Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs - Tristan Gooley

This book is all about the clues your surroundings can give when you're on a hike. Mostly when you're out in nature, the woods, or open fields, but also in cities. Some of it is useful for navigation, like different constellation tricks you can use to find different cardinal directions via the stars. Some of it is more neat things to note when you're out. Such as how songbird species will use different warning calls for a threat on the ground (like you) versus a hawk or other raptor they spot circling overhead.

Chapters are generally devoted to a specific type of thing, like trees, or the moon. So Gooley will talk about how what your goal is with the hike will inform what phase of the moon would best suit it. Or about what time the moon will rise relative to sunset, and how that can be determined via what phase it's in. A lot of seems obvious once he mentions it, but if it was that obvious, I'd probably have already known about it. Or I'm an idiot.

There are a few short chapters where Gooley describes walks that he's taken at some point. He'll describe what he saw, heard, or smelled, and what that told him. He's seeing sycamores, he's moving into a riparian area. The north-facing side of the trail still has snow on it, because it's not getting direct sunlight. The lack of any clouds other than a few cirrus clouds, suggests the weather's going to hold for a while. Stuff like that.

The thing I probably found most useful was the Appendices that discuss ways to best measure angles and distances, since I am really abysmal at that stuff. I hate when people ask me how far away something across a field is from us. So the rules of thumb he include are hopefully going to be helpful on that score going forward.

'A rainbow that appears bigger than a semicircle means the antisolar point is above ground, which in turn means the sun should already have set. The sun cannot be underground so something is clearly not right. The solution is rather beautiful. This effect is caused when the sun's light is bounced off a large calm body of water, giving the effect that its light has come from below ground. Such a rainbow is a clue that there is a lake or some other calm body of water nearby.'

Monday, January 20, 2020

What I Bought 1/18/2020

I couldn't find the last issue of Steeple anywhere over the weekend, but I did get the other two books from the last two weeks I was interested in. Even if that did mean grabbing that Black Cat issue with the ugly variant cover. Nothing coming out this week, though.

Black Cat #8, by Jed MacKay (writer), Dike Ruan and Annie Wu (artists), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - I mean, is the Black Widow even in any of the Earth X stuff? I assume she must be, because if she wasn't, why not just come up with a Black Cat Earth X design?

There are two threads. One is a daytime conversation between Felicia and her mother, where Felicia tries to get her to accept a cruise to Germany to get her out of the line of fire of Odessa's forces. Although Miss Hardy feels confident she won't be targeted. The other, more entertaining thread is Felicia bringing along the current Beetle to help her swipe the plans for the Randall Gate in Iron Fist's basement. Which leads to Felicia getting to play with Danny, while the Beetle gets her ass kicked by the little girl that's currently Iron Fist, I guess.

I think this is playing off that Iron Fist: the Living Weapon series Kaare Andrews did in 2014. Or maybe some GN called Immortal Iron Fists that came out two years ago, also by Andrews? Hey, let's just be impressed a writer at Marvel actually bothers to pay attention to what other writers are doing with characters.

Now I think Annie Wu drew the parts with Felicia talking with her mother. Granting I haven't seen her artwork since Fraction's Hawkeye run, but that part of the issue looks more similar to what she did back then than the part with Beetle and Iron Fist.  It works for the talking parts, Wu uses body language well. I wouldn't normally think of Felicia being as nervous as she is here, but it's her mother. Special circumstances. Felicia's on the defensive a lot, backing up or with arms crossed, while her mother is leaning in, or pointing at her, or the one initiating physical contact.
The costumed part of the book, the eyes are bigger, shading is softer, faces are rounder, so I'm guessing that's Ruan's work, which I'm not familiar with at all. I like it, the comedy parts with the little dragon are amusing, Felicia's expressions work, the fight scene is good. I like the tilted panels as it goes back-and-forth between Danny and Felicia throwing attacks at each other. Also, Danny being happy to just fight a thief villain instead of someone out to "absorb his chi or cut off his hands" makes me smile. Even if it does piss Felicia off to be called a villain.

Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2, by Jeff Lemire (writer), Denys Cowan (penciler), Bill Sienkiewicz (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Willie Schubert (letterer) - Alright, time for a Vic Sage/Jonah Hex team-up!

The issue is set in the Hub City of 1886, and follows a Charles Victor Szasz, secretive town blacksmith. He tries to protect the apparently only black family in the town when the husband is framed for a brutal murder, but fails, thanks to a preacher who spurs the townsfolk on and isn't what he appears. Szasz is found by a native woman who talks to a skeleton and throws a faceless mask on him and tells him to go kill the preacher, who is really the "creature of a thousand faces." He hesitates and fails, and the scene shifts to the early 1940s.

OK, guy with no face against creature with a thousand, sure, interesting contrast. Vic's been trying to stop this guy for multiple lifetimes, and I'm guessing next issue will demonstrate he keeps fucking it up in one way or another. Or maybe it's always the same way, He hesitates. I don't recall the O'Neill/Cowan Question being big on killing people, so maybe that's the hang-up. Although 1886 Vic's issue was he'd killed too many innocent people previously.

There's a couple of points I'm not sure the art and the writing are on the same page. Dialogue that seems like it should fit with Vic, being said by one of the guys pursuing him, judging by how much of a beard the speaker had. But most of it is really good. There's a panel of him walking through the desert with the sun shining over his shoulder where, Sienkiewicz goes heavier on the scratchy linework to put Vic's face in shadow, and there's a few circular yellow arcs that overlap his face. You can just barely make out the lines of his eyes and nose. It's a really effective way to show how the light would hide his face from where we're viewing him.
And I like this trio of panels with Vic's eye spilling into the panel of the creature, while the arrow uses that moment to find its target.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #97

"No, Quack is a Fowl Noise," in Brave and the Bold (vol. 3) #7, by Mark Waid and George Perez (storytellers), Bob Wiacek (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer)

The third volume of Brave and the Bold started up some point after 52 wrapped, with Waid and Perez as the creative team. The first year of the book had an overarching story, something about someone named Megistus who was after some MacGuffin or another. Sometimes the stories were set up so that one of the heroes from one issue carried over into the next. Like when Batman teamed up with the Blue Beetle, then was in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes the next month.

Waid knows how to play characters off each other (although he writes Power Girl as hyper-aggressive in this issue, even by her standards), and works some humor in some issues. Bruce Wayne being stunned at Hal Jordan's success gambling. Brainiac being kind of pissed when Batman uses an ordinary old smoke bomb against them, and it works. Perez' style would be considered more old-school even by 2007, I assume, but it works for me, and I think it fits the tone of the book, which is a very old-school team-up book.

Perez left after issue 10, with Jerry Ordway taking over the art chores for three issues. Waid left after issue 16, and the book rotated through a series of creative teams, each doing a story or two, until it landed in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz for the last 9 issues. The only other issue I own besides this one is the very last issue, a Legion of Substitute Heroes/Inferior Five team-up, which occurs in and around the Legion of Super-Heroes/Doom Patrol team-up the month before. 

It's actually not bad, works as a funny issue, which makes it the high point of JMS' run on the book. Low praise, considering this was when he wrote that story where Zatanna has a premonition of Barbara Gordon's fate in The Killing Joke, and when she confides in Wonder Woman, they. . . take Barbara out for a fun night on the town rather than, you know, do anything to stop it. I guess because Wonder Woman figures it's fate, and you can't interefere. Then why did Zatanna have the fucking premonition then?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Random Back Issues #15 - Giant Days #29

I believe you're supposed to save that sort of thing for graduate school. With college budgets shrinking, assistantship dollars are at a premium.

The first single issue of Giant Days I bought, the main thread is Esther's status as Queen of the English Lit department being threatened by Emilia, who transferred in after some huge dispute about whether Pentatonix is madrigals. I have no idea what that sentence means. Just looking up definitions on Google leads me to believe Esther's correct, and a pentatonix could be a madrigal. Why can't a madrigal have five tones? Don't answer that.

Esther's response, reasoned and well-thought out as always, is to try and curry favor with the chief professor, creepy lecher Ken Lord. Which leads to her getting completely wasted at some social gathering, and nearly letting Lord take her home with him. Emilia ends up saving her, and the two become fast friends for about five minutes. Then it turns out McGraw's cheating on Emilia with Susan (who had actually been advising Esther to make friends, which should have been a clear warning sign), and everything falls to hell.
Fortunately, the next time Esther runs afoul of Ken, 33 issues from now, she's on much more sure footing, and sends him down in flames, and gets to stuff herself with fancy cheeses again (her intelligence about taking advantage of free food is something I highly relate to). It's fantastic.

The other plot thread is Daisy's attempt to set Ed up with one of her friends from Archaeology, who is also interested in all sorts of science fiction things, just like Ed. Well then clearly they're a perfect match. When's the wedding? Geez, even I know more about relationships than Daisy. Not by much, by I do.
Ed didn't feel the spark, or whatever, so there was no follow-up date, which leads to Daisy screaming at him in the grocery store. Daisy is about one issue away from starting her disastrous relationship with Ingrid, so I'm just going to assume that is her penance for being Miss Nosey Matchmaker.

{5th longbox, 59th comic. Giant Days #29, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (penciler), Liz Fleming (inker), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer)}

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Us (2019)

Well, that movie was creepy as hell. I mean, I had read spoilers online back when it came out, so I knew what the deal was with the Tethered, and specifically Red and Adelaide.  I do have some questions about it, like when there stopped being any monitoring of the Tethered, how the situation with the children would work out in that case, how exactly the Tethered seem so much more nimble, strong, and athletic than everyone else. I can chalk that last one up to being crazy, I guess.

Even so, this movie still creeps me out. The Tethered are just so unnerving. How their eyes seem so wide open you'd think they'd forgotten, or forgone, the ability to blink. The mostly inarticulate noises they make, although Red's raspy voice is even worse. Talking sounds so painful for her. The big smiles, the weird aping of people's mannerisms.

Although I laughed pretty hard when Kitty reached up to take "Bad Josh's" hand, and he did that move where you pull your hand back and run it through your hair, like some evil preppy guy from an '80s teen movie.

The goal of the Tethered, and their means to achieve it, which I am trying to avoid spoiling if you haven't seen it because you should watch it, seems a little cockeyed. But then I remember the circumstances of the one who came up with the plan, and it makes a little more sense. They wouldn't know it didn't work the first time around.

Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke are both great in this in different ways. Duke's character of Gabe is just such a clueless dork - like a '90s sitcom dad - that it's kind of hilarious. The movie keeps setting up these moments where you think, "He's got it right this time, he's gonna do this and look cool," and then blows it (the scene with the flare gun). But he comes through anyway, somehow. He's kind of a dork, but he's resourceful and determined in his way.

Nyong'o moves so effectively between sheer terror and frantic, fierce determination. You can see those fight or flight battles going on in Adelaide's mind, the exact moment where fight takes control and she starts swinging. Red, conversely, is this mix of certainty and glee. She's enjoying what she's doing to Adelaide's family, but she's also so sure that what's she's created is the right thing to do, the necessary thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Who Invited the Jerk?

One of the things I hunted down in back issues last year was the Marvel Knights Fantastic Four series (unhelpfully titled "4") Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote in the mid-2000s. It's not going to dislodge the Simonson or McDuffie runs as my personal favorites, but it's mostly solid.

There's one issue in there focused on Sue's birthday, where Reed appears to have forgotten, so she goes out on the town with some lady friends, most of whom make sense. She-Hulk, Alicia Masters, Sharon Ventura (the second Ms. Marvel, later the She-Thing). All old friends and acquaintances.

Emma Frost is also there.

Who in the fuck would think inviting Emma Frost along on your birthday romp is a good idea? She's arrogant, condescending, manipulative and rude. It'd be like inviting Namor or Quicksilver, with the added minus Emma is a telepath with no apparent regard for the sanctity of other people's minds. There's at least two times in that one issue she plucks a thought from Sue's mind and says it out loud to the others in an apparent attempt to embarrass/put her on the spot, and basically dismisses the ethical concerns of what she did with "your mind was practically shouting it, Sue."

Do the X-Men even like her? Respect her, sure. She's been on their side long enough, proven herself enough for that. But I don't know how many of them would consider her a friend, compared to how many would say the same about Nightcrawler or Rogue, for example.

Maybe some of her former students? I know Firestar doesn't care for her, due to the manipulative stuff, but I don't know about the rest of the Hellions (however many are still alive), or the Gen X kids. Again, I think there'd be respect, they might consider her a good mentor or sounding board for their questions (although even that seems doubtful. I could see her doing a lot of damage to a kid with self-esteem issues.) Beyond that, I don't know.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

History Day By Day - Peter Furtado

For each day of the year, Furtado selects a quote, speech, written statement, etc., related to some particular historical event, big or small. Then he includes a paragraph or two explaining the event or its significance.

In practice, the book is extremely West-centric. The first date devoted to anything from China doesn't come until June 4th (the 1989 Tianamen Square protests). By that point, Furtado's already spent three days on the executions of various English monarchs. China, which, you know, has a pretty lengthy and important history, gets 4 days out of 366, total. Japan gets 2. He even wasted the 20th of January on Trump's inauguration speech.

The problem, is there are probably too many options for each day, and things are going to fall through the cracks, depending on whatever biases are inherent in whatever criteria Furtado's using. Sometimes he goes with big, obvious things (FDR's "day of infamy" speech for Dec. 7th), and other times it's smaller things like Enrico Caruso's description of being in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, or the mass release of toxic gas from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India in 1984. Those were the entries I was more interested in, because I didn't know much about the events. I don't need to read yet another thing about the importance of Dunkirk, especially not when Furtado is trying to cram his explanation into a half-page or less.

'Now we have them in the mousetrap.'

- Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke

'We are in the chamber put and are about to be shat upon.'

- French General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot

(September 1, 1870, The Battle of Sedan)