Coffee Shop Night

Paid a visit to Dana Street Roasting Company last night to read comics (and buy two pounds of coffee – we’ve been working our way through many of their varieties).

While there I met Sarahnade, a LiveJournaller I’ve been following for a few years. I thought she looked familiar when she came in, but since she hasn’t posted many pictures of herself I wasn’t sure. But she responded to my tweet about how busy the place was, saying she was sitting two tables over from me. So I went over and said hi.

I knew this ‘Web’ thing was good for something!

Dad Mark Four

Dad visited me recently – if I’m counting correctly, I think this is his fourth trip out here since I moved to California. We’ve done most of the major things to do around the bay area in his last few trips, but we didn’t have trouble finding more things to do this trip. It perhaps wasn’t as hectic as past trips have been – we had more downtime – but we still packed a lot in.

Dad flew in on Thursday the 15th and we had lunch and dinner, with a walk on the Stevens Creek Trail in between. Then Friday Debbi took the day off and joined us to go to the California Academy of Sciences in the morning. We managed to sneak in ahead of the crowds and stayed for about 4 hours. They have a nifty special exhibit called “Extreme Mammals”, which is about the ways mammals deviate from the baseline norm (if there is such a thing). This was our last visit at the Academy for the day, and if we hadn’t been quite so tired I’d have liked to spend more time there. We had lunch in the Moss Room, which seems a step up from the cafeteria, though if I’d known we could have made reservations ahead of time and not sat at the counter. Still and all, an excellent outing for the day.

Saturday the three of us headed to Livermore wine country, visiting some of our favorite wineries. And Sunday we had the champagne brunch at the Moss Beach Distillery, which Dad really enjoyed – of course, it’s tough to beat good food and the oceanside view, but he liked the classical music and sitting on the patio afterwards, too. We also went for a walk on the coastal trail.

Monday we had breakfast at the Original Pancake House (which I think Dad wanted to go to twice on his last visit), and then drove over the hills to Big Basin Redwoods State Park: It was chilly and foggy at the crest of the hills, but quite nice at the park headquarters, where we saw many great redwoods. I’m not sure it’s necessarily better than Muir Woods, but it’s different. We left heading south and went to Santa Cruz, where we got coffee downtown and then walked along the beach by the boardwalk, out the wharf and back, and then stopped at the lighthouse for the view.

Tuesday morning it rained pretty good, but stopped by the time we headed out, and ended up being a really nice day. We had breakfast at Stacks in Menlo Park, and then headed to the city to the De Young Museum, which was quite busy. I’m not really a fan of fine arts, and I think this met my need for exposure to fine art for the year. There were some nice pieces (the collection of historical American art – which we walked through backwards – is quite good), but it didn’t take long for me to see all the impressionist, modern and abstract art I needed to see. Afterwards we took a stroll through the botanical gardens, which I always enjoy, and we wrapped up with the obligatory visit to Ghirardelli Square for sundaes.

Along the way Dad and I got a number of long talks in, and we ate a lot of good meals that I haven’t even mentioned (we sure do have a lot of good places to eat around here). And Blackjack took to Dad quite well which was funny since Dad isn’t a pet person.

The rains finally came on Wednesday when I took Dad to the airport, but his trip home was apparently uneventful (other than a seating snafu). The week sure went by fast, which is a sign that we had a good time. Now I think it’s my turn to head back there next.

This Week’s Haul

Lots of collections this week, of which I’d most highly recommend the new Sandman Mystery Theatre volume, a series which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying in reprint (having passed on it the first time around since I didn’t warm to the art at first – it got better) as a retro-noir-detective series. Hopefully DC is committed to getting the whole series out in trade.

American Vampire #2 is a big leap forward from #1, tying together its two stories – outlaw Skinner Sweet from the 19th century, and aspiring showgirl Pearl from 1925. Although it’s essentially the second half of the two characters’ origin stories, it’s much more satisfying than the first half, which didn’t even scratch the surface. It also lays out the direction of the series, that American vampires will be fundamentally different from European vampires, which will put the two groups into conflict but also mirror the growing influence of America in world affairs (or, so I infer). I hope there will be at least a bone tossed to explain why American vampires are different, rather than “just ‘cuz”, though.

I’m still not sure what I think of Rafael Albuquerque’s art, though I’ve warmed to it more since last issue. My biggest gripes about it are the exaggeration he gives to the vampires when their feral nature emerges, which makes little sense and isn’t dramatically effective (it’s more silly than anything else), which undercuts the two big splash panels in the issue.

But although the series is off to a shaky start, I’m much more optimistic that it will be worthwhile than I was after the first issue.

This issue of The Brave and the Bold actually made me mad. It starts out as a “girl’s night out” yarn in which Zatanna invites out Wonder Woman and Batgirl (the Barbara Gordon version) for a night of dancing, but with the hint of something ominous. That “something” soon becomes clear: Zatanna’s had a vision of Batgirl’s impending crippling at the hands of the Joker (from Batman: The Killing Joke) and she’s set this up as one nice last night while Batgirl is still ambulatory.

The story is manipulative and heavy-handed, overly sentimental, and about 20 years past its expiration date. As a lead-in to some new tragedy befalling a character it might have been okay, but done this way it’s just awful, twisting the knife (again and again and again, as comics are wont to do) by bringing up Gordon’s injury in full force yet again.

Everyone associated with this issue should be ashamed of themselves. This is crap.

Since it launched in the wake of Annihilation, Nova has been consistently one of Marvel’s best comics, despite struggling through one pointless event crossover comic (Secret Invasion) after another (War of Kings). In Annihilation Richard Ryder had grown up from a teenage hot-shot superhero to a first-tier leader who led the good guys to victory after the Nova Corps had been annihilated and he’d inherited their aggregate power. Nova continued his development, taking on increasingly larger threats while he worked to rebirth the Nova Corps. The journey was haphazard, but ultimately enjoyable. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning kept the focus on the main character, and the art was consistently strong, first with the always-great Sean Chen, and later with the solid Andrea Divito.

At the other end of the Spectrum, Guardians of the Galaxy followed a year later after Annihilation Conquest, and although it started off strong – tying in with the 30th-century Guardians and picking up the pieces scattered around after the two Annihilation series – it quickly fragmented, the Guardians never really seeming to have an officially-recognized place in the galaxy which undercut their effectiveness. The cast was too large and got pulled in too many directions – Moondragon died and came back, Phyla-Vell died and came back with entirely different powers, Warlock went through his predictable metamorphosis into the Magus – and the story was weighed down by too many unbelievably high-stakes events to ever be grounded in its characters or its setting. And the art ranged from quite good to pretty ugly. The series was just never satisfying.

And now both series are being cancelled ahead of a new event comic, The Thanos Imperative, which not only is a stupid-sounding title but heralds yet another return of Marvel’s second-string cosmic heavy (after Galactus). Unfortunately, I have little interest in reading yet another iteration of Jim Starlin’s prime baddie, so I think this is it for me and Marvel’s cosmic line. Keith Giffen and company did a great job getting things started back in Annihilation (still one of the best Marvel books of the last decade) and a 3-year run of spin-offs ain’t bad. But I think the train’s about to jump the rails.

I might sign on for another Nova series, if there is one, and if it’s not too weighed down by crossovers. But otherwise: Thanks guys, it’s been fun.

John Scalzi: The God Engines

If The Android’s Dream could be looked at as John Scalzi taking the humorous side of his writing to its logical extreme in a novel, The God Engines could be seen as the opposite, as it is a very serious, rarely humorous, and very dark fantasy. (Well, a fantasy with spaceships.) It may also be his best work to date.

Captain Ean Tephe of the Righteous seems practically like a set-up for a Star Trek story, but in this case Tephe’s ship is in the fleet of a culture which serves its god, a god which has been conquering other gods since creation came into being. Many of the conquered gods are now the power source for the ships of the fleet, and Tephe’s god gains power through the faith of his followers, a faith stoked on the Righteous by the ship’s priest, Ando, whom Tephe doesn’t care for very much. Tephe is recalled to lead a mission to bring his god’s faith to a new planet, a planet that doesn’t know of any gods, and whose faith could therefore be seen as purer than those of long standing. This journey both reveals to us the details of the culture in which Tephe lives, and reveals to Tephe some unpleasant truths underlying that culture.

For such a short novel, Scalzi packs in plenty of details, such as what happens to the followers of the conquered gods, how the social structure on the Righteous works, and glimpses into the workings of the government and priesthood. But he keeps the story focused on Tephe, who is a moral and practical man who turns a blind eye to things he doesn’t like that he can’t change, and who also fervently wishes to command a spaceship even though he’s promised much greater things once this mission is completed.

By the end of the book, the fantasy has turned to horror, quite effectively so. The actual conclusion I found a little disappointing as I’d hoped things would turn out differently, but I can certainly see the argument that things couldn’t have gone any differently. Despite that, I thought The God Engines was an outstanding story, not in the least diminished through the relative lack of Scalzi’s trademark zingers (the story isn’t entirely without humor, but it’s very much reduced in quantity). I’d love to see him do more of this sort of thing, especially since I didn’t care at all for the other direction, as seen in The Android’s Dream. Though I think the smart money is on us seeing more novels somewhere in the middle, as his Old Man’s War series has been.

This Week’s Haul

A big week this week, and it turns out this month, not last month, is Dan Jurgens’ last hurrah on Booster Gold.

  • Booster Gold #32, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Brightest Day #0, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & many inkers (DC)
  • Fables #94, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Flash #1, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • The Unwritten #12, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six #20, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Powers #4, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable Special #1, by Mark Waid, Paul Azaceta, Emma Rios & Howard Chaykin (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #4 of 5, by ike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Chew #10, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #2 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Chris Sims rips Brightest Day #0 a new one in his review column this week. I think he’s a little harsh, but only a little; this is not a good comic book.

The conclusion of Blackest Night showcased the return from death of a dozen DC heroes and villains, including Deadman who, well, is supposed to be dead. Brightest Day is supposedly going to explore why they came back to life. I think the hope is that they’ll capture some of the fun of 52, the weekly series from a few years ago, which was hands-down DC’s best weekly series so far. This issue is the lead-in to that, and it’s basically just Deadman – thanks to the white ring on his finger – checking in on each of the other characters who came back to life. Which means it’s one little character piece after another – bits which might work well enough as an aside in a character’s regular series, but which strung together like this make for one pretty tedious issue.

Worse, this is a continuity-laden comic featuring characters with convoluted backstories. Okay, Hawkman at this point is firmly grounded in his convoluted backstory, it’s basically a key part of the character, and honestly that’s not such a bad thing, since the core premise is easy to explain (Hawkman and his beloved Hawkgirl have been getting reincarnated for thousands of years) and the details are unimportant. Sims points out the problem with all this continuity without really trying to do so:

Take Firestorm. Johns and Tomasi make it clear that Ronnie Raymond is meant to be back from the dead from the moment he died in Identity Crisis. So why does he act like he did thirty years ago? Why did he ask where Professor Stein is, when Stein hadn’t been part of Firestorm for years at that point? Why does Ronnie, a recovering alcoholic, blow off Gehenna’s funeral to go to a kegger? And why, if the union between Jason and Ronnie is meant to be the new version of Firestorm, as seen on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, does Ronnie get control of the body? Well, I know the answer to that one: Because if Firestorm still had the body of a black man, he wouldn’t look like he did in 1978.

Firestorm died in Identity Crisis? I read that piece of trash, but I’d forgotten that. Ronnie’s a recovering alcoholic? Firestorm’s tying in somehow to the Brave and the Bold cartoon? Yeesh, this is all the sort of BS that needs to get sliced away and discarded (or else I’ll be trying to figure out why Firestorm isn’t still a fire elemental, like John Ostrander revealed him to be), the sort of thing Geoff Johns did well in Green Lantern, picking the pieces he wanted to play with and ignoring the rest. You can repeat this for most of the other characters herein, and then there are some new bits that make no sense at all (Aquaman being reluctant to go into the water, for example).

There’s some potential here, but the cast is too large, and this is really a horrible lead-in to the series. My guess it that it will be better than Countdown to Final Crisis (it could hardly be worse), but not anywhere near as good as 52 was.

On the art side, Fernando Pasarin’s art is pretty solid, though unspectacular. This seems to be DC’s house style these days: Clean, solidly-rendered, judicious use of shadows, lots of details, somewhat generic faces and expressions. More than a little evocative of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, without being as distinctive as either. (Nicola Scott and Ivan Reis are similar.)

I might try the first couple of issues, but Brightest Day will have to come out of the gate strong (assuming that this issue is it just getting into the gate) for me to keep reading.

On the other hand, I think Sims is far too kind to the new Flash series. He is right about this: Bringing back Barry Allen was completely unnecessary, especially as Wally West has been such a great Flash for the last quarter of a century (wow, has it really been that long?). Then again, bringing back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern was not exactly essential either, and that’s worked out well. The difference is that Barry’s death occurred at the lowest point in the character’s creative history, and he died heroically in a much-beloved series (Crisis on Infinite Earths), whereas Hal was killed off awkwardly after becoming a villain for no good reason, so bringing Barry back actually cheapens his death (and his return hasn’t been handled with anywhere near the style of the other resurrected hero whose return has previously been verboten – Ed Brubaker bringing back Bucky in Captain America was orders of magnitude better than this, as I said last week).

But, Barry’s back, and he’s been given a new series, and that’s how it goes.

In any event, this issue is no better than Brightest Day above. To start with, this story is just bogged down in continuity, explicit or implied: The Flash has been dead, and presumably everyone knows that, but now he’s back. And so is Barry Allen, but it’s unclear whether everyone knows that the two are the same guy, and you’d pretty much have to be an idiot not to have figured it out, if you knew Barry personally. Johns blurred the line in Green Lantern about whether everyone knew who Hal was – you could almost believe that everyone did know, and just didn’t care – but here it seems like all of Barry’s friends are idiots. (Never mind that his wife Iris had disappeared for years, too, and came back, and then apparently got 20 years younger. Good trick, that.) Johns wants to push past all the getting-back-to-his-life stuff and get to the story, but I just don’t buy it, especially since Barry and Iris were the stereotypical midwest, middle-American couple, living in a cute little ranch home and working their day jobs, and that life is so far from where the characters are starting now, it’s impossible to credit.

The plot involves one of Flash’s villains (of his so-called Rogues Gallery) showing up dead – only it doesn’t seem to be him. It’s just the barest hint of the story, so there’s not much to review there (though there’s atwist on the last two pages), but most of the issue is given over to Barry getting back to his life. And that’s a yawn-fest.

The big knock against the issue is the art: Francis Manapul was just good enough on Jim Shooter’s recently Legion of Super-Heroes run with his uninspiring “Image-esque” style helped by some clean linework, but his style here is a lot more cartoony and sketchy, and I think it just looks awful. The characters all look kind of childlike, with indistinguishable faces (which look deformed whenever the panel is composed looking up at the face), the inks look more like pencils, there are unnecessary speed lines everywhere (yes, even for The Flash they’re unnecessary), and on top of that the colors look washed out. I almost passed on this series because of Manapul’s presence alone, and this first issue makes me think I should’ve gone with my first instinct. (I’m not really sure who I think they should have gotten to draw the series. Ethan Van Scyver was not a great choice in The Flash: Rebirth, even though I like his art a lot better. Dan Jurgens doesn’t have the right dynamism. But the series needs to look more grown-up and solid than the look Manapul gives it here. Norm Breyfogle might have brought the series a similar look but more weight – he did a good job on the criminally-overlooked miniseries Flashpoint ten years ago.)

Flash after one issue has all the indications of being a train wreck. To be sure, Green Lantern got off to a very slow start, but at least it had lovely artwork to fall back on. Flash needs to get much better on all fronts very quickly for me to care enough to stick around.

Is John Byrne doing the best Star Trek comics of the last 20 years, or the best Star Trek comics ever? It sure is hard to tell. Other than the quirky and unsatisfying Assignment: Earth series, every Byrne Trek comic at IDW has been pitch-perfect, wonderfully illustrated stuff exploring the fringes of the original cast milieu. Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor follows the irascible surgeon as he embarks on a voyage to the Federation frontier to help people with his skills, in the period between classic Trek and the first feature film, so it’s a medium for Byrne to spin a few clever science fiction yarns. Less ambitious than his Romulans series, but that’s hardly a problem as Crew had a similar approach, and I think that’s the best of his series yet.

If I have a criticism it’s that his rendering of the good doctor seem slightly off to me. Granted, McCoy’s got a full beard here (as he did when he first appeared in The Motion Picture), but something about his eyes and his mouth make him appear a little older and grumpier than even he ought to. Still, the issue as a whole is fun stuff, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

(I wonder if Byrne has aspirations of doing a truly epic Trek series at IDW at some point, something on a grander scale than even the Romulans story? That’s be something to see.)

This month’s issue of Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension doesn’t feature any vampires, nor any dimensions (well, other than the usual three). It does feature Atomic Robo and also revenge, although the revenge isn’t by vampires. False advertising?

Anyway, this one takes place in Japan and is yet another homage to Japanese monster movies, which means (this being Atomic Robo) it involves a lot of smashing, interspersed with snarky remarks by Robo. It’s a pretty good issue, actually, but sameness is starting to set in to Atomic Robo I’ve been hoping that writer Brian Clevinger would start pulling together Robo’s long backstory (he was created by Nikola Tesla) into a larger drama, but it’s basically one slugfest after another. The previous volume, Shadow From Beyond Time, was the best one yet precisely because it was a carefully-laid-out story arc, but Revenge of the Vampire Dimension reverts to the one-offs of the previous two volumes.

This could be such a great series, and it’s really frustrating that it can’t rise above the level of lightweight adventure stuff.

This Week’s Haul

Two weeks at once again, I’m afraid. Between fantasy baseball, work, taxes, the last two ultimate frisbee games of the season, and preparing for an upcoming vacation, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the journal.

Last week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC)
  • Blackest Night #8 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #37, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #21, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier ultimate collection TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, Mike Perkins & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #577, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #4, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #7, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

This week:

  • Batman and Robin #11, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • The Boys #41, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Invincible Returns #1, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker & Cliff Rarthburn (Image)
Last week was the conclusion to DC’s big event comic of the past year, Blackest Night. I’ve written extensively about it along the way, and the conclusion didn’t really change my mind. In sum, it was a coherent story, essentially an outgrowth of ongoing themes in Green Lantern, but went on for far too long given that it was ultimately a fairly typical “save the universe” superhero yarn. Damning it with faint praise? Well, as I’ve also said, compared to other event comics from DC over the last few years, Blackest Night seems downright brilliant, staying away from convoluted continuity (in fact, Johns has largely ignored inconvenient continuity in his Green Lantern run in favor of building his own mythos, and the series has been the better for it) and portraying the heroes as being actual heroes, not trying to make them more “mature” or whatever Identity Crisis (which was pure trash as a series) was trying to do.

This final issue shows GL and his partners taking down the villain, and finding that the spirit of life in the universe has given them a gift returning a number of long-time heroes (and a few villains) to the land of the living. (I’d suspected that was how this was going to play out back at the beginning of the series.) This isn’t exactly a boon for some of the characters – just for starters, a hero named Deadman probably shouldn’t be returned to life, eh? – and I guess this will lead into DC’s next bi-weekly series, Brightest Day (which I’m on the fence about picking up).

In addition to all this, Blackest Night is something of a buddy story, bringing Flash and Green Lantern together again, remembering old friends, reclaiming their positions in the top tier of DC’s pantheon of heroes by defeating this big baddie. This issue winds down with the two of them standing over Batman’s grave and realizing that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and wondering what’s next for them all. Not a bad way to end the series.

And wow, that cover sure is gorgeous! Ivan Reis does a bang-up job on the interior art, too. He’s still got that tinge of “classic Image style” to his pencils which is a bit off-putting, but he’s been getting better and better. I hope he goes back to drawing GL again now that this series is over.

Essential reading Blackest Night might not be, and as it’s mainly been driven by Geoff Johns’ own vision I don’t think it reflects much on what DC’s future event comics might be like. But it’s been pretty good.

I completely missed out on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America when it started. To be sure, Cap was in the doldrums when it began, having gone through several relaunches of his title, none of them since Mark Waid’s first run really having worked. (The John Ney Rieber/John Cassaday run looks pretty, but that’s about it.) And I’d never heard of Brubaker before, so why sign on to yet another new Cap series?

But having discovered Brubaker through his independent work (Incognito, Criminal, Sleeper), and knowing that Steve Epting is a top-notch artist, the release of the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection seemed like a fine time to start catching up on what I’d missed.

What I’d missed was Brubaker really, truly doing what’s been verboten at Marvel for decades: Bringing back Cap’s deceased partner Bucky Barnes. (I don’t really count Peter David’s jokey hint of doing so in Incredible Hulk years ago.) But Brubaker pulls it off, making Bucky a tragic figure whose history since World War II has been anything but happy and heroic. Winter Soldier follows Cap learning about Bucky’s existence thanks to his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D., and a powerful businessman who’s employing a former Soviet operative code-named the Winter Soldier as a hit-man and bodyguard. Okay, it doesn’t take much to figure out what’s really going on here from all that, but Brubaker is such a good writer that he weaves in Cap’s own personal crisis (this story occurs shortly after the original Avengers disbanded), international intrigue, the death of a minor supporting character, and the complex story of Bucky’s survival into a seamless whole. It works astoundingly well, and has me interested in more.

Of course I know where Cap’s gone over the last few years since this story, what with Civil War and (ahem) The Death of Captain America, but Brubaker’s got me won over that I want to read how he handles it. Winter Soldier might be a little too heavy for someone not already a Cap fan, but if you’re reasonably familiar with Cap’s own history, then this one is highly recommended.

I’m not sure what to make on Jonathan Hickman’s series for Marvel. Fantastic Four has been contemplative, not really action-oriented at all, and we’re now 3/4ths of the way through an “arc” in which the FF are being exposed to new exotic groups of creatures: Highly-evolved subterraneans, high-tech underwater beings, and now non-human inhumans. (The sequence is titled “Prime Elements”, so the three groups shown so far presumably represent earth, water and air.) It feels like it’s purely set-up for future stories, but it’s all so far-ranging it’s hard to see how it will all tie together. Meanwhile, the individual issues have not been particularly good, with little tension or conflict or character studies. It’s been rather dull, actually.

And now there’s the ongoing title S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to only tangentially relate to the classic Nick Fury organization. Instead it features historic figures saving the world – Galileo facing Galactus, for example. The conceit is briefly amusing, but an ongoing series? Really? In the 1950s we have a man who seems to have Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness joining the group, when his father shows up and faces Agents Richards and Stark. All these details make it seem like the series is taking place in one or more alternate universes, because shoehorning all this stuff into the existing Marvel Universe seems somewhere between pointless and impossible. And again, the story is more thoughtful than exciting, and it’s hard to get enthused about it.

Hickman’s artistic partners are quite good, but the writing just isn’t doing it for me. Exploring the unexplored backwaters of a nearly-50-year-old universe needs to be a lot more gripping and relevant than this to hold my interest. Hickman needs to punch up the excitement factor, because his efforts at cultivating a sense of wonder aren’t working.

Fantasy Baseball 2010

Yesterday we performed our annual ritual of picking real baseball players to join fake teams. Last year was a disappointing year for me as I had a really good team, traded my 3rd-round pick in 2010 for Jason Bay, and then my whole team decided to take June and half of July off. I struggled my way back and finished in 4th place, which ain’t bad (the top 7 spots out of 16 teams pay), but I failed yet again to beat my 1999 performance, when I finished 3rd. Frustrating.

I headed into the draft with the best hitter in baseball, one of the 5 best pitchers, a top third baseman, and another good pitcher. But also down one pick, and with no true prospects in development. So here’s how the draft shook out for me:


Pos Player Team Round/
Age Comments
C Kurt Suzuki OAK 6/93 26 Victor Martinez was the first pick in the league. Suzuki has a little upside and is sure to play every day.
1B Albert Pujols SLN Kept 30
2B Scott Sizemore DET 7/109 25 A bit of a risky pick, as it’s by no means clear the Tigers will stick with him, even though he should be a decent hitter. And unfortunately I have no backup plan at second base.
3B Ryan Zimmerman WAS Kept 25
SS Yunel Escobar ATL 1/13 27
OF Josh Willingham WAS 5/77 31
OF Mike Cameron BOS 8/125 37
OF Conor Jackson ARI 10/157 27
OF Juan Rivera LAA 13/205 31
C Nick Hundley SDN 19/301 26
C Jonathan LuCroy MIL 20/317 24 LuCroy and Exposito are both catching prospects. LuCroy is probably close, Exposito is at least a year away – assuming he keeps hitting.
C Luis Exposito BOS 26/405 23
3B Casey Blake LAN 16/253 36
SS Cliff Pennington OAK 23/363 25
2B/SS/3B Craig Counsell MIL 25/397 39 My one multiposition backup – such as he is, at age 39.
OF Luke Scott BAL 12/189 21
OF Rick Ankiel KCA 28/418 20
OF Domonic Brown PHI 15/237 22 A perhaps-slightly-overrated prospect for the Phillies.
SP Zack Greinke KCA Kept 26
SP James Shields TBA Kept 27
SP John Lackey BOS 2/29 31
SP Scott Baker MIN 4/61 28
SP Justin Masterson CLE Kept 25
SP Charlie Morton PIT 14/221 26
SP Ross Ohlendorf PIT 18/281 27
SP Tom Gorzelanny CHN 22/349 27
SP Daniel McCutchen PIT 24/376 27 Having 3/5ths of the Pirates rotation could be my key to victory!
RP Jose Valverde DET 11/173 30
RP Chris Perez CLE 17/267 24
RP Sergio Romo SFN 21/333 27
RP Hideki Okajima BOS 27/412 34
SP Jacob Turner DET 9/141 19 This year’s “out on a limb” prospect pick, he was the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2009 and has yet to pitch in the minors, but is very highly regarded.
SP Julio Teheran ATL 29/422 19 Another very young, highly-regarded pitcher, but he hasn’t yet shown his potential yet.
SP Cory Luebke SDN 30/425 25 And another prospect, but this one may well be up this year.

I hoped to go back to taking a big bopper with my first-round pick, but there weren’t many left when my 13th-overall pick came around, thanks to our deep keeper rules, so instead I took Yunel Escobar, who is a strong-hitting shortstop who has additional upside. I used my 4th round pick to take Josh Willingham, who can rake when he’s healthy. And I beefed up my rotation with John Lackey and Scott Baker, which should make it quite good.

The first ten rounds of my draft went pretty well, I thought. As I said, my main regret was not having a better plan in case Scott Sizemore doesn’t work out, and not having a quality multiposition backup. Otherwise I have a pretty balanced team, albeit with my usual less-than-dominating bullpen. And I’ve restocked with some high-upside prospects.

Our league continues to get more competitive, as once again I was scrounging for guys to pick with my last few picks. But my list of prospects was very deep this year.

And as always I have no idea whether I’ll truly compete. I have some injury risks here and there (Lackey, Willingham, a couple of old guys), but I’m by no means relying on everyone being completely healthy. I’m just hoping I can come out of the gate strong, since struggling to get back in the hunt after a slow start always sucks.

The iPad Cometh

I’m not buying an iPad this weekend, though many of my friends and cow-orkers are. I tend to trail the edge of technology adoption anyway; I’m quirky for a programmer that way. For me it seems like the iPad is rife with potential, but there’s not a lot I’d truly use it for from the beginning.

Here are some things I don’t expect to use the iPad for:

  1. Reading books and comic books. To me, most books and many comic books are things to be enjoyed over and over, to be collected and shared through lending and borrowing. I own many books and comics which I expect to enjoy for decades to come, and I have my doubts that the evolution of technology is such that I’ll be able to read an e-book I buy today again in 20 years without going through some sort of annoying upgrading process, due to format changes (never mind DRM issues, if any). Reading literature on a device seems better aimed towards disposable works. To be sure, there are some books which I regard as disposable (this one, for instance), but that’s not the case for most books.

    Of course, many readers may consider most books to be “disposable” in this case. (Debbi gets most of her reading material from the library, the long-time gold standard of disposable literature.) Even the classics are disposable to someone who doesn’t plan to ever read them again. But I’m a collector, so I’m just not the target audience for e-books and e-comics.

  2. Programming. One can program for the iPad, but not on the iPad. More to the point, for me, most of my programming outside work these days involves writing complex Ruby scripts to process baseball statistics and my library of Magic cards. That uses programming as a tool to get some information out the other side, rather than to write an application which is itself the tool; it cuts out the middleman, so to speak. I could imagine rewriting all that stuff so that it runs on the iPad, but it’s not likely that I will. Especially the baseball stuff, which is pretty narrowly tailored to my own quirky needs.

    Programmers are an exception to Frasier Spears’ commentary on the iPad in this way; for us, programming often is a part of the “real work”. But the point is that programmers are not the core audience for the iPad, and I think one reason behind Cory Doctorow’s ire is that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept this.

  3. Writing and blogging. I don’t see myself writing fiction or essays or blog posts on an iPad: Why use the on-screen keyboard or buy an external keyboard when I can just use my Mac? Will it be as easy to do word processing or use WordPress on an iPad as on a laptop, and if not, will that be a significant barrier? I dunno.

    The question of whether the iPad is mainly aimed at content consumers, or whether it will also work well for content producers, is I think an open question. At the moment my impression is that it leans toward the former, but I can imagine the balance evening out over time. Consequently, I can see myself changing my mind about this one more easily than the above two.

On the other hand, here are some things I do hope to use the iPad for, sooner or later:

  1. As a drawing input device. I expect we’ll see apps which allow the iPad to be used as an input device like the Wacom Cintiq in pretty short order, connecting your iPad to a Mac and using it to control Photoshop or other drawing apps which are too resource-intensive to run on the iPad themselves. (Of course, in the long run, why need to even connect it to your Mac? But I doubt we’re there yet for many purposes.)
  2. Playing innovative games. Computer games have been pretty stagnant for the last 10 years, in my opinion. First person shooters, real-time strategy games, simple arcade-style games, they’ve each made incremental advances over time, but nothing that’s blown me away. The last time I played computer games which felt truly new were MYST and Riven back in the 90s. Sure, they were at their core puzzle games, but they were also immersive experiences in exploring a world. I would love to see a thoughtful, immersive game experience enabled by the iPad.
  3. Reading newspapers and magazines. Speaking of disposable literature, I still subscribe to the daily newspaper (the San Jose Mercury News) in print form, and I even save the funnies every day for Debbi to read. I’ll probably keep doing so, but I could see subscribing to other periodicals – especially niche ones, or ones I don’t plan to keep, such as science fiction magazines – and reading them on an iPad. (And yes, I’d certainly pay for them.)

I have no doubt I’ll buy an iPad eventually (perhaps as soon as this summer). This is just my personal and ruthlessly-practical way of looking at it.

The iPad is already a fascinating device from a social-engineering and technological-evolutionary standpoint (if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be all the controversy surrounding it), and the science fiction fan and casual futurist in me would love to write about those aspects. However, the Apple employee in me thinks I should probably stay out of it. (I don’t think anyone really listens to little ol’ me, but there’s no percentage in risking the Internet Hordes unexpectedly descending on my blog and reading more into it than I intend.)

And on that note, off I go to my fantasy baseball draft, which I manage using the aforementioned Ruby scripts on my MacBook Pro.

Good Riddance to March

The month started with my team moving out of the main campus and into a satellite building – a pretty nice building, but not as nice as the main campus. It continued with my beloved cat Jefferson passing away.

Meanwhile I struggled with a seller on eBay not shipping the product I bought (eBay refunded my money yesterday), and I feel woefully underprepared for our fantasy baseball draft on Saturday. Not to mention having barely dented the book for the following week’s book discussion.

So, a pretty crappy month overall. Hopefully the year will only get better from here.

(And no, I’m not really in a frame of mind where I’m appreciating peoples’ April Fools jokes today. Although to be fair my friend who said he and his wife were expecting a second set of twins was pretty funny.)