Friday, July 30, 2004

While I wasn't paying attention...

I've been so distracted by recent events in DC's Identity Crisis that I haven't been paying attention to the big summer event over at Marvel, Avengers Disassembled. realizes that you can't tell the players without a scorecard, so they've created one: A bingo-card grid with pictures of the thirty characters affected by the "Disassembled" storyline, coded for dead, missing or "just plain nuts" and a note explaining how and in which comic. (Sorry, I can't link to it: You'll have to look for the "Disassembled Watchlist" at "Balder: Tagged and Bagged"? "Iron Man: Hissy Fit at the U.N."? "Jack of Hearts: Blowed Up Real Good"? And the card is headlined "Who Gets It Next?"

"Identity Crisis" looks downright sedate by comparison.

A new issue of Spider-Man is out, so now we know, or think we know, who those masked figures are: They're (spoilers ahoy) Peter's children. See, Gwen Stacy disappeared for a few months back before she was killed, and it turns out she was pregnant when she left and had twins while she was gone. (She never had a chance to tell Peter about them before she was killed by the Green Goblin.) They are grown-up and resentful now and looking to kill both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. And lucky them, they've just learned that their targets are the same person.

But wait a minute. It's been well established that comic book time isn't like real time, since characters age much more slowly than they should. If Peter has adult children (and for all Pete's shock, he doesn't seem to question the possibility of the timeline), that raises a question: How old is Peter Parker?

Okay, I understand. Comics are currently undergoing a transition. It might be birth throes, it might be death rattles, but it's definitely a metamorphosis. It's pretty clear that it's been years since comics were written for kids, but with both of the Big Two companies having instituted a form of reader classification, and both publishing comics that actually are intended for kids (Marvel has a "Marvel Age" imprint and a formal rating system, DC has a reborn "Johnny DC" mascot who appears on comics for younger readers), they're also formally tweaking their "mainstream" line to cater to the high school and college-age readers (and older, emotionally stunted readers like me, I suppose) who are their primary audience.

Of the two, DC seems to be handling it better. Two mini-series in current release are bookending and redefining the "Silver Age" of comics: One, DC: The New Frontier, is set in the late fifties/early sixties, as a new generation of heroes works to serve, protect, and earn the trust of "normal" people: The other, Identity Crisis, happens "now" but flashes back to an traumatic event at, or near, the end of that "Silver Age". The two could not be more different in tone. "New Frontier" is written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, in a style that compares favorably to Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon), strongly influenced by Harvey Kurtzman (Two Fisted Tales), Carmine Infantino (The Flash) and Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, Challengers of the Unknown): "Identity Crisis" is a post-Frank Miller (Dark Knight Returns), post-Alan Moore (Watchmen), post-James Robinson (Starman) deconstruction by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales. But the fact that they are both being published, simultaneously, shows that DC is now prepared to take chances, even with their cash cow characters. We may even find out that DC has quietly introduced something approaching Real Time.

And unless events in Amazing Spider-Man play out dramatically differently than how writer J. Michael Straczynski appears to have laid them out (which is always a possibility), Marvel may be doing the same thing. Which is fine. As surprising as it is to think that Peter Parker has adult children, I'd rather he had kids than clones.

(Yes, I know that Spider-Girl is Peter's daughter. That doesn't count: It's an "alternate reality" set in the future, an improbable bubble in continuity. Amazing Spider-Man is about as mainstream as Marvel gets.)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Only in America...

...can a boy from Virginia and a girl from Ohio make love on the sidewalk in Boise, Idaho as a pro-vegetarian statement.

Ravi Chand of Virginia and Bethany Walker of Ohio kiss on a Boise sidewalk on Friday, July 23, 2004 in Boise, Idaho to promote vegetarian eating.  The 'Live Make-Out Tour', sponsored by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals),  is being staged throughout the country to demonstrate PETA's claims that vegetarians are better lovers. (AP Photo/Matt Cilley)

Of course, it's PETA.

Friday, July 23, 2004

All in Color for $3.95

I'm trying to remember if four dollars seems like any larger a chunk of my change than ten (or twelve) cents did back in the day. Memory fails: I have no idea.

The second issue of DC Comics' Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer is out, and apparently being beaten to death and the body burned isn't indignity enough for Sue Dibny. Now we learn (spoilers ahoy) that, some years ago (thirty years ago in real time, but probably no more than five in comic-book years), she was attacked and raped by Doctor Light.

I liked this kind of story when I saw it in Alan Moore's Watchmen, and I may yet like it here, when it's finished. But the characters in Watchmen were created for the purpose of telling that story. Reading Identity Crisis is like watching Laura Petrie get raped.

(There was, in fact, an episode of the Dick van Dyke show in which the subject of wife-beating was addressed. The guilty character was a never-again-seen guest star, the unsavory acts were safely off-screen in the guest's back story, and the episode simply didn't work. Wife-beating doesn't belong in TVLand. The jury is still out as to whether it can belong on Earth-1.)

Dr Light broke into the JLA satellite and was discovered by its only occupant at the time, Sue Dibny. She had plenty of time to sound an alarm, did so, and in fact told him that she had done so. He could have escaped. Did he figure he still had time to do what he came for? Then why didn't he do that? Or WAS attacking Sue what he'd come for?

So, while Light's on the floor on top of Sue, the first of the heroes arrives: The Flash. He takes one look at the scene and throws Light across the room (and who wouldn't?). The rest of the current League follows soon after and, in response to continued hostility from Light, beat the tar out of him.

And this isn't even the part of the story that the author intended as the Big Wham.

After Ralph has taken Sue to the hospital, while Light is huddled on the floor imprisoned in Green Lantern's beam, Light taunts the League, saying he's going to find ALL of their loved ones. He uses his light-based powers to create a holographic replay of what he did to Sue, bragging that his fellow prisoners in whatever jail they send him to will enjoy the "show", "My Date with Sue." (Why did he provoke the heroes so severely? What did he hope to accomplish? What was he thinking?)

After a few minutes of this, the League got so sick of it that Zatanna (the resident magician) put Light to sleep. He could have been maintained so indefinitely. Light could have been held in solitary, and would have been on the League's say-so, to prevent the "show" he was threatening to give to his fellow inmates. The need wasn't immediate. There was no hurry.

But Our Heroes were deeply affected by the crime they'd witnessed. "How many times are we going to go through this with Light?" Lock him up, watch him escape, catch him again, lock him up, watch him escape, where does it end?

All they wanted to do was, as Hawkman put it, "clean him up a little", when they sent Zatanna into his head, magically. And she screwed it up. She scrambled his mind. She changed him into... a joke. A pathetic loser who was just as much a criminal as he ever was, but incompetent. He went from being a Justice League-level threat to a clown that any randomly-chosen Teen Titan could handle without breaking a sweat.

A super-villain on training wheels.

And then, while relating this incident to today's Flash and Green Lantern, Green Arrow drops one more grenade: Light wasn't the only one they "fixed". To be continued. (This is #2 of 7.)

So, what did I think?

Brad Meltzer's story is provocative. It's got my attention, and I'll keep reading. Rags Morales' art is first-rate. I just wish, as with Watchmen, they'd created new characters to kill off.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Guess What They Do | Let the Games Begin
Kent remembers sitting in the village, watching athletes walk through the door and playing a game of Guess What They Do. "The bikers have skinny little upper bodies, farmer tans and massive, clean-shaven thighs. Invert them and you get the kayakers, who have skinny little legs and massive backs and shoulders. The seven-foot-tall giant who ducks under the doorway entering the cafeteria is probably from basketball. The seven-foot giant who smacks his head on the door frame is definitely a rower; they don't have that hand-eye co-ordination thing. The kids running at the rowers' ankles with the high-pitched voices are gymnasts. It just goes on and on. Being at the village is like taking your place in a wild anatomical parade seen nowhere else on the planet."
Living in the Olympics' host city is... unique. We're still talking about it here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Robot vacuum cleaners: The Next Generation

c|net | Robot uses minesweeping technology to clean rugs
Burlington, Mass.-based iRobot came out with a new line of robotic vacuum cleaners Monday that, according to the company, feature longer battery life, overall improved performance and an ability to detect dirt.

When the robot drives across a particularly dirty patch of carpet or floor, sensors begin to "listen" to dirt through a vibration detector. The navigation system then steers the robot in circles in the area to eradicate all of the vibration anomalies, at which point the robot resumes its normal course.

You can't talk to me that way, I'm the President

Discover | Conversation Analyst Steve Clayman
So with these little bits of conduct, then, you can actually chart a decline in deference to the president over time and the rise of a more vigorous, aggressive way of dealing with public figures. You can also isolate the circumstantial factors that predict aggressiveness. Here’s a little factoid that we think holds up really well: In general, the questions are softer when they deal with foreign affairs or military affairs than when they deal with domestic affairs; the forms of aggressiveness I’ve described are less common. Presidents get a kind of buffer or shield against aggressive questioning if the questions deal with foreign affairs. And the magnitude of that shield—the gap between the foreign and domestic questions—has remained more or less constant over the last 50 years.

What accounts for that?

There’s an old expression: Politics stops at the water’s edge.

Interview with Tad Stones

Who? Why, the man responsible for Darkwing Duck. There's a long interview with him being serialized in Animation World Magazine.

Part one and part two. (Part three comes next month.)

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Sellout? Me? Why, all you had to do was ask

When Bob Dylan showed up on a Victoria's Secret commercial, I guess it was inevitable that Alice Cooper would sell school supplies for Staples. (And yes, they are using "School's Out.")

Where's the... salad?

Long Beach Press Telegram (AP) | Wendy's gaining edge in burger wars
The burger wars aren't being fought with hamburgers, but with salads.

Wendy's is neck-and-neck with rival Burger King, poised to take over as the nation's No. 2 restaurant chain behind McDonald's, analysts said Friday.

But its burgers aren't what put the company there. Analysts say the chain's salads and atmosphere attract adult fast-food eaters, a market not covered by McDonald's often kid-focused strategies.

Since introducing its Garden Sensations salads in 2002, Wendy's sales have been catching up to Burger King more quickly. The chain offers six specialty salads, ranging from Taco Supremo to Mandarin Chicken. Burger King's menu has just two Fire- Grilled Garden and Caesar salads.
One of these days, someone's going to notice that none of the Big Three fast-food eateries offers a salad-based meal. If you're eating green, it's gonna cost you extra: The salad alone costs about what a meal/combo costs, and it doesn't come with a drink.

Called on account of... oranges?

A safety crew tries to block an inflatable orange that had snapped from its tether in strong winds and was rolling on the track during qualifying for the NASCAR Busch Series Tropicana Twister 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 9, 2004, in Joliet, Ill. Todd Szegedy had to dodge the orange on a qualifying run, which was wiped out. Szegedy finished 12th when qualifying resumed after a rain delay.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Ah, now it makes sense

It's right there in the open on Michael Moore's own website, on his "Must Read" (recommended links) page. One of the sources he cites for "Real News" -- at the top of the list, just under -- is The Onion.

Now I get it. "Michael Moore" is a hoax persona, like those generated by Alan Abel and Joey Skaggs. Heck, maybe he is Joey Skaggs: It would be perfectly in character, save that "Michael Moore" has lasted longer than Skaggs usually allows his "performance art" to run before confessing.

But then some people still believe The Blair Witch Project was a documentary, too.

(See also Hoystory and Ipse Dixit.)

Friday, July 02, 2004

I know it like I know the back of my... oh, wow.

Yahoo News (AP) | Library Clock Has 'IIII' Instead of 'IV'
GARDNER, Mass. - Library director Gail Landy learned that when it comes to Roman numerals on clocks, IIII equals IV.

Construction manager Tom Kondel, head of the Levi Heywood Memorial Library project, came to her recently and said, "Gail, we've got a problem with the clock," referring to the large clock installed over the west door of the new library building.

As Kondel said, the number four on the clock was IIII instead of the expected IV. Landy decided it wouldn't do to have what she called "an illiterate" clock.

"We called up the clock manufacturer and they said, `That's the way we do clocks,'" she told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester in an interview published Friday.

When she looked at her watch, which had Roman numerals, she discovered that it too used IIII for the number four.
Actually, it may be of note that the AP reporter used Wikipedia as a source.

Unintended Consequences

KOAT (AP) | Red-Light Camera Busts Cheating Wife
HAWTHORNE, Calif. -- A red light camera in Southern California caught one woman in the act -- of cheating.

Hawthorne Officer Mark Escalante said a local resident is challenging his $341 red-light violation ticket.

The ticket was mailed to the registered owner of the car. But the car owner says the camera's automatic videotape shows he wasn't driving -- it was his wife's lover behind the wheel. The jilted husband is getting a divorce.

But the new red-light traffic cameras snagged more than 1,400 motorists last month in Hawthorne, leading to a slew of complaints.

There's been a threefold increase in tickets since the red-light camera were installed this spring. Cameras snapped pictures that resulted in 1,414 tickets issued in June.

Some motorists outraged over getting the tickets storm into the police station to dispute the violations, not knowing the photos come accompanied by videotape.
"In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first signs of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk." --Klaatu, "The Day the Earth Stood Still"