Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Excuses, excuses

It's been quite the week for, um, not posting. Part of it is because I haven't bought comics since the convention, except maybe a trade or two. And I haven't read most of what I bought at or after con, so I haven't had much to talk about.

I've been settling back into another school year, and an awesome new job. Unfortunately, despite having a lot of free time at work, I don't yet have a laptop. Dell has decided to take some ridiculously large amount of time before sending me the one I ordered, and so I've been filling my free time mostly with prose reading.

Let's see...I picked up and read through Batgirl: Year One and Ex Machina vol. 5, both of which were quite good. I wish the art had been more consistent in Batgirl; it started out with something very clean and Darwyn Cooke-esque, but toward the middle just felt sloppy. I hope, whenever it comes out, that All-Star Batgirl is like this.

Ex Machina's great as usual, though it feels like it might be getting away from the politics and towards something a little more comic book-esque with the nefarious secret plot against the mayor, with moles and assassination/conversion plots, and whatnot, but I suppose given the source of that action, that's to be somewhat expected. Something tells me we're going to end up with a character fairly similar in motivation to Hunter "Zoom" Zolomon.

I'm about halfway through the Gaiman/Vess Stardust, which is quite a lot of fun. I'll be hitting the theater this weekend to see the film, and I hope it's as good as the book would suggest. I've heard mixed reviews in general, and almost nothing from the comic reading public, so I don't really know what to expect. Usually I'd imagine that Gaiman's stuff would lose a lot in translation to the screen, but the story is so cinematic and classical already that it seems less likely.

One other neat little hitch in the whole posting issue was that I caught a nasty computer virus a couple of days ago, which was really interfering with my ability to do things online. Firefox was sluggish, and a lot of pages (especially Google-based ones) would come up garbled, or without any formatting, or with a little bold end-quote symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the page. Blogger pages, when they had any formatting at all, would be missing that bar at the top with all the "Next Blog" and other buttons, and most of the websites were redirecting to or referencing ora.3168a.com and/or 67.19.116.188/n.js (the latter was inserted into scripts on the malfunctioning page sources). Norton, Ad-Aware, Spybot, and Counterspy all failed to recognize anything, and the only removal instructions I could find were on Japanese websites. Apparently some combination of repeated restarts, fiddling with translated removal instructions, and running a TrendMicro online Housecall, managed to take care of the problem, since everything seems to be working fine. Still, I think that's only the third time since 1997 that I've had any serious viral infection, and it's easily the most obnoxious of the three.

So, since I've been out of the loop, what's been happening in comics? Anything interesting? Does Countdown still blow?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Punday

Not much to do today. I think I'm just going to lounge around as usual and watch my favorite classic Mike Connors detective series.

That's right, it's just another Mannix Monday.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A birthday present for me!

So, I was lazily scrolling through the new DC solicits, when I came across something that made me jump up in my seat:

Those two are always finding something to bitch about.BATMAN/SUPERMAN: SAGA OF THE SUPER SONS TP
Written by Bob Haney
Art by Dick Dillin, Murphy Anderson, Vince Colletta and others
Cover by Nick Cardy
For the first time, the complete saga of the Super Sons is collected in one volume! Features stories from the pages of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #215-216, 221-222, 224, 228, 230, 231, 233, 238, 242, 263 and ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT #1!
Advance-solicited; on sale December 5 • 256 pg, FC, $19.99 US

Man, I grew up on these stories; for some reason, the comics which survived from my mom's collection included the majority, if not the entirety, of the Super-Sons stories, and I loved them to death. In fact, I remember looking around a couple of years ago to determine if they'd ever been collected in TPB, finding to my dismay that they hadn't. And now they will be, a mere four days before the anniversary of when I was from my mother's womb untimely ripped. I know what I'm asking for.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Not getting the Joke

So, I was skimming various blogs today, and came across a post (I forget where at this point, but I'll link to it if I find it again) which decried "Batman: The Killing Joke" for being misogynistic.

Now, I can certainly see the elements in the story which would cause someone to make such an argument. What I'm having a problem with, though, is sorting out what element in particular justifies the claim, and the reasoning behind it. Because I'm running through the various scenes in my head (it's been awhile since I read it, so I could be forgetting something), and nothing quite seems to hold up for me. I don't mean to sound crass or anything, I'm just honestly trying to figure out where this argument is coming from.

I guess, what I'm really trying to understand, is "when is fictional violence toward women misogynistic?" Is it when the violence leaves the victim obviously maimed, as with Barbara's paralysis? Is it when the violence is coupled with sexual humiliation? Is it when an otherwise strong character is turned into a damsel in distress? Is it when the violence is committed solely in service of some other plot?

The first instance is a strong case, probably the strongest of the four I've listed. But Barbara's paralysis did not need to be a continuing character trait. It was only because later writers chose to run with it, rather than subject her to any number of comic book "outs" from such a condition, that it became a permanent fixture. I can think of half a dozen ways right off the top of my head that could easily have been used to undo what the Joker did, from a skintight exoskeleton to experimental surgery to a character with healing powers or magic. It seems difficult to condemn someone for giving a lasting change to a character, when the very next writer could easily reverse that change (and given the state of comics, is quite likely to do so).

The second is strong, but bothers me on a number of levels. The first is the obvious one, that sexual humiliation is often a real-life component of violence toward women. That real-life violence and humiliation may certainly be classified as misogynistic, but when one tells a story about such violence, and said story makes it clear that this is a bad thing, can we reasonably call the story or the writer misogynistic? It's one thing if it's the hero going around being a sexual sadist and treating women as garbage (yes, Frank Miller, I'm talking obliquely toward you), it's quite another when it's the villain.
My other problem with that line of reasoning is that it seems to ignore Commissioner Gordon's similar ordeal in the same story. The Joker took naked photos of the injured Barbara Gordon, and may have done other things to her, clearly in order to humiliate her. But then he also drugged and stripped Jim Gordon and put him in a dog collar to be beaten and led around by insane bondage midgets. Is that misandry? Doesn't that suggest a more equal opportunity sort of offense?

The third line is similar to the second. I'm not sure about Barbara's character in the early '80s, but I'm hoping there was something of a distinction between it and the dainty damsel of the recent Showcase volume. Assuming that by the time she took the bullet, Barbara was a take-charge butt-kicker rather than the "typical Silver Age female," the violence certainly left her in a less-than-powerful state, atypical of the strong independent character we've come to know. But, again, the Commissioner was put in a similar situation: a strong character humiliated and placed at the Joker's mercy, in such a state that he had to be rescued. Granted, his ordeal didn't leave the obvious scars and consequences that Barbara's did, but that's less the fault of Moore and more the fault of later writers.

So, what of the fact that, in more ways than one, the violence toward Barbara wasn't the point of the story. From an outside perspective, it was done to underscore the Joker's dangerousness and psychosis, and to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Bat-family to such attacks. From within the story, it was done as part of the Joker's larger plan to drive Jim Gordon insane. In either case, it was merely means to an end. Yet, if it had been the focus of the story, wouldn't that have made this a "you touched my stuff" tale, and equally open to criticisms of misogyny?

Like I said, I'm really trying to figure out what specifically marks this story as misogynistic. I understand that it's something of a fuzzy area; we can all recognize the blatant, outright misogyny, and that's why I'm trying to figure out how people distinguish between the more subtle misogyny and plain old violence.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My best story from the con

As we told people repeatedly over the course of the weekend, Stand-Up Comics is one of only three authorized Homestar Runner resellers in Illinois. Apparently we were also the only ones on the floor at the Rosemont Convention Center. The Homestar Runner merchandise probably garnered the most attention from passers-by, and by Sunday night we'd sold out of all of it except some keychains and two t-shirts.

But on Thursday night we still had plenty of Kick the Cheat plushes and Strong Bad DVD sets. Things were winding down on the first night (which was limited admission, as I recall) when a dark-haired young man, maybe twelve or thirteen, came up with his dad to admire our Homestar Runner stuff. Eric and I chatted with him a bit about the online cartoons, while his dad took a look through the open back-issue box with all the Legion of Super-Heroes comics.

Eric, always the helpful one, told him that it was a stack of Drawerboxes, in case he was looking for something specific. I coyly said "something tells me he's a Legion fan."

See, what Eric failed to notice was that our browser was this guy:

It would have been even cooler if he'd bought something. Still, way cool.
DC Comics President Paul Levitz

He chuckled softly and said "No, just an old Legion writer looking..." and I didn't quite catch the last bit of what he said. He and Garret stuck around for a little bit longer, then left to walk around the con once more.

And that's my coolest story from the convention this year. Thanks, Levitz family!

Oh, and Rob Liefeld thumbed through our Star Wars figures. But that's not nearly as interesting.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mike Wieringo: 1963-2007

Well, that was some unpleasant news to come home to. Mike Wieringo passed away on Sunday, due apparently to a heart attack.

I really don't know what to say. There's no way I could eulogize Mr. Wieringo as beautifully as his friends have. I've never had the pleasure of meeting the man, never got to get his autograph or commission a sketch. I've just enjoyed his work for years.

And that's it: I've never not enjoyed Mike Wieringo's art. His run on Adventures of Superman was clean and polished, even if the scripts weren't. His work on Fantastic Four was nothing short of amazing. And his work with Spider-Man?

In the history of Spider-Man comics, there are three artists who, in my opinion, have been truly perfect for the character. There's John Romita Sr., the first artist to succeed Steve Ditko on Amazing, whose pencils defined Spider-Man for more than a generation. He gave us the iconic "Face it, Tiger" panel, designed MJ and Gwen Stacy, and it was his work which graced the majority of merchandise well into my childhood. There's Mark Bagley, who has all but supplanted Romita on the licensed goods, and who has managed to give two lengthy and beautiful runs on the character, defining Spider-Man for the '90s and for the '00s.

And then there's Mike Wieringo, whose clean, whimsical style was tailor-made for the wall-crawler. He made drawing Spider-Man look easy. He gave Spidey a sense of grace and fun that I have yet to see duplicated.

I consider myself so very, very lucky that the last of his work published before his death combines two of his greatest strengths--Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four--into a thoroughly enjoyable and beautifully-rendered story. I just wish we'd been luckier, and that this miniseries would have been just one link in a long chain of amazing artwork. The fact that I'll never see another cover signed "'Ringo" makes me very, very sad.

Goodbye, Mr. Wieringo, and thanks for everything.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oh dear, this won't do at all

So, on a whim today (because I ended up in a comic shop and don't like leaving empty-handed), I bought Metal Men #1. Everything was going fine, quite well actually, for the first 2/3 or so. We got some crazy action, a neat little Julie Schwartz-esque bit of science for the villain-takedown, and even some tie-in material to "The Obsidian Age." Last time I checked, I was the only person in comics blogging who liked that story, so you'd think this comic might be written directly at me.

Then, I got to page...okay, so the pages aren't numbered. I got past the iffy mad scientist-type science without bristling too much. I grumbled a little over Platinum's statement--"where an element can change its atomic structure as easily as a girl can change her shoes"--since technically to change the atomic structure of the element would turn it into a different element, or at least an isotope or ion, but figured there's enough ambiguity in the term "atomic structure" that she might be talking about spin number or orbitals or something. Then, I rammed headlong into this brick wall:

I'm hyperactive and hypoglycemic. I'm a hyper hypo.

No, no, no. Oh man, I haven't even been able to finish the comic because of that line. Every time I try, my eyes just slide off the page; it's like the book's equipped with an SEP field. First, Newton had laws of Mechanics, not Thermodynamics. The law which became the Second Law of Thermodynamics was coined by Sadi Carnot. Second, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all closed systems tend to move toward greater entropy; an important distinction. While the universe as a whole is a closed system and thus the overall system of the universe is moving toward greater entropy, I still count this as a mistake; Magnus seems to suggest that no system can result in greater order, which is patently false. And "decay" is really a terrible term to use there, because it really doesn't describe the concept of entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder, usually in the form of heat or otherwise useless energy.

It only gets worse from there. Oh, Will Magnus, what the hell is your doctorate in? Certainly not Quantum Physics, Chemistry, or Particle Physics. Were the Metal Men crafted by a mad dentist with delusions of grandeur?
Look, even Gold thinks you're full of it.
He's almost not wrong with that first bit. The "quantum nature of electrons" is their wave-particle duality. Like all particles, electrons exhibit both the properties of waves and particles, depending on what you're looking for. The modern atomic model depicts electrons not as discrete particles in specific orbits, but as a field of probabilities around the nucleus. At each point in an electron cloud, there is a calculable probability of finding an electron...sort of. It's been awhile since I played with particle physics, so I'm a bit rusty. The problem is that I'm reasonably certain that the wave behavior of electrons doesn't lose energy at any appreciable rate.

In any case, there's no "fixed" course; electrons don't travel in orbits like planets, but are confined to specific orbital clouds until energy enters or leaves the system (in which case the electrons may jump up into higher orbitals, or drop down into lower ones) or until a chemical reaction occurs (in which electrons may be shed to or shared by another atom). To ask if the course could be "fluxed" is nonsense.

Anyway, there's no way, so far as I know, to make an electron faster, or to make it cover more space. Again, in an orbital cloud electrons behave more as waves and probabilities rather than discrete particles. They don't "cover space" in any meaningful way, and even if they could, what Magnus suggests here would require that the nucleus somehow be capable of being fooled. Being entirely devoid of sentience, this is rather impossible.

To pare down what Magnus suggests here to the real science, he's suggesting that by increasing the speed of the electrons (whatever that means), he could fool the nucleus (whatever that means) into thinking there are more electrons in the cloud around it. This isn't nearly so groundbreaking as Magnus thinks; when an atom has more electrons in the cloud around it than it should (in order to remain electrically neutral), it becomes an anion, a negatively-charged ion. Usually, this entails the creation of some cation, a positively-charged ion, and the two form an ionic bond.

Chemistry 101 here, folks: a neutral Sodium atom has one electron in its outer electron shell (its valence shell). A neutral Chlorine atom has seven electrons in its valence shell. When the two combine, the sodium loses an electron, which the Chlorine gains. The result is a positively-charged sodium ion attracted electrically to a negatively-charged chlorine ion, and they form NaCl, or common table salt.

Now, it's entirely possible to have an ion outside of an ionic bond; when you dissolve salt crystals in water, the ionic bonds are broken by the polar water molecules. All Magnus is suggesting is the roundabout way toward ionizing elements, which, while it has some effect on the element's properties (usually resulting in greater stability), is not all that amazing, and doesn't require increasing electron speeds.

So, in fact, having more electrons doesn't "trick" the atoms into thinking they're part of a different material, it jst makes them less reactive. What determines the material properties of an element is the number of protons (and to a lesser degree, neutrons). Altering the number of electrons or neutrons really just makes the atom more or less stable or reactive; altering the number of protons changes the element entirely. The main difference between inert gas helium and metallic lithium is a single proton.

Which is where Magnus makes his next big blunder:
This dial goes to 118
Atomic weight is the average of the atomic masses of the various isotopes of a chemical element, weighted by abundance (thanks, Wikipedia). To say you could "raise or lower a material's atomic weight" is like saying you could "raise or lower the average height of Americans;" it implies that the change you're making applies to all the isotopes worldwide, or to a large portion of isotopes, in order to have an effect on the global average. What I think Magnus must mean, then, is that you can change a material's atomic mass as if it were on a dial, a significantly easier and more useful concept. The atomic mass is simply the rest mass of the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of a given atom (electrons' mass, by comparison, is negligible).

Now, there are two ways in which you can alter an atom's atomic weight: you can change the number of neutrons, or you can change the number of protons. When you change the number of neutrons, you create new isotopes of the element. Larger, heavier isotopes tend to be unstable, and thus tend to be radioactive. Different isotopes of an element may have different properties from the common isotope, but aside from some differences in reactivity and radioactivity, they're pretty similar.

Changing the number of protons, however, changes the element; an element is determined by its number of protons. Given the other content of Magnus's speech, this seems the most likely conclusion of what he's trying to say: using his crackpot hypothesis, you could transmute one element into another. Unfortunately, he thinks this process A) is novel and B) might somehow leave the element's "essence" intact, or somesuch. No, Will, you can't make lead behave like gold while still being lead; not by changing the atomic mass, anyway. The only way you'll make lead behave like gold is by subtracting three protons and making it into gold.
And this process is not a new one; it's called nuclear fusion. Yes, yes, I know you have some crazy scheme about tricking the nucleus, but that's insanity. What you're suggesting is no less than fusion and fission, the real-world equivalent of alchemical transmutation. All fusion is is the addition of protons to an atom's nucleus; it's going on in every star in the sky all the time. It's just a little difficult to get that sort of thing going in the laboratory.

Toward the end of the issue, Will is despondent that the scientists were more impressed by his robots than his ramblings. T.O. Morrow tells him that the mumbo-jumbo went over their heads; I tend to think Morrow just didn't have the heart to tell him that his grasp on basic scientific concepts is tenuous at best, and he really ought to stick to his strength: engineering.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Confluence

So, one of the few crappy things about Wizard World Chicago last year was that I ran into the When Fangirls Attack ladies (repeatedly) without realizing precisely who they were, and gushing at them about how awesome their blogs are. To avoid that problem this year, I'm putting the bulletin out to the whole comics blogohedron: post here (or on your own page, or both) if you're going to Rosemont this year to engage in the Midwest's finest summer nerdathon.

I'll be there, working the Stand-Up Comics booth with some of the best guys in comics retail. Of course, I'll spend some time on the floor and in signing lines too, but I should be hovering about the Stand-Up booth for the majority of time. After all, this year I have far, far less disposable income. Drop by, say hi, and maybe pick up a Strong Bad DVD set or something.

I have three goals for the weekend:
1. Find Avengers/Power Pack #3, which I somehow missed or lost.
2. Buy oodles of trades.
3. Meet Will Pfeifer and tell him how awesome he is.

So, how about you?

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Friday with Freakazoid!

This Friday's Freak is brought to you by Countdown #39. When you're looking for the very best in realistic screams, look to Countdown.


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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reassurance

Sometimes I wonder if I may have made a mistake in dropping Countdown a few weeks back.

Then, I see a panel like this...

Anyone remember Toby Danger?

...and I feel much, much better about the decision. Aieee?

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