Thursday, June 24, 2004

And nobody is going to say a word, right?

The book jacket of David T. Hardy's and Jason Clark's book, 'Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man,' is intended to debunk Moore's  methods as 'Fahrenheit 9/11' hits theaters. (AP/Regan Books, HO)


I've been reading comic books lately.

That requires correction. I've been reading comic books for as long as I can remember. But there are a handful of comics I've been reading recently that I intend to talk about now.

Doing so requires a certain amount of predictable old-fogy complaints about today's comic-book storytelling--including questioning the word "storytelling" as applied to an endless series of exquisitely-reproduced, lushly-colored, overdrawn pin-ups that, somehow, appear to have advanced the plot by some infinitesimally small increment over the course of 20 pages yet, on closer inspection, defy me to find an example within those pages of something, anything, having actually happened.

For purposes of comparison, see Action Comics #252, May 1959, cover-featuring "The Supergirl from Krypton", the first appearance of, well, you figure it out. Eight pages, written by Otto Binder, art by Al Plastino. In the course of those eight pages, we go from "What's that rocket in the sky?" to meeting Kara, verifying her bona-fides, creating a secret identity for her, placing her in a nearby orphanage (well, it wouldn't do for bachelor Clark Kent to live with a teenaged girl, now would it?), and setting up her situation for her ongoing series in the back of Action Comics. Also featuring a lead Superman feature and a Congo Bill story. Cover price ten cents.

Then see Superman-Batman #8-13, May-October 2004, featuring "The Supergirl from Krypton", featuring the revised first appearance in current continuity of, well, you figure it out. 120 pages over six issues. written by Jeph Loeb, art by Michael Turner. Currently three issues into the arc and we still haven't established that Kara is who she says she is. Total cover price $17.70.

While I'm complaining: Superman-Batman #9 ends with an attack and attempted kidnapping of Kara by (as we see in a Stunning Last-Page Reveal(tm)) Wonder Woman. Superman-Batman #10 opens with Kara on Themsicyra (the new name for what old fogeys like me remember as Paradise Island, where the lesbians Amazons live). We learn in opening exposition that what appeared to be an attack was actually cooked up by Wonder Woman and Batman to test Superman's reaction. The conversation in which they explain this to Superman happens between issues, since it apparently didn't involve beating anybody up. (Although had I been Superman, and a teenaged girl dependent on me had been roughed up to test me, I would certainly have considered booting up the old heat vision and "testing" my colleagues with a little second-degree sunburn. How's the Bat-Sunblock, old buddy?)

And this is one of the good books.

Then there's The Amazing Spider-Man #509, Aug 2004, featuring part one of the five-part "Sins Past" story arc, written by J Michael Straczynski (yeah, the Babylon 5 guy), art by Mike Deodato. It looks like JMS has something in mind for Gwen Stacy (an old girlfriend of Peter Parker's, killed way back in #121 [31 years ago!], over whom he has never really quit pining). It's hard to tell. Pete is attacked at Gwen's graveside by two masked figures, and although one of them eventually unmasks (another Stunning Last-Page Reveal(tm)), and we are obviously meant to recognize him, Deodato's inability to draw clearly recognizable faces undercuts the reveal so badly that, even with the face fully exposed, we can't be sure who it is.

I could guess, I suppose. Best guess among the fan community on the message boards is that it's a double of Peter Parker last seen in the hated Clone Saga of several years ago. And thanks to online trade solicitations, we've already seen the cover to #511, on which the masked woman is revealed to be... well, again, it's hard to tell. Although if the setup means anything, it's probably meant to be either Gwen Stacy or her double (she is known to have a double, again from that Clone Saga). Deodato had to give her the same hairband she wore in the early seventies (which she is, improbably, wearing under her mask) to create any resemblance to Gwen at all. Possibly we'll find out that it was the double who died and the real Gwen is still alive. That's just the kind of trauma the now-happily-married Peter Parker needs to return his life to the eternal angst fans seem to expect.

I should tell you that the revelation that turned readers away from Spider-Man by the thousands, from which Marvel backpedaled after the damage had been done and quickly rewrote the story to establish that it wasn't true, was that the Peter we'd been reading about for the past twenty years was the clone. The character we'd known as the clone, who traveled under the name "Ben Reilly" and believed himself to be the clone, was the real Peter. As I said, that particular twist was undone, and the clone was apparently killed, but then this wouldn't be the first time he's returned from apparent death. Apparently JMS, or his editor, feels the time is right to revisit this, this, dare I use the word, quagmire and see if there's anything left after the swamp has been drained.

So, we've now reached the point where everyone who has a costume has to wear it all the time, or else the readers can't tell what's going on.

Which leads us back to DC:

Identity Crisis #1-7, Aug 2004-Feb 2005, written by Brad Meltzer, art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. The final nail in the coffin of the Silver Age, as a beloved (if now minor) character dies, horribly, heartbreakingly and (probably) irrevocably. (In comics death is not a sure thing even when you've seen the body.)

This is DC's Big Event for the summer. (Well, at the moment DC is in the midst of several Big Events, but this is the one that's getting real-world press, because Meltzer is a real author.) It has just begun, and they're keeping an unusually tight lid on it to preserve the surprises, but it appears to involve a serial killer who preys on superheroes' loved ones and a dark secret that five Justice League members share.

In order to talk about Identity Crisis, I have to at least mention Kingdom Come, an acclaimed limited series of a couple of years back in which the superhero population, having grown less responsible with succeeding generations, is now indulging in its pet battles with little or no regard for those affected, sometimes tragically, by their presence. As a commentary on a trend, it was brilliant. But now mainstream comics resemble the nightmare world of Kingdom Come, and the cautionary series has helped to create the situation it was warning us about.

Leading directly to Identity Crisis #1, in which a non-powered, just plain human loved one of a costumed adventurer is killed by someone who knew (spoiler pronoun) her well enough to call her by her first name. Someone who was able to enter her apartment despite the combination of Kryptonian, Thanagarian, Themiscyrian, Martian, and Apocaliptic technology that protected it.

Being a hero has a price. And it's not always the people who Knew The Job Was Dangerous who pay it.

There is no Stunning Last-Page Reveal(tm) in this story. It proceeds with all the (if you didn't like it) predictability and (if you did) inevitability of Hitchcockian suspense. You know what coming. You just don't know when. And all the while you're hoping you're wrong.

(Spoiler follows.) If you didn't know the history of Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny and his wife Sue Dearbon Dibny, Meltzer sets the stage as painlessly as possible--although if you get past page two and still don't know who's going to die, you probably shouldn't be reading murder mysteries. Some have said that this death is over the top, and as much as I love the character of (final warning) Sue Dibny, I want to think so too. This is not just another comic book death, and Meltzer had to make that clear.

And he does. We see her broken. We see her killer turn a flamethrower on her. We see Ralph find her blistered body. We see the anniversary present she had prepared for him (an antique magnifying glass). And we see the extra detail that elevates this from "mere" brutality to epic tragedy, the reminder that the future that she represented, the moment when Ralph would have opened that present and seen that detail, the surprise and joy and happily-ever-after that would have followed, have been cruelly stolen from him, and from us all.

It's just a comic book.

No, it's not. It's a damned good one.

Death matters. Even that of a supporting character of a third-tier inactive superhero. Even that of someone who never wore a cape and mask. The double-page spread of the mourners at Sue's funeral is an indication of just how big a difference the death of a Normal Person is going to make before this story is over.

I can't judge the whole series on the basis of one issue, but I'd call it a memorable start.

(More information at Newsarama and at Brad Meltzer's own site. OH, and at PULSE, and Toon Zone Forum.)

Monday, June 21, 2004

I'd just gotten out of the habit

...but since I've been getting e-mails from people hoping for a little free publicity on Nude Calendar Watch, I've made a few updates. And now, even though nobody demanded it, each year's grouping is alphabetized. The number of calendars has steadily grown each year, and 2005 is off to a strong start, given that it's only June.

More to the point, will anyone send review copies?

(Only kidding: I only document the trend. I don't buy 'em, I don't sell 'em, and I don't review 'em.)


AP | Plane Soars Out of Earth's Atmosphere
MOJAVE, Calif. - A rocket plane soared above Earth's atmosphere Monday in the first privately financed manned spaceflight, then glided back to Earth for an unpowered landing.

SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill was aiming to fly 62 miles above the Earth's surface and he just exceeded that goal, reaching 62.21 miles, according to radar data.

...Later, standing on the tarmac beside the ship, Melvill said seeing the Earth from outside the atmosphere was "almost a religious experience."

"You can see the curvature of the Earth," he said. "You got a hell of a view from 60, 62 miles."

He also found time for a demonstration of weightlessness by opening a bag of M&M's candies and watching them float through the cockpit. "It was so cool," he said.
It doesn't get much cooler than that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

You knew it would happen (AFP) | First mobile phone virus discovered
THE first ever computer virus that can infect mobile phones has been discovered, anti-virus software developers said today, adding that up until now it has had no harmful effect.

The French unit of the Russian security software developer Kaspersky Labs said that that virus - called Cabir - appears to have been developed by an international group specialising in creating viruses which try to show "that no technology is reliable and safe from their attacks".

Cabir infects the Symbian operating system that is used in several makes of mobiles, notably the Nokia brand, and propagates through the new bluetooth wireless technology that is in several new mobile phones.

If the virus succeeds in penetrating the phone, it writes the inscription 'Caribe' on the screen and is then activated every time that the phone is turned on.
And just how am I supposed to run Norton on my phone?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I give up

Someone went to my post of October 1, 2002 and made the comment "here u am i ?". Does this have any meaning, or is it just an odd bug in YACCS (my comment engine)?

Not just a space on a game board

Courier Post | Purple properties have rich history
Low-rent district, indeed. Mediterranean Avenue carries a rent of $2 for anyone who lands on the property during Monopoly.

... But back in the day when Parker Brothers breathed life into Monopoly, Baltic and Mediterranean deserved the designation, said Sid Trusty, an Atlantic City historian.

The two were the only through streets on the north side of Atlantic Avenue, the primary demarcation point between the city's white and African-American communities.
Now if only I had the street address of "Go"...

Monday, June 07, 2004

Tricks of the trade | Interview twists, turns
The craftiest of interviewers will do more than look for hidden clues; they will create situations where a candidate will reveal his or her personality.

...Some interviewers have been known to call job seekers at home and pose as telemarketers to gauge how those candidates react. Are they rude? Do they yell? Or are they polite but insistent that they don't want to purchase anything?

How a candidate deals with an annoying telemarketing call tells the company something about how you would deal with an annoying client.
No, it doesn't.

If I'm dealing with a client (or a potential client), it's incumbent upon me to demonstrate that it is to the client's advantage to maintain a relationship with me. I am under no obligation to be polite to a telemarketer. And whether I am or not is no indication of how I'll treat paying customers.
Lance said she has heard of hiring managers who spill something on a candidate to see how he or she reacts.
Sorry, I'm a job candidate, not a lab rat. Interviews work both ways, you know.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Thoughtful, intelligent lefties

Village Voice | Theater: Foreman's Wake-Up Call
[theater review by Michael Feingold]
Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.
Now, I was going to ignore this. It's well-enough covered in the blogosphere, with even the Instapundit drawing attention to it. But then, on a whim, it occurred to me that maybe, as impossible as it seemed given the length of the quote, maybe it was being taken out of context. Here's the paragraph following:
This opinion is presumably not shared by Foreman; you can gauge the breadth of his imaginative compassion from his willingness to extend it even toward George W. Bush, idiot scion of a genetically criminal family that should have been sterilized three generations ago.
Boy, some people make it really hard to give 'em the benefit of the doubt.

Further reading: Christian Science Montitor, Newsroom conservatives are a rare breed.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Keep your computer clean

You can number me among those who have lost an appalling amount of time eradicating spyware / malware from systems in my house. As a result, and because I am the kind of person who is often approached by others for computer advice, I'm going to offer what I've learned so far and save you the hours I spent learning it.

Also, rather than try to remember everything I've done when I'm at a friend's house swatting spies, I can put it here and follow the links from my own blog.

Your enemy's name is CoolWebSearch. There are others, but that's the best known. A Google search for that phrase will turn up some useful information and plenty of ranting from angry users. Fortunately, some effective eradication tools are available for free.

Step 1: CWShredder. This tool specifically targets CoolWebSearch, the most likely offender.

Step 2: Ad-Aware. Note that once this runs, if you just click the "continue" buttons, you won't have deleted anything, but "quarantined" it. This is intended as a feature, to prevent you from deleting legitimate program components (like virus scanners). It isn't intuitive that you have to right-click on the list of found bugs and choose "select all", then hit the "delete" button to actually delete them.

Step 3: SpyBot.

Step 4: Spy Sweeper.

All of the above offer paid subscription updates with ongoing activity monitors, like your virus scanner (you are using an anti-virus scanner, right?), but all have a version you can simply download and use. I've found no single tool that can catch everything, but these three, between them, caught everything I had.

Sometimes these tools will find each other. They'll tell you what to do if that happens.

Step 2 1/2: After each step, clean out your browser (delete all temporary files, cookies, and your history). This is where these insidious vermin hide pointers to themselves that allow them to re-infect your computer after you'd thought you'd deleted them. Reboot your computer. Yes, this means you'll do this four times.

Step 5: I strongly recommend you abandon Microsoft Internet Explorer and use Mozilla or Firefox as your default browser. Mozilla is the open-source version of the browser that used to be known as Netscape Navigator before AOL bought the company. Firefox is the beta-version next-generation Mozilla.

I don't wish to get involved in any religious arguments between Netscape/Mozilla users and MSIE users (and you Word vs WordPerfect zealots can keep it to yourselves, too). The reason I'm recommending this, though, is that Mozilla and Firefox have options (under Edit > Preferences > Privacy & Security in Mozilla, Tools > Options > Web Features in Firefox) to disable popup windows. This makes it more difficult for CWS and malware like it to hijack your browser, and in general makes for a more pleasant browsing experience.

Step 6: If you're still having problems, you (or your favorite computer guru) are going to have to open the Windows registry and kill 'em with your bare hands. That tutorial is beyond the scope of this entry. Danger, Will Robinson! :) One of the best summaries I've found is at The Collar Purple (no relation), but that particular blog isn't exactly Fun For The Entire Family (unless your family is a lot wilder than mine). And the individual entries don't have target URLs (you have to go to the May archive, linked above, and scroll to "Slaying the (CoolWebSearch) Dragon").

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The President's Face

A Dog's Life | A Movie Not Made
Let's imagine it's November, 1944. Allied troops are bogged down in Northern Europe and Italy. A film maker, disgusted by the progress of the war in Europe, American war strategy ("Europe first") and American culture in general decides to make a movie to "speak truth to power" and counteract the propaganda coming from Hollywood.

Let's call his movie Celsius 127, a scathing documentary suggesting that President Roosevelt lied about keeping America out of the European conflict and withheld vital intelligence from commanders in Hawaii in order that the Japanese attack would be all the more devastating. With that, he could do what he always wanted to do: commit American troops and America's fortune against Germany.

Celsius 127 would relentlessly focus on every shortcoming of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Corps. It would show that American troops were ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-supplied, slaughtered in pointless attacks, guilty of atrocities against unarmed enemy troops that surrendered.
(Via Ipse Dixit.)