Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Biogeography and Ecology in Tasmania

This is a collection of scientific articles about different animal groups in Tasmania, and the effects the created their distributions. Each chapter is a paper summarizing the information they have about a general biotic group. Earthworms in one chapter, birds in another, and so on.

It was published in the mid-1970s, although I was sure I'd seen a publication date from the early 2000s. This is a bit of an issue, not just because some of the information is doubtlessly out of date, but because at the time, there were large sections of the island that hadn't even been surveyed. This comes up in the aquatic animal sections especially, when the various authors note that there are several lakes in more remote parts of the country that they have no idea what lives in them. And when the information on what is present is limited, so are the inferences or theories one can make about why. But I was curious about the animal life present in Tasmania, and this is a good place to start.

Each section is written by a different author, and so there's some variation in how readable each section is. Some writers lean more heavily on scientific terminology than others, and some just plain have a better grasp of writing English the others. The last section, on the history of conservation efforts and future problems had some curious wording and phrasing choices.

They authors also take different approaches to the subject. D.G. Thomas' chapter on birds doesn't focus on which particular species are present and their ecology. It's more what determined which species made it to Tasmania, and why they succeeded or failed in establishing a permanent population. It draws heavily from MacArthur and Wilson's theory of island (our insular) biogeography, which was less than 15 years old at the time this book was published. R.H. Green's chapter on mammals discusses major habitat types, then does a brief section on each indigenous species, their ecology, and how their numbers seem to be doing in the face of human expansion and compared to similar species on the island, or compared to any populations that might remain on the Australian continent.

Turns out there are quite a few species that were ultimately out-competed or otherwise driven to extinction on Australia that have a remnant population in Tasmania. Because the species that out-competed them didn't make it south before the Bassian Land Bridge became the Bass Strait, and thus could not make it to Tasmania in time.

'As previously suggested (Williams, 1970b) in general terms, one explanation may for the greater abundance in lakes in the south-west may be that since many of these are remote, they do not (yet?) contain the introduced trout, Salmo trutta, a known predator of Anaspides tasmaniae, and it is in the absence of this fish which allows continued survival of the syncarid in habitats which were previously perhaps more typical for it over the whole of the island.'

Monday, July 16, 2018

What I Bought 7/11/2018 - Part 2

The Cardinals finally fired Mike Matheny this weekend. Probably two years too late, but better than never. I doubt this is going to magically fix everything, but it's one less incompetent boob in a position he's entirely unqualified for in this world. Progress!

Ms. Marvel #32, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Ian herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Friends don't dump friends into beakers with bubbly liquids, Bruno. Ha, I almost called it a test tube. Boy, would my face have been red!

Bruno and Kamala resume trying to understand her powers, so naturally they go completely on the fritz. Certainly the close proximity of these two possibly-more-than-friends to each other has nothing to do with that. It's bad timing, because the Shocker has decided to host a crime wave in Jersey City. I thought for a bit her power issues were the result of Shocker using his vibro-blaster things. It's kind of like electricity, which disrupts her powers, but not quite, so maybe it would disrupt them in an unusual way. But no, no, it's probably just emotional turmoil.

Funny to see Bruno state he's done climbing fences and being the sidekick, then the second Kamala leaps into action Bruno is scrounging through his bag trying to find something to help. Like Kamala was worried about, making the same mistakes in all new ways. I'm not sure what the way out is, though. They're friends, they care about each other. Bruno's going to want to help his friend, and Kamala would naturally get his perspective on something that was troubling her, although I suspect he'll share that duty with Zoe, Mike, and Nakia going forward. As for the possible romantic flare-up, I don't know what to do about that.

Leon shows the Shocker's powers as functioning as a pressure wave pushing things away from him. A lot of times, artists show them more as generic power blasts, that hit something and pulverize, leaving a crater. Or sometimes it's treated almost like electricity. But this way, Leon can represent its effect by showing things being blown away, which allows for amusing visual gags. Like the guy walking his dog past the pizza place in one panel, then they both go flying the other way in the next panel. There's one panel where the sound effect has shockwaves emanating from him out towards the people being blown away, which was a nice touch. And he's very effective at using Shocker's eyes to convey emotion, considering that's the only part of his face there is to work with.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #34, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Is Kraven a good harmonica player? Can he hunt down a tune?

Everyone's in jail. Tony Stark can't get them out, but can at least get the cops not to snoop into their secret identities. Doreen yells at Kraven about his extensive criminal background, which, how did she not know about this? He had a supervillain trading card! Which, OK, fine, Deadpool was also listed as a super-villain on pretty much all the different series of trading cards I owned. But that is totally different! To be fair, the sequence of the Police Chief standing there, waiting for Kraven's record to print on their ancient printer made me laugh. Although I thought it was just taking a long time because there were so many crimes, not because the printer is old as the hills, but hey, the joke still worked.

There is a trial, with an annoying prosecutor named Courtney Alaska, which is not an awesome name, I don't care what Ryan North thinks. And she's deliberately baiting Jennifer Walters, which seems unwise. Yes, if she loses control and Hulks out, you probably win your case. Your skeleton will also probably be reduced to dust, which will limit your quality of life. Doesn't seem like a fair trade, but perhaps Courtney Alaska really loves winning cases that much. Poor life priorities, but she wouldn't be the first.

Everyone is acquitted - except Kraven, who is deemed beyond redemption. Which causes him to jump out a window. He encounters Spider-Man, who I don't recall ever actually saying he's going to catch villains just like flies before now, regardless of what Ryan North says. I am disagreeing with Ryan North a lot this month. If he'd stop being wrong, it would stop happening.

Derek Charm draws a pretty good Spider-Man. Reminds me of Mark Buckingham's work, from when he and Paul Jenkins worked on Peter Parker: Spider-Man back in the early 2000s. I'm gradually getting more used to Charm's art. His Nancy Whitehead is still the character I'm having the most issue with, but the pacing on a lot of the jokes - like the one about the cops' printer - still work with him as artist like they did with Erica Henderson.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #25

"Man, This Philosophy 101 Prof is Weird", in Anarky (vol. 1) #2, by Alan Grant (writer), Norm Breyfogle (penciler), Josef Rubinstein (inker), Noelle Giddings (colorist), John Costanza (letterer)

What I know about Anarky, the character, comes from this mini-series and the short-lived ongoing that followed it, which we'll look at next week. What I know about anarchy, the political system, comes from books I read about the Spanish Civil War, but that's neither here nor there.

Anarky's a 15-year old, brilliant and inspired by Batman to take changing the world into his own hands. By building a machine powered by energies stolen from Etrigan, Batman, and Darkseid. Grant takes the approach that Etrigan has no free will, and that what we think of as Darkseid is just one part of him in a particular form. Which is not a notion I had ever seen before.

Watching Anarky argue and fight with them, especially as drawn by Norm Breyfogle, is a lot of fun. It was Breyfogle being the artist that made me track this down. I know that's not the most dynamic full-page splash up there, but I love some of the layouts he use on pages with more than one panel, and he's always good at drawing fight scenes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What I Bought 7/11/2018 - Part 1

A day after I put up that post about Parks and Rec, I got to an episode where Ben ending up spending his wedding anniversary with Larry instead of Leslie and they got along. Then a couple of episodes later, Ben decided Larry was actually a decent guy and tried to get the rest of the characters to acknowledge that. It ended badly but at least it was something.

Domino #4, by Gail Simone (writer), David Baldeon (artist), Jesus Arbutov (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Well, know I know Greg Land can draw unconscious people who don't look terrifying now. They are unconscious, right? Shang-Chi wouldn't straight murder them, or let Domino do so, right?

We get a flashback that explains the connection between Topaz and this Desmond fellow, and now I understand the connection between his problems and Domino's powers a little better. Diamondback and Outlaw, having figured out Domino suspects one of them, try to hunt the villains down, but that doesn't seem to be going well. Domino is trying to learn from Shang-Chi, which mostly seems to involve her getting beat up. They do take a break, but they're going to be attacked by some of Shang's old enemies.

I think one of my favorite bits from this issue is Deadpool giving Outlaw and Diamondback a heads up on where to find Topaz and Desmond, and wanting to go along. Even though Topaz could shut Wade's healing factor off. Not that possibly dying is a thing that's going to deter Wade at the best of times, but it's nice to see Deadpool wanting to help his friends, and those people worrying about his well-being.

I'm less sure about how silly or flip Domino seems to be acting. Maybe that's a consequence of having a power that makes everything work out for you, or it's just meant to be her covering her fear. But the thing this arc has kept hammering is how spooked Topaz and Desmond have her, how concerned she is about being reliant on a power she can't control. She was ready to beat Topaz to death with her bare hands last issue.

Maybe the more manic, silly tone suits Baldeon's art better. I think he can handle quiet moments fine, the brief dance scene with Domino and Shang is nice. There's a part where he does a close-up on both their eyes when she fails to shoot him, then a callback later in this issue when she successfully lands a punch. But he draws a lot of people with outsized emotions on display. Big scowls or signs of exertion, yelling or looking really angry. It works for what's happening. Topaz and Desmond really seem to enjoy hurting people, Outlaw and Diamondback are pissed these two are wrecking their team. "Subdued" isn't really on the menu.

Infinity Countdown Darkhawk #4, by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims (writers), Gang Hyuk Lim (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - In case you thought I was joking about the giant Darkhawk mecha last issue.

There's a lot of fighting. Nova shows up, trying to track down his brother, who he doesn't realize is hosting a giant space bird in his body. Nova and Darkhawk keep getting in each other's way, and did Nova get a serious power downgrade? I don't think a bunch of Darkhawks should be able to do this well against a guy who killed Annihilus. Chris kills Rich's brother, so Rich is pissed at him. Chris returns to Earth, and then Sleepwalker shows up to segue into another tie-in mini-series.

Chalk this up as a poor buying decision on my part. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice, no. For as much as I thought Sims and Bowers (Sims, mostly) kept up on continuity, they don't know Death's Head already tried to kill Richard Rider once, so they'd know each other? It was in a comic that came out a year ago, it's not that far back. Whatever, minor thing, just annoyed me a little. I don't really get where Nova's coming from exactly in his reactions towards Darkhawk. Maybe it's just that he's stressed because his brother's involved and he feels guilty. Most of what I'm basing Nova and 'Hawk's relationship on is their interactions in the Abnett/Lanning era, and I feel like that's what Sims and Bowers are using also. But it also feels like they're either drawing on something else as well, or they interpreted things differently from how I did.

The issue is basically one big fight scene, and it doesn't seem to play to Lim's strengths. Drawing mostly characters encased entirely in armor, with no facial expressions can't make things easy, but the art is stiff and characters posed. A lot of the time it doesn't feel as if things are flowing naturally from one panel to the next, characters don't sell the force of a blow or the amount they're exerting themselves with their posture. You can tell what's happening, but it feels less like we're seeing the progression of events, and more like we're catching a brief glimpse. Character was there, now character is here. You can infer what happened in between, so it still works, I guess. But it's nothing that gets me enthused about it.

Man, even the sound effects bug me. The lettering style and shades of color used don't feel like they fit with the tone of the art. Make the "CHOOM" a more noticeably bigger, or make the edges of it more jagged or something! Yes, I know, they're in space, there shouldn't be sound effects anyway. But there are, so we might as well assess them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Steven's "Hugs and Talking" Strategy Is Going To Be Tested This Time

I feel like discussing something related to the Steven Universe episodes that came out last week. If you haven't seen them, and you don't want them SPOILED, consider this your time to head to another web page. Or you could take a stroll through my older posts. Whatever works.

(Let's give them a minute. Doo-de-doo-doo. OK, I'm impatient, let's go.)

So Diamonds Blue and Yellow know Steven is Pink Diamond, or has her gem in his stomach. And they know or will soon find out the reason Pink wasn't shattered by Rose Quartz is because Pink and Rose were the same person. Pink Diamond was secretly the leader of the rebellion against her rule of the colony they'd established on Earth. That seems like that's going to cause some upset, particularly with Blue, who has been in very vocal mourning for over 5,000 years now over Pink's death. That Pink was never really gone, that she was, in a sense, playing a trick on the other Diamonds, might not go well.

Pearl could try explaining that Pink tried telling them she didn't want to sap the Earth of all life in the process of producing more Gems for Homeworld, and Blue and Yellow dismissed her concerns. But I'm not sure the Diamonds will listen to a Pearl. Both of them have their own Pearl, and they treat them like smartphones, essentially. Play music for me, store my stuff, sit around and wait for me to need you for something. Pearls are slaves, although I've seen good arguments that all Gem classes other than Diamonds are basically slaves. Each class is supposed to have a specific function, and deviating from that function, or being unable to carry it out, is not acceptable. But Pearls are specifically mentioned as "belonging" to someone.

Point being, if Pearl tries talking to them first, I'm worried they'd try destroying her for such impudence.

One thing that comes up frequently is Gems don't understand what Steven is. Understandable; children as we think of them don't exist for Homeworld. Most Gems - or at least Jasper and Amethysts - pop out of the Earth fully formed and ready for their task. They can shapeshift or alter their forms, but they don't age and develop the same as humans. Gems can fuse, to produce a being who is parts of each, but also its own being. But they can break that fusion and return to their original selves. Garnet can go back to being Ruby and Sapphire, two separate Gems. Garnet believed baby Steven was some odd fusion of Rose and Greg (where Greg still existed as a separate entity), and the fusion simply couldn't recall how to split back into two.

Most Gems assume Steven simply is Rose Quartz. He has her Gem, her shield, her powers (mostly). Jasper was certain Steven was Rose in disguise, though she couldn't understand why Rose would keep challenging her in this puny form. That isn't too unusual. Gems tend to barely notice Stephen until they see the gem, or he summons Rose's shield, but once those things happen, they think he's Rose. I'm not sure the Diamonds are going to think much differently.

Granted, they've met Steven before, when he went to Homeworld to stand trial for Rose's "crimes". Where it became clear that he didn't know anything about how Pink was supposedly shattered. Because he doesn't have his mother's memories, though he gets some of them now and then in dreams. And there was a bit in the promo at the end of the last episode where he tells them outright he doesn't have Pink's memories. The concern I have is, Blue and Yellow know Steven has Pink's gem. They may not grasp that this does not make Steven Pink Diamond. They know or are going to know Pink was actually Rose all along. That she lied to them, tricked them. Given that, are they going to wonder if Steven was playing a game when he was on trial, just pretending to not have Rose's memories? If Pink lied to them once. . .

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Starman Volume 9 - Grand Guignol

I forgot to fold back the corner I dogeared to mark that page, which I think in certain corners of the Internet would get me tried as a war criminal. Never understood that bit of fanaticism, although I didn't even know it was a thing until stumbling across people arguing about it on Twitter (naturally). That's how I keep track of the passages I want to remember, or consider quoting when I do book reviews. How many note cards and bookmarks am I supposed to have on hand? Can you still read the page? Then it's fine.

Anyway, Volume 9 covers issues 61-73 of Starman, by James Robinson (writer), Peter Snejbjerg (artist), Gregory Wright (colorist), and Bill Oakley (letterer). Jack Knight returns from space just in time to deal with the army of villains assembled by an angry man with the Shade's powers who wants to cast the entire city into a horrifying dimension. Fortunately, there's a whole army of people to help Jack, too.

On the one hand, it's really impressive how many threads Robinson tries to bring together here. Plot lines that he established in the earliest issues of the series. I do love a story where the heroes who have to save the day are not the usual suspects. He moves between the various characters smoothly enough that you don't lose track of what everyone is up to. Plays to the characters' strengths - I enjoyed Ralph and Sue trying to solve a mystery while everyone else is scrambling around punching - and makes some of these villains I'd never heard of pretty interesting.

Not all of them. The Mist (the younger one) gets a raw deal. I don't know what it says that she seems like a mediocre villain, but she might have been the closest to Jack's arch-foe. Her dad is his dad's arch-enemy, Culp is the Shade's, who does that leave as Jack's, other than her? She's a sadist who talks big, but kind of chump, like Bullseye crossed with the Shocker.

The story bogs down in places. Trying to explain the wide range of crimes and personalities the Shade has demonstrated over his history as a character felt unnecessary. Maybe that's because I only know the character from this series. I don't know the stories where he had a "Shademobile" or plotted to blow up the world, so I haven't been trying to reconcile them. A few elements were set up earlier, but felt like they'd been left alone long enough that their sudden importance comes out of left field (the detective the Dibnys track down, for one). Granted I haven't bought volumes 5, 6, or 8, maybe Hamilton Drew pops up again there. Adam Strange and some of the other space trip callbacks felt out of place, like Robinson's trying to go a little too big. Especially since it seems to hinge on such personal animosities, Culp and Shade, the Mist and Starman.

But overall, I think the story treads on the good side of the line. I can't fault Robinson for trying to go big with it, to really have a grand climax.

Snejbjerg and Wright's artwork is clear and easy to follow. The heavy shadows contrast with the scattered flashes of light that normally mark the heroes fighting back. There's a two-page fight between Ted Knight and Doctor Phosphorous that's entirely an aerial view of Ted's home, with two different colors of light moving about across the panels. That was pretty slick. Culp's emergence, where his panels are darkness erupting against a bright red background, switching back and forth with panels of Jack being overwhelmed by the villain army done all in blacks and deep purples.

The next volume, which I reviewed two months ago, is the end of the series (not counting that Blackest Night tie-in issue where the title was "resurrected" for a month) and spends its time trying to tie up all the loose ends and decide where everyone stands when the music stops.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Not All The Jokes Are Gonna Land

A friend of mine has been rather insistent that I watch Parks & Recreation. I had to skip half of the very short Season 1, and there were a few episodes in Seasons 2 I skipped after a few minutes. Actually I skipped almost all of Leslie's campaign for city council. Seeing her struggle in an election against a complete moron who was totally reliant on money from his daddy was too unpleasant to watch. But overall, halfway through Season 6, it's been good. Adding Chris and Ben late in Season 2 helped. Even if most episodes have one subplot I can't stand, the other two or three are funny.

The one thing that hasn't work is Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich. Nothing against the actor, just the function he plays on the show, the character everybody else craps on constantly. His attempts to help or express genuine enthusiasm are dismissed or ridiculed. The show seems to encourage us to go along with it. Ha ha, April stole his inhaler and is giving it to Ron to buy his cabin! Sucks for you, Jerry! Tom loses the stupid tiny horse, blames Jerry, and everyone just goes with it.

The show hasn't done anything to make me want to see him constantly humiliated. When Ron suffers because his stupid pride won't let him go to a hospital or ask for help, yeah, I laugh. He's created the problem, and refuses to take steps to solve it. Same when Tom's mouth writes a check he can't cash, or when Leslie tries to just steamroll everyone into doing what she wants, only for it to blow up in her face.

Jerry's flaw is. . . he's not a good public speaker? He's kind of clumsy? He has bad timing? Even Chris, who is this endlessly positive character, outwardly at least, treats Jerry as though he's worthless. Which is the joke, I know. The guy who is friendly and upbeat to everyone, even the reprehensible Councilman Jamm, can't be bothered to pretend he gives a shit about Jerry Gergich. Ha ha. But the show failed utterly to give me a reason go along with it.

I was happy when Jerry retired, because that meant all this was over. Then they contrived reasons for him to come back so it could continue. I know Jerry explained once to Leslie that he didn't mind that his career hadn't turned out as he dreamed because he has a wonderful family to come home to every night, and the nature of his work meant he could be home with them every night. So I assume we're meant to take it as the joke is on all the others, because Jerry is content and happy with his life. That would probably work better if the others were actually miserable in their lives, but they aren't. We know the treatment bothers him because of that episode where he pretended he got mugged, because he was afraid of the constant jokes the others would make if they knew the truth.