WWDC 2008

I put in my time at WWDC this week. In addition to staffing the Xcode lab, I also was demo boy for a presentation – the first time I’ve been on stage at a conference other than Q&A sessions.

It all went pretty well, with one exception: Mid-afternoon yesterday, shortly before the presentation, I started getting a headache. In the somewhat overheated presentation room, the headache got worse. I was okay when I was actually driving the demo, but waiting between demos I was feeling really cruddy. Afterwards I went to the lab for my shift, but at that point the headache had gotten really awful and my stomach felt upset. I finally left early and caught the train back home, where Debbi picked me up at the station. At home I went straight to bed and slept for 12 hours nearly-straight.

I’m not sure if I was dehydrated (we’re having another heat wave here), or had a touch or food poisoning, or just had a migraine. But I felt much better this morning, if a little wobbly. Possibly from skipping dinner.

There are a lot of people for whom WWDC is a big social event, and they spend the whole week up there, even renting a hotel room in the city. I’m not one of those people, so I’m back in the office today. In a way I envy those folks, since I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for them, seeing old friends etc. I rarely have that experience, even at SF conventions, and I know a lot more people in fandom than I do in the Mac developer community. Ah well. Diff’rent strokes and all that.

This Week’s Haul

  • Fables: The Good Prince vol 10 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Aaron Alexovich & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #16, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin & Rebecca Buchman (DC)
  • Tom Strong vol 6 TPB, by Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Michael Moorcock, Jerry Ordway, Joe Casey, Ben Oliver, Steve Moore, Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Hogan & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best)
  • Avengers/Invaders #2 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Nova #14, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Boys #19, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #2 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Tom Strong vol 6 Tom Strong was one of the flagship titles of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint. It was basically a mash-up of Doc Savage and other adventure heroes, with Tom having been born in the late 19th century, come of age in a high-pressure chamber which made him immensely strong, and lived for over a century thanks to a rare herb from the island on which he grew up. He became the protector of Millennium City and the adversary of the villainous Paul Saveen. It’s far from Moore’s best stuff, but it was often quite entertaining, and was amply supported by terrific art by the too-rarely-seen Chris Sprouse.

The sixth trade paperback collection completes the set, but the series really limped to a halt (mainly because I think Moore cut back on his work once the imprint was bought by DC Comics). This volume includes a lavishly-illustrated but trivial pirate story by Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway, and a few episodes which tie up some loose ends for some of the characters. This culminates in the final issue, in which everything gets tied up by Moore in a close encounter with the afterlife courtesy of one of the other ABC characters, Promethea.

So the volume practically screams “for completists only”, and in a way that’s what Tom Strong was on the whole: If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you’ll like. It was less ambitious than either Promethea or Top 10, and never really went anywhere. Just Moore playing around, really. There’s some very good stuff in the series, but more than anything else in the ABC line-up, it seemed to underscore that Moore has long since peaked as a writer and is pretty firmly on the back end of his career at this point.

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #2.jpg This month’s Assignment: Earth is simply a “shadow history” taking place within the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, which takes place two years after “Assignment: Earth” to Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, but before that episode to the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a cute idea, albeit not very original, but unfortunately it doesn’t reveal anything about the main characters, or anything about the TV episode, since Kirk and company pretty much covered all their bases at the time. So unfortunately there turned out to be no point except to play around with story structure. I’d rather have had a brand new story which moved the characters of Seven and Roberta forward; this issue felt like empty calories.

(Oh, and the scene on the cover never appears in the issue, which makes it feel like a bait-and-switch!)

Comics I Didn’t Buy This Week:

  • Manhunter #31, by Marc Andreyko & Michael Gaydos (DC)
  • Trinity #1 of 52, by Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (DC)
Manhunter #31 Having read and enjoyed the trade paperback collections of the first 30 issues of Manhunter, I’d sort of assumed that I’d keep buying the regular series when it “relaunched” this year with #31. However, that was before I learned that the artist would be Michael Gaydos, who had drawn Alias over at Marvel. His dark renderings, unexpressive and often indistinct faces and generally gloomy approach made that book a real chore to read, and I bailed on the series after the first arc, mainly for that reason. Thumbing through Manhunter #31 it doesn’t look like his art’s changed much. Although I’d like to support the book, I just really don’t like the artwork, so I passed on it.
Trinity #1 Trinity is DC’s new weekly title, following on the heels of 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis. This one, though, seems unrelated to any corporate events, and is written by the reliable Kurt Busiek. Nonetheless, I decided not to pick it up. Partly I feel too burned by Countdown, but mainly I’m just not that interested in a book about DC’s “big three”, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I find Superman occasionally interesting, but Batman has rarely interested me since The Dark Knight Returns turned him down the road of being a psychopath, and Wonder Woman rarely interests me. So instead I’ll wait ’til Busiek gets to the next arc of Astro City to get my fix of his writing.

Squirrels Gone Wild

Here at Casa del Rawdon we have a nice patio out back with some pretty trees which shade the place in the late afternoon. They’re also home to numerous squirrels – seemingly more every year. We usually see them running on the fences and drinking out of the pond, and occasionally I find that they’ve buried a nut in one of the pots on the upstairs porch.

This year, though, we have Squirrels Gone Wild. More squirrels, chasing each other about, and making more noise than ever before. Sometimes one of them sits on the fence and looks at the house, making chitting noises, and driving poor Blackjack nuts. I suspect one of them also likes to run around on the upstairs porch, as I sometimes wake up to skittering noises and see fascinated kitties looking out the curtains to the porch.

Yesterday the squirrels were running all throughout the trees, and I heard something in one tree making cooing noises. At first I thought the squirrels and found and disturbed a bird nest, as we’ve also had a couple of birds (morning doves, maybe?) hanging around the fence this spring as well. But eventually I decided that it must be squirrel mating season. That’s right, Squirrels In Heat! No wonder they’re so rambunctious lately.

It’s all very amusing until Blackjack gets so worked up that he leaps through the screen door or something, I guess. Actually it’s probably going to be fine unless we end up with progressively more squirrels each year, as the ones we have now seem like plenty to keep everyone entertained. Hopefully this is just a banner year for squirrel production, and things will get back to normal next year.

Otherwise I may have to see if I can interest Animal Planet in filming a new series in our backyard.

Indy 4

A few weeks ago we caught the last 45 minutes or so of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on television. There was a scene in which Indy is fighting some Nazis in a tank and the tank goes over the edge of a cliff. His father and friends run to the edge and start to mourn his passing. Meanwhile, a few dozen feet away, Indy pulls himself up over the edge of the cliff and limps up behind them and looks over the edge with them. It’s a moment which perfectly illustrates why Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were basically crappy films: Their sense of humor sucked eggs, exploiting the foibles of the characters for the cheapest sort of laughs. Last Crusade, although with a nominally better plot than Temple, was especially guilty of this sin, using Indy’s father (played by Sean Connery at his most ridiculous) and friends as little more than comic relief. It was like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to make a couple of bad James Bond films, but didn’t even make it that high.

How the heck did these two manage to take basically the same elements and turn them into the excellent Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Anyway, nearly 20 years later, Harrison Ford is back as Henry Jones Jr., in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Taking place in 1957, the film opens with Indy and his partner Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) having been captured by a team of Soviets, led by Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett with a black bob haircut), who have brought them to Area 51 to find a certain item in a military warehouse. They get what they’re looking for, but Indy escapes, and then manages to survive an atomic bomb test (!) before telling what he knows to some government officials, who are notably suspicious of him for having helped the Russians at all.

Back at the university, Indy finds that he’s being placed on a leave of absence. As he heads out to who-knows-where, he’s contacted by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a young man who’s friends with an old friend of Indy’s, Dr. Henry Oxley (John Hurt). Mutt says that ‘Ox’ is in South America on the trail of Akator, a mythical ‘city of gold’, but that he’s been captured, and that Mutt’s mother followed him and has also been captured. Managing to elude both the Russians and the FBI, Indy and Mutt head to South America where they once again meet both Spalko, and Indy’s old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, reprising her role from Raiders), and the various parties battle their way towards Akator while trading ownership of a mysterious crystal skull dating back hundreds – maybe thousands – of years.

The film is irrepressibly silly – c’mon, surviving a nuclear explosion? – but I enjoyed it a lot more than I’d expected to. In a sense it completes the “arc” of the four films’ storytelling “feel”: Raiders was an absolutely straight adventure film until the supernatural bit at the very end, but later films get less plausible until in Crystal Skull the film is pretty ludicrous almost from the get-go. But it’s also comfortable in its implausibility; you know there are going to be ancient traps that couldn’t possibly work, and it’s pretty obvious very early on what the Crystal Skull really is and what its Kingdom almost certainly is, and although it ends in a climax that’s maybe even too over-the-top for this movie, it’s still a lot of fun getting there.

Happily, the script crafts just enough of a world around the character to make it feel like Indy’s really been doing things for the 19 years since Last Crusade: Fighting in the war, doing jobs for the government, continuing his archaeological exploits, and seeing old friends pass on. The world hasn’t stood still but neither has he.

The film also takes its characters seriously: Mutt, Marion and Ox aren’t there just for comic relief, nor is Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) at the university, who fills the role Marcus Brody did in the earlier films as Indy’s friend and confidante (without being reduced to the woeful caricature that Brody was in Last Crusade). Mutt is both a little in awe of Indy, and competent and willful in his own right. Marion was I think the weakest character, and Karen Allen mugs her way through most of the film with a maniacal grin on her face, which makes her seem not very much like the character in Raiders. That’s too bad, but the main relationship in the film is between Indy and Mutt, so it doesn’t hurt the film very much. Blanchett as the villain is pretty generic, not given much material to work with, and not really managing to transcend the material; Spalko is just a necessary driving element of the plot.

But it’s the action sequences and Ford himself which holds the film together. Considering Raiders got all the best jokes about how Indy isn’t quite as tough a guy as he sometimes acts, it’s been tough for the later films to plumb that territory. Now that Indy’s pushing 60 he both has to make the action scenes plausible while not making the character seem pathetic through “OMG Indy’s pushing 60!” jokes. To the film’s credit I think it manages to make that narrow passage and ends up being a fun adventure film with many good action scenes and a few nice character bits. Not all the action scenes work – the swordfight is a little too gratuitous, and there’s a really nasty and unnecessary sequence involving carniverous ants – but mostly it’s a really fun ride.

Honestly given George Lucas’ awful track record as a screenwriter – none of the recent Star Wars trilogy were worth much in the story department – I didn’t know what to expect here, but overall I enjoyed it. I’d probably even watch it again, which is more than I can say for Temple or Last Crusade. And in fact I’d even go see a fifth film, if they make one. Sure, I think it would have been a substantially better film if the ending had been toned down to be less ridiculous, but still.

So if you have a healthy tolerance for cheese in your adventure films – and frankly, you’d be something special if you have a lower tolerance for it than I do – then you’ll probably enjoy Crystal Skull. It ain’t Raiders, but it’s fun.

New Prince Valiant Reprints Coming

Fantagraphics Books plans to reprint Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant series in hardcover starting in 2009:

Prince Valiant will be presented in an oversized color hardcover format, with two years per book, beginning in 2009. This presentation will be of higher quality than the 50 trade paperbacks Fantagraphics published, which collected all of the strips with art or story by creator Hal Foster. At two years per book, it will take 16-17 volumes just to reprint the full page strips with Foster art.

I’ve become a huge fan of Foster’s strip, and I own the 40 trade paperbacks they printed a decade ago (the other 10 feature the post-Foster work). The paperbacks were of middling quality; the black lines often were reduced to near-vanishing, and the coloring jobs were erratic (the earlier printings of the earlier volumes were pretty good, but they seemed to switch to a lower-quality coloring technology later on). Still, at about 2/3 original size (keep in mind that “original size” was a whole newspaper page) they were pretty good, much better than not having them at all.

If the new hardcovers are of similar size and they upgrade the print quality, then I’ll be happy to pick up the new volumes, too.

(Some company – I think in Germany – printed the first three years of the strip in full-size, black-and-white hardcovers some years ago. I decided to pass on them when I saw them mainly because they were quite pricy, not in color, and the first three years aren’t exactly the high point of the strip. Still, I’m sure someone appreciated them!)

A Tale of Two Weekends

The days have been just flying by, lately! I realized this weekend that I never wrote an entry about last weekend, partly because I’d been busy catching up on posting photos from my Dad’s visit!

The bittersweet part of last weekend was going to two Red Sox/Athletics games, which I’d been excited about since this is a rare year in which my Red Sox visited Oakland twice in the same season. Unfortunately, we ended up seeing two games of a three-game sweep by the A’s, with the Sox losing 8-3 on Friday, and then 3-0 on Saturday. The Saturday game was almost very exciting as Justin Duchscherer came two baserunners away from pitching a perfect game. But he hit Jason Varitek leading off the 6th, and David Ortiz singled in the 7th. Huston Street replaced Duchscherer for the 9th, and that was it. Bummer. On television we watched the A’s finish the sweep by winning 6-3 on Sunday. Alas.

On the bright side, the Sox have gone 4-2 since then, and they still have the second-best record in the American League (behind the Rays, who seem to finally be capitalizing on their substantial talent base).

Sunday we also had Subrata and Susan over for the day. We hadn’t heard from them for a few days and we’d figured they might be going stir crazy waiting for their child to arrive. (As I wrote over this past weekend, he arrived last Thursday.) We met at The Counter for lunch and then came back and played Magic (Subrata and me) and dominoes (all four of us) for the afternoon, winding up having dinner at Marie Callender’s.

The Magic session was interesting, my second time really playing Shadowmoor. We played a sealed deck game. Subrata had two viable builds from his cards, while I thought I had three or even four, but part-way through one game I realized I just didn’t have the right mix of stuff to make a white-blue deck work; it kept wanting to be write-green. So I did that instead and it worked quite well, better than the black-red deck did. The red-green version might have worked, too, but I didn’t try that. Anyway, it does feel like Shadowmoor is a slower format than Lorwyn or Time Spiral were. But since I enjoy creature-based decks, that’s not really a bad thing.

This weekend as I said we went to the hospital to visit Subrata, Susan and Ajay on Friday evening. Saturday we went out and did some shopping, including buying a new cat bush (half-height cat tree) for the downstairs. Even though it’s nearly identical to the old one, the cats still had to sniff it all over. But it seems to have passed muster!

I also went by a sale at Illusive Comics, an area store which I hadn’t visited before. (Well, I might have visited them years ago under their previous incarnation and previous owners, but I honestly don’t remember.) The owners are very enthusiastic, which is a great thing in anyone doing small retail! I’ll probably go back every so often, even though my I already have a regular shop I patronize (Comics Conspiracy). As most stores today do, Illusive seems to be focusing on new books and paperback collections. Unfortunately I’m an outlier among comics fans: the main thing that brings me back to a shop is a good and constantly-changing back issue selection, and the comics retailing biz has moved away from back issues over the last 15 years. And every store has pretty much the same set of paperback collections, so you don’t really need to go to multiple stores for those.

Anyway. Comics retailing is hard enough without listening to me moan about how comics shops aren’t like they were back when I was a teenager, so enough about that.

We spent a good chunk of Saturday doing chores around the house: We did a whole bunch of long-awaited cleaning, throwing away the little things which stack up on bookshelves and in the garage and in nooks and crannies elsewhere. I put up a bike hanger so we could reclaim some floor space by hanging Debbi’s bike above mine. Now Debbi wants to hang the step ladder and our spare folding chairs, so that may be another project soon! Debbi fixed up the shadowbox with my old Mardi Gras beads and coins, and it looks great!

Sunday we had a quieter day. I spent a lot of the afternoon and evening up in the study paying bills, putting together some Magic decks, and doing some cleaning up (though not nearly enough). We also cooked dinner and watched Sunday night baseball.

So that about covers it. We have some more projects to take care of around the house (for instance, replace the long-broken kitchen dispose-all), and I hope we can get a bunch of it taken care of this summer. It ought to keep us busy!

Meanwhile, happy June, everyone!