Sunday, December 21, 2008


What follows is more than a bit silly and may only make sense if you read this first. For maximum effect start at the linked entry and go forward chronologically. In fact, you should probably just be reading that blog anyway, because it's really good.

Anyway, taking the statement " guys should really be writing Scale Guy, not me..." as an official request, I offer a piece of fan fiction celebrating one of the most unsung heroes of comics art. We should not take him for granted when he offers us so much.


"Stand here for one moment."

Scale Guy walked over to the prototype and stood next to it where the general had indicated. The technician (whose waistline was one and one-half the width of that of Scale Guy) and the general (half a head shorter than Scale Guy) looked from the prototype to Scale Guy and back again repeatedly. Scale Guy was used to the darting glances. People often did that around him.

"Yes, there, you see?" announced the general at last, waving his arm at the prototype. "The doorway does need to be slightly higher, as I said. Otherwise our taller soldiers will need to stoop over slightly as they pass through the dimensional threshhold..."

The general and the technician walked away, deep in conversation, forgetting Scale Guy was still there. As people usually did.


It was the peculiar fortune of Scale Guy to be precisely average in both height and weight throughout his entire life, the embodiment of the perfect median of the population for his age group. He had been a statistically average baby, an unexceptional teen, and an utterly common adult.

Over the years he had developed a slight tendency toward weight gain. At first he wondered if this mild paunch would make him more distinct, more individual...but then he learned that due to an increase in the average body mass index of adult males in his age group, he was still (and would always be) perfectly average.

But he was the best there was at what he did, and what he did was demonstrate relative size.


"We stand gathered here in William Foster Memorial Park to dedicate this monument to a fallen hero..." As the politician continued his oration, those in attendance at the dedication ceremony looked up at the towering statue of Bill Foster and then looked at Scale Guy briefly before their gaze returned to the memorial statue. Scale Guy thought this must be what the crowd at a match looks like to a tennis player.

No one there knew Scale Guy, and he was not invited to speak. Scale Guy knew no one cared if he had anything to say about Bill Foster, or whether Scale Guy had preferred the name Black Goliath or Goliath or Giant-Man. They wanted Scale Guy around for one reason: so that all present could say "Yes, it certainly is a big statue we've built. Look how big the statue is compared to that average fellow over there. The size of the statue shows how much we honor the memory of Bill Foster."

It was a big statue, though not quite as big as Foster had been when he died. Scale Guy noticed things like that.


That's very big of you. Don't be small about this. We'll keep you on standby. He'd heard them all.


"The Minister is deeply concerned about the possible threat from infiltration of military assets by terrorist organizations via the use of homebrew Pym particles. What strategies have MI-13 developed to address this threat?"

The agent gestured to Scale Guy, who held out his open hand for inspection. "Miniature weapons," she explained, "for use by miniature troops deployed in response to psychic detection of miniature brainwaves at key locations."

The assembled Defence officials peered into Scale Guy's palm to examine the flamethrower, the rocket launcher, and the submachine gun. There was no doubt these were indeed miniature weapons: everyone could see it plainly. They were like trinkets from a charm bracelet in Scale Guy's perfectly ordinary-sized hand.

Afterward, as they left the Main Building, the agent tried to make small talk with Scale Guy. "I went back to my childhood home this weekend. Hadn't seen it since I was twelve. I couldn't believe how small it was."

Scale Guy smiled politely, but inwardly he sighed. A place was the size it was. It didn't change just because someone looking at it became bigger or smaller. Why didn't people see?


He'd tried to join the Avengers once.

Luke Cage stood next to him in front of a mirror and studied their shared reflection. "Not bad...not bad at all. With you standing there, everybody can tell I'm not someone they should mess around with. Of course, everybody knows that already."

Wolverine looked up at Scale Guy and said "Stay the hell away from me."


Alarm klaxons sounded but Scale Guy could barely hear them over the crashing of machinery. Injured staff moaned with pain. The staging area began to fill with smoke and flame.

"Enough!" shouted the Reaver. "No more resistance! Your soldiers have been dispatched as easily as lead toys, and your superhumans are nowhere to be found!" It was true. The most powerful heroes of the British Isles were away facing Dormammu; the others could not arrive soon enough to stop the intruder. "Now turn over to me the secret of your dimensional threshhold generator! With its power to eliminate distance and reach the furthest barriers of space, I shall conquer this world and raise here a mighty army to subdue the cosmos entire!"

"Er...excuse me." Scale Guy stepped forward out of the chaos, speaking slowly and calmly. "But have you really considered the magnitude of what you propose?"

"What do you mean?" the Reaver asked.

"Well, conquering the world...that's over six billion six hundred million people. Spread across a globe with a diameter of twelve thousand kilometres and a surface area of 510 million square kilometres. Logistically speaking, that's a nightmare. And all those people have to be housed and clothed and fed, not to mention trained if you want them to be an army. But really, more of them will have to be farmers and factory workers than soldiers. And they'll need communications and support systems. Did I mention doctors and nurses? By the time you rule the entire world, you'll be spending so much time on management and administration you won't be able to concentrate on anything else.

"And that's merely one world. There must be countless habitable worlds, and you'd have to do the same for all of them. Not to mention the logistics of communication and transportation. You'd become the manager of a crushingly huge galactic bureaucracy that would become unbearably slow, and spend your days putting your seal on their forms and filling out paperwork dealing with alien races you'd never even see. Your days eaten up with the tedium of managing the spoils of conquest, and it would just go on and on..."

And as he said this, Scale Guy stood there. He stood next to the Reaver.

Next to the entire world.

Next to the galaxy and all its neighbor galaxies and the teeming universe beyond.

The Reaver blinked, realizing how small he was in relation to an eternity of paperwork. "'re right. My ambition was far too grandiose. No lone individual could ever truly subjugate the entire universe. It's so vast...!

"Far better I devote my energies to taking only what I need to live in unrivalled splendour whilst my raging ego is soothed by incessant praise. Without a troublesome cosmos to tend and administrate, I shall be able to enjoy pure material comforts free of distraction.

"I have no need of the dimensional threshhold. Truly, there are infinite reaches to conquer within my own mind. Thank you for giving me this new perspective!" the Reaver shouted to Scale Guy before he flew off into the distance. In the relative quiet that followed, as fire control extinguished the smouldering wreckage, the staff of MI-13 looked in amazement at Scale Guy.


Hearing the acclaim and congratulations of his coworkers, Scale Guy realized his own problems weren't so big after all. You had to keep things in proportion.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The moth, the snake, and the stingray

Batman #682 by Grant Morrison and Lee Garbett includes in passing an understated sequence in which Alfred speculates on other guises Bruce Wayne might have taken had something other than a bat come through his window that fateful night long ago. Had a moth flown in, we might have a Mothman instead of a Batman. Or Bruce might have mused "My actions must be swift and decisive, my approach silent and undetected...' just before his eye was caught by the stuffed and mounted snake on his bookcase. "That's it! I shall become...a serpent!"

This plays on an idea Morrison has toyed with during his run on the series: the idea of Alfred as a Batman fan, someone who delights in the character to the extent of writing his own Batman fan fiction and imaginary stories...and who might even be vicariously living out his own desire for two-fisted action through the travails of his employer. That idea certainly didn't originate with Morrison, but he's used it to good effect.

Another thing Morrison has done is to incorporate bits and pieces from every era of Batman, taking the position that no story is so ridiculous or inappropriate it needs to be written off completely; that with some judicious reinterpretation, the entire 68 year history of the character can be read as the internally consistent life experiences of one individual. Use every part of the animal: Bat-Mite, Kathy Kane, Man-Bat, Ras al Ghul, it all goes into the mix. And the above sequence reminded me of the following item from Batman #256 (May-June 1974), written by Martin Pasko (with considerable snark, one feels) and drawn by Pat Broderick.

One can only ponder the crime-fighting effectiveness of the Iron Knight. (Full marks for intimidation value, but how many getaways would have been aided by the armored hero clomping towards them very...very...slowly?) And Aquaman would probably have been pissed off at the Stingray horning in on his turf. Anyway, I'm sure GM remembered this mini-featurette and I suspect he knowingly alluded to it with the above scene.

Thanks to commenter Frank at Final Crisis Annotations for providing the issue number, enabling me to track down the issue and present these scans here. I thought non-Korean readers might want to enjoy it for themselves. (Props also to Jidol for making it available to Korean readers...)

Monday, December 01, 2008

For the record

Death-Man was created by Bob Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff in Batman #180, cover dated May 1966. The character was not created by Bat-manga artist Jiro Kuwata. I don't know if the change in his name to "Lord Death-Man" was an accident of translation (in either direction) or a deliberate choice by Kuwata, but it definitely sounds better.

I don't expect some new guy at Newsarama to know something as obscure as this, and I have no idea if Chip Kidd or Saul Ferris know it or whether they attribute the character's origin correctly in the text of their Bat Manga! collection. But someone, somewhere, needed to point this out, so here it is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some assembly required

Thanks to Adam for this questionnaire in two parts, which he in turn discovered via Samurai Frog. Happily this meme comes without forced tagging, but anyone who wishes should feel free to give it a try.

I. The first half involves bolding the things you've done.

Gone on a blind date
Not as such. Gone out with someone I only knew through online correspondence but had never previously met in person, yes.

Skipped school
Most of my senior year in high school! Honestly, I'm amazed I managed to graduate...which may explain my recurring dream in which I have to go back there all these years later and finish all those classes I skipped.

Been to Canada
Not for a very long time, and I'd really like to go back.

Been to Mexico
Sadly, no.

Been to Florida
Sadly, yes. To my lasting dismay.

Been to Africa
Never, but I kind of like the music.

Been on a plane
I love flying and still consider airports to be exciting and romantic places, but I've avoided both for the past few years...partly due to the idiocy of "security theater" at the expense of genuine safety.

Been lost
It's one of my favorite ways to get to know a new place.

Gone to Washington DC
I've been there four times, and each visit was a lot of fun.

Swam in the ocean
At least two of them!

Broken a bone
I don't know how I've managed to avoid it all these years.

Been in a traffic accident
It was an extremely foggy afternoon in California. The car I was in got a cracked tail light. The front of the car that rear-ended us crumpled like foil. Happily, everyone involved had excellent insurance.

Cried yourself to sleep
And that was just last night! (Okay, and the night before.)

Been on TV
Once as recounted in an earlier meme here. More recently, I was in the audience for a Throwdown with Bobby Flay on the Food Network, but I don't know if I appear on camera.

Stole traffic signs
Why would anyone want to do that? I don't get it.

Played cops & robbers
Let's not bring my sex life into this. ("Now this time I'll be the cop and you be the sexy bank robber I've just arrested who's trying to seduce me into letting her go...")

Recently colored with crayons
Not recently enough.

Sang Karaoke
In fact, it was with Brian Cronin of Comics Should Be Good. Disturbingly, we sang a duet of "I've Got You, Babe." This is true.

Paid for a meal with coins only
It's strange that would be considered strange. See Horn and Hardart for details.

Done something you told yourself you wouldn't
And that was just last night!

Made prank phonecalls
Leaving allegedly "funny" messages on answering machines is the closest I've come.

Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose & elsewhere

Caught a snowflake on your tongue
Someone claimed no two of them tasted exactly alike and I was determined to prove this wrong.

Danced in the rain
No, but I have sung.

Written a letter to Santa Claus
Nor have I written to Kwanzaabot. Or the Hanukah Zombie.

Been kissed under the mistletoe
A gentleman never asks and a lady never tells.

Watched the sunrise with someone

Blown bubbles
I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles, in the air...

Gone ice-skating
Once. Miserable experience.

Been skinnydipping outdoors
Does anyone still call it that?

Gone to the movies
It seems hard to imagine anyone hasn't...though I wonder if that might change within our lifetimes.

Have a nickname
None of which I care to repeat.

Have body piercings
Sorry, afraid I spent too much time undergoing surgery as a child to see anything liberating or transgressive about cutting holes in myself. Totally cool with other people doing as they please, but it's not for me.

II. The second half is a set of random questions, which I've decided to answer in random order.

1. Favorite drink?

2. How much do you love your job?
Cape Cod

3. Birthplace?

4. Favorite vacation spot?

5. Ever eaten just cookies for dinner?

6. Favorite pie?
Full of regret

7. Favorite holiday?
With great difficulty

8. Favorite food?
The sea

9. Favorite smell?
My birthday

10. How do you relax?
Oodles and oodles

11. How do you see yourself in ten years time?
Empanada or Cornish pastie

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not always to the swift

At last the Presidential contest is over, and a joint victor has been declared.

I extend congratulations to my former opponent Ellen Bischoff -- who made a courageous, daring, and above all foresighted bid for the lead position -- and now shares with me the complete absence of any reward whatsoever, other than the satisfaction of seeing our names mentioned repeatedly on Mark Evanier's blog. At no point did Ellen stoop to mudslinging, character assassination, or dirty tricks, despite ample opportunities. The mutual respect and civility we have shown one another makes it much easier for us to come together now as co-recipients of this honor.

Congratulations also to my runners-up Michael Kilgore, Kris Mandt, Cory Strode, Corey de Danann, Tony Thomas, Roger Green, Bill O'Brien, Michael Hagan, Bob Claster and Anand Kandaswamy. Judging by the fact that we all selected the same number, I can only conclude that each of you is an insightful and discerning individual. Had I not decided to enter the race and then beaten you all, one of you would be accepting this win in my place; I'm certain you would be as gracious and humble about this honor as I am now.

For the benefit of future historians, the hard-fought campaign began here, with further developments recorded here and here. However, I need to address something Mark says here, where he attributes to me this description of the winning strategy:

A lot of us arrived at our guesses by figuring out which states might go black and not go back, and how many electoral votes each represented. Richard may have beaten us all by, he says, picking a number that just sounded about right.

Obviously, this needs to be cleared up. By the time of the Democratic National Convention in August, I was reading every day, as I do every year when the election season begins. I added the now-indispensable to my daily political reading immediately after all-star statistician Nate Silver appeared on the Colbert Report. So my choice followed several weeks of closely reading analyses made by highly informed people extremely skilled and crunching numbers and interpreting data. It was a guess, but I'd prefer it to be characterized as an informed guess rather than simple blind chance.

All that said, I indicated to Mark at the Big Apple Con that I felt a bit guilty about being in the lead of his poll because my choice was more wishful thinking than a serious projection: I was certainly hoping the electoral votes would break down somewhere close to where I placed them, but on an emotional level I didn't really expect it would happen. That wish was not for the sake of Barack Obama becoming President (he could have done that just as well at 271 electoral votes) but because I was hoping against hope that voters would repudiate McCain for the clumsy, ill-considered, and frequently offensive campaign he conducted. In other words, it wasn't so much about wanting Obama to win decisively as wanting the McCain campaign to lose thoroughly. Mark tells me he's been hearing this from a lot of people. Neither of us is surprised.

Now that the contest is over I can finally relax and enjoy my shared triumph, as indeed may all America. I hope Ellen will accept this post in lieu of the traditional congratulatory telephone call. And now, on to the victory party!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hello tomorrow

Via Cult of Mac:

Fans of comics’ “Golden Age” now have a great way to feed that jones on the iPhone and iPod Touch with Comic Zeal from Bitolithic.

The $1.99 app lets you download an unlimited number of classic comics from the 1930s and 1940s, a period that saw the arrival of the comic book as a mainstream art form, when the medium’s artistic vocabulary and creative conventions were defined by its first generation of writers, artists, and editors.

The app downloads full comics to store locally on your device for easy access offline, and takes full advantage of the iPhone platform’s pinch-zoom and fingertip scrolling so you can move around pages quickly and zoom in to detail as you wish. A recent update makes turning pages with the swipe gesture a breeze and counts as an excellent improvement to the original released version.

The Comic Zeal developer site is here. Now, compare and contrast Sean Kleefeld on the economics of current comics production:

Marvel has hired Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to create The Fantastic Four. Hitch receives an electronic script from Millar and begins drawing an issue. But he doesn't make his drawing paper himself; he buys it. Some company had to chop down a tree, convert it to wood pulp, press that into paper, and ship that to wherever he bought it from. Looking at just the gas consumption alone, the paper costs more to make. So they pass those charges on to Hitch in the form of a price increase. Maybe one or two cents a sheet.

Marvel receives all the material electronically. It gets reviewed, approved, and then sent (again, electronically) over to their printer in Canada. That printer needs paper to print the books on, so they have that shipped in not unlike the way Hitch does. Except Marvel needs around 60,000 comics at 32 pages each. Even at only one mil (one one-thousandth of a cent) per page, that amounts to an additional $1,920 every month. Sure, Marvel has deeper pockets than I do, but I don't mind saying that's a fair sight more than my monthly mortgage payment!

But now that printer needs to move those 60,000 comics. They get shipped out to regional Diamond warehouses. Again, increased gas prices impact how much that will cost. And from those warehouses, the books will then be distributed (i.e. shipped by a gas-guzzling truck) to your Local Comic Shop.

The above quote comes from an outstanding series of posts by Sean on the economics of comics, starting here. I'm quoting him out of context to make a rhetorical point he was not trying to make and may not agree with at all, but that's what happens when you say stuff on the Internet.

One place you can get your feet wet in the search for Golden Age comics in public domain available for free download in .cbr format is here. (The same site also offers original and equally free comic stories by some outstanding creators just waiting to be discovered by the world at large.)

This is not an endorsement of Comic Zeal in particular; it will be some time before I'll have any chance to try this particular app out for myself. But the work going in this direction is promising. The absence of those printing and shipping costs (and the oil they consume) is going to make an even bigger difference to the general public in the coming year. That, combined with the popularity and glamor of the iPhone platform, may even be enough to override the major publishers' pyhrric insistence on digital copy protection, which is seriously hampering their thinking about digital comics; if not, other publishers will step in to fill the gap.

Update: John Rogers of Blue Beetle fame weighs in.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The alphabet meme

Still too busy for regular blogging yet, but Adam at Movie Chunks tagged me with a meme devised by Fletch at Blog Cabins, to wit:

It's a simple concept (my favorite kind) - pick your favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. Some will be tough because there's too many choices (R, S, T, L, N, E...wait a sec - that's Wheel of Fortune) and others will be tough because there are so few choices that you have trouble finding much of anything (Q, anyone?). I'm sure I missed some great ones and I'm hoping that you find them.

The Rules

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

The rules don't specify any criteria, but each of these is a particular favorite of mine -- except for one which is an obvious ringer that I've never even seen and probably never will. See if you can spot it! All the rest of these have strong personal associations for me and would be on any list of my favorite films regardless of alphabetical necessity:

Blazing Saddles
Casino Royale (1967)
Fantastic Voyage
Ghost Dog
Johnny Dangerously
King Kong (1933)
Letter to Brezhnev
North by Northwest
Office Space
Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Sexy Beast
Until the End of the World
Viva Las Vegas
Witness for the Prosecution
Young Frankenstein
Zabriskie Point

I won't tag anyone; I'm looking for five volunteers to step up and take the challenge. Or are you all cowards?

Update: Indeed you are not, as the stalwart crew of TS, Mark, Johnny Bacardi, Walaka, and Sea of Green have each risen to the occasion. And honorable mention to plok for fessing up, which also takes courage.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

24194160 minutes later

It turns out to be my 200th post on this blog, but it's also a special occasion here for another reason:

Birthday greetings today go out to one of my very favorite bloggers, the charming and talented and always entertaining Becca of the charming and talented and always entertaining blog No Smoking In The Skull Cave. And to Adam of the blog Movie Chunks, of whom I was previously unaware until today but I'm sure will become a great favorite of mine in due course.

Though the personal significance of this day may often be overshadowed in the public imagination by events like the Feast of St. Crispin and the Battle of Agincourt as well as the birthdays of Pablo Picasso and Minnie Pearl, it is nonetheless extra special to us. May you both prevail over all those who scorn and mock you, and see your enemies driven before you in the dust, begging for mercy which will never be granted as the unstoppable force of your conquering armies march ever onward to victory over those who dare defy --

-- oops, sorry, that was my birthday wish. Anyway, you guys have a good one too!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Local news

I was surprised to discover in yesterday's Doonesbury that my former hometown has achieved fame as an exemplar (at least for one cartoonist) of the small-town values held up by the likes of Sarah Palin as "the real America." It's a surprise because I know from personal experience that that town is actually built on top of an ancient hellmouth and controlled by sinister, malign forces who plot the downfall of all humanity. Sort of like Twin Peaks or Sunnydale or Smallville, except without the plucky young people to save the populace from eternal damnation at the mercy of unspeakable nameless things who delight in pain and torment.

In a cruel twist, it's also home to one of the best restaurants I've ever been to in my life. That kind of sucks. You have to enter this vile place of horrific torture to reach this spectacular meal. Still, worth it if you like really excellent Italian food.

Unless he meant the one in Oklahoma (which turns out to be named for the same person) because that place is nowhere. What a dump!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Written in the eaves

Foo Fighters tell McCain to stop using song

And in breaking news...

NEW YORK -- Popular indie rock band Vampire Weekend today issued a statement asking that Senator John McCain refrain from using any of their songs in his campaign, in case he was thinking of doing so at any time in the future. A spokesperson for the band explained, "First it was John Mellencamp, then it was Heart, then ABBA, then Jackson Browne, then Van Halen, and now the Foo Fighters. The band thought it would save a lot of time to make it clear at the outset that permission to use their songs would not be granted."

Following up on this development, fellow indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie subsequently issued a companion statement, declaring "Let's nip this one in the bud right now and spare everyone the trouble of calling their lawyers, okay? Don't use our songs either."

Garage rock revivalists The Strokes, currently preparing to release their fourth studio album sometime after the inauguration ceremonies in 2009, also issued a statement indicating their back catalog was henceforth to be considered off-limits to the McCain campaign.

In response, the McCain team dispatched operatives to all forthcoming campaign stops to verify that all background music played during personal appearances by the candidate and his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin will consist exclusively of music by Ted Nugent, Pat Boone, John Rich, and "anyone else who didn't expressly and specifically tell us not to."

Senator McCain (pictured above with Senator Barack Obama during their debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on October 7, 2008) was unavailable for comment.

Update: And Bon Jovi.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

They got the guns but we got the numbers

Found on Gothamist, this map illustrates the sheer number of people living in each borough of New York City by comparison with an entire state of the U.S. of similar population size. For instance, the estimated population of Maine in the year 2007 was 1,317,207; the population of the Bronx the same year was 1,373,659. The above map uses estimates from 2006, but the principle is the same.

Actually, a couple of them now fall short: the entire population of Idaho in 2007 was 1,499,402 people while Manhattan alone had 1,620,867 residents. And New Mexico the same year was quite spacious with 1,969,915 citizens...while the borough of Queens was a little more, um, let's say neighborly at a population of 2,270,338.

And I can get to all these places by subway except for the island of Wyoming, but the ferry there is free.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

And we're out of beta, we're releasing on time

Teenagers From The Future, the anthology of essays about the Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Tim Callahan and published by Sequart Research and Literacy Organization, is now available from Amazon.

The book includes my essay "The Perfect Storm: The Death and Resurrection of Lightning Lad" about the early days of the Legion series. The particular storyline I examine is one of the first examples of a multi-issue "story arc" in superhero comics (I also mention a few precursors) as well as an early instance of the "death as a revolving door" motif which has since become a staple of comics as well as other serialized entertainment. All this and a tribute to the great Jerry Siegel, plus a comparison of the different working relationships he and his successor Edmond Hamilton had with their editor, the controversial Mort Weisinger. And even though that seems like it should be enough for one book, this particular volume comes with seventeen other essays at no additional cost, written, a bunch of other people who I'm sure have interesting things to say too. Whatever.

(I'm kidding, of course -- I've read this entire book several times in painstaking detail and I'm proud to be one small part of it. Also, this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and it means a lot to be able to participate in commemorating that.)

According to Tim, the book will also be available for order through the direct market in either the October or November Diamond Previews catalog. Tim isn't sure whether the book will still be available through Amazon after it appears in the Diamond catalog, so anyone who wants to be sure of getting a copy without actually going into a comics shop should probably order it now.

And that cover is amazingly cool, isn't it?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This post is inappropriate

This was my mother's actual response to news that the first day of the Republican Convention might be postponed or curtailed due to Hurricane Gustav:

"I just hope the men's restrooms in St. Paul are prepared for all those Republican delegates with nothing to do..."

See? Now you know where I got my crass sense of humor.

The whole thing is a blessing in disguise for the RNC. The last thing Republican strategists wanted at the convention was to have those high-profile appearances by Bush and Cheney -- reminding everyone yet again how closely tied McCain is to the staggeringly unpopular incumbent -- but there was no way to exclude them from appearing without it being noticed and remarked upon. Now those speeches can be cancelled altogether without it looking like a sign of embarassment.

Plus McCain and Palin now get an opportunity to rush to the Gulf Coast for a photo op that will make them look presidential. It's like McCain received a special blessing from above in return for picking a running mate so beloved by Christian conservatives.

On the other hand, Focus on the Family may not be able to savor this victory, as they'll be preoccupied with filing a breach of contract suit against the Almighty for utterly failing to live up to their demands. Whose side is that guy on, anyway?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Search for tomorrow

When I was seven years old, one of my most prized possessions was a book called The World of Tomorrow written by Kenneth K. Goldstein and published by McGraw-Hill. (Miraculously, I still own that book today, and it's still one of my most prized possessions.) As the title indicates, this was a book about the future, lavishly illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs of life in the year 2069.

You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent staring at those photos when I was seven. Well, actually, maybe you would. It was so authoritative: these were detailed photographs, not merely drawings created by some artist, so any reasonable person could only assume this was how the future was actually going to be. I tried to put myself into the world of those pictures to better understand how the future would feel to live in at ground level. What would it be like to walk down that street? What view would you see from that park? What sounds would you hear from the traffic of those automated cars zipping by on their grooved tracks? How would it feel to ride in one? Were those rosette-like buildings carousels or restaurants? Would it be strange to sleep in an underwater hotel?

Because of all those hours staring and contemplating, these images are still the indelible default setting for "the future" in my imagination. This is still the future cityscape I envision when reading a science fiction novel. It's the utopian future Earth of Star Trek; the three-dimensional version of what Curt Swan drew in old issues of Adventure Comics with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

It turns out the photos in The World of Tomorrow actually came from the Futurama II exhibit presented by General Motors at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the very building I wrote about in my previous post. (The original Futurama was presented by GM at the 1939 World's Fair.) Neither the corporate connection nor the association with the World's Fair were highlighted in any way by Goldstein or singled out in the acknowledgements. The book was published several years after the fair closed, in which time a lot had changed in America...and the surprisingly progressive, socially conscious, and environmentally enlightened text wasn't a commercial sop to the automaker. As a result, I went a decades not ever guessing the connection until I came across the familiar pictures by accident a couple of years ago while researching something else.

And now, because we live in the future -- where this home computer terminal I'm using at the moment is connected to a worldwide communications network -- I can share with you something I never dreamed existed: actual motion picture footage of that other future I kept trying to visit throughout my childhood.

Note: the above scans were found at, which offers a thorough guide to Futurama II among other attractions.

Monday, August 04, 2008

If you've only seen it once, you haven't seen it all

As a special treat for those who follow the exploits of the internationally famous super-scientist Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture and his clan, we present an actual photograph of their home and research headquarters, better known as the Venture Compound, circa 1964:

The above picture is the best quality photo I was able to find online after long hours of research. Because the flags and the throngs of tourists may obscure your view of the main building, we also offer an artist's conception depicting a wider angle, as seen in a postcard from the same era:

And this image from yet another angle clarifies the overall design of this impressive structure:

The unfamiliar corporate signage may seem puzzling, but this is easily explained. At the time these images were created, Dr. Jonas Venture leased his distinctive home and research center to the General Motors Corporation for use as their pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York. General Motors used the complex for their Futurama exhibit, in which visitors seated in moving armchairs glided past detailed scenes depicting urban life as it would be lived in the early 21st Century. Futurama proved to be the most popular attraction of the World's Fair: nearly twenty-six million people took the journey into the future during the Fair's two year run.

I've visited the fairgrounds at Flushing Meadows many times, but no trace of the Venture Compound remains. I assume that, having made a tidy profit on the temporary use of his abode, Jonas Venture removed it from the site after the Fair ended and returned it once more to the remote location where it stands to this day. Courtesy of a Mr. Jackson Publick, we conclude with this image of the Venture Compound as it appears today:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dark as his shadow

This kind of thing fascinates me:

First, Marc Tyler Nobleman -- whose book on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Boys of Steel, has just been published -- notes a significant, but totally expected and unsurprising, omission from the credits of a recent superhero movie, leading him to wonder about the origin of the phrase "the Dark Knight" before it appeared in Detective Comics #40 in a story written by Bill Finger in 1940.

Then, doing the literary legwork, J.L. Bell traces the coinage back to Irish gothic novelist Charles Robert Maturin in 1816.

What, you didn't think Frank Miller invented it, did you?

Found here. Both blogs are really excellent in general and, it should go without saying, well worth reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Temporally unavailable

I'm back but I'm not back. Or do I have that backwards? Maybe it's the other way around. I've concluded my annual retreat for another year and have returned to my usual surroundings to get caught up on work and e-mail but I'm not quite in a position to resume normal blogging activity just yet. Thanks in advance for your continued indulgence.

The title of this post is a phrase that seemed funny and apt when I first saw it just a couple of days ago. It was on a sign in a shop window announcing iPhones were out of stock at that location. Doesn't it seem like something out of Doctor Who? On checking Google, I've come across a lot of people using this phrase the same way. The funny thing is, even though the phrase is properly speaking a mistake, if it did exist it would probably mean more or less just what these people think it means. Unavailable in this time. If you come to this locus in spacetime seeking this item, you will not find it here and now. Adjust your temporal and spatial coordinates and try again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lightful dwellings

Photo ganked from Gothamist.

I was only peripherally aware of Buckminster Fuller for all these years, but in recent months I've become a bit of a fan and suddenly, as if in reply to my vague stirring of interest, he's everywhere. Really, don't you think it's time we gave the Dymaxion car another shot?

In a pleasing coincidence, a Fuller dome has been constructed near my home on the very week I'm heading off to visit another dome that has a special place in my heart. In other words, it's time once again for this blog to enter a state of hibernative naptosis while I go off to recover from the first half of this year. I will be travelling with geeks, but I won't be checking my e-mail often (if at all) or keeping up with my favorite blogs while I'm in retreat, so try not to ask me anything or say anything interesting while I'm gone.

I have some good stuff in mind for when I return so we'll see about that, eh?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

People we couldn't do without

Strangely enough, the vast majority of search engine traffic arriving at this blog comes from people searching on Google for the origin of the phrase "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt." For the benefit of anyone who arrives at this entry looking for the same information, those words are written on the tombstone of Billy Pilgrim in the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and they appear again on Stony Stevenson's tombstone in a television program called Between Time and Timbuktu which adapted scenarios taken from an assortment of Vonnegut's novels and short stories. As I describe it at the above-mentioned link, seeing that program at an impressionable age was a major formative influence on me.

I usually claim that my top search referral is "Kim Possible erotic fan fiction", but the truth is those hits take second place to the Vonnegut post. Given the choice, I'd much rather have a blog where people went looking for erotica about cartoon characters than one best known for eulogizing my childhood heroes and role models. Sadly, fate hasn't helped me much in that department.

When I was writing about Steve Gerber, I wish it had occurred to me to call him "the George Carlin of comics" because in some respects that's exactly what he was. (Fortunately the same comparison occurred to Jim McLauchlin of the HERO Initiative, so at least the world was not denied this insight due to my mental slowness.) Of course Gerber and Carlin and Vonnegut were radically different in a lot of ways -- perhaps more ways than they were similar -- but they occupied the same continuum of thought and embodied the same outlook. Devastatingly intelligent, viciously funny, outspokenly skeptical, fiercely enraged by stupidity and hypocrisy, able to see the humor in our vanity even as they watched the human race needlessly destroying itself. These are qualities I've always wanted to possess...especially that last one, because finding the humor in disaster is a necessary survival skill and it's getting harder and harder all the time. I listened to what all three of them said and read what they wrote and always hoped they'd give us still more clues on how to get by. And now these three of my lifelong icons are gone in the span of a little more than a year.

Oh, and one other: although I never met him, I had a tenuous family connection of a sort with Algis Budrys and was a huge fan of his work, especially the novels Who? (made into a very good movie with Elliot Gould and Joe Bova) and the astonishingly prescient yet criminally out-of-print Michaelmas. Carlin, Gerber, and Vonnegut all saw America from the inside; Budrys arrived in this country in 1936 as the five year old son of the ousted consul-general of Lithuania and he never forgot those inexplicable childhood glimpses of Nazi insanity that caused his family to flee their home.

In some ways the immigrant learns a new culture more thoroughly from the outside than the native ever knows it from inside. If you learn a second language, you may be more conscious of its formal rules of grammar and its odd linguistic quirks than you are of your first tongue; you might speak the language more correctly than a native because of all the things they can take for granted that you had to acquire through hard study. In most ways Budrys lived as the perfect assimilated American immigrant, but inside (he would later say) he never lost sight of the fact that friends and neighbors and community were essentially werewolves -- capable of transforming from kind, reasonable people to bloodthirsty monsters given the wrong impetus.

Now that makes two more people who were huge personal icons of mine gone away this year. If you'll excuse me being so self-centered about this, it does feel meaningful: as if something is being stripped away, as if the world is being diminished around us. More so than usual, I mean. And I had a brush with serious illness at the start of this year, and then my mother did, and then I nearly lost one of my best friends, and I did lose another who meant a lot to me. So I really don't want to write any more memorial posts. From now on, nobody I like die, okay?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In the news

N.Y. attorney general forces ISPs to curb USENET access

Verizon offers details of USENET deletion

Verizon blocks access to whole USENET hierarchy

You really have to admire the bravery of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for standing up to the all-powerful Usenet criminal cartel that no one else dares oppose. At last, thousands of innocent Verizon, Time Warner, and Sprint customers are spared exposure to the depraved rituals of newsgroups such as alt.adoption, alt.arts.ballet, alt.astronomy and so on and so forth, all the way down to those havens of twisted perversion that call themselves and alt.zen. Don't be fooled: obviously those are assumed names. While it may look on the surface as if these sickos are talking about astronomy or gardening or yoga, they're actually trading kiddie porn right under your nose. That's how deep this thing goes. Anything and everything you see is a secret code word that actually means "kiddie porn." Even this very paragraph might be full of sickening perverted filth and neither of us would ever know it!

Moving on...

I need someone to tell me this is a hoax. Hmm, the Telegraph, that's like a British version of the Onion, isn't it? It just does gag stories and satire that aren't meant to be taken as fact, right? Whew, that's a relief! Because this actually being true would have made me sick as a parrot. A dead parrot.

Also, I was literally three blocks away while this was happening, and I had no clue.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Seven songs

At the behest of sean, who bade me answer the following:
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

And my reply:

Feist, One Evening -- The tune from the iPod commercial that made her reputation in the States didn't grab me...but it led to her back catalogue getting more exposure here, and when I heard this it pleased me in all the ways the better-known song didn't. Enjoy the video directed by Leslie herself and costarring her fellow Nova Scotia music sensation Buck 65 here. (Edit: damn you anyway, sean, you know everything takes me longer because I'm so old! I was just getting to this!)

Broadcast, Come On Let's Go -- What if the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were taken over by the Lloigor from Zenith to become a pop group in Swinging London circa 1967 and wrote the missing love song from the soundtrack of Billion Dollar Brain? It would sound like this.

The Jigsaw Seen, Baby Elephant Walk -- You'll recall their gorgeous cover of the Scott Walker tune "30 Century Man" on the soundtrack of Bender's Big Score. This is another track from the same album, Songs Mama Used To Sing. (The album also includes a peppy version of "Tattoo" by the Oo.) Video here.

Donovan, Barabajagal -- Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Ron Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Micky Waller (who just passed away a few months ago) on drums. Wikipedia claims no less than Robert Plant also helped on backing vocals, but I'm not sure about that. People might think of Donovan as the folkie tunesmith with the Dylan cap who introduced the Beatles to the Maharishi, but he's also the guy who recorded songs like this and did backing vocals for Alice Cooper a bit later. Set to images here.

Spanky and Our Gang, Like To Get To Know You -- Looks like I've fallen into a 1967 groove here. This may seem very much of its time to modern ears, from the days of The Mamas and the Papas and the 5th Dimension, but the truth is this was pretty unconventional even then. Check out this vintage performance clip from the Smothers Comedy Brothers Hour.

Rench presents Gangstagrass, Pistol Packin -- Speaking of crossing genres! I've been waiting years for someone to do this, but I didn't expect it to be so awesome. Listen to this and three other tracks here or download the whole album for free here.

John Cage, 4'33" -- Free download here.

I just don't feel like tagging anyone, but consider yourself tagged if you wish to be and haven't been tagged by someone else.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The road to oranges and lemons

While promoting one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands, said favorite band (XTC) demonstrates their willingness to commit career suicide and gives new meaning to the act of burning one's bridges while still crossing them. In other words, it's brilliant. For some reason it also puts me in mind of Joel Hodgson...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Who's blogging now

And doing a good job of it too? Gerry Conway.

No, not the drummer from Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and Fairport Convention. This one is the former EIC of Marvel Comics and onetime writer of Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Justice League of America, Batman and Legion of Super-Heroes and apparently several hundred other comics I bought and read during the 1970s. Creator of Firestorm and Ms. Marvel. Author of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. The guy who killed Gwen Stacy. Also he's written some things for television. That Gerry Conway.

One of the strange benefits of the interwebs and this blogging stuff in particular has been encountering people who loomed large in my personal mythology many years -- decades! -- ago, and seeing them now in an entirely different light as regular folks instead of impossibly distant icons of comicdom. It's happened to me a number of times now and it never gets less strange. This particular guy was a major figure in my past, especially during the time he returned to DC Comics as a writer/editor and spawned new characters and series like mad, in what seemed at the time like a bid to make him the next Stan Lee. It didn't quite work out that way, but he was a huge part of the comics conversation of the era. Now, far removed from the hype of those days, he turns out to be a thoughtful and lucid commentator.

Well, unless this is another one of those Fake Stan Lee deals. In which case I look pretty stupid now.

Anyway, check his blog out.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

No point at all

From the evidence of Final Crisis #1, it seems Grant Morrison doesn't know what a Lagrange point is.

Lagrange points (or libration points) are areas formed by the orbit of one body around another, positions in which gravitational forces are balanced so that things put at those points tend to stay there, relative to the other bodies of the orbital system. A celestial body by itself doesn't have "a Lagrange point" as such; you need two bodies in an orbital relationship. There isn't one Lagrange point in such an orbital system but five of them, all moving with the orbiting body in fixed relationships. This diagram should make it clearer than words alone could do:

The two bodies shown above could be the Sun and the Earth, or the Earth and the Moon. The Sun–Earth L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Earth as it orbits the Sun; the Earth–Moon L4 and L5 points lie 60° ahead of and behind the Moon as it orbits the Earth. Because things put in libration points tend to stay in those positions relative to their bigger neighbors, they've been considered as potentially useful places to put space stations or other orbiting hardware. As it is, they tend to collect interplanetary dust.

Morrison seems to get that "Lagrange point" has some relationship with a planet's gravitational field, but the term doesn't quite make sense the way he uses it here. (He might instead have used a term like "the Lagrangian zone" to indicate "a spherical zone as far away from the planet as its Lagrangian points" or "out to the Trojan points" which is a more colloquial term for the L4 and L5 points.) The subsequent lines about "no one must enter or leave the gravity well" and "dust for radiation prints" are equally senseless for different reasons, except to reinforce the conceit of this being a cosmic police procedural, and to tip us off that none of this should be taken seriously.

It disappoints me when a writer I otherwise admire immensely devotes time and attention to promoting crackpot pseudoscientific drivel, Whitley Strieber UFO abduction books, and supposed Mayan astrological forecasts while not knowing real scientific concepts and terms. It's okay for him to throw in a misused word just because it sounds sciencetastic. After all, who would know what a scienceish word actually means? Unless you were a practitioner of scienceism or something.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Whirling transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention

I have no personal anecdotes or strange associations to relate, nothing special to say here. It's just that Blazing Saddles has always been of nearly religious significance in my family -- no, screw that, it was totally religious for us, no "nearly" about it, that movie is what my family followed instead of deity or church or religion. So the passing of another of its stars is something I must acknowledge with considerable regret and reluctance.

Even when Harvey Korman wasn't the actor doing the "funny" thing in a scene, he's still the center of attention, but without upstaging any of the other performers. See for instance here, but it's the case all throughout Blazing Saddles -- even when he's performing with Mel Brooks. The people around Hedley Lamarr are all insane, but it's his withering glare and icy putdowns that get the laughs. I don't know anything about acting, but it seems like he was was genuinely paying attention to the others in the scene with him, responding to them and not just waiting for his next funny line, and that's why those scenes work so well. In this film Korman pulled off one of the best comedic performances recorded on film, and I hope he's remembered for that (and a few dozen other times he did the same) instead of only as the guy who kept cracking up at Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show. That always bugged the hell out of me.

And I may be the only person who feels this way, but I'm also inordinately fond of his performance as Colonel Slaghoople in Viva Rock Vegas -- the second and infinitely superior live-action Flintstones movie -- a minor yet warmhearted role in which he gets a comedic bit that may be silly and completely throwaway but never fails to crack me up because of his perfect off-the-cuff delivery.

Also, he once performed a touching romantic scene with Bea Arthur.

Monday, May 26, 2008

War is a racket

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 34 years. Butler served during the Boxer Rebellion and saw action in Honduras, Nicaragua, Veracruz, commanded a base in France during the First World War, and led the Marine Expeditionary Force in China during the late Twenties.

On his death in 1940, Major General Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He was one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor (since Butler's death, no one has received more than one Medal of Honor) and one of only three to be awarded both a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person ever to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.

After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1931, Smedley Butler went on a national speaking tour. His standard speech was so well received that he prepared a longer version to be published as a small book in 1935. It also appeared as a condensed book in Reader's Digest. Here's the opening page of that book:

The text of War Is A Racket can be found here among several other places online.

Major General Butler was no misfit or wild-eyed radical, and his name is still honored by the U.S. Marine Corps to this day. The Marine Corps base in Okinawa is named after him. We can only speculate what his view of the Second World War might have been, because he died before America became involved. We know Butler was no admirer of Hitler or Mussolini, and he was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt. We can very easily guess what Major General Butler would make of the world now.

On a day like today, when Americans like to repeat comforting phrases about soldiers and the sacrifices they made, it's worth remembering that this man -- who clearly knew the business of war as well as any man of his time but held no illusions about what he had done and what it all meant -- turned around and said in no uncertain terms: to hell with War.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In honor of Mother's Day

On this special day we salute the world's most huggable industrialist. Tender as corned beef and warm as pastrami, her fondest ambitions are to see her enemies eaten by scorpions and to become Supreme Overlord of Earth. Whether making her robot oil with 10% more love than the next leading brand or rushing off to some charity BS for knocked-up teenaged sluts, Mom is one clever old skank. And don't you forget it!

Of course we all know and love Mom from her many heartwarming appearances on the television series Futurama but even her most devoted fans may not realize Mom has continued to enjoy a thriving career on television in the present day. Here's one interview she granted to a local affiliate back in December of last year, displaying all the folksy homespun charm and compassion she's always demonstrated as the head of Momcorp:

When asked for further comment, Mom replied "You call that a pressed ham? What is this moose drip? I'm sick of hearing about those turtle squirts! Jam a bastard in it, you crap! Shut your filthy trap!"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I am a clown, yet I am filled with indifference

For those of you who weren't fortunate enough to score a copy of Bongo Comics Free for All on Free Comic Book Day, nor saw this story when it appeared previously some time ago, enjoy The Simpsons manga courtesy of Chuck Dixon and the astoundingly wonderful Nina Matsumoto. There isn't a panel of this that isn't packed with awesome.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A losing play

My daydream goes something like this:

(RAB enters a tavern located somewhere in another state. Spying a patron not otherwise involved in activity or conversation, he approaches and doffs his hat.)

Me: Good day to you, sir. I am an avid supporter of a sporting team not local to this region and which has frequently competed against your own favored team.

Other person: Based on this statement, I assume that you may be a visitor to this area. If so, welcome to our community, my good fellow.

Me: My thanks. It is a lovely community and does yourself and your neighbors much credit. You know, I am firmly of the opinion that in their next encounter on the playing field, my preferred sporting team will best your preferred sporting team and emerge with the winning score.

Other person: Well, such an outcome is entirely possible. After all, both teams are composed of talented and dilligent players who will have trained extensively for the encounter...and of course one must never entirely discount the role of luck in determining the outcome of a given competition. However, bearing in mind these reservations, I remain of the opinion that in the event my own favored team will triumph, owing to their demonstrable skill and fortitude.

Me: A reasonable position. Watching their next encounter on the playing field shall be all the more enjoyable for me now. Should my expectations be vindicated, I shall enjoy the satisfaction of having correctly predicted the outcome of the game. On the other hand, should your prediction come to pass and your team achieves victory rather than mine, I will at least be able to take vicarious pleasure in the thought of you enjoying this vindication as I would have done.

Other person: So it would be safe to say there will be reward in the sporting event for both of us no matter what the outcome. I will enjoy my role as spectator even more for knowing this.

Me: As will I. Let us purchase and enjoy beverages together at this tavern in commemoration of our mutual respect in this matter.

Other person: Yes, let us.

(all exeunt)

That's my daydream. This isn't.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

III. Conclusion

In which you will kindly recall that you asked me to write a convention recap. Well, at least one of you did. Don't blame me that it turned into another three-part epic no one is reading apart from my mother, and then only if there's nothing good on television tonight.

On Saturday evening, Lisa Hoppe and I attended the ReBoot panel (video here and doesn't it make my life easier not to have to recap all these panels when you can watch them for yourself) featuring series cocreator Gavin Blair and onetime producer Dan DiDio. This panel was for me what conventions are for. Not shilling things, not hype and press events and publicity for your big budget film, but seeing folks who are delighted to talk about something they had fun creating, and who are equally delighted to see how many people responded to it.

Dan DiDio in particular was a surprise. My close personal friend Gavin Blair -- by which I mean he once shook my hand and he signed my booklet, which is more than many of my so-called real life friends can say -- remarked afterward that comics people only get to see DiDio trying to promote the latest DC event under the scrutiny of his corporate employers, but the Dan DiDio he knows as friend and colleague is a completely different person. There was nothing to hype here, just a couple of guys reminiscing about this really cool thing they did a few years back...and it was obvious DiDio was having the time of his life telling those stories. If someone attended this panel without ever having seen or heard of ReBoot, that person would have left wanting to see the entire series right away, simply because Blair and DDio made their experiences working on it sound like so much fun.

That night saw a big dinner with the TwoMorrows/Kirby Museum crowd and Jack Kirby Collector contributor Mike Gartland, plus some sort of Philly art mafia consisting of Mike Manley, Jamar Nicholas, and Scott Cohn. Believe me, I am as shocked as you are that I got to sit with those guys. Have you seen their artwork? Go look: it's awesome. My presence there was solely because none of them knew me and generously assumed I had some right to be in their company. If only they knew.

Moving along to the last day of the convention, a few highlights...

Waiting for the Kirby: King of Comics panel to start, I ran into my actual real world friend Jeff Brady as well as JKC contributor and all-around swell guy Adam McGovern. They probably regretted sitting next to me when I heckled Mark Evanier about feral cats in his backyard. Also in attendance were several major participants in Kirby fandom, such as Harry Mendryk (whose own convention recap is much more informative than mine and has cool photos, so I encourage you all to check it out) and the shockingly erudite Atlas historian Michael Vassalo.

Sometime after the panel, I heard of one attendee grumbling that it had focused too much on the entire careers of guests Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers and gave insufficient attention to Kirby. This strikes me as doubly mistaken. First, both offered a lot of praise for Jack and discussed the work they did embellishing his pencils, how they approached it and what it was like to work with him. Sinnott was particularly effusive in his love for Kirby; Ayers is less outspoken about it but the respect and warmth are there as well. More importantly -- look, I'm the big Kirby fanatic, right? Write a book about the guy, have a panel in his honor, mention his name in passing and I'm right there, as most bloggers learn all too quickly. But Sinnott and Ayers are still with us, their careers are worthy of attention, and I'd rather give them a standing ovation with both in front of us to enjoy it than only offering them praise at yet another memorial service.

I'm proud to be one of many at the con who personally congratulated Laura Hudson on her success at irritating those jerkwads at Virgin Comics. You can tell the worth of any journalist by the caliber of person she offends. To be called an "evil writer" can only be considered praise...because anyone who uses the phrase "evil writer" as a pejorative richly deserves offense. I told Laura to bear in mind the example of investigative reporter Wayne Barrett: on hearing former New York Senator Al D'Amato violently disparage him on television as a scandalmonger, a gutter journalist and worthless hack, Barrett beamed and declared it "better than winning a Pulitzer."

I was also glad to hook up my close personal friend George Khoury with a cheap source of Tom Strong action figure sets. A dealer was selling these at such a steep discount that having bought one I felt obliged to buy a bunch of other action figures from him simply to ease my feeling that I was taking unfair advantage. Yesterday at St. Marks Comics I saw the exact same set going for $44.99. I should have bought out the guy's whole stock. Around this same time, George and I got into a conversation with Erik Larsen about the original Fawcett version of Captain Marvel as compared with more recent interpretations, another of my favorite hobby horses. Okay, now I really am just dropping names...but Larsen is getting a lot of Gerber and Kirby work back into print as well as many other good comics, so if there's kissing up to be done I for one don't mind getting in that line.

As the convention wound down, I hung out for a while in Artists Alley with Richard Howell and his Claypool cohort Jesse Reyes, where my fatigued rambling was tolerated with characteristic graciousness by the always charming and civilized Carolyn Kelly. Carolyn was mercifully spared further babbling from me, however, when I went off to help John and Rand and Lisa pack up the TwoMorrows display before we all got hustled out by the Javits Center maintenance crew. When one of these shows ends they waste no time in letting you know you aren't welcome anymore. After loading up the van, a bunch of us went to dinner just off Times Square, and another convention weekend was over.

I feel as if the preceding entries have been just a big list of names, but that's what the whole convention experience is about for me. I don't go to buy stuff or see a lot of panels but rather to see people, so that's what I've recorded here. Although they were also at the con, I totally missed connecting with Sean Witzke and Jog and Neilalien and the returning favorite Redhead Fangirl. Dammit! There's always something you didn't manage to do.

II. Consolation

In which the author is moved to contemplate human mortality.

The Steve Gerber memorial panel on Saturday is covered extensively here and here sparing any need for yet another recap. From the world of comics there was Mark Evanier, Gail Simone, Paul Levitz, Buzz Dixon, Marty Pasko (who delivered the single funniest line of the event), and Hildy Mesnik (a coworker with Steve at Sunbow Productions on the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons), as well as Steve's brother Michael Gerber and Steve's daughter Samantha, and finally (and most surprisingly) Steve's writing collaborator on Omega the Unknown and Hard Time Mary Skrenes, not known for attending conventions or interacting with fans. After the memorial, I had a brief chat with the charming Hildy Mesnik, who was also an editor at Marvel in the early Nineties, and with Len Wein, who seems not to have aged even slightly in the nearly twenty years since I last saw him at a convention.

The Legion of Super-Heroes panel in honor of their fiftieth anniversary -- that really just does not sound right, no matter how technically accurate it may be -- is discussed here, including a link to a full podcast so you can hear the whole thing for yourself. As moderator, Peter Sanderson left me uncertain as to whether or not he's actually ever read a Legion comic...but Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen were both lively and entertaining nonetheless, while current series editor Mike Marts was a bit more reserved and was disinclined to reveal anything about the future of the series other than stating that Jim Shooter was sticking around for the long haul. It would have been a much more lively and possibly contentious panel if Shooter himself had been present, but he skipped the con altogether for reasons as yet undisclosed...

Paul jolted me a little by naming a couple of my old friends from Legion fandom back in the Seventies as two people he particularly enjoyed hearing from; he also gave a namecheck to the original founders of the old Legion Fan Club in the letters pages of Superboy way back when. This combined with the reminiscences of the Gerber memorial panel contributed to a feeling of creeping nostalgia...or if not nostalgia per se, at least a sense of passing time. Like revisiting your old grade school or seeing the summer house where you spent your vacations decades later, it's not a desire to be young again -- who'd want that? -- but a feeling that being so far away from your past makes you somehow bigger. Your life occupies a bigger volume in spacetime than it used to. The years seem shorter because each year represents an increasingly smaller percentage of your total lifespan to date than they did when you were twelve.

I'd been looking forward to the Grant Morrison spotlight...but I ducked out of the packed hall shortly after the deliberately over-the-top and very entertaining intro was screened. The truth is, after the Gerber panel it just didn't sit right. Morrison made a concerted effort -- as he says in so many words; see the above-linked video -- to become a rock star of comics, a pop culture icon and media celebrity, to create this aura of glamour around himself previously unknown to comic book writers. (Neil Gaiman, his only rival in this achievement, is a special case.) He set out to do this and succeeded admirably and of course it's a sound decision in terms of his career. But at that particular moment, I didn't feel any pressing need to be in that audience.

Coming out of the panel I headed for the convention center cafeteria on the lower level, where someone unexpectedly called my name. It was Jon Browne, proprietor of They Walk Among Us, an outstanding comics shop in the London borough of Richmond for the past 18 years. I've often held up TWAU as the perfect example of a comics retailer who gets it right -- by presenting a welcoming and friendly environment, by diversifying stock to include a wide variety of toys and games and memorabilia, and mainly (as Jon is quick to point out) by an iron-jawed tenacity in sticking it out through lean times. I'd encourage any retailer to follow their lead, but I suspect the main lesson they'd have to offer is "work harder!"

We discussed the recent death of Steve Whitaker, who introduced me to Jon and his wife shortly after the store opened. Like me, Jon had also fallen out of touch with Whitko, in their case when the latter moved away from London...and had only just reestablished contact with him online a mere six days before he died. We also talked about happier things, like how the shop is doing and a number of celebrity customers who shop there.

After a while it was time to get in line for the Venture Bros panel, so I made my farewell to Jon and went off in that general direction. Last year the VB panel was one of the highlights of the weekend, but a line had started forming an hour before it began...and it had received a lot of publicity and was sure to be even more crowded this year. I'd been telling people that turning up more than an hour in advance was not uncalled for and I was all set to heed my own advice -- but. En route I ran into one Roz Kaveney, who at one time many years ago was very nearly my editor when I was very nearly a writer. She invited me to join herself and a friend for coffee, so I found myself heading straight back to the cafeteria. From now on, if anyone ever says "but you've never bought coffee for a transgendered former civil servant who works in British non-governmental organisations and writes scholarly tomes on teen movies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I'll be able to say "don't be silly, of course I have."

This was definitely worth being late to the line for the Venture Bros panel...but it had ceased to be any sort of line and was instead a confused heaving mass. Way more people had turned up than the hall outside the panel rooms could contain, and it tested the convention staffers on their crowd control abilities. They handled the situation smartly, moving the panel to another room three times the size of the room it was scheduled in -- even then, it was standing room only once more -- and everything got under way peacefully if twenty minutes late. A good recap of the panel can be found here (along with coverage of the Battlestar Galactica and Moonlight panels if those are your cup of coffee as well).

Something I haven't seen get quite the coverage it deserves. According to my close personal friend Lance Festerman -- that is to say, I spoke to him once for about two minutes, but I think there was a real bond formed between us and I'm sure we could totally hang out together and talk about stuff -- who was running the convention for the first time this year, NYCC had 15,000 more attendees this year over the previous year. I'll assume that's accurate pending evidence to the contrary. Yet we saw little of the traffic congestion and overcrowding of the past two years...partly because of the increased space available, but also partly due to better coordination and planning. The Venture Bros-related pileup was the only major issue I witnessed, and it was cleared up pretty quickly. I know a few people who swore off attending after last year, but this time was a lot more comfortable.

And next year I'm not going to commit to doing one of these goddamn post-con writeups no matter how much you beg me. Next: Lo, there shall come an ending!