This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 27 June 2007.

Brian Hibbs says this is a big week, but it was a small week for me as a buyer, and not a strong one, either:

  • Countdown #44 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen & Carlos Magno (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #10, by Jodi Picoult & Paco Diaz (DC)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #3 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #7, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Countdown is getting so slow that it’s dreary. Unlike 52 where the characters had clear problems to deal with from the outset, Dini’s story is plodding along with various mysteries surrounding the characters, but not much that seems threatening. The core of the story is the Monitor cabal, but that storyline is developing at a glacial pace. Honestly, the “History of the DC Multiverse” backups are more interesting than the main story at this point, even though I’ve already read all the stories it’s recounting.

Even worse than that, though, is Wonder Woman: Jodi Picoult’s run on the title limps to a halt (but not a conclusion – no, for that you have to read Amazons Attack, which I’m not going to bother with) in rather pointless fashion. Has any title in recent memory been less focused and more frustrating than this Wonder Woman relaunch? I’m so fed up that I’m not even going to bother with Gail Simone’s run, as she’s the next sacrificial lamb on the book. (Simone seems to have the bad luck of being assigned to books after I’ve become so disspirited with them that I’m not even willing to give a new writer a chance. Birds of Prey, for instance.)

Somewhat brighter, Castle Waiting this month has the character interplay which is what I enjoy most about the book. The current story is dragging on a bit, and to no apparent conclusion, but at least some of the bits along the way are fun. I do wish Medley would get back to writing shorter, more focused stories, though. The first volume of the title was great fun until it went off the rails with “Solicitine”, a lengthy story about the story of Sister Peace, the bearded nun, which I wished had been condensed down to about half its length.

Okay, I guess I’m just a grump about comics this week.

Two Historical Accounts

Lee’s Comics: The Early Years (at the Lee’s Comics blog) chronicles the first few years of the South Bay comic book store, back when it was a hole in the wall at the south end of Palo Alto. Lots of great photos in the entry, anyone who bought comics in the 80s should feel nostalgic reading it. Lee’s Comics celebrates its 25th anniversary next month – quite a run!

Apple: America’s Best Retailer (at CNN) chronicles the design and history of the Apple retail stores. Interesting reading, although not quite so nostalgic.

Holy Traffic, Batman!

Saturday Debbi and I drove down to Santa Cruz, more-or-less on a whim. I thought it would be fun to go to the Beach Boardwalk to play mini golf on their indoor course (which we’d never played before).

Unfortunately, everyone else decided to go to Santa Cruz on the beautiful sunny day, too.

For the most part this wasn’t a problem: We hit a little traffic heading out of Silicon Valley, and some more when we reached Route 1 in Santa Cruz, but it was entirely bearable. Then we bludgeoned our way through the city to the waterfront.

And stopped completely a mere two blocks from the parking lot.

Now it’s not that the parking lot was full, in fact when we finally got there there were several spaces available, and we got a good one. No, the problem is that it too twenty-five minutes to drive those last two blocks, from one end of the lot to the entrance at the other end. I think it was the cross-traffic driving along the edge of the beach that was slowing things down, not letting people in from our direction. It was nuts. I was able to force my way around the last corner and then we finally got to the lot and parked, thank goodness.

Sheesh, next time we’ll leave in the morning, rather than after lunch. Or better yet, wait for an overcast day.

Once there, we had a good time. We did play mini golf: It’s a fun course, with three holes indoors with glow-in-the-dark decor. The course had more twists and turns than the other courses I’ve played around here, reminding me more of the courses I played with my Dad around the Boston area. I liked it.

We bought soft serve ice cream, then walked along the boardwalk and gawked. We didn’t feel like going on any rides, but we enjoyed the sun and also bought a funnel cake (a.k.a. “fried dough” as I always think of it) and some shaved ice (one of the few things I miss from my days in New Orleans, and yet another motivation to want to return to Hawaii). Somehow we completely forgot to play video games in the arcasde. On the other hand, I don’t really need further evidence of how far my Robotron skills have fallen.

A nice jaunt, all in all, but man, that traffic!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 20 June 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #53, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • The Brave and The Bold #4, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown #45 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #29, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice League of America #10, by Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest Prologue, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, & Mike Perkins (Marvel)
  • Incredible Hulk #107, by Greg Pak, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (Marvel)
  • Boneyard #25, by Richard Moore (NBM)
  • Captain Clockwork: Chronology by Glenn Whitmore (Captain Clockwork)

Aquaman is reportedly on the chopping block. In a way this is too bad, because I’d like to actually read the end of this current story, but it’s been dragging on so long and so aimlessly that I can’t work up too much sympathy.

Gosh how I love The Brave and The Bold: Punchy, funny writing, inventive threats, and plenty of tension. Really, Mark Waid has reinvented the sorts of stories that populated comics in my childhood, but updated them and made them feel less ludicrous. They’re just fun. Now granted, this is one long story (I don’t know how many issues it’s going to run), but it’s pretty much the cream of the crop in mainstream superhero comics today.

On the other hand, Justice League of America ends “The Lightning Saga” in a particularly unsatisfying manner: Not only did the Legion of Super-Heroes have hardly any relevance to the story, but the JLA and JSA didn’t really have any, either! Graeme McMillan at Comix Experience sums up the mess; here’s an excerpt with the spoilery bits removed:

Justice League of America #10 is an Awful ending to the JLA/JSA crossover. […] The fact that we’re seeing an entirely different Legion of Super-Heroes from the ones who have their own series isn’t really given any attempt at explanation (There’s one line of dialogue which kind of suggests that they’re from Earth-2? Maybe?). Why this alternaretroLegion came back in time to […] is given no attempt at explanation, either; instead, we’re given scenes that hint that the Legion had an ulterior motive, but, of course, that’s not explained either. It’s hard for me to say how truly sloppy this final chapter is, even compared with the earlier parts of this story. It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company, with all the entitlement and lack of logic or respect for the reader that that implies. […] [G]oddamn if [DC’s] not making it hard to care with the shitty comics that they’re putting out right now.

“It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company”. That’s exactly right.

Greg Burgas savages this issue in much greater detail over at Comics Should Be Good. If you bothered to read “The Lightning Saga”, you should read his critique. His point about there not being a villain (or any sort of antagonist) in the story is also well-taken, and is another indication that this truly is just fan fiction.

My enjoyment of Nova has not only gotten me interested in last year’s Annihilation event from Marvel (but I’ll wait for the trade paperbacks to come out), but in the new Annihilation Conquest event. The reason I’m interested is that it seems like it’s only an “event” in name, but it’s really just a framework for the creators to play in a separate area of the Marvel Universe (i.e., deep space) within a larger story. That sort of thing can be a lot of fun. Beats the heck out of what’s going on on Earth in the MU.

Incredible Hulk is running a sort-of side story to World War Hulk, involving some occasional allies of the Hulk (Hercules and Angel in this case), and Amadeus Cho, a teenager who’s the 7th-smartest person in the world. It’s more comical than dramatic, and it feels unnecessary other than to mark time in the regular book while WWH is going on. Nice art (as usual) by Gary Frank, though.

Captain Clockwork: Chronology is a trade paperback-sized black-and-white volume starring Glenn Whitmore’s character, who is really four heroes who operate in different time periods, between World War II and the mid-21st century. I reviewed the special a couple of months ago, and this is more of the same; indeed, it collects the special, some earlier-published stories, and a few new ones, in a nice squarebound $12.95 package. The sometimes-befuddling artwork would be fine except that the stories are likewise befuddling: The first three Clockworks all have the same name and all resemble each other (except that the third one has a goatee), and individual stories often confused me, especially in their resolution. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in that there is a larger story being told, but it’s a loose story and not entirely satisfying.

Overall, I think Whitmore needs to tighten up both his writing and his drawing for this to be a worthwhile ongoing project. I’d consider buying a second volume, but I’d want to see some substantial improvement when thumbing through it before plunking down the money.

Milton Bradley

The A’s designated outfielder Milton Bradley for assignment yesterday. It was an unusual, unexpected move (Subrata‘s reaction when I told him in chat was “What the–?? Holy cr-p!”), since it means the A’s will have no leverage to trade him, and they’ll likely have to eat most of the remaining $4 million of his 2007 salary. Rightly or wrongly, I think A’s GM Billy Beane felt that he was backed into a corner due to a wealth of outfielders (which admittedly is a “nice problem to have”).

The A’s have had a lot of problems with injuries so far this year, and consequently they’ve done a lot of shuffling to actually have 3 outfielders available at some points in time. With Bradley having just come off the DL, that means all of their 1B/OF/DH players are available at once. So now what? Well, here’s who they’ve got, with their stats to date this year:

Position Player Age PA AVG/OBP/SLG MLVr VORP
1B Dan Johnson 27 217 253/369/427 0.57 7.0
CF Mark Kotsay 31 69 250/304/344 -.172 -0.3
CF/RF Milton Bradley 29 71 306/380/468 .186 5.4
RF/1B/CF Nick Swisher 26 282 295/420/493 .267 24.1
DH/LF Jack Cust 28 146 276/425/578 .361 13.7
LF/RF Travis Buck 23 195 285/381/503 .211 13.5
LF Shannon Stewart 33 254 271/352/333 -0.84 2.3
DH/C Mike Piazza 38 112 282/339/379 -0.32 1.2

Even with Mike Piazza on the DL, you still have 7 players for 5 positions. Dan Johnson isn’t the best first baseman in the world, but he’s pretty good, and it’s unlikely that anyone but (maybe) Swisher would be willing to move to first base to displace him. Swisher is the team’s star, Cust has been a powerhouse at the plate and the team’s going to ride him until he stops producing, and Buck is young, developing, and hitting just as well as Bradley. They’re all going to play ahead of Bradley. And Stewart is signed to a corner-outfield-backup contract (he’s only being paid $1M this year).

Lastly, it seems clear that someone has to go, because carrying 6 outfielders is going to impact either the pitching staff or the infield backups, and it’s really more important to have backups for the infield than the outfield.

So the A’s conundrum basically comes down to: Bradley or Kotsay in center field? They’re both about equally good as defenders, they’re both likely to get hurt again (I think Bradley is riskier than Kotsay on that front), but Bradley’s almost certain to be the better hitter.

So why did the A’s choose Bradley over Kotsay? I believe there were two reasons:

  1. Bradley is a free agent after this season, being paid $4M for the year. Kotsay is in the first year of a 2-year, $15M extension. (See the A’s player contracts.)
  2. Bradley has a reputation as a troublesome guy in the clubhouse, having famously clashed with Jeff Kent when he was with the Dodgers. Now, clashing with Jeff Kent hardly makes Bradley unique, and it’s impossible to tell (from my standpoint as a fan) just how reflective Bradley’s reputation is of the man himself. But if the reputation is earned, then this might be a factor.

Between his injuries, his contact, and his personality, the A’s might have decided that it was better to go with Kotsay for the remainder of the season. With Swisher able to spell Kotsay in center field if necessary, the A’s are probably covered in the event of most further injuries.

So I suspect that the bottom line is that the A’s decided it was easier for someone else to deal with Bradley’s flaws – even if the A’s are paying his salary – than to demote or waive one of their other players. A harsh decision, but a defensible one, based on the evidence available to me.

Many other teams probably would have demoted Buck or Cust and held on to Bradley to get whatever production they could out of him, and perhaps a draft pick when he walks after the season. But the A’s are an unusual team, and they had an unusual problem. Did they make the right move? A lot of that will depend on whether Kotsay stay healthy and return his hitting to a productive level.

The A’s are in the thick of the wild card race, and trying to catch the surging Angels, so it’s not like this is a low-pressure decision; it could one that makes the difference between playing baseball or golf in October. But you gotta hand it to Billy Beane: He doesn’t flinch when it comes to making the tough calls. And that’s one reason he’s one of the best general managers in baseball.

(P.S.: It turns out that Jack Cust and I share a birthday, along with a slightly more storied player. They’re better hitters than I am, but I bet they don’t know Objective-C.)

Classic Car Recovered After 31 Years

What a cool story:

Since the summer of ’76, Ron Leung thought his stolen 1956 Ford Thunderbird was “like the Roman Empire – history.” That is, until he got a call from Palo Alto police Thursday, almost 31 years to the day after it disappeared.

Now he’s eager to get the car to Palo Alto from Southern California, where it was recovered, reportedly in good shape.

Stories of mysteries solved years or decades after they occurred fascinate me.

Why We Live Here

It’s the weather, really. Well, okay, the jobs are nice, too, but the climate is the reason the Bay Area is so attractive to so many people. Sure, people come and go depending on the economy, but over time there are just so many people who want to live in a place with nice weather almost year-round, rather than deal with snow or six months or rain or tornadoes or humidity or mosquitoes or whatever.

Subrata called it the “eternal summer” the first year I moved here: Sunny days from April through October. The usual morning forecast is “cloudy in the morning, burning off around midday, high around seventy-something.” No, really: I hear this on the radio around 200 days a year. (Most of the rest of the days differ in that they’re either “high in the eighties”, or “chance of showers”.)

(In San Francisco itself, adjust for more fog and lower temperatures, except in September and October when it’s usually warmer.)

Last night I walked out of my building at work. It was still warm (we’re at the trailing end of a heat wave), but the smell in the air and the cooling breeze made me think that I need to get biking to work again.

This morning after breakfast I took Blackjack out on the back patio. I watched him carefully so he wouldn’t spot a squirrel and take off up a tree, but mostly he just wanted to sniff plants.

Several times this month I’ve remarked around 8 pm what a perfect evening it was. I’m sure we’ll have many more.

I don’t take full advantage of the weather the way some of my more outdoorsy friends do, but it’s relaxing just to experience it.

Until September, when I’m sick of it and ready for it to rain.

But even then, it beats humidity and mosquitoes.

Get Fuzzy: Scrum Bums

Darby Conley’s strip Get Fuzzy is fun for reasons other than that its fictional head-of-household Rob Wilco is a fanatic Red Sox fan, though that helps. Rob is an advertising geek with two anthropomorphic pets: Satchel Pooch is a kindly and responsible dog, but his memory isn’t so good and he frequently misunderstands what others are saying. Bucky Katt is a nasty-tempered siamese cat with a long, deadly fang. He’d greedy and self-centered, and often tries to run scams past Rob and Satchel, but he’s pretty naive about how the world really works.

This, as they say, is their story.

The episodes mostly revolve around Rob and Satchel trying to deal with Bucky’s shenanigans: Trying to con or extort money out of Satchel (or, less often, Rob), his ongoing feud with the ferret next door, or just being generally offended at things around him. Better yet, it often comes with clever wordplay, sometimes feeling like some twisted version of a Marx Brothers film. For instance:

(Click to view the strip)

The latest collection (which came out at the beginning of the year) is Get Fuzzy: Scrum Bums. Though the strip doesn’t change a whole lot over time (Rob stopped wearing glasses a while ago, and the Red Sox haven’t won the World Series for a few years now), it’s still quite funny. I think I enjoy when Rob gives Bucky his comeuppance the most, especially when Bucky doesn’t quite realize that he just pulled a fast one on himself.

Despite his clean linework, Conley’s art reminds me more of some of the odd styles from the early days of MAD Magazine: His characters are distinctive and usually kind of funny-looking, with a wide variety of facial expressions. He also makes extensive use of forced perspective, which puts the animals on equal footing – at first glance, anyway – with Rob. Conley’s style is not the sort that I’m usually into, but he’s certainly capable enough, and his writing and characters more than make up for the strip’s sometimes-repetitive panel style. And his art style is certainly distinctive on today’s comics page.

He manages to mix moments of pathos in with the silliness, too. For instance, Satchel learns that he’s actually Canadian, and Rob takes the pair on a trip to meet Satchel’s parents and see where he came from. The trio shares a quiet moment once they’re there:


That’s about as quiet as Bucky gets. Really.

Get Fuzzy has accreted a huge supporting cast over time, many of whom are hilarious. A recent strip sequence featured many of them gradually moving in with Rob and company, until Rob finally put his foot down. Since many of the animals tend to be on the dim side, they all had bizarrely ineffective ways of dealing with each other. My favorite relatively-recent addition is Mac Manc McManx and his impenetrable British accent; although I wonder whether he might offend the occasional British reader, he also demonstrates how the spirit of Chico Marx continues to influence our culture. (Kidding! I’m kidding! Sorta.) I think he embodies the strip’s fundamental zaniness and tendency for its stories to veer out of control in bizarre ways.

Overall, Get Fuzzy keeps me coming back to see what ridiculous plan Bucky’s cooked up this week, and how it goes wrong and throws everyone out-of-sorts until things settle back to normal. Silliness unleashed is how I like my comic strips, and hardly anyone wears a leash in Get Fuzzy.

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