This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 21 November 2007.

Still catching up on recording my weekly haul. Two large weeks in a row didn’t make it easy to keep up, since it look quite a while just to read everything (which is sort of the point, right?). This is the haul for 21 November 2007, Thanksgiving week:

  • Action Comics #859, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #8, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #23 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #3 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong, and Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia (DC)
  • Ex Machina #32, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Annihilation Book 3 TPB by Keith Giffen, Andrea DiVito, Christos N. Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephano Landini, Stuart Moore, Mike McKone, & Scott Kolins (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk #111, by Greg Pak, Jeff Parker & Leonard Kirk (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy #3 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #9, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
  • The Boys #12, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Invincible #46, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Action Comics #859 “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” in Action Comics is turning out to be a pretty entertaining story: We find out why the Legion is persona non grata in the 31st century, and who their antagonists are. And it doesn’t look good so far, as several more Legionnaires fall to the enemy. How Superman figures into all this is probably the neatest part of this story, as the enemy has twisted Superman’s legacy to their own ends, and imagining how he feels about that – and knowing that no one other than the Legion believes the truth – is a compelling notion. What would be worse than finding out that you’ve been forgotten a thousand years in the future, than to learn that your name means something the opposite of what you worked to achieve?

So it’s a cool set-up. I hope Geoff Johns can avoid the clichéd ending to wrap it up. For instance, the “Some super-villain’s mind-controlled everyone” ending, or the “Superman beats the main antagonist into submission thereby winning the goodwill of the public” ending.

Annihilation Book 3 I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Annihilation, of which Volume 3 is the final volume. It’s even better than Annihilation Conquest, which is currently running and also entertaining.

The premise of Annihilation is that Annihilus – the extremely powerful armored insectoid who’s faced the Fantastic Four in the past – learns that our universe is gradually expanding into the Negative Zone where he rules, and he convinces virtually the entire Negative Zone to launch a massive attack on our universe. The emerge through the Crunch, the edge of the universe containing the energies of the universe’s creation, and in doing so destroy a high-security prison – the Kyln – and set a variety of nasty creatures free.

The first two volumes collect a number of mini-series spotlighting individual characters dealing with the “Annihilation Wave” – the influx of Annihilus’ forces, who begin by rampaging through the Skrull galaxy. The Nova Corps are destroyed and Richard Ryder is last as the last Nova centurion. The Super-Skrull tries to take the fight to the Negative Zone. The Silver Surfer learns that two creatures freed from the Kyln are nearly as old and as powerful as Galactus, and he returns to Galactus’ service to try to draw him away from the Annihilation Wave. And Ronan the Accuser returns from exile when he learns that the Wave is bearing down on Kree space.

This final volume resolves everything, as Nova leads the resistance against the Annihilation Wave and things go exceedingly poorly, even more so once Annihilus enlists the help of Thanos to tame the power of Galactus for himself.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of Keith Giffen as a writer. I was not a fan of his run with Paul Levitz on Legion of Super-Heroes, and I really hated his sense of humor that he applied to DC in the late 80s and early 90s, such as on Justice League and Ambush Bug. I thought it was, well, rather childish. But as the mastermind (it seems) behind Annihilation, I’m most impressed with his ability to write dark space adventure. Not only does he have real skill at slowly ratcheting up the tension of the story, but he does a great job of handling the myriad characters and making them all seem unique and driven in their own ways: Nova is a pure hero, the Silver Surfer is a tortured hero, Drax the Destroyer is a programmed killing machine who nonetheless does the right thing when not under the thumb of his programmed imperatives, Ronan is a true patriot who believes in doing whatever is best for his people no matter what the cost, and even the villains all have different shades of character and motivations. In short, Giffen is doing today what Jim Starlin did in his heyday on books like Captain Marvel, Warlock and Dreadstar.

(Incidentally, I think that Starlin brought to Marvel in the 70s what Jack Kirby tried to bring to DC in the 70s, except that Starlin actually succeeded in creating a compelling little mythology within the Marvel Universe, whereas all Kirby did was create a surreal and silly little pocket of colorful costumes within the DC Universe.)

Perhaps most importantly, Giffen delivers the true payoff in this concluding volume with both triumphant character moments and dramatic battles. Perhaps the best single moment is when Nova and Ronan talk when things seem darkest, and Ronan the Kree patriot says to Nova the human hero, “Were you Kree, I would call you brother.” Ronan, Drax, the Silver Surfer and Nova all get their moment of triumph (Ronan’s is the best, while the Surfer has to wait for one of the epilogues), and it’s all a lot of fun.

Andrea DiVito has a solid, dynamic art style which serves the story well. There are plenty of full-page and two-page spreads to keep the action moving, and he handles the large cast with their various eccentric designs quite well. The guy must be a machine to have pencilled and inked this whole story himself, although I imagine he had plenty of lead time, too.

Overall, Annihilation is one of the best things Marvel’s published in years. It once again proves the theory that comics are best when they involve assembling great creators when letting them produce great stories, a lesson that Marvel seemed to have learned with “Heroes Reborn” back in 1999, but seems to have forgotten again these days given stuff like Civil War and its aftermath. I’m glad Giffen was able to play with this corner of the Marvel Universe, though, because this was well worth the time it took to read it.

(If you want to read more without reading the story, the whole series is summarized in the Wikipedia entry.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 14 November 2007.

Due to my vacation over Thanksgiving week, I’m running behind on these. This entry is for comic books I bought the week of 14 November 2007:

  • All-Star Superman #9, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Booster Gold #4, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #24 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Fables #67, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC)
  • Salvation Run #1 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Waldon Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #3 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #12, by Gail Simone & Neil Googe (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Nova #8, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Thor #4, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #5 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier HC, by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (America’s Best)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Atomic Robo #2 of 6, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Salvation Run #1 Salvation Run is yet another Countdown tie-in – sort of. These days it’s hard to tell what’s a Countdown tie-in (like this) and what’s not (like Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, whose lead stories both have nothing to do with Countdown). Score another one for DC editorial in the ongoing fiasco that is Countdown.

Anyway, Salvation Run is loosely based on a decade-old idea by George R. R. Martin, which – believe it or not – has nothing to do with my decision to pick it up. No, instead I was mainly interested in the artwork of Sean Chen (who’s art is the reason I started picking up Nova), and I figured the sardonic writing of Bill Willingham (Fables) might work well with the book’s premise, that being that the United States gets tired of all the super-villains stealing, killing, and generally disrupting society, so it decides to start shipping the repeat offenders out to an alien world, to fend for themselves. A world full of super-villains is sure to be a powderkeg – especially since most villains tend to be men – and the moral question of exiling villains to another world seems worth exploring. Anyway, there seems to be a lot of promise here.

The first issue is okay. Chen’s artwork is dynamic but not as detailed as I think it’s been in the past. The story mainly focuses on the Flash’s rogues gallery surviving on the world for some weeks – it’s a pretty hostile and bizarre place – before meeting up with a large number of second-string villains who have just arrived (plus the Joker). The issue ends with the hint that someone’s been tricked in this whole setup, but leaves open the question of why.

So it seems worth following for a 7-issue run, but I hope they do something worthwhile with it. I suspect it would have worked better in Martin’s original Elseworlds configuration.

Nova #8 Man, does Nova have some of the blandest covers in comics these days? I mean, the renderings by Adi Granov are pretty good, but the designs are bo-ring! (I assume these are designs created by editorial and not by Granov.) If they actually reflected the contents of the book, I think they could really help sales.

Anyway, in the wake of his ill-considered Annihilation Conquest storyline, Nova has ended up at the edge of the universe – literally. Unable to escape, he ends up being stranded on a giant space station, which seems nearly deserted except for a few extremely powerful – and somewhat crazed – super-beings, and a talking Russian dog, Cosmo. Cosmo gets the best line of the series so far: “You have seen end of universe and met space zombies, and talkink dog is what freaks you out? Bozshe moi.”

So there’s something nasty going on on this space station, the station itself has a surprising nature, besides being outside the edge of the universe, and Nova’s powers are significantly diminished because the Worldmind that powers him is still spending most of its energy fighting off the Phalanx’s techno-virus. Our hero looks to be in for a rough time – which means this book ought to be back on track now that Nova’s not dealing with the conquest, which he wasn’t really participating in meaningfully anyway.

Thor #4 Thor is now officially combining the world elements of J. Michael Straczynski’s comic book writing: Not only is the story moving at a glacial pace, as Thor gradually tries to reconstruct Asgard, but it’s got Straczynski’s tedious tendency to try to highlight real-world problems through a brief encounter by his larger-than-life protagonist. In this case, Donald Blake goes to a war-torn African nation and ends up in the middle of a civil war. Ya-a-awn. This book went horribly wrong when it became a “visit a problem area somewhere in the world” travelogue, and I’m rapidly running out of confidence that Straczynski can salvage it. Honestly, there’s just not much story here. Coipel’s art is still pretty, though.
World War Hulk #5 Well, I was a little off in my prediction of how World War Hulk would end, but it’s still be a fun ride – a big smash-fest. There was a nifty little surprise regarding what exactly happened to send the Hulk back to Earth looking for revenge, and the Hulk comes to a certain closure at the end of the story. It basically ended the way it had to, but of course this being a superhero comic it’s not really the end. We’ll get back to the status quo sometime.

I do wish that this book had been used to show Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic how wrong they’d been in their treatment of the Hulk and that they were on the wrong end of the Civil War, but Marvel is inexplicably committed to casting two of their long-standing heroes in the roles of villains, so that was clearly too much to hope for. Oh well.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier The Black Dossier is the third volume in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and it’s easily the worst one to date. The problem is that there’s not much story in it, and what there is is both dull and not much fun.

Volume 1 was the best volume to date, because it seemed primarily inspired by the Justice League, assembling a group of 19th century heroes to tackle a threat. The characters and setting made it very different from a Justice League story, but it still had a solid narrative with a lot of tension and a concrete resolution. It also had a lot of little asides referring to other Victoriana, but they were just bonuses and not central to the story.

Volume 2 was enjoyable, but was a big step down from Volume 1. The core idea of the League dealing with H.G. Wells’ Martian invasion was nifty, but it took a turn into the no-fun zone with its rather explicit sex and its brutal resolution. Plus, while the first volume had a text backup story featuring Alan Quatermain, Wells’ time machine, and some H.P. Lovecraft creatures, this volume had a very self-indulgent and tedious travelogue of the League’s world, filled with lots of references to extremely obscure people and places. Little bits of it were entertaining, but mostly it didn’t really add anything.

The Black Dossier goes for the clever references in spades, with extended text sequences featuring characters like Orlando, Fanny Hill, and various other historical background for the League. And most of that stuff is very, very boring, not least because this is supposed to be a graphic novel, and nothing takes the edge off a graphic novel like throwing big blocks of text into it. Honestly, I didn’t even read the bulk of the text sections for that very reason. Snooze. I agree with Johanna Carlson’s observation that the book feels too much like homework much of the time, and that’s no fun. It feels very self-indulgent.

The core story involved Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray – who have both become young again – capturing the Black Dossier from post-Big Brother Britain (the 1950s) so they can learn just how much their government knows about what they’ve been up to for the last decade or two. The Dossier contains the backstory of the League dating back for centuries, and it is reproduced within the main story and accounts for the text segments of the book. The main story has its moments mainly as our heroes are pursued by James Bond, Hugo Drummond and Emma Peel as they try to escape from Britain, but the end of the book is extremely disappointing, making the whole thing feel rather pointless.

I wonder whether this will be the last LoeG book. It’s hard to imagine the series getting much worse from here, though another festival of clever references would probably do the trick. The series has fallen an awful long way from its promising beginnings, so I can’t say it would be a great loss if this is the last installment. This was pretty mediocre stuff.

Anyway, if unlike me you really enjoy all the references – obscure or otherwise – Jess Nevins has posted his annotations for the book so that should keep you busy for a while. I think the joke is long past its sell-by date, personally.

20-Year High School Reunion

The Saturday after Thanksgiving (the 24th) Debbi and I went to our 20-year high school reunion. For those keeping score at home (or surfing in later), we graduated in the class of 1987 from Newton South High School in suburban Boston.

I generally have fond memories of high school. Oh sure, there are things I’d like to forget (most of German class, for instance – oh wait, I already have!), but I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed college. This is because there were more people in high school of like minds to my own, reading comic books and science fiction, arguing about math and science, playing games, and so forth. I have more friends and people I keep in touch with from high school than from college. (From college, I think John is pretty much it.) I was in the nerd group in high school, but in our high school there was a large nerd contingent anyway, as well as many smart intellectual types who weren’t my brand of nerd, so it worked out pretty well.

I went to our 10-year reunion in 1997, which was just a few months after I started my web journal, and I had a good time there. I was looking forward to this one, too, even though I knew that most of my good friends from high school wouldn’t be there. The nerd crowd just isn’t interested in attending reunions – maybe I was unusual in my fond memories of high school. But I knew that several people were not in contact, such as Marc F, Tony C and Mark C, and that Matt H and David A wouldn’t be there either (though the last I think would be happy to attend, but wasn’t able to make it). Still, I was reasonably cosmopolitan as a high school nerd went, so I expected to see a lot of people I knew.

* * *

We knew going in that one of the stories we’d tell over and over is that Debbi and I have been dating for over six years. We met each other through the e-mails that were going around for a 15-year reunion (which ended up being cancelled due to lack of people locally to organize it), and after exchanging a number of e-mails we went on a date and things have moved along from there. We’re not married and we don’t have kids, but we do live together with our four cats.

Debbi’s high school experience was very different from mine, but I won’t try to describe it here; we weren’t really in the same social circles (though we were in the same homeroom). She missed the 10-year (she was out of contact at the time), and unlike me she hadn’t been back to South to visit in many years. (I was there maybe 5 years ago, and had visited off and on up until then.) So she was less sure what to expect going in, although she had more old friends who seemed like to attend. I’m not quite sure whether she’d have gone if we weren’t together. Maybe she would have.

Myself, I enjoy watching people, and I was very curious to see where people had gone and how they’d changed in the years since. I suppose one reason to go to a school reunion is to see how successful and happy you are in life compared to your peers, and being a pretty competitive person – from a pretty competitive environment – I admit there was some of that for me. But mostly, well, childhood friends are the people you’re in the best position to watch as they grow up and mature, and reunions are the best opportunity for that sort of observation.

* * *

Saturday morning was an informal reception at South’s gymnasium so we alumni could see some of the things they’ve done with the school since we graduated, and families were invited. Debbi and I went with my sister Katy and her son Ivan, since Katy also attended South (she was 4 grades lower than me). They’ve built a huge second gym down the hall from the original gym, and done a lot of renovations on the buildings in recent years. I’ve seen a few of the changes they’ve made since high school, but a lot of this was new to me. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the rest of the school, but it was an interesting glimpse anyway.

A whole bunch of people showed up with their families. I was a little surprised at how many young children there were, but then I remembered that only a handful of people had children by the 10-year, so therefore most of the kids would be young. Since I don’t have kids of my own, I don’t have a good perspective on what raising kids is like. (With some of my friends today starting to have kids, this may change over the next few years.)

The main reception was in the evening at the Newton Marriott (which was certainly more accessible than driving into downtown Boston as we did in 97). There were old yearbooks out to peruse, photos of people back in high school, and of course the obligatory dance floor and DJ playing 80s dance music (which was not for me since I don’t dance and I can’t stand 80s pop music).

There are two big differences in one’s classmates between the 10-year and the 20-year reunions: First is the physical changes people have gone through, whether it’s gray hair, or less hair (even the women have less hair as they opt for shorter hair styles), or a few wrinkles. I’ve been graying at my temples for several years now, plus I’m heavier than I was back in the day. The other difference is the additional maturity. At the 10-year reunion we were only 6 years out of college, which meant many people were just starting their careers, or had gone back to school for an advance degree, or were working jobs but hadn’t yet decided on a career. At the 20-year all of us professionals had been plying our trade for close to a decade, sometimes more. People had children, some had become full-time parents. For the most part we’re now in the roles we’ll play for the rest of our careers, whereas 10 years ago we were all over the map.

I sometimes wonder whether my peers think they’ve changed a lot since high school. I tend to think I’m much the same person I was back then: The geeky guy who feels uncomfortable in groups of people, and the reunion was of course… a group of people. So it took me a while to start chatting with people, but I did have a good time once I started. Adding to the awkwardness was that many people remembered my name on sight, while I often had trouble remembering peoples’ names even when their faces were familiar. I’m not sure if this is because I was weirdly memorable from back in the day, or if my brains have mostly turned to mush. Maybe both. It was flattering that so many people remembered me, though.

As for Debbi, some friends from her childhood were there, including someone she’d been good friends with through school who had grown up to be a friendly, good-looking guy who owned his own business:

Debbi & Friend

And of course we got to tell the story of getting together over and over again, which I think Debbi enjoys telling. (She says she’s amused that we were “the talk of the room” for a while.)

Reunions are a bit awkward and a bit weird, but I had a good time anyway, and found it very interesting all around. I guess they’re talking about having a 25-year reunion, and if they do, we’ll definitely go back.

* * *

(A final note: Some journal entries are harder to write than others. Occasionally they’re hard enough that they end up languishing for a long time or never getting published at all. This was one such entry, as the reunion happened nearly a year ago as I write this. But I didn’t want it to be completely forgotten, so I’m hoping it’s better late than never!)

A Short Brush with Winter

Once again I’ve gone off and left you all for a week and a half while I’m off on vacation. Very sneaky of me, I know. But not only is it difficult to put entries together just before I leave (since I tend to leave my packing and cleaning and such to the last couple of days before leaving) but I don’t like to announce when I go away. Just a little bit of my own Internet paranoia.

This trip was one to Massachusetts to visit our families: My parents, and Debbi’s sisters and their family. Normally we visit in the spring or fall – certainly not during the holidays, since we prefer to avoid the holiday travel crunch – but we had an ulterior motive: Our 20-year high school reunion was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Debbi and I met through an e-mail list for our 15-year reunion (which ended up not happening), so we were motivated to make it out for this one.

We flew out Friday night on a JetBlue red-eye. Other than a small (and ultimately harmless) hiccup when checking in, the trip went perfectly smoothly. I guess JetBlue’s public image has been colored by the incident when a JetBlue plane was left on the runway for hours waiting for take-off, but their image during a flight is the opposite of that: Their check-in process is nicely streamlined, and on the flight they have a selection of drinks and snacks of which you may have as much as you want. Each seat also has its own television screen with satellite television, which meant Debbi could watch movies while I watched poker. Our flight took off and landed on time, and though neither of us were able to sleep much, it was about as easy as we could have hoped for.

Debbi’s sister picked us up at Logan Airport at 6 am (oof) Saturday and we drove down to visit her family for the day. We made a Dunkin Donuts run (Debbi lo-o-oves Dunkin Donuts) and met her other sister and her family for breakfast. The kids are all growing up awfully fast, and were happy to see us (more adults to run around and tire out!). As usual I ran out of gas around 10 am and fell asleep on their couch, and as usual I woke up an hour and a half later covered in pillows from the different couches, with three kids climbing on top of me! Fun. I fell asleep again in the afternoon, I think to Debbi’s consternation, but I was exhausted. Debbi’s sister drove me to my Mom’s house before dinner, and my Dad drove out to meet me and we sat around talking and eating See’s truffles.

I crumped out early and slept over 13 hours Saturday night. I think I was not only catching up on the sleep I missed Friday night, but also releasing some of the stress of the work-week and packing. It’s been a while since I’ve slept that long, and I slept hard.

Sunday started late as a result, of course, but it was a laid-back day. We made a trip to the New England Mobile Book Fair, which, although not mobile, is still a good deal for book lovers. In the evening I drove in to meet Dad for dinner. We went to a nice, upscale restaurant, about which I said I knew it must be good because at those prices if it weren’t good it wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of weeks. But indeed the food was quite yummy and filled us up, and we had a couple of tasty mixed drinks too (I had an espresso martini – with real espresso! You can’t beat being tipsy and wired at the same time).

Monday Dad and I made our annual pilgrimage up to Wakefield to go to Web Head Enterprises, which might be the best all-around comic book store around Boston, between their selection of new and back issue comics, plus paperbacks. Unfortunately I struck out looking for items for my want list: The condition of many of their back issues was not up to my (admittedly stringent) standards, and their selection didn’t seem quite as good as in years past. Plus they closed their nifty downstairs used book section, which was disappointing. So I may have to re-think whether I want to keep making that trip every visit. (To be fair, my want list is getting pretty short and specialized, so I think the days of walking way from a comic store with a big stack of back issues are in my past.)

On the way back, on impulse, I took us to Waltham to visit The Outer Limits (where I also struck out), but we made a detour to stop at the house we’d lived in for two years when I was a kid – specifically from 1970 to 1972, when I was under 4 years old. I took some photos of it, and now I know where it is, for future reference. I only have two memories from that house, but one of them is of walking Dad to the train station one morning, so we walked off in search of the station.

After a couple of blocks we stopped at an intersection and I said, “I don’t see a rail line down here.” Dad was pretty sure it was quite close, closer than the existing MBTA commuter rail, so we turned down the cross street at the intersection and climbed up a shallow hill a couple more blocks. We stopped at another intersection and I said, “I don’t see a rail line down here, either.” We scratched our heads and looked around and Dad said, “This looks familiar.” We were standing next to a long, thin building sandwiched between the side street and a line of trees, so we walked over and realized that it must be the old train station – heavily renovated! And walking past it we found the railroad tracks – long unused and overgrown – running along side it. I took a few pictures, and then followed Dad inside the building.

Restored Train Station
(The white edging along the lawn is a railroad track!)

It turns out that the building had been bought back in the 1960s and it had been renovated into an insurance office – with an extension with a basement and second story added on – and the son of the man who bought it ran the officeand we talked with him and the two employees for a while. They had photos and a large painting of the station dating back to the 1800s – it was a leg of the Boston & Maine railroad for quite a while – and they gave us postcards they use for their business with a picture of the station from the 1920s. The owner was interested in knowing when Dad rode the train – it sounds like the rail line was reaching the end by then. They had a photo of the station from 1976, but it was impossible to be sure whether the rail line was still being used by then. It sounds like the line will be turned into a bike trail in the near future. All-in-all this was a fun little side-trip into the past.

In the evening I took the subway downtown and met my friend Bruce for dinner. I realized it’s been nearly 20 years since we first met, back when I joined APA Centauri when I started college, and we still exchange the occasional e-mail (“It wouldn’t be a proper meeting if I didn’t say I’d try to write more often!” I said) and get together whenever I come back to the area. As usual we had Italian food in the North End, and then moved to Cafe Vittorio for coffee and dessert, staying out until nearly midnight. Bruce is working on the project to reprint Terry and the Pirates, the first volume of which I’ll need to pick up when I get back home. And as always it was a good dinner.

Tuesday we got some snow in the morning. Snow! It’s been a long time since I saw snow. It was just around a quarter of an inch, but still, enough to make the ground nearly white. In the afternoon it turned to rain and started to melt away. That afternoon I also drove down to visit Debbi and her family again, making another Dunkin Donuts run and playing with the kids, wrapping up the day with a four-way dominos game after the kids went to bed (Debbi won, pulling ahead of me in the last round). Wednesday was a sedate day, mainly with Mom and I going out to do some shopping, picking up an external hard drive to back up her computer onto, and to buy a shirt for me to wear to the reunion. (My turtlenecks seem to have gone AWOL at some point.)

Thursday of course was Thanksgiving. It also got up near 60 degrees, after a week down in the 30s, which was nice. Mom prepared dinner in the afternoon, and Dad came out for dinner: Turkey, stuffing, and he brought wine and two pies. Other than Mom cooking it was a pretty mellow day, with football and sitting around. Our nutty, crazy Thanksgivings are in the past, I think.

Friday my sister drove up to stay for the weekend, bringing my nephew, Ivan, with her. I hadn’t seen Ivan since we all visited my parents a year and a half ago, which is a long time for a young kid – he’s 3 1/2 now. Katy says he’s very precocious with computers, and especially loves Apple products: Macs, iPods, etc. He was very interested in my iPhone and enjoyed flipping through my photos on it.

He actually reminds me a bit of — me. He seems to be very what my Mom called “self-entertaining”. Mom brought out some old Legos from the sunroom and he was able to entertain himself with them for hours and hours, just playing around with the little Lego spacemen and ships. We also went up with him to the playground at my old elementary school and watched him run around on the play equipment. I think the most fun he and I had up there was sending his toy car down the curvy slide. He also loves to jump into photographs when he sees someone is taking one.

An Ivan in Winter
(I call this one “An Ivan in Winter”)

After dinner I drove down to pick up Debbi, since she’d be spending Friday and Saturday nights with us so we could go to the reunion events on Saturday.

Speaking of which, Saturday was the reunion, with a small gathering at our high school in the morning so we could see the changes they’ve made to it recently, and the reunion proper in the evening. I’m going to write a whole entry on the reunion, so I’ll go into this in more detail soon. Suffice to say for now that it was a fun time, and a very weird time, since most of these people I’d only seen once – if that – in 20 years.

Sunday we took Ivan up to the playground again, and then Debbi and I went to Barry’s Deli for lunch (mmm-mmm!), and then I took Debbi back to her sister’s house. Her brother-in-law Shawn was astoundingly on top of everything and had already cleared away all the Thanksgiving stuff and was well on his way to having the Christmas stuff up. Yowza! He did run out of lights while decorating the tree at the end of the driveway, though, prompting me to ask if he was “a few lights short of a full tree”. See the risks you run when you invite me into your house?

Monday it was time to leave, sad to say. Katy and Ivan headed out around noon, and I left a little before 1, meeting Debbi at the airport for our 4 pm flight. The return trip was long, but went smoothly, and we got home right on time, with our friend Susan giving us a lift home as she had to the airport. It was a long day, the cats were perhaps overly happy to see us, but we made it!

Overall, a nice trip. I was able to relax a lot, but I also got to see friends and family. Can’t complain about that.

John Scalzi Visits the Creation Museum

If you’re not a regular reader of John Scalzi’s blog, nip over there to read his hilarious report about visiting the Creation Museum:

  1. Start with the photographic tour on Flikr.
  2. Then read the accompanying essay, which features liberal use of the word “horseshit”.

It’s well worth the time to read through it all, especially the photo set.

(For more hilarity, visit the Creation Museum’s web site, too.)

Then you can enter Scalzi’s LOLCreashun contest.

In related news, the long-running PBS science program Nova last night ran an episode about the 2005 trial involving the Dover, PA school board which rejected Intelligent Design’s claims to be a rational alternative to evolution. I unfortunately missed the episode (hopefully I can catch it some other time), but Ars Technica has some additional info about the Dover trial’s impact on the ID movement and what the ID people are up to these days.

It’s too bad we sometimes have to take these people seriously in order to refute their silliness. It’s much more fun to just mock them like Scalzi does. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to decisively and finally win a battle against what amounts to rampant (if not willful) ignorance.

More Journeyman

I’m sitting watching tonight’s episode of Journeyman, which I wrote about a few months ago. I’m impressed with it so far, after 8 episodes: It’s consistent and intriguing, and the story seems to be moving right along.

One unexpected bonus is that NBC has been so completely off-base in promoting most episodes: It seems like they often promote elements of the show which are sensational but pretty minor. For example, a few weeks ago the previews played up the fact that our hero, Dan Vassar, was out with his son Zack at a farmer’s market when he disappears into the past, leaving Zack alone in a crowd of strangers. Sure, it’s good copy (as they say), but it had almost nothing to do with the crux of the episode. This means that I’m usually surprised – and pleasantly so – by what really happens in the episode.

The series’ story arc is pretty nifty, too: Dan’s time-travelling ex-girlfriend Livia is gradually revealing her background and Dan’s disappearances are slowly catching up to him in the present. And there are lots of little hints that one other character might know what’s going on. The acting is also strong, especially Dan and Jack. It’s a nicely-blended mix of character drama (the Dan-Katie-Jack triangle is intense) and plot (each episode is self-contained, but the overall storyline is moving forward).

I’m usually very skeptical that a TV series has a plan and direction – almost every one I’ve ever seen is obviously plotted on-the-fly, and this becomes painfully evident after a couple of years. (I gave up on The X-Files early in the third season when this became clear for that series.) But Journeyman certainly feels like it’s got a plan behind it. And even if the direction is somewhat loose, the theme of self-determination in the face of what seems like an overwhelming cosmic force might be able to carry it for quite a while.

I’ll be pretty bummed if the series gets cancelled, or if the Hollywood writer’s strike blows the series off-course, although in principle I support the writers in their walkout. But hopefully the series will have a decent run with a satisfying conclusion. It’s got me pretty well hooked so far.

Three Times in Six Days

I’m in the middle of a run of 3 sessions of ultimate frisbee in 6 days: Our regular games on this past Thursday night and next Tuesday night, and a tournament today.

It rained pretty steadily last night, so I was surprised that the tourney today was on, but the field drained really well and only had a few patches of mud. It was overcast with patches of sun, some wind, and a cool temperature, which is just about ideal for frisbee. So we drove over about 9:20 this morning, Debbi coming out to watch me play as she often does.

The league has 9 teams, but we usually condense down to 6 teams for the tournaments, so our team combined with another team for today. The league this year has a “Snow White and the 9 Dwarves” theme, and our teams were named Forcey (mine) and Heckle, and of course the most important part of a tournament is to come up with a team name. “Forkle” won out over “Feckle”, “Horsey” and “Horkle”, so we got that one nailed.

I had a pretty good game: The first point I correctly read the player I was covering as wanting to take off down the line for a medium-distance score, and managed to make two blocks in the point. I made a couple of other blocks during the day, which is unusual for me since I don’t usually position myself well for blocks. I caught a couple of scores and forced a couple of other turnovers. My endurance has been holding up surprisingly well this year – probably all the bicycling I’ve been doing in the late summer – so I was able to keep running for quite a while. I finally ran out of gas at the end of the second game and called it a day (I know I’m done when I tell my feet to run and they don’t do anything). Happily, it was a successful morning as Forkle won both games I played. Hopefully they managed to win the third one, too.

We have a really fun regular team this year, with a mix of skills and also a mix of heights (our team last year was a little frustrating since I was the tallest person on it, which meant I was almost always matched up against someone taller than me). We’ve generally been successful, too, and everyone has a good attitude. So it’s been a lot of fun.

We came home and ran a few errands and then collapsed on the couch to watch football until I have to leave for my book discussion group, which is later this evening. I’m gonna be stiff and sore tomorrow morning, but the real question is whether I’ll be able to play frisbee again on Tuesday after only one day off!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 7 November 2007.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #25 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Ron Lim, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Metal Men #4 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Starlord #4 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • Annihilation: Conquest #1 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #551, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • The Perhapanauts: Second Chances TPB vol 2, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Dark Horse)
  • Boneyard TPB vol 6, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Countdown to Final Crisis #25 Countdown to Final Crisis this week features the pencils of Ron Lim. I remember when Lim fist turned up 20 years ago pencilling the sorta-kinda-parody comic Ex-Mutants. Since then he’s had a long career with an art style reminiscent of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, although without either of their senses of form or attention to detail. I guess he’s been kicking around for a while drawing books I don’t read, but it’s interesting that he’s one of the guys DC’s hauling in to contribute to Countdown, since I wouldn’t call him an A-list artist. His artwork here is serviceable, but it felt like a rush job.
  Annihilation: Conquest picks up where the three mini-series (plus the Nova tie-in) ended. Quasar and Adam Warlock are obviously going to be the protagonists here, with Starlord, the Super-Skrull, Wraith and Ronan in supporting roles. I think it’ll be fun, and Tom Raney’s artwork is pretty good. The reveal of the villain at the end is a bit of a letdown – few characters have been quite as overused in a cliché manner as this one – but you can’t have everything.

Of the mini-series, the Quasar and Wraith ones were the best. Starlord was pretty good – with very good artwork – but didn’t really go anywhere. The Nova tie-in was entirely superfluous, as I mentioned a few weeks ago.

I’ve been reading the original Annihilation series as the trade paperbacks come out, and it’s much better than Conquest. But they’re certainly trying really hard in this follow-up.

Fantastic Four #551 I’m a sucker for this sort of thing: Fantastic Four is kicking off a new story titled “Epilogue”, whose first chapter is “The Beginning of the End”, in which Doctor Doom and two other characters come back from 75 years in the future to warn the FF that Reed is about to make an error which is going to have grave consequences for the future. It ends with a sudden shock and a cliffhanger. It also fortunately completely ignores the after-effects of the Civil War, thank goodness, although I suppose the story might be intended to explain some things about the Civil War. I dunno – I’m just as happy to forget all about it.

I’m not at all familiar with Dwayne McDuffie’s work, but this is a promising start, with a neat revelation about how Reed works when he’s on his own. Paul Pelletier’s pencils reminds me a little of Paul Ryan, although his approach to faces is weirdly fluid and results in some odd, unsettling effects (Sue often looks like she’s had some unfortunate plastic surgery).

It seems like the problem with the FF these days is that they’re not treated as much of a family, and that Reed always seems to be very distant and too analytical, which not only is No Fun but undercuts the theme of the series: Four adventurers against all the evil in the world. Reed still comes across as too analytical here, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Perhapanauts vol 2: Second Chances The second volume of Perhapanauts picks up where the first one left off, and it’s more of the same. There’s a nifty time travel angle in the first story, and a different (but more mundane) time travel angle in the second story, which has a bittersweet ending. There are some loose ends, which is frustrating, although not as much so in the first volume. While the book is rather fun, it feels too light for me to commit to following it when it kicks off a regular series sometime next year. I just don’t feel hooked by the characters or the scenario, a problem I also had with Noble Causes a while back, which is a book with a similar feel and which has received similar acclaim. Maybe just chalk it up to “not my cup of tea”.

November Already?

I’m still quite busy, both at home and at work. So much so that I now have three books with partially-written reviews that I need to finish and post here. It seems like as I get older, I have ever-more stretches of time when I’m so busy I start falling behind on the “everyday stuff”.

This past weekend was quite busy. We slept a lot, since we were both feeling quite tired from the week; we were glad for the extra hour of sleep!

Saturday morning we got together with Subrata and Susan for lunch at The Counter, which they’d never been to. Debbi and Susan then went off shopping at a sale while Subrata and I came home and played some Magic (Ravnica sealed deck), which was fun although neither of us had terribly exciting decks. (I think draft tends to lead to building more interesting decks than sealed, but then you can do sealed with any number of players, so they each have their uses.) I’d contemplated going up to Borderlands Books for their 10-year anniversary sale, but Subrata decided to pass and I decided I didn’t have much I was really looking for and didn’t feel like making the drive up to San Francisco. Instead we stayed home and did some chores and ran some errands, and then went to Cafe Borrone for dinner and reading.

Sunday we ran a few short errands, but mostly stayed home to have a day off. We watched what Subrata called Football Armageddon, otherwise known as the Patriots-Colts game, which was a rare exciting Pats game, in that they still won but it wasn’t easy for a change.

The weekend ended with a bit of irony: Sunday evening I was feeling all happy that I’d finished everything on my list to do for the weekend… and then around 6 pm my stereo receiver stopped working, just emitting a hum instead of any actual sound. I tinkered with it a little, but it seemed pretty dead. I’d been planning to replace it anyway (it’s 18 years old!), but I hadn’t expected it to force the issue. Ah, well.

(Strangely, it started working again by last night, and it’s on right now playing KCSM jazz music, but I bet it won’t last.)

Anyway, November is here: It’s gotten cold and dark out, now that the time has changed. We’re supposed to get rain later this week. My seasonal affective disorder has been keeping itself in check pretty well this fall, and now I’m actively looking forward to the rain. I just wish the trees would finish dropping their leaves so I can clean up the back yard.