Week in Geek 3.13.15 extra

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

i mentioned the other day some NE Ohio tech community news as a follow-up, and thanks to CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo graciously taking some time to speak with me over the weekend i have that to share with you here.

Women in technology

Stephanie is in her final semester at CWRU, graduating in just seven weeks. As a staunch advocate for women in technology and the computer science field, she recently presented her article “You Gotta Want It” that addresses the issue.

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

CWRU computer science student Stephanie Hippo works hard to help make computer accessible to women

According to Bob Sopko from CWRU’s Blackstone Launchpad, “Stephanie has a massive impact on bringing the tech environment into reach of young ladies on campus.” The article showcases not only that impact, but also speaks to the broader issue of women in the technology field from her personal experience.

For Grace Hopper’s sake, how did I not know the other women in my classes? – From the article “You Gotta Want It.” (Grace Hopper was a pioneering American computer scientist and rear admiral in the Navy who made vital contributions to the field)

i particularly enjoyed the thread of humility that runs through Stephanie’s article. Woven into the story is her search for role models that young women can look to for guidance and inspiration, and through her efforts she becomes one herself, donating her time and assistance to help young women overcome some of the barriers or obstacles to a career in computer science.

Originally, Stephanie entered CWRU as a biomedical engineering student, with a desire to  advance the medical field. Although she’d done some computing in high school, the idea of pursuing it as a career isn’t something she’d considered or even known much about until getting to college. A introductory freshman course on the subject with a follow-up internship at a software company changed her mind though, and she changed her major to computer science.

“I had the support of my friends and the support of the department,” she said of her initial steps in the field, despite the small number of other women to look to for guidance. “But, it’s a big university, so it’s difficult to affect change at an institutional level.”

Her work in advocating for other women in computing, including her article, emerged after she was given advice to engage in projects to expand her portfolio beyond her degree and practical work in the industry.

“I just wanted to let other people know about the issue and realize some of the work that goes in to making it a reality – how much time goes into it, and why people choose to put their time into it,” she said. “I was hoping this article would articulate why I care about it. It’s made a lot of noise on campus, and gotten the support of some really great alumni.”

The response to her article, and the work she’s done, so far has gotten a great response. Hundreds of people have read and shared the article, and she said the response has been nothing but positive. Just this past weekend, she was asked to speak at a high school about women in technology, a last-minute request that presented her with 12 hours to come up with an hour-long speech – a challenge she was happy to accept.

In the article, she mentions her involvement with CWRU’s Hacker Society, a student organization for those “who are interested in digging into the innards of things; for those who use, produce, or support open-source software (or hardware); and for those who would like to learn more about open-source development,” according to their website.

hacker-society-small

A large part of the impetus for her advocacy was her position as the one of the only female members of the group, and the article’s title refers to her want to change that. For those not familiar with computer science, the term “hacker” can carry a negative connotation, like what you hear in the news about groups who break into secure networks or steal people’s identities. To programmers and coders though, those sorts of activities are far from the truth.

“A hack is more of when you open something up to see and learn more about how it works on the inside,” Stephanie explained. “To learn more about how computers work, or hacking something together quickly. We try to encourage people to throw together small projects so they can better understand how programming language works, or how some protocol works. It’s more hack, as in explore, than illegally break into something.”

Hack events, also called hackathons, like the recent HackCWRU, are held in cities all over the world, giving technologists the opportunity to engage in collaborative computer programming. If you’re interested in hackathons, finding one near you is as simple as doing an Internet search for “hackaton <insert city name>” and you’ll find all sorts of resources about them in your area.

“There’s just so much you can do with it,” Stephanie said of computing. “I think it’s hard to know exactly what you want to do at 18, and you’re thrown into college and told to pick a major. There’s so much you haven’t been exposed to yet. It’s hard to even know what you haven’t been exposed to yet. Computer science is just a huge field that’s really everywhere now. If you’re interested in one industry or another, there’s probably some way to apply computer science to it.

“It’s a lot more creative than people give it credit for. I’ve talked to some women that might be a little hesitant to jump into it at first because it’s very technical, but there’s a lot of creativity that goes into it as well, with problem-solving and individually with things like app design or web design. There’s an unlimitedness of what you can do, combined with the creativity that goes along with it as well.”

For any non-students who are interested in learning more about computer science, Stephanie said there has been an explosion of resources out there. Online, things like code.org and codecademy can start people on the path to learning code, but Stephanie said building a community is an important factor. Having other people to connect with and work with in person helps not only novice coders, but even for those with degrees in computer science or who already work in the field collaborating with peers is incredibly useful.

“Cleveland’s pretty lucky to have a larger community around the intro to programming – not just for women but for anyone that really wants to get involved,” Stephanie said. Groups like HER Ideas in Motion, for example, offer hands-on workshops for girls to learn from career professionals. And TECH CORPS is a society for K-12 students that gives access to technology skills, programs and resources.

“Eventually, you have to make the jump and the time to do projects, and it’s so much easier when you have an actual real person there,” she said of online self-instruction. “That’s why groups like those are so important.”

Later in the day after speaking with me, Stephanie was involved with an event through Tigress, an organization that offers entrepreneurship and creative arts programs to young women. In addition to groups like that, there are plenty of other resources in the Cleveland area to assist young people and women gain a stronger foundation in technology.

Coming up in April for example, Blackstone’s 2015 Future Women Leaders Program presents seminars, networking and skill-building sessions with professionals that provides early exposure to the finance and business sides of technology.

There’s also a Women’s Leadership Symposium at my alma mater Cleveland State University on April 15.

Thanks to Stephanie Hippo for her time, not just in speaking with me but her efforts to open the field of computer science for women. Her tireless work connecting with young women in high schools and at CWRU has expanded the Hacker Society, and she’s helped open the door for others to careers in computer science.

Women in comics

Perhaps serendipitously, the rush to finish up Week in Geek last Friday meant i couldn’t get to the last two comics on my digital pull list for the week, both of which star female superheroes.

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

Thor #6 cover by Russell Dauterman

First up, Thor #6 was another terrific installment in the series that in some ways is divisive for comics fans. This issue, we didn’t see much of the thunder god, instead getting some backstory on Dario Agger aka the Minotaur, so far the series’ primary antagonist.

We also follow the Odinson’s continuing quest to find out the identity of the woman wielding Mjolnir, and a conversation he has with Heimdall reveals that, far from being omniscient, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge sees only that which threatens the realm of Asgard. And since he cannot spy Thor from his post on the pathway to the seven realms, we know she truly is a hero.

Most of the book follows a glum Odinson around, and his melancholy musings reveal that his desire to learn more about Thor stem more from his wish to discover why he is no longer worthy to wield the hammer. A visit with cancer-stricken Jane Foster, being cared for by Asgardian doctors although refusing their magical healing, does little to alleviate Thor’s down-in-the-dumps mood, but he does cross her name off his list of potential suspects of the mighty Thor. The scene with Jane Foster i found particularly interesting though, because we see her looking frail from her illness and chemo treatments but standing beside the musclebound Odinson in his “I’m not worthy” depression actually makes him look all the weaker.

From there, he makes a visit to SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, perhaps showing off a bit of his un-worthiness by violently lashing out to get his way in a tantrum, and then we’re back to Agger in a meeting with Malekith the Accursed, dark elf and ruler of Svartelfheim. The two of them strike a bargain that allows Agger’s Roxxon Corporation exclusive mineral rights in Malekith’s realm until the end of time in exchange for a magical artifact.

Finally, four pages from the end, Thor shows up. We only get to see her for one page, but the full-page panel is well worth it to watch the Roxxon security team’s hail of bullets bounce off of her.

thor tickles

Then we’re whisked back to Asgard, where Odin the All-Father continues to be a chauvanistic a-hole to his wife, who thankfully smacks him upside the head and hints that his desire to get Mjolnir back might give him more than he bargained for.

Unfortunately, he’s already dispatched the Destroyer to take care of Thor and bring the hammer back to Asgard, leaving us with the animated armor’s arrival on the scene, turning its energy-blasting face towards the downed superheroine.

i’m really looking forward to the next issue of this book to see how Thor handles this threat.

A lot of the debate surrounding this development of the longstanding Thor character centers on whether or not Marvel should have just created a brand new character and left the traditional Thor alone.

i think it’s just wonderful, and to be honest i don’t really care who’s under the helmet. It could be just a random earthling and i’d be fine with that. In fact, if that were the case it would speak even more to the traditional Marvel model that anyone can be a hero that the readers can identify with.

So far in the book, i’ve really enjoyed the character’s inner dialogue, which sounds not at all Asgardian, contrasted with her spoken words sprinkled with the “thee’s” and “thou’s” we expect from Thor. Internally, too, we learn that she is sometimes uncertain of herself and her capabilities, but what she’s displayed so far is not only prowess that makes her worthy to wield the hammer but in many ways showed innovation that surprises even those familiar with Thor’s abilities – something Frigga alludes to when admonishing Odin’s obsession with getting the hammer back.

Giving this new person the mantle of an established character gives her instant credibility, not only with her peers in the superhero community but also with the audience. It is extremely difficult for creators to present brand new characters who stick around, so i think it was a fantastic idea to take Thor in this direction. Eventually, she may break away from it and establish her own heroic identity…but if this is the Thor we have for years to come i’ve got no problem with that.

From a marketing standpoint, Marvel has generated a ton of buzz for the character, and story-wise they’ve given a ton of potential for Thor as an individual as well as within the larger contextual universe. At a time when the most recognizable female superhero – Wonder Woman – still struggles to find a foothold in the medium after 73 years, i think it’s awesome that this change to the Thor has already given greater prominence to the character as a top tier superhero who is also drawing in new readers.

In all my life, i don’t think i’ve ever bought a Thor comic until this new series, and it’s become one of my favorite books, so i hope it continues indefinitely and i can’t wait to see what happens next.

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

Spider-Gwen #2 cover by Robbi Rodriguez

After a brief recap of her debut issue, Spider-Gwen #2 picks up with the arachnoid hero coming to on a garbage scow after her battle with the Vulture. Some old-school Spidey ingenuity kept her from going splat.

An imaginary Spider-Ham helps her make her way back to the city, where she wakes up on the couch of her bandmates place, still with Peter Porker providing running commentary. Including this unusual character is a treat, since i actually kept up with his series in the 80’s and always considered it to be one of the more colorful oddities in Marvel’s library.

Some police drama followed, with a hard-nosed Detective Castle questioning an incarcerated Kingpin about his involvement with Spider-Woman. Since i only started following this character with issue #1, i’m not sure about some of its alternate-reality characters and i wonder if Det. Castle will eventually become this reality’s version of Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher. His threat to off Kingpin right there in the prison interrogation room leads me to believe he will. It was also surprising when Kingpin’s lawyer got on the phone and it turned out to be Matt Murdock, who in the regular Marvel Universe is his arch-enemy Daredevil.

On the next page, we see Murdock beating information out of the Vulture, and at this point i’m not sure what his position is – a hero or a criminal mastermind, or maybe something in between.

To be completely honest, this book hasn’t captured my imagination beyond the character’s slick visuals and the shake-up of familiar names, so i’m still on the fence about it. i’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man character even though i haven’t collected much in the past. The ultimate version didn’t really interest me, so i thought this series would be a good jumping on point. Spider-Gwen has the same vibe that Spider-Man does at his core, a young hero with personal problems, and i dig the street-level crime world she’s involved with, so those are pluses. i’ll come back to this one for at least issue #3 and go from there. It’s not a terrible book by any stretch…but there’s something missing i can’t quite put my finger on just yet.

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Thanks for reading this special extra edition of Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did. Since i’m pressed for time today, and based on the site’s stats i don’t see anyone really clicks on these links, i’ll just provide them without my usual commentary this week:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 20 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks as always for reading!

Week in Geek 3.13.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

This week, my duties as a reporter for The News-Herald kept me busy during the free time i typically put into following up on any of the multitude of story ideas which continue to accumulate on my desk. There was the big donkey basketball game at Cardinal High School in Middlefield, and a pair of profiles on National Historic Register buildings in Lake County for an upcoming special section.

Unfortunately i was unable to schedule time for a timely interview to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, but with any luck that will come together for next week.

On a side note, i was going to refer to my duties as a stringer, but that wasn’t quite accurate since i’m employed by the paper primarily as a copy editor, page designer and social media provocateur (that’s not what they call it, but it sounds more exciting that way). However, while looking into the term “stringer,” i discovered something called a superstringer that’s sort of the same thing except the writer is contracted with a news organization. It seems that with the collapse of the traditional newspaper model and the emergence of the Internet, stringers are fading away. But i am pleased to consider myself a superstringer, because it “super” is part of the word. Super cool.

Embracing life as a night owl means it's not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

Embracing life as a night owl means it’s not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

What free time i did enjoy this week came in the wee morning hours, which thanks to daylight savings time means the sun is coming up when my head is going down on the pillow. It’s a strange lifestyle that took some getting used to, coming to terms with not feeling lazy for sleeping in until noon because i was up all night at work.

So, what did i do with those precious hours, when there wasn’t anyone to Skype or speak with about Northeast Ohio tech and pop culture?

Discover new programs

Two new shows that break me away from my typical niche of serial killers and crime procedural dramas debuted recently.

The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as Phil Miller, in a delightful comedy about life on earth after every one on the planet but him is gone due to a devastating virus. Phil, like anyone can imagine, spends a couple of years searching the United States for other survivors before returning home to Tucson in a bus laden with artifacts from across the nation.

Resigned to life as the solitary human left on the planet, he proceeds to indulge in increasingly outrageous behavior while gradually loosening his grip on reality. Just as he reaches his lowest point, spending his days lounging in his margarita pool, he decides there is no reason in continuing and plans to commit suicide. But just as he’s about to go through with it, he spots a distant plume of smoke rising into the Arizona sky and rushes to discover another survivor.

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

And it’s a woman!

Carol, played by Kristen Schaal, quickly gets under Phil’s skin though, and what Phil desperately hoped for sours as the two of them learn to deal with each other.

Both of the show’s stars have been making me laugh for years, and this vehicle is a great opportunity for Will Forte to shine. It would be a disaster if either of the two characters didn’t allow for some kind of audience connection, and thankfully they both pull off an excellent blend of evoking some sympathy while at the same time remaining human enough in the sense that their actions border on the bizarre, irritating each other but not viewers. And, of course, both Forte and Schaal are very funny people who portray their characters terrifically. With only each other to play off of, timing is everything and each accomplish the comedic beats with aplomb.

Post-apocalyptic comedy doesn’t get any better than The Last Man on Earth, which airs Sunday nights on Fox.

In a similar vein, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spins comedy out of a disturbing premise. This Netflix show, which in streaming program fashion dropped the entire first season at one time, stars Ellie Kemper as a former doomsday cult captive who decides to start a new life in NYC after being discovered and rescued.

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

i’m really only familiar with Kemper’s work as Erin on The Office, a show that for me was must-see for its entire run. As Kimmy Schmidt, she brings the same sort of awkward naiveté that she did as Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, except amped up to the Nth degree. i’ve read that the Erin character was originally supposed to be more sarcastic, but was altered by the writers to fit Kemper’s real personality more.

In an interview she did years ago regarding her role on The Office, she described Erin as “an exaggerated version of myself.” After watching a few episodes of Kimmy Schmidt, i get the feeling this new show is the perfect opportunity for Kemper to ramp up her comedic skills by exaggerating her personality even more.

There’s something almost magical about Kimmy the character, with Kemper’s body language and physical comedy matching her verbal delivery to spin out some really funny laughs. The absurdist alchemy she performs on the show transformed me into an instant fan, and i’m happy to discover there’s at least a second season planned.

What a Wednesday!

With a lifetime of interest in comic books distilled these days down to a selective few titles from Marvel Comics, there’s typically only one book per week on my digital pull list.

This past Wednesday, March 11, i opened up the Marvel Comics app to find there were five comics to add to my library!

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

First up was Ant-Man #3. Longtime Long Shot readers will know that new books get three issues to make a fan of me, and Ant-Man did it in just one back when Ant-Man #1 came out in January. When it comes to comics, i have pretty particular tastes. Classic superheroes are my favorite by far, but i’m just not interested in the standard sorts of stories about monthly superhero slugfests, big event crossovers and whatever villain is threatening mankind/the universe/whatever.

i’m more interested in what these colorful characters do when they’re not punching bad guys or each other, and Ant-Man delivers those stories. In this book, current Ant-Man Scott Lang (to be portrayed by Paul Rudd in the upcoming MCU film) is more concerned with being a good father and making a decent living than foiling nefarious schemes, with dramatic beats more about ties with his daughter and ex-wife than life-and-death struggles against supervillains.

Written by Nick Spencer, who also penned Superior Foes of Spider-Man – one of my favorite books that was of course canceled – brings the same brand of offbeat humor and breaking tradition to Ant-Man while still acknowledging the character’s place in the greater Marvel Universe.

As you can see from the cover to issue #3, Ant-Man runs into trouble with Taskmaster, a great Marvel villain who shows up to give our tiny hero a hard time. Like in earlier issues, Ant-Man uses his powers of both shrinking and communicating with ants to some clever effects against the guy with the photographic reflexes, and also manages to crack wise by about something i’ve long wondered myself:

“Your costume? It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like ghost-pirate-Captain America clone. With a cape!”

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

This was a surprise to see under new comics for the week: Howard the Duck #1 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones with color artist Rico Renzi. A new title starring this talking duck who displays remarkable common sense in a world gone mad was not something i’d heard about, and i felt compelled to check it out.

Not surprisingly, this new series debut was funny and unusual, setting up Howard the Duck as a private investigator whose first case provides him and readers to an introduction into the Marvel Universe. His pursuit of the case brings him for a visit to She-Hulk’s law firm, which occupies space in the same building as Howard’s office, and from there he has a rooftop meeting with Spider-Man.

A one-page training montage that involves dodging laser pointers and somehow integrates D&D miniatures results in success when he and new mysterious new assistant, the tattooed Tara Tam, run afoul of Black Cat before the interstellar hunter shown in the book’s beginning pages comes back around to abduct the book’s star at the behest of The Collector – something those who stuck around for the after-credits scene from Guardians of the Galaxy will find familiar, along with an appearance by one of that team’s members on the final page that will presumably lead to an escape attempt in the next issue.

i’m curious to see where this series goes, and the first issue has me intrigued enough with the wonderfully colorful art, irreverent humor and nod to the character’s ties to Cleveland from the 1986 film that was set in my hometown. Also, i wonder if there’s potential for discussion at the Get Graphic! group at Cleveland Public Library since the series organizer Valentino Zullo mentioned his interest in intersections of character traits like gender, race and so forth. With Howard, we’re given an intersection of mankind and aquatic bird, a character traditionally used for satire and social commentary that i hope continues to do so in this new series.

Waugh!

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Another installment of cosmic ginchiness arrived with Silver Surfer #10, written by Dan Slott with art from the incomparable Mike and Laura Allred.

This issue wrapper up a storyline that had earthling Dawn Greenwood discover Surfer’s past as a herald of Galactus responsible for the World Eater’s destruction of countless planets and their inhabitants.

Packed with pathos, Surfer won the trust of a planet populated by the only survivors from world already consumed by Galactus who initially hated and feared the skyrider of the spaceways (with good reason) as well as a building on the humanity of Norrin Radd when, in the midst of trying to fend off Galactus, he admits to himself as much as to Dawn that he loves her.

Awww!

The emotional core of Silver Surfer has always been one of the things i’ve most enjoyed about this character, who despite vast cosmic power and awareness still cleaves to the humanity he gave up to save his own planet long ago. Despite everything he has seen and endured, and his basically limitless power, he still understands the importance of individuals in the cosmic scheme of things.

One of the other things i’ve most enjoyed about this book during its run is the development of the Surfer’s board (dubbed Toomie by Dawn) as a supporting character. The ways in which the writer and artist give Toomie a personality are creative and fun.

The end of this issue has a lot of tears and heartache, but hope as well – a hallmark of great Silver Surfer stories. In a clever twist of the paradigm Galactus shares with those who seek out planets for him to consume, the Surfer declares himself a herald once more. But this time, he is a herald of those who survived, and vows to find them a new planet.

i’m a little surprised that this book hasn’t included a letters page yet, since most of the other Marvel books, at least the ones i read, have a page or two at the end for reader interaction. i sincerely hope they are receiving astronomical amounts of great feedback on this series, because frankly its one of the all around best comics out there right now and it would be sad indeed if it were to get canceled.

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Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

i’ve got to wrap things up prematurely today due to a work emergency, and i didn’t get a chance to go over a few other noteworthy things (and thereby clear a bit from the To Do List). i’ll also include the usual further reading links that no one ever clicks on because hey why not?

Please visit again soon (like, tomorrow) for a follow-up Week in Geek to cover two other books, a little gaming update and – thanks to a reply i just received – some NE Ohio news from the tech community.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back tomorrow, Saturday March 14, and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 3.6.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Talkin’ ‘Bout Comics

One of the best developments that came out of Wizard World Cleveland was a chance meeting with Valentino Zullo, who introduced himself before a panel discussion. We hit it off, both sharing an appreciation for similar sorts of comic books and the deeper contextual substance they present as literature.

Valentino currently studies at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at CWRU. Mentored and taught by Dr. Vera Camden at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, he credits her for inspiring his emerging work. Dr. Camden herself is part of a speaker series at the Cleveland Public Library, and will be part of a lecture there on March 14. Get Graphic! A Graphic Novel Speaker Series features scholars and comics industry professionals exploring the world of comic books. The lecture series is free to attend, and other guest speakers like Tony Isabella, Marc Sumerak and Brad Ricca are involved – definitely worth checking out.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

In addition to the lecture series, Valentino hosts a bi-monthly discussion group at the Cleveland Public Library which uses comic book graphic novels as a springboard for conversations about social issues. On Thursday, March 5 a new series began called Women Warriors, which asks the question “what does it mean to be a female superhero?” As a big fan of female heroes myself, i was really looking forward to this meeting and was not disappointed by the experience.

“The whole group came about last March,” Valentino said of the Get Graphic! series. “I went to a book club at the library, when I was working in a domestic violence unit for my field placement when I was in social work school. One of the social workers was going to the library, and I said I’d go along. I asked if they ever do anything on comics. They said no, but they have this huge collection but they don’t have anyone who’s a specialist or who knows a lot about comics. So I jokingly said I could do it if they want. They said ‘do you really want to?’ So that’s how it happened. It was a joke at first; I wanted to do it, but I was kind of kidding. But they said if I wanted to, I totally could. That’s how it happened.”

The library does indeed have an impressive collection of comics and graphic novels in the 2nd floor literature section, and after the group i learned that they make every effort to stock enough of whatever book is the focus of the discussion, so there are plenty of copies to check out.

Valentino, who believes in literature, social justice and the superhero way, hopes to continue growing the group and bringing in more speakers. It’s really about creating a space for people to come and talk about comics, and more than that, to promote literacy in the community – a goal that comes from his efforts as a social worker.

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

“Even when people don’t show up (to the discussion group), all the books get checked out,” he said. “So it seems that people are reading the books, even if they’re not showing up to the discussion series.”

Organizing the discussions around social issues is important to Valentino, who said he’s interested in comics for lots of reasons simply as a fan of the genre as well. But his professional training led him to center the topics within a real-world context to explore things like feminism, racial diversity and equality, and the nature of evil.

He is happy to note that the groups have grown in attendance since the program started, with the lecture series typically seeing a larger number of people.

“I think it’s going well,” he said. “Yesterday during the introductions, a few people were very nice and thanked me. It seems like they’re learning a lot.”

The group of 12 on March 5 comprised men and women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, who gathered for the first installment of the Women Warriors series to discuss Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel: No Normal graphic novel. Valentino started the discussion with some research he did into the character. He went back to the well-established character’s roots in her original 1977 incarnation, noting that in the letters columns of those books, readers made the same sorts of comments we hear today about a lack of strong female heroes.

“Now, we’re seeing lots of female heroes emerging,” he told the group, pointing out the trend in comics of offering more than the typical white male superheroes. “Let’s see if they stick.”

What drives Valentino’s exploration of these issues in his interest in intersections. He explained that by looking at characters through intersections of characteristics like gender, class, race and sexuality, we can find solidarity in our differences. Using himself as an example, identifying as an Iranian gay man, he segued into the focused discussion on Ms. Marvel and the importance of this sort of book.

“Kamala is the perfect example of the new sort of comic that can teach us a lot about the world we live in,” he said of Kamala Khan, the Pakistani teenager who takes on the superhero identity of Ms. Marvel.

Although the discussion strayed organically from talking about No Normal specifically into a broader talk, the input from the group offered insightful perspectives on comics in general and the impact they’ve had for everyone gathered.

“A superhero is just a symbol for what we can wrought in our own lives,” said one of the women in the group.

When the conversation drifted away from the focus, Valentino was very good at bringing it back to the book, bringing the group’s attention to particular panels and story beats that he felt are important to the issue. He particularly liked how, early in the story, Kamala masterfully deconstructs the typical female superhero costume and how long hair, high heels and skin-tight spandex don’t really make for ideal crimefighting attire.

“It is sometimes difficult, because people really get inspired to talk about different things – which is a good thing in some ways,” he said of discussions come about. “But we don’t get that far into the book sometimes.

“In some ways it’s really good, that they’re finding ways to connect this to their every day lives, which is excellent. I do find sometimes that it’s difficult to keep on topic, but we’re usually within the scene.”

One of the things Valentino most enjoys about the discussions is what he learns from them, too. For example, the Evil and Empathy series evolved from an earlier discussion. After reading a comic about The Joker, one of the participants said that he kind of felt bad for the character, experiencing a bit of empathy in understanding what happened to him.

“They (group participants) make me think about these things in ways I haven’t before, which is really great,” Valentino said. “I just like the fact that these people are connecting after the discussion. People don’t want to just go, and they’ll sit around talking with other people from the group.

“I’ve learned that all these people have an investment in comics, and in social welfare, that I didn’t know about.”

Perhaps the overarching theme of the March 5 discussion centered on the diversity of comic book readers, who generally want to identify with the characters in the books. Several of the group’s female participants noted that they’d faced situations where people told them comics weren’t for girls. One of them, a black woman, in particular told about how when she was younger, she was drawn to Spider-Man. She enjoyed reading about not only his personal struggles, but the action in the book. She liked that, despite all his problems, he was still strong enough to do what was right and fight the bad guys.

This led the group into a broader talk about identifying with heroes, and most agreed that Marvel Comics does a great job of offering a wide range of characters that readers can relate to. In that regard, i think the Ms. Marvel book itself is a great example of this. Bearing the name of the publisher, i wonder if this is a subtle move on Marvel’s part to play into the idea that their characters have always represented the idea that the audience can put themselves in the heroes place.

Marvel has a long-standing tradition of humanizing their characters, giving them real-world problems outside of facing supervillainous threats. What i found very exciting through the discussion group was that the road goes both ways. What i mean is that, the same as how an adult black woman can relate to a teenaged white male hero like Spider-Man, it’s not a character’s race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic that draws readers in. Comic fans identify with the intangible qualities that superheroes represent, like selflessness and the strength to persevere against incredible adversity. That’s what allows for people like me, a middle-aged white man, to relate to a teenaged Pakistani girl like Ms. Marvel.

While doing my own research into the character, i came across the “I am Ms. Marvel” trend where readers take photos of themselves holding issue #1 up to their faces to show how they identify with the character. There’s a Twitter hashtag #iammsmarvel where a bunch of people shared their photos that’s definitely worth checking out.

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

If you enjoy superhero comics and want to meet up with others who share your passion, Cleveland Public Library’s Get Graphic! series is certainly worth a visit. The Women Warriors series will continue every other Thursday through May. Here’s the schedule and the books each meeting will focus on:

  • March 19: Katana: Soultaker by Ann Nocenti & Alex Sanchez
  • April 2: Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
  • April 16: Storm: Make it Rain by Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez & Matteo Buffagni
  • May 7: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads by Paul Levitz & Guillem March
  • May 21: Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona

Thanks to Valentino Zullo for introducing himself at Wizard World, and for hosting this great discussion series. It was great to meet new comics fans and talk about real issues through the context of superheroes. If you’re at any of the discussion groups, please feel free to say hi – i’d love to meet you!

While at the library…

Admittedly, i haven’t been to Cleveland Public Library in years, and that was only when i crept in so i could spy on the Captain America: Winter Soldier set from the stairwell while covering it for The Cleveland Stater. Prior to that, i couldn’t even guess when i was there last.

The building itself is phenomenal, an edifice to knowledge with wonderful architecture. While wandering the halls, i came across TechCentral in the Louis Stokes Wing so you know i had to check that out. This technology and learning center has a computer lab, cloud computing resources, 3D printing and a Tech Toybox for lending out iPads and laptops.

In addition to those resources, TechCentral offers many courses (for free i think) on all sorts of tech-related stuff like digital photography, 3D maker labs and coding, as well as various computer courses. They also have job search resources like workshops on improving your search, and resume and cover letter assistance.

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library's Louis Stokes wing

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes wing

Most assuredly i will be exploring more about this place for a future Week in Geek.

Another thing i passed in the hallway was this large display called “Before I Die.” It’s a global public art project that invites people to share their aspirations. According to the display at Cleveland Public Library, there are over 100 of these walls in more than 10 languages located in over 30 countries.

Cleveland Public Library's "Before I Die" global art installation

Cleveland Public Library’s “Before I Die” global art installation

All in all, a great geeky week and it all took place at Cleveland Public Library.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 13 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.20.15, part 1

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Things are a little different this week, since by the time you’re reading this i’ll be up to my eyeballs in geekery at Wizard World Cleveland!

The pop culture extravaganza runs Feb. 20-22, and i’ll be writing up a post-show day post each night starting tonight. Wizard World is a huge show, and i’ll be doing my best to capture the spirit of the event.

Throughout the show, i’ll be taking photos for a media gallery through The News-Herald (as well as for this weekend’s trilogy of posts) so be sure to check that out and see if you’re in any of them. i’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for great costumes, and i’ve got slips with the URL for the gallery attached to my business card to hand out during the show.

And also pick up cool loot. With any luck, i’ll find a vendor with VS System cards so i can finish off that all-foil Mister Miracle deck i’ve been working on for the last two years. Not that i ever get a chance to play anymore, but if i ever do…here’s hoping i’ll discover foil versions of Madame Xanadu, The Phantom Stranger and Messiah Complex.

This will also mark my first foray into using the Uber car service. All the parking nearby the convention center is booked solid, and since it’s currently 4F degrees outside, i’m not really up for a brisk walk through downtown Cleveland. Fortunately, i live so close to downtown that even a luxury Uber ride is cheaper than a parking lot all day, and they’ll pick up outside my front door and drop off right at the show so…yeah, no-brainer there.

End of a run

One of my favorite books of 2014 came to an end this week, with She-Hulk #12 hitting the shelves and digital pull list on Wednesday. There’s been several great books in the last year that i’ve championed, including this one for its terrific take not just on a great female hero, but because it went well beyond a typical monthly slugfest. The titular character was presented as a fleshed out individual with a real life outside of superheroics, and that’s something i always appreciate in comics. In fact, it’s almost something i exclusively look for anymore.

Just last night, i came across this site of fellow blogger and writer of She-Hulk Charles Soule, who had been posting daily essays leading up to the book’s final issue (12 of them, one for each issue).

This is a great behind-the-issue look from the creator, thoughtfully written and gives me a reason to go back and re-read this wonderful run with an expanded perspective. Plus, i thought it was really cool to see that the writer’s blog exists right here through WordPress, too.

If none of my previous appeals to check this book out worked, well, here’s another attempt! Check out Mr. Soule’s blog, and maybe that’ll convince you to give She-Hulk a look. Since the arc and book are now concluded, you won’t get trapped in an ongoing series and there were no event tie-ins all year so, it’s just 12 issues and you’re done.

She-Hulk #12 cover, final issue of one of 2014's very best

She-Hulk #12 cover, final issue of one of 2014’s very best

If you’re looking for more She-Hulk, she’ll be appearing front-and-center in Marvel’s following the upcoming spring event Secret Wars (boy they’re really mining that well deep, huh?).

A-Force is a new book that will launch in the aftermath, when a disbanded Marvel Universe will find itself on the patchwork Battleworld. This team book will feature an all-female cast of superheroes, and She-Hulk looks to be leading the team. Given her long history and experience in the Marvel U, this is a great fit for the character. Although the book sounds kind of gimmicky, it does look to have some cool stuff, like the addition of a new character, Singularity, based on the cosmological event. The book is written by a female writer, G. Willow Wilson, who writes the critically-acclaimed Ms. Marvel book as well. Overall, it sounds like it could be pretty good and i’ll give it a chance when it releases.

And speaking of comics, Wizard World is set to begin soon, so it’s time for me to finish getting ready and get to the show. See you there!

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the 16th Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Feb. 27 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Digital Pull List: multi-week roundup

Since i’m currently only into a smattering of books, there haven’t been weekly releases for me to absorb so i’ve been saving up several releases worth of thoughts and speculations to compile here today.  Plus, as i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, i like to give a book a fair shake of three issues before laying judgement.  That being said, i’ll dive right into the first 3-issue chance i gave to Hulk (2014) under the Marvel NOW! imprint.

Hulk #1 cover by Jerome Opena

Hulk #1 cover by Jerome Opena

This book, to me, represents the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover…because frankly it just plain sucks.

Let me back up a bit and explain where i’m coming from and start with admitting i’ve never been a big fan of ol’ Jade Jaws.  While it’s true that i did favor the gamma goliath in a theoretical throwdown with the Man of Steel that generated a healthy discussion, i’ve come to the realization that i only really enjoy the character conceptually.  Regular weekly get-togethers with friend and fellow geek @DanEffinManess without fail turn to comics (and sometimes professional wrestling) and usually result in the breakdown of comic book logic to the point where we both wonder why we are still so fascinated by them – a sentiment echoed during a recent work conversation with @Gewpoe. It is worth noting here that both of those fellas are talented artists and very humorous in their own right, giving evidence that once comics are in your blood they’re there to stay even when you think you’ve grown beyond the capes-and-tights continuity.

Anyway, as regards Hulk, the problem for me basically amounts to the character just ain’t that interesting.  After consideration, from my perspective it’s a question of motivation, and maybe there’s some great Hulk stories out there that would change my mind but i have yet to encounter any of them.  Other heroes have all sorts of motivations, and as a reader the best stories are relatable because we understand the emotional arc of the character.  Now, take the Hulk, distilled quite ably by Tony Stark in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Perhaps it’s due to my habitually laid-back personality, but maybe that’s why Hulk never clicked with me – the dude only has one emotion (embodies it as a matter of fact).  Rage is not a standard part of my emotional repertoire.  Now the interesting flip side to Hulk’s character, his alter ego Bruce Banner, was also portrayed astutely in that same film by actor Mark Ruffalo, who with a single line of dialogue suddenly made 50 years of backstory make a lot more sense to me.

So where does this leave us with the Hulk comic?  Sadly disappointed, i’m afraid.  Remember what i said about judging a book by its cover?  When i came across Hulk #1 on the Marvel Comics app, i got suckered by the provocative cover and figured i’d give it a shot.  The Hulk looked really cool there towards the bottom (except for that weird glowy belt thing – what’s up with that?) and i liked how Banner was shown more prominently, looking all gritty and surrounded by sketchy formulae in the background.  Scrawled over the title is a challenging question “Who Shot Bruce Banner?”

Maybe this would be a great take on the character and focus on the thing that ultimately would make him more endearing to me – the man beneath the monster.  Sure, it’s awesome when Hulk…hulks out, and pounds everything in sight into oblivion.  But between all the action, what would keep me as a reader engaged is connecting with the human side and whatever problems and motivations keep him going.  In that regard, it’s no wonder the classic Hulk television show was so beloved, because Bill Bixby made you give a crap about Banner.

Bixby

We DID like him when he got angry…but i liked him when he wasn’t, too.

Moving past the cover of Hulk #1, i’m still in good shape.  There’s a nice Starlin-esque image of some scientific equipment, an gun-toting hand belonging to an unknown shooter and a silhouette of (presumably) Bruce Banner getting shot in the back of the head.  Color me intrigued, if only for the fact that up until that moment it was my understanding that, should Banner take a bullet, he would immediately transform into the Hulk.  The guy even shot himself to try and end the Hulk menace before and things didn’t work out.  So i’m thinking that i’m heading into a mystery here, and naturally assume this headshot is just symbolic.

Underneath the image…wait a sec why does it say “Who Shot The Hulk”?  Wasn’t the mystery supposed to be who shot Bruce Banner?  Why the change, and why so soon?  i haven’t even read page one yet.  Okay, Hulk, i’ll play your game.  Let’s flip the page and see what happens.

Ugh!

Abysmal disappointment within one nanosecond when i realize who’s handling the interior art: Mark Bagley.  He’s been working in comics a long, long time, on high profile books like Ultimate Spider-Man for instance, but i gotta tell you – i’ve always thought this guy’s artwork is just straight up crapola.  Now before any haters say “i bet you couldn’t draw half that good” i’ll be the first to admit you’re absolutely right.  On the other hand, i’m not working as a professional artist so the issue is moot.  Within the industry, i’m sure Bagley is known as a dependable artist and might be the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but man do i dislike his work.  It’s so generic!  It looks like stuff that you would see from art school assignments before the student has developed a unique style or really understood sequential storytelling.  Lame, lame, lame.  And you know what?  Right now i’m scrutinizing each page closely and if i’m honest it really isn’t even that technically sound. Perspectives are off, faces look all funked up, and the backgrounds….i mean Rob Liefeld draws more engrossing eye candy.

Almost instantly, i regretted my decision to give a book 3 issues to prove itself to me.  But a deal’s a deal.  Mark Waid’s no slouch in the writing department, so maybe this tale of woe will be saved by smart writing.

Nope.

The story opens with Bruce Banner in an operating room getting brain surgery because someone shot him in the head.  Who could do such a thing, and with what sort of magical or scientifically devised projectile?  Maybe The Leader’s gamma-irradiated brain concocted a plan to overcome Banner’s indestructible self-defense.  Yeah, that must be it, or something along those lines.

Or it was some shadowy agent working for generic guys who raided the Reservoir Dogs costume storehouse who shot him with a regular ol’ rifle.  But don’t worry – it makes sense because she “trained hard for the moment.”

WHAT?

Yadda yadda yadda Banner hulks out in the O.R. (but the head wound for some reason doesn’t heal upon transformation).  He hulks his way out of where Mr. Blonde and crew were keeping him and leaps away.  Except his head hurts, and he crashes in Genericville U.S.A where, two weeks later, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds him trying to re-learn his ABC’s because of irreversible brain damage.  The shocked and dismayed Agent Coulson and Maria Hill are told by hospital staff (who seem blissfully unaware that their patient destroyed Main Street when he was a green rage monster) “he’ll never be smart again.”  Or, until two issues later when he’s already getting better.

The three issues i read also featured a guest appearance by some Avengers who helped Hulk decimate Genericsville when a goopy mess that was corpsecrafted into a zombie version of Hulk nemesis Abomination and controlled by Reservoir Dog attacked for so apparent reason.  For his part, Reservoir Dog was far away in his radioactive lab/lair where hazmat-suited bad guys tinkered with vats of nuclear glowy stuff and pontificated to himself how no one would suspect his real plans until it was too late for all of them…or me for that matter, because i’d blissfully reached the end of this stinkfest.

Oddly enough, there’s yet another new Hulk series – Savage Hulk – that released today 6.25.14.  This series is written and pencilled by Alan Davis and, while i’m not a huge fan of his either, i will say he is a WAY better artist than Bagley.  In order to wash the taste of Hulk (2014) out of my mouth, i have this one a d/l.  Who knows, maybe it will be the series to finally get me to dig Hulk comics.  After issue 3 i’ll let you know.  But if my weekly talks with compadre hold any water, Hulk is best used as a supporting character rather than as a star (which makes me wary of yet another possible solo film).

Daredevil 2014

Daredevil (2014) #1 cover by Chris Samnee

Another book written by Mark Waid, this time featuring one of my all-time favorite superheroes – Daredevil!  Once described as “Spider-Man with his eyes closed” by my favorite comics blogger Paul O’Connor (better known as Longbox Graveyard to the blogosphere), i’ve got to credit my older brother for the convergence of me being 10 years old and him having the sweet now-legendary Frank Miller run of DD comics from the 80’s for my deep commitment to the character.

Nothing about these books was nice - they were grim and gritty and 10-year-old me loved it!

Nothing about these books was nice – they were grim and gritty and 10-year-old me loved it!

If i’m honest, i’ve never read a Daredevil book i didn’t enjoy. But i will admit i skipped out on his 90’s stories when he was wearing armor like everyone else in the 90’s for some reason. More than once here at The Long Shot i’ve praised the Bendis/Maleev run as one of my favorite comic stories of all time, and i was over the moon when Mike Allred handled the art chores on Volume 3, issue #17, since pound-for-pound i consider him the best artist working in comics today.

This latest iteration of the character finds him relocated from his traditional digs in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood all the way to the west coast in San Francisco.  One of the things i like most about this book is that, like the currently-running Moon Knight, the series doesn’t shy away from the character’s history and continuity.  In the book, Daredevil’s secret identity as blind lawyer Matt Murdock isn’t a secret, and also like Moon Knight the story finds him working with law enforcement in a sort of consultant role.

The series opens with Murdock at the SFPD’s forensics lab, using his super-enhanced senses to help the police with a kidnapping case by examining evidence to get a lead.  For their part, the detectives are naturally skeptical of a civilian doing their job for them, but at the end of the day when a little girl’s life is at stake they’re willing to let him lend a hand, even when he suits up as Daredevil.  This is definitely a trend that i’m enjoying in some comics these days – that the “regular” people who live in their universe acknowledge that there are vigilantes out there, part of their everyday world.

The interior art on this series is also handled by Chris Samnee, and i’m really digging the unconventional style he brings.  Take pages 5-6 for example: one is a quick jumping-on point that retells his origin for any newcomers, and the other a nifty overview that gives you insight into both his powers and a little fish-out-of-water synopsis of how his relocation is affecting him.  Both pages are designed in a circular pattern in the manner that his famous “radar sense” is usually shown visually, and full of color and stylistic touches.  While Samnee’s artwork isn’t what you’d call photorealistic, to me it’s more impressionistic.  At this point in my comic book reading career, this is the kind of stuff i enjoy the most.  There’s a sense of playfulness and cinematic scope to it that isn’t defined by square panels.  It’s sequential when it needs to be, no doubt, but the images help move the story along more through the evocation of what they portray rather than through movement through time or space.

Samnee’s art also has a sort of indie quality to it that i like to see on high profile books, a break from the kind of high-octane action and super-ripped heroes that are kind of the norm.  He’s got style and flavor, which goes a long way.  For example, it’s a lot easier to forgive ill-defined backgrounds when you consider they’re maybe just not that important to the image, as opposed to the Hulk book i talked about earlier, in which you can see the artist spent time drawing them but they just plain sucked.

Daredevil (2014) #1 page 5

Daredevil (2014) #1 page 5

Daredevil (2014) #1, page 6

Daredevil (2014) #1, page 6

The most recent issue of – #4 – wrapped up an arc which found DD in a quasi-teamup with The Shroud taking on a villain who has steadily risen in prominence in Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery over the past few years, The Owl.

Who’s The Shroud, you ask?  Again i’ve got to hand it to my brother’s childhood collection for my knowledge of this Batman/Shadow mashup thanks to his store of Marvel Team-Up issues.  IIRC it was during Spidey’s team-up with The Shroud that he briefly related his origin about studying with the Cult of Kali and getting blinded by a red-hot brand that gave him other worldly sense and the ability to control darkforce.  Then the pair of them defeated Danse Macabre – a worshiper of Shiva – before going their separate ways…but not before The Shroud let on that he knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.

Shroud’s usual M.O. is in trying to take over crime (so he can squash it presumably) and in the pages of DD it was no different.  In this case, he gets in over his head with The Owl, who uses the abduction of The Shroud’s girlfriend to blackmail and manipulate him.  This leads to a back-and-forth with DD until the pair devise a plan to defeat The Owl that winds up going awry.  In case you read the story, i don’t want to spoil anything but i will say that, in the end, Daredevil wins.

Because good guys.

Just a moment ago, i wondered to myself if the people in charge over at Marvel NOW! are, like, the same age and disposition as me.  Browsing through the titles, it seems like every book i enjoyed from when i was around 10 is experiencing a resurgence under the imprint, and i’m loving it thoroughly.  So many great characters that i enjoyed as a kid are cropping up in their own books or featured in others, like the aforementioned Shroud for instance.  The final few books i want to mention fall under those auspices, but before i get to those i want to take a moment to point out something that is clearly illustrated by the titles mentioned here already: Hulk and Daredevil.

Both are written by the same person, and yet one i absolutely abhor and the other adore.  Care to take a guess as to why?  The answer is fairly obvious and i even gave you a pun as a clue.

The art.

Back in the day when Wizard Magazine was still a thing, they ran an article that asked the question of which was more important in a comic book: the writing or the art.  It was a thoughtful piece that put the question to fans and industry folks alike.  Good points were made from both sides, but to me the answer was there in the headline.  The art is the defining aspect of comic books.  Take away the art and what do you have?  Prose – and poorly presented at that.  Could you imagine reading only the dialogue boxes and narration?  It would be awful.  By that same token, you could flip through a book without any written words and probably still have at least an idea what was happening.  These two books really drive that point home to me.  Over the years i’ve read a lot of books written by Mark Waid.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some really spectacular/profound/wonderful and some terrible/drivel/blech.  Putting Hulk and DD side-by-side, i can say that the DD story really isn’t that great.  There’s nothing groundbreaking there, and the character doesn’t grow a whole lot in the four issues already published.  Same thing with Hulk – the story is lame and really generic, like he could have plucked the script out of a pile of scripts for any character and just changed the names.  But i have a blast reading DD and it was a chore to plod through Hulk.  Why?  Because in one, the art is horrendous and adds nothing to the experience, while in the other i had a fun time just looking at the pictures.

The last few books on my pull list have already gotten an examination of their own so really, this is just a free advertisement for continued reading.  You’re welcome, Marvel Comics.

Magneto #5

Magneto #5

Magneto, written by Cullen Bunn, has a new artist starting with issue #4 and the latest #5.  It’s a bit of a let down if i’m honest, because Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work on #1-3 was so reminiscent of Dark Knight Returns era Frank Miller that i felt it really lent a similar quality to the book – that of a grizzled older guy using brutal methods to get the job done in the violent world he inhabited.  Although, now that i’m looking through them, i’m not sure if #5 is credited properly because it looks like Walta’s work but it lists Javier Fernandez as the artist.  Issue #4 is definitely not Walta though.  In fact, while reading it i thought it was Jim Calafiore’s work.  Don’t get me wrong, back when i was tracking down #1-75 of Aquaman circa 1994-2001 i thought Calafiore’s work on the character was great, but Magneto #4 kind felt like a throwaway issue to me with a fill-in story and artist.  Issue #5 got right back on track through, and introduced an intriguing female character who managed to track down the Master of Magnetism and offer to help.  The end of the issue leaves you with a cliffhanger though, that makes you wonder what her real intentions are…

Moon Knight #4

Moon Knight #4

Moon Knight, scribed by Warren Ellis and featuring some of the best comic book art around right now by Declan Shalvey, most recently took on a weird-o dream-related case that found Marc Spector back in his three-piece to help a researcher figure out why his test subjects were losing their minds.  If i had to pick a single book right now that was my favorite, i’d have to go with Moon Knight not only because of the fantastic cinematic artwork, but because it features a classic character in such unconventional situations and adventures.  Down the road, i’m not sure if Ellis will start pitting Moon Knight against costumed villains or placing him in the larger context of the superheroic world he inhabits, but if he does i hope it’s a long way off.  As it stands now, if you only read one book – READ THIS BOOK.  That goes for people like @Gewpoe too – even if you’re not into the spandex scene, i bet you’ll enjoy this current Moon Knight series.

Silver Surfer #3

Silver Surfer #3

And finally, last but far from least – Silver Surfer by Mike Allred and written by some guy.  Seriously, no disrespect to Dan Slott but if the cymbal-banging monkey toy on the cover were writing this book i’d still pick it up just for Allred’s amazing artwork.  Three issues in and i’m actually curious about the writing process.  The credits list Dan Slott and Mike Allred as storytellers, but i gotta say this reads like 100% pure Allred (and by that i mean Mike and Laura).  A villain named Incredulous Zed, supporting characters like Mr. Mygdalla and metaphysical and existential quandaries amidst the threat of reality collapse is classic Allred territory.  It’s also probably the very best iteration of the Silver Surfer character that i’ve ever read, combining philosophical issues alongside cosmic danger that has the eponymous character – despite virtually limitless power – learning more about the universe from the simple creatures around him than through his own cosmic awareness.  The most recent issue #3 wraps up the first arc that had the Surfer of the Spaceways championing unwitting girl-in-distress Dawn Greenwood while simultaneously saving all future possibility – literally.  For her part, Dawn proved to be a terrific addition to Surfer lore by taking on the role of hero herself and proving just as instrumental in saving the day.  The issue featured a few standout moments for me as well.  The first was a single panel on page 9 where the Surfer explains to dawn what he’s doing.  In true Allred fashion, he is able to convey a certain i don’t even know what through the look on Silver Surfer’s face in that characteristic simple-yet-complex Allred way.  A few pages later, Surfer tries to explain to a panicked population what’s going on, but winds up putting his status as a feared Herald of Galactus to use instead to galvanize them into action.  And finally, on the last page in what will surely become a staple of Surfer continuity, his famed surfboard gets a real name of its own in what for me was a true laugh-out-loud moment.  You’ll never find me having a bad word for anything Mike Allred works on, and Silver Surfer is no exception, so if you’re looking for a comic that is just pure fun but at the same time thoughtful and bursting with phenomenal artwork, definitely check this one out.

 

Bringing the chickens home to roost, part four

…and the last one:

Digital Pull List: Moon Knight

Just like it’s titular character, the newMoon Knight series by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire proves that no matter how often Marc Spector is left for dead, he’ll keep getting back up. Now three issues deep into his sixth official ongoing series, under the Marvel NOW! imprint, the Fist of Khonshu is experiencing another unique rebirth under the deft hands of his creative team.

Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

The last time Moon Knight starred in his own book was the 12-issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev that ran from May 2011 until April 2012, and is one of the cornerstones of my digital collection. Say what you will about Bendis’ lengthy prose, for my money his best work has been done paired with Maleev’s phenomenal art, a collaboration first seen in their four-year run onDaredevil described by IGN as “one of the greatest creative tenures in Marvel history.” Their run on Moon Knight I felt was equally impressive, breaking new ground by letting Marc Spector really own his psychoses and use them to his advantage. In what I see as a current trend in comics generally, creators are frequently free to present their stories in these sorts of maxi-series, a trend that really allows for some terrific storytelling without getting bogged down in keeping a narrative running solely for the sake of continuing a monthly title.

Daredevil #26 cover by Alex Maleev

I first became aware of the new Moon Knight series through some promo pages that showed Moonie’s new costume – a three-piece suit and tie job complete with gloves and dress shoes, his entire head covered in a white cowl with a crescent moon symbol but sans cloak – all in stark white. Although his duds has seen a fair amount of modification over the years, this was certainly the biggest departure from his standard look. If I’m honest, the whole concept of superhero costumes is one I’m frequently skeptical of to begin with, so my impression of the unusual choice was a hearty “good for you, Warren Ellis, to hell with spandex!” My favorite superheroes have always been the street level guys anyway, and Moon Knight in particular has been a favorite since the Moench/Sienkiewicz run that started in 1980 which, as I peruse a gallery of the covers, I realize my brother had the entire run of the series. Damn, wish those issues were still packed in a milk crate in the attic!

Moon Knight volume 1, issue #7 cover by Bill Sienkiewicz – this one has always stuck out in my memory.

The first issue of Ellis’ run has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Shavley’s art that perfectly balances a look of realism with just enough comic-bookishness so that it doesn’t look silly because, let’s face it – in real life costumes would look pretty goofy for the most part. More than that, though, the art is very impressionistic and flows more like film cuts from an true piece of cinema rather than a summer blockbuster. The way a warm New York day cuts to a still Manhattan night on page one, followed by the way page 2 draws you deeper into the shadows of the city’s dark alleys on page two sets the stage perfectly for Moon Knight’s latest iteration as a hero who is grounded in the streets.

In fact, this time around find Spector working as a sort of consultant for an NYC police detective – a smart move for both him and the book itself that lends an air of realism to the whole affair instead of the standard “long vigilante” path that heroes typically follow. While assessing a crime scene, Spector’s skills as a soldier and crime-fighter are put on display, something I particularly enjoyed reading as a huge fan of procedural crime shows that is often omitted in usual superhero fare. The short scene also addresses a vigilante’s place in the world, when one of the beat cops questions his presence there as a civilian and he explains that the safety of the officers themselves in his concern – not just punching bad guys until they stop whatever they’re up to for the time being. The climax of the story shows off a bit of the tactician in Moon Knight that let’s him keep his whites white, too – no mean feat considering a confrontation deep below the streets in Manhattan’s old sewer tunnels.

The epilogue to issue one adds a nice bit of introspection as well, giving a glimpse inside the head of our hero that raises all sorts of questions that hopefully Ellis will have plenty of time to answer.

Quickly following up my read of the debut issue with the following one, I was at first a little confused. The first eight of 22 pages sets up a great narrative mystery that felt strangely devoid of the title character but certainly shows Ellis and Shavley’s bold approach to using white space. In fact, I felt like Shavley was really flexing his artistic muscles here, sacrificing art space to instead move the story along with powerful imagery.

When Moon Knight finally makes an appearance, we see him descending into the city decked out in a variation of his traditional costume, and for the rest of the read I was actually wondering if I’d snagged the wrong book because it was a big departure from the previous issue’s ambiance. It is worth noting that, again speaking to the strong sense of realism in the series so far, Ellis is not afraid to have his hero get injured by conventional weaponry during a drawn-out fight sequence with the issue’s bad guy and Shavley does an excellent job of showing that the cuts, bruises and gunshot wounds these character suffer aren’t just something they shrug off and keep going. The issue wraps up neatly with a mysterious non-costumed but still very dangerous character that, like last issue’s ending, sows the seeds for further storytelling down the line.

Going for the hat trick, I dove right into the next and latest issue #3, and that’s where the series really started to take shape for me. I will admit that it seemed a little short despite the standard 22 pages, but to that end I’ll credit Shavley’s art for pulling me along for a ride that takes you deeper into both Marc Spector’s psyche and the world he’s living in these days.

Issue #3 is essentially a ghost story, and about halfway through I experienced ana-ha moment when it occurred to me what I think Ellis is doing with this series. First, we had crime-fighting detective Moon Knight. Then soldier superhero Moon Knight. And now supernatural investigator Moon Knight.

Ellis is taking his time with each issue to craft small tales that allow Moon Knight to explore all of the many aspects of his personality (or personalities?) that we’ve seen throughout his career. In this way, I feel like this is a true reinvention of the character that kind of breaks the fourth wall for fans by having Marc Spector recognize all the phases his gone through and giving him the presence of mind to select the proper one for each job…except that we see when he’s all alone at home, maybe there’s more to it than that, as his longtime benefactor the Egyptian god Khonshu seems to be guiding him. That’s actually one of the things I’ve always liked best about the character – the ambiguous notion of some otherworldly deity that as far as I know has never really been confirmed as real (at least in the comic universe).

Another thing I’m digging about this series is the heretofore lack of established villains or even newly created costumed supervillains. I like the niche Ellis is carving for Moon Knight as a hero who is really taking ownership of his oddball place in the greater world of superheroes he operates in by taking on cases that slip through the cracks.

Like other titles in the Marvel NOW! and Infinite Comics imprints, Moon Knight has really grabbed my attention for the innovative way it’s treating the stories and characters, and I’m definitely keeping this on my digital pull list. If you’ve ever been a fan of Moon Knight, I say with confidence you won’t be disappointed by this title. And maybe go back and check out the Bendis/Maleev run while you’re at it – you can get the whole 12-issue run for $18 or so on the Marvel Comics App and start your own digital library.

Bringing the chickens home to roost, part three

One more…

Digital Pull List: Magneto

In less than two weeks, on May 23, comics fans and film-goers will pack the theaters to see a movie boasting not one, but two different portrayals of Marvel’s Master of Magnetism when X-Men: Days of Future Past is released. But long before Michael Fassbender reprisal of his charming, enthralling version of Magneto fromX-Men: First Class and decades before Gandalf lent his gravitas to the role, the X-Men’s oldest foe earned his iron-clad place as one of comicdom’s greatest villains by maintaining always at least a tiny shard of sympathy for his plight. Created during the height of America’s Civil Rights movement, it was never a secret that Mags and his nemesis Charles Xavier (Professor X) were analogs of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively. Both leaders amongst their own communities of marginalized and discriminated people – in their cases, mutants in the Marvel Universe.

Cover of X-Men #1 by Jack Kirby

Cover of X-Men #1 by Jack Kirby

Now, me personally, I’ve never considered Magneto to be purely villainous. He’s surely perpetrated his fair share of evil deeds, and that’s expected for a comic book bad guy because let’s face it, if they didn’t regularly cross accepted moral lines then there’d be more than a few of them who aren’t any worse than their heroic counterparts. And of course, there’s always The Punisher argument of why that lunatic falls on the side of the angels.

Nevertheless, though it’s certainly not a precedent for a supervillain to have their own book, it says something when the occasional antagonist stars in their own monthly comic. And I immediately felt the strong attraction when I spotted Magneto #1 while browsing the Marvel Comics app on my tablet, irresistibly drawn as if by one of the Fundamental Forces of Nature.

Magneto #1 cover by Paolo Rivera

The striking cover image that launched the series in March does an excellent job of conveying a few things about Magneto. For anyone familiar with the character’s history, the barbed wire impression of his infamous helmet really speaks to his origins in the concentration camps of Nazi-controlled Poland during WWII. It also serves a story purpose, too. With his powers diminished, Magneto is forced to act behind the scenes, noting in issue #1 that people around the world recognize him more by his helmet than anything else. With his current quest of taking a proactive role in protecting mutantkind, he is forced to act more clandestinely and to that end, stripped of much of his power and all his former resources, he travels the country using his non-mutant moniker Max Eisenhardt (roughly translated to “Iron Hard” in German – clever!).

The first issue of the series finds Magneto holed up in a gritty motel room with a conspiracy-theorist’s map of the U.S. complete with newspaper clippings and pinned yarn connecting various events linked to anti-mutant sentiment. Perhaps it’s Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art combined with the aged anti-hero archetype that makes it so reminiscent of Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns, and I was right away keyed in to his self-appointed crusade to do something about his species’ situation. Although I grew up reading a smattering of X-Men comics in the 80s, it wasn’t until recent years that I really came to appreciate the grand and humanistic struggle faced by Marvel’s homo superiors and their saga has mutated into one of my favorite comic book stories. I particularly like how most mutants consider their “superhero” names and costumes to be their “real” selves, and that their choices are more informed simply by their genetic lot in life, as opposed to traditional hero motivations of doing what’s right, beings an example to humanity or acting with great responsibility for their great power.

In Magneto’s book, most currently on issue #3, the Master of Magnetism has uncovered a literally underground movement to recreate the Omega Sentinel program using a salvaged Master Mold. This investigative story frequently features flashbacks to Magneto’s past, including the aforementioned Nazi occupation, and deftly shows not only how his past informs his present, but also helps explain his philosophies and ruthlessness throughout his life. At times though, it leaves me wondering if he is perhaps a bit shortsighted in seeing that his actions often imitate the brutality that was perpetrated upon himself, and I hope this is addressed in future issues – of which I hope there are many!

In the meantime, Magneto will definitely remain on my digital pull list, and whether you get your comics at your favorite mortar-and-brick shop or your favorite mobile app, I highly recommend this book. It’s a sophisticated look into one of comics’ greatest characters treated in a very realistic way. I especially like how, even with his diminished power, he is still cunning enough to stay one step ahead of his enemies and the S.H.I.E.L.D agents pursuing him. It’s also a very cool gimmick when the time comes for confrontation how he fashions makeshift helmets out of nearby metal, instantly instilling fear by the realization that this heretofore gritty old man is actually the feared Master of Magnetism.