• I’m working on moving my blog (david.ely.fm) over to micro.blog. Posts are importing (and gee it’s hard to read some older stuff) and I’m waiting for the DNS to update.

  • DC Sale

    There’s a big sale on DC Comics on comiXology through the weekend. I thought I’d pick out some of my absolute favorites that you might want to consider. Most of this is from the late 90s and 00s. These are collections of 6–12 comics for like $5 each.

    All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is simply one of the best Superman stories ever made.

    The Dark Knight by Frank Miller and Batman Year One by Miller and David Mazzucchelli are sort of essential Batman reading, Year One being the backbone of the Batman Begins movie.

    The Long Halloween is also hard to pass up.

    I adore Greg Rucka’s work on Batman from the turn of the century. He was one of the writers on the “No Man’s Land” story arc (the backbone of The Dark Knight Rises), which featured a massive earthquake that left Gotham cut off and abandoned. There’s a five-volume set of that on sale, but I recommend skipping to the rebuilding-era New Gotham 1 and New Gotham 2. After that, Bruce Wayne: Murder? and Bruce Wayne: Fugitive.

    Rucka also co-wrote the amazing book Gotham Central with Ed Brubaker, which is in four volumes: one, two, three, four.

    And Ed Brubaker did a superb Catwoman as a film noir crime story, which starts with Selina’s Big Score and then runs for three volumes: one, two, and three.

    Finally, for that corner of the universe, Greg Rucka’s Batwoman shouldn’t be missed.

    Grant Morrison did a famous JLA series, one, two, three, four, and Earth–2.

    There’s so much more on there that I could keep going. Geoff Johns’s entire Green Lantern work. Morrison’s Batman. Birds of Prey. The Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown Batgirl books. Classic Teen Titans. Get buying!

  • An advantage that Twitter has over RSS is that Twitter can provide real-time streaming, where RSS requires an app to check a feed at intervals (setting aside PubSub and RSSCloud). With Twitter making itself worse all the time, I think it’s worth seriously considering other approaches (like micro.blog). Running a web-wide streaming service is expensive, though. I wonder if real-time streaming could be faked within an iOS/Mac app using CloudKit. Each user’s app could check the source once an hour (or so) and then update the public CloudKit entry with its findings. If you have 60 users, that’s one update/minute. 3600 users means you get one/second. Many users wouldn’t have 3600 followers, but you’d get the popular accounts in near real-time and others would at least be updated more frequently than standard RSS polling might achieve. Plus any post made from within the app could be sent up to the system immediately. Just a thought.

    Edit: And of course there’s no reason it would have to be CloudKit. A client could easily talk to a different server and tell it it’s found a new item in the feed. Point being, you’re using crowdsourcing to keep a feed updated.

  • Related to my last piece, it occurs to me how Apple’s design philosophy has changed in the 20 years since the iMac’s release. Then, the iMac was meant to make a statement. “Your beige PCs are boring. Computers can be fun!” The design of newer MacBooks and iMacs, to the contrary, is meant to be invisible. The goal is to minimize the physicality of the computer to the greatest extent possible so that the software can be the entire experience. A classic iMac that’s turned off still makes its candy-color presence known; a new iMac that’s turned off is meant to be unseen. To extend my metaphor about Vitsœ, a MacBook is a shelf. You’re not supposed to notice the shelf, you’re supposed to notice the books or flowers or curios on the shelf.

    The iPhone works similarly. Apple sometimes offers them in a few colors but understands that people will accessorize them with cases more often than not, anyway. Apple Watch is meant to be a fashion item, so you can jazz it up with a new band but even then, the watch’s body itself is meant to be understated so that the screen and band can shine.

  • HomePod

    My family gave me a HomePod for my birthday last week. Despite the contrarian press it got upon release, I realized that Apple had more or less made the ideal product for my needs. I only ever listen to music from my iTunes/Apple Music library. Never CDs; I never got into vinyl. I use Apple Music, not Spotify, because I like that it integrates with my existing iTunes collection. I want to be able to play music in the living room but don’t want to set up a hi-fi system there. I find even the small barrier of having to stand up and turn something on means I often don’t bother to play music in the house. So, after a little over a week’s use, here are my thoughts.

    First, audio quality, which is where the HomePod shines. It sounds fantastic. I do suspect, however, that most people have about two modes for assessing audio quality: not good and fine. People will tolerate cheap Bluetooth speakers and anything that sounds better than that all just sounds good to them. Apple will win in a head-to-head battle between much inferior hardware but I’m not sure that most consumers will care enough about the difference between a medium level speaker and the HomePod. There’s probably room for Amazon to make a “good enough”-sounding Echo and charge half of what Apple is.

    I very much like the HomePod’s “set it and forget it” approach to its soundscape. There are no knobs (physical or digital) for me to think I should be tweaking. You put it in the room, it listens its environment, makes some adjustments without you having to do anything, and it’s done. People who really want to tinker, can’t, but for me it’s freeing. Because I can’t tinker with it, I don’t have to worry about it.

    Looks: I got the white. The “space gray” also looks nice. Both are entirely unobtrusive in most any room. The white reminds me of some of the Dieter Rams-designed Braun audio products, like the SK series record players or the RT-20 radio. Rams had a philosophy that household appliance should be as unobtrusive as possible, which Apple’s Jony Ive follows. Rams didn’t make kitchen appliances in colors, for example, because he felt it wasn’t their job to stand out. His Vitsœ shelving system is a simple gray because it’s the job of the shelves to highlight what’s on them, not stand out themselves. This all applies wonderfully to the HomePod which never needs to touch or even looked at to be used. It just hangs out, ready to play your music when needed.

    Siri: I use Siri very often on my phone to add things to lists (typically grocery items and reminders: “Hey Siri, remind me to make an appointment for [blah] tomorrow morning”) and to set timers (usually when cooking or waiting for tea to steep). I sometimes dictate text messages. The results are sometimes right but often have typos that need correction. For music, though, Siri works fine in my experience. It seems to generally play the music I’ve asked it to. I’m not sure what other people are using their home cylinders for that there’s been this huge level of dissatisfaction with Siri vs Amazon’s Alexa. We’ve even asked it a few factual questions and gotten good verbal answers.

    HomePod can’t play a live stream of NPR. The Echo can. You can ask it for news and you get a highlight reel of top stories but not a live feed.

    The microphones are astoundingly sensitive. It can understand me speaking in a quiet voice when I’m upstairs and several rooms away.

    Touch Interface: you can pick music to play directly from iOS. If you flip open Control Center and tap on the music widget, it brings up an icon for your phone/iPad along with also icons for the HomePod and Apple TVs in the house. Tapping on the HomePod brings up the normal music app but will play over the HomePod instead of the device you’re currently holding. This is nice for when you have people over and don’t want to awkwardly interrupt them to yell at your stereo. Maybe in time we’ll get used to voice control enough that it won’t seem socially strange to talk to our electronics but I’m not there yet.

    Services: HomePod is billed as an Apple Music accessory, but without a subscription to that service it’ll still play anything you’ve bought from iTunes. I suspect there are a ton of people out there who have at this point bought most if not all of their music from iTunes over the last 15 years, and the HomePod will play all that for you just fine. There’s no Spotify but I don’t use Spotify so that’s not a negative for me. Either Apple is planning to add support for it in a forthcoming update or it has internal numbers that say it’ll be fine without it.

    Will HomePod succeed? I don’t know. It feels like the right product for me. I’m happy with it so far. Beats shows that people will pay more for what they think is good audio gear. The HomePod has the advantage of actually being able to back up that claim. I’d say if you use Apple Music now, want a great speaker somewhere you don’t already have a stereo set up (or want to simplify your current approach), consider a HomePod. Don’t worry about Siri. It works fine.


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  • I was reading this article today on Daring Fireball about Apple Pay and was wondering if Apple might have made a mistake by branding the service “Apple Pay.” Or, “Pay.” The technology by which you can use your phone as a proxy for your credit card is, as I understand it, a system that’s handled by the store and your bank, and isn’t any different whether you’re using Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, etc. They’re all names for the same thing.

    I wonder if, instead of calling the service “Apple Pay,” Apple should have worked with other mobile vendors to come up with a more generic name, like “Mobile Pay.” A lot of customers don’t know what mobile payments are, and I have a hunch that having it co-branded with their phone gives them the idea that they’re being asked to sign up for a company scrip or something, the way old mining companies would pay you in their own currency that was only good at the company store, or Disney Dollars that could only be spent at the theme park. In reality, aside from your Apple-made computer being used to conduct the transaction, everything about Apple Pay is entirely between the store and the bank. Apple says it never sees the details of your purchase, but I suspect a lot of the people who haven’t signed up for Apple Pay think the service involves you using Apple as a middle man: you pay Apple through your iTunes account or whatever and then it pays the vendor.

    When Apple adopted wi-fi it branded its wireless system as “AirPort,” meaning both the physical AirPort wi-fi base stations it was selling but also the wifi capabilities in its computers. After a few years Apple backed off from this and now uses “wi-fi” where appropriate in iOS and Mac OS. Having a branded version of a generic protocol creates confusion. My Mac has AirPort. Will it work on wi-fi?

    Compare to wireless charging, which Apple very clearly didn’t try to brand at all. Most any wireless charging doodad you buy will work with new iPhones. How Apple will handle its upcoming AirPower charger, which will support Qi charging but have extra features as well, remains to be seen. It’s done a fair job with the AirPods, which are standard Bluetooth headphones that happen to pair more easily with Apple devices due to its additions to the spec.

  • The Unstoppable Wasp Reading List

    Following up on yesterday’s piece, I wanted to mention the few books where Nadia appears prior to her own series. She was created by Mark Waid and Alan Grant and her solo series was written by Jeremy Whitley with art by Elsa Charretier. Her first few appearances are by Waid, and then Whitley co-wrote a spotlight issue with Waid before launching her book. She has a few other appearances but I considering these to be her proper canon.

    She’s in a backup story in the Civil War II Free Comic Book Day special.

    She debuts properly in All-New, All-Different Avengers 9, then has a two-page appearance following from that in 10, and a few more pages in 12. A-N A-D A 14 is a spotlight issue on Nadia not to be missed.

    From there, read The Unstoppable Wap 1-8.

    (There’s also a small story by Whitley in Secret Empire: Brave New World 1 that Nadia appears in for two panels.)

    Coming up, Nadia will co-star in an Ant-Man and the Wasp miniseries by Waid that’ll start around the time her less interesting movie version, Hope, appears as the Wasp on the big screen.

  • Marvel Girls

    While I’d say that Marvel Comics hasn’t been having a great few years overall, there’s one area where the publisher has been kicking ass: comics with female leads. Here are some recommendations, with links to their pages on comiXology:

    Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero stars Kate Bishop, who first appeared in Young Avengers and was a co-star of Matt Fraction’s superlative Hawkeye, to which Thompson’s book is very much the proper successor. You don’t need to know much about the character to jump in. She’s trying to be a private detective in L.A.

    Mockingbird by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk stars Bobbie Morse, agent of SHIELD, and it’s rad and tragically only lasted a few issues.

    The Unbelievable Gwenpool by Christopher Hastings and Gurihuru started out as a joke. Deadpool was over-saturated, and then Marvel made a character called Spider-Gwen, an alternate universe version of Gwen Stacy who got bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. They did a “Gwenpool” gag featuring a lady wearing a pink Deadpool costume and then Hastings ran with the idea, creating the character of Gwen Poole, a girl from our universe who mysteriously winds up in the Marvel Universe possessing the advantage of knowing everyone’s secret identify and understanding how stories work, so she knows that she can’t be killed as long as she keeps doing important enough things to remain worthy of being the star of her own comic. It’s fun.

    The Unstoppable Wasp by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier features Nadia Van Dyne, daughter of original Ant-Man Hank Pym. Nadia is a scientist and every issues features interviews with real-life female scientists at the end.

    Ms. Marvel has been out long enough that she’s been rebooted, so here’s her first volume, and her second. Created by G. Willow Wilson with art by Adrian Alphona, it follows Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American Jersey girl who can change her shape.

    Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, and Natacha Bustos follows smartest person in the world nine-year-old Lunella Lafayette and her sorta pet dinosaur.

    Honorable mentions go to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Spider-Gwen (volume one, volume two), and Thor, which is a little more involved.

  • EarBuddyz

    When Apple unveiled the EarPods, its redesign of the classic ear buds that it had shipped since the original iPod came out, Greg Joswiak said the company had spent three years designing them. The Jony Ive-narrated video says they took molds of “hundreds” of customers’ ears to fit a “broad range of ears.” I have a memory of an interview the company gave around that time claiming that the new headphone design was meant to fit snugly into something like 90% of wearers’ ears. I, sadly, am among the small percentage of those whose ears simply don’t accept EarPods well. They just fall right out of my head if I move at any pace faster than a walk.

    All that said, I adore the AirPods despite them being based on the EadPods design that doesn’t work with my ears. They’re amazing little gadgets. The pairing is super simple. You don’t ever have to think about charging them. I love that the case doubles as a charger and a convenient place to stow them. Recently I discovered that if you hold Play/Pause on the Apple TV’s remote while on the home screen, you can quickly switch between your TV’s normal output to the AirPods, which I use when I’m watching TV in bed after my wife has gone to sleep. AirPods are probably second only to the Apple Pencil as the closest Apple has gotten to its dream of invisible technology. You don’t think about using them, you just put them in and music plays.

    But they fall out of my ears, and that’s annoying. Actually, the AirPods don’t exactly fall out of my ears like the EarPods did, because there’s no cord to yank on, but they move out of position so that they’re not making a tight enough seal to sound good, meaning I have to reach up and shove them back into my ears every few minutes while on a walk. Fortunately it’s not an issue if I’m just wearing them around the house doing dishes and such. A few months ago I got a set of EarBuddyz, which claim to solve this problem, and I can report that they work very well.

    EarBuddyz are little silicon covers for the AirPods that have hooks to help them stay in your ears. The downside is that the AirPods don’t fit in their case with the EarBuddyz on. There isn’t really a way around this. Maybe a very thin skin would make the AirPods big enough to fit in my ears better but small enough to still fit in the case, but it’d be hard. The EarBuddyz solve this by being very easy to slip on and off the AirPods. The marketing claims five seconds, and that’s about right. The soft silicon just slides right on. It’s still an extra step, and if I used them more than once a day for a walk/jog, I’d find it annoying, but until a better solution comes along, I recommend you check them out if you’re having fit issues with AirPods.

  • Robot Or Not?

    One of my favorite podcasts is Robot or Not?, in which Jason Snell asks John Siracusa to rule on whether a given thing is, or isn’t, a robot. Episodes often last just three or four minutes. It’s a neat little thing. Go check it out.

    I mentioned the podcast to a friend the other day and was trying to spell out what I think Siracusa’s rules are for determing robot candidacy He may have made this explicit at one point or another but, going from memory of his rulings, I came up with what I think are Siracusa’s three criteria for robothood (because robot rules always come in threes). A robot must have:

    1. A primarily inorganic, technological body that
    2. It considers to be itself; and
    3. Be capable of independent operation.

    Thus, for Siracusa, a Terminator is a robot because it is made of metal despite being wrapped in living tissue and can operate just fine without its fleshy coverings; Darth Vader (and similar cyborgs) is not because he’s a person who’s been augmented with metal parts.

    An artificial intelligence is not a robot because it has no body (per 1); an A.I. that can temporarily animate a metal body is not also not a robot (per 2) because it considers that body to be disposable and destroying the body does not destroy the program. An A.I. that installs itself into one body and stays there might be a robot if it comes to think of that body as an inextricable part of itself.

    Vehicles or mechs piloted by a human are not robots, nor are drones that are driven remotely, because they don’t operate independently (per 3). Animatronic creatures, assembly line robots, and self-driving cars, while not being directly controlled by humans, are not robots because their operation is still tied to direct instructions by a human. This isn’t to say that a car-shaped robot couldn’t work as a taxi for its job, so long as it was otherwise capable of making its own decisions.

    Food for thought: how does mortality affect robothood? Siracusa does not consider an A.I. that can hop between bodies to be a robot. What about a robot that makes backups of itself? If a robot is killed but then restored from a backup in a new body, does that make it not a robot but an A.I.? I wrote a bit about the idea or mortality and robots and love a little while ago. Personally I’d vote that yes, Casanova’s Ruby Seychelle a) is a robot (she’s clearly flesh-covered like a Terminator but a robot underneath) and b) would still have been a robot if she’d been restored from a backup into a new body, because she’d continue to think of her new body as her. I guess there’s a bit of “replace the axe handle, replace the head” to it all.

  • How A Jedi Dresses

    A friend quipped on Twitter the other day about the idea that, if Obi-Wan is supposed to be in hiding at the start of Star Wars, why does he dress like a Jedi? I argued that he isn’t, he’s dressed in standard, native Tatooine clothing. It wasn’t until the prequels came along that the robed look was settled upon as the official Jedi uniform. In The Secret History of Star Wars, author Michael Kaminski looked at the development of the standard Jedi look:

    > The Jedi first were conceived in Journal of the Whills as intergalactic super-police, having their own army, requiring training at an academy, and providing military services such as escorting cargo through hostile territory. […] In the 1983 Return of the Jedi documentary Classic Creatures, Lucas remarked to Mark Hamill during a costume fitting that his new, militaristic black costume was “Jedi-like.” However, in re-developing the Jedi order as a dogmatic monk-like organisation for the prequels, their visual look shifted accordingly, presenting them clad in priestly robes. “At one point during the Episode I design, we were thinking of the Jedi as lone samurai, then as teams of samurai,” concept designer Ian McCaig said in The Art of Episode II. “They were going to be like a police force, dressed in black and a lot more militaristic. But they evolved into the peacekeeping force they are in the current film.” The designing of the prequel costumes was described by Laurent Bouzereau:

    >> Everything from full body armor to long, flowing capes were considered for the Jedi’s costumes — although Lucas eventually went back to the designs from the first trilogy. “George wanted to make sure that when the audience saw these characters for the first time, it would immediately register that these were Jedi knights,” McCaig explained. “For these characters and for Yoda, we had to establish some familiarity in the costumes with those existing films. I looked at the original Star Wars costumes to understand the style and influence, and I realized that those designers were very medieval, so we kept to that.”

    > However, this decision was based on a major oversight — the “Jedi garb” of the original trilogy was not Jedi garb at all. Obi Wan wore the standard desert robes of an inhabitant of Tatooine, modelled after middle-eastern dress — in fact, Uncle Owen is dressed in almost the exact same costume. Yoda as well is not wearing Jedi robes but merely hand-crafted rags. This problem may have been fostered due to a misinterpretation in Return of the Jedi — when Anakin appears in spirit in the final scene, rather than coming up with a proper Jedi costume, he was simply dressed identically to Obi Wan, perhaps creating the confusion that his clothing, identical to Obi Wan’s and similar to Yoda’s, the only Jedi ever seen in the films, was the traditional Jedi garb. There is at least an in-universe answer — since Anakin is from Tatooine, his traditional clothing might be the same desert garb that Uncle Owen and Obi Wan wear. In any case, this decision is a minor but often forgotten evolution (and certainly it may confuse future viewers who may be wondering why everyone on Tatooine, especially Uncle Owen, is dressed as a Jedi).

    It takes a special kind of prequel to misunderstand its own source material, especially when the same guy wrote both.

  • My 2017 in Movies, TV, Comics, Games, and More

    Following The Incomparable’s year-end episode in which each panelist ran through his/her favorite movies, books, etc. from ’17, I thought I’d do a bit of the same. Here’s a recap of some of the media I enjoyed over the year. Particular recommendations are in bold.

    To my horror, I realize I read very few books over the year. Ack. Caledonian Gambit by Dan Moren is a cool space adventure. Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey was good but I felt it was much more a continuation of the previous book where others in the Expanse series have each had their own flair to them. As part of my work on the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons, I read through The Art and Invention of Max Fleischer: American Animation Pioneer by Ray Pointer. Also I reread The Gunslinger because the Dark Tower movie got me excited again about that series (though I ended up skipping the film).

    Comics

    The main reason I didn’t get to many novels last year was that I had a huge backlog of comics sitting in a pile that I worked through.

    Picking the best book of the year is easy. It’s Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Liz Fleming. Giant Days is a sort of sitcom featuring three women attending university in Sheffield, UK. It won House to Astonish’s “Best Ongoing Series” award where Al pointed out that not just every issue is funny, often every page is. It’s available on Comixology’s Unlimited service.

    My personal favorite ongoing comic is Transformers: Lost Light. I didn’t pick it as the year’s best only because it’s regaining momentum after the conclusion of its second major act. I wrote about Lost Light’s predecessor series, More Than Meets the Eye before here and here. I do recommend you read it. I didn’t have much interest in reading a Transformers comic before but this one is special. Don’t start with Lost Light, though. Read MTMtE first. The full reading order for that series is here. When you’re done with that, you can move on to Lost Light 1-current.

    I’ve been working my way through The Carl Barks Library, Fantagraphics’s collection of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics by the series’ most important creator, but if I had to recommend a Duck book, it’d be volumes four and five of the Don Rosa collection. Rosa’s intent was to set his stories firmly in the world that Barks, specifically, had created, often making sequels to the earlier stories and/or rigorously incorporating the tiniest details from the Barks canon. Those two volumes comprise Rosa’s “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” and are, I say without exaggeration, some of them best comic books you can read. Here’s volume four, The Last of Clan McDuck, and five, The Richest Duck in the World.

    Other older books: I’m working my way through Tintin and Asterix, which delight with every volume. Staying with the “European comics” theme, I read the first three in “Valerian: The Complete Collection.”

    Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor series continues to be excellent. As with Lost Light, it’s not at a good “jumping-on” point; he’s about 75 issues into his saga at this point. Here’s a piece I wrote on it earlier this year, going over how Marvel’s constant renumbering and relaunching of the book make it very hard to keep track of: The Unreadable Thor. The book has been great for its whole run (as have Thor comics in general for quite some time), but it’s annoying I can’t just point to a specific volume number and say, “start reading from there.”

    Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer book was a beautiful piece of work on that character, with more than a dash of Doctor Who sprinkled in, in both the obvious ways of making it a space adventure with a female companion along for the ride, but also in the way the book gives you a warm feeling when you see how the story comes together. It’s not quite as hard to read as Thor: read a short story in All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1 (yes, that’s the title), then volume five from start to finish (15 issues), then volume six (14 issues).

    Tom King’s work on Batman is very good, but his Mister Miracle, currently on issue six of a planned 12 issues, is probably the best book DC Comics is publishing right now.

    Other mentions: The Unbelievable Gwenpool is unbelievably fun. I just tracked down the issues of that I’d missed and it’s remarkable how the book builds over time. It isn’t just a one-off joke about a hero who is or isn’t a Deadpool wannabe. Somehow The Flintstones is totally worth your time. Saga continues to be strong. I want Black Panther to be a little better, but it’s good and I’m hyped for the movie.

    Movies

    I was surprised at how many movies I saw in the theater last year when I started typing them out, yet realize I missed a few crucial offerings, namely Get Out and The Big Sick. I’m planning to catch both soon at home. I wanted to see Murder on the Orient Express but didn’t manage to, and I’d totally forgotten T2: Trainspotting exists despite being a big Danny Boyle fan. (I even saw his Frankenstein play!)

    Moving on to movies I did see, I of course loved The Last Jedi. It’s not at all the movie I expected it to be, and it’s stayed with me over the weeks since I’ve seen it. I’m move on lest I go on and on about just that one movie.

    Superhero-wise, there were a lot of good ones this year, right? Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 were all quite good. Oh also Logan, which I’d sort of forgotten about but was unexpected and great. On a hunch I avoided Justice League (as I have the other Snyder DC movies) and nothing I’ve heard has made me question that decision.

    Baby Driver was superb.

    I didn’t see Arrival in theaters when it came out but it was, also, superb.

    Bladerunner 2049 was a thoughtful, cool sci-fi movie. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t. I was very hopeful for the latter, given a wealth of cool source material and my love of Besson’s The Fifth Element, but this one just didn’t work. I want to think there’s more to Alien: Covenant but I wasn’t moved to think about it much after I saw it.

    Coco was beautiful and touching.

    Other kids’ movies: if the first Lego Movie was much better than it should have been, The Lego Batman Movie was fun but about as good as I expected, and The Lego Ninjago Movie a little less so but still enjoyable. I adore My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic but found the movie didn’t live up to the quality of the show (though I’d say the show hasn’t been as good as its first few seasons in a while). Boss Baby and Despicable Me 3 were mostly dreck, as expected. I typically try to avoid taking my kids to that sort of stuff but their swim team does group movies and it’s either take them to that or actually be an active parent and come with with a constructive activity for them to be doing. The live-action Beauty and the Beast has its moments but was ultimately pointless. The original film is wonderful as it is.

    Other good movies I took my kids to: we caught favorites My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service at the local Studio Ghibli film festival, I took the older one to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (oh, and I read that manga finally!), and I saw Whisper of the Heart. Porco Rosa and The Castle of Cagliostro are the remaining Hayao Miyazaki films I haven’t seen.

    TV

    I think The Good Place is probably the show I look forward to most each week. The entire first season is on Netflix. Do not watch the second season until you’ve seen the first. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin are also wonderful.

    Twin Peaks, sort of like The Last Jedi, didn’t give us what we expected but was wonderful all the same. I think it and Bladerunner sort of belong in a similar bucket of works where the creators were clearly given tremendous leeway to tell the stories they wanted and what they produced was not for everyone but if they’re your bag, you got a treat.

    Over at HBO, I thoroughly loved Westworld. Game of Thrones is winding down but had some super great moments. Silicon Valley and Veep continued being funny. I’m told Leftovers is excellent but I’ve let my HBO Now subscription lapse, so I’ll jump on that whenever I resubscribe.

    Stranger Things is obviously right up my alley, though I’m still only partway through the second season. (I’m savoring it!) Marvelous Ms. Maisel is next on my list.

    I watch the CW’s entire slate of superhero shows, and they range from fine to guilty pleasure to good. Agents of SHIELD, likewise. Iron Fist had a few redeemable moments but it really didn’t live up to what it could have been. Luke Cage did much better, and I thought The Defenders was, again, fine. I haven’t gotten to The Punisher yet. Probably after I watch the new Black Mirror episodes, which is incredibly hit and miss but I’m still blown away by the “San Junipero” episode.

    Somehow I missed Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I know it’s good and the few I’ve seen were funny, but it’s only return on Hulu and after paying for Netflix and HBO I can’t justify another streaming subscription. Thus, I also haven’t seen The Handmaid’s Tale. I’d also like to watch Legion, and the first bit of The Expanse is on Amazon Prime so I’ll get to that soon, too.

    Theater

    I started out the year seeing Hamilton on Broadway. I have a hard time even writing about it. Is it okay to say I think it might be the greatest work of art in my lifetime? It seems outrageous to make that sort of claim. I’ll say seeing it live was one of the very, very few things in life that exceeded all expectations. It’s, like, you’ve listened to the cast recording dozens of times and you think you know what Hamilton is, but then you realize, “oh, I get to see them act and dance, too?”

    While in New York my wife and I also caught Wicked, which I liked a lot and want to take the kids to when they’re just a tiny bit bigger.

    At the National Theater in DC we saw Fun Home and Means Girls. I liked both. Fun Home did one of the best stagecraft tricks I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen, like, ten plays!) but I don’t want to spoil it.

    Music

    I don’t know how to write about music. I don’t keep up with stuff as it’s released. Today I’m listening to David Bowie non-stop to celebrate his birthday. Here’s my collection of links to things about Bowie you might enjoy. Aside from that right now I’m into musicals, film scores, proto-punk, and just recently, new wave.

    The Baby Driver Soundtrack was wonderful.

    I discovered that there are six volumes of music from Batman: The Animated Series on Apple Music. Here’s the first.

    In March I saw Green Day in concert for probably the fourth or fifth time. They always put on a good show and were on fire that night. This Rolling Stone interview was conducted the day I saw them.

    I liked this article about John Williams’s score for The Last Jedi, A Field Guide to the Musical Leitmotifs of “Star Wars”. Rogue One: a Star Wars Legacy covers how, like the movie itself, Michael Giancchino’s score tries to strike its own path while referencing the original saga lovingly. Unrelated to music but I’ll drop in How Star Wars Was Saved in the Edit here because it’s a splendid look at how that movie was almost awful.

    I’m sucker for non-movie media where the author compiles a soundtrack to accompany the writing. Here’s something I wrote about music from the Dark Tower books. Here’s an Apple Music playlist for Transformers: Lost Light that I compiled and one for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther.

    Podcasts

    For Apple-related technology discussion, John Gruber’s The Talk Show can’t really be beat. I listen to Accidental Tech Podcast regularly, as well, but often skip segments.

    House to Astonish continues to be the only comics-related podcast I listen to. There are other good ones, but HtA is the only one I’ve been able to stick with.

    The West Wing Weekly facilitates a rewatch of The West Wing, which is reason enough to listen. I will most likely drop it when after the fourth season, though.

    The Adventure Zone finished its years-long “Balance” story arc last year. The ending was powerful, emotional, and perfect. It’s a little hard to recommend that you listen to a story that’s well over a hundred hours long, but you’ll be rewarded if you do.

    The Incomparable always produces good stuff. I dip in and out of many of its sister podcasts.

    Games

    I continue to play Heroes of the Storm regularly. I climbed to Platinum 2 in Hero League and was pretty proud of that, but my last season was awful so I have to put in some more work. I like how the game has grown but a few recent character releases have made the game less fun to play (Genji, Garrosh). It’s a little hard to pull apart the distinction between an enemy hero presenting you with a challenge to overcome and one who just makes the game worse. Recent nerfs have fixed it a little bit and I’m giddy to get the new mecha skins.

    Mostly, though the Nintendo Switch took over game time this year. I finished up the last of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild’s the second expansion just before New Year’s Eve. Super Mario Odyssey is a blast. I’ve finsihed the main story but have lots more to explore. I love Splatoon 2. Mario Kart 8 is always fun. A lot of people skipped 1-2-Switch, correctly deeming it overpriced, but I got to play the game in a proper party atmosphere with family over the holidays and it was a blast. The key is not to think of it as a video game but more a party activity. Still, it should probably be included for free with the console. Jackbox has been a big hit, too. I like ARMS a good deal but somehow it never captures my attention for too long. I just got Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and am eager to spend more time with it. I haven’t done all of Snipperclips Plus but I’m a big fan of that game.

    What still amazes me with the Switch is how successful it is at being what it was supposed to be. It really, truly does work equally well as a home console on the TV as it does as a portable gaming machine. You might have expected one mode to work well and the others to lag behind, but every setup is great. Over the weekend my kids and their cousins were all gathered around the TV playing Minecraft and Mario Kart together, then it entertained them in the car on the way to my aunt’s birthday party, and then we played it with assorted family in tabletop mode. I have a wishlist for where I think Nintendo should take the system, but so far it’s a home run.


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  • Thesis, Antithesis, and Star Wars

    I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about how hard it must have been to come up with a story entry point for a sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy. By the end of Return of the Jedi, both Vader and the Emperor have been defeated. The movie doesn’t establish any structure to the Empire to imply it would survive having its leaders killed, and doesn’t give us any new villains who might take over. Character-wise, Luke has successfully avoided the temptations of the Dark Side and become a full Jedi. Han became a team player in the first movie, grew emotionally in the second, and had no real arc in the third. Leia sort of ditto, having been a complete character from the start. Jedi leaves no stories unresolved, in large part because George Lucas had grown wary of filmmaking and so shoved his main ideas for the entire third trilogy into that movie.

    Michael Kaminski’s The Secret History of Star Wars carefully lays out what Lucas’s early ideas for the series were. Once he eventually settled on the nine picture structure, his trilogies were broken up this way:

    1. The prequel trilogy would have followed young Obi-Wan and Anakin, culminating in Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, becoming Darth Vader.
    2. The middle trilogy follows the Luke vs. Vader conflict and ends with Luke defeating him.
    3. The sequel trilogy would follow Luke’s search for the “other” Yoda mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke and the Other would unite and overthrow the Emperor.

    As Kaminski traces through Lucas’s drafts and interviews, a lot of the series wasn’t sketched out until after he made the first film. Leia wasn’t originally intended to be Luke’s sister, hence their kisses in Star Wars and Empire. Lucas hadn’t conclusively decided that Darth Vader was Luke’s father until after he made Star Wars. Or, even, that “Darth” wasn’t just his first name:

    Vader: When I left you, I was but the learner; now, I am the master.
    Obi-Wan: Only a master of evil, Darth.

    “Darth” didn’t become an honorific for evil force users until decades later.

    Crucially, Yoda’s Empire line referring to “another” following Obi-Wan’s “that boy is our last hope” was, when Empire was written, intended to be a plot thread that would dangle until after the next movie. Luke would defeat Vader in the third (sixth) movie, and then Luke would go off in search of the Other and confront the Emperor, who’s only seen in one short scene in Empire.

    What changed? Lucas got tired. Making the movies was incredibly hard and his marriage was falling apart, eventually ending in divorce the same year Jedi came out. So he made Leia the “other,” moved the Emperor into the third movie, and dispatched both villains at once.

    Where, then, does the story go after Jedi?

    [Warning: I’m going to spoil The Last Jedi in a few paragraphs.]

    Going with what we have so far, I’ll argue that a Star Wars trilogy¹ should:

    1. Follow a generation of the Skywalker family. The original trilogy is about Luke. The prequel trilogy is about his father.
    2. Involve a series of events that have galactic-political scale. The original trilogy is about Luke and the Rebels defeating fascism. The prequel trilogy is about Darth Vader falling to the Dark Side, murdering the Jedi, and the rise of fascism.

    From that, in broad strokes, I would expect the sequel trilogy to involve Luke or Leia’s offspring and his/her/their place in a post-Empire galaxy.

    Imagine you’re tasked with writing the sequel trilogy. Job 1 is to answer the question, “how does the story of this galaxy proceed from where we last saw it?” There aren’t any lingering plots to continue. How did J.J. Abrams answer this question? He solves part 1 by giving us Kylo Ren, and man is he a great character! Obnoxious, powerful but unfocused, wanting to be like Vader but not succeeding at being even 50% as cool, rejecting his famous do-gooder parents, and so on. He’s a cool tick-tock, too, from “good turns bad Skywalker” (prequels) to “good Skywalker” (original) to “starts out bad Skywalker.” Is episode nine his redemption story?

    I do worry that Abrams basically punted on part two, though – the answering of the question of what the state of the galaxy is post-Jedi. The original trilogy is set in a world that’s a direct result of the not-yet-seen but implied events of the prequel trilogy: the Republic has fallen, the Jedi are all dead, and the Empire has risen. Thinking about it I don’t really want someone to have done a five-minute “as you know…” explanation of the last few decades of history, but we get basically no explanation for why a new group of fascists took over after the last ones were defeated.

    What’s bizarre about The Last Jedi is that it takes what you’d expect to be the entire plot of the sequel trilogy (“Luke trains new Jedi”) and shunts it to a series of quick flashbacks. This is a fascinating decision. Obi-Wan’s dialogue in the original trilogy shows the weight of the burden he carries for being an ineffective tutor to Vader (which the prequel trilogy then failed to adequately explore). Luke’s failure to temper Ben Solo is a direct parallel to this, but the movie just skips ahead to Luke-as-hermit, putting him in the same place as Obi-Wan at the start of Star Wars.

    Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s experimented with the use of the dialectic, a theory derived from Hegel, as a narrative and editing tool. They would intentionally set up a thesis, show its antithesis, and from the tension between the two establish a new synthesis. (This synthesis can then, in turn, become a new thesis with an opposite, and so on.) I’ll argue that in some ways what Abrams and Rian Johnson are giving us, thus, is not a true sequel to the original trilogy but a synthesis of the original and prequel trilogies. The formal references to the original trilogy are obvious: the structural similarities to Star Wars in The Force Awakens, the sort of backwards homages to Empire in Last Jedi (white salt planet at end vs white snow planet at beginning, etc.) But we’re also seeing corrections to the prequel trilogy. Last Jedi ends showing us the full start of the new rebellion, which is what we’d have expected episode three to be about. The prequels didn’t properly show us how Obi-Wan failed Anakin, so episode eight is doing that with Luke and Ben. Luke seems to tell Rey that the Force itself isn’t Light Side (thesis) vs Dark Side (antithesis) but a more nuanced mystery. Meanwhile the status quo of the galaxy is more or less what it was as the original movie started: fascism reigns, and we wait for something new to be resolved in this conflict.

    I really don’t want to come off sounding too critical of a trilogy that’s not done yet. I love that the new Star Wars movies aren’t what I expected. Given their new status as money-makers for the Walt Disney Company, they could just be action movies featuring computer creatures and laser sword fights. Instead, they’re making us think in deep ways about storytelling. That’s cool, and I’m thrilled to see where it goes from here.


    ¹ Excepting/accepting that Johnson is planning to make a new trilogy that doesn’t follow the Skywalker clan. That’s fine. I’m just thinking about the structure of this particular saga.


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  • I’ve been following Seth Abramson’s twitter feed with interest and cautious skepticism for a little while. See this Washington Post story and interview with him for a good arms-length summary, and Abramson’s own reactions to the story itself. He makes his points persuasively but ultimately we’ll have to wait and see what Mueller is able to demonstrate. Certainly there’s a good bit of wishful thinking going on with his popularity. Here’s a smart guy who’s been able to map the whole thing out! Skepticism doesn’t mean he’s wrong, just that I’m trying to balance my own desire to see the whole lot of them laughed out of office with the possibility that none of it is provable, could have happened but somehow is legally murky enough to sneak through, or that congress might just get the evidence and not impeach, anyway.

    What I find most interesting, though, is not his analysis but his use of Twitter as a new medium for news commentary. He cites his sources. Good. He draws conclusions based on them and his own experience. Good. He’s only as good as the reported information that’s out there, though, and and he’s not vetting this stuff himself. Fine, but a reason to be cautious about his – or anyone’s – analysis. Twitter allows him to get ideas out quickly, and allows his readers to feel like they’re getting a live feed of breaking information.

    Yet Twitter is an absolutely awful place to be doing this. Reading a thread that’s 100 tweets long, a sentence or two at a time, is sort of terrible if you’re not on when it’s happening. A blog post is almost always the right format for anything longer than one single thought. (Hello!) If he ran these threads on a blog, he could be updating them as new info comes in, building an archive of news sources that mentioned each point, categorizing everything, etc. But probably no one would be reading it. He wouldn’t have built up the following he has with a weblog, despite a medium for long form writing being exceptionally more appropriate.

  • Christmas Playlist 2017

    I’ve been very carefully building a Christmas playlist for over a decade. I only add one song a year, and I only listen to the songs on the list between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany. There are now seventeen songs on the list.

    1. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
    2. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
    3. “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues
    4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland
    5. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
    6. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” By Dean Martin
    7. “Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental)” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
    8. “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole
    9. “I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard
    10. “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis Presley
    11. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan
    12. “What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder
    13. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
    14. “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone
    15. “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie & Bing Crosby
    16. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
    17. “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade

    This year’s addition is “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard. I’ve heard this song pop up here and there more often in the past few years and I dig it. I was sort of leaning toward Weird Al’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” but it seems a bit too on the nose for ’17.

    You can subscribe to this playlist on Apple Music here.

  • Twitter as a Finished Product

    I have a few thoughts to express about Twitter and, since it’s not just one thought, Twitter itself isn’t an appropriate medium. I’m of the opinion that Twitter the product has been more or less finished for several years. Since its launch it’s added important features like the ability to upload photos and video, native retweets, ways to embed tweets and interact with them (though I still maintain the default “tweet this” button doesn’t work right), and so on, but ongoing refinements aside, I think the product does what it’s supposed to do and there’s little room or need for further, drastic improvement. As a company, I think Twitter, Inc. doesn’t want to accept this feature completeness, and doesn’t quite know what to do about it.

    Twitter’s main role is to be a place to communicate one thought at a time. I think 140 characters was fine for that. I find 280 to be too long to be able to pleasantly skim through my feed during idle moments. It starts to make reading my timeline feel like effort. It sounds lazy but, like, I’ve read Infinite Jest; I don’t mind reading lots of words in the right context.

    Anyway, we can quibble about what arbitrary character count is better or worse, but there’s a larger problem at play. Twitter is a place to communicate one thought, but people often have more than one thought to convey. They could go elsewhere to write it, but their followers aren’t elsewhere, they’re on Twitter, so the only option we have are these awful “tweet storms” where we write several or, worse, dozens of tweeets all strung together. Maybe 280 lets you write one tweet where before you’d have written two, but what we really need is a way to get rid of these awful 100-tweet threads that are clearly not an appropriate use of the microblogging medium. In short:

    Twitter should add a native blogging client.

    Tweets should stay short, but we should have a button that lets us write longer text posts. Format-wise I’d lean toward untitled posts with Markdown support, but plain text could be fine, too. Twitter apps could then have a streamlined way for you to write a tweet (something, like, “Here are some thoughts on Twitter’s feature set”) that has a link to your full blog post. It’d open right in the Twitter client and, when closed, put you right back where you were on your timeline. Maybe there’d even be handy ways to pull quotes from the blog post and retweet them. Newspapers could integrate in some way so that their articles were themselves Twitter blog posts. Hell, adopt the metaweblog API so I can write a blog post on my own site and Tweet about it and then the post could be read right inside Twitter, attached to a little tweet with the headline or summary.

    If I’m really shooting for the moon, I also think it’s time for Twitter to open up and interact with other microblogging services. Think of how you might use Gmail but you can still write to someone who’s using their Microsoft work email. You can keep using Twitter, but someone using another service could still follow you, and you could follow them. Twitter, Inc., freed from the need to cite daily active users as a measure of success, could start banning shitheads who use its service to harass people or incite nuclear war. The federal government could run its own microblogging platform that officials would use which would have its own rules for conduct and clear guidelines on how what’s said interacts with official policy. Imagine that.


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  • Beasts of Echo Base

    There’s a deleted plot line from The Empire Strikes back involving the caves that the rebels have built their base out of. Part of the story was going to be that wampas – like the snow monster that Luke is captured by – live in the caves the rebels are building their base out of, so they’ve been working to seal them off. 

    The wampas in the caves storyline was deleted from the final cut of the movie, but we do have this gif from the cut scenes:

    C-3PO removes a sign that’s warning about the dangerous monsters behind a door. The snow troopers, without benefit of the sign, open the door and are attacked by wampas! It’s a very Simpsons type of joke. Futurama had a great gag where the ship accidentally knocks down part of the Great Wall of China and an army of Mongolians immediately rides in to invade, as if they’ve been waiting there for thousands of years with only the wall to keep them back.

    Aside: The movie’s pacing doesn’t linger on this, but the rebels have just finished setting this base up when the Empire finds them and they have to leave. It’s one of many minor world-building moments many people don’t see the first few times they watch it but I think it really heightens the straits the rebels find themselves in. They’ve been living on this cold, uninhabitable planet for months or years, they’re just barely gotten set up, and then they have to go back on the run.

    This year Disney has been producing a series of short cartoons featuring some of the Star Wars female cast, called “Forces of Destiny.” I was amused to find this one, “Beasts of Echo Base,” that directly pulls from the deleted scene.

    [youtube [www.youtube.com/watch](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3II-zqUe6M?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://safe.txmblr.com&wmode=opaque&w=540&h=304])

    Here’s the full YouTube playlist of all the “Forces of Destiny” shorts. This breaks my rule of ignoring all but the original trilogy, the sequel trilogy, and (for now) the “Saga” spinoffs like Rogue One, but so be it.


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  • Mild-Mannered Superman

    I forgot to mention here that I finished my project rehabilitating the 1941-1943 Fleischer Studios Superman short cartoons. I’m very proud of the work and happy that people have been able to see it.


    Mild-Mannered Superman

  • Memory, Mourning, and Mechanical Monsters

    I’ve written here before about my love of Casanova by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, and of Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye by James Roberts, Alex Milne, and Josh Burcham and others. I’d like to take a look at how both series have explored death and mourning in fantastically strange yet somehow relatable ways. (Forgive me for having to dip into spoiler territory here. I can’t really discuss death in a comic book without revealing a character death or two.)

    (Quick aside: in addition to similarities I’ll sketch out below, both Casanova and MTMtE also both feature playlists that form soundtracks to their stories, and I just can’t get enough of this multimedia approach. Casanova 13 and 14 listed song titles at the start of each scene, and subsequent issues of the book’s “Avaritia” volume had chapter names matching song titles, which I obsessively confirmed with Fraction and posted here. Roberts posts the soundtrack for each issue of his book on Twitter the week it goes on sale.)

    One of the supporting characters in Casanova is Ruby, a robot designed by Sabine Seychelle as a Blade Runner-style sexbot. Casanova rescues Ruby from her intended life of sexual servitor servitude; she meets and falls in love with Casanova’s protégé Katio. A dozen issues later, Ruby is killed when their base is invaded, but the whole invasion is revealed to have been a ploy. The only people in the base were robots so it could all look like a real battle without any loss of life.

    In issue 13, Sabine comes to Katio to say that they’re ready to reboot Ruby from a backup. Kaito shocks Sabine by saying he’d instead like for them to arrange for a memorial service.

    Kaito refuses to let them bring Ruby back to life. He loved her, and he feels that death is part of life.

    At the memorial Kaito is so broken up he can’t even hear the words being spoken. They’re just empty word bubbles. Then, finally, some of the surrounding dialogue does break through.

    Even though no one understands, Kaito insists that Ruby be allowed to stay dead so he can be allowed to mourn her.

    It’s such a strange predicament! Where else but a sci-fi comic book with robot girlfriends could you have this kind of opportunity to ruminate on the necessary permanence of death to contexualize life and love!

    Well, maybe in a sci-fi comic book with robot boyfriends.

    More Than Meets the Eye, over the course of its first fifteen issues, depicts a friendship between characters Rewind and Chromedome. As the book goes along, you see that their relationship has moved beyond friendship to something deeper. The love these two characters share for one-another is truly one of the most touching, wonderful things I’ve ever read in a comic. 

    I adore Chromedome and Rewind. I still have the Rewind I had when I was a kid. The most recent editions of their toys are sitting on my desk right now.

    At the end of the fifteenth issue, Rewind is killed. Issue 16 deals with the aftermath of this and focuses on Chromedome’s grief. Chromedome by trade is a “mnemosurgeon,” meaning he has the ability to probe other bots’ memories and even change them. After Rewind dies, Brainstorm comes to check on Chromedome. He’s worried about him, and he knows that Chromedome has been in mourning before and hasn’t ever dealt with it properly.

    (Aside 2: pairing these characters is amusing. Both were “headmasters” toys in the original line. Their heads were separate bots that would transform from a human-sized figure into the head of the larger toy. None of that figures into the IDW comics, though. Their heads are just heads.)

    Brainstorm is worried that Chromedome is going to use his abilities as a mnemosurgeon to remove his memories of Rewind, or at least his feelings. Needless to say, this isn’t healthy. The closest analogue we have in real life would be someone drinking to try to deaden feelings of loss. Here we have a character who’s literally able to forget his pain.

    The issue of loss is further compacted by a major point of tension in Rewind and Chromedome’s relationship. Rewind used to be in a relationship with Dominus Ambus, who went missing many years ago. For the duration of their friendship and subsequent romance, Chromedome has been trying to cope with jealousy of Rewind’s relationship with Dominus. Will he ever be good enough? What if Dominus is ever found alive? Now we find out how one-sided this facet of their relationship was. Chromedome can’t relate to the idea that you can love your current partner while still caring for your ex because he’s been erasing his own memories of his exes!

    As 16 goes on, Chromedome discovers a message that Rewind sent him right before he was killed and decides to not go through with it, allowing him to start to properly grieve for him.

    (Aside 3: I need to stop for a second and talk about Rewind’s message, because it shows how completely masterful this book is. Rewind is about to die. He has just a few seconds to put together something to toss out to Chromedome. Rewind is an archivist who is constantly recording everything he sees around him, and in a later issue we see has was making a documentary film about life on the ship. So Rewind’s message takes the form of footage of various bots saying the words Rewind needs to compose his message. It looks like this:

    Lots of tiny panels containing just a few words, each, that add up to the message Rewind wants to send. I met writer James Roberts at TFCon this weekend where he was selling annotated copies of a few scripts, including the one for 16. What I didn’t realize the first few times I read this issue is that these aren’t just drawings of random characters saying these words, they’re each pulled from a previous scene in one of Roberts’s comics where Rewind was present, but redrawn to be from Rewind’s point of view since he was recording them. So that’s not just Rodimus saying, “your attention for a moment,” it’s Rodimus in the first issue of MTMtE when he said it, then. You can go back and find the moments where each of these words are spoken if you really want to. Holy crap.)

    Rounding out my exploration here of loss and grief, we have recent events in MTMtE’s followup book, Transformers: Lost Light. The book started by introducing us to two new characters, Anode and Lug. We learn that Lug has died but Anode is able to bring her back to life using an I think somewhat suspicious procedure where tiny traces of consciousness were taken and implanted in a newly-grown body (I’m skipping over tons of technobabble here). Then, a few issues later, Nautica is trying to resurrect Skids despite having only his brain module. Both forms of resurrection seem a little too easy for me to believe this is all going to turn out okay.

    In the most recent issue of Lost Light, number 9, Nautica seems to have found someone with the ability to bring Skids back to life, but he wants a terrible price.

    Nautica can’t afford the procedure that would resurrect Skids, but the back alley specialist offers to buy her grief for Skids as payment. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Kaito’s refusal to allow Ruby to be resurrected because he feels his love for her and the necessary grief is essential to his humanity. Here we have Nautica doing more or less the opposite: she’s willing to sell off her friendship with Skids in order to get him back. He’d be alive but she wouldn’t think of him as anything but a stranger. Moreover, as events progress the price gets raised, and Nautica is asked to also sell her friendship with Velocity.

    Some stuff happens, they get attacked during the procedure, and Nautica cuts it short and help Velocity, choosing to save her both the actual Velocity and her memories of their friendship. As the issue ends it seems that, while Skids wasn’t resurrected, Nautica’s feelings of friendship and grief for him have been taken away.

    What I love about each of the examples I’ve highlighted here is the way the sci-fi trappings take their time to set up these complicated scenarios that play on everything you’ve been reading for dozens of issues, all to wind up showing us very basic, human truths. Which is of course the point of sci-fi in the first place.


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  • I’ve been using Blue Apron off and on for a little while, and I like the service a lot. I like cooking but easily get into ruts, so it’s great for providing easy inspiration. I do have one gripe about the way the recipes are written. Every one of them starts with an image like this:

    Basically the directions are written as if you’re setting up to be on a cooking show. If you follow them step-by-step, you end up chopping all the veggies and placing them in individual ramequins, which means a lot more dishes to wash. Inevitably most of them are going to be cooked together in the same pan, or placed in the same bowl and seasoned. I’d much prefer for the directions to anticipate some of this.

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