Entries Tagged 'Reading' ↓

Young Justice – First Impressions


This review post pertains to the new Young Justice show on Cartoon Network rather than the comic book of the same name, and “Independence Day Part 1” in specific.

Commenting on last week’s post There is Nothing on TV, jmdjr — correctly drawing on previous posts where I had written about mostly watching Cartoon Network on Friday nights — pointed out the premiere of Young Justice. So you have jmdjr (at least in part) to thank for this review.

In the opening scene of “Independence Day Part 1” we see Mister Freeze attacking families a-picnic. Freeze is the first of four different cold-themed villains quashed by four different superhero duos… Flash and Kid Flash over Captain Cold, Batman and Robin over Mister Freeze, Green Arrow and Speedy  Red Arrow over Icicle, and Aquaman and a re-imagined Aqualad (see below) over Killer Frost. All four young heroes express the desire to end their fights quickly because “today’s the day”.

Everyone arrives at the Hall of Justice (very “Superfriends” if you grok), with Robin, Speedy, Aqualad, and Kid Flash being given access to the gym, kitchen, and library… but none of the real Justice League resources; in fact, there are tourists looking down into the library as the four kid heroes are supposedly given increased Justice League access. The conflict begins as Speedy expresses dissatisfaction and walks out. Then the stuff starts.

Nostalgia Alert: Flash and Kid Flash — the super speed duo — are the last to arrive at the Hall of Justice.

Poor Kid Flash: No one seems to know his name. Is it “Flash Boy”? At one point there is a hilarious moment where a civilian bystander asks if he is Speedy, remarking that “it makes no sense” that Speedy is Green Arrow’s sidekick.

Young Justice — at least based on the first episode — is simply awesome. I already like it more than Ben 10, and I like Ben 10 more than Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It is written by Greg Weisman, the genius behind Disney’s Gargoyles, and you can see Weisman’s able hand in the combination of attention to detail, humor, world building, and just plain good writing. While lots of the Cartoon Network shows are worth watching, Young Justice is both well written (again going from just the first episode), and absolutely gorgeous.

Often you will see superior character models on the animated versions of characters over the comics versions. Consider the model of Triplicate Girl from the too-short-lived Legion of Super-Heroes:

These two images show Triplicate Girl in “three bodies” form. Notice how — in addition to the cute miniskirt uniform — good the animated version’s model is in terms of carrying her three colors across the three bodies. The elements play effectively together when she is in unified “one body” form as well:

All three bodies’ colors are represented when she is all together; we even see elements of the different girls’ hair… But it all works and fits together, resulting in a superior superhero uniform!

Contrast that to the Zero Hour-era Triplicate Girl / Triad uniform (I think of the Zero Hour reboot as “my” Legion BTW):

Despite having Adam Hughes — the best of the “babe” artists — on this illustration, we see a distinct lack of playfulness and life to Triplicate Girl’s uniform, hair style, or overall model. It’s just not as fun and doesn’t work together as well. To be fair, Hughes shows a wicked emotional range here… But that has no bearing on Triplicate Girl’s model / uniform.

* Before we continue, I obviously stole those stills from a Triplicate Girl-themed YouTube video. If you want to watch the whole thing, here ya go:

As I said, it’s not uncommon. Barbara Gordon’s uniform on The Batman was better than either of her uniforms from the Batman: The Animated Series or Gotham Knights eras; certainly better than her actual DC Comics uniform pre-The Killing Joke. The reason I bring this up is that the re-imagined animated Aqualad from Young Justice is another great example. He is just great.

Check out Aqualad’s uniform design. His shirt is very reminiscent of a wakeboarder’s. He is an aquatic hero, so that makes sense. The thing that really got me, though, is the fact that he isn’t wearing any shoes. Taken as a still this fact might not be that striking, but believe me, in the context of the television show — especially when Aqualad was brawling — the absence of shoes served as a cool contrast to, say, Robin’s chunky boots… and just looked cool.

As a point of contrast, this is what Aqualad is “supposed” to look like:

As you can see, the artists working on Young Justice were able to pay tribute to Aqualad’s original color scheme while updating the costume itself to seem more aquatic-appropriate… Simultaneously making the hero look not at all like a ridiculous water clown.

Overall, the art / animation was great; which I think was a big reason why I like it best amongst the Cartoon Network options right now. I don’t know that much about anime, but it had a very “good anime” feel and color palette, without making the heroes look Japanese (which would have been out of place for these characters).

I mentioned before that I admired Weisman’s attention to detail. There were all kinds of Easter Eggs and mini-puzzles in the episode that can enrich your viewing of it if you pay attention. Just one example: The name of the episode is Independence Day. The opening shot was of Mister Freeze attacking a picnic area where families were cooking hot dogs at (presumably) a public grill. Can we figure out what day it is?

Trivia Question: Can you figure out on what day Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” occurs?

Each Justice League member has a number; for example Batman is designated 02 and Red Tornado is designated 16. Is this indicative of their order in joining the League? Who is 01?

Neither of these points actually has to do with the plot of the episode, and neither deciding that the opener takes place on July 4, nor guessing that Superman is League member 01 is required to enjoy the 22 minutes of animated action… But thinking about these things was fun for me, and the opportunity to think about these things seems to indicate that Weisman was thinking about them while he wrote it.

Overall, I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for the next episode. I’ve actually already seen “Independence Day Part 1” three or four times, and I anticipate watching it again tomorrow.

This blog post has lots of images and videos already… so what’s one more? This is a vid I found on the WB where some of Young Justice’s creators talk about the show, characters, and development. Worth the watch IMO.


10 Books to Read

I am writing this due to a request by my man Joey “hot sisters” Pasco, star of the Yo MTG Taps podcast.

Joey asked me to do a list of book recommendations, kind of like I have done for television shows on this blog in the past. In case you didn’t know, I am a very avid reader and always have been. I spend a lot of time (over two hours per day) on public transportation, so I certainly have time for the reading 🙂

Even though I am characterizing this as a “top 10 list” sorta thing, it isn’t really my top 10 books or whatever… More ten awesome books comprising a wide array of different genres and authors; the box of chocolate of book overviews.

If people like this (and, you know, say so in the comments or whatever), I can do more genre-specific stuff, or probably a more graphic novels-centric version. But for now, here goes!

Amazon Ad / Slideshow of All Ten Books

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
Science Fiction

The Sparrow is maybe my favorite novel of all time (there are maybe three or so novels I say that about and they are all on this list). It is about the discovery of extraterrestrials, how humanity goes about contacting them, and what happens next. The interesting twist is that while other people are figuring out what to do, the Jesuits go make themselves a rocket ship out of an asteroid and just take the bull by its horns. I shared this book with Shark right after I read it, and — without any desire to spoil it, mind you — he had a very different reading than I did.

The Sparrow is barely science fiction. Yes, there are space ships and aliens but the story is quite serious and it is the kind of book a middle-aged professional woman would not be embarrassed to be reading on the subway. If that matters to you.

Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Graphic Novel

Hands-down the high point in comic book storytelling. Alan Moore is the consensus best comics author of all time, and Watchmen is generally considered to be his best work. It is the story of a group of aging — largely retired — superheroes living under the shadow of the cold war, and how they have acclimated themselves to society… As a “mask-killer” hunts them down one by one.

Watchmen is not the most inventive story of all time. It is, however, the best told story in the history of comics. Moore essentially defined and redefined visual storytelling techniques with Watchmen, with Gibbons as an able cinematographer. What makes this book so special is how perfectly the panel-to-panel transitions were executed, more than anything else.

For something completely different — that is, Moore’s attempts to push superhero comics to the limit of the genre — I would suggest his work on Supreme. Supreme, while not as groundbreaking as Miracleman, and not as perfect as earlier work like Watchmen or later work like Top 10, really opened the door to the brilliant and serious superhero deconstruction we see from Moore later at America’s Best Comics, with its influence everywhere at DC, Wildstorm, and other publishers.

The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
High Fantasy

This one is a stone kold cheatyface.

The Subtle Knife is actually the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy (sandwiched between the excellent The Golden Compass and concluded in The Amber Spyglass). It is the best of the three, and the ending is unbelievably chilling… Especially for a kiddie book. Pullman is essentially the anti-C.S. Lewis, railing against religion, God, and so forth rather than pushing his young heroes closer and closer to Aslan. The universe of His Dark Materials is unusual and specific (for example everyone is running around with their souls manifested as literal animals) and you can’t read The Subtle Knife and make much sense of it without first visiting The Golden Compass-land. But it’s worth it. Hella worth it.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Speculative Fiction

This was actually the second Neal Stephenson book I read before becoming a total Stephenson zombie. Make no mistake, I am certain that right now, as I write this, Neal Stephenson is the greatest current writer of fiction to use the English language. I could write more than one highly detailed blog post about how great his books are; for example I think The Confusion (second book of The Baroque Cycle) is the most ambitious thing ever written; and I don’t think that book scratches the surface of his most beloved stuff.

That would belong to Snow Crash.

So what is Snow Crash about?

It is a heady combination of computer hacking, fundamentalist Christianity, la cosa nostra, samurai swordsmanship… and pizza delivery. All at superhuman magnification… So super computer hacking, super samurai swordsmanship, super pizza delivery, etc. Stephenson shows his utter prophetic genius in Snow Crash… He basically imagines h0w we will — and today do — use the Internet, but did so years before its main line public consumption. It’s eerie how well he has things laid out in Snow Crash; let’s hope not all his predictions come to light! (Super fundamentalist Christianity, etc.)

Stephenson is a peerless master of English prose. He is unbelievably good, unbelievably often. However in terms of sustained, dizzying, awesome writing, there is no better book than this one.

The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
High Fantasy

Think Canadian prince + Mr. Ed  against Islamic fundamentalist super terrorists… But on another planet. With God on your side. Literally.

Basically the greatest boy’s adventure story ever. It is probably helpful if you are familiar with Lewis’s Narnia books, but The Horse and His Boy is — of all the books — the least world-building, and the most “boy and his horse against the bad guys” standalone rip-roaring romp. So even though it is nominally book 6 of 7 (or maybe 2 or 3 in the new numbering), you don’t really need the rest of the Narnia context the way you do with Pullman (above).

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
Literary Fiction

The Shipping News is a Pulitzer Prize winner by the author of Brokeback Mountain. It is a legitimately challenging read, but the prose is superb; I’d try to tell you what it is about, but what sold me on it (a girl I was interested in… Her dad bought it for me in a bookstore in 2000) was “it isn’t about anything.” I mean there is a plot, but the book is about fishing knots and boat types as much as it is about fidelity and newspaper publishing.

I’ll give it this – The Shipping News has a great ending; and that, I think, is one of the hardest things for an otherwise great book to accomplish. Sits alongside The Sirens of Titan and The Sparrow as basically my favorite book.

The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
Science Fiction (kind of)

This book is kind of like the anti-LOST.

LOST was a television series that pretended to be a mystery, or in other terms, a show a middle-aged non-geek professional woman would not be embarrassed to follow for several seasons. However LOST was — was always — a goofball science fiction show. It was always about time travel or whatever, and the great thing was that they tricked all these old ladies into loving a show about, you know, time travel. It was a “serious, character-driven drama” that could, you know, solve a problem by throwing a dying character into a glowing pool of magic water to bring him back from the brink.

The Sirens of Titan is the opposite of that. It is over-the-top in its science fiction-ness. We are at war with Mars. There is a magic system of reading the Bible to become a billionaire, a time traveling dog appears at a particular place at appointed times. Aliens, etc.

But that’s half the fun – It’s not a science fiction story at all, no matter how hard it pretends to be one! The Sirens of Titan is about love, making choices, intelligence tests, cigarette smoking… It’s just too good. Becker hates it, but as much as we love Becker, he also hates holding himself to 40/60 (rather than 41/61) cards, as well.

Full disclosure – Becker hates the ending, and the first time I read The Sirens of Titan back in 1993 or so, I must have missed one sentence or paragraph that completely changes the end of the book. But I still love it, anyway.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
Literary Fiction

I think this is the second time I’ve used the term “literary fiction” on this list. My understanding of literary fiction actually comes from a book forward by Chabon himself, and since it’s been a few years since I’ve read either The Shipping News or The Mysteries of Pittsburgh I would fall back on my partial-Chabon definition… of what part of the bookstore they are in. For example, Chabon’s work is littered with comic book references. Not just The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (his 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner), which was overtly about comic books… Chabon’s books are aout Richardses leaving the Baxter Building, stuffed with Easter Eggs for geeks like me (that middle-aged professional women never get).

Anyway, I’ve read most of Chabon’s novels and enjoyed them all. I think I like this one best, but The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was also fantastic. Unique pros for each:

  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – won both the Hugo and Nebula awards; uses the word “cuntish”
  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh – breakout novel of one of America’s best writers; tons of butt sex

Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

Outliers is Gladwell’s work most embraced by the online marketing community. It has all kinds of stuff about how to be — or more precisely how generations of other people have become — rich and successful.

Outliers studies and suggests on education, cultural norms, sports performance, and the Beatles. It is the home of the now-famous 10,000 hour rule for mastery. It is one of the few books that has ever wanted me to make myself better; not in the context of self-improvement, but to help the rest of the world be better.

Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath

I got this book as a freebie at Search Engine Strategies – San Jose in 2008. I started to read it while I was there, and of all the keynotes, it was the Heath speech was the only one I actually wanted to attend… but I missed it on account of going out the night before (it was my co-worker’s birthday and we partied while watching Misty May and Kerry Walsh win their second Beach Volleyball Gold Medal [was playing on the screen in the bar, live from China]).

Anyway, Made  to Stick is a legitimately life-changing book. It teaches you how to make ideas that are sticky. Why are there these great ideas that die before anyone ever hears them… But other ideas which are just lies or completely inaccurate that everyone “knows” (has heard) / never forgets? The Heath brothers study stuff like staples in Halloween candy (never happened) or organ thieves (everyone knows the story)… Why does EVERYONE KNOW THE STORY?

Read this book and you will learn the six principles for crafting better — that is more memorable — messages. Like I said, a truly life-changing book.

My copy is sitting, unopened, on Jon Finkel’s shelf :/

Anyway, those are ten awesome books!


Recommended: Wolves at the Gate (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Volume 3)

By popular demand… The long awaited review of Wolves at the Gate (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Volume 3)!

A lot of people have been asking me about “that Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novel [I] talked about on the Top 8 Magic Podcast.” Most of them were pretty nice about it (even if I didn’t answer them in anything resembling a timely fashion). Some of them, though, like Tim Gillam…


Let’s be honest. I had it coming from Tim after that Consuming Vortex slow roll (though to be honest it never registered to me that I was slow rolling him… I just didn’t want to screw up). Well here it is!

… The name of the aforementioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novel is Wolves at the Gate (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume 3).

Wolves at the Gate is actually the third “Season Eight” tale (the show concluded after seven seasons, but the story continues!); the first arc was written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, number two focused on Faith and was written by my old pal Brian K. Vaughan, and Wolves at the Gate comes to us from Lost / Alias / Cloverfield / Angel / and of course Buffy writer Drew Goddard.

As I said in the podcast, Wolves at the Gate is one of the ten best graphic novels I have ever read. No, you don’t need to know very much about Buffy’s universe to enjoy this story. All you really need to know is that there is a super powered girl named Buffy who, you know, slays vampires and that she is currently training a stack of other super powered girls to fight the good fight.

The other major character in this story is Dracula, the vampire of legend, who opposed Buffy at one point on her television program but fights on the side of the slayers in Wolves at the Gate thanks to his friendship with Buffy’s lieutenant Xander.

Dracula is scary and capable… and hilariously racist in this volume.

I think that one of the things that I really liked about Wolves at the Gate is how successfully Drew Goddard maintained the witty banter of the television Buffy in his storytelling. Here is an example of racist Dracula meeting up with his “manservant” Xander before the good guys go to war:

<Dracula> You’ve lost weight.

<Xander> Can you tell? I’ve been trying to exercise more.

<Dracula> Yes. It suits you.

<Xander> Thanks you look good too

<Dracula> Oh, you’re just saying that because I complimented you.

<Xander> No — I’m not! I promise.

<Dracula> I can’t see myself in mirrors. I fear my best days are behind me.

<Xander> No — you’re more handsome than ever.

I can’t see myself in mirrors. Are you kidding me? The writing is great.

One of the principles that I have adopted into my literature analysis algorithm over about the last two or three years (since reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) is whether or not a writer breaks your heart at any point. So books like Anathem, Zodiac, and countless others that successfully break your heart (which, remember, requires you to fall in love with one of the characters) all get points under the new system.

Drew crushes your poor heart like an ant underneat a toddler’s filthy sneaker about 4/5 of the way into the story. The moment is perfectly perfect, appropriate, all of it. Just great.

Oh yeah. There is one more thing that makes this book really Really REALLY worth buying, but I am not going to tell you unless you scroll way down.

Trust me you probably want to buy Wolves at the Gate without my telling you this crowd pleasing crowd pleaser. Here let me interrupt you with a cleverly disguised affiliate link so that you don’t spoil it for yourself.

I wasn’t kidding.



Buffy joins the friends of Sappho and hooks up with a fine young Japanese slayer!

I warned you!

Now are you convinced?

Wolves at the Gate really is one of the ten best graphic stories I’ve ever read. I don’t think you need to be a fan of Miss Vampire Slayer to love this story, just great dialogue, wonderful storytelling, Slayer-on-Slayer shenanigans, and, you know, racist Dracula.


Wolves at the Gate (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume 3)