I Survived The Heat

WWDC went well last week. Everything I’ve been working on is still under nondisclosure 🙂 but it seemed to be well-received. I spent my usual shifts (plus a few hours) in the labs, which were low-key for me compared to usual (and my cow-orker who works in my same general area had the same feeling). My biggest success was figuring out that someone had somehow ended up with a corrupted install of his developer tools, and figuring out exactly what was broken (although not why). I did come into the office on Wednesday and did a quick turnaround of an issue my managers wanted me to look at.

I always sign up for the 9 am Friday morning lab shift, partly because it’s fun to get up with Deb and carpool up with her to get dropped off at Caltrain, and partly because it leaves me with the afternoon free to do stuff. I went to lunch with friends (some from work, some attendees) afterwards, and then took BART over to drop in on Borderlands Books.

I was grateful that the heat wave of the previous weekend broke before the conference started, since walking to and from Caltrain is no fun in 80+ degree heat. In the normal cooler weather, though, it’s quite nice. Plus I get to do some reading on the way there and back.

I was less grateful when a new heat wave moved in on Saturday, as it dampened my enthusiasm to do much stuff around the house. Though neither heat wave was as brutal as the ones we’ve had in the past. And we did get out to look for a new gas grill; I ended up buying a Weber Genesis E310 from OSH, which was having their periodic “we pay the sales tax” sale this weekend. Between the grill and various other things I picked up, I saved a bundle of money in sales tax. Now I just have to put the grill together…

Back to work this week, but it’s a pretty low key week as everyone recovers from WWDC. I biked in today, and had a flat tire when I came out of the gym after showering. I walked it over to the bike shop to get it repaired (I could have repaired it myself but decided I’d rather have a pro do it since they’re not far away), and learned that the nut which holds the nozzle in place can cause the tube to rupture if you tighten it too far, which I must have done. I also learned that the nut is not really needed, so I got rid of it. Success!

Lastly, we’re moving offices again on Friday (the second and final stage of our big office move, staged this way I think mainly because our building has gotten substantially remodeled along the way), so I’m packing today, and then taking the rest of the week off to catch up on some of that stuff at home. And then I’ll have another new environment to get used to!

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman #700, by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Scott Kolins, Andy Kubert & David Finch (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/Wildstorm/America’s Best Comics)
  • Secret Six #22, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • The Unwritten #14, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Captain America #606, by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice (Marvel)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #2 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • Echo #22, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Chip #2 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #3 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Chew #11, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Batman #700 already? Seems like only yesterday that I was buying Batman #400 (okay, it was really 1986). Conveniently, Superman #700 and Wonder Woman #600 are right around the corner (both to be written by J. Michael Straczynski), almost like DC planned this. Hmm.

This particular issue is a slice of Batman’s current status quo, being a time travel locked-room murder mystery taking place in the past (when Bruce Wayne was Batman and Dick Grayson was Robin), the present (when Dick is Batman and Damian Wayne is Robin) and the future (when Damian is Batman). It brings back the quaint 50s plot point of using hypnosis to effect time travel (I know, it makes no sense, but it was still rather fun), and plays up the differences among the three Batmen, especially how Dick is a much more lighthearted figure than either of the Waynes. The story is basically absurd, with the motivation behind the murder not holding water (this is Morrison in his “too-clever-by-half” mode), and there’s a series of epilogues with other future Batmen which is completely irrelevant to the issue, but it’s still a charming issue. Rather in the mode of Earth-1/Earth-2 stories of decades past, contrasting the retired Batman of Earth-2 with the in-his-prime Batman of Earth-1 (one of the best of which being The Brave and the Bold #200).

The art, by several big-name artists, unfortunately is mostly mediocre and uninspired. What flair Frank Quitely showed early in his DC career (such as in JLA: Earth 2), I think he’s pretty much lost it, in favor of over-rendered figures in drab layouts and poses. (Gary Frank’s development as an artist has gone down a similar blind alley.)

Others have observed that this didn’t feel like a very satisfactory anniversary issue. Its flaws as a comic aside, I think it worked about as well as most; not many anniversary issues really live up to their promise (Justice League of America #200 is the exception rather than the rule), we just wish they would.

I mainly wanted to run that Astonishing X-Men cover because it’s so awful.

The story isn’t much: Arriving in Africa, the X-Men show the army that shows up to stop them who’s who, then learn that the mutant babies being born in this poor and oppressed nation are, in fact, not actually mutants (which they already knew) but being created by Ghost Box radiation (which they didn’t). Ghost Boxes being devices they learned about earlier in Ellis’ run which are used to move between parallel worlds, suggesting another attempt at an invasion, an ongoing plot point which is taking seemingly forever to go anywhere (and not just because the series has been running well behind anything resembling a monthly schedule). Finally the army shows up again threatening to kill all the doctors if the X-Men don’t clear out and stop interfering in their business.

On top of that, Emma Frost is becoming so insufferable that I’d rather like someone to rip her lungs out. What exactly does Cyclops see in her?

Kaare Andrews’ art, well, go read what I wrote about it last month, because it’s not really any better this month.

Next issue’s cover is even worse, so I’ll be back then to run it, too.

This was pretty much inevitable: I’ve added Ed Brubaker’s Captain America to my pull list. I’m nearly caught up on the series through the trades, I just haven’t read Reborn or the story before this one yet. But it’s truly an excellent superhero comic, maybe the best being published today.

This issue starts a new arc in which Bucky Barnes – who is the current Captain America since Steve Rogers died a few years ago (he’s back now, but Bucky is still Cap) – is continuing to struggle with depression. Aside from having lived a hellish life since World War II (the details of which were explained earlier in the series), he’s also having a hard time filling Rogers’ shoes, living up to the symbol he represents, and he recently had a nasty run-in with another former Cap. So he’s gotten a little reckless and might have a death wish, which Rogers and the Falcon try to help him with. Meanwhile, Baron Zemo, whose father was the one who nearly killed Cap and Bucky at the end of World War II, has learned that Bucky is still alive, and decides to start gunning for him.

This is actually a pretty good place to jump on to the series, since aside from Bucky’s complicated backstory it’s a good starting point, laying down several threads that Brubaker will follow in the coming months. And it’s a good example of the tone of the series, with strong character bits and intricate plotting, with moments of action that don’t dominate the comic (which makes it rather un-Marvel-like).

Brubaker’s art teams have also been outstanding on the run, Steve Epting having done most of the earlier issues, with Butch Guice and a few others contributing as well (Guice is the artist here). The common thread in the art is that despite the series frequently involving people standing around talking, they make even that interesting through solid compositions, good use of body language, and complex shadows.

If, like me, you haven’t been following Brubaker’s run on Captain America, I urge you to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

With the latest issue of Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, we see that John Byrne is pulling together plot threads from several of his Star Trek series, and I think every one is represented here: Gary Seven (from Assignment: Earth) appears to help clean up a problem he accidentally created in his series, the Klingons are involved (as they were in the Romulans series), and Number One (from Crew, and now an admiral) arrives to take a hand in matters. I’m not entirely sure whether all of these bits are going anywhere, but it seems like they might be. I can’t quite see the shape of it, though.

This particular issue is more-than-usually improbable, though, as I didn’t buy the reason that McCoy and his team ended up on the planet the way they did, and the developments at the end of the issue that shake up the status quo constitute a rather strange page to turn in the middle of the 5-issue series. Still, Byrne’s Star Trek run has had a number of odd twists and turns, story developments that don’t feel very satisfying; I can’t tell whether he’s just playing around, or whether there’s a method to his madness. But it’s still a great run for an old-time Star Trek geek like me. Warts and all (heck, maybe sometimes because of the warts), it’s one of the most-fun comics out there.

This Week’s Haul

Despite all the books below, the two best reads I picked up this week were from the back catalog: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Road to Reborn TPB, which is something of an intermission in the series but is the latest collection available. Have I gushed about Brubaker’s Captain America already? Really excellent stuff, being more adventure in the pulp/suspense tradition using mainstream Marvel characters than straight-super superheroics. Basically unlike anything else Marvel is publishing today.

And then there’s Bryan Talbot’s Grandville HC, which on the one hand is an anthropomorphic graphic novel in that the lead character is a badger who walks and acts like a man and nearly every other character is also an animal, but on the other hand it’s a spy/intrigue story in an alternate world where France conquered the western world in the era of Napoleon, and in which Great Britain only recently won its independence. Talbot (correctly) ignores the peculiar inconsistencies that this could lead to in favor of telling a solid story with fine artwork (albeit slightly less detailed than his usual work). Unless anthropomorphic comics drive you up the wall and you just can’t get past that fact, I highly recommend it. The sequel is due out in a few months.

  • Adventure Comics #12, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza & Marc Deering (DC)
  • Brightest Day #3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Bealy & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #39, by Bill Willingham Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Superman/Batman Annual 34, by Paul Levitz, Renato Guedes & Jose Wilson (DC)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #1 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1 of 4, by David Petersen, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh & Scott Keating (Archaia)
  • Freakangels vol 4 TPB, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar)
  • Irredeemable #14, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Invincible #72, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
Heh, I knew the current JSA storyline would involve time travel to set things straight. The time travel in question involves “only” sending a message back in time, and the suspense is that it’s not clear whether the message will be understood or received at the right time, but surely everything will work out for the best.

The core setting of the story draws from many different elements: The superheroes being imprisoned and having to escape is very similar to the “Super-Stalag of Space” story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes from Adventure Comics #343-344. The grim future where the heroes have been all but eliminated unless they can find a way to change one event in the past was the premise of Grant Morrison’s best JLA arc, “Rock of Ages”. And of course both of those elements form the seminal X-Men dystopian tale, “Days of Future Past”.

So while this is a decent enough JSA yarn, it’s a far cry from being groundbreaking or original. I suspect there are a couple of issues left, so Willingham may yet surprise us, but it’s been pretty much what I expected otherwise.

I guess the hardcover collections of Bob Layton’s great Hercules mini-series of the 1980s must have been well received, since this week we got the first chapter of a new installment in the run, Hercules: Death of a God. Taking place centuries in the future, as the first two did, Herc has a son who’s become a emperor of a galactic empire, a benevolent monarch educated by his father. Arimathes has several children of his own now, and is not immortal, unlike his father. However, at the beginning of the issue Hercules suffers a traumatic brain injury, one so severe that the empire’s doctors fear that another serious blow could kill him. He takes medication for his condition, but it interacts badly with his drinking. And Herc’s longtime companions are nearing their own ends, as Skyppi the Skrull is quite old, while the Recorder appears to be wearing down. All of this is set against the backdrop of people scheming to their own ends within the empire.

The series has (in my mind) a huge legacy to live up to, Layton’s originals being well-drawn and often-hilarious comics with plenty of heart. This first issue is a little disappointing, as it seems like Herc is limping off into the darkness rather than going out like a lion. Of course, it would be in keeping with the tone of the series for him to face one last big threat rather than going quietly. It would be even more in keeping for him to beat his condition entirely.

Ron Lim does the pencilling under Layton’s inks, whereas Layton drew the whole thing himself in the earlier series. Lim seems to be Marvel’s go-to guy when a top tier artist can’t make their deadlines; he’s reliable, but not very flashy, having a rather generic style. So overall the series doesn’t quite look as good, but it’s okay.

So the first issue is something of a mixed bag, whereas I’d been hoping it would knock my socks off. But, it still might.

Antisocial Networking

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference starts today. Many of my cow-orkers were already heading up to the city yesterday to finish preparing for it (or so their tweets said), and also to hang out with each other and with their friends in the developer community.

I always feel like an outsider during WWDC. I don’t know people in the developer community, I don’t go to the after-hours gatherings at the conference (neither parties nor bars are my thing), and most of my interaction with attendees at the conference is helping people in the labs. (This is rewarding in its way, but not exactly a good way to get to know people.) So I’m envious of my cow-orkers who look forward to WWDC with enthusiasm, since it seems like I ought to be able to share in that enthusiasm, but I can’t.

I’ve felt similarly in other communities where it seems like I should fit in, too. I never really connected at all in the comic book community (other than hanging out and shooting the shit at my local store on Wednesday), and I often felt like an outsider in science fiction fandom, too, despite going to many conventions in my 20s. Most of my fannish friends I didn’t connect with specifically through science fiction, but in other ways, and my main interests in science fiction – hard and far-future SF – seem like a pretty small niche (as media SF and fantasy have come to dominate the field). It seems like there should be some community where I can talk with people who are also into my kind of science fiction, but I’m not really even sure what such a group would look like.

I have rarely felt like a member of a community in my life. I don’t think I’m very good at it. (I’m reminded me Batman saying, on the founding of the Justice League in the cartoon version, “I’m not much of a people person.”) I’ve always been a fairly inwardly-turned personality (my mom once described me as “self-entertaining”), although I do have many friends and I seem to be one of the more gregarious people in the office. By and large I seem to be outgoing around people I know, and not around people I don’t.

As far as WWDC goes, I wish I could get into it as much as some of my cow-orkers do, since it’s something I attend every year as part of my job, so it might as well be fun, too. But however everyone else is enjoying it, doing the same is something that eludes me. (And yes, I know not everyone from Apple to work at WWDC enjoys it like those folks do. Perhaps I’m focusing excessively on a particular group rather than the norm, I don’t know.)

While I’m usually perfectly fine with feeling like an outsider, WWDC week is one of the few times that it gets to me.

New Nano

Is it silly to be excited to get a new toy like this? Especially since there have been weeks when I’ve spent more on comic books than I spent on this? (Okay, very few such weeks, but still.)

I mainly plan to use this to play podcasts in my car, replacing my venerable – but nearing the end – 80 Gb “classic” iPod.

Submarine Days

Busy times at work lately, but fortunately winding down at the end of the week into what I was calling “submarine days”, referring to the old observation that being in a submarine at wartime involves long stretches of calm punctuated by minutes of sheer terror. In other words, while we’re starting to look at the next thing, we’re waiting to see if there are any urgent, last-minute things to do for the previous thing, and whether there are isn’t really known until someone discovers it. And then there’s WWDC this coming week, which is always a pretty big change of pace from my usual life as a software developer.

In addition, now that the unusually late rains have finally wound down, we’re in the midst of a heat wave this weekend! Oh joy! Actually it wasn’t as bad today as I’d feared: Today we went to the Sunnyvale Art & Wine Festival with our friends Lisa & Michel and their daughter, and although it was warm, it wasn’t really uncomfortable. We even had lunch outside at Thai Basil! I closed up the house while we were gone (we don’t have air conditioning) but I’m not sure it was necessary. We’ve had worse heat waves than this. It looks like it’ll stay this warm (highs in the mid-80s) through Monday, and then start cooling off slowly.

Of course, that means my walk to the train to get up to the conference could be a little sticky on Tuesday.

Other than work, life has continued apace. Our tomato and cucumber plants in the back yard are growing now that the rain has gone and the sun has arrived. Weeds are trying to take over the front lawn, and I’ve been pulling them up a few at a time. (If that doesn’t work we may need to re-sod the lawn.) We got together with Subrata and Susan last night for dinner and games – their family has been sick it seems almost continuously for three months, so we haven’t seen them much other than me seeing them at gaming.

We’ve done a number of little things in recent weeks that I haven’t written about: Gone to a nearby park to throw a frisbee around (Debbi has gotten a lot better at throwing than when we started a couple of years ago), gone to the coast and ridden our bikes on the coast trail, and I’ve started biking in to work regularly (rain permitting).

But I haven’t had the time and energy (at least, not both at the same time) to write new entries lately. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back into it in the next couple of weeks.