Tuesday, July 31, 2012

U.S. Men's Water Polo, Today at 2:40 pm

It's Tuesday, which means today's the day that I normally put out a new piece of my ongoing prose "webcomic" series Centurion Six.  Well, the good news is that I started working on Centurion Six again yesterday.  But the bad news is that I've not gotten far enough along to actually have anything to show you yet.  So look for an update next week, okay?

In the meantime, if you missed the U.S. Men's Water Polo team in their opening match at the Olympics, you missed a pretty good match.  You can see highlights here.  The team's next match is today at 2:40 pm EST, and I hope like heck that I have a chance to catch at least some of it--if not today then tonight.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting Back in the Saddle: Recovering from an Athletic Layoff

Alright, so the crisis at work is over, and as it happens, the summer isn't.  In Connecticut, we've got maybe a month and a half of weather that's good enough for open water swimming and probably a bit more than three months of weather during which we can do road races, either riding or running.  That said, the crisis at work was ill-timed.  I've been on the shelf for about five weeks, and in that time I've lost muscle mass and put on weight.  I went into the crisis weighing 192 lbs.  After spin class this morning, I weighed 196.  Considering the lost muscle mass and aerobic fitness involved in a prolonged mid-season layoff, I'm gonna guess that I'm carrying between eight and ten pounds more fat than I was six weeks ago.  On top of that, I had to put in seven all-nighters at work over the course of a crisis that lasted not quite four weeks.  So not only am I heavier and slower than I was, I'm also chronically behind on sleep.  That's a substantial issue all by itself, and it helps explain how I managed to put on so much weight so quickly.

Bad Sleep + Bad Food + No Exercise = Fat!

Sleep is an important but under-appreciated
aspect of fitness. 
Unfortunately, that equation describes the lifestyles of most Americans, and that in turn explains why we are so fat as a nation.  I mean, the bad food and no exercise are obvious problems, but the lack of sleep is one that I think a lot of folks underestimate.  Why?  Because it's hard to find the motivation to exercise when you're exhausted, and it's impossible to recover adequately from whatever exercise you do get if you're not sleeping enough.  For me, I'm now in the unenviable position of needing to recover from chronic fatigue at the same time that I'm trying to rebuild my fitness base.  Bottom line, that's gonna be tough slog.

With that said, this is hardly the first time I've had to rebuild my fitness level from a sub-prime base.  The first time was my senior year at West Point.  I got mono at the end of the summer before my senior year and wound up trying to swim through it for the first half of the college swimming season.  In a few short weeks, I went from being Army's #1 butterflier to being a guy who was lucky just to get third at my last Army-Navy meet.  I was lucky, though, because my case was a mild one, and by the time we took our team training trip over Christmas break that year, I was able to train at full speed.  I finished that season reasonably strong, winning either the 100 or 200 butterfly at the Patriot League Championships (I honestly don't remember which it was) and finishing 8th at the ECAC Championships in the 200 fly.  Still, rebuilding like that was not easy.  In fact, the experience left a bad enough taste in my mouth that when it was over, I took the next fifteen years off from competition.

And that was only the first time I had to rebuild.  There was also the time I had a heat stroke.  And the year I left the Army, when I got up to 235 lbs!  And the two years after we first had our kids.  Also, I broke my scaphoid in a biking accident one time.  And I got pneumonia from over-training a few years ago.

My point is, this crap happens.  We try to train hard, but we also have to train smart, and then too, sometimes life gets in the way.  Shit happens, and we're left to pick up the pieces.  That's part of the challenge, part of what makes being a competitive amateur triathlete so challenging--and ultimately so rewarding when all goes well.

Personally, I think the key to coming back from a layoff is being patient.  You have to take it slow and easy until your body tells you that it's ready to do more.  For me, that's probably going to be about two or three weeks from now.  Until then, there's no point in getting impatient.  I just have to build strength and fitness as best I can and wait for my body to start responding the way that it's supposed to.

I felt yesterday on my bike the way I've felt in the water ever since I quit swimming seriously way back in the day.  I could feel that my body knew what it wanted to do in the saddle, but I just didn't have the strength and the power to actually do it.  So I was sitting there, just kind of hanging out because every time I tried to do more, my breathing and heart rate got completely out of hand.  And yet, even with that I can still acknowledge that it was nice to be out there.  I enjoyed riding.  That's something, at least.

My foldie is a Dahon Speed P8.  Mine's red.
If you're wondering, my strategy going forward is similar to my off-season strategy.  Sally encouraged me to sign up for the Westport Kiwanus Triathlon, but given that there's not that much time left in the season, I think it might be asking a little much to try to train all three disciplines between now and then.  The Westport Tri is a short race, and it's in five weeks.  I might be able to rebuild my base in all three disciplines in that time, but I doubt that I'll be able to do that and go fast.  And with a race that short, speed is what's needed, not just base training.

Instead, I think I'm gonna focus on just one sport--cycling--and try to build my strength through weight training.  That's kind of what I do every offseason, save that last offseason I focused on running.  This season, that's not my plan.  Anyway, depending on on how I feel in a few weeks, I might sign up for a late season race.  Right now I'm looking at either the Simply Du It Duathlon in Ridgefield, CT, in late September or maybe just a late-season NYC bike race.  In any event, I'm hoping to get in at least one long ride per week along with a session of spin class at my gym once per week--because at this point, I think I need the uptempo work that spin classes provide--and at least two sessions of weights per week.  I'm also gonna try to run twice per week, but those will be auxiliary sessions, not primaries.  I'll use them more to balance my other training and hold form rather than to build real speed.  If I can then get my folding bike out of the shop and re-start my daily commute ride, I think I'll be in good shape.  Unfortunately, I blew out my rear rim last month, and since then Dahon has gone on vacation, leaving my new rim on back-order.  That's gonna leave me scrambling a bit for mileage, but what can you do?  As I said, sometimes life gets in the way.

Anyway, that's my plan.  What'd'you think?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 13)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai: Page 13.
Click here to see the page at full size.
Surprised that there's a giant monster?  Don't be.  This is a (faux) Japanese comic.  I had to put a giant monster in there.

As always, to read the story from the beginning, you can use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

That Road Race Sucked

Did you see the Olympic Road Race. Ugh. Highly disappointing.

Your winner, Kazakhstan's Alexander Vinokurov.  Ugh.
First off, let's say you're Team GB.   You've got only five guys, but one is the best sprinter in the world and another is the best time trialist. Plus you've got Chris Froome, who was freakin' dominant at the TdF. So why the Hell do you let 32 guys get away in the last 25 miles?  I mean, a breakaway sure, but 32 men? Ugh. Even Bradley Wiggins isn't gonna be able to chase that many dudes down, especially when it's Teejay VanGarderan who's setting the pace for the break group. When Wiggins popped, it was all over for the peloton, and they knew it.  Bottom line, they should've chased earlier... which was kind of the story of the race.

American Taylor Phinney.  He needs to learn to
chase all attacks with less than 10 km to go.
For the Americans... First off, they were never favorites. But they had two really good riders in the break, and once we'd established that the break was gonna stay away, frankly they were in good shape. But then Fabian Cancellara crashes with maybe seven miles to go, and the. Teejay popped after having pulled the break for most of the day, and suddenly we're left with Taylor Phinney, Vino, EBH, and a bunch of Spaniards and Columbians. So with 1.5 km to go, one of the Columbians attacks, Vino follows, and Phinney--who'd just taken a pull at the front of the break--decides to pull off and let someone else chase. Only no one else chases, and Vino gets away. With 5 km to go!

By 2 km, Phinney is visibly frantic, looking for a wheel to ride back into contention, but by then it's too late. Predictably, Vino bamboozles his break-mate with a half a klick to go, taking gold. Uran, a previously anonymous Columbian takes silver, and EBH beats Pinney to the line to take Bronze.  Phinney gets fourth... and four full years to contemplate why he didn't chase that one last late attack.

That's not the storyline we were looking for, folks.

Saturday Hair Metal: Too Close by Alex Clare (Acoustic)

Yes, this is the song from the IE9 commercial.  I heard this a lot on the radio last week, and I really dug it.  This particular version is acoustic.

It's awesome, of course.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The End of the Crisis

After almost four weeks, the crisis at work is over, and my life is at last returning to normal.  All things considered, things went well for me, personally.  It's been awhile since I've gotten to lead guys in the field, but I got to do that these past few weeks, and that's been nice.  Not that every minute of every day was awesome because that definitely wasn't the case, but overall I had good guys, and I was lucky to have them. Plus it was good to be out there, doing my thing and feeling like I was contributing to the overall health of my employer.  All things considered, I enjoy doing electric construction work more than I ever enjoyed working as an officer in the Army.  There's something about building something; planning how it's going to get built, watching it go up, and then leaving it behind to serve the people of your community after you're gone.  I really like that.

Anyway, my guys gave me a parting gift last night, and as you can see, I put it to good use when I got home this afternoon.  In fact, I even took half a day off with the specific idea of using it for its intended purpose.

Nice, huh?
* * * 
I'm gonna keep this short today, but I will note that the Olympics started this week.  The opening ceremonies are tonight, but soccer games and some of the other tournament-type competitions have already started, and I'm diggin' it.  

The once-and-future champion:
Mark Cavendish
Cycling starts tomorrow at 5:00 am, and the World Champion Mark Cavendish is heavily favored to win gold in the road race.  That's because the whole country of Great Britain barely has any categorized climbs, which means that the road race event is almost certain to finish as a bunch sprint, and with Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins there to lead him out, Cavendish has every advantage.  Plus, well, he's already far and away the greatest sprinter of his generation.  Anyway, the race is scheduled to last until 11:00, so even if you miss the beginning, you should be able to catch the finish.

There's also some swimming tomorrow, but I'm not gonna watch that.  I may, however, try to catch the USA Women's soccer team playing Columbia at 11:50 am via the online stream.  And then there's some women's volleyball in the afternoon, also online.  Not sure I'm gonna watch that, either, but it's cool that it's available.

* * *
Finally this week, Facebook dropped to a new low after exceeding analysts' earnings expectations.  Weird, right?  What happened is that their marketing costs went WAY up, so that although total earnings went up, net income actually fell, and well... Facebook was over-priced from jump.  

Bottom line, I think Facebook is gonna be a stock price loser until they field their new phone.  If it's awesome, then watch out!  Otherwise, they might struggle for awhile.

* * *
So that's all I got.  Anybody got anything good goin' on?  Tell me what's up, yo.

Friday Hair Metal: Ball and Chain


Harpoon Rye IPA

Sally bought me a six-pack last weekend.  I quite like it.  It's lighter than most IPAs and not as overwhelming with the hops as a lot of these beers have been becoming lately.  Still flavorful, though.  Not as distinct in the Rye characteristics as Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, but that makes it maybe a bit more approachable.

This is a very drinkable beer.

If you don't trust me, here's what Beer Advocate says.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday Mad Science: Still Sleepy

I'm still working six days a week, twelve-pus hours per day, and at this point, I'm getting sleepy.  The good news is that I finally got a chance to see The Amazing Spider-Man with my girls earlier in the week--I had a day off after working all night one night this week--and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  I mean, I can see why a lot of reviewers called the movie "good but unnecessary".  They re-tell the origin story of a hero who is, at this point, familiar to virtually everyone.  On the other hand, a goodly bit of the re-telling is an improvement.  The scene where Uncle Ben dies is probably the strongest scene in the movie, and then too, as many others have noted, the on-screen romance in the new movie is better than anything that's in the original trilogy.

Dan Slott saved us from bad Spidey stories
with "Brand New Day", his first arc as the writer
of Amazing Spider-Man.
I saw where one reviewers noted that the Spider-Man movie that she wanted to see was one in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane had gotten married, settled down, and were trying to raise a family in New York while he keeps working and being Spider-Man.  For what it's worth, that's the Spider-Man movie that I personally would like to see as well.  That, to me, was the best part of J. Michael Straczynski's run as the writer of ASM the comic.  He spent a Hell of a lot of time exploring that marriage, mining its potential and its problems, and I liked a goodly bit of that.  'Course, he then had to undo virtually his entire run with the "One More Day" storyarc, but I'm convinced that that's Bendis's fault more than it's Stracynski's or even Marvel editorial's.

Anyway, I'm not sure what's next for Spider-Man in the movies, but I'm down for some more of what we got in this latest movie.  I liked it quite a lot.

* * *
The San Diego Comic Con took place over the last week or so, and during the show, Marvel announced that they're gonna make a new Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  Which is weird if you ask me.  I mean, I'm a pretty big nerd, and even I've never been a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, so...  these guys are gonna successfully carry a major movie?

Well.  I suppose anything is possible.

Anyway, I downloaded a bunch of the newest Guardians series to my phone this week and read a goodly bit of it in the odd moments out on the road.  And I liked it.  It was really, really cool.  There aren't enough sci fi comics out there, but Guardians is a good one, and it's decidedly weird, and that's awesome.  But I'm still not convinced that this is a franchise that can carry a movie successfully, especially since the Guardians haven't even successfully carried their own series in recent years.  The latest series was cancelled last year, presumably due to low sales.

That said, I think it's safe to say that I'm looking forward to seeing the new movie.  I just hope it's as awesome as the now cancelled comic proved to be.

* * *
Col. Carol Danvers is the new
Captain Marvel.
Still on comics, the new Captain Marvel #1 came out this week.  Emma and I both liked it, but it was really more of a set-up issue than the beginning of an actual story.  Still, it was cool, and the art was good but a little rougher than I'd have thought considering the polish of that first cover.  But very nice.

For what it's worth, I like the new costume, but it does make Ms. Danvers a bit bootylicious.  I mean, baby got back, you know what I'm sayin'?  There are spots in this issue where she's almost ghetto-fabulous.  That is nevertheless quite an improvement over the old costume.

* * *
Finally, I got out on my bike Saturday for about 45-minutes.  That's about all I had time for, but it was nice.

If you're wondering, I meant to get this particular piece out on Saturday, but it just didn't happen.  So I'm writing it Sunday night for Monday.  

Have I mentioned that I'm ready to get my life back?  The money's good, but at this point, it's a LOT of work.  But I suppose I shouldn't complain.  Least I have a job, and it pays the bills.  It could be a Hell of a lot worse.

Hope you have a great week.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 12)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai: Page 11.
Click here to see the page at full size.
As always, to read the story from the beginning, you can use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Hair Metal: Photograph

Here's the perfect Friday Hair Metal video.  The song is one of my wife's favorites, and the video features a beautiful half-nekkid woman.  Hurrah!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

New TMNT This Fall

I had no idea that there was a new TMNT series coming out.  This one looks pretty good.

BTW, there's a little more coverage on Major Spoilers if you're interested.  The clip they've got is a pretty good one.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 11)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai: Page 11.
Click here to see the page at full size.
As always, to read the story from the beginning, you can use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Mad Science: Finally, A Day Off!

It's Saturday, and for once, I actually have the day off.  Thank God!  I am exhausted.  I don't want to get too much into this, but I will say that I'll be happy when the crisis ends, and peace is restored.  I mean, the crisis has been profitable for me personally, but at this point, I miss my bike and my regular schedule.

Eh.  What are you gonna do?

So.  Right now it's a big time of the year for Danno's Lair.  Not only is it the middle of the Tour de France, it's also the San Diego Comic Con.

I've been enjoying the Tour.  Granted, it's not all that easy to follow it on my phone from various spots in and around where I'm working, but still... so far, so good.  The battle for the Yellow Jersey is sort of subdued in that British time trial specialist Bradley Wiggins has a commanding lead on all of his rivals, but some of the other stories of the Tour have been riveting.  In particular, I've been rooting for BMC's Teejay Van Garderen as he battles for the White Jersey, given to the Tour's best "young" rider.  Teejay has been considered American cycling's Next Big Thing for a few years.  Well, this year Teejay is standing strong in the top ten overall at the Tour, and he looks very much like a potential Tour winner in future years.  Here's hoping.

Yesterday's stage started in the mountains but ended in the flats, so the video below is a summary of Stage 11, the last true mountain stage of the week.

Over at SDCC, lots of folks have announced lots of stuff.  A few things that I care about include IDW's announcement of a new My Little Pony comic--because both of my girls love My Little Pony--along with Marvel's announcement of both a Red She-Hulk comic and a new Doctor Strange comic.  Both Strange and Red She Hulk are members of the new Defenders squad and intriguing enough characters that I may well give each of these series a try.  
My Little Pony promo art.  You know you want it!
I've noticed about myself that I still really like all the Marvel characters and lots of Marvel's stories, but their big crossover-type events annoy me.  Hence, I like Amazing Spider-Man, and I like the Defenders, but AvX and all the rest of that Avengers crap is really pissing me off.  If the Dr. Strange and Red She-Hulk books have serialized storytelling, then I may well add them to my Pull List.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Preview of Today's Stage

Yeah, I know.  I said I was gonna take a break, and yet here I am.  Guess you'll have to keep checking back daily.

I found this video on the Podium Cafe, SB*Nation's pro-cycling forum.  It's a preview of today's stage, and it's excellent.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Famous Last Words

"I'll be back."

But for now, I've got to go.  You might remember about a week ago when I mentioned that some personal and professional issues were conspiring to change the posting schedule around here.  Well, they've gotten worse, to the point where I've been reassigned.  That's not a bad thing--at least, it's not for me anyway--but it does mean that my ability to work on this little project is about to be seriously curtailed.  So.  I'll miss you, and I know that you'll miss me, but for we've got to take a break.  

But don't worry.  I'll be back.

No, really.  I will be.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Playing with Fire

Sally and I took the kids to a local Mid-Summer Fantasy Renaissance Fair yesterday.  In general, the place was kind of rough--more Dungeons and Dragons meets the S&M sub-culture than any sort of revival of High Middle Ages life--but there was one part that we all loved--the bardic magician Daniel Greenwolf.

Here we see him playing with fire.

We also liked the belly dancers.  But in fairness, that was a lot of belly.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 10)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai: Page 10.
Click here to see the page at full size.
Uh oh!  Nothing good can come of this...

As always, to read the story from the beginning, you can use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday Mad Science: The End of TomKat!

Not a lot going on today.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

* * *
The U.S. Army is getting ready to change its camouflage pattern because the current one apparently doesn’t work very well even though it cost a fully five billion dollars to field.  Slate and a few other sources tell the story like this: the Army got jealous when the Marine Corps fielded its newest camouflage patterns because they’re awesome digital designs based on Canadian models.  So then the Army brass wanted cool digital patterns too, but they decided to go with a one-pattern-fits-all-terrains model in order to avoid logistics problems, and as it happens, that wasn’t a very good idea.

Army leaders got jealous of these awesome-looking USMC uniforms.  And how could they not?
The Marines have always been the better service at managing their image.
If you’re curious, the problem with the old patterns was that while the uniforms themselves came in a variety of colors, the very vast majority of the Army’s equipment is/was green.  So we had soldiers running around in tan-colored uniforms but with green equipment belts and green canteens.  This not only looked ridiculous, it also made the soldiers easier rather than harder to see.  So a change was needed.  However, that change was probably not a five billion dollar change to the entire service’s uniforms.  In retrospect, spending a half billion to simply buy more equipment in more different colors probably would’ve worked a little better.  Maybe that’s not the sexy solution, but y’know, the Army is anything but sexy.

* * *
Katie Holmes left Tom Cruise this week.  That’s notable mostly because of the way that Ms. Holmes has orchestrated her escape and has since carefully kept herself in the public eye.  She’s been spotted multiple times in public recently, always with her daughter in tow and in seeming uber-mommy mode.  The whole thing strikes me as a public relations ploy as much as it does the end of a marriage.  But whatever; that’s fine.  Tom Cruise seems like a creepy, controlling guy, and I can well-imagine that Holmes is happy to be out from under his rule.  And when your business is being famous and getting work because of that fame, I suppose the way you get divorced in public is as important as the way you get divorced in private.

On sale now!
That said, I feel sorry for Cruise.  It looks like this whole thing dropped on him without notice, and that’s the kind of thing I’ve seen happen to several friends of mine who’ve had wives in their early- to mid-thirties in the past few years.  Especially when the couple married young.  Usually it happens because the wife has checked out of the marriage emotionally, and the guy is too busy working to really notice how unhappy his spouse has become.  Frankly, that to me is terrifying.  It’s by far my biggest fear.  Here’s a guy who’s been busy working to provide for and support his family, and suddenly his family is ripped out from under him because, y’know, the wife thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  There’s no cheating, nothing really wrong per se, but the wife is unhappy, and she doesn’t want to be.  Now granted, you’d like to be the kind of husband who’d stay more in contact with his wife and her feelings, so that you wouldn’t actually be blindsided by this level of unhappiness, but still… communication is a two-way street.  Lots of wives will go-along-to-get-along when they probably ought to stay up and fight about the issues that’re really bothering them.  If the husband’s not paying attention in that kind of case, bad things can happen. 

To me, the hardest thing about marriage is just the fact that everything else in my life keeps me so damned busy.  So while I want to focus on my wife and my family—but really, for the purposes of this discussion, the focus needs to be specifically on my wife—the fact is that there are always ten thousand things that distract from that natural focus.  I mean, Sally is my best friend, and I really, really like spending time with her.  But at the same time because she’s my best friend, I sort of expect that she’ll understand when I can’t spend time with her.  However, over time that is a destructive expectation.  In a marriage, if you’re not sort of pulling together, then you can quickly find yourselves pulling apart, and that’s when bad things happen.  Even if “bad things” aren’t infidelity or alcoholism or something like that, still that doesn’t mean that your partner is necessarily happy.  And over time, chronic unhappiness can lead to divorce.

* * *
Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon is again running for Senate, this time for the seat that will soon be vacated by Joe Lieberman.  Man, talk about trading down.  Last time out, Ms. McMahon spent fifty million of her own money in a losing bid against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.  This time she’s running against former Congressional Representative Christopher Shays, and though she’s supposedly ahead in the polls, let me assure you that there is no force on earth that could get me to vote for her this time. 

I sure hope she doesn’t win.  Fortunately, the state’s Republican establishment seems to agree with me.

* * *
Lotto’s AndrĂ© Greipel beat Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish in Thursday's sprint finish to win his second stage in two days.  Now I don’t dislike Greipel or anything, but I happen to really like Mark Cavendish, and I was hoping that he’d win yesterday’s stage after having crashed out of the bunch sprint the day before.  Following that crash, Cavendish fell way behind current green jersey holder Peter Sagan in the points classification competition, and really, it didn’t look like there was much of a chance that Cav was gonna be able to catch up.  But then Sagan crashed on Thursday's stage, and suddenly the door to the green jersey opened back up.  On top of that, Cav even had a lead-out train from Team Sky—something he hasn’t had all Tour.

So the stage is set, the course is pretty much perfect for the bunch sprint, and Cav… loses!  Yes, the best sprinter in the world got fifth yesterday.

Eh.  The points competition is still a little hotter today than it was yesterday, though not quite so hot as we might have hoped.  In addition, we seem to be building to a nice little rivalry between Greipel and Cavendish.  That doesn’t suck.

Today marks the first Mountain Stage of this year’s Tour.  I’m looking forward to that one.

* * *
And that’s all I’ve got.  Have a good weekend!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Comic Review: The Defenders (Vol. 4), Issues 1 to 7

I picked up Matt Fraction’s new Defenders series on a whim the other day.  I was at my local shop when I saw the Black Cat on the cover of issue #7, and then I noticed that they also had a copy of the first trade, collecting issues 1 through 6, and I thought, “What the Hell, let’s give it a whirl.”  The thing is, I really like comics, especially when they’re good.  But finding good comics is a little like finding leprechauns—not at all easy, and often accomplished by accident.  I’ve gotten frustrated lately with the new Justice League—in fact, I’ve given up on the new DCU entirely—so I’ve got a little space on my Pull List at the moment.  And while I’m not overly familiar with Fraction’s work, fact is you hear good things about him, and I mean, who doesn’t want to read a book with the Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange in it?  Also: why is there a Red She-Hulk?  So there you have it.  Nothing to do but give this thing a look.

The Defenders #1
As it happens, this new Defenders book is crazy.  Our heroes’ charter is “to defend the world from the impossible,” and apparently the Impossible is on the move and getting stronger.  As I read the book, I couldn’t help thinking that of it as Marvel’s answer to Hellboy or maybe Planetary.  It’s got that same kind of weird-assed mythological resonance going for it and that same kind of drawing-on-the-heroes-of-yesteryear vibe. Issue #1 opens with Doctor Strange having just bedded a grad student who came to him looking for help on a research paper she’s writing—she’s regretting what’s quickly shown to be a very awkward one-night stand while he’s so self-absorbed that he can’t even be bothered to offer her a cup of coffee the next morning—and it goes downhill for our heroes from there.  We see the Red She Hulk try to drown her sorrows after single-handedly destroying the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, and we see Danny Rand making bad decisions personally and professionally while those around him start losing their confidence in him.  We see the Silver Surfer at such loose ends that he’s turned himself into a winter snowfall.  And soon enough, the team—or rather, the not-a-team—starts coming together, and it’s a bunch of seemingly random but incredibly powerful heroes.  They race off to stop against a black-skinned incarnation of the Hulk at Wundagore Mountain, and then they discover a Concordance Engine, and well… wackiness ensues. 

Fraction has discussed in interviews the fact that he likes writing the Defenders because its heroes are all supremely flawed characters, and I agree.  This team—Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor, Red She Hulk, and even Iron Fist—are all incredibly, even cosmically, powerful heroes.  But they’re also a bunch of classic nut jobs and self-identifying loners, and it’s when the book is exploring this aspect of its protagonists’ lives that it’s at its best.  It’s a satisfying counterpoint to something like the first volume of the New Avengers, where the team members all seems to know who they are and what they want, but they’re underpowered against the kinds of threats they face.  In contrast, the Defenders all kick ass, but they don’t necessarily get along, and they can’t seem to out of their own heads.  Every one of the leads is a seriously flawed human being, and it’s that sense of outsiderness, that discomfort in their own skin, that drives the story.  Happily, Fraction gives that sense of otherness plenty of time to develop, weaving it seamlessly into the primary plot points. Whether it’s Betty Ross’s oddly touching tenderness towards the Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange’s creepy ever-present sexuality, the fact is that it’s these little details that allow the heroes to either succeed or fail.  It’s these little details that open up Pandora’s Box.

The Defenders #7
The art in the first few issues of this series—by Terry and Rachel Dodson—is okay, but I personally preferred the styles employed by the Michael Lark and Mitch Breitweiser in issues 4 and 5 to what appears in issues 1 through 3.  Lark in particular goes with a more understated approach, an approach that’s then matched by more a more subdued color palette, and I thought that approach suited the mood of the writing more effectively than the more heroic, lantern-jawed style seen in the book early on.  On top of that, those first three issues just scream with electric colors.  It’s a bad contrast with the actual mood of the book’s writing if you ask me, and that’s a Hell of a shame because I think it changes the whole mood of the story.  It’s so bad in issues 2 and 3 that Fraction’s actually forced to switch over to a Third Person Omniscient narrator in order to set the correct tone for the story.  The later issues—thankfully—don’t have that kind of heavy-handed tone-setting, but that’s mostly because it’s just not needed.  However, in fairness my absolute favorite panel from the book came out of the first issue, and it works almost perfectly, so… what the Hell do I know?

Fifty Shades of Strange?  It could totally work.
So.  The Defenders is a cool idea.  It opens strong, and although I didn’t love issues 2 or 3, the story picks up quickly once we’re into issue 4.  By the time I got to issue 5, I was pretty thoroughly hooked.  At this point, I’m planning to give the series some time to develop.  It seems like Fraction knows that he might be onto something here, and I agree.  It’s just a question of what that something is, and frankly at this point, I’m as eager to find out as anyone.  It’s either gonna be great, or it’s gonna come apart at the seams.  Here’s hoping for the former.  As long as they can get control of that color palette, I think they’ve got a book with real potential here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Trailer for Locke & Key

One of my local libraries has been buying the new hard bound collections of IDW's Locke and Key. And let me tell you, it is awesome. I've read the first four of a total of six volumes, and I'm just loving it. And then I remembered that they were gonna turn the books into a TV series.

Anyway, the show doesn't have a network yet, but here's hoping.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Google Glass Demonstration

You probably heard about this.  I've not had a chance to see it yet, but it certainly got a lot of press.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Centurion Six #2: The Devil and the Agent from the FBI (Part 3)

Our Story So Far:
Last night, Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke of the New York State National Guard Enhanced Forces Division (EFD) were called out by the NYPD to consult on a multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  The case seemed like routine “skrag” gang violence until our heroes stumbled upon evidence that implicated a former teammate in the murders—ultra-human drug addict Jason King.  However, before Blaine and his team could begin to investigate, they were attacked by a killer cyborg robot-monkey mounting a highly advanced stealth/security system and a small-caliber machine pistol.  In the ensuing firefight, a police officer was killed, the crime scene burned to the ground, and the cyborg robot-monkey escaped.
EFD commander Colonel Joachim “Aguilá” Rodriguez calls in the FBI to help with the investigation, and Special Agent Nora Mahoney is assigned to the case.  But Ms. Mahoney finds the EFD to be a strange and disconcerting assignment.
Note: To read the story from the beginning, click the Centurion Six keyword down below the post.
* * *
Blaine was sitting on a chair next to Jason’s bed when they came in.  He’d been expecting the Colonel all morning, of course, but there was a woman with him that Blaine didn’t know.  Somehow it was the woman’s presence that unnerved Blaine more than the Colonel’s, and this despite the fact that Blaine knew that the Colonel was bound to be pissed from last night’s mess.
Blaine got to his feet as they entered.  “Sir.”
“Blaine,” the Colonel said.  “Sit down.” 
If that was meant as a greeting, it was one that didn’t hold any warmth.  Blaine sat.
“This is Special Agent Nora Mahoney from the FBI.  She’s here to help with the investigation into last night’s events.”
Agent Mahoney stepped up and offered her hand.  She was pretty enough, Blaine thought, but it was a severe kind of pretty.  She stood maybe five-foot-five with straight brown hair, ice-blue eyes, and a decidedly athletic build.  It was the way she carried it that warned Blaine off.  Hair pulled back into something like a ballerina’s bun, dark grey pants-suit that made no concessions whatsoever to her figure, eyes flat but wary.  This was definitely the look of an arch-professional, hardened against unwanted familiarity.  Frankly, she looked like she’d already gone a round or two with the Colonel and come out with something like a draw.  That thought left Blaine a little unnerved.
Blaine stood up and shook her hand and then back down.  Suddenly he was aware of the fact that he was the only one sitting.  The Colonel and Agent Mahoney were both just standing there looking down at him like he was some kind of science experiment.
“Sir, I… uh… I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me.”
“Look Blaine,” the Colonel said, “in light of last night’s events, I think we need to keep you focused on commanding your team in the field.  You got into that mess last night because…  Well, I hope it was because you so were focused on the situation with the police that you didn’t think about how to deploy your team before you entered that crime scene.  Because if that’s not what happened—“
“Sir,” Blaine began, “it was only s’pposed to be a routine consultation.  But then—“
The Colonel cut him off.  “As I was saying, Captain, if that’s not what happened, then the fact is that you showed gross incompetence last night.  You failed to assess the situation, and you failed to act as the leader of your unit.  And as a result—“
“That’s not fair, sir!” Blaine said.  He couldn’t help himself.  “One minute we’re standing there talking to the cops, and the next minute, we’re fighting for our lives.  Could we have fought better?  Could I have fought better?  Yes.  But once the shit hit the fan—“
“When the shit hits the fan, Captain, that’s when you are supposed to be in charge.  Not going off half-cocked like some schoolyard do-gooder trying to save his friend from the playground bully.  Madre de Dios,Blaine!  What the Hell is wrong with you?
“No, don’t answer that.  I’m tired of having you interrupt me.”  The Colonel reached into one of the pockets of his uniform blouse and grabbed a printout.  He unfolded it and got ready to read.  “You told Shelby, and I quote, ‘Shut it, lieutenant.  Just get your ass down here, time now.’”  The Colonel looked up.  “Hearing that—and the sound of a firefight in the background—Lieutenant Sexton raced down there at Mach 2 in her nightgown where she found you wrestling with… well, I guess we may never know what the Hell that thing was last night because without orders to the contrary, she blasted it all to Hell.  Why didn’t she have orders, Blaine?  Fact is, you didn’t give her jack shit besides a panicked phone call in the middle of the night, and she figured that meant that you were about to get your ass handed to you.
“Were you about to get your ass handed to you, Blaine?  Were you?”
Blaine looked down.  “No sir.”
“No you were not.  Why?  Because you are goddamned indestructible!  Look at you!  You go two rounds with god-alone knows what kind of crazy robotic assassination technology and come out with a couple of cuts and scrapes.  Then you go another three rounds with Jason fucking King, who is perhaps the most dangerous ultra-human ever to come through here, and yeah, he cut you up a little, but look, here you are, still standing strong the next morning.  Anybody else in the world is dead right now, but you, Blaine Winters…  A couple of stem-cell treatments, and the docs tell me you’ll be good as new by day after tomorrow.”
“Yes sir.”
“Dammit Blaine, we need more from you than this.  There’s a time for you to lead from the front, and there’s a time when you need to stop and think.  And you, Blaine, you are uniquely qualified to think in the midst of a fight.  That fire alarm call to Shelby last night, that is the kind of thing that we cannot have.  Not anymore.  You need to learn to lead your team, Blaine.  Leading from the front is fine, but getting so involved in the fight that you’re no longer in command is a mistake that I cannot allow from my New York City field team commander.
“And that’s why Ms. Mahoney is here.  She is here to free you up, so that you can focus on leading your team.”
“Yes sir.  I…”  Blaine nodded reluctantly.  “Thank you, sir.”
 “Good,” the Colonel replied.  He stood.  “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.  The investigation briefing is in half an hour.  Make sure you’re friendly by then.”
“Yes sir,” Blaine responded.  He turned to the FBI agent.  “So… what can you do, Agent Mahoney?”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lot's of Stuff Going On

So look, I've got a lot going on right now, personally and professionally.  I don't really want to get into the details, but it's very likely that the publication schedule around here is gonna get thrown off for the next few weeks.  It's a shame because we've picked up a lot of new readers lately, but it's also unavoidable.  I'd ask for your patience and understanding over that time if all that gets posted is silly pictures and YouTube videos.  Eventually, we'll get back to normal, I promise.

With that in mind, here is the first of what is likely to be a string of music videos.  Sally sang this last night as we walked home from the ice cream shop.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 9)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Page 9.
Click here to see the page at full size.
When I was writing this, one of guys who helped me with research was the Navy guy who'd been stationed in Japan.  He tipped me to the Japanese concept of Blood Magic, and all the bad things that can come from it.  Consider that a warning...

As always, to read the story from the beginning, you can use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.