are a fact of life in the valley, but it’s something the homeowners association will have to deal with early next year. Again, it’s not so much the expense that bothers me, as the annoyance; if our building needs to be tented (and I assume it will) then we’ll need to clear some things out of the house, and find somewhere for both us and the cats to stay for a couple of days while it’s taken care of. Maybe we can find a hotel which allows cats, or maybe we’ll have to board them. Unfortunately most of our friends who don’t have allergies already have pets.

Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’m sure we can figure something out.

Meanwhile, we’re now in the holiday season, so I’m hoping after getting my car fixed I can focus on that and put other chores off until next year.

Fortunately, Jefferson seems to be recovered from his bowel problems of a couple of months ago. I’m still keeping an eye on him, but the symptoms seem to be nearly gone, and that’s a good thing.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 29 November 2007.

Ahh, finally all caught up.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #22 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #4 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam DeKraker (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #3 of 8, by Jim Starlin, Matt Banning & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #36, by Tony Bedard & Dennis Calero (DC)
  • Doc Frankenstein #6, by Andy and Larry Wachowski & Steve Skroce (Burlyman)
Supergirl_and_the_Legion_36.jpg Supergirl and the Legion #36 not only wraps up Bedard and Calero’s “bridge” run between Mark Waid’s run and Jim Shooter’s run (which starts next month), but also ends the “Supergirl” portion of the title, as she returns to the 21st century in this issue. It’s been a reasonably enjoyable run, but it feels like it ends with a whimper and not a bang, which is too bad. Still, I can understand clearing the decks for a new writer like this.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Shooter brings to the book in his return to both the title and to writing comics generally. On the other hand, I’m also interested in finding out what Cosmic Boy’s actually been up to given the tasty teaser that Mark Waid left us with, when Cos was apparently recruited by a team of heroes from the 41st century and went with them. While I couldn’t really fault Shooter if he shrugged off that story element because it didn’t interest him, I’d be even happier if it did interest him.

Doc Frankenstein #6 I don’t think an issue of Doc Frankenstein has come out since I started writing in this space – small presses often have trouble keeping on-schedule, so this isn’t really a big surprise. I’m an unusually patient reader when it comes to the small presses. Anyway, Doc Frankenstein is written by the Wachowski Brothers – the guys behind the film The Matrix – this began as a “high concept” comic in which Frankenstein’s monster survived into the present day and became a scientific and engineering genius with a large following, but one whose very existence is perceived as an atrocity by the church, which is constantly trying to destroy him.

It started off bright, but has gotten bogged down in the minutae of Frankenstein’s history, and this issue is perhaps the worst one yet, with an extensive and boring excursion into the history of Jesus Christ (I think it’s supposed to be funny and irreverent, but it’s not).

Steve Skroce is a really good artist – his style reminds me a lot of Bryan Talbot‘s – and some of his drawings here are very impressive, but he’s really wasted on this unfocused story, which also is squandering a fairly nifty idea (albeit one which was also plumbed – though not much more successfully – in Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers mini-series).