Archive for August, 2007

Spamwatch from fictional characters

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I’ve mentioned getting spam from fictional characters before. Today’s correspondant: Huey Freeman.

Into the Longbox

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

A actually put stuff into the longbox this week, so comics aren’t strewn across the room.

  • The Flash #231 – After Bart Allen got the shaft, we’re rebooting the Flash proper. I basically picked this up because it’s a Mark Waid Flash book, and I usually enjoy his take on the character. So far things are starting slow, which isn’t a great sign in a book about speed. Daniel Acuña is doing the art, and while it’s beautiful, it’s also a little static. Maybe I’m just longing for some Mike Weiringo art, which Acuña can hardly be blamed for. If it weren’t Waid, I’d be tempted to drop this, but I’m willing to let him find his feet.
  • Black Summer #2 – Warren Ellis’s Black Summer continues to be a wild ride. We’ve met most of the surviving Seven Guns now, and the different viewpoints on John Horus’s deeds and their general position as the hunted are starting to come out. Still, the pace is fast and there’s not a whole lot of jawing yet. Definitely a thriller with something to chew on. Honestly I’m hoping to see a little more thinking before this is over, but there’s no reason to believe Ellis will disappoint.

Review of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and other writing about New York

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

That’s up in Bell, Book and Candle.

Kirby Tribute

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Today’s Jack Kirby‘s 90th birthday, though sadly he’s no longer around. There’s no one who contributed more to American comics.  Tom Spurgeon has a great set of art in tribute.  Feast your eyes.

The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Monday, August 27th, 2007

and now, hometown hero.  Rod Van Meter.

The King’s gun

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

I feel obliged to mention that Elvis’s gun has been recovered.  But I’m sure you all know it.  It’s what passes for national news on CNN.

Why I’m reading Captain America

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Captain America has been appearing in my Into the Longbox reviews for a while, and usually with a vague note of approval that isn’t very convincing. Let’s see if I can change that.

First of all, I’m not a Captain America scholar. I know Arnim Zola from Baron Zemo, but basically Cap and I haven’t traveled much in the same circles. Still, Captain America is an iconic hero in the Marvel Universe, and it’s tough to be a comics fan and completely ignorant of him.

For those of you who aren’t mainstream comics readers (is anyone reading this who isn’t?), Captain America is Steve Rogers, who as a young man was injected with the only sample of the Super-Soldier Serum moments before its creator, Prof. Erksine was killed by Nazi saboteurs and his lab and notes destroyed. The serum was a whopping success and Steve became a champion of justice. More than that, with WWII in full swing at the time, Steve was christened Captain America given a teen sidekick (required in the 1940’s), Bucky, and went into the European theater. I just live for origin stories like that.

Cap and Bucky had many inspiring adventures in WWII, but in the closing days were captured by Baron Zemo. On escaping, Bucky was killed and Cap fell into the frigid waters of the North Sea, apparently killed.

Cap’s death was somewhat exaggerated; he turned up alive but in suspended animation in (originally) the mid-60s. His wake-up has been moving around a bit. He retains his powers and continues to fight against a variety of facists, though usually more James Bond villain than world leaders, though.

It’s a powerful character description: he’s the embodiment of the American values of the 1940’s thrown forward in time into the 21st century, a patriot who has spent his life in 2 eras trying to show his people and the world the best of America in an imperfect world. Despite his great victories, he wasn’t able to save the life of the young man who was like a son to him.

Great stuff. Other creators have done great work with these oversize themes. The ideals he represents and the man who represents them have been the subject of many stories, including an unfortunate 1970’s series where he went off to find himself. There were some interesting post-9/11 stories that originally drew me to the character. His relation with the military and espionage forces has been played with. Even the fact that he’s basically the product of a performance-enhancing drug has been picked at.

There are a few things that set the current run – the Brubaker/Epting run – apart from the other series I’m reading and the other Cap series I’m aware of. The current team is doing two important things: they’re making the thoughts and emotions of the characters the focus of the story and they’re not playing by the conventions of the Marvel Universe. These are operatic characters, but the focus is on the human side.

Epting’s art is a huge asset here. He keeps enough grit and dirt in the art to show that these Gods walk the Earth. More importantly, he focuses on the characters themselves even in the thick of an action-movie/superhero punch-up. Flip through an issue and it’s the faces of the players that you remember, not the shootouts. With art this expressive and clear Brubaker can rely on the visuals to tell his story, especially the stories inside their heads.

Colorists are under-appreciated, and Frank D’Armata deserves significant credit. The palette of this book is much darker than your usual four-color superhero comic, but he keeps the characters lit while maintaining the grim mood. This same art and story would be much less effective without this illumination.

Brubaker’s writing is focused on the psychology but has a contemporary action-adventure feel. From the very beginnings of his run, he was making two things clear. First, this was going to be a very psychological book. Early in the run both Cap and his adversaries hallucinate and have reasons to distrust their memories, and maybe their identities. Several of the characters heads are houses of mirrors; the Red Skull is either vying with Alex Lukin for control of his mind, or Lukin’s cracking up. The Red Skull’s daughter is either a sociopath created by the Skull or a 15-year-old girl tortured into believing that she is a sociopath. Sharon Carter is Cap’s lover or murderer or both. Even when no one’s getting shot at, the tension crackles off the pages.

And then there’s Bucky. There are two characters that a Marvel reader could count on to stay dead in a universe where the pearly gates are revolving doors: Ben Parker and Bucky Barnes. Bucky has turned up alive; this is no less a shock than if M turned out to be a double agent or if D’artagnan were a spy in the service of the English crown.

As important as the fact that Bucky’s revival was handled believably and dramatically – and it has, I’ve been touched more than once by Bucky’s story – is that it happened at all. It’s a very clear signal that the usual constraints on a Marvel story do not apply to this book.

This focus on the people who make up the world combined with the demonstrated possibility that anything could happen keeps me reading.

Piloting fun

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

32169 finished its annual inspection this week, which is always a good excuse to go flying and make sure everything’s working. The flight right after inspection is always a good one for keeping you on your toes. If someone accidentally left something in the wrong state while the plane was taken apart, the pilot often finds out on that first flight. The pre-flight inspection was more thorough than usual.

Just to make it interesting, I decided to take a long-ish trip up to Porterville. It’s an uncontrolled field up past Bakersfield in the central valley where I’ve had good luck with food before. It’s an hour and 15 minutes or so in the air, which is a nice part of an afternoon to spend.

The trip out was pretty straightforward. I did get a good look at Poso Kern County – an airport I once judged the wind at by watching smoke from a trash fire. Overall, though it was a nice clear flight without too much going on.

Porterville’s the kind of small town airport where you might get to wave to a father and his child out airplane watching as you pull up to the parking area. And I did.

The former Michael’s restaurant at Porterville has closed, replaced by the Airway Café. The food’s still good, though the menu seems less varied than it used to. The little bar area was also closed today, but that may be because it was Sunday.

I decided to look around a bit in the area after I took off before going back to SMO. The central valley is where I go to pretend I fly in the midwest. It’s flat and usually clear with a bunch of farmland. It’s nice to zip around a couple thousand feet off the ground checking out the little towns and knowing you’ve got choices if you need to land suddenly. To me, that’s relaxing.

There’s a little airport on the sectional near Pixley but that the airport facility directory has listed as closed indefinitely. Pixley’s not far west of Porterville, so I overflew the airport at about 2500′. It’s closed and it ain’t opening any time soon. I really don’t know why it isn’t coming off the sectional; the airport’s clearly suffered significant neglect if not outright damage. There’s certainly a story here that I’m curious about.

From Pixley I turned south to get a landing in at Delano. I’ve always had a soft spot for Delano, but it’s become sort of a joke between Brenda and me. I convinced her to come out with me flying one day and we went there for lunch. It was hot, the food wasn’t stellar, and the staff spent a lot of time watching telenovellas rather than helping us out. It’s the placeholder for an unpleasant destination for a non-pilot. She wasn’t with me today, so I stopped off to make sure the runway was still there and the restaurant was still open. I didn’t eat, but all was well.

Coming out of Delano through the Gorman pass for home, I discovered an interesting problem. I hadn’t planned to be doing any instrument flying today, but there was a thick billow of smoke from the big fire outside Santa Barbara. I expected that I’d be able to go around it, but that didn’t look feasible – I heard pilots up near 12,000′ reporting IMC. I could go under it, but the plan was to cross the Gorman pass, which is pretty high; I don’t like to go through there much below 7000′, and the thought of going through there lower with poor visibility didn’t sound attractive. I wound up requesting and receiving a pop-up IFR clearance from a very busy Bakersfield Approach controller. I was in solid IMC for 10 minutes or so, then popped out the other side and cancelled before I actually reached the pass. Perhaps the clearance was overkill, but as Ron Post says, “I like overkill.”

Perhaps only a pilot can love an unexpected opportunity to fly in actual instrument conditions, but I did enjoy it.

On the way in to Santa Monica I got to pass over a Southwest jet inbound to Burbank by a little more than 500′. We both saw each other and the controller cleared me to do so, but it’s still kind of cool to pass right over a landing jet. Well, it is for me, your mileage may vary.

It was a day of unexpected pleasures.

Review of The Vintage Bradbury

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

I finished The Vintage Bradbury. A review is up on Bell Book, and Candle.

Up to WP 2.2.2

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

I’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.2.2.  Holler if anything looks weird.