Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oh. My. God.
I am a format whore when it comes to my comics, but I am not a book fetishist. I don't go out of my way for first editions, I don't care if it's hardcover or battered paperback, and honestly, my novel and plain old prose reading is just way down from what it used to be.

But... this makes me drool and makes me wish I had $4000 in loose money lying around and a library room in the house to keep it in. In addition to a variety of literature and essays that would be interesting and of great use to my children as they start to go to school and get interested in reading, they've got pop culture treasures like early crime collections, works by Hammett and Chandler, a collection of Lovecraft and next year they're doing a volume for Philip K. Dick.

I think I might have to start buying a few volumes of these when I get done reading my graphic novel overstock.
The Zune:
Microsoft's Christmas-timed "iPod Killer." To be honest, I hadn't really even heard much about it before tonight. Just a few of Cory Doctorow's "DRM is Evil!" freakouts at Boing-Boing, the kind of thing I've gotten so tired of I just zapped it from the RSS feed without reading the attached article. But then Scott Kurtz referenced it in PVP, and I got curious. So I did what anyone would do. I Googled it.

First up on Google's list of links are blowjob-level fan pages for the player. I was reading these things, which go out of their way to avoid mentioning any of the shortcomings, and I was still suspicious. See, for all its minor faults (including a DRM scheme that does worry me, long-term) I *love* iTunes and my iPod. And generally... I hate Microsoft. So maybe I'm suspiciously minded by nature.

But my next stop, as it should be, was Wikipedia. There I started to get a more accurate look at the Zune, and after a few reviews at the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, I got what I think is a pretty accurate picture of the Zune.

It's a music industry-friendly player that is Microsoft's desperate attempt to take back some of the market that Apple has pretty much conquered. My guess is that within a year, Apple will have integrated the two good ideas (Wifi and a bigger video screen), done them better (maybe a more expansive use of Wifi and less crippling sharing options) and the Zune will shortly be a faint memory of Microsoft helping Apple do its product improvement research for them.

Can't wait for my wifi-enabled next-gen iPod, though. Thanks, Zune!

Graphic Novel A Day: Punisher MAX Vol. 1 HC

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artists: Lewis Larosa & Leandro Fernandez
Company: Marvel
Price: $29.99 ($19.79 on Amazon)

The impending publication of Punisher: First to Last, featuring memorable Punisher one-shots by Garth Ennis and various artists, encouraged me to finally go ahead and pick up the hardcovers of his MAX run. His early Punisher stuff was the same kind of self-indulgent, adolescent dark humor that he's mostly known for these days, and it got old. When Punisher became a mature readers book, though, somehow Ennis became the perfect guy for it, writing these gritty crime stories with plenty of action (delivered in fine style by artists like Larosa and Fernandez, who have grown since their early work and get even better with every story arc) that are pretty true to the roots of the character in pulp-y novels and '70s revenge flicks. Sure, there are still signs of Ennis' excesses, including an unnecessary love of characters being tortured or maimed and a dark humor streak that usually works but occasionally veers into breaking the mood... but in general, these are the perfect thing for a Punisher fan looking for stories that take the character seriously.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Graphic Novel A Day: Ex Machina Vol. 4: March to War
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Tony Harris, Tom Feister, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story & JD Mettler
Company: DC/Wildstorm
Price: $12.99 ($10.39 on Amazon)

OK, technically this is cheating, since I wrote it on Thursday morning and back-dated the time. But end result is I didn't miss a day, so it counts. Anyway, this is the latest volume of Vaughan's political/superhero series about a New York Mayor who also happens to have gained the ability to talk to machines via an encounter with some strange alien technology. Previous volumes have focused on 9-11, free speech issues, serial murders, severe weather procedures, gay marriage and a variety of other issues involved in running New York City. This time out, it's the story of protests and the lead-up to the Iraq War, with a new terrorist attack giving Mayor Mitchell Hundred the chance to show off his skills in handling the kind of crisis his predecessor had to deal with. It's a good mystery, good political storytelling as always and great art by Harris, Feister and Mettler. Only shame of it? I thought the character killed in this arc was interesting, and the death didn't contribute so much to the story that I thought it was worth losing the character. This also contains the two-part special, with guest art by Chris Sprouse, showing the origin and full story of Mitchell's "nemesis" Jack Pherson, who gained the ability to talk to animals and a desire to help them at the cost of humanity. It's an interesting flashback to Mitchell's days as the Great Machine, and an interesting change of tone and style for the book, focusing on those superhero elements but with a more realistic style. Good as always.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Graphic Novel A Day: Night Trippers
Writer: Mark Ricketts
Artist: Micah Farritor
Company: Image
Price: $16.99 ($13.25 on Amazon)

Mark Ricketts definitely has some of the most inventive premises in comics. Night Trippers is about vampires, the counterculture of the '60s, rock and roll and romance, not necessarily in that order. I get the feeling I would have enjoyed it more if I could map all the characters referenced to their real-life inspirations, but it's hard to miss the Beatles or Andy Warhol, and even if you don't get all the references, the culture comes through loud and clear. Also some nice action sequences featuring a vampire hunter and a far-flung, intriguing cast of well-developed characters. The art by Micah Farritor reminds me of a more '60s pop colored version of the work done by Marc Hempel or D'Israeli in his Sandman days.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Graphic Novel A Day:
In an effort to shrink down my ever-growing pile of graphic novels to read, and to finally clear off my night table so I can read more novels and actual books at night, I have decided to embark on a new plan: A graphic novel a day. I will read at least one graphic novel each day, and most likely post about it here. Often-times, it will be an informational post of what it's about, who published it and a link to buy it at Amazon (or somewhere else if not available). Think 4th grader's book report, done about midnight the night before it was due. Plenty of times, I'm sure, it will be a note along the lines of "Yesterday's graphic novel was X. Published by X, here's the link."

I reserve the right to quit if a graphic novel isn't engaging me and to count that as a book read for the day. I also reserve the right to cheat and skip days, especially Tuesday, when I work until midnight, podcast and then read all my comics for the week. If I'm reading a big graphic novel, like one of the Marvel Essentials on my pile, I might let that slip over more than one day.

I currently have over 60 graphic novels ready to read, and that's not counting the half-dozen to a dozen graphic novels I buy every month. So this will probably go on for a while. I will either keep doing this for a good long time or quit when I lose interest. Knowing myself as I do, I'd vote for the latter, but I'm hoping for the former.

The Surrogates
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Brett Weldele
Cost: $19.95 ($13.57 at Amazon)
Company: Top Shelf

The Surrogates is a sci-fi story set around the 2050s in Atlanta (Venditti's home town) about a U.S. in which 92% of the population rarely goes out, instead living their lives through mechanical surrogates which channel feelings and experiences back to them. There's a lot of interesting sociological changes as a result of this technology, and the core of the plot is about two cops investigating a fanatic who is running around destroying surrogates and encouraging people to live, which seems to link to a religious fanatic who runs an anti-surrogate cult on a reservation negotiated when he and his followers rioted many years ago. Good sociological exploration, characters, action and a tightly plotted story, not to mention Weldele's moody art, make it a winner. There's also a ton of extras, from those that existed in the single issues like the back cover ads for the surrogate company that look real or the text pieces examining the surrogates or the backstory of the world and its characters to those that are new, including deleted scenes, design sketches and pinups from a variety of artists. Features Top Shelf's usual excellent production values and design work, and is well worth the $20.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Weekly Comics to Come - November 29, 2006:
The answer to last week's question "Does a big week mean a great week?" was a resounding no, as 90% of what I read was disappointing.

American Virgin #9 (This reads best in trades, but it's still enjoyable in single issues. New story arc starts here, I believe)
Batman The Spirit (After rereading New Frontier in Absolute format, I'm now really looking forward to this. Darwyn Cooke rules!)
Captain America #24 (Brubaker's Civil War Cap tie-ins have been great, equal to the quality of the rest of his run on this book)
Immortal Iron Fist #1 (Not entirely sold on the whole legacy thing, but I am intrigued by it)
True Story Swear To God Image Ed #2 (Just as great after the move to Image... hope it picked up some readership)

Crossing Midnight #1 (I'm not super-excited about Mike Carey's newest Vertigo book, but I am mildly curious)
Ex Machina Vol 4 March To War TP (Still enjoying this book a lot)
Goon Wicked Inclinations Vol 5 TP (Always entertaining)
Mail Order Ninja Vol 2 (I have this but haven't read it yet, but I really enjoyed the first one. Funny all-ages stuff)
Whisper #1 (Never read the original Whisper, but curious to see Steven Grant's action character make a return at Boom! anyway)
Zombies Vs Robots #1 (How can you go wrong with a title like that?)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Weekly Comics to Come - November 22, 2006:

Wow, it's a *huge* week. I'm not sure how great the week will be, because I know there will be disappointments in this giant crop of comics, but there should be some good reading, just based on the law of averages.

Action Comics #845 (First Donner/Johns issue was promising, curious to see where they're going)
Daredevil #91 (More of Daredevil's adventures in Europe, and Brubaker and Lark are still kicking ass on this book)
Fantastic Four The End #2 (Really fun first issue, might this be the first good The End miniseries?)
Godland #14 (Reading #13 reminded me how much I'd missed this title)
Jack Of Fables #5 (Jack's escape plan goes awry... I haven't read the solicits, I'm just guessing here)

24 Nightfall #1 (A "secret origins" style 24 about the Nightfall covert ops mission that spurred season one)
Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes II #2 (First issue was OK, but I'm not sure how long I'll keep reading without Kolins on art)
Captain America Red Menace Vol 2 TP (They're not gonna do big hardcovers of Brubaker's Cap work, are they? Looks like it might be time to buy the trades)
Conan #34 (Truman's first issue was a little weak compared to Busiek's, but I'm still down for following a few issues, based on the strength of the Scout trade I just read)
Connor Hawke Dragons Blood #1 (Dixon can do solid action, and I like this character... but his Richard Dragon series was pretty bad, and I hope this is more like his Nightwing, Birds of Prey and Green Arrow of old)
Damaged #1 (Don't remember much about this indie book, but it has MD Bright art, which is never a bad thing)
Drain #1 (New vampire book from Marvel's CB Cebulski, writer of the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game, and the art looks nice)
Dwight T Albatross The Goon Noir #2 (First issue was a blast, looking forward to the creative line-up on this one)
Elephantmen #0 (I have this already, but it's good to see it re-released for those who have discovered the new series)
Enigma Cipher #1 (New World War II espionage book from Boom!)
Hellstorm Son Of Satan #2 (Dug the first issue, interested in seeing where it goes)
Impaler #2 (Ditto for Impaler)
John Woos Seven Brothers #2 (And ditto for this one. Push comes to shove, though, Impaler #2 is the second issue I'm most looking forward to this week except for FF: The End)
New X-men Omnibus HC (I have the original hardcovers, and I just dropped $75 on Absolute New Frontier. Otherwise, I'd definitely be buying this collection of Grant Morrison's ground-breaking X-Men work)
Pirates Of Coney Island #2 (First issue had an unexpected tone, but it was a good read. I want to see what happens next)
Planetary Brigade Origins #1 (I actually liked the Planetary Brigade more than the Hero Squared it was spun off from, in some ways)
Previews Vol #24.12 (Down the Line coming, but not until after Thanksgiving)
Punisher War Journal #1 (I've got kind of a bad feeling that this is gonna be Fraction just killing off perfectly good C-list bad guys... but I have to admit, I'm curious to read it anyway)
Runaways #22 (Losing me a little as it coasts to its pre-Whedon end, hopefully Vaughan can go out on a higher note)
Spider-man Loves Mary Jane #12 (Also coasting towards a changing point, with Miyazawa leaving, but I'm still digging the hell out of this one)
Uncle Sam And The Freedom Fighters #5 (Strange, a little heavy-handed, but readable)
Usagi Yojimbo #98 (Always good)
Walking Dead #32 (This latest story is getting a little long in the tooth, but a Halloween viewing of 28 Days Later has re-stoked my interest)
Wonder Woman #3 (Yep, it's been three months, must be time for another issue)
Y The Last Man Vol 8 Kimono Dragons TP (Closing in on the end of Y The Last Man)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Weekly Comics to Come - November 15, 2006:

Absolute DC The New Frontier HC (Can't wait to finally crack open this gigantic book and give it a reread)
Action Comics #844 (First issue of the Johns/Donner/Kubert run was pretty solid)
Astro City The Dark Age Book Two #1 (Always glad to see Astro City return, even if Busiek's been off his game lately for me)
EC Archives Shock Suspenstories Vol 1 HC (I've just starting reading through this, and it's an amazing package)
Escapists #5 (My favorite miniseries of the moment)

Birds Of Prey #100 (BoP is losing me, but the changeover in this issue could bring me back)
Death Jr Vol 2 #2 (Long time between issues, but always entertaining)
GI Joe Dreadnoks Declassified #1 (Hoping for cheesy fun, expecting disappointment given the past GI Joe spotlights)
Invincible #36 (Another long wait between issues, but always entertaining)
Omega Men #2 (First issue had weak art, intriguing story... hope that it hooks me more here, expecting it not to, realistically)
Shadowpact #7 (Last issue was a weaker one, but I've liked the previous two quite a bit)
Southland Tales Book 2 (Enjoyed the first book... although I'm now waiting for the deluxe trade that will collect all three)
Union Jack #3 (Solid superhero action with terrific art by Mike Perkins)
White Tiger #1 (Mildly curious about this one)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Thoughts:
Given the way the last three elections turned out, I just kind of expected Wednesday to be a huge crushing disappointment. Instead, I was shocked at how well things went. The Democrats took over the House, Senate and won several governorships and the Bush Administration got the severe slap on the wrist they've been deserving. And as a bonus, this led to Rumsfeld finally being shown the door. Now if only there could be some kind of bus crash involving Cheney, Rove and maybe Robert Novak.

I don't have a great deal of faith that the Democrats will suddenly grow both a brain and a spine, but I do hope that this will allow the government to get back to general incompetence rather than outright villainy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

TV Thoughts on Election Eve:
Tomorrow is election day in the United States. Please, even if you've mostly given up on the system (I'm looking at you, Nate), go out and vote. Unless you're planning to vote Republican, then you can stay home. Kidding! Seriously, most of the local races here look pretty much decided, judging by the polls, and the guy (or gal, I'm looking at you, Kay Bailey Hutchinson) I don't want to win is winning many of the races. My change of address didn't go in and I didn't early vote, so I've got to drive back down to my old neck of the woods and vote before going to work instead of going somewhere convenient to my house.

The whole thing seems mostly out of my hands, and I'm not entirely convinced my vote counts, or that it'll get counted correctly, given that we're using Diebold machines here in Texas... but I'm still going to go vote. It's that last little vestige that convinces me we're still living in a democracy, and that the lunatics won't be running the asylum forever. Come tomorrow night or Wednesday morning, if the Democrats haven't re-taken the house, I may feel differently. I may just throw my hands up at the whole system. But right now, I still feel like I should vote.

Wow, and that was just the digression, not the point of the post. Anyway, further TV thoughts, spurred largely by NBC's Monday Night line-up of Heroes and Studio 60.

Heroes: The quality is still uneven, and tonight's episode was mostly standstill stuff, with only a few minor developments and one big one... but in general, the show has gotten better, and I'm enjoying it. Some weeks, I'm even looking forward to seeing where the mysteries and character arcs go. Still not loving it as I loved Lost, and if I could cancel this and bring back Smith and/or Kidnapped, I'd do it in a heartbeat, but I'm no longer actively angry that this gets to stick around while so many shows I really liked tanked so early.

Studio 60: Tonight's episode started off a little worrisome, and the whole "John Goodman as redneck judge" thing, the in media res opener, was almost nails on a chalkboard for me. Fortunately, I stuck it out and this turned out to be the best (and funniest) episode since the pilot. Whereas this kind of farce didn't work so well on West Wing, where it felt out of place, it feels perfectly in line with Studio 60, and still has a few important things to say about the culture wars at the same time. Clever writing, some funny moments and terrific acting. Now if only EW would quit gleefully predicting (and wishing for) its death.

Veronica Mars: I've recently been re-watching my season one DVDs of Veronica Mars, and I'm afraid the naysayers are right, and VM isn't as good as it used to be. Fortunately, it is still remarkably good, and I always watch it as soon as possible. The numbers are slightly up, and the CW doesn't have any hits, so I'm hopeful that the show might get to continue. I will say that I wouldn't mind them chopping down the cast a bit, and giving some of the often unseen players like Wallace and especially Mac some more juicy stories and screen-time to go with them. I'm also kinda tired of the Logan/Veronica relationship... I liked it at first, but this whole "strained relationship" thing is getting old, and I'm bored with it.

Lost: Some folks are abandoning Lost. I don't get it. I think the show continues to be excellent, and I'm just as wrapped up in the mysteries (and more importantly, the characters) as always. But then, I wouldn't mind the popularity of the show dying down so that the creators get their chance to end things rather than stretching them out forever to appease the ratings and advertising gods. But given its current ratings, and that it takes the lead spot on Wednesday at least 50% of the time, I don't see that happening anytime real soon.

The Nine: I'm up and down on this one. It's good, it's watchable, but I'm not sure I care about the aftermath of the characters' lives as much as what actually happened in the bank. And unfortunately, the story is much more about the former than the latter. Some good actors here, and it's especially good to see Tim Daly, but quite honestly, I'd rather that his underrated show Eyes was still going on instead.

The Office: So very funny. Easily in my top five shows, and one that I watch the night its on, rather than saving it on the Tivo. I can't believe it took me this long to catch on to how good this show is.

Battlestar Galactica: Continues to shine. The episodes just after the return from New Caprica haven't been as strong, but I think that's because the bar was set so high by the insurgency/rescue story arc. This season is so good it's making me reconsider going back to buy the DVDs of seasons one and two, which I hadn't done because I wasn't sure I'd ever re-watch the show. Now I'm thinking I want to.

Doctor Who: Fun, occasionally cheesy. Not in Galactica's league, but I'm pretty happy with the show, especially given that I'm not remotely a fan of the property in general.

Kidnapped: Ratings dropped so far that it didn't even get burned off on Saturdays, now it's gone to "online only." Which I think might translate to "We're going to quietly stop showing it altogether" and I'm still hoping for a DVD set to get some closure. This was a great, stylish show with a spectacular cast and some good writing, and it's a shame it didn't catch on. I'm amazed that fans of 24 didn't gravitate to this show, as it had a lot in common with that one.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Weekly Comics to Come - November 8, 2006:

Absolute New Frontier is delayed again, damn it. There are also rumors that the Invincible handbook has come out, but it hasn't come to my shop yet. Fairly light week, especially after last week's massive haul of good books.

Batman And The Mad Monk #4 (Matt Wagner is writing and drawing the best Batman right now, period)
Damned #2 (Good first issue, great art by Brian Hurtt)
Doctor Strange Oath #2 (Another great first issue with great art)
Fables #55 (The reintroduction of witch-hunting Hansel continues)
Y The Last Man #51 (More on what killed all the men, including maybe a concrete answer?)

Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes II #1 (I liked the first series, although without Kolins on art, my enthusiasm is much less)
DMZ #13 (Ricardo Burchielli returns for the next arc of DMZ)
Eternals #5 (I'm probably not going to pick up a trade at this point, but it's still an enjoyable read)
Marvel Legacy 1980s Handbook (This is my era, and I like these throwback handbooks)
Project Romantic SC (Another gorgeously produced anthology by Adhouse)
Star Wars Dark Times #1 (New Star Wars series starting right after the Revenge of the Sith)
Stormwatch Phd #1 (Wildstorm's relaunch has mostly been disappointing, but I'm still curious about Christos Gage's contribution)
Wisdom #1 (Doctor Who's Paul Cornell writes, which is the only reason I'm interested in a solo series featuring Warren Ellis's Mary Sue character)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blog Template Update for October
This is the latest monthly update to the left column of the blog, updating my favorite comics and TV for the previous month. The listings are alphabetical, not by rank of how much I liked them in comparison. My criteria for what makes the list is when I read them, not necessarily when they were published.

So what'd I do in October? Well, the big news is probably that my wife is pregnant with our second child, due in June. We're very excited, and I'm about 50% less terrified, since I know the territory by now. Suzanne has been blogging about her pregnancy, Katy's reaction to it and such on her blog.

In addition, we had folks re-doing the bathrooms and kitchens in the house, which was kind of a pain but which has resulted in generally very nice bathrooms and kitchen. Except that the plugs in the bathrooms don't work. And the medicine chest/mirrors are gone, and I have no idea when they're coming back. But other than that, nice home improvements. I also got very into buying the Justice League Unlimited action figure three-packs when I saw them at the supermarket, and now have a pretty decent selection of obscure and popular DC heroes decorating my computer desk. We officially locked in the STAPLE! '07 special guest (Dean Haspiel) and there should be a few more exciting announcements in November about exhibitors and guests as well. Sales on STAPLE! tables are going very well, and if you're thinking of coming, you might want to look into registration as soon as possible. November fast approacheth, and that means three things to me: 1) Guitar Hero II will be arriving at my house and 2) Wizard World Texas is upon us and 3) Thanksgiving is coming soon.

This was a really good month for first issues, quite possibly the best all year. Criminal and Irredeemable Ant-Man are new and very promising series from Marvel, and there were also a couple great limited series launched this month, namely Doctor Strange: Oath and Other Side. Oni also launches once more into ongoing territory with the beautifully illustrated and intriguing genre-blend The Damned. Kind of amazing that despite hating almost everything related to Civil War and, indeed, much of Marvel's output, they still make up 50% of my Top 10. This probably speaks to Marvel's over-flooding the market once again, but it also speaks to two specific talents: Ed Brubaker and Brian Vaughan. Between them, they account for 8 of my Top 20. There are only two DC universe titles on my list, both on the fringes of the 52/Infinite Crisis-spun universe, which has basically lost all interest for me. But Vertigo takes up 4 spots, about half of Marvel, with roughly 25% of the level of output. And Vertigo dominates my Top 10 graphic novels with 3 spots as well.

There are only a few books on the indy list, and most wouldn't be considered indy by some. (By the way, I'm aware that some folks spell it indie. I spell it indy, and will continue to do so until someone can prove to me that both spellings aren't appropriate, via something other than their opinion.) Those books are The Damned, Dork and The Escapists. One Image book, one Dark Horse and one from Slave Labor. Indy makes up the lion's share of the rest of my graphic novel list, though, with an anthology published by Alternative, a new book from IDW, the first book I've ever bought from Dynamite and books from Dark Horse and Image.

Last month, I thought I was going to have a hard time pruning my Top 10 TV list. But then CBS cancelled Smith, which prompted me to stop watching The Unit, and things got a lot clearer. Shows that almost made the cut were Heroes, which I started to really dislike but which recovered strongly in the last two episodes and both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which I love but which have been shunted aside for the time being. There are like 30 of them on my Tivo right now, and I watch them at a rate of maybe one or two a week, so I'll never catch up. I watched 30 Rock to see if I wanted to add it to the weekly routine, and it was godawful. Just painfully unfunny, except for Alec Baldwin, who can't carry the show on his own. I know that some critics are hailing 30 Rock while hating on Studio 60, and I just don't get it. At least Studio 60 isn't supposed to be a comedy. My absolute favorite show right now is Battlestar Galactica... I liked but didn't love it for most of its run, but the opening three episode arc has been just amazing. Just below that, I've become obsessed with The Office, which makes me laugh harder than anything on TV since Arrested Development (although it's still not as good as AD... but what could be?) and I'm really enjoying the new Lost and Doctor Who seasons as well. Studio 60 and Veronica Mars have both been uneven for me, but they're always at least entertaining and occasionally great.

New links I added to my RSS reader this month: 2 Guys Reading Comics (on the strength of a hilarious takedown of Civil War #4), Artistic Veritas (covering TV and Tivo, my other two big addictions besides comics and the Internet) and artist blogs for Matt Madden, Marko Djurdjevic and Takeshi Miyazawa.