Snow Leopard Celebration

Often when we ship a new version of Mac OS X, there will be a celebration event for the organization. We were trying to remember the other day whether we’ve had one for every release (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one for Puma), but I’ve thought in any case that none of them equalled the party for shipping Cheetah (OS X 10.0), which was held in Hangar One at Moffett Field.

But I think we just surpassed that one, with the party for Snow Leopard, which was held on Friday evening at the newly-rebuilt California Academy of Sciences. The museum shut down for a private party for just us, and even though there were hundreds people there, I’m told by people who have been to the new building (this was my first visit) that it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as when it’s open to the public, so it was totally worth it. I don’t even want to think how much it cost to rent the place for a Friday evening.

I visited the old Academy a couple of times before it was demolished (like the De Young Museum nearby, Cal Academy’s old buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be rebuilt from scratch), and I recall it being interesting but quaint, in an old stone-and-concrete structure which felt too small for the Academy’s ambitions. The new building is huge, three stories tall with a garden that covers the whole roof, and a spacious floor plan based around the Morrison Planetarium in one wing, and the tropical rainforest in the other. It’s quite a structure.

I love rainforests and we made a point of visiting before it closed at 8 pm (the party started at 6:30). You start at the bottom and walk upwards, with the air getting more and more humid as you progress. There are butterflies and birds in the habitat, and you’re asked to check yourself for butterflies before you leave. We also made a point to get Planetarium tickets, where we saw a show titled “Fragile Planet” about the possibility of life on other worlds. The script was a little dodgy at times (although it might play better to someone who hasn’t been reading science fiction all his life), but the visuals were fantastic, especially the opening sequence of lifting off from Earth. Well worth the visit.

The “living roof” was disappointing only in that you can’t see as much in the dark; I suspect it’s better seen in the daytime. Certainly it looked stunning in the Planetarium show. But the interior didn’t disappoint, with African dioramas, the giant pendulum, fossils and skeleton reproductions, displays and interactive presentations, and the Steinhart Aquarium, which is not as impressive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but is still fun. The party lasted until 11, which was enough time to see everything, some things more than once.

Debbi came with me as my guest, and were socialized with many of my cow-orkers and their guests. Over the last 10 years I’ve gotten to know quite a few people at Apple, though it’s always a little surprising how many people I don’t recognize, even from just walking around campus. It’s a big company.

Debbi and I left a little early – although things were starting to wind down – and went to Ghirardelli Square to wrap up the evening with ice cream.

I didn’t take pictures of the party itself, but we did take some good pictures of the academy, for your viewing pleasure. I certainly recommend going if you’re in the area – assuming you want to brave the crowds.

Hanging whale skeleton
The hanging blue whale skeleton
(click for larger image)

Blue Butterfly
Large blue butterfly in the rainforest

Blue Lizard
This lizard is smaller than my hand

T Rex skeleton
Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton
(click for larger image)

Sea dragons
Sea dragons
(photo by Debbi)

Sea turtle
A lively sea turtle

White alligator
A rare albino alligator
(click for larger image)

Tortoise and Me
Me and a model of a large tortoise
(photo by Debbi, of course)

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman and Robin #4, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Blackest Night #3 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #27, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #45, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #4 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Hercules: Prince of Power HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Wednesday Comics #11, by many hands (DC)
  • Unthinkable #5 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The Brave and the Bold #27 J. Michael Straczynski starts his long-awaited run on The Brave and the Bold this month. The comics blogosphere’s reaction to this assignment was basically, “Wait, DC signs one of the biggest names in comics and assigns him to a book whose sales were in a slump the last time big name creators were on it, and has been slogging along through limbo ever since?” B&B was thoroughly Mark Waid’s book, and honestly it should have been cancelled when he left it (although some of the interim stories have been decent). But why put Straczynski on it? Did he request it, to be able to have his own sandbox to play in? Who knows?

The story itself is merely okay. It features Batman and the extremely obscure character from the original Dial H For Hero, and it’s a thin story with a rather simplistic moral about doing something with one’s life.

I’ve written several times before about my criticisms of Straczynski’s comics work, as much as I loved Babylon 5, and this issue is towards the lower end of his comics work. If all he’s going to do in B&B is write a few unconnected stories, then I don’t think it’s going to be worth it. Meanwhile, we’ll see how well he keeps up with the schedule, inasmuch as Thor was consistently shipping late and The Twelve – perhaps his best comics work – seems to be on hiatus. And, more importantly, whether he has a plan for what to do with a series with such a scatterbrained premise.

Wednesday Comics #11 It’s a little hard to believe that Wednesday Comics is coming to an end after one more issue, given that some of the stories feel like they’re not even close to being done after this issue. Superman, even though it’s been a terrible story, feels like it’s about to turn into the second half of the story after the cliffhanger here. Supergirl has been much better, but with her facing down aliens as her super-pets arrive on the scene seems like it’s setting up for several more pages, too. And then there’s Hawkman, which has a climactic moment this page, but then Kyle Baker’s over-the-top writing in this story has featured a climactic moment every other page. But I don’t see how Baker’s going to pull together Hawkman, Aquaman, an alien invasion, and DInosaur Island together into a satisfying finish in one more page. Of course, the writing’s been on the wall for weeks that Hawkman would be a terrible story.

In other episodes, Strange Adventures has a neat touch in dealing with its villain this issue. And although I haven’t read Wonder Woman in weeks, this week’s page finally makes good use of the large-page format with a nice 2/3-page spread. Too bad I’ve long since stopped caring.

Next week we’ll see how things finish up, and I’ll revisit all of the stories in their totalities.

Hercules Prince of Power HC Among the most fun comics I can recall reading were Bob Layton’s two Hercules mini-series from back in the 80s. Hercules, the Greek demigod of myth, had returned to Earth and adventured with The Avengers for quite a few years; although a good guy, he also had a tendency to get drunk and pick fights, and – being a god – was able to shrug off the consequences of his actions much of the time, sometimes leaving a trail of carnage and/or sadness behind him. In short, having Hercules on Earth didn’t seem quite fair to everyone else.

Layton tackled this challenge in novel fashion: Hundreds of years in the future, Hercules angers his father Zeus – again – and Zeus exiles him, but this time he exiles him to outer space, where there are plenty of beings who are Hercules’ equal, or more. This helps Hercules gain perspective on his place in the universe, but Layton also uses it for a series of absolutely hilarious adventures. Accompanied by a Recorder, a robot charged with observing everything he does, Hercules wades through a series of entertaining adventures, before finding himself suddenly aging, and learning that things have recently gone quite poorly for the gods of Olympus, forcing him to return home before he dies of old age to find out what’s going on.

Although at times a moving drama, Layton never relinquishes his light touch on the material, and Hercules generally comes across as a nicer guy – and a more mature one – than the one currently appearing in The Incredible Hercules (although that series is not bad). And now that Marvel’s collected this in a handsome hardcover volume, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a good time.

(It looks like Layton’s other Hercules-related stuff, including the sequel to these stories, will be collected in a second volume later this year.)

Unthinkable #5 Unthinkable was one of three series from Boom! Studios that piqued my interest this year, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as either Irredeemable or The Unknown. The premise was that author Alan Ripley joined a government think tank after September 11 to try to come up with other unlikely scenarios that terrorists might use to attack America or other countries. Which sounds fine until the think tank is disbanded and some of their scenarios come to pass.

It’s a nifty high concept, but a tough one to pull off, since it plays its premise largely straight, which means having to thread a needle to make it seem plausible in the face of, well, doing the impossible. Writer Mark Sable gives it a good try, but I don’t think he pulls it off; the ultimate story behind the unthinkable events feels a little too simplistic, really in much the same way the climax to Watchmen didn’t quite hold up. I guess when you’re being compared to Watchmen – even flaws in Watchmen – you’re doing something right, but still the story didn’t really work for me. A worthy try, though.

Artist Julian Totino Tedesco isn’t really my kind of artist; his sketchy linework over highly realistic layouts remind me of Jackson Guice, but darker. I think he could have used an inker with a strong sense of line coherence, a Tom Palmer sort, to pull the pencils together. But that’s just me.

Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 I’m not sure what to make of John Byrne’s Star Trek series for IDW. Assignment: Earth followed the adventures of Gary Seven and Roberta Franklin in the early 1970s, and then Crew followed the career of Number One prior to becoming Captain Pike’s first officer on the Enterprise. Now Romulans: Schism appears to involve the shaky Klingon/Romulan alliance circa the end of the classic Star Trek TV series (or maybe a couple of years after that, although not much later since Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes place at most 5 years after the end of the series, and the designs here are mostly classic Trek). Number One appears to be back, a little grayer, and the Commodore commanding a Constitution-class ship.

What’s confusing to me is that Byrne usually has a method to his madness, a larger story that the smaller ones fit into, but it’s awfully hard to see how these three series fit together. Assignment: Earth was a set of mildly entertaining short stories, but the characters and plots weren’t really all that exciting. Crew was considerably more entertaining, but seemed to end just as it was about to get really good. Now we’ve jumped forward to focus on the two main villainous races in classic Trek. So where’s it all going? Or is Byrne just content to tell a few independent short stories, and enjoy playing in the Trek universe on his terms? Maybe it’s not going anywhere.

On the bright side, Byrne captures the visuals of classic Trek perfectly; the thing looks beautiful. And Crew was a very well-told set of stories, while Romulans: Schism is off to a good, if rather ominous, start, with a solid cliffhanger at the end of this first issue. Despite being perplexed by Byrne’s ultimate goal – if there is one – this is some of the best Trek material I’ve read in decades, and that makes it worth the price on its own.

(Hmm, on further review, it looks like this might be a sequel to an earlier two-part Byrne story, The Hollow Crown, which I hadn’t heard of before. So apparently I’m missing at least one piece of the puzzle.)

Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 I’ve been conflicted about Atomic Robo since it began. I appreciate the premise – Nikola Tesla creates a sentient robot who lives into the present day and fights big monsters – and also Brian Clevinger’s wacky sense of humor in setting up the situations and writing the dialogue. Of course, the parallels between Robo and Hellboy are obvious; Robo’s personality is a little more extroverted, but they’re both strong monster-fighters with flippant tongues. The problem is that while Mike Mignola’s stories for Hellboy can be a little erratic, each individual story holds together pretty well, and when the story trails off at the end, it’s usually evident that that’s what Mignola was going for. The first Robo mini-series was a collection of vaguely-linked short stories, and the second one purported to be a single story but scattered to the four winds at the end.

All that said, Shadow From Beyond Time is a solid step forward for Robo. It starts with Robo, Charles Fort, and H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s fighting a Lovecraftian creature. The problem is that this creature comes from outside time, so Robo fights it over and over in the following years until it all comes to an end in this issue when he figures out a way to deal with it, and even loops back to the beginning to bring some closure to the first chapter of the story. It’s easily the best-told story in the series so far, and it makes me optimistic that things will keep getting better.

Which is good, because as amusing as Robo can be as a character, it’s difficult to get invested in a series which is largely told in retrospect, and whose setting (Robo’s team and organization at Tesladyne) is left, at best, fuzzy. Madcap adventure can only take you so far.

It’s Not Just About…

I’m always amused when I see the following slogan as part of Safeway’s Eating Right campaign. I recall something a friend said, that “It’s not just about eating kids, but about eating the right kids”. In this particular ad, the Tasmanian Devil really seems to underscore that notion. (Nom nom nom…)

The campaign’s been around for a while; I can’t believe this obvious joke hasn’t made the rounds among Safeway employees…

Eating Right Kids

This Week’s Haul

Hey, it’s my 150th comic book haul entry!

  • Booster Gold #24, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #40, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Secret Six #13, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood (DC)
  • The Unwritten #5, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #10 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #134, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #2 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #6 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #5 of 5, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
The Unwritten #5 An interesting twist to The Unwritten this month: Rather than starting a new story (the first one having ended on something of a double cliffhanger) with Tom Taylor, instead we’re presented the shadow history of Rudyard Kipling, who seems to have sold a bit of his soul for his successful fiction and poetry, but eventually turned against the people he bargained with, and they brought him low for it.

If this sounds like a dark twist on the bargain Shakespeare made with Morpheus in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, well, other folks have noticed this too, only in this case the bargain seems to be with a secret cabal – who may or may not be human – who are using fiction and writers thereof for their own purposes. So there’s more to this secret history than Kipling’s story, he’s just how we’re getting our first direct exposure to it. Tom Taylor’s father clearly knew something of them as well, so I expect we – and Tom – will be learning more about them in the months to come.

Peter Gross does some excellent work with his period art for this issue, less cartoony than his usual style, which is a good thing.

Wednesday Comics #10 My old bud Jason Sacks (whom I know from my APAhacking days) wrote a thoughtful piece about the different creators in Wednesday Comics, with particular attention to Paul Pope on Strange Adventures. There’s a lot he says that I don’t agree with (the statement “We can’t expect an auteur approach from Busiek” I think shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Busiek’s career; and as I’ve said before I find Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman strip to be truly terrible, making the least out of the series’ format), but it’s still an article well worth reading.

(By the by, the “Unhand me, you pink furless thing!” panel Jason lauds in Pope’s page this week looks like a direct homage to the famous Charlton Heston line in Planet of the Apes. And inasmuch as Pope has taken Adam Strange back to his roots as a twist on the John Carter of Mars premise, I think Pope’s showing his influences rather clearly rather than being a straightforward auteur as Jason sees him.)

Deadman reaches its climax this week, but it’s something of a routine thing (“That’s it?”). On the other hand, Green Lantern and Metamorpho are both aiming for their climaxes next week, and they do so in different ways, with a darkest-before-the-dawn moment in Metamorpho, while GL defines the dawn through sheer bravado. And Karl Kerschl draws a gorgeous Flash page this week (which Jason reprints in his aforelinked article), though the story has fragmented a bit and I hope he can pull it together into a big finish.

And as for Pope’s Strange Adventures, well, it also reaches its climax this week, and it’s a rather clever one. I almost lament that Pope wasn’t given a larger canvas (in number of pages, not page size) to play out the ideas he’s presented here, as it’s perhaps the most interesting take on Adam Strange in decades. With two pages left to go for the denouement, I’m curious as to what other gems Pope can present in this milieu.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #5 I nearly stopped buying The Life and Times of Savior 28 after last issue, but #4 was just interesting enough to make me buy another issue. I guess that’s a good thing, as it turns out it was a 5-issue mini-series, which I didn’t realize; I’d thought it was going to be a longer-form, ongoing series, and that this was still essentially the prologue.

I’ve never been a big fan of J.M. DeMatteis’ writing, as it tends toward the portentious while being simultaneously quite shallow. Savior 28 meets both of these criteria, being a retrospective of a Superman-like figure who strode unevenly through the 20th century before being killed by his former protege, just when he was trying his best to unify the world peacefully. Savior 28 was a sometime-drunk, once had a nervous breakdown, never quite left the ideals he fought for in World War II behind, and thus seemed utterly obsolete and ineffective – despite his great powers – in the 21st century. All of this is presented without any subtlety at all, right down to his uplifting speech to the United Nations being cynically dismissed by the world at large. Realistic? Perhaps, but it’s as unmoving a portrayal of superheroes brought low by real-world concerns as any I can recall, made all the less effective by the larger-than-life, Kirbyesque art of Mike Cavallaro, which seems appropriate to this story only in that it’s as unsubtle as the writing.

While I can see what DeMatteis was going for here, I think it ended up as a simple hodge-podge of ideas, with heavy-handed presentation right down to the series’ grace note on its last two pages. This territory has been worked much better in series like Astro City (with the Silver Agent storyline), Kingdom Come, or even the largely-forgotten Doctor Tomorrow from Acclaim Comics. If this had been merely the set-up for a longer form story, then there could have been some promise here, but as it turned out Savior 28 was a pretty simple, and not very fun or insightful, series.

Greg Burgas liked it, though, as did Rich Johnston.

Labor Day Weekend

If I’m doing a big project build (and I am), then it must be time to natter about my personal life again. (Hmm, there may be a clue in there as to why I don’t so this more often.)

After the big suck of my bike breaking down on Thursday, and then getting fixed during an otherwise very busy work day on Friday, I was so ready for a long weekend. We consciously didn’t make plans to get stuck in traffic due to the San Francisco Bay Bridge closure, or by going to the coast where probably everyone else was going during the lovely weather.

Instead our friend Karen stopped by for a night on Sunday on her way elsewhere, so I spent a big chunk of Saturday cleaning the front room for her arrival. I’d been piling old comics on the side table in there, and it took quite a while to get them organized. Now I need to see about bringing most of them to my comic book store to see if they’ll buy them from me, and to see about putting some of the others up on eBay.

Once Karen arrived Sunday afternoon, we went out to dinner at Cascal with a friend of hers and his wife. Monday we took her to Stacks for brunch, and showed her the Wii. And then she was off. A short visit, but fun. She managed to avoid all the bridge traffic and made good time on her drive, she says.

After she left on Monday we went for a bike ride, buying ice cream in the park and shaking down my bike after its repairs (and not coincidentally making up for the distance I didn’t bike on Thursday afternoon after it broke). Then I spent a chunk of time upgrading our last computer to SnowLeopard, and I think I’m all done with that chore in the house, thankfully. (Actually it all went perfectly smoothly. It just took a little while to do it all, especially since I decided to do a clean install of the desktop for various mostly-trivial reasons.)

And so today I biked in to work again. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know that it was my 20th ride in to work this year, which makes a solid work-month of biking in (if that month started on Saturday and didn’t have 31 days!). My round-trip is about 18 miles, so that’s over 350 miles biked this summer. Hopefully I can get a few more rides in this month, but I plan to shut it down once it gets too dark at night to bike home.

Though I hope to transition to going to the gym twice a week instead. We’ll see how that goes!

(By the way, here’s my favorite Labor Day cartoon this year.)

The Spider and the Mouse

My own feelings about Disney buying Marvel Comics is that it’s generating a lot of hoopla, but without much reason to believe it’s going to be a big change in comics publishing.

My indifference is based on the fact that I don’t really care about anything Marvel-related other than their comic book publishing arm, and publishing is clearly not why Disney bought them. Most of the value in comic books these days is in the merchandising of the intellectual property, that is, turning the characters into movies, toys, collectibles, and theme park fodder. And while those can be fun, my days of hoping for the perfect X-Men movie adaptation have faded into distant memory. I didn’t bother seeing the second or third Spider-Man films, or the second Fantastic Four film, and I’m still kicking myself for wasting two hours watching the third X-Men film. I might buy a particularly novel toy of collectible once every few years (I gave my dad a Doctor Fate action figure a few years ago). And at theme parks I’m more interested in the rides than in the characters.

I care about the comic books. Which is, I realize, a niche industry and not where the money is. But it’s what I care about.

So what does Disney’s purchase mean for the comic book arm? Well, we don’t really know, and won’t until the deal is concluded and we know where in the Disney empire Marvel lands. And even then we don’t know until we find out whether Disney leaves it more or less alone, or takes a hands-on approach to publishing.

It’s not like Marvel hasn’t been corporate-owned before. And heck, DC has been corporate-owned for decades (they’re owned by Time-Warner). So I don’t think that means anything one way or the other. The difference is that it’s unlikely that Marvel will ever be owned by anyone other than Disney – unless Disney so mismanages the properties that it spins Marvel out again – and that Disney is its own unique corporation. But mere corporate ownership doesn’t really mean anything.

One could argue that there’s reason for optimism that Disney could pump money into Marvel publishing and encourage them to develop new properties, character and stories. On the other hand, I understand Disney has a reputation of being rather parsimonious, so it doesn’t seem like that’s a good bet. Rumor has it that DC is already starting to suggest that Disney’s ownership could change Marvel for the worse, as far as comics creators are concerned. But if Marvel, for example, started lowering salaries, that would be bad news for the industry as a whole, since that would lower pressure on other companies to offer good wages, and make it harder for talent to make a living (or even a part-time living) in the business. And that’s bad for us fans.

Then again, some people point to the Pixar acquisition as Disney having respect for top talent, as several Pixar folks are in charge of major arms of the Disney empire. But will Disney see Marvel’s comics arm as containing “top talent”? How has Disney ownership affected the rank-and-file at Pixar?

So really we just don’t know yet how things will shake out. Disney could be a huge boon to Marvel publishing, or it could be a curse of varying proportions, or it could just leave well enough alone. But even then, Marvel hasn’t been “The House of Ideas” for a couple of decades now; with a few individual exceptions (largely during the “Heroes Return” period of the late 90s), it’s been cranking out increasingly tired reduxes of old stories, with ever-more-ridiculous event crossovers; a far cry from the days of Stan and Jack, or even the days of Jim Shooter.

Until the deal is concluded, Marvel will continue on its current trajectory, for better or for worse. Then we’ll see how Disney really wants to run the publishing arm. My best guess is that they’ll let it continue on as it has, while exploring how it can grow its markets, or move into new markets such as supermarket check-out stands. But overall it’s going to be a small cog in the Disney empire, as comic books are only a small piece of publishing in the United States.

Incidentally, there have been several amusing mash-ups of Disney and Marvel characters over the last week. You can see some here, here, and here.

This Week’s Haul

Hot on the heels of Disney buying Marvel Comics, it’s time for another round of reviews.

  • Wednesday Comics #9 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #2 of 5, by Cullen Bunn, Dan Brereton, Tom Palmer, Stefano Gaudiano & Mark Pennington, and Duane Swierczynski & Travel Foreman (Marvel)
  • Incognito #6 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable #6, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #34, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
Wednesday Comics #9 Another week, another Wednesday Comics. Green Lantern, Metamorpho and Strange Adventures all have significant developments, although the Green Lantern one seems too sudden, and I’m having a hard time keeping track of the parties in Strange Adventures (and why do the aliens all look like Baboons?).

I’m still a little baffled by where Flash is going, although this issue has a nifty stylistic gimmick involving comic strips, which I enjoyed.

Three more issues…

Immortal Weapons #2 Immortal Weapons is a 5-issue mini-series bridging the gap while Iron Fist is on hiatus (though whether it actually comes back is still uncertain), each issue spotlighting one of Fist’s fellow superhuman warriors from the mystical cities in the sky. Fist’s own series flagged a little toward the end, but it was generally quite good; Immortal Weapons is just as good, and maybe a little better. The first issue provided the biography of Fat Cobra, whose history didn’t quite match his recollection of it. This second issue focuses on Bride of Nine Spiders, a considerably creepier figure than the gregarious Cobra, and it’s told as a horror story involving one of the Bride’s eight-legged companions, and the fate of several people interested in it. Dan Brereton nails the spooky feel of the story, which would feel perfectly at home in some of the horror stories of the 1970s. Good stuff.

There’s an Iron Fist backup story running through the series, which is a pretty routine piece about the family of one of Fist’s students getting embroiled in a drug-related conflict. I guess it’s marking time for the main character before wherever his series goes next, but the series would be better-served with longer main stories, I think. Nonetheless, if you’ve any interest in Iron Fist at all, I’d suggest giving this series a try.

Incognito #6 Brubaker & Phillips’ Incognito wraps up this week. It started as a pulpy adventure yarn in which Zack Overkill, a former supervillain, was in witness protection after testifying against his boss. The story progressed as Zack learned he could get his powers back, and was conflicted about whether to use his powers for good or for bad. Predictably, eventually everyone interested finds out about him, and he ends up between a rock and a hard place.

But the series seemed a little pedestrian and manipulative – until this issue, when everything is revealed: Who Zack is and what his background is, and it’s, well, not what I was expecting, and made his story much more compelling, enough so that I hope this isn’t the end of Zack’s story, since I’d be happy to read more of it. Oddly, although the text piece Brubaker writes for each issue is titled “The Secret Ingredient is Pulp”, I’d say the secret ingredient is really… secrets. The hard-boiled suspense approach felt slightly out-of-place in Zack’s world, but once the stakes got raised and the surprising and fantastic facts behind Zack’s life were revealed, everything gelled into a much weightier story.

Brubaker and Phillips are going back to their crime series Criminal next, and I’ve caught up on what they’ve done before while Incognito was coming out. (You can do so yourself by reading the trade paperbacks: one, two, three and four.) Overall Criminal is a bit better than Incognito, although I’d say the latter series has a higher ceiling (and arguably they’ve both been lapped by Sleeper). If part of the goal of Incognito was to recruit new readers for Criminal, well their devious plan succeeded, because I’ll be picking up the new series when it shows up.

(Oh yeah, and naturally you’ll be able to read the collection of Incognito when it comes out.)

Long Week

This has been a long week.

It didn’t help that we had another mini-heat wave, or that I had trouble sleeping Thursday and Friday nights, but what really honked me off was another spoke on my bike breaking when I biked to work yesterday. Much ranting on Twitter later, I decided to try a different bike shop to repair the thing. I’ve been breaking a spoke every few hundred miles, and it sounds like I should go thousands of miles between breaks. I dunno if it’s the bike or just poor service from the previous shop, but it was clearly time for a change. So today I took the bike in and got it repaired – same day! So I can bike in to work again next week.

Which is nice because I’ve been making progress losing weight, and I think a lot of it’s because I’ve been rigorous about biking twice a week for most of the summer.

Happily, we’re now into a long weekend, the weather’s cooled off a bit, and my friend Karen’s coming to visit for a couple of days. So it should be a nice break from the daily grind.