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Ringing Out The Old

I’d hoped to close out the year with a round-up of 2009, but instead I’ve been hammered by this cold, mainly making me dog-tired. Not the best way to end the year, although I’m trying not to complain too much since Debbi’s been struggling with this thing for almost two weeks (her doctor thinks she may have caught a second cold on top of her first one). It’d be better if I were just congested rather than so tired.

So we’ve had a quiet day at home, with an outing to take care of my friend Andrew’s cat, and to pick up pizza for dinner. I napped for a couple of hours, and I set up our Wii for Internet use, and Debbi was playing Mario Kart with her family back east when I woke up. We also watched Monsters vs. Aliens, which was okay, with a few good bits, but the plot and script were a bit too contrived and cliche (even allowing for the fact that it was playing with cliches). Still, a decent enough light movie.

I’m hoping to make it to midnight for the new year (which is the year 57 in trinary, in case you were wondering). We’ll see, though.

Kind of a blah way to end the year.

Holiday Break: The First Half

We’re a little more than halfway through our holiday break, so here’s what we’ve been up to:

The break has unfortunately been marred by Debbi’s illness, which she’s had for over a week, and which has progressed through the usual cold symptoms, but has taken forever to progress. After hearing her chest coughs yesterday, we finally decided that she should go see a doctor about it today. (I even hauled out our humidifier to see if damper air would help her cough less.) The doctor diagnosed it as just a cold, so there’s not a lot she can do except take it easy and take some cough medicine – and try not to overmedicate.

On the bright side, our friend Karen came down for the Christmas weekend. She usually heads east to visit her family over the holidays, but the price of air fare persuaded her otherwise, so instead we invited her down here. She flew in on Christmas Eve, which I had off but Debbi didn’t, so I picked her up from the airport and we went to Whole Foods to pick up the fixings for Christmas dinner, and lay in food for Karen while she was here. We went to Cascal for dinner, and then drove around the area looking at Christmas lights as there are some impressive displays around.

Christmas morning we sat around the tree (our artificial tree that we bought last year, because real trees have gotten astonishingly expensive around here) and opened gifts. My big gift to Debbi and myself was to replace our aging comforter with a nice new one. It’s even larger, so it fits in the comforter cover whereas the old one was a bit small for it. I also bought her the third season of Corner Gas on DVD. I received a goodly haul of books, CDs and DVDs from various people.

Karen has been training for a long race, so she needed to get some training walks in during her visit, thus in the afternoon we went out to the Stevens Creek Trail so she could do her walk, while Debbi and I took a ore leisurely one. We went directly to have lunch downtown at a Thai restaurant, and then vegged for a while at home, before finally cooking dinner in the evening. I made meatloaf, Debbi made mashed potatoes and steamed carrots, and Karen baked a blueberry pie.

Saturday Karen headed out for a long walk, and Debbi and I went over to Bill’s for his annual Boxing Day party, where we played some Fluxx, one game of which was epically long and I won in a particularly improbable way (involving randomly switched followed by randomly chosen cards). We picked up Karen (just before the first of the week’s rains came in that evening), and went to dinner at Sundance the Steakhouse, which has to be one of our better recent restaurant finds in the area.

Sunday we drove to the coast and had the champagne brunch at the Moss Beach Distillery, then stopped off for an outing at the beach the beach near Pillar Point. Monday, Debbi’s cold was starting to get her down, so we had a quiet day mostly at home and went to dinner at Amber India, before taking Karen to the airport, where she caught her flight home only a little late.

Tuesday, as I recounted yesterday, I went to play poker at a local card room, coming home as Debbi went out for dinner with some friends. I spent the evening puttering around in the study, and afterwards we watched some Corner Gas until we went to bed.

Today I went to the comic book store for the one comic that came out this week (Blackest Night #6). Due to the holidays, shipping companies couldn’t guarantee that books would arrive on Wednesday, so most companies decided to skip this week, as it was the fifth Wednesday of the month anyway (often called a “skip week” in the industry). DC decided to ship one book last week instructing stores not to put it out until this week, on pain of whatever tortures DC has at its disposal, I suppose. You can sometimes tell how ethical a store is by whether they abode by these requirements or not. My store, of course, held the book until this week like they’re supposed to, and held a sale besides – the store, surprisingly, was quite busy when I arrived!

I also went to an Apple store to buy a new keyboard, since the wireless keyboard I’ve been using since I got a stand for my laptop has been terribly unreliable, dropping connections every 10 seconds at times. Very disappointing, but web searches suggested that the keyboard has been problematic for a lot of people (apparently 2.4 GHz devices – wireless networks, cordless phones, etc. – can interfere with the keyboard’s bluetooth connection). Oddly, I’ve never had any such troubles with wireless mice.

And that brings us up-to-date. Now, to go read that comic book – and the few others I bought at the sale!

Poker Outing

It’s been a while since I played poker in a card room, so with the week off I headed over to Garden City Casino this afternoon. Garden City is an old-school card room, with a whiteboard for a waiting list, and tables jammed together on a big floor. Or rather, it used to be, but since I was last there – over a year ago – they’ve completely renovated the inside, with a new room for high-stakes games, electronic screens and waiting lists, and a spacious middle aisle and side area near the eatery. It’s still a little crowded with tables (though that’s to be expected in a card room, I guess!), but it looks much more modern.

(Oddly enough, they still don’t have betting lines on the tables, which was an issue in one hand today when one player thought another had raised, but the other claimed he was only counting his remaining chips, as raising would have put him all in. I’m not sure why they even make tables without a betting line anymore.)

I sat down in a 3/6 game after a short wait. 3/6 is what you call your low stakes game; maybe if you worked at it, you could lose a few hundred dollars in a few hours. I once lost $100 in an hour at 3/6. That was a pretty bad session. But it’s by far my worst hour in the hundreds I’ve put in at these stakes. So we’re not exactly breaking the bank here.

(Don’t ask me about my comic book habit, please.)

This was a pretty rough session, with a number of bad beats. Some notable hands:

  • My worst-played hand was probably pocket Queens on a K62r board, calling a flop bet, then folding on the blank turn, figuring someone had to have a King. The two players who showed down had pocket Tens, and a 6 for middle pair on the flop. I played this too timidly.
  • My pocket Aces got cracked when my opponent rivered two pair. Gah.
  • The roughest hand was playing Q9 and flopping a straight on the JT8 flop. Sounds great, right? Except my surviving opponent hit his river King and show AQ for a better straight. Painful.
  • The most amusing hand was ATh on a A98 flop, one heart. The turn was the Jack of hearts, giving me both the straight draw and the nut flush draw to go with top pair, giving me 20 outs to improve my hand. I didn’t improve on the river, but top pair was good anyway.
  • I lost with a set of Threes to a set of Jacks. What can you do? I flopped a set of Twos in another hand, but the board turned a four-flush and I was sunk there, too. If you can’t win your flopped sets once in a while, what can you count on in this world?

Thanks to the set-over-set hand, I ended up down for the day. Sigh. But I’d been down a lot more earlier in the session and clawed my way back to even. And I had fun, so it worked out. I’ll get ’em next time, right?

New Look

I’m experimenting with a new theme for the journal. Rather than try to get it all right before using it (which would virtually guarantee that I’d never actually finish and deploy it), I decided to just go for it and make changes incrementally. Changing the image, tinkering with the color scheme, and fixing up the sidebars are at the top of my list. Other suggestions are welcome, too; please leave them in the comments!

This Week's Haul

  • Green Lantern #49, by Geoff Johns, Ed Benes, Marcos Marz & Luciana Del Negro, and Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #34, by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore & Dan Green (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #18, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #2, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Criminal: The Sinners #3, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Fantastic Four: The Master of Doom TPB, by Mark Millar, Joe Ahearne, Bryan Hitch, Neil Edwards, Stuart Immonen & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #574, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #139, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rodney Buchemi & Reilly Brown (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 129 HC, collecting Strange Tales vol 1 #154-168, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1 #1-3, by Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Powers #2, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Absolution #5 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • Irredeemable #9, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Hellboy: The Bride of Hell, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #69, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Fantastic Four: The Master of Doom Why do I keep reading Mark Millar’s comics? Hell if I know. I guess he’s just enough of an ideasmith that I’m hopeful he’ll provide some entertaining stories a la Grant Morrison, so I keep giving him another try, yet I keep being disappointed. The saying goes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, so what does this say about me?

In the new Fantastic Four collection The Master of Doom, the second half of his run on the title with Bryan Hitch, Millar demonstrates how to write a really bad bunch of FF stories. The run produced lower sales numbers than you might expect from a run by a pair of supposed super-star creators, but frankly the quality just wasn’t there. Oh, Hitch’s art was nice enough, although stylistically he hasn’t really developed much since his days on The Authority: Toothy grins, near-photo-realistic renderings, rather blah layouts. But the writing is really awful.

The first chapter is an epilogue to the previous collection, featuring the funeral of the Invisible Woman (sorta), the Thing getting engaged to his latest girlfriend – an ordinary schoolteacher, and Doctor Doom threatening that the man who taught him all he knows about villainy is coming to Earth. All well and good, but then it goes off the rails. (Well, the revelation that Reed and Sue’s 2-year-old daughter Valeria is smart enough to be creating tesseract vehicles inspired by Doctor Who isn’t exactly welcome. Writers have enough trouble figuring out how to thread the needle with Reed’s brilliance, let along adding another impossible-level genius into the mix, but fortunately Valeria’s brain isn’t a big factor in the story.)

The next chapter starts with the Human Torch having brought a couple of, well, prostitutes or strippers or just plain sluts, back to his apartment when he’s interrupted. Oh yeah, the two women are dressed as Storm and the Scarlet Witch. Johnny may not be the most admirable member of the team, but this is a new low, and a clear indication that Millar just doesn’t understand the characters. This is followed by further foreshadowing of the arrival of Doom’s master, and then we get a 2-part Christmas story where the team goes to Scotland to visit a cousin of Reed’s. Valeria ends up being the intended sacrifice to a creature that’s been haunting the town for a long time. This is classic Millar: A bunch of superpowered characters hitting things, but no real consideration for the larger issues that he introduces, such as what the creature’s actually been doing for the whole time, even if the price it exacts is disgusting.

Then we launch into the main story, about Doom’s master and the new apprentice arriving on Earth, being not at all pleased with Doom’s lack of progress in villainy, and disposing of the bad Doctor before turning to take down the Fantastic Four. The build-up to the master’s arrival involved him destroying whole parallel worlds, including killing one world’s Watcher, and there’s plenty of potential here: What sort of being would be so vile that he’d have been Doom’s teacher? Exactly when did Doom manage to hook up with an entity of such power, and why did he leave him? Why have they been out of touch for so many years? Heck, why did the master – with the rather generic name the Marquis of Death – leave Earth at all, given his predilection for destroying it?

But Millar finesses all of this by making the Maquis a minor character with no real personality and just the barest of backgrounds, and the new apprentice a means to advance Doom’s character in a rather pointless manner, inasmuch as it’s just a set-up for further stories which Millar won’t be around to tell. And then, our FF manages to take down the pair through some trickery which somehow none of their parallel-world counterparts were able to envision. It doesn’t ring true. And none of the potential of the set-up is realized. It’s just a big slugfest. Zzzz.

Millar wraps up the story with an utter cop-out of a resolution to the Thing’s engagement, which after Ben’s past relationships just seems completely unlike the character for him to handle things this way. Millar twists the characters to fit the story, and so the story just doesn’t work at all.

Millar is one of the hottest writers in comics, and I just don’t get it: His writing is mean-spirited, poorly plotted, weakly characterized, goes for the cheap thrills and doesn’t realize the potential it does have. The Master of Doom illustrates all of this perfectly. Maybe the fact that it didn’t sell very well shows that readers are starting to realize this. I’d had hopes that, reined in by working on a major mainstream property, Millar’s Fantastic Four would be inventive and readable, more like what we see from Grant Morrison (when Morrison hasn’t himself gone astray), but this is just more of the same from Millar. This should probably be the last thing I read by him.

Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 2 Jim Steranko’s work on Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is legendary in the comics field, and it’s collected in hardcover this month in the latest Marvel Masterworks volume. (The pre-Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were collected a few years ago.) If you haven’t read them before, this is an outstanding package to read them in.

Steranko, like so many of the prime innovators in sequential art, was before my time, and so coming to his work decades after it first appeared. It’s awkward, since Steranko’s Fury stories feel culturally dated, in part because he was consciously trying to make Fury and his friends feel like cutting-edge inhabitants of the real world, and the go-go world of the 1960s seems downright silly to most people who grew up after it (this is probably why today’s conservatives have so much fun pillorying the Flower Power generation). And besides that, so many of Steranko’s innovations in the field have been assimilated, reproduced, subverted and parodied in the years since, that they just don’t seem very, well, innovative. Plus, Steranko’s layouts and renderings have so much of Kirby in them, but without the sophisticated linework of a Pérez or a Byrne, that they seem dated in and of themselves.

Yet Steranko’s work collected here does look different from his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors: The sense of place he provides in Nick’s apartment, the fantastic devices – less contrived than Kirby’s – that S.H.I.E.L.D. works with, the cinematic sense of pacing (which works sometimes yet fails badly at others, but then Steranko was always trying something new), and his gradual breaking free from the often mundane page layouts of the day (Marvel was ahead of DC in this regard, yet the page layouts of the late 60s, even by Kirby or John Buscema, seem downright staid).

Despite being a bit of a mixed bag for the modern reader, Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. still has a lot to offer, both its historical context, and some rock-em sock-em adventure. The premise of the book is simple: Nick Fury and his international spy organization fighting against Hydra, the Yellow Claw, and a mystery man named Scorpio, in comics’ best-known contribution to the 1960s spy craze. Plus the volume contains a fascinating introductory essay by Steranko regarding the approach he took to writing and drawing the book. If you’ve read any of Fury’s adventures over the last 30 years, well, even at his best they paled in comparison to Steranko’s stories here.

Christmas Rundown

Yes, we still come down in our bathrobes to open Christmas presents. Well, I did, anyway: Debbi wore sweats, and Karen had red Santa loungewear to wear. We came down mid-morning and Debbi baked scones, I brewed coffee, and then we opened gifts. My big present for me and Debbi was a new down comforter from Bed Bath and Beyond, which will be nice since our old comforter was not only old, but a little small for the cover it lived in. The new one is much larger.

I surprised Debbi with a couple of DVDs she wasn’t expecting, and we exchanged gifts with Karen (our houseguest for the weekend), too. My family and I always go a little overboard with the presents, which is always a little amusing since we’re also all pretty hard to buy for! Debbi finds that difficulty really frustrating, and was annoyed that she didn’t find anything for me that she was really happy with. She did, however, buy me a pound of marzipan (mmmmm), which makes me happy!

Karen is in training for a racewalking competition, and needs to get in some workouts while she’s visiting, so around noon we went out to the Stevens Creek Trail so she could walk for an hour. She took off and Debbi and I did our own – rather shorter – walk over the same span of time. Debbi unfortunately is still getting over a cold, which has settled into an annoying cough and making her sporadically miserable, so we took it easy on the walk. At least it was sunny and fairly warm.

We were hoping to go to the local kosher restaurant, The Kitchen Table for lunch, but they were closed. (A friend observed that maybe they were out for the traditional Jewish dinner on Christmas – Chinese food.) The local Thai restaurants are always open on Christmas, though, so that’s where we went. By this time it was 2:30 pm, so we went home to vegetate for the afternoon, expecting a late dinner.

I talked to both my mom and dad during the day, but not yet my sister. I should call her today.

Dinner took longer to cook than expected – it always seems to – but even though we ate at 8:30 pm, it was all still good: I baked bacon-wrapped, ketchup-glazed meatloaf, Debbi made mashed potatoes and steamed carrots, and Karen baked a blueberry pie. “Plenty of food” may be an understatement. Plenty of dishes to wash, too.

Today Karen’s doing a long walk as part of her training, so we’re hanging out at home for a bit, Debbi’s playing Mario Kart on the Wii, we ought to have lunch soon, and wemight stop by Bill’s for his annual Boxing Day party for a bit, then we’ll pick up Karen later in the afternoon when she’s done. And hopefully – if we can get a table – go to Sundance the Steakhouse for dinner. But other than Karen’s training, we have a fairly low-key weekend planned. Maybe a trip to the coast tomorrow.

I hope everyone else’s holiday was as fun!

Christmas Run-Up

Whew, what a week! But Christmas Eve is here, and I’m on vacation, and Debbi’s on vacation. Or, rather, our companies are shut down for the holidays, which is pretty much business as usual at each of them, but for us it’s the same thing.

I’ve been semi-frantically cleaning the house and especially the front room in preparation for our friend Karen visiting. I didn’t quite get it all done, but close enough. She flew in this morning, and everything went smoothly, right down to actually landing a little early before I was quite ready to arrive. Since none of us have gone back east to visit our families, we extended the invitation for her to come visit.

After she arrived, she and I went to Whole Foods to buy food for dinner tomorrow. We put off actually having lunch today a little too long, and I almost ran out of energy to be able to figure out what I wanted for lunch, but I ended up buying a surprisingly large sandwich which I wasn’t able to finish. (Debbi finished it for her lunch when we got home and met her – she had to work today.) Whole Foods was surprisingly civilized for Christmas Eve, and the lines were not long at all.

We have dinner plans for tonight, and we’ll probably go out and look at Christmas lights afterwards. I finished my Christmas shopping last night, finished wrapping today, and I think everything I ordered got where it’s supposed to go. The tree is up and decorated, the lights are up outside, and the cats are baffled that we have a houseguest. Situation normal. 🙂

As I always do, I have a long list of stuff I’d like to get done over the holiday break. And as always, I might get about half of it done. (Heck, I haven’t even finished reading the comics I bought last night!) It’s good to catch up on stuff over the break, but I also don’t want to stress out about it. I’ll be happy with whatever I can do.

I hope everyone reading has a happy holiday season and end-of-year. As you know, I’m not at all religious, nor really spiritual, but I always enjoy the proverbial spirit of the season.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #30, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #47, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #91, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #43, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #7, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #33, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #1, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
The Brave and the Bold #30 The fourth issue of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold is a little better than the first three. The plot works like this: Some years ago Doctor Fate encountered Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) at a point when Fate was feeling a little uneasy about his role in the universe. He imprinted a piece of himself in Green Lantern’s ring with the intent that it will emerge sometime in the future, and then return to the past to inform him of how his life has turned out in the intervening years. So in the present day, GL has gotten into trouble on a dead world when the Fate aspect emerges, and together the two of them work to help GL escape safely, but at the cost of the Fate aspect not being able to return to his originator. This is a small tragedy since this Doctor Fate – the original, Kent Nelson – has died years since, and GL suggests that maybe by going back, the aspect could help the original Fate survive.

The story is rather contrived, relying on some pretty obscure continuity details, but glossing over some other continuity details (such as that GL probably doesn’t have the same ring he had years ago, due to his own convoluted history). But the spirit of the story works pretty well.

Unfortunately, Straczynski’s run on the title has been dragged down by exposing many of his weaknesses as a writer. To start with, when Mark Waid launched the series a few years ago, he put a new spin on the book by writing an epic story which featured a large cast, whereas Staczynski has been writing one-off character pieces pairing a major hero (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern) with a lesser one (Doctor Fate is the biggest name among these; the others have been Dial “H” For Hero, the Blackhawks, and Brother Power the Geek). Straczynski seems to have a weakness for these little character pieces, and they worked fine in Babylon 5 as a break from the larger story, but a steady diet of them makes the title feel, well, trivial.

Straczynski is known – rightly or wrongly – for writing weak or stilted dialogue. I mostly think his dialogue is fine, but B&B seems filled with some of the most overwrought narratives I can recall him writing, mixed with some flagrantly inappropriate dialogue for the characters in question. The set-up for this story seems contrived for Fate to get in a zinger about GL’s ring not working on the color yellow, which is very much against character for Fate. The story also ends with a lengthy monologue by Fate in the past wondering what happened to his aspect, which also feels very un-Fate-like. The line between Doctor Fate’s character and Kent Nelson’s has always been fuzzily drawn – on purpose, I think – with the character acting very differently depending on whether he has his mask on or not, and Straczynski seems to tear down the divide here, having Fate speak with Nelson’s voice, a development which just doesn’t ring true for the character. This feels especially wrong since it occurs just two pages after Fate took off his helmet to speak with Nelson’s voice, underscoring the difference between the two sides of the character. Straczynski seems to be forcing the character to fit his story, rather than writing to the character, and it hurts what in general is a fine story.

The brightest light in the issue is the development of Jesus Saiz as the artist. A few issues ago his art felt generic and even stiff, but this issue flows beautifully and has a smoothness and use of shadow and expression that goes some way to compensate for the dialogue, especially since the story is mostly two guys standing around and talking to each other. It’s a nearly-unprecedented pace of development for an artist, and it does make me curious to see where he’ll go next.

Power Girl #7 Power Girl reintroduces the character Vartox, who in the 1970s (before DC rebooted everything) was a rival with Superman for Lana Lang’s attentions. Amanda Conner even draws an homage to the cover of Vartox’s first appearance, and the character still has his extra-cheesy 1970s porn star outfit. In this issue, Vartox’s world becomes sterilized, so he comes to Earth to court Power Girl to be his mate, to start repopulating his world. You can imagine how this goes over with PG, and Vartox is also unspeakably stupid in the stunts he uses to try to woo her, resulting in a powerful and destructive alien being released on Earth.

Greg Burgas loved this issue but I was disappointed. Gray and Palmiotti’s writing on Power Girl has been filled with jokes and themes about Power Girl’s body and sexuality, and while I don’t expect a PG title to never have such things, it’s been just one after another in this series. And her adventures have been fairly trivial: Another fight with the Ultra-Humanite, who wants to put his brain in her body, a group of spoiled rich space girls who come to Earth to have fun, and now Vartox. It’s become a one-note series, and the note is sounding pretty flat.

What I’d like to see in Power Girl is more attention to her being the CEO of her own company (in her secret identity), more time mentoring the young heroine Terra, and some threats with some real weight behind them. There’s a lot of good material to work with here, but instead it’s one lighthearted adventure after another, and not even particularly clever ones.

Yeah, yeah, Amanda Conner’s art is still terrific, but that can only take the book so far.

Incorruptible #1 Mark Waid’s bid to take over the world from Boom! Studios continues with his third title from the company, Incorruptible a spin-off of his excellent series Irredeemable. (His other series, The Unknown also has a fine issue out this week.) Where Irredeemable was about a Superman-like hero going bad for reasons still being explored, Incorruptible is about one of the foremost super-villains going straight and becoming a hero after the Plutonian went bad. The main character is Max Damage, who shows up in this issue after an extended absence to take down his own gang and turn them into the police. He then takes a detective to his lair where he shows him the millions of dollars in his vault – before torching it all as tainted money. Naturally this doesn’t make his sidekick, Jailbait, happy; she’s an underage girl who used to be Max’s lover, and now he’s toeing the straight-and-narrow, while she was happy with a life of crime.

It’s a hell of a set-up, and Waid packs a lot into this first issue, with the promise of plenty of mayhem and ethical dilemmas in Max and Jailbait’s future. Jean Diaz draws the hell out of the thing, the main flaw being some flat expressions, but hopefully that will change with experience. Incorruptible has every sign of being as solid a book as Irredeemable, showcasing Waid’s strengths as having a deep understanding of what makes superheroes work, while being interested in taking them in new directions while staying within the main conventions of the genre. No one in the industry does that better than Mark Waid.

Fringe Benefits

A couple of lively days at work this week – for reasons having nothing to do with actual, you know, work.

Yesterday our department had its annual holiday party. Breaking our recent tradition of going bowling – which actually was more fun than you might think (even though I suck at it) – we instead went to the nearby comedy club Rooster T. Feathers for lunch and a show by comedian Don McMillan, a former engineer turned funnyman. And he was in fact very funny, and I’d certainly pay to see him again.

Today there was a mini-concert in the cafeteria. A few weeks ago we had Corinne Bailey Rae, and today was a group named Lifehouse. I guess this is what happens when your company has passed Wal-Mart as the largest music retailer in the country. (Sheesh!) Both acts were pretty good, although not exactly my cup of tea; Rae’s singer-songwriter approach appealed to me more than Lifehouse’s modern-alt-rock style. (And of course I always think of Lifehouse as being an unfinished rock opera by The Who.)

You could tell it was a concert attended by geeks: Hardly anyone was dancing, and everyone was taking pictures and/or tweeting about the show. I realized this because I wondered if there’s any hope they might book a prog-rock band (Spock’s Beard, for instance), but of course prog isn’t really danceable – but if no one is dancing, then it doesn’t really matter, eh?

But even if it’s not exactly aimed at my tastes, it’s still a nice perk. I hope the musicians had a good time, too, playing to a bunch of geeks! 🙂

This Week's Haul

Two weeks worth of books this time, since I didn’t get around to doing an entry last week before heading to Disneyland for the weekend.

Last Week:

  • The Marvels Project #4 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Nova #32, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Echo #17, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Secret History #7 of 7, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia)
  • Absolution #4 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • The Boys #37, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)

I skipped JSA: All-Stars, not just because I didn’t really care about following “Power Girl and the third-stringers”, but because the artwork looked pretty awful. I’ll stick with the team which at least has a few of the classic members, thanks.

This Week:

  • Booster Gold #27, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Doom Patrol #5, by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay, and J.M. DeMatteis, Tim Levins & Dan Davis (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #11, by Tony Bedard, Claude St. Aubin & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Secret Six #16, by Gail Simone, Peter Nguyen, Doug Hazlewood & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • The Unwritten #8, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4, by John Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg (Dark Horse)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, and P.J. Holden & Adam Cadwell (Image)
The Secret History book 7 I started picking up The Secret History back before I knew it was a translation of a European comic that Archaia was printing. It got off to a pretty good start, though (albeit way back in 2007). As the title says, the story is a shadow history in which four individuals gain immortality and great powers through runestones they acquire early in humanity’s history, and they use it to influence events over the centuries, eventually warring against each other, forming and breaking alliances, and often using catspaws to do their work.

The early issues held together pretty well, but as the series progressed the overall story became very hard to follow, and even single issues were pretty confusing in terms of figuring out who’s who and what they’re up to and why. Greg Burgas has the series sized up well, as at the end of this 7-issue series the story isn’t over. It ends abruptly, actually on something of a cliffhanger, at the end of World War I. That left me wondering why I’d bothered; there wasn’t a big finish, and I just felt like I didn’t care about any of the characters by the end – I could barely tell who they were!

The art is often quite good, but it’s not enough to make up for the story. I can’t fault author Pécau for the ambitious plot, but the execution just didn’t work for me. Even if there is a follow-up series (and I haven’t heard of one), I’m not interested enough to follow it.

Doom Patrol #5

R.E.B.E.L.S. #11

I decided to pick up this month’s Doom Patrol and R.E.B.E.L.S. to see how the Blackest Night tie-in stories begun last week shake out. The answer is: Not so well, as both are essentially big slugfests against overwhelming odds, with the heroes more-or-less cheating their way to victory. Heck, they even find the exact same resolution to their dilemma in each case! Disappointing. The most interesting element of either series – Vril Dox acquiring a Sinestro Corps ring – is discarded at the end of the R.E.B.E.L.S. issue, too. Oh well.

I’m not interested enough in either Adventure Comics or Justice League to even pick up the second part of those tie-in stories. (If Adventure had had a Legion of Super-Heroes back-up in the second part, I might have given in. But instead it has Superboy-Prime – whom I hate, as I’ve said before – in the lead story, and the Connor Kent Superboy in the backup. Whatever.)

Considering Blackest Night presented some of these series with excellent opportunities to convince new readers like me that they were worth following, it’s pretty lame that they all did such a bad job in doing so, focusing instead on the Blackest Night story arc rather than trying to sell themselves on their merits. I assume this is just a total editorial misfire, although Booster Gold does a better job than the others of presenting its merits within its own Blackest Night tie-in. Then again, I already read Booster Gold regularly.

Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3 The third hardcover collection of Powers is out this week, and in my opinion it contains the two best stories of this excellent series: “The Sellouts” focuses on a Justice League-like team which went commercial, and then (unofficially) broke up. When the Batman-like member is killed (on camera, his killer not appearing on the tape), detectives Walker and Pilgrim investigate, and air all the dirty laundry the team’s kept under wraps for years. Rather to the displeasure of some members of the team. For what starts as a rather routine detective story for this series, it takes a sharp turn at the end which makes it both a very different story, and one which fundamentally changes the nature of the Powers world (setting up the next series, to some extent).

“Forever” is the other arc in the volume, and it was in a way an epilogue to the first Powers series, but it’s also a crucial piece in the overall story: It fills out the background of Detective Christian Walker, who it turns out is more than merely a de-powered superhero who became a cop. But there hadn’t been much sign of this until this story. In other circumstances, that might sound unsatisfying, but Bendis uses the premise to craft an a story which both defines the nature of superheroes in the Powers universe, and to make Walker a more significant and more tragic figure than he’d been before.

While Powers is best read from the beginning, you can read this volume on its own if you’d like to try it by starting with the very best the series has to offer. In any event, with the third Powers series having started a few weeks ago, this is a good point to catch up on what’s happened before so you can fully enjoy the new one.