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This Week's Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Thomasi, Chris Samnee, Mike Mayhew & Ivan Reis (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #29, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #13, by Matt Wagner & Michael William Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #4 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Ignition City #4 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)
  • Dynamo 5: Fresh Blood vol 3 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 From that cover, maybe the final issue of Tales of the Corps should have been titled “Boobest Night”. Geez, guys.

This has actually been a fun series, and the two stories in this issue are quite good, focusing on a pair of Green Lanterns. I especially like Mike Mayhew’s art on the Arisia story – where has this guy been hiding? (Well, here, apparently.) It’s tough to pull off an anthology series, but this has been a nice diversion.

Justice Society of America #29 Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges take over the writing duties on Justice Society this month. I think Don McPherson’s put his finger on it when he says that the book doesn’t really feel like it marks the beginning of a new era as the cover proclaims – fundamentally it feels like an extension of Geoff Johns’ run, with too many characters and not enough characterization. On the other hand, there are a couple of mysteries thrown into the mix almost immediately, and my experience with Willingham’s writing is that his mysteries usually pay off. But yeah, at first blush it’s more of the same (and I suspect that might be by editorial fiat, since, after all, JSA has been selling well for years). But hopefully it will evolve into something better in the coming months.

I really wish Willingham or someone else would pare the team down to just 7 members or so. Writing for more just leaves lots of characters without any screen time, and is rather a waste.

Wednesday Comics #4 The stories in Wednesday Comics finish their opening acts this week (if one assumes a 3-act structure), so most of them are just keepin’ on keepin’ on. The pleasant surprise this week is that Metamorpho has more than a single panel of story, so (a little) something actually happens. On the other hand, I’m disappointed at the turn The Demon and Catwoman story has taken, with Selina turning into a puma, which basically removes her from the picture as a character, and the Demon isn’t much of a character (he’s a Kirby DC creation, after all).

Other strips I haven’t mentioned yet: J.D. asked me about Batman last week, and I agree that it’s a rather undistinguished strip. I think scenes with heroes in their secret identities are very underused these days, so I appreciate Azzarello playing around with Bruce Wayne a bit, but overall I have a hard time figuring out what the point of the strip is.

Much as I enjoy Amanda Conner getting to draw Supergirl with a variety of facial expressions (such expressions being her forté), the story is just her zipping from one place to another, and is thus rather dull.

Deadman appears to have been sent to hell or some equivalent, which isn’t very interesting. Deadman can be a hard character to write as a leading man; I think this story would have been better served taking a page from the Deadman shorts from Adventure Comics back in the 70s, where he basically works on helping someone else through their problems. Not that he can’t be written on his own, as the Andrew Helfer/José Luis Garcia-Lopez mini-series from the 80s that wrapped up the plot threads from the Neil Adams run was fantastic, and the Mike Baron/Kelley Jones series from the 90s was an interesting take.

Harry Potter VI

Last Sunday we went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the new film in the series. My expectations for the films at this point are moderate at best: The book series bottomed out with the awful Order of the Phoenix and never really recovered. The original of this one was padded and poorly plotted, although it had some good character bits in the middle.

The story basically survives intact in the film, although with many of its warts still showing: Many sequences are slow, especially the beginning (in which Dumbledore and Harry persuade Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts) and the end (the retrieval of the Horcrux is tense, yet tedious). But the stuff in the middle is still quite entertaining: Harry, Ron and Hermione falling for various other students, Harry awkwardly captaining the Quidditch team (I rather wish the series had more consciously explored the theme of Harry being thrust into a leader’s role while being anything but a natural leader), and Harry learning potions with the help of the textbook of the Half-Blood Prince. The flashbacks to Voldemort’s past are interesting and not as overdone as they are in the book.

The film has been getting strong reviews, and overall I enjoyed it despite its flaws, but it’s not nearly as good as the best in the film series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, although with stronger source material it might have been its equal.

It’s interesting to see all the actors growing up. Daniel Radcliffe looks less buff than he did in Phoenix where his appearance seemed a little odd. Rupert Grint seemed to grow into his body awkwardly, especially in Goblet of Fire, but he seems to be past that; he’s the actor who’s changed the most in appearance as he’s grown up. Emma Watson has changed the least, looking much the same at 18 as she did at 11. Tom Felton’s features have become much more defined as he’s grown up, and he doesn’t have the smooth, dark-elfin look he had when he first played Draco Malfoy.

I can’t believe I’m going to sit through two films to see all of the final book, Deathly Hallows, which was another padded book; that means a lot of the padding is surely going to make it into the films (which already run long at over 2-1/2 hours apiece). But no doubt I’ll do it.

Things Coming Together

The broken-bike-seat saga (such as it was) ended happily: I went to the bike shop and bought a new set of screws for the seat.

The guy who helped me said that the screws break all the time, usually for the same reason mine did: Trying to over-tighten them. “That’s why the company charges $20 for them.” He was more scandalized than I was at the cost. I told him I’d had that first screw for 7 years, which works out to less than $3.00 a year, which ain’t bad.

They also suggested I put some grease on the screw before putting it on. “What kind of grease?” I asked. “Grease with a ‘G’,” they said. Hey, what do I know from grease? Turns out there are several different kinds of grease, at my local hardware store, anyway. I went for grease with a “cheap”, mainly because I don’t need a big tub-o-grease. (Insert snarky comment here.)

They also sold me a packet of goo to put on the shaft of the bike seat, which increases friction and thus reduces slippage of the seat, which is the problem I was having which led me to over-tighten the screw in the first place. So I tried it out. It seemed to help, from my first experience. (They also cautioned me not to use it on the screws, which amused me: Yeah, don’t use the friction-enhancing goo as a lubricant. Got it.)

Anyway, all that taken care of, I biked in to work again today. Made good time, too!

Things Falling Apart

It drives me nuts – probably a lot more than it should – when stuff breaks. Well, sometimes I just take a “it happens” attitude, but if it’s something I really need to fix, then I resent needing to spend the time to fix or replace it. And when several things break in succession, well, that’s obviously worse.

A couple of weeks ago I had the classic moment when I realized I’d left my pedometer in my shorts – which were currently in the washing machine. Once it dried out it seemed to be working again, but in trying to get it all back together I lost one of the nuts which actually holds the battery compartment in place. I couldn’t figure out where it went (probably fell behind the bookcase), so I finally gave up and just ordered a new pedometer, as the old one was, well, getting pretty old anyway. On the bright side, the pedometer Debbi and I each use is down to $24 at Amazon.com.

Several months ago, the zipper on the bag I take everywhere with my laptop and books and such broke. Well, the bag has, like, 12 pockets, so it was only one zipper – but it was the one for the laptop pocket. And, the zipper itself is fine, it’s actually just the handle which snapped in half. The fix? Take some ribbon and tie it through the remainder of the handle, and voila! New handle! Well, new handle until the remainder of the old handle decides to just fall off one day, taking the ribbon with it, and probably turning into a cat toy. So now I need to figure out a new way to get the ribbon on there, without it slipping through the gap the old handle likely slipped through (which I probably widened in my failed attempt to replace the old handle with a handle taken from a discarded suitcase).

And most recently, today I was biking in to work, and during my water break decided to raise my seat again. It keeps slipping down from the most comfortable position, so I’ve been raising it about once a week, which involves loosening the screws which keep it in place, and then tightening them again. This time, metal fatigue took it toll and the screw snapped in half, so the seat wouldn’t stay in place. Fortunately (?) I’d stopped in front of my friends Susan & Subrata‘s house, so I sent Susan a text message, and 30 seconds later I hear her yell, “Come on in!” So she gave me a lift home and I showered and started my day over again.

I’ll have to go buy a new screw for the bike, and I wonder if I should buy a new seat as well, in the hopes that a new one won’t keep slipping down. On the other hand, given that I seem to have one major failure in my bike every year, maybe I should just buy a new bike.

Sigh.

The upside is that S&S’s son Ajay took his first steps over the weekend, and I got to play and laugh with him while Susan was getting ready to drive me home. He’s a cute little guy.

Anyway, now that I’ve got all this out of my system, I can work on getting stuff repaired.

This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Eddy Barrows, Gene Ha, Tom Mandrake & Ruy José (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Green Lantern #44, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Power Girl #3, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #3 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wesley Craig & Nathan Fairbairn (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #131, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #1 of 5, by Jason Aaron, Mico Suadan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto de la Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Stefano Gaudiano (Marvel)
  • Nova #27, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 HC, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #4, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
  • Invincible #64, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 of 7, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, David LaFuente & Charity Larrison (Image)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 Once again it seems like it’s an all-Geoff-Johns week, with two Green Lantern books and the long-delayed last issue of Legion of 3 Worlds.

At its core, Legion of 3 Worlds is a bunch of what’s today often called “fanboy wankery”: It seems to have been mainly written to reconcile the three incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the last 30 years, especially to bring the Legion of the early 80s back to being the primary Legion. All of this made for an entertaining romp through Legion history if you’re a Legion fan, but I imagine it’s largely meaningless if you’re not.

Secondarily the story both returned Superboy and Kid Flash to the Teen Titans, both of them having been dead for the last year or two. And lastly it plays out the story of Superboy-Prime, last survivor of Earth-Prime, who’s spent the last couple of years trying to get back to his destroyed homeworld, even if he had to destroy everything else to recreate it.

All of this is wrapped in what is seemingly a Superman story, but by this final issue Superman is pushed pretty firmly to the sidelines, little more than the muscle to hold off Prime until the Legionnaires figure out how to deal with him. The story is one escalating surprise (the Time Trapper is Prime in the future! Unless he’s not!) after another (when in doubt, summon more Legionnaires to do the punching) until things finally get resolved. Chris Sims sums up the irony of the resolution quite well, and honestly it is an entertaining story, with some witty dialogue (especially Brainiac 5’s parting shot), and of course the lovely George Pérez artwork.

I was a little let down by the ending, not so much where Prime ended up, but the fact that the story started out aiming very high by raising the question of whether Prime could be redeemed. The notion that Superman might actually be able to redeem him was morally fascinating, and a tough hill to climb. Unfortunately, it fell by the wayside pretty early and wasn’t picked up even a little in this final issue. While Johns may have redeemed Hal Jordan after his misdeeds as Parallax, he didn’t manage to do the same for Prime here. As it stands, Prime is one of the most badly-handled, least-necessary, and just-plain-un-fun villains in recent comics history, and I hope this is the last we see of him. What little potential he ever had has been well-and-truly explored by now.

All-in-all, a pretty good series. It could have been a lot more, and of course it had nothing at all to do with Final Crisis, despite the name. But you can’t have everything.

Wednesday Comics #3 Am I really going to review every issue of Wednesday Comics? At only a page of story per story per week, it hardly seems worth it. And yet, here I go.

I think what bugs me most about Kamandi is that it’s one teenaged kid – and anthropomorphic tigers, dogs, and rats. No matter how well drawn it is (and Ryan Sook’s art has progressed a lot since his Jenny Finn series for Mike Mignola a few years back) it’s just a strip about post-apocalyptic anthropomorphics. This premise’s sell-by date passed back when I was in grade school.

Oh my god, the Superman strip is just awful. Bad writing, bad artwork, just bad.

While Busiek is clearly having fun with the setting and characters of the Green Lantern strip, it seems like it’s been three pages of basically nothing so far. Indeed, the second and third pages have the same cliffhanger!

I find Wonder Woman to be unreadable: The panels are so dense it negates the benefits of the larger page size. And I find the story impenetrable. Plus, it doesn’t look like Wonder Woman at all! Teen Titans is only slightly better, although I don’t really care about these characters. And I liked the first page of Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, but since then it’s been to splash pages in a row. Talk about uncompressed! It’s got the opposite problem of Wonder Woman; neither has found the right balance of story and art for the format.

Flash is still the best strip in the book The art is a nice mix of realistic and cartoony, sort of like Ty Templeton’s. The story is both off-the-wall and moving. The structure is entertaining, too. It’s almost worth buying Wednesday Comics just for this.

It finally dawned on me that in Hawkman Kyle Baker is directly evoking the art of Sheldon Moldoff, who draw the hero in many of his earliest adventures in the 1940s (and whose style I suspect directly influenced that of Joe Kubert, who draw him later, and who draws the Sgt. Rock pages in Wednesday Comics). Despite largely liking the artwork, I still don’t care for the story or the portrayal of Hawkman here. I suspect this will be the second-biggest misfire of the series (after Superman).

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 This also seems to be all-Marvel week, as nearly every Marvel book I buy comes out on the same week these days, including the two ongoing space-based titles. Nova continues to be a very good book, but Guardians of the Galaxy has been thrashing around trying to find its direction. While Nova has the advantage of being primarily about one character, Guardians is about a team, and so it’s been more easily disrupted by the twice-yearly “events” throwing it off its ongoing story and preventing it from spending time exploring its characters. Which is too bad because the first three issues – prior to the intrusion of Secret Invasion – were very intriguing.

This month’s issue of Guardians is intriguing once more, as we learn something about why Major Victory showed up in the present day (coming back from the future), followed by a rather hostile Starhawk. We learn this because half of the team has been thrown into the future, where they meet the 31st-century Guardians (i.e., the original team created back in the 1970s), and learn that the universe is on the verge of coming to an end. The Guardians are based in the last remaining vestige of Earth – Avengers Mansion, floating in space behind a force field. Having the present-day team arrive in the mansion in its form as a historical museum is a neat moment, as is the revelation of what’s going on. Fortunately Starhawk seems to have learned that Warlock is going to do something which will eventually bring about the catastrophe. Unfortunately, there’s only a limited amount that they can do about it, but they give it their best shot, even if they have to die trying.

The issue ends on a big cliffhanger, with a plot worthy of some of Star Trek‘s time travel yarns (whether that’s good or bad is up to you). It looks like the story is heading for a big finish in the next month or two, in concert with War of Kings. Of course, Abnett and Lanning could milk it for a while longer, although at this point I think it would be best to get this arc resolved and to move on to the next one. Because the story’s got promise once more, and I’d hate to see them squander it.

On Perfect Games

Yesterday, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle threw the 18th perfect game in Major League history, winning 5-0 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Thus sending baseball geeks everywhere scurrying to learn about the history of perfect games, and I’m no different.

One interesting thing is how unevenly distributed the perfect games are through baseball’s history. Even if we exclude the 2 19th-century perfectos (since I’ve never been very confident that baseball’s record-keeping from that century was all that great), there have been 16 in the so-called modern era, of which:

  • 2 were thrown in the deadball era (1904 and 1908)
  • 1 was thrown in 1922
  • Then you have to go all the way to 1956 for the next one (Don Larsen’s famous World Series game)
  • There were 3 in the 1960s
  • And the other 9 have been thrown since 1980, all during an era of relatively high offense, free agency, and the most intense competition in the history of the game

Is it a fluke that over half of the modern-era perfect games have been thrown in a little over a quarter of the modern era? Or is it indicative of something about today’s pitchers?

(And consider that just two weeks ago, San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter which would have been a perfect game if not for an error by one of the fielders. Now how much would you pay?)

The other remarkable thing is that Buehrle threw his perfect game against a good offense, the Rays, who through yesterday’s games are third in the American League in runs scored, and third in on-base percentage. Only two Rays hitters who played yesterday have an OBP which is significantly below league average (Gabe Kapler’s is 333; the AL average is 334), so it’s not like the Rays were sitting their good players. Buehrle beat a squad of the better hitters in baseball.

Consider the opposing teams in the other perfect games since 1980:

  • Randy Johnson, 2004, vs. Atlanta Braves: 6th of 16 teams in runs, 5th in OBP
  • David Cone, 1999, vs. Montreal Expos: 14th of 16 teams in runs, last in OBP
  • David Wells, 1998, vs. Minnesota Twins: 11th of 14 teams in runs, 11th in OBP
  • Kenny Rogers, 1994, vs. California Angels: last of 14 teams in runs, 12th in OBP
  • Dennis Martinez, 1991, vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: 5th of 12 teams in runs, 3rd in OBP
  • Tom Browning, 1988, vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: 7th of 12 teams in runs, 11th in OBP (the Dodgers won the World Series two months later)
  • Mike Witt, 1984, vs. Texas Rangers: 13th of 14 teams in runs, last in OBP
  • Len Barker, 1981, vs. Toronto Blue Jays: last of 14 teams in runs, last in OBP

Historically notable pitching performances often come against bad offenses, and this list seems to validate that. On the other hand, it takes two to tango, and a great pitching performance backed up by outstanding defense can overcome even good hitting. (Of course, any perfect game is a remarkable achievement, no matter who it was pitched against; every hitter who makes it to the Majors is by definition a tough out.)

It’s also interesting to see that almost every pitcher who’s thrown a perfect game should be familiar to a serious baseball fan. (Lee Richmond, Charlie Robertson and Len Barker are the only three I’m not really familiar with.)

It seems like every couple of years we have a baseball player performing another nigh-unthinkable feat, be it a perfect game, an unassisted triple play, or what-have-you. Truly this is the golden age of professional baseball.

Moon Memory

My earliest memory is of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which occurred 40 years ago this week. What’s remarkable about this is that I was barely 6 months old at the time. Yet I remember it with remarkable clarity, and I’m convinced that it’s a real memory.

My specific memory of the landing itself is only of footage of men on the moon on TV, and it’s somewhat fuzzy. We lived in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, so the landing occurred at 3:17 pm local time, and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface at 9:39 pm local time. Whether we watched his descent as it was originally broadcast or watched a later broadcast or a news summary the next day, I have no idea.

My more specific memory is of my Mom taking me out to the balcony of our apartment at night and directing my attention to the moon, saying “There are people up there!” I recall thinking that I could actually see them on the moon while we were out there, although obviously I was imagining that; I might have even thought that seeing them on TV was the same thing as seeing them directly. It’s hard to say.

It’s possible this is just a constructed memory, although there seems to be a little evidence to suggest that it could be a true memory. I recall details like the little balcony we had, and the metal railing around it, details which were later confirmed to be accurate, which makes it feel real to me, but that’s hardly conclusive. I’ll probably never know, and I’m not really interested in arguing about it.

About returning to the moon? I think Charles Stross addressed the practical obstacles to going back pretty well. More blunt was a cartoon many years ago by Tom Toles which pointed out that there’s nothing on the moon, and nothing on Mars, either. Going there has no evident practical rewards, so the primary motivations for going there are not practical ones – and it’s hard to get funding for that. What practical rewards there are seem to be long-term and rather speculative ones.

I remember as a teenager talking to my friend Rob, who told me that he was frustrated – maybe even angry – that our presence in space had been cut back so much, and that he was probably not going to go into space or walk on the moon in his lifetime. I’m not sure why it’s never bothered me very much. Would it be nice to go into space? Well… maybe. Space travel is a high-risk endeavor, and unlikely to become either cheaper or safer anytime soon. If there were really somewhere to go then I might feel more strongly about it, but just experiencing zero gravity and walking on a dusty rock doesn’t hold a strong appeal for me.

Someday maybe something will change and humanity will finally head out to the planets and the stars. But I think in my lifetime all we’re going to have are our memories.

This Week's Haul

  • Blackest Night #1 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Black Night: Tales of the Corps #1 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee & Rags Morales (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #25, by Adam Beechen, Roger Robinson & Hilary Barta (DC)
  • Fables #86, by Bill Willingham, Jim Fern & Craig Hamilton (DC/Vertigo)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #2 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #2 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC, by Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, Chris Claremont, and others (Marvel)
  • Incognito #5 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Artesia Besieged #3 of 6, by Mark Smylie (Archaia)
  • The Unknown #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #3 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • RASL #5, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
Blackest Night #1

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1

DC’s next big event is Blackest Night, which is basically the next Green Lantern event (the last one was The Sinestro Corps War. Extending the theme of power-ring-empowered characters across the color spectrum, Blackest Night introduces the Black Lanterns, spearheaded by longtime C-list Lantern foe Black Hand. The Black Lanterns’ rings seek out dead heroes and villains and turns them into evil zombies, rising from the grave to strike out against their former friends and allies.

Honestly, I wish this had stayed just a Green Lantern story, rather than bringing in all the other DC characters. I can see bringing in The Flash since he’s one of GL’s best friends, he’s newly back from the dead himself, and the fact that Flash and GL are both dead men walking looks like it’s going to be a theme of the series. But bringing back dozens of dead heroes and villains who are largely unrelated to GL seems completely gratuitous and unnecessary. This first issue’s final scene involves Elongated Man and his wife Sue coming back as zombies to attack and take down Hawkman and Hawkgirl, which is grisly and basically no fun. Whereas the scene in which a legion of dead Green Lanterns erupt from their mausoleum is actually pretty creepy.

(Aside: From my understanding of the status quo, the Elongated Man scene strongly suggests that the black rings haven’t brought the bodies’ souls back to their zombie forms, because Ralph and Sue Dibny’s souls have been doing good work as spiritual detectives lately. So the bodies have been reanimated with a vestige of their former personalities, I infer. But hopefully it will all be explained.)

Anyway, unfortunately we’re stuck with this as a company-wide crossover. Don McPherson liked it, while Chris Sims hated it. I’m closer to Sims’ opinion, as it mostly feels like a misfire: Geoff Johns’ attempts to paint various heroes’ emotions regarding their deceased comrades feels abrupt and artificial, basically manipulative. Johns does a decent job dealing with “his” characters (GL and Flash), but few of the other characters’ portrayals work for me.

I think this story can work if it focuses heavily on the Green Lanterns and shoves most of the other DCU character aside. I don’t think it’s going to do that. It could achieve a lower level of success by making the Black Lanterns interesting and novel, which it just might do. But it’s not off to a strong start. Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert’s art is good as always, though.

(BTW, DC is promoting the series with plastic Black Lantern rings, and I got one from my store on Wednesday.)

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps is a tie-in title focusing on some of the supporting cast of the GL series. It’s not essential, but it is pretty fun. The first story provides the backstory of Saint Walker, the first of the Blue Lanterns, with excellent art by Jerry Ordway. The second story is about the son of the villain Mongul, is a very slight piece, and I didn’t care for the art at all. The third story is the introduction of the engimatic Indigo Tribe, with great art by Rags Morales (who I wish we saw more of), though the story is little more than a teaser.

Fables #86 Gee, what more can I say about the new Fables that Greg Burgas hasn’t already said?:

Now that the interminable Great Fables Crossover is over, Willingham has turned back into a good writer and gives us a nice tale about the Dark Man and how he came to be trapped in a box.

The backstory of the Boxers – a secret society of powerful wizards tasked with imprisoning powerful evil creatures in the Empire – is compelling, one of the more interesting ideas put forth in the whole series. I’d be willing to read a whole mini-series about this group, honestly! Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton produce some stunningly lovely artwork here – among the best the series has ever seen, and that’s saying something! Hamilton is one of those rarely-seen artists whose absence is always sorely felt on those rare occasions when he does come back to draw something; even just as the inker here, his impact is clear. I still pull out his old Aquaman mini-series from 25 years ago in large part to enjoy his art anew.

Anyway, this is a great issue which has rekindled my enthusiasm for the series. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Wednesday Comics #2 Wednesday Comics‘ second week is about the same as its first. The standout story is Karl Kerschl & Brenden Fletcher’s Flash, which has a very interesting development involving time travel. The Demon and Catwoman is also becoming intriguing.

On the other hand, I couldn’t even read the Wonder Woman story, the layouts are so convoluted. The Superman page is just awful, with a tired old character development and artwork I really can’t stand. Teen Titans I could read, but I just don’t care. Hawkman has nice Kyle Baker artwork, but I really hate the ultra-violent portrayal of Hawkman that’s been in vogue over the last decade.

The other stories are, well, second pages of their stories, moving things forward a little bit. Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern story is amusingly set in the (I think) 1950s, and it ends in a cliffhanger. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred are taking a decidedly offbeat approach to their Metamorpho story, having a lot of fun with some clichés of the genre, although there’s not a lot of story yet.

So as you’d expect, the second issue goes in all sorts of different directions, a few good, many bad. But the whole package still hasn’t really distinguished itself.

Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC Captain Britain was originally a British superhero created and written by Americans. In the early 80s, Marvel Comics UK was interested in publishing a little original material, and pulled this character back from oblivion for a long run of short chapters in a variety of titles. The artist of the relaunch was Alan Davis, doing his first major comics series, who would go on to become one of Marvel’s major art stars in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile, the writing included a lengthy story by Alan Moore (yes, that Alan Moore) and a run by Jamie Delano. Captain Britain and his girlfriend Meggan then became mainstays of Marvel’s Excalibur title.

In other words, despite a haphazard publication history, a neophyte artist, and stories that were sometimes hard to follow, Captain Britain ended up establishing both creators and characters who would impact Marvel for years to come. And after a couple of paperback collections from a decade ago, Marvel’s now given this the hardcover omnibus treatment, with the whole run – plus a few miscellaneous extras – collected in one lovely package.

Unfortunately, at just under a hundred bucks, it’s difficult for me to say, “Try it, you’ll like it!” The early chapters are pretty weak, and Davis is a below-average artist at first. Moore’s celebrated run is pretty good, but often a little too metaphysical for my tastes, as it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on or how the characters came around to their presence circumstances and motivations. Nonetheless, as a battle of heroes against two tremendously powerful – nigh-unbeatable, really – foes, it does a good job of evoking up the “always darkest before the dawn” feelings that such a story should have, and it has a satisfying climax.

Delano’s stories don’t hold together as a coherent whole, they’re more a series of vignettes, but overall they’re better than Moore’s story, with much deeper emotional resonance, and even a certain sense of regret that the series was ultimately cancelled even though it seemed there was a lot more story to tell. Captain Britain’s heroic deeds have a certain amount of fall-out which his friends and especially his sister believe it’s their responsibility to care for. Cap doesn’t agree, since his actions were really cleaning up someone else’s mess, and he’s not truly responsible for the events. This leads to a schism between Cap and his friends, but he finds a new ally – and lover – in Meggan, an elfish shapeshifter. Each individual chapter is powerful, and the ongoing story shifts and develops over time, but the ending feels rather abrupt, even if it’s arguably the best that could have been done under the circumstances. Still, really good stuff.

Holding it all together is Davis’ artwork, which steadily improves, and arguably the early Delano stories feature some of the best art he’s even done, imaginative yet realistic, and a little more moody than his hyper-polished style that he developed not long after. Certainly if top-shelf Davis artwork is what you want, you can’t really ask for better than what you’ll find here.

I admit a waffled a little on whether I really wanted to pick this up. I finally decided there was just enough material here that I hadn’t seen before that combined with the lovely hardcover volume it was worth the money to me. I’ll surely pull it out and read it many times. But it’s a tall investment for other fans, I understand. You might do better to seek out one of the older paperback collections to give it a try before you plunk down a C-note – or even a little over $60 at Amazon.com – for this one.

(I think Marvel issued this with two covers, one each with Cap’s two costumes. I picked up the one with his original costume, as depicted at left. I actually like his original costume better, but it’s incongruous here since he shifts to his new costume on the very first page. Small matter, though.)

What’s Wrong With The A’s?

I can’t really improve on the title of Rob Neyer’s article on the Oakland Athletics’ downward spiral. Neyer rebuts Columnist Monte Poole’s contention that Oakland GM Billy Beane’s decision to let shortstop Miguel Tejada walk after 2003 and sign third baseman Eric Chavez to a 6-year deal after 2004 is a big part of the reason.

Neyer fails to mention a point which bolsters his case: In 2003, the A’s had Jermaine Dye signed to a big deal which didn’t expire until after 2004. Tejada was a free agent after 2003, but the A’s cash flow – never noted for its voluminous flow – didn’t have space to sign a big free agent until after 2004, when Dye’s deal was up. Chavez’ contract status dovetailed nicely with Dye’s departure, but Tejada’s did not.

Nonetheless, I myself can’t shake the feeling that there’s something awry with Billy Beane’s strategy of running the A’s. The great A’s teams of the turn of the millennium were primarily driven by some great players drafted by the previous administration (Giambi, Tejada, Chavez, Hudson, Mulder). Beane did a fine job filling in the gaps around those players, but as they departed, Beane has largely replaced them with more good gap-fillers, rather than franchise players. While he’s had some bad luck in this regard, the A’s draft record under Beane does not look particularly strong.

Beane’s strategy in a broad sense has been described as looking to exploit inefficiencies in the “market” for baseball players. To be fair to Beane, the market has gotten a lot more efficient over the last decade (a point I believe he’s made himself) as the rest of the league as adopted and adapted his strengths. However, I think the inefficiencies he’s tried to exploit have gone from major facets (on-base percentage), to secondary skills (team defense), to relatively minor factors (signing Jason Giambi cheaply in the hopes that he’s not quite done). In the meantime, the A’s lineup features a number of fairly pedestrian hitters who are markedly devoid of power – a skill which is arguably overvalued, but which is still quite important. Guys like Jack Cust and Kurt Suzuki are nice complementary players, but they’re not guys to center your team around.

While the A’s have had plenty of bad fortune, I think Neyer goes a little wrong in pointing out that the Red Sox and Dodgers have made plenty of mistakes and they’re doing okay. One thing that a high payroll buys a team is more flexibility to cover for their mistakes (not infinite flexibility, but more). The Red Sox and Dodgers have that, the A’s have less such flexibility than almost any team in the Majors.

“What about the Rays? They traded Edwin Jackson for Matt Joyce!” says Neyer. Yeah, but the Rays look a lot like the team that Beane was piloting back in 1999-2000. Can they keep it up without one of the larger payrolls in baseball? It’s too soon to tell.

As for the A’s, given their financial situation it’s hard to say what they should be doing differently other than having a little good luck for a change. But somehow they’re on a downhill slide, while the Minnesota Twins – who have been a comparable team in many ways throughout the decade – continue to remain contenders, in a genrally stronger division. So the task shouldn’t be insurmountable.

Maybe it is just a matter of luck.

Upgrades

All-in-all, quite a productive weekend.

After a quiet morning at home on Saturday, Debbi and I went for a bike ride through the park and down the bike trail, stopping in the park for lunch at the lakeside cafe, and going over the new pedestrian bridge they finished a month or so ago. We cooled down with some yoga exercises on the Wii.

Then we headed to Palo Alto where I bought myself an iPhone 3GS, upgrading from my original model. While this is a tad frivolous, it is a much bigger upgrade over my phone than the 3G was: Faster processors, better camera, more memory, built-in compass – all useful items. Especially the speed and the camera. I ordered a new holster, the newer edition of the one I’ve been using for my old phone: A Marware Sidewinder Deluxe. I like the hard shell and screen protection when I’m not using the phone, while giving me full access to the screen when I am using it. Hopefully it’ll be just as good as the earlier version.

We went to Cafe Borrone in the evening as usual, and on the way home got caught on a summer rainshower that hit the mid-peninsula – very unusual in these parts in July. We often get a little shower in August, and I’ll be curious to see whether it arrived a month early, or if this was a bonus shower. Either way, it was nice.

Today we had an even quieter morning at home, with Debbi making scones and then us sitting on the porch reading the paper with our scones and coffee, enjoying the cool weather. Then we hit the farmer’s market.

In the afternoon I tackled the project of installing a new faucet in the sink of Debbi’s bathroom. This was a pain in the ass, partly because I’d never replaced a faucet before, and partly because the old tubing for the cold water lost its seal when I was trying to fix it all up, and we had to go out and buy a new tube. But I finally got it hooked up, including the drain control, and it works without any leaks. In retrospect I guess it wasn’t too bad, but messing around under the sink is not at all convenient.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned my latest physical ailment: My hips have been getting sore at odd times, usually for days on end, making it difficult to switch between sitting and standing. It started the week before we left on vacation, so less than a month ago. For some reason working under the sink aggravated them badly, and I’ve been hobbling around for the rest of the afternoon. It’s really frustrating, especially since the pinched nerve in my neck seems to be almost better (it only bothered me a little while biking yesterday). Doing a couple of yoga poses seems to help work out the soreness, fortunately, but it’s not a panacea.

Anyway, I wrapped up the day with our book discussion group, dinner at Su Hong, and a few more yoga poses with the Wii. Tomorrow I plan to bike in to work, just in time for temperatures around here to clear 90. Ugh!

But I’m happy with what I got done this weekend. Now I need to go relax for the rest of the evening.