Monday, December 26, 2011

Be nice to squirrels!

I got a lot of stick last week for saying squirrels were great and not vermin, so I think the people of the world need to be educated - did you know Mickey Mouse would have killed himself in 1930 if not for squirrels?

Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip, 24 October 1930, story and art (despite the "Walt Disney" signature) by Floyd Gottfredson

No, really, this is the end of a week's worth of strips in which Mickey, thinking Minnie loves someone else, tries to commit suicide in a variety of different ways. Suicide wasn't an uncommon theme in comics and cartoons at that time - the Wall Street crash made it headline news and a part of the public consciousness like never before - and you'd often see the kind of gags that nowadays you only find in Suicidal Syd in Viz, or Moe on The Simpsons (where the joke is that it's not the kind of thing one makes jokes about), but it was still a surprise to find that a loveable icon like Mickey Mouse was tempted.

Slightly disturbing aspects aside, I'm very glad I got the compilation of Mickey Mouse newspaper strips for Christmas! Buy it on Amazon and see for yourself - it's maybe not the best early-thirties newspaper funny strip (that would be Popeye), but hey, it's Mickey Mouse, and the phrase "like you've never seen him before" is probably accurate.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can I just point out...

That's it's the 22nd of December, it's officially winter, and I haven't got my heating on. It's lovely around here at the moment, and I hope it stays that way! I still want to emigrate to Australia (actually, maybe New Zealand, there's an Australian I want to avoid), but I think I could tolerate wintering in England this year if it's going to stay like this.

And I'm sure it is, just because I've been seeing tabloid headlines for the past several months saying "icy horrible nasty snowy weather coming right now, definitely!" and if they've been wrong so far, it stands to reason that they'll be wrong forever.

Meanwhile, please go to memrise.com and learn things! They've got lots and lots of things to learn there! Enrich yourself!



PS If you're reading this and you're Australian, I wasn't talking about you. It was another Australian.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Goals galore

Hooray for Marc Albrighton, scoring the 20,000th goal in the Premier League like that. And for having the same name, nearly, as the Mark Albrighton who briefly played for Boston Utd and is now, according to the internet, playing for Nuneaton. And also the same name as the Mark Albrighton who was briefly my boss in a temp job I had many years ago, and who was a fairly athletic type who jogged to and from work. It must be a football kind of name.

It's funny, because it's not a common name, and I've never heard of anyone with the surname Albrighton who wasn't called Marc or Mark. Perhaps it's a family tradition. Perhaps they're all related, although the jogging boss assured me he wasn't related to the Boston player. Perhaps they're all the same person, in fact, because I've never seen two or more of them together at any one time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You know what memory sport really needs?

Apart from a swift kick up the backside and general telling not to be so silly and go out and do something worthwhile, of course? A Wikia site, that's what!

Okay, I was bored, avoiding the important task of deciding what kind of new and exciting career I want to new-year-resolve to get, and it occurred to me that this kind of thing is by far the best way to produce the kind of memory competition database that everyone wants. I'm envisioning a huge, sprawling website, with profiles of every competitor detailing their results, records, rankings, favourite foods and other important information like that; pages for every memory competition that ever has or will take place anywhere in the world, complete with results and stories about what happened or will happen there; a page for every discipline's rules, regulations and records as well as when the rules changed and what they were in the olden days, and much much more.

Currently I've written a basic page for the first world championship, and a profile of David Berglas, a very important figure in the history of memory competitions, just to show you what it looks like.

I'm also envisioning a website where everybody works together harmoniously to produce something informative, 100% accurate and also (since this is the real spirit of memory competitions) light-hearted, occasionally silly and irreverent without ever containing anything that could possibly offend anyone, ever. At all.

I think (I'm quite new to the whole wiki thing) that it's currently set up so that anybody can edit anything they want but nobody can go around deleting or disciplining other contributors. Except me, because I created it, but I hereby solemnly promise never to use these great powers, ever, because otherwise it would go to my head and turn me into some kind of mad despot. So come on, memory aficionados, add a page or two and let's make this into a big thing!

Oh, and don't edit your own page. That's just sad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The importance of feeding the squirrels

I accidentally knocked my laptop off my coffee table this morning and it dropped dead on the spot - instantly shut down completely and wouldn't turn back on when I pressed the on button. I assumed that something had come loose somewhere and could possibly be fixed by dropping it again, the other way up, but I didn't have time because I was on my way out to the blood donor place.

On the way there, I saw that men in a van had been gathering up all the leaves piled up at the side of that road with all the trees on it (it's probably got a name, but I don't know what it is) and left a long strip of bare ground on which well over a dozen squirrels were digging around for nuts. I know a lot of people would describe squirrels as annoying vermin, but I think they're awesome, and I was worried that some of their nuts had been scooped up by the workers, so on the way back from having blood sucked out of me I bought a big bag of nuts and scattered them around the squirrel zone for them to find and eat or bury according to taste.

I took the long way round to check whether the shop that used to be SAS Furniture actually does fix computers (I thought it did, but it might have been my imagination), and found that it does, but when I got home my laptop had fixed itself and was working fine again. I suspect it was fixed by a grateful computer hardware expert squirrel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Scale It Back even further

The video to "Scale It Back" has been up on Vimeo for a month now, and it looks like the last couple of days have seen an upsurge in the number of views! People are still watching the thing!

There's also a version on YouTube that I actually prefer - it cuts my bit at the start down from sixty seconds to ten, while still adequately explaining what I'm doing.

I want to make another one of these videos now! I've already forgotten how tedious the day of filming was! Come on, movie producers, it only takes me thirty seconds to 'write' a story, does anyone want one?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

That's it. No more cherry coke.

It gives me terrible heartburn, makes me fat and is almost certainly really really bad for me. It's back to a healthy diet of water and occasional lager, at least as far as drinks are concerned.

So let's all clink our mugs of tap water and toast the extraordinarily groovy news that they've rediscovered two lost episodes of Doctor Who from the sixties! "The Underwater Menace" is generally considered to be terrible, although there's a body of opinion that episode 3, the only previously-known-to-still-exist one, was the worst of them. And I actually thought episode 3 was a lot of fun and I don't know what everyone else is complaining about, so I'm sure episode 2 will be even better! It's got Ben and Polly in it, and they're awesome!

And as for Galaxy 4, episode 3... well, nobody ever really talks about Galaxy 4 except to say "it's a shame that the entire serial was destroyed without so much as a telesnap, seeing as it involves a race of evil blonde women from space," so the fans who wrote fanfics about themselves being captured by the Drahvins will be a little disappointed that they don't look quite like the hand-drawn illustrations that accompanied their story, but everyone else will be pleased to see it at last after 46 years of non-existence.

When I invent a magic camcorder that can record the past, the first thing I'll do will be to tape the 106 episodes of Doctor Who that remain lost. The second thing will be solving the JFK assassination, and the third will be Ancient Greece. Or maybe Livy's history of Rome, I'm not sure which one first. Then the first season of The Avengers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

They'll be wanting to dissect it next

I didn't mention that an added bonus of this trip to Munich was having my brain MRI-scanned by Boris and his team of German mad scientists. They've now added my brainwaves to their collection of memory athletes, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before they successfully create a super-brain that will take over the planet Earth.

If anyone's keeping track, this means that my brain has now been scanned by scientists in Japan, the USA and Germany. Does nobody in Britain care what's inside my head? It's quite fascinating in there, I'm sure.

Anyway, the sideshow to this science was the second day of our friendly gathering to test our memories - or, rather, to see how out of practice we all were, because it's safe to say that nobody was setting the world alight with amazing feats here. I did do a pack of cards in 26.53 seconds and, more importantly, recall it with great ease - most of the time when I'm under 30 seconds it's a huge mental struggle. Hopefully this will happen more often in real memory competitions, although actually it might be more rewarding if I'm racking my brains for five minutes and only sorting the last cards into order in the last half-second.

The time (measured in the old-fashioned way with arbiters with stopwatches, since we hadn't brought enough speed stacks timers) was too slow, though - I got mentally 'stuck' on at least one image for a couple of all-important seconds, aiming for a time a bit under 25. This meant, for what it's worth, that Hannes won with a score of 6060 and I came second with 5999. By way of comparison, Wang Feng just amply demonstrated why he's the world champion with a score of something like 8477. That's what happens when you're at a real world championship instead of a last-minute unofficial get-together, as well as when you're much better at memorising things than I am. Congratulations to him, and here's hoping that next year I'll be in a position to challenge him (there's no point putting it off any more - I've got to create that 10,000 image system for numbers. I don't think I'm ever going to get over 2000 with my current one, and scores way above 2500 are rapidly becoming the norm...)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Institutionalised

Some might say that the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry is an appropriate place for a dozen or so people who like to memorise long numbers and things to get together. Some others might say that it's on Kraepelinstrasse, which is just around the corner from Bummstrasse, and giggle at the silly name, but frankly if you expect more classy blogging, you should just go elsewhere.

Also, it's been snowing all day, but not in a severe kind of way, which is good because I considered bringing my uncomfortable but much better gripping work shoes with me, only to decide against it because my rucksack was too full, so I would have been annoyed if I'd slipped on ice and killed myself.

As it is, I'm still alive, and still good at memorising cards even if I haven't really been practicing - ten minutes of flicking cards at top speed from one hand to the other gives you a sort of writer's cramp if you haven't done it much lately! Another good reason not to do all your training on computers! I'm relatively rubbish at numbers and binaries, but at least this will help keep my hand in before the next real memory competition...

Friday, December 09, 2011

It's like magically stepping into the past!

There's a Woolworth's in the shopping centre in Munich! I've missed that red and white colour scheme and wide range of cheap tat!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

This is probably a new experience

I don't think I've been to Munich before. I'm not one hundred percent sure about that, though, because all day I've had the idea that maybe I have been here before, and have been hoping I'd see something familiar, but I've checked in my blog for the past six years or so, and I've never mentioned visiting, so maybe I haven't.

I've not been to the city centre yet, though, so I might see something there to change my mind. I just have a feeling that I had a day trip here, long ago, when I was somewhere else in Germany for some reason.

Anyway, I'm here now, in a nice hotel, and I'm planning to spend tomorrow aimlessly wandering around the shops, like I always like to do in a place I probably haven't been to before. I haven't done that for ages, with one thing and another.

And here's another thing - I bought a Terry Pratchett book at the airport, and I notice that Commander Vimes on the covers of Discworld books doesn't look even remotely like the person I envisage whenever I see the number 883 or the eight of hearts followed by the three of diamonds. I'm not sure where I got my mental picture from, but it's stuck there now.

And while we're talking about memorising, I've been practicing on Memocamp just lately. Just for a change - I still stick to my principles that it's important to practice for paper-based memory competitions with paper-based memory training, but it's nice to vary the routine now and then. And while Memocamp does have a few flaws, it's also good fun and a way to compare your scores against lots and lots of other eager memorisers. The top Germans seem to get higher scores on there than they do in competitions, leaving me somewhat in the dust at the moment, but I have already got the top score in ten-minute cards with a measly six and a half packs...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Senility

"He's 38 years old, but the intelligence is still there..." a football commentator observed about Ryan Giggs tonight. Miraculous, isn't it? Anyway, despite my advanced age, I'm jetting off to Munich tomorrow for a fun impromptu memory championship with my fellow Bavarian boycotters. I do still wish I was at the world championship, but there's always next year (hopefully).

I should have asked Bayern Munich to give me a lift, actually - they're in Manchester tonight. But they'd probably have asked me why we call them Bayern Munich, and not Bayern München or Bavaria Munich, and I wouldn't have a good answer.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Oops stacks

As usual, I turned on to Sky 1 at half past six to watch the Simpsons only to find that that stupid show Oops TV was still on. However, today, instead of saying "bah, that stupid show Oops TV is still on," I said "ooh, hey, Speed Stacks timer! Is it a memory thing?"

It wasn't, it was a girl doing blindfold rubik's cube solving, timed on a Speed Stacks timer. But then the stupid narrator said "And at number one..." and introduced a clip of a boy doing speed stacking, also timed on a Speed Stacks timer. And then the stupid show ended and the good one came on.

But the thing is, the only three competitions that use Speed Stacks timers are cubing, stacking and card-memorising. Was there a memory clip before the cube? If not, why the heck not? If so, who was it and did anyone see it?


In unrelated news, someone found this blog today by googling "how to tell the difference between シ and ツ" My blog won't have been terribly helpful on this point, since the only time I've mentioned the subject was to whine that I'm a busy man and have better things to do than learn the difference. So I thought I should probably share the way I did learn to tell them apart:

シ is 'shi', and ツ is 'tsu', and shi-tsu is nearly the name of a breed of dog. So I imagine a dog lying down (for the more horizontal 'shi') and then sitting up (for the more vertical 'tsu'). Simple! And then if you want to distinguish ン and ソ ('n' and 'so'), just remember that it's the same basic thing, only with the meaningless sound n-so, instead of the dog. Okay, that's not such a great mnemonic, but it works for me.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Tennis is great!

I remember I wrote a blog entry a couple of years ago, asserting that tennis is rubbish. So just to counteract that, I feel I should say that this year's tennis has been really great, all round. The year-end finals and the slightly-after-year-end Davis Cup final were both really fantastic fun to watch! Even del Potro, who was a big part of that former rubbishness before his injury, being basically just a big giant super-fast-serving machine, was really great!

I'd be a tennis player myself if I wasn't rubbish. I'll stick with the memory, and when I get round to it, I'll write a good long blog about memory and computers and competitions and things.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Finding your way in Europe

The Facebook page for the Munich Open has an extremely helpful map on it, with a little arrow apparently pointing to the mountains of northern Italy:





This makes me think of the 1985 Transformers cartoon episode "Trans-Europe Express", which featured a car race from Paris to Istanbul. Here's a fun geography test for all my bloglings - imagine you're a Japanese animator, and you've got a script in front of you saying "The progress of the race is shown by a red line growing from Paris to Istanbul across a map of Europe". There's apparently not an atlas available and the internet hasn't been invented yet, and you need to draw the map and label it in English right now. If you can produce a better map than the one that ended up appearing on-screen, then you score ten out of ten:



If you fail the test, then people will be laughing at you on their blogs in 25 years' time.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The postman's got in touch with his feminine side

My postman's a woman - she always used to say "It's the postman" when she rang the doorbell to deliver something that wouldn't fit in the letterbox, but today she said "It's the postlady". This is either a great step towards gender equality, or a great step away from it, I can't quite decide which.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Memory championship news

Dear European memory athletes,

due to various reasons nearly all of the Europeans have chosen not go
to the World Memory Championships in China this year. Furthermore,
there is a lot to discuss about the future of memory sports.

To address both, we would like to invite all of you to Munich,
Germany, for the “Munich Open 2011” memory competition. The tournament
will be a National Standard event, i.e. ten disciplines with shortened
marathons: The kind of tournament you already know from Cambridge and
Sweden.

Important: We will have one age division only and we might do the
memorisation and/or recall phase of some or all disciplines with
computers or digital tools using Memocamp.

Date: December 9th to 11th 2011
Place: Munich. Exact and final location will be provided soon.
Languages: Material will be offered in German and English.
Fee: 20 Euro. Food is not included.
Registration deadline: December 2nd
Registration: By e-mail to b.konrad@memoryxl.de

Program:

Friday, December 9th

- Arrivals, visit of the famous Munich Xmas market, dinner

Saturday, December 10th

MORNING: Tournament, part 1

9:00 Welcome and introduction
9:30 Random words 5 min (15 min recall)
10:00 Binary numbers 5 min (15 min recall)
10:30 Names and faces 5 min (15 min recall)
11:00 Numbers 15 min (30 min recall)
12:00 Cards 10 min (20 min recall)
12:40 Historic Dates 5 min (15 min recall)
13.00 Lunch break

AFTERNOON:

Talk and discussion about the WMSC and the future of memory sports

Sunday, December 11th

MORNING: Tournament, part 2

9:30 Abstract Images 15 min (30 min recall)
10.30 Speed Numbers 5 min (15 min recall), 1st trial
11:00 Speed Numbers 5 min (15 min recall), 2nd trial

11.30 Spoken Numbers 100, 300
12.15 Speed Cards (two trials)
13.00 Prize giving ceremony

AFTERNOON:

Leisure activities, departure

Best Regards,
Your MemoryXL-Team



I'd better get training. I haven't really done any practice since dropping out of the WMC. I'm confident that I'll end up making a fool of myself anyway, so please do come along and beat me. If memory serves, the last time I went to a national-standard competition in Germany in the winter, I came 6th, my worst placing in any championship ever since I came up with the 'unbeatable Ben system'. I was beaten by Clemens, Cornelia, Gunther, Boris and Johannes, but still narrowly finished ahead of Simon. Let's see if I can repeat the feat five years later! (Cornelia's not coming, apparently, and I somehow doubt we'll be seeing Clemens either, so there's an opportunity for other people to out-memorise me)

And even though the venue is "somewhere in Munich" with a couple of weeks to go, I think we can guarantee that this competition will happen. I'll host it in my hotel room if need be...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy American Thanksgiving!

It turns out that it's Thanksgiving today in the USA, as opposed to Canada where it was Thanksgiving months ago, and here, where we're too rude to say thanks. So I celebrated by watching Friends on Comedy Central, and I was pleased to see that they even show the episode that E4 used to skip completely. I'm quite impressed with Comedy Central's lack of censorship, in fact. What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by watching Americans talking about pornography?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

But then again, too few to mention

One thing I really do regret in life is never reciting pi to 50,000 decimal places. Particularly because I still come across people who credit me with the feat of memorising it, without adding the quite important qualifier that I never actually recited it, ever, and thus everybody only has my word for it that I memorised all those numbers in the first place.

For the benefit of people who haven't heard the story, this was back in 2005, I'd just won the World Memory Championship for the first time and I found myself completely and totally incapable of sitting down and training to win it again. Complete and utter mental block - my pile of packs of cards gradually fell down the back of my desk one by one whenever someone bumped into it, and stayed down there for months. There's probably still a three of diamonds down the back of the radiator in my old flat in Derby. So I decided that until I got over it, I'd do something else memory-related and break the world record for pi. The well-known story is that after several months of memorising, I'd arranged a date and place to recite it and then someone else recited 83,000 digits before I got a chance.

I still wonder whether I would have been able to do it. I think probably not, to be honest. Reciting out loud isn't a strong point for me, and however familiar I was with the sequence of numbers, I'm sure after a couple of hours in a public place, conscious that several increasingly bored spectators were following my every digit, my mind would have started wandering and I'd have got lost. But it still bugs me a little that I never made the attempt - at the time, it seemed like a better idea to give up on pi and throw myself into practicing for the world championship after all, since it was only six weeks away at that point (I came 4th, and was probably lucky to do that well), but now I wish I'd just accepted that it would have been an "amazing second-best-ever memory feat!" and done it anyway.

Because I've long since forgotten it, over the last six years. I recite 50 digits really quickly for a party piece (and sometimes 1000 digits at particularly boring parties), and I remember that the 50,000th digit was a 1, but the rest is lost in the darkest recesses of my brain's filing system.

One day, I'll finally have created by 4-digit number system, and then I'll memorise pi to 50,000 places again. And this time recite it properly and officially. Just to show I can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An example of my astonishing memory powers

There was a book I wanted and couldn't find in the shops, so I ordered it on Amazon on Monday. Today, I was in Nottingham, saw it on the bookshelf and thought "Ooh, there's that book I wanted! Excellent!"

So I bought it, and halfway home suddenly thought to myself "D'oh!" And sure enough, there's a little card through my letterbox waiting for me when I get back, saying we've tried to deliver a parcel but you weren't in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keep on scaling it back

I have to confess that I'd never heard of DJ Shadow, nor of Yukimi Nagano, before Ewan and Casey asked me to do this video for them - they told me he did "trip hop", which I'd also never heard of (I'm not 'hip', and only a tiny bit 'groovy') and imagined would be some sort of sampled drum beat overlaid with rapping, which made me almost reject the whole idea out of hand. But luckily, Ewan included a link to the actual track on YouTube, and it turned out to be absolutely beautiful, and also just perfect for this kind of video.

Please enjoy the many "making of" photos here - see the people in the 'ninja' costumes who manipulated the props! See the understudy parrots waiting in the wings, as it were, in case of punctures! See me explaining that I'm not a ballet dancer and couldn't possibly crouch down in that cake and jump out again unless they raised it off the ground quite a bit! Honestly, the children and animals were great, but you should never work with me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Scale It Back

One day, I got up at the crack of dawn to take the early train down to Cardiff, and waiting for me in the basement of an abandoned shop were a huge cast of unusual people and props. "Hello, I'm Ray, I'm the old man," said an old man. "Yes, I thought you probably were, but I didn't want to ask in case you were someone else," I replied. "Hi, I'm Toby, I'm doing the monkey," said someone else. A small girl called Teeohnee flapped by in a pterodactyl costume, and her mother Alison told me she recognised me from the telly. The giant green snake lying in the corner just grinned at us.

When Buzz the eagle owl arrived, he was immediately the centre of attention, and quickly proved to be the most reliable and patient of the actors, happy to just sit on his perch staring at people, making occasional squawky noises that reminded me of an electric screwdriver, and never failing to glare at the camera when it came over to him. He was a much more talented actor than the remote-control hummingbird, which quickly proved to be temperamental and moody.

But everybody was able to work together in the end to produce a masterpiece:

DJ Shadow "Scale It Back" from Ewan Jones Morris on Vimeo.



Okay, I'm not an actor. The music and fun start at about the 1-minute mark. Feel free to skip ahead.

The music is "Scale It Back", by DJ Shadow featuring Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon. The directors and creative geniuses who had the idea of making one of my mental journeys into a music video were Ewan Jones Morris and Casey Raymond. It was all filmed in one continuous take, which meant nine hours of continuous filming, a lot of it spent hiding in a rapidly-disintegrating cardboard cake. But it was well worth it for that finished product!

It's a real pack of cards: 5h 3h 8c 2c Ac 3d 6c 6d Ah 4s 2s Kc 9s 8s Ad 7d 4c 5d Qs 5s 10h 3c Jc 3s Kd 6s 9d 5c 8h Jd 7h 10c 4h 9c 2h Qd 8h 7c 10s Qh 7c 6h 9h 4d As 8d Ks Kh 2d 10d Js 7s. And I did actually memorise it, but what you see at the start of the video is take four or five, so I'm fake-memorising cards I've already looked at.

Some of the images are changed from the ones in my head, mainly for copyright reasons - the generic pterodactyl is actually Dac from the cartoon Dinobabies (this pterodactyl was much more nice and friendly than mean old Dac), the street-fighter in my head is actually Fuuma from World Heroes, but I just said "street-fighter" and the producers interpreted that as Chun Li, the owl should be an eagle, but eagles aren't easily available in Cardiff, and so on. But apart from that, the interactions and the flow from one scene to another are exactly as they appear in my brain! It's really an uncannily accurate representation of what I'm thinking!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Well, this is going to keep me awake all night

Looking at the blogspot stats, I see that someone found this blog by googling "Come along and we can cross a bridge together". Five and a half years ago, I used that (with "the" instead of "a") as the title of a blog post, and I know it was the closing credit tune to a Japanese cartoon, but I can't for the life of me think which one. And internet searching isn't helping either.

The blog post wasn't about the cartoon, it was a clever play on words about a bridge-themed website that some of my longtime readers will be familiar with.

Actually, I think it might have been Bubu Chacha...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Anniversaries

Today is apparently the 140th anniversary of Stanley presuming that he'd found Dr Livingstone. Which means that while they were faffing around in Africa, they missed the football, because tomorrow is the 140th anniversary of the first ever FA Cup games.

You know, one of the 15 teams who entered the first ever FA Cup was Donington School, apparently the Donington near Spalding, in Lincolnshire. I went to a school chess tournament there once, possibly to the same school. That might have been the time I didn't come last in a chess competition, too. If it was, that makes me better than Donington School in 1871, who eventually withdrew from the FA Cup without playing a game.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, Saturday isn't the 140th anniversary of anything. 12 November 1871 must have been a very boring day - it was a Sunday, but it wasn't even Remembrance Day, because that hadn't been invented yet.

So the point is... no, there isn't a point. Sorry.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

X

I've done some weird things in my time, but today was the weirdest, the grooviest and certainly among the downright-awesomest. It's still a secret, but I'll tell you all about it soon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Welsh adventures

Is it me, or am I spending a lot of time in Wales these days? A few years ago I was telling anyone who might be interested (there were few such people) that I'd never been to Wales, ever, and now it seems like I'm there every week. Cardiff tomorrow, for Project X - and to be honest, it actually does look like it's really going to happen, so I will tell you about it soon.

It'll be a huge anticlimax, by the way, it's nothing special or important. Just groovy.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Opium for the eyes

Don't you hate it when you're in the mood to just lie around in front of the telly and there's nothing watchable on any channel except for an old episode of Blackadder with all the funny lines edited out? I'll have to watch one of my videos now, but they're all rubbish.

Yes, I've been in a bad mood for the last week, with all this memory stuff. I need to join the foreign legion and forget.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The adventure of the solitary cyclist

With it being nice and sunny and warm-ish-for-November today, I thought I'd explore National Cycle Route 6 beyond the stretch between Nottingham and Derby that I'm used to. I think I've mentioned before that it goes literally right past my front door, so as long as you can spot the little signposts (difficult to do, because they are very small), you can cycle the length and breadth of the country without getting lost.

Actually, today I only went as far as Bulwell and back, but it's a very pleasant journey, and one day I'd really like to follow the back roads and cycle paths all the way up to Sheffield. That's a project for next summer, I think, unless I perfect my weather-control weapon before then. If I do, I'll test it out by making it sunny for a day and bike to Sheffield, before I use it to conquer the world.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Top of the Pop Art Productions

I always take a great nerdish interest in the monthly American comic sales figures, but never more so than now, when I want to see whether DC Comics' "New 52" is working like it should. Sales figures aren't entirely useful just yet, of course - they're based on how many copies of each comic the comic shops have ordered, so it'll be another month or two before we can really see whether new people are buying them and making their feelings known.

But with that proviso, I'm pleased to see that OMAC, which was 52nd out of 52 in September, has moved up to the heady heights of number 49 in the October chart. And that it's been replaced on the bottom rung by Men Of War, which you might recall me describing as the worst comic I've seen in all my born days. I'm a bit surprised by that, actually - it's not my cup of tea, but I expected it to find a solid audience among the armchair commandos of America.

I do always feel that Superman should be outselling Batman - I mean, come on, he's got real super-powers! - but the caped crusader continues to pull in more readers at the top of the charts. And Green Lantern is edging closer to knocking the big red cheese (no, wait, that was Captain Marvel) off the second-most-popular-superhero spot, too.

Highest climber? Animal Man, up from 35 to 27. Actually, it's improved since my scathing review of #1 - now that the artist doesn't have to draw normal people so much and gets to fill the comic with hideous twisted mutations, it looks better.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Let's talk about the World Championship

I've been so wrapped up in that other business that I haven't even looked at the scores of the World Othello Championship until today, let alone sat in front of the live coverage of games waving a little British flag!

As we stand at the moment, Piyanat Aunchulee of Thailand is trying to fight off a Japanese team that looks even stronger than usual (Tomoya Toda, Hiroki Nobukawa and Kazuki Okamoto - not people I know, but they certainly seem to know their black from their white). Our own Imre Leader isn't out of touch with the leaders (I'm sorry, but it's really hard to avoid that pun when he's always so high up the leaderboard of any othello championship) after a bad start, but he'll have to do something special to get into the semi-finals tomorrow. Youthful Europeans Nicky and Matthias look like they might yet prevent an all-Asian final day, as does Canada's finest, Tim Krzywonos (who I haven't seen for well over a decade and must say hi to some time). And actually, Matt Vinar from Australia is on five points after eight games, too, so it might yet be a wildly multi-continental top four!

If you're in Newark (fake American Newark, not real Newark down the road from me), go along and cheer them all on!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

World Memory Championship update

I'm not going.

It's a month before the competition, and all we're hearing is debates about whether it's going to happen, whether there'll be any prizes and whether anyone will go. In the complete absence of any communication from the people running the event, I've been waiting for the German gang to decide whether or not they're going before I book my tickets - I know they've been talking with the WMSC about the last-minute changes and shambolic organisation - and when I had an email last night from Boris, Mister Memory Enthusiasm himself, saying he still didn't know whether he'd be going, that was the final straw.

If I'm not excited about the World Memory Championship with a month to go, there's something seriously wrong. I've decided it's time to flex whatever remaining muscle I've still got in memory-competition circles and make a stand - because if I don't, I can see what's going to happen: we'll all go to the competition anyway, it'll be generally rubbish, and then next year will be even worse. So I'm staging a one-man boycott, and if the handful of people who haven't already done the same want to join me, more power to you.

This isn't the kind of decision I take lightly, you know. The World Memory Championship has basically been my entire life for the last decade. But this year's event just doesn't feel like the World Memory Championship any more. It's very sad...

I do feel guilty about depriving people of the opportunity to beat me, of course. When I won the WMC in 2004, I got no end of "Well, Dominic O'Brien wasn't there" responses, even though I would have totally beaten him if he had been. I'm not sure if my absence would have that effect on this year's winner, but I still feel bad about it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday is comic day

It's official, I like DC Comics enough now that I'm going to have to place a standing order in a comic shop to make sure I get my comics every week before they sell out. Well, it's that or move to London (I was down there today) and just get my comics from Forbidden Planet, whose London branch routinely seems to order several hundred more copies of every American comic than they can possibly hope to sell.

Assuming I stay in this locality, that gives me three choices of comic shops to make my regular suppliers, and the decision is fraught with social difficulty - if I choose one shop to get all my comics from, the other two will be offended! I won't be able to show my face in there again! So let's examine the three choices:

Chimera is in Beeston, just down the road from me, which is a plus. When it gets wintery, going into Nottingham is more of a hassle. On the other hand, it's not really a comic shop so much as a role-playing games shop with a few comics on a shelf in the corner. The place is always jam-packed with people rolling dice and moving figurines around tables.

Page 45 in Nottingham is a shop I've been going to for many, many years, except for that five-year period when I was living in Derby and there was still a comic shop there. But before that, I was on semi-first-name terms with the guy who runs the place (he knew my name, I don't remember whether I ever knew his and we're long past the point where I can comfortably ask...) and I still feel guilty about talking to him when I've bought my comics at Forbidden Planet, seeing as they're the big evil corporation and he's the small local family business kind of place. Well, I don't think he's got a family, but that's not the point.

Forbidden Planet is the big evil corporation, but on the other hand they do have a policy of selling comics slightly cheaper than other local comic shops can afford to, so I could save some money there. And they do strike me as more likely than the other local shops to be able to actually get the comics I ask them to get without making a mess of it somehow. And the people who work there are actually really nice and not at all like tools of corporate sci-fi-and-comic-retailing.

I think it might have to be Page 45. They look so darn reproachful if they see someone come in with a Forbidden Planet bag...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Freedom and mysteries

Sorry for the lack of bloggery this last week or so. I'm now gainfully unemployed again, and I've been down in Cardiff today for what I'm calling Project X, and will tell you about in a couple of weeks. It was fun, anyway!

I'm hoping to spend the next month preparing for the World Memory Championship, just in case it does actually take place and I do actually go to it. I've got a training schedule in mind, and we'll just have to see whether I can stick to it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Planetary Chance-Machine

I love the Legion of Super-Heroes! No, not the current comic that I was so rude about last month; that's still incomprehensible rubbish (though very nicely drawn). I mean the original comics from the fifties and sixties on which the current version is loosely based.

It was, though, an attempt to fathom what was supposed to be going on in the new comic that led me to do some internet research - before this weekend, I'd only read a few of the old comics here and there, and the first issue of the most recent complete relaunch (the series has started over from scratch two or three times in the past, so I don't see why they didn't do it again when they re-started all the other comics last month), and while I appreciated the wonderful old-fashioned straight-faced silliness, I never realised that there was quite so much of it to be seen.

It's also really great comic-book writing in the classic style, about the adventures of a huge "super-hero club" of youthful heroes in the 30th (or 21st - the comics could never make up their mind) century who all have names ending with Kid, Boy, Girl, Lad or Lass. I've become a huge fan, just for the Planetary Chance-Machine. Look it up.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pumpkin Moon

A Halloween party is one of the very few social occasions where it's appropriate to wear a Brazilian Mystery Cloak. That, with the black hat, tuxedo-impersonating-T-shirt and black work trousers, makes me actually look extremely cool.

Friday, October 21, 2011

But lately there ain't been much work, on account of the economy

Perhaps I don't blog enough about what I'm actually doing with my life. An anonymouse reacted with surprise to yesterday's post in which I implied that I'm currently working for a living. Yes, I've been working at Boots again for the last three months - they asked me to come back for a couple of days and it all escalated from there. But next Friday is my last and final day there, definitely. No more financial analysis for the loss prevention department, even if they go down on their collective knees and beg. Which, in all fairness, they probably won't.

So I'm planning to spend November being unemployed again, and preparing for the world memory championship, and also doing the absolute coolest paid-memory-work I've ever been offered, which I won't be talking about until I know it's definitely happening. Sorry to tantalise you like that.

But this will be only a brief unemployment, mainly because I've still got no money, and of course the WMC will cost a lot of money to get to and bring in no reward except for the warm fuzzy glow of being able to compete in the WMC. After that, I'm getting a new job. I'm not entirely sure what the new job will be, just yet, but I'm thinking accountancy-slash-financial-analysis is a last resort. I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I've got contacts in the media

I got an email today from a BBC journalist asking if I'd do an interview to go along with an article about forgetting. I called her back on my lunch hour only to be told "Sorry, we've got breaking news coming through, apparently Gaddafi's been captured..."

So I knew about it at least a minute before it appeared on the BBC News website! Now that's the celebrity lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anonymice, anonymice, eating all the rice

Well, that last post on the subject of the much-changed World Memory Championship provoked comment either from three people or from one person trying to sound like a crowd scene. It's hard to tell when you're anonymous. Abuse the organisers of memory competitions by all means, readers, but please leave your names.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Memory Championships 2011 News Update

Latest from the WMSC:

The World Memory Sports Council would like to apologise to competitors for the recent uncertainties that have surrounded arragements for the 20th World Memory Championships. We can confirm that our hosts, New Mind, assure us that, everything is now in place to ensure that the 2011 World Memory Championships will go ahead in the sumptuous five star HJ Grand Hotel in Guangzhou.

A number of competitors have chosen to wait till the last minute before comitting to participate in the Championships, in case of last minute changes. However, we are now satisfied that the concerns that the previous concerns that Council has had regarding the level of arbiters and other arrangements has been satisfactorily resolved..

In the current state of the global economy no country is immune from challenges, and China is no exception. We are grateful to our hosts that, despite these challenges, they have found a way to ensure that this important milestone competition can take place, even if some aspects of the arrangements have had to be scaled back to reflect this. The most important aspect of the World Championships is to provide an opportunity for competitors around the world to meet, compete together and to celebrate their achievements. This will most certainly be the case in Guangzhou this year.

We call on all competitors now to join us all for this historic 20th competition and to use the event to celebrate two decades of this amazing Mind Sport. The two founders, Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene OBE will be there along with eight times World Memory Champion Dominic O'Brien. Three times World Memory Champion Ben Pridmore will be competing to win back his crown from current World Champion Wang Feng. Chief Arbiter Phil Chambers, supported by Jennifer Goddard, Gaby Kappus and arbiters from the Philippines will be heading up the arbiting team. Will you be there as well? If so, please act now and register.

There are just three weeks till registrations close on November 6th to give us sufficient time to prepare all the competitors papers and translations. Regatrations after that date cannot be accepted. If you require an official invitation in order to obtain your travel visa, please contact us .

We thank all competitors for their patience during the uncertainties of previous weeks, We now look forward to making this a fitting and memorable celebration of this growing and important sport.

Thank you!



So, no prize money, then? Anyway, I can confirm that that Pridmore person will indeed probably be there, most likely. I have registered on the website, since they were so insistent about it, and I'd hate to be part of the cause of this year's announcement that twice as many people are going to be there as actually turn up. Haven't booked my plane tickets yet, though...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Being 35 isn't so bad

I did have a really completely brilliant birthday in London with some really brilliant people. And who knows, maybe the rest of the year will be okay too. I mean, my hopes aren't high, but maybe if I actually do some memory training tomorrow I won't make too big a fool of myself in the world championship, possibly. And possibly I'll find a cool job that I actually like doing but nonetheless pays me as much money as what I do at the moment!

You see, optimism is the key!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When Captain America throws his mighty shield...

That was the theme tune to the so-bad-it's-good Captain America cartoon in the sixties, with super-limited animation copied directly from the comics. I haven't seen the latest movie, but I bet that cartoon was more fun. And of course the Captain had already been around for a quarter of a century by the time that cartoon was made. He had a Republic movie serial in 1944, and a comic from the start of 1941.

Which makes it all the more groovy that the man who first dreamed Captain America up, Joe Simon, is going to be at the New York Comic Con on Friday. It was his 98th birthday yesterday. That would be a really extremely cool way for me to spend my birthday, if I could afford it and wasn't scared that the US border control people would be suspicious of me if I went there three times in a year.

Still, I'm going to really spend my birthday visiting London with fun people instead of going to work, so yay for me anyway!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

And I'm not happy about it

I'm going to be 35 on Friday, and that's the worst age it's possible to be. No more ticking the "25 to 34" box on surveys. No more "I'm in my early thirties". All the disadvantages of being statistically elderly, and none of the advantages of being ruggedly 36-or-older. That's the age when you start to get rugged and middle-aged, you know. But 35 is just rubbish. I really don't want to be 35.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Be clever all around the world

Apparently, "How To Be Clever" is now available to buy from Amazon in Germany, France, Spain and Italy! Hooray! Although it's still not worth buying, and I will still gladly email it for free to anyone who asks me to. Oh, and I'm fairly certain it's still only available in the English language.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Madman drummers bummers

What's with the weather? It was quite chilly yesterday, and I saw a newspaper that said it was going to be minus twenty at some point in the future, so I thought winter was here. But it's positively balmy today!

In other news, I really love that advert with the flying metal bird and the song that goes "I can live as I please..." - I think it's an advert for some kind of car, but I'm not sure. Which makes it a pretty rubbish advert in one sense, but it's awesome as a piece of animation!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

One last bit of comics talk

Before I finally give it a rest, here's a little bit more interesting analysis of DC Comics' "New 52". I picked up copies of the six #1s I was still missing in London today (as well as the Order Of The Stick game - a roleplaying game based on a comic based on a different roleplaying game, which I now need to find up to five local nerds to play with me) so now I've swelled DC's coffers considerably in their September accounts, and contributed to the wholesale changes they'll doubtless be making next year when the #7s don't sell half as well as the #1s did.

Bang for your buck
All the "New 52" comics cost $2.99 for 36 pages, except for Action Comics, All Star Western, Justice League and Men Of War, which are $3.99 for 44 pages. Three-dollar comics normally have 20 pages of comic story, and four-dollar comics have 28 - the other 16 are the cover and a variety of 'house ads' for other comics or paying ads for products that comic readers might like.

Justice League #1 has just 24 story pages, despite being four dollars, but adds four 'sketchbook' pages talking about how they designed the heroes' new costumes. All other comics in the selection have at least 20 or 28 pages - the exceptions are...

Action Comics #1 runs to 29 pages of story, rather than the usual 28. But #2, which came out this week, only has 20, with a 'bonus' eight pages of the writer and artist talking about the creative process. Isn't that what the internet's for?

Swamp Thing has 22 pages, and cuts out a couple of house ads to make room. Apparently this one was written quite a while ago and had to be altered to fit into the New 52 continuity, but presumably they couldn't reduce the page count without making the story even more incomprehensible than it already is.

Batwoman is 22 pages too, and the same thing seems to apply here. J.H. Williams III's artwork looks like it takes longer than other people's, so hopefully he got a head-start.

Green Lantern also runs to 22 story pages, although a lot of the 20-page comics squeeze in a heck of a lot more plot than this one does...

Aquaman again stretches out to 22, but this one at least devotes those pages to introducing the central character.

Wonder Woman gives us 24 pages of gods and horse-decapitations and even a fleeting glimpse of Wonder Woman herself.

Batman also has 24 pages of really rather awesome story and art that I can't think of anything snarky to say about at all, and in fact I'm very grateful for it!

Detective Comics #1 also gives us 24 pages of kiddie-friendly death and mutilation (see below), but #2 in this week's selection goes back to the standard 20.

And the biggest bang for the buck comes from Superman #1, with 25 pages of extraordinarily detailed artwork that I can't believe Pérez and Merino can keep up with on a regular basis (especially as the strange release schedule seems to have #4 coming out just two weeks after #3). Now that's value for money!

Target Audiences
All of the New 52 comics are clearly marked on the cover as "T" for "Teen", or "T+" for "Teen Plus" - the most remarkably useless system of age-rating I've ever seen in all my born days. But you can get a slightly more sophisticated guide to who these comics are aimed at by seeing which advertising package DC have put in them. There are three different packages, as follows:

"Mature" adverts - the new violent Deus Ex game, Cobalt gum and grown-up things like that
All Star Western
Animal Man
Batman the Dark Knight
Catwoman
Deathstroke
Green Arrow
Green Lantern Corps
I, Vampire
Men Of War
Red Lanterns
Resurrection Man
Stormwatch
Suicide Squad
Swamp Thing
Voodoo

All these comics are rated "T+" except Batman the Dark Knight, Green Arrow and Green Lantern Corps. Despite the title, there's nothing particularly dark about the Dark Knight, at least not compared to the other Batman comics, and Green Arrow is similarly innocuous so far.

"In-between" adverts - the Deus Ex game and the gum, but also shoes with superheroes on them and the "Got Milk?" ad encouraging teenagers to drink lots of milk
Aquaman
Batgirl
Batman and Robin
Batwing
Batwoman
Birds of Prey
Blackhawks
Captain Atom
DC Universe Presents
Demon Knights
Firestorm
Flash
Frankenstein Agent of SHADE
Green Lantern New Guardians
Green Lantern
Grifter
Hawkman
Justice League Dark
Justice League International
Justice League
Mister Teriffic
Nightwing
OMAC
Red Hood and the Outlaws
Wonder Woman

"Kiddie" adverts - no Deus Ex or gum, but "Got Milk" and the shoes are joined by Lego and Hot Wheels
Action Comics
Batman
Blue Beetle
Detective Comics
Hawk & Dove
Legion Lost
Legion of Super-Heroes
Static Shock
Superboy
Supergirl
Superman
Teen Titans

Action Comics is kiddie in #1, but steps up to in-between for #2. Detective Comics, though, is full of toy adverts and rated 'teen' despite the closing scene of the Joker having his face cut off and describing the experience as 'fangasmic', not to mention the scene in #2 of Bruce Wayne and a woman flirting and then on the next page sitting around scantily clad in a pose that can only be described as post-coital.

The "kiddie" ad selection includes several house ads for Teen-plus rated comics, strangely enough. It's all a bit confusing.

Which comics do they want us to buy?
Each comic contains two pages of promotion and creator-interviews for comics from that week, as follows:

Week 1 - Batwing and Animal Man
Week 2 - Resurrection Man and Demon Knights
Week 3 - Red Hood & the Outlaws and Blue Beetle
Week 4 - Hawkman and Firestorm
Week 5 - Hawk & Dove and Stormwatch

And each week's advertising package includes full-page ads for as many comics as are necessary to fill the page count:

Week 1 mature - Green Lantern New Guardians, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Action Comics, Swamp Thing
Week 1 in-between - Green Lantern New Guardians, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Swamp Thing
Week 1 kiddie - Batman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Superman, Swamp Thing, Aquaman

Week 2 mature - Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Batman the Dark Knight, Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing
Week 2 in-between - Flash, Batman the Dark Knight, Green Lantern New Guardians, Aquaman
Week 2 kiddie - Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing, Flash, Wonder Woman

Week 3 mature - Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Swamp Thing
Week 3 in-between - Wonder Woman, Green Lantern New Guardians
Week 3 kiddie - Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Superman

Week 4 mature - Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern New Guardians, Flash
Week 4 in-between - Superman, Batman the Dark Knight
Week 4 kiddie - Batman the Dark Knight, Flash, Green Lantern New Guardians

Week 5 mature - Frankenstein Agent of SHADE
Week 5 in-between - none
Week 5 kiddie - Justice League Dark, Red Lanterns, Catwoman, Frankenstein Agent of SHADE

The non-kiddie comics of week 5 are blessed with a six-page preview of another new Batman comic, which cuts down on the space for house ads.

Action Comics #1 has a single page promoting Superboy, Supergirl and Superman. Strangely, Suicide Squad #1 has an ad for Batgirl that isn't found in any other comics.

This leaves 24 of the 52 without any in-comic advertising. The neglected comics are a mixed bunch, but they do include a lot of the really good ones that readers might not have heard of and might be inclined to try if only they saw an advert. Maybe the publishers will remedy it in future weeks.

Okay, that's exhausted everything I have to say about the New 52! I hope you were enthralled.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Super Thursday

After all the excitement of a new #1, the difficult second album comes out the next month. And when sales continue to decline, a company like DC does some other dramatic shake-up of its line of comics within at the very most a year. But just in case I was too hasty in my judgement of the first issues of the New 52, I did all of this week's 13 number twos the courtesy of at least reading through them, even the rubbish ones. Luckily, my judgement seems to have been spot on - the ones I thought would be great are still great, the ones I thought would be rubbish are indeed rubbish still. The one I thought was as bad as comics can possibly get has actually got even worse this month. Here they are, sorted into categories for easy reading:

Really really great comics that you should be reading too
Static Shock, O.M.A.C.

Comics that are well worth reading as well, if you've got plenty of money to waste on comics
Hawk & Dove, Detective Comics, Justice League International, Action Comics

Comics that probably aren't worth reading, but you might want to look at if you can get past the confusing writing and/or artwork
Batwing, Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns, Animal Man, Green Arrow, Stormwatch

Very, very bad comics that you shouldn't go near
Men Of War

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Triple Nelson

The jinx is broken! Uncannily, I stopped the timer at 22.22 seconds again today, and this time I did get the recall right! Hooray for me!

Now I just need to get under 21 seconds, which is what I was trying to do all along...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nobody beats GI Joe

For some reason, I stumbled across the GI Joe wiki thing, and had a lot of fun reading it, even though it's only about 10% complete. Watching GI Joe cartoons in Britain was hugely fun, because it was "translated" from American into a form more comprehensible to British youth - since "GI" and "Joe" don't really have any meaning over here, the series was renamed "Action Force", and the tagline "A real American hero" became "International Heroes".

This meant that the cartoons had to be re-dubbed, but instead of dubbing the whole thing again, they only recorded over every line in which someone said "GI Joe" or one of the other banned phrases. This meant that everyone had two voices - an American one and a British impersonation. Some of them sounded really similar, some were completely different. You could have no end of fun just listening to the soundtrack without paying attention to what was happening in the cartoon!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Alien abductions

I think aliens abducted my alarm clock last night. I very vaguely remember being woken up in the middle of the night, realising that the alarm was going off at entirely the wrong time, and turning it off, all without really properly waking up. And when I woke up this morning I noticed that it was five hours slow. Or seven hours fast. But it's still running normally now.

This is a new alarm clock, incidentally - did I mention that I left my previous one in Germany, by mistake? I generally forget something when I go to a memory competition, it's usually my hat, but this time it was something much less important. So now I've got an alarm clock that gets abducted. Poor thing.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

I am awesome!

I followed up yesterday's 30-minute binary and hour numbers with an abstract images and hour cards today. That's a proper weekend's training like I want to do every weekend! And I got good results in both, without a trace of fatigue after all that marathon memorising!

I am completely in the mood for a world championship now! I don't care if it's in Beijing or Bognor Regis, just somebody organise a world memory championship and make sure that Wang Feng, Johannes Mallow and Simon Reinhard are all there, because I'm going to beat the pants off them!

Superest Sunday

It's the final batch of DC Comics's "New 52"! I'm sure my long-suffering readers are familiar with what I'm talking about by now, so let's see what our last thirteen all-new comics are all about. Only two of them weren't to be found in the Nottingham comic shops this week - I'll take a trip to London to see if I can pick up some others, or else just get the reprints in a couple of weeks, because sales seem to be very brisk all over.



Superman #1
George Pérez, Jesus Merino


Pérez, who was also the inker of Green Arrow back in week 1, is credited with writing and breakdowns for Superman, while Merino provides pencils and inks. Now, when most artists say 'breakdowns', they're talking about panel layouts and sketchy stick-figures, but Pérez has something of a reputation for applying the word to what anyone else would call 'impossibly detailed pencils', and this comic does look a lot like his work...

Sorry, that wasn't really the new-reader attitude I'm trying to maintain here, was it? But I'm a big fan of George Pérez of old. Anyway, we open with the Daily Planet building, with a running narration about its history and importance to the city of Metropolis and the world, before the building is demolished.

It turns out we're at the opening ceremony for the all-new, bigger and better Planet building, as financed by the slightly sinister businessman Morgan Edge. Lois Lane and Perry White are at the ceremony, suitably impressed, but Clark Kent is boycotting it.

He's out flying around the city as Superman and reminiscing about the argument with Lois - Edge's Globe imprint has in the past been a dodgy tabloid empire not at all in line with the Daily Planet's old-fashioned ethics, and although Lois insists it's changed under Edge's new management (replacing, apparently, Mr Glenmorgan from Action Comics), Clark is unconvinced. There are some nice nods to the modern age here, because as we all know, newspapers aren't the force they once were. Lois is in television now, but poor Clark is unwilling to make that move, because everyone will see him on TV, and his secret identity is still only protected by a pair of glasses.

Elsewhere, in the Himalayas, a big giant monster blows a big giant horn, and drops it in the snow, leaving it for Stormwatch to find in their #1 from three weeks ago. That's it for the giant horn in this comic - I got the impression from reading Stormwatch that it would play a significant part in Superman, but I guess I was wrong. It might be connected with the events of this issue, but they'd already started before we cut away to the horn, so it's oddly paced if there really was a connection.

At the newly-completed Metropolis Astrodome, two security guards fill us in with a bit more exposition, while investigating mysterious little fires that seem to have been appearing and disappearing around the place. And Superman has been called into action when masked bandits steal a truck full of explosive chemical waste. But then the truck is blown up by the fire coming from the Astrodome, which seems to be alive!

While the news people scramble to get good pictures and a good view, Superman fights the fire-monster, which is talking in alienese (including, Superman believes, the word "Krypton") and, rather than setting things on fire, turns them into fire. It blows up a police helicopter, and Lois incurs Morgan Edge's wrath by ordering the news chopper to get out of there. She cleverly orders Jimmy Olsen and his friend Miko to hack into security cameras to get good footage for them.

Superman is able to defeat the fire-monster by carrying it up into space, and then writes up the story as Clark Kent, claiming to have just happened to be in the neighbourhood when the whole thing started and got an exclusive interview with Superman. He then goes to apologise to Lois, only to find that she was in bed with her new boyfriend Jonathan, so poor Clark has to go away again while his super-hearing picks up her saying that she doesn't fancy him.

The verdict? Story - it introduces the characters effectively; both the old familiar ones who everyone knows and the new ones, although it does seem to forget to mention the surnames of Perry, Jimmy or Miko anywhere in the story. The action scenes are nice, but I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the idea of seeing Clark pining for Lois and them eventually getting together, yet again. Art - really gorgeous, with a great look for Superman even despite the modern hairstyle and ugly new costume, distinctive faces and a great grasp of the action scenes. All in all - although I think the story's going to tread over old and familiar ground for the hundredth time, I still want to see what happens with Superman. I'll keep reading, and I expect I'll keep enjoying it.





Batman the Dark Knight #1
David Finch, Paul Jenkins, Richard Friend


Jenkins, who wrote Deadman last week, is the writer and co-plotter of this one, while Finch is the other co-plotter and the penciller. Friend provides the inks.

Yes, Batman again. Four of the 52 are Batman comics - Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman and Batman the Dark Knight. Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman and Nightwing are related comics set in Gotham City. Batwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Teen Titans are about associates of Batman in different places. He's also a central character in Justice League and Justice League International. That's more than a quarter of the New 52, making Batman officially the busiest superhero in the world. The Green Lanterns and Superman account for about the same number between them.

Batman is flying around in the Batplane, while the narrator talks about fear. He jumps out, displaying some odd bulgy muscles, and quickly changes into the much more wimpy Bruce Wayne, sliding on a zipline to a building where he gives his 'fear' speech to a crowd, announcing that he's never going to be afraid. It's not clear exactly what the context of this speech is - I assume Bruce Wayne doesn't hold press conferences for no purpose other than to say he's not scared of anything - but he then goes around shmoozing with the high and mighty, talking again about his redevelopment plans.

He's interrupted, though, by a Lieutenant Forbes, who knows Bruce Wayne is funding Batman, and wants to know who his inside man in the police is. But he's told to go away by the hostess of the evening's charity event, one Jaina Hudson. The two flirt a little, before Bruce gets bored with having to talk to other people and leaves.

Meanwhile, at Arkham Asylum, the inmates are staging a breakout. Again. Just like in last week's comic. This time, Batman arrives to help the beleagured police, and somehow divines that this is all about Two-Face (who was just a face (or two) in the crowd last week). He goes in, finds a woman in a bunny suit running around, and then encounters a huge, muscular Two-Face, announcing that "You can call me One-Face now!" (although he's still got the two-different-halves-to-the-face thing)

The verdict? Story - rather a lot of this is minimally-narrated action of Batman making his way through the asylum, and the Bruce Wayne scenes don't really show signs of developing into any kind of plot. Art - very nice, like all the Batman comics, but Bruce's face looks strikingly different from one panel to the next. All in all - nobody needs to read four monthly Batman comics, and this one just isn't as good as some of the others. I don't feel like I'm going to miss anything if I get my Batman fix from "Batman" and "Detective Comics".






Voodoo #1
Ron Marz, Sami Basri


Marz writes, Basri draws.

Voodoo is an exotic dancer at a strip club. While she displays her ample charms, a man and woman in the audience bicker about the level of interest the man is taking. Jess storms out, while Tyler questions a waitress about the mysterious Voodoo - her real name's Priscilla, and she spends a lot of time entertaining the soldiers from the nearby military base.

Meanwhile, Jess gets into a fight with a gang of youths outside the club and beats them all up with ease. Back inside, Voodoo is hanging out in the dressing room with her fellow strippers, and being a bit socially awkward. She explains that she's new around here, and working there to learn about men. Then she's called for a private dance with Tyler.

While she takes her clothes off, Tyler asks her about herself. She tells him her story, but he doesn't believe it. He happens to know that she's an alien, with shape-changing powers and mild telepathy and is almost certainly spying on Earth as a prelude to invasion. He threatens her with being cut to bits by scientists unless she turns herself in right now. She responds by turning into an ugly, toothy, green alien and killing him.

She takes his phone, shape-changes into Tyler, and goes to meet up with Jess.

The verdict? Story - There's not much story here. It could have been done in a quarter of the space, really. But what there is is an interesting setup, it's hard to see where it's going to go in future. Art - well, there's a lot of stripping (without showing anything), and if you have to devote the whole comic to drawing a woman dancing, it doesn't give much opportunity to show your full range. It does its job of making the three characters recognisable from one panel to the next, and the monster is very cool. All in all - there's just not much to this so far. I'm a little curious to see what the alien toothy monster gets up to, but I think it'll take months before anything happens. Maybe I'll get next month's before I decide to drop it.





Justice League Dark #1
Peter Milligan, Mikel Janin


Milligan, the writer of Red Lanterns, writes this one too, while Janin draws.

It's Madame Xanadu, the fortune-teller who showed up briefly at the end of Resurrection Man, and she's predicting terrible danger. It involves June Moone, a woman who's walking the streets in a bit of a daze, and briefly seeing a great big demon appearing from nowhere. On TV in a bar, she notices that a huge horde of June Moones have appeared on a motorway and been run over horribly.

Meanwhile, Shade the Changing Man is having troubles with his vest. That's vest in the American sense, and so it's not quite as silly as it sounds when he talks about his Meta-Vest with its terrible power to change reality. But it's still a bit silly, since he and his girlfriend Kathy argue about the vest quite a lot - it's crackling with electricity, which means he's being summoned. He has to leave Kathy, and since he used the vest to create her in the first place, this means she dissolves into a pool of goo. She's not happy about it.

In an abandoned wooden shack somewhere, inside an envelope, Enchantress is going mad. And since she's magic, this causes bad things to happen around her. The Justice League are called in, but Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg are no match for someone who can make a storm of teeth that cut them to pieces. Back at base, Batman is talking with another magician, Zatanna, who insists on being allowed to go and sort things out, even though he's not sure she's up to it.

A man called John Constantine, meanwhile, suddenly finds himself in London (next to Big Ben again - artists of America, please try to remember that there are other things in London), having just had a vision that Zatanna's in trouble. Why that would make a vortex suck him from Brighton to London, when she's in America, isn't clear, but he only gets one page to introduce himself.

June Moone, meanwhile, has found herself drawn to Dove's (of Hawk & Dove) flat, and asks for Deadman. He's there.

Shade, vest and all, has found his way to Madame Xanadu. She tells him he has to recruit people to deal with Enchantress, although she's seeing a vision of all of them lying dead, so it might be a waste of time.

The verdict? Story - there's a very limited introduction to some characters, and a feeling that we should know who these people are before reading it. The premise is set out clearly; magic and eccentric people fighting it, but it doesn't really grab me. Art - not bad, if the poses are a bit awkward, the faces are very nice. All in all - it doesn't really do anything for me, I don't much care about these characters. I think I'll pass.





I, Vampire #1
Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino


Fialkov writes and Sorrentino draws.

Boston. Two people are talking to each other in narrative captions that are supposed to indicate the different speakers by being different colours, but the way it's come out on the page, they're really, really, really similar shades of red. The only pictures we get to see on the first page are of a man's feet walking, finding somone lying down and driving a stake through their heart. "Normally I'd lock you away someone until I could find your sire," says the feeble-looking guy doing the staking, before he chops off the vampire's head with an axe, making it disappear in a shower of dust, like they do on Buffy.

"Like they do on Buffy" is a regular theme of this comic, as it transpires. Anyway, our hero is apparently Andrew, of the slightly darker red captions, and he's arguing with Mary, who thinks that they should rule the world instead of hiding away. We cut to what's probably a flashback, because it's coloured in greenish-black and white instead of the brown-and-white of the first three pages, of Andrew and Mary discussing old times like vampires do on Buffy, having a kiss then splitting up.

Back to Andrew in the brown-and-white wasteland full of corpses, and he finds a woman who's recently been turned into a vampire, allowing him to explain that these vampires just get weakened by sunlight, and can turn into dogs or big hairy monsters (which, to be fair, they don't do on Buffy) before he kills her.

We cut back and forth between the flashback and the present day - Andrew, it's clear, is a vampire with a soul, just like Angel, while Mary is really totally evil and intent on raising an army of vampires to take over the world. There's a passing grudging mention of how Superman might be a problem with this plan, but the comic clearly wants to exist in its own world where there's just vampires. Mary has now killed lots of people and turned them into vampires, and is getting on with the world takeover, and Andrew's got to stop her.

The verdict? Story - dull and derivative, it doesn't do much in this first issue beyond setting up the premise, but we can see where it's going to go from here. Art - really not very good, it tries to be cool with shading and occasional scary-faces, but it's hard to tell what's going on. All in all - not with a bargepole, I'm afraid. There are Buffy and Angel comics out there for people who want to read this kind of thing.






Green Lantern: New Guardians #1
Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham, Batt


Bedard, the writer of Blue Beetle last week, writes Green Lanterns this week - he obviously likes bright colours. Kirkham pencils and the enigmatic "Batt" (no other name) is the inker.

There's a big pile of dead Guardians and Green Lanterns, which Ganthet the Guardian digs himself out of, vowing that, as the last of the Guardians, he'll make sure the last power ring gets to the right person. For some refreshingly unexplored reason, he gives it to Kyle Rayner, an unemployed cartoonist in New York and welcomes him to the Green Lantern Corps.

This whole section seems to be in the past, since the next page has a caption saying "the present day", but I'm confused. Ganthet is the Guardian who the others zapped in Green Lantern #1 a couple of weeks ago for disagreeing with them, and Kyle is established as being one of the four GLs hanging around on Earth at the moment. Was the pile-of-corpses thing in the past too, and everyone except Ganthet died at one point but got better? Or is that in the present, and was Kyle's induction the only thing that happened in the past? It'd be nice if someone told us.

Anyway, in the present day, one of the Sinestro Corps (yellow lanterns) is killing an army of aliens when his ring abruptly flies away and heads for Earth, leaving him to be gruesomely killed by the ticked-off aliens. Likewise, a Red Lantern is burning a lot of aliens he characterizes as murderers, when his ring does the same, causing him to drop dead. A Star Sapphire (which turn out to be Pink Lanterns) suffers the same thing in space, causing her fellow Sapphire to vow to live up to her former name 'Fatality'.

Back on Earth, Kyle is dealing with a disaster at a construction site, when suddenly a whole flock of magic rings of all colours fly at him, announcing that he's been chosen. And if that wasn't bad enough, along come Pink, Red, Yellow and Purple lanterns (the red one is good old Bleez, from Red Lanterns) demanding their rings back!

The verdict? Story - it introduces Kyle nicely, and the Green Lantern concept for those who haven't read the various other Green Lantern comics, but the confusing opening scene should have been explained. Art - very nice. Quite beautiful, in fact, clear and detailed, I love it. All in all - well, I'll have to look at next week's to see if it explains what's going on, if nothing else. Again, this is an opening chapter rather than a complete story, so I'll see how I feel in future months. But this first issue is holding my interest so far.






The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men #1
Ethan van Sciver, Gail Simone, Yildiray Cinar


Wow, long title. "Firestorm" is the big word. Van Sciver and Simone are co-plotters, Simone (also the writer of Batgirl) writes and Cinar draws.

In Istanbul, bad guys are interrogating a young boy, looking for something. When torturing and killing his family only gets them the information that the professor's got it, they blow up the whole neighbourhood and leave.

Back in the good old USA, Ronnie Raymond is being extremely good at American football in his high school. Jason Rusch watches contemptuously, he's not fond of jocks, but he's forced to write a piece for the school newspaper about how great Ronnie is. The interview doesn't go terribly well - Jason accuses Ronnie of being racist, they really don't like each other. At dinner with their single parents that night, Ronnie is at least thinking about what Jason said, while Jason's just generally being a jerk. I think we're supposed to get the impression that there's no right or wrong here, but Jason's so completely unlikeable, it doesn't really work.

Meanwhile, at the Large Hadron Supercollider, those bad guys are interrogating Doctor Dupin for the whereabouts of his last magic bottle. Well, they try to make it sound scientific, talking about Higgs-Boson particles, but it's basically magic bottles that we're talking about here. With the power of transmutation.

Back at school the next day, Jason is at least starting to feel a little bad when his editor Tonya yells at him, but Ronnie and his sidekick Trev come in, really annoyed about the extremely insulting article they've published. But then in come those bad guys, killing the coach and sending our teenage heroes running for their lives.

Jason reveals that he's secretly a super-genius, and takes the magic bottle from his locker. He opens it with a big boom, and he and Ronnie are both transformed into Firestorms - superheroes with lots of fiery bits (actually, the word 'Firestorm' isn't used at all, but that's the name on the cover). One of the bad guys, Loren, also gets caught up in the blast, but our heroes are too busy fighting each other to pay any attention to them. Then they merge into one big giant Firestorm, who introduces himself as Fury.

The verdict? Story - nice introduction, although Jason is so very very annoying, it's hard to sympathise. Maybe he'll get a kick up the backside in future issues. And I think we're supposed to get to know the bad guys too, they do have distinct personalities, but the way it's presented, I find myself just focusing on the teenagers. Anyway, the cliffhanger's good, and it does leave me wanting to read more. Art - another good one, everyone looks distinct from each other and consistent all through the comic, and the superheroes, when they finally show up, are extremely cool. All in all - I like it enough to want to keep reading. It's a great setup for future stories.






Blackhawks #1
Mike Costa, Graham Nolan, Ken Lashley


Costa writes, Nolan is credited with 'layouts' and Lashley as 'finisher'.

The first page gives us our mission briefing and sums up the kind of thing that this comic is about. Blackhawks field operators Lady Blackhawk, The Irishman, Kunoichi and Attila, supported by Wildman, are going in to Kazakhstan, where terrorists have taken hostages at an airport for no obvious reason. The world map on the screen is fascinating, incidentally - North America is accurately shaped, but Europe is just a weird distorted blob that's not even close to what it should look like.

Anyway, Kunoichi is ignoring the 'covert' part of the instructions in order to dangle from an aeroplane and fight people. The rest of the team get on with things in the same kind of way. It's all very military and cool, culminating in Kunoichi jumping from the plane at 300kph and shooting the water before she hits it so the surface tension won't make her go splat. I'm fairly sure that wouldn't work in real life - and while you can just ignore that kind of nonsense in most superhero comics, this one is going for a realistic feel, so it's a bit harder. Anyway, Attila gets a moment in the spotlight too, as does Wildman, but the other two are just in the background.

Back at The Eyrie, their base, Delegate Schmidt of the UN is being shown around by Blackhawks member Canada (who's actually not Canadian). It turns out The Irishman is from "The Ukraine". We get a brief glimpse of the huge amount of technology the team have, and then we see Kunoichi refusing to get treatment from the doctor, and feeling unusually full of energy and superhuman strength. And also snogging Wildman inappropriately.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, the leader of the team, is talking with Schmidt about their problem - someone took a picture of the Blackhawks logo on one of their vehicles, and now they might be exposed to the public, or something. One of the captured terrorists has worse problems, though - his boss communicates with him in prison and tells him his body has been infused with 'nanocites', which she then uses to blow him up. And back at the Eyrie, poor old Kunoichi has realised that she's been infected with nanocites too!

The verdict? Story - we don't really get much sense of the personalities of the characters here, despite a lot of scenes that seem to be designed to do just that. There's nothing really wrong with the writing, but a lot of generic tough guys fighting terrorists just doesn't appeal to me. Art - pretty good, it does make everyone look distinctive, which can often be a problem with uniformed characters, and the action scenes are handled well. All in all - it doesn't really interest me, I'm afraid. It looks like it's going to steadfastly ignore the rest of the new 52, so I don't think I'll be missing anything if I skip this one.







Aquaman #1
Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joa Prado


Johns, who writes both Justice League and Green Lantern, writes this one too. Reis pencils and Prado inks.

At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, nasty toothy things are emerging from a trench. They exchange some completely awesome dialogue: "It's true. There is an above." "Where do we go?" "Up."

Meanwhile, in Boston, masked robbers are escaping from the police in a stolen armoured van. But Aquaman shows up to thwart them, and does so without any difficulty. The police are just left to chuckle at having been helped out by Aquaman, instead of one of the cool superheroes.

Our hero goes into a seafood restaurant, still in full superhero regalia, and amazes the customers and staff. They worry he might be there to lecture them for cruelty to sea creatures, but he actually just wants a plate of fish and chips. In response to incredulous questioning from the people at nearby tables, he tetchily explains that he doesn't talk to fish, he can just make them do his bidding, and he's fine with eating them. An irritating youth interrogates him about his background, allowing him to explain that his father was human, his mother was the queen of Atlantis, and he's in charge of the place now. But when he's asked how it feels to be the superhero everyone makes jokes about, he storms out in a huff, just pausing to give the kindly waitress a couple of extremely valuable gold coins from his collection.

He goes to hang out with his Atlantean girlfriend, and tells her he's sick of not fitting in in Atlantis, king though he is. They decide they'll go off on their own and have a new life on dry land.

But on the ocean, fishermen find themselves attacked by the toothy things from down below with a talent for awesome one-liners. "There's food up here," one grins.

The verdict? Story - it's just an introduction and power-demonstration for Aquaman that barely counts as a story, but it's still very readable and fun, and the promise of toothy monsters to come is enough to keep me interested. It's true that Aquaman is the joke character of the Justice League, requiring writers to put in an underwater part of the adventure so he has something to do, and it's nice that the story acknowledges and plays on this. Art - really, really great. Aquaman looks handsome, dramatic and heroic, and the monsters are awesome. A large portion of the comic is characters standing around and talking, but I get the feeling that the action scenes to come will look good too. All in all - it's a good one, I think I'm going to enjoy reading it in future months.







All Star Western #1
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat


Palmiotti and Gray (the names are the other way round on the interior credits, just to be fair) are the writers, "Moritat" is the artist.

Gotham City yet again, but this time it's cowboy times. The 1880s, to be precise, and Gotham is a big city for the time, in the Wild West. Mysterious scar-faced gunslinger Jonah Hex is a country boy, who's come to town and explores the sordid back streets, showing off his quick draw when he's attacked by a rowdy gang.

Doctor Amadeus Arkham, meanwhile, has been called in to investigate the latest murder in a series, although police chief Cromwell dislikes his modern theories about psychiatry. Jonah Hex joins the party, and Arkham suggests the two of them should work together to catch the cowboy Jack the Ripper. Hex eventually agrees, although he's more the loner type.

They go to a saloon, where Hex sets about getting information by beating people up, while Arkham analyses his mental state. He learns that the killer has a hand like a claw and wears a ring with a skull on it. The next day, though, there's another murder, and the message "Jonah Hex, leave Gotham" written on the wall.

Later, our heroes go to a party, where they discover that a whole lot of rich and influential people wear rings with skulls on them.

The verdict? Story - it strives for a genuine 1880s tone, and doesn't quite achieve it, but the pairing of Hex and Arkham works very well; Hex is cool and Arkham's narrative about psychology is actually very well-written. Art - sepia-toned throughout, to give it the olden-days feel, which I find a bit distracting. The art style is a bit unconventional, but Jonah Hex does look extremely cool. All in all - it's readable, if unoriginal. I'm on the fence about it, but I'll probably check out the next part.






The Savage Hawkman #1
Tony S. Daniel, Philip Tan


Daniel, who wrote Detective Comics, is the writer, Tan does the art.

Upstate New York, Carter Hall is fed up of being Hawkman. He's driven out into the woods to burn his costume. Trouble is, the costume isn't just a bird-suit, it's made of "the Nth Metal", and when he sets it on fire, it attacks him.

Meanwhile, off the Bermuda Coast, a research crew have pulled up an ancient shipwreck. Alien spaceship, not sailing ship. They're impatiently wondering where Carter, the cryptologist, has got to.

He's woken up in his home, naked, with no idea how he got there. He finds that his body's healing itself rapidly from the burns and scrapes he suffered, and his colleague Terrance comes round to take him to see the wreck.

While there, he meets the boss's daughter, and is introduced to the alien mummy they found in the wreckage. But then 'the sample' (which I can't tell from the art is supposed to be the aforesaid mummy or something else) comes alive and attacks the scientists, turning one or two of them into a horrible slimy monster. Carter jumps in to help, and finds that the Nth Metal comes bubbling up from under his skin and turns him into Hawkman again.

The alien, which introduces itself as Morphicus, fights Hawkman and announces that it must have the Nth Metal. And as the episode ends, it seems to have succeeded!

The verdict? Story - falls rather awkwardly halfway between starting from scratch and continuing old Hawkman adventures, it ends up being a new beginning that still leaves me feeling I've missed something. But it does spell out who Carter is and what he does, just without giving him much of a personality. Art - a bit ugly. Everyone looks like a zombie somehow, and it's really hard to see what's going on at some points. All in all - it doesn't really interest me all that much; the central character's a bit of an enigma, and the art doesn't make it easy to follow. I don't think I'll bother with it again.






The Flash #1
Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato


Manapul and Buccellato write it between them, with Manapul also providing the art and Buccellato doing the colouring too.

In Central City, Barry Allen is out on a date with Patty, at the technology expo. He's a bit of a nerdy type, it seems. They meet a Dr Elias and have a geeky conversation about traffic and alternate fuels, until a gang of masked, armoured men crash through the ceiling firing smoke bombs.

Barry springs into action immediately, turning into The Flash, the world's fastest man. A good old-fashioned intro blurb tells us his origin: "Struck by a bolt of lightning and doused in chemicals, Central City police scientist Barry Allen was transformed into the fastest man alive. Tapping into the energy field called the Speed Force, he applies a tenacious sense of justice to protect and serve the world as The Flash!" A lot of other comics this month could have done with one of those. But struck by lightning AND doused in chemicals? Sounds like a really bad day.

The baddies, who just address each other by number, run for it, but the Flash chases them back to their plane, leaping on board and grabbing the thing they stole from the expo, but then falling out along with one of the enemies. Pushing the baddie through a window as they fall, he vibrates at the right frequency to let himself fall through the road into the sewer. Journalist Iris West takes this opportunity to say hi.

Flash returns the portable genome recoder to Dr Elias, and then it's time for Barry and Patty to get to work as police scientists. The baddie is dead, but when he's unmasked, Barry recognises him as his childhood friend Manuel.

Iris, a very pushy kind of woman, pesters Barry to talk to her, much to his and Patty's annoyance. Back at police HQ, Director Singh and Captain Frye debate the case, and learn that Manuel died of something other than being thrown through a window. The Flash borrows the genome recorder and a sample of Manuel's DNA, and finds that it's been altered in some way. Then someone breaks into his house, and surprise surprise, it's Manuel.

Then baddies break down the door chasing him, and our heroes run away. Barry manages to get away and turn into the Flash, and when he catches up with Manuel, he finds him surrounded by... a whole lot of Manuels.

The verdict? Story - it introduces Barry and his friends, and gives the Flash an opportunity to show off his powers. His personality comes across clearly, but the story somehow isn't very enthralling. Art - there are some very cool panel layouts, which makes up for the faces not looking very distinctive or expressive. The scenes where Flash is running don't have quite the sense of motion that they should. All in all - it's a bit bland, really. There's nothing wrong with it, it just doesn't really excite me. It's worth keeping an eye on.







Teen Titans #1
Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund


Lobdell, the writer of Superboy and Red Hood and the Outlaws, adds a third to the list. Booth pencils and Rapmund inks.

I'm getting used to comics with a cover showing the team lineup that'll eventually come to exist. But this one shows seven heroes, and after reading the comic I still don't know who most of them are. And although "Batwoman" and "Batman" both referenced the Teen Titans as a going concern, this seems to be chapter one of a how-the-team-got-together story again. So I guess we're in the recent past here, although it'd be nice if they let us know how these different comics fit together...

Anyway, in Westchester County an unexceptional housefire is made much worse by a teenage hero calling himself Kid Flash, trying to help but not knowing what he's doing. Following the big bang he causes by opening all the doors, people assume he's run away again, when in fact he's lying unconscious nearby.

It makes the news in a big way, and in his penthouse, Red Robin is unimpressed with the anti-teenage-hero feeling of the general public. He's got more floating computer screens than anyone in any of these comics, so he must be cool. He sighs that Batman started something that's got out of control with the teenage crimefighter, but his musing is interrupted by a sinister bad guy, complete with two henchmen.

They have, it seems, been kidnapping or maybe just recruiting teenage heroes lately, and they want to offer him a position with their mysterious employer. Red Robin responds by jumping out of the window and blowing up the penthouse.

In California, 17-year-old Cassie is driving around in a stolen car. (How old is Tim? The art in Batman made him look only about 14, but he could be older judging by the artwork here...) She's attacked by a bad guy disguised as a cop, but Red Robin saves her, tells her that he knows she's Wonder Girl, and that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. are after them both. They're attacked by a helicopter, and she grudgingly has to use her powers to save them both.

And meanwhile, in a scene we also saw in Superboy #1, Superboy is activated.

The verdict? Story - again, part one of a long story that we know is mainly intended to get these characters together into the Teen Titans. I do prefer stories that get to the point straight away. But it introduces three characters well enough that we at least know what kind of people they are, and if there's not much story to it, at least there's a promise that some kind of plot will come along later. Art - very nice, everyone looks suitably heroic and more or less like teenagers, although Wonder Girl just has the standard 'woman face' seen in so many of these comics. The action scenes do look good. All in all - probably one to start reading once this first story is out of the way.