Sunday, October 28, 2007

Good news and bad news in new comics

Trying something a little different here. Looking at new comics purchases from this week for an example of something good and exemplary. And then another example that isn't, so much.

The Good News: Moon Knight #13
Horror/mystery author Charlie Huston has taken an interesting tack on the bargain basement Batman in the past year or so. Marc Spector, aka Moon Knight, has been presented as a rumbling psychopath, and kind of a prick, and most of his former allies want nothing to do with him. Luckily, his enemies are even creepier. While Huston has approached the miserabilist superhero subgenre with a certain degree of humor, I as a reader have laughed at Moon Knight more than with him.

In his last issue on the series, Huston keeps this general approach, but allows Spector to get some of his own back. The Civil War aftermath means that he has to register as a vigilante or else retire. Things look bad for him during the psych exam, but he manages to psych out the shrink in a way that's fun to watch. It also looks like he finally gets the girl again, meaning Marlene Alraune. Of course there's a question of whether this is true love or somethin' Swedish.

The Bad News: Shadowpact #17
Bill Willingham created a nice little magical supergroup in the runup to Infinite Crisis, and good for him. And the Shadowpact should be an enduring property, unless someone really screws up.

Of course Willingham has stepped away from the book, at least for the time being, and handed the keys over to his prtege Matthew Sturges. And I'm not sure Sturges is ready for Prime Time. The family drama between villain Dr. Gotham and his equally Jedi-haired "son", the Protege has gotten old real fast. They have a racket sacrificing vestals who are into magic, and that's supposed to spice things up. It doesn't.

Their newest prey is Carla Aquista, known as the Warlock's Daughter. She's got power but she doesn't know how to control it. The Enchantress is trying to teach her, and the WD resents the way she's being taught. And she's being led astray by truly evil people. This is the same boring setup that made me stop reading Countdown.

Wish I could say I'm at least worried about the Warlock's Daughter, but I can't get invested at all. Not only is she in a bratty stage she looks too old for, but Tom Derenick draws her without pupils or irises. That means that even though she has the typical superheroine physique, her eyes are even more disturbing and unnatural than her tits. Yeah. Come back, Bill, and show 'em how to do it right.

The bold prophecy of Zager and Evans

Something I saw online this weekend had me shaking my head. It's this pop-evolution speculation that British biologist Oliver Curry Came up with.
London, Oct 28 (ANI): The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, a leading evolutionary theorist from the London School of Economics has said.

Oliver Curry has said that the human race will reach its physical peak by the year 3000, after which they will begin to regress.

These humans will be between six and seven feet tall and will live up to 120 years, he said.

"Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates," Curry said in his report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

He said advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques would effectively homogenise mankind's appearance.

While men will come with symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, women will boast of glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts.

Racial differences will also become a thing of the past as interbreeding will produced a single coffee-coloured skin tone, he said.

But this won't be the end. Ten thousand years after humans reach their peak; reliance on technology will dramatically begin to change their appearance, he added.

The human race will split into two distinct species akin to the intelligent and wealthy Eloi, and the dim-witted, ugly goblin-like Morlock as envisaged in HG Wells' science fiction novel, The Time Machine.

"Medicine will weaken our immune system and we will begin to appear more child-like. The report suggests that the future of man will be a story of the good, the bad and the ugly," said Dr Curry.

"While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is the possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other," he said.

"After that, things could get ugly, with the possible emergence of genetic 'haves' and 'have-nots'," he added. (ANI)

First of all, the funniest result here would be if HG Wells came back to life and hired a particularly bloodthirsty lawyer. But beyond the semi-plagiarism, there's a lot wrong here.

First of all, let's talk about the dicks. Big dicks have always been pretty popular, from what I understand. But natural selection has not thus far ensured that only foot-long guys would breed. That may be because we wear clothes, or because women prioritize other traits when selecting a mate. And Lamarck was wrong, so any effects from those happy love pills you buy on the Internet will not be passed onto your progeny. Same with perky breast implants.

Racial differences: well, race is something of an illusion to begin with. It is quite probable that medium-brown skin tones will increase. But racial characteristics are really just mix-and-match genetic traits. "White" people tend to have a lot of recessive traits. Regardless of who has what skin color, there will still be plenty of differences in hair and eye color, nose shape, chins, etc. If the people of the future are inclined to organize these into race, they will be entirely free to do so.

As far as the human race splitting into perfect but frail Eloi and big monstrous Morlocks, that seems kind of optimistic. My guess is that some kind of brouhaha would break out before we ever got to the point of species differentiation. Only one strain would survive.

One thing to remember is that in terms of geologic time, 1,00o years is just a blink. But when your talking about sociobiology, your dealing with society, trends, fashions. In that field, a century is too far to predict, and a millennium is forever.

Curry seems to have good intentions here, and his points about overreliance on technology is not entirely off target. Medical advances could eventually make the immune system atrophy. But this is a generality. The story is quite far from being factual.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dangerously cool, handle with care

There's some stuff I could blog about, if it weren't really late. But it is, and I'm sleepy, so I won't. What I will do is link to this video. It's un-embeddable, and YouTube has been kind of weird about that this weekend anyway.

This team did some amazing jazz recordings in the late fifties. And the great thing about seeing them is that the eye contact and facial expressions make it a complete performance. I love the way Annie Ross looks at Jon Hendricks all wide-eyed, like "Whaa?"

Friday, October 26, 2007


Hey, you ever find yourself getting so tired and distracted that you just trail off in the middle of

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Went to the Rochambeau library this evening and consulted the reference librarian, who was right nice. First time in quite a while that I had asked anything of a reference libraraian, but I was doing research and didn't think an unguided websearch would be sufficient.

The question I asked was about rooftop construction. The story I'm working on takes place well above street level in a big city, so roofs play a part. Anyway, she tracked down a couple of books that may help me.

The story has some potential. It seemed for a while it needed more, but I'm beginning to suspect it needs less. Anyway, it'll be going out someime in the near future with the title

  • Winter Night

  • Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo

  • something else

Monday, October 22, 2007


As a reader, I find myself getting out of condition at times. You know, picking up a book for five minutes and putting it aside without really absorbing anything. When this happens, I go back and rejuvenate by reading YA and older children's books (not picture books, or at least not for this purpose.) There are a couple of reasons for this. Writers for young people know they have to deliver, to give up an interesting story and engaging characters. Writers for adults can slide on this. Also, reading kid lit reacquaints you with the 5 W's, and that basic framework serves you in many contexts.

For my most recent rehab project, I picked up Madeleine l'Engles Dragons in the Water. L'Engle, who passed away about six weeks ago, is a writer I didn't really know for a long time. As a kid I knew A Wrinkle in Time and that's about it. But she was one of the authors in a college class on Young Adult Lit, and that familiarized me more with her.

She doesn't write down to her audience. If you're in grade school, or even high school, some of her references may send you to the encyclopedia (or something like it). Of course if you're reading now as an adolescent, you're already in somewhat select company.

This book has some knowing touches of Faulkner, which I liked. The young protagonist--Poly O'Keefe is more a helper figure--comes from a declining Southern aristo family, and is actually kind of poor. Also, shady relative, connections to another cousin named Quentin. It's there if you look for it.

Actually I haven't described the book in any detail at all. And I won't but I can say the effect for me is like a refreshing dip in the pool.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Indian Summer?

Or is it just regular Summer still. It used to be pretty clear when there were 80 degree days in October, that yeah, this was IS. A last sloppy kiss of the dog days. With the just maybe possible existence of global warming, the issue is a little muddier. It's not that we haven't had any cool days this Autumn. But I haven't really sensed any frost on the pumpkin days.

The leaves are turning, though. We're getting that famous New England fall foliage. Guess it's more famous up in the Northeast Kingdom, but still. Anyway, I like the look of Fall. Sort of like the feel of it too. And of course the smell. So guys? Ready when you are.

Makes one curious

Antiwar founder Justina Raimondo, who used to call himself an objectivist but no longer does, has composed an interesting essay on the life and work of Ayn Rand. I must confess, this is one writer I haven't really read. I know her mostly by reputation, and since much of her reputation rests on the latter-day proponents he tears into here... Well, let's just say certain warnings are given off.

Raimondo engages with Rand as a writer of fiction, which suggests that there's something there. So I guess I'm more likely to take a look-see now.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Office talk

Kind of weird to see the emo bonding between Jim and Dwight. Okay, well, mostly Jim towards Dwight. Weird but not entirely unwelcome as a change of pace.

That is one weird cousin Dwight has.

Ultimate confessions

From Strange Horizons comes Tony Keen's articulate review of the Marvel trade editions of The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2. The Ultimates, for those of you playing at home, are an alt-universe, more "realistic" take on the Avengers. The series as published is less like an episodic comic, and has more the cumulative structure of a movie. Keen's review resonated with me even though I couldn't honestly say whether I agreed with it or not.

The reason I can't is that I haven't really kept up with the Ultimateverse. I did buy an issue once, where Henry Pym tries to rejoin the Ultimates, and, failing that, looks to a new group called the Defenders. Like the main Marvel Universe's Pym, this one is a wifebeater. Unlike that one, he's never been able to redeem himself. For this and other reasons, his former teammates either despise him or regard him with "keep it away from me" detached pity. As for the Defenders, they're poseurs with costumes (sort of) and essentially nothing else. Pym's one adventure with them nearly gets him killed by workady warehouse thieves.

Reading this, I knew three things about The Ultimates.

  1. The creative team was very gifted. (And in fact I think Bryan Hitch worked as a visual consultant on the revived Doctor Who.)

  2. This storyline would be hugely popular with contemporary comics readers.

  3. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Since then I've done some flipping through without buying (don't worry, the stores get their cut from me.) Seeing Captain America spear the big bad, and hearing that Hawkeye killed Black Widow in revenge, the third point still stands. By some criteria, this reimagined team may well prove themselves heroic. But for me they were a little too much like Blackwater employees of the month.

The appeal of the superhero genre for me is not really the powers. The very fact that Hollywood studios can now reproduce cosmic feats onscreen makes them somewhat mundane. And I don't necessarily want pure good versus absolute evil. What I do appreciate is the sight of people I like getting what victories they can while remaining decent. That might sound subjective, and maybe it is. But as Potter Stewart said of obscenity, I know it when I see it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Natural

Old athletes must hate steroids worse than anything. Babe Ruth was not a very wholesome character, but everything he did on the diamond was from his own strength and skill. Whatever chemicals he put in his body were not so much of the performance-enhancing kind. So if you played baseball in the forties, or even the seventies, you can't really admire Barry Bonds for breaking records when his DNA has started to mutate.

I'm starting to think it's the same thing with Christopher Hitchens and religion. in a recent interview, Hitch said

Religion makes people do wicked things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. It doesn’t make them behave better—it makes them behave worse. You couldn’t get people to hack away at the genitals of their newborn children if they didn’t think there was a religious obligation to do so. The licenses for genocide, slavery, racism, are all right there in the holy text.

And speaking of religion, here's an account of da man speaking at the Freedom from Religion Convention, by fellow nonbeliever P.Z. Myers (via Justin Raimondo:

Then it was Hitchens at his most bellicose. He told us what the most serious threat to the West was (and you know this line already): it was Islam. Then he accused the audience of being soft on Islam, of being the kind of vague atheists who refuse to see the threat for what it was, a clash of civilizations, and of being too weak to do what was necessary, which was to spill blood to defeat the enemy. Along the way he told us who his choice for president was right now — Rudy Giuliani — and that Obama was a fool, Clinton was a pandering closet fundamentalist, and that he was less than thrilled about all the support among the FFRF for the Democratic party. We cannot afford to allow the Iranian theocracy to arm itself with nuclear weapons (something I entirely sympathize with), and that the only solution is to go in there with bombs and marines and blow it all up. The way to win the war is to kill so many Moslems that they begin to question whether they can bear the mounting casualties.

It was simplistic us-vs.-them thinking at its worst, and the only solution he had to offer was death and destruction of the enemy.

This was made even more clear in the Q&A. He was asked to consider the possibility that bombing and killing was only going to accomplish an increase in the number of people opposing us. Hitchens accused the questioner of being incredibly stupid (the question was not well-phrased, I'll agree, but it was clear what he meant), and said that it was obvious that every Moslem you kill means there is one less Moslem to fight you … which is only true if you assume that every Moslem already wants to kill Americans and is armed and willing to do so. I think that what is obvious is that most Moslems are primarily interested in living a life of contentment with their families and their work, and that an America committed to slaughter is a tactic that will only convince more of them to join in opposition to us.

Basically, what Hitchens was proposing is genocide. Or, at least, wholesale execution of the population of the Moslem world until they are sufficiently cowed and frightened and depleted that they are unable to resist us in any way, ever again.

Or as Myers sums up:

This whole last third of his talk had me concerned about the first part. He had just told us in strong terms about the failures of religion and its detrimental effect on our culture, and now he was explaining to us how the solution in the Middle East was to simply kill everyone who disagreed with you. He didn't relate the two parts of his talk, which was unfortunate. I'd like to know whether he thinks the way atheists ought to end religion in America is to start shooting Baptists, or whether he sees other ways to educate and enlighten … in which case I wonder why he doesn't see any virtue in applying those same methods to Islam. I didn't ask the question since the line for the microphone was long, and I had a depressing feeling that the solution would involve sending the Baptists over to Iraq to kill and be killed.

Some people need a Falwell or Khomeini (dated references, but keepers) to tell them who and how to hate. Others just have the knack. Hitchens' talent is something to behold. Hell, I believe in God and I can barely fathom the man's bloodlust.

Maybe he's just warning the rest of us not to try following his footsteps through artificial means.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No quarter

So I'm not a numismatist, or as hoi polloi would put it, a coin collector. Nonetheless, I have been enjoying the state quarters. Every few weeks, there's a new image, catching the light in a new way. Some are kind of dull, like Massacusetts, sad to say. But then there are those like Florida that actually seem to have a narrative. See, the pilot is flying low so that he can check up on his wife, a tour guide on the tall ship.

So anyway, where the hell is Utah? By my count it should have shown up at the end of August, or sometime in September at least. But while I see state quarters almost every time I get change, but the Beehive State is nowhere to be found. Are the Latter Day Saints hoarding them all? C'mon guys, you can let a few out of your sight.

Get well Marie

i just added (Pen-)Elayne Riggs to the elite blogroll. She earned her place with this worrisome but glad-I-know tidbit on Marie Severin. Severin is one of the relatively unsung hero(in)es of the comics worls. She started out inking and coloring at EC Comics, where brother John Severin also worked. Later at Marvel she became a penciller in her own right. She's had fantastic runs on both Sub-Mariner and Doctor Strange. If your track down the Batman Black and White
graphic collection, you can see her interesting take on the Caped Crusader. Hopefully she knows her fans are pulling for her.

As to the Randi Rhodes story, it appears that she was not assaulted. This is good, although I still hope she has a good reconstructive dentist on hand. Rhodes' colleagues, and some bloggers, jumped to some bad conclusions vis-a-vis right wing conspiracy. On t'other hand, a few right wing bloggers showed some ugly streaks of schadenfreude. So no one comes out covered in glory.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Everything you wanted to know about Rex but were afraid to ask

What. You think soap opera strips are boring? Dated and embarassing? And that's why there are only about 20 readers left?

Believe you me, there is plenty going on in Rex Morgan MD. Saucy and scandalous!
Update: I just want to point out that this redub was done by bats:[, a fellow denizen o Josh Fruehlingers Comics Curmudgeon site. I don't have a Flickr account. I do, however, have a Bickr account, where I can go to argue with my imaginary girlfriend. Life is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And everybody felt the rain

Let's see. It's been a couple of days since I posted. And it's late, and I'm too dopey to get any other kind of productive writing done. So no time like the present.

The sky opened up a few minutes ago. It's raining, and like, what i mean! This kind of rain is impressive. The percussive thunder and the persistent hiss of the rain falling down. It sounds like making up for lost time.

You don't want to be caught out in a heavy rain like this. If you've found shelter it's kind of soothing, though.

If you're reading this, congratulations on finding shelter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A noice little chune

I like this song, "(Antichrist Television Blues)" and yes, the whole title is in parentheses. You got a problem with that? Anyhow, TAF aren't usually known as a funny band, but there's a definite slice of humor in this one.

That settles it

Jeff Foxworthy must the politest man in America.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Feeling all floaty

A number of people think of art as paintings of flowers and fruit, maybe the occasional statue of a guy on a horse. In this (caricatured) viewpoint, art is a boring waste of time because someone did it better 400 years ago.

Then there's the tabloid view of contemporary art: drip paintings made with menstrual blood, formaldehyded dead animals (an actual element in Damien Hirst's work). In this light new art can be seen as a repugnant waste of money, because there's no effort. Or at least no effort at beauty.

But interaction with actual new art can wipe away both of these stereotypes. Artists follow their own agendas, which sometimes involves material that people find offensive. And sometimes the artist knows how to exploit the controversy. But offending or baffling the viewer isn't the sole point of artistic creation.

"Jukai", Yumi Kori's installation at Brown's David Winton Bell Gallery, is an effective new work. The elements are very simple. You walk into a room on a wooden platform. There are balloons on the floor, suspended from the ceiling, piled on top of each other all around. Jungle-type environmental noise is piped into the space. A little light is provided by blue LED lamps, turned very low.

Repeat that part. "A little light." Otherwise, the room is something like pitch black. So dark that a student docent will give you a small flashlight to guide your way. But while the penlight will help you see where you're going, it certainly won't illuminate the whole room. And walking into a dark room, filled with vague shapes, while strange noises play triggers a kind of fear response.

This lessens over time, and of course your eyes also adjust to the darkness. But the normalization never becomes total, like in your room at night. The recorded noises mix with sounds that wander in somehow, creating a weird effect. There's a kind of heightened awareness accompanying the decreased sensation.

I found some of that effect lingering after I left, which may have been intended. Whatever this show is, it's not pointless.

Oh, and it's free, if you'll be anywhere near Providence in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Alpha of Omega

Jonathan Lethem's revivial of Omega the Unknown received a fair amount of free ink. Some of it was, technically, bad publicity. "Omega" creator Steve Gerber was unhappy about another writer revising one of his creations while he was still alive. Refereeing the various interests of Gerber, the very respectful Lethem, and Marvel Comics is not my job, thank God, so I'll not dwell on that aspect of the work.

But my interest in the work was roused by previous enjoyment of both writers' work. Gerber's Howard the Duck series with Gene Colan was an off-kilter look at the Marvel Universe that remains way ahead of much of the "deconstruction" done in the next decades by Brihish writers. (Some were and are worthy successors, but that's a topic for another post.) And Lethem is the author of Gun, with Occasional Music, Amnesia Moon, and--ya know it, baby--Motherless Brooklyn. He needs no introduction.

Assisting him are co-writer Karl Rusnak (who I don't know) and the fine indie artist Farel Dalrymple. It's the kind of creative team you'd more expect on Dark Horse's late Amazing Adventures of the Escapist.

How do they do here? Well, they've done something different. Even the logo seen on the cover is a very different sort of block lettering, something that might appear in a Fantagraphics collection of early Popeye cartoons. The big O himself looks similar to his '70's self. He's got shorter hair and his costume now covers more of his chest. (He's not a slab of meat, dammit.) Dalrymple gives him a barely-superheroic bod and a quirky long face. If Jason Schwartzman ever plays a spandex hero, this one is all his.

The premise of the new series parallels the old one. James-Michael Starling, the kid who shared a symbiotic relationship with the title character, has been replaced by a boy named (symbolism alert!) Titus Alexander Island. Titus has been home-schooled, and also appears to be a high-functioning autistic. Now I can identify somewhat with a young person who's sheltered and asocial. But that also means there's also a lot of fluent Spock-ese spoken in the premiere issue. In addition to Titus, his ill-fated parents, the doctor assigned to his case, and the weird costumed scientist known as The Mink all throw a good deal of jargon into their verbose sentences.

There are two exceptions to this trend. Edie, a kindly nurse from Oklahoma, is taking Titus in at the end of the issue. And there's also a sleazy New Yawk cop tailing her and Titus. It would be good to emphasize these characters for variety's sake.

As for action, I can say there is some. Fight scenes don't take up much space, by mainstream comics standards. This is intriguing in itself, and indicates that Lethem and Dalrymple are working without a net. Of course, there's a reason so many work with a net. There are nine more issues, so wait and see.

Gerber may not be happy about Lethem being given the reins to his creation. By his own account, he probably won't read it. But if he does, he'll find that it's no travesty of his own work.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ever notice this? Ever notice that?

Have you seen those trucks with the brightly lit video/lcd screens on the back? The ones that show a different still ad every minute or so? What's the deal with that anyway. Leave aside the absurdity of having motorized billboards when peak oil has peaked. It's not like I expect responsibility. It's more their manifest ineffectiveness as sales tools. The only way you'll get any prolonged exposure to the advertising is if you get stuck behind one of the trucks in a brutal traffic jam. Then you'll associate it with being pissed off and having a numb ass. Brilliant strategy, fellas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mall for one and one for mall!

What can I say? I love this town! It's just big enough to have those unexpected nooks and crannies. Case in point.

“It was wrong on a number of levels,” Bellini added. “It was certainly wrong in its irresponsibility. And it was illegal. It was like a person breaking into your basement or your car at night and sleeping there … [We] certainly feel violated.”

Mall security and the police say that the artists got into the storage room by manipulating the latch on the locking mechanism on the door. But Townsend insists that nobody broke in.

“I’m no lock-picker,” he said. The artists got into the storage room because the door was left unlocked and often even ajar, he said.

Police Maj. Stephen Campbell acknowledged that he and other police detectives were so intrigued by word of the apartment that they went over to see it for themselves.

“I was surprised at what he was able to accomplish,” the major said of Townsend. “But what he did was clearly criminal. That mall is private property.”

Well, no. It was illegal, not criminal. That's a distinction all of us should be ready to make, because we may need to make it on our own behalf.

Keep in mind, Townsend and his merry band didn't break in to mug senior citizens or rape albinos. They were building the adult equivalent of a kid's tree fort. So fine them, ban them, whatever. But if you've seen violation, you know this isn't it.

Man, I've probably walked past this place on the way from Hoyt's Cinema. How cool is that?