Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ones and noughts

3825 in this morning's practice session! We're getting there, gradually...

I didn't do the hour cards practice in the end, though, because of general poorliness and/or laziness. Still, I'll do it tomorrow - I'll have to, because there are 36 packs of cards laid out on my desk, and I can't do anything desk-related until I've memorised them, because I'm too lazy to put them all back in their packs and take them out again later.

Also, I think I've got pneumonia or something, or at least the flu. Sympathise with me, people!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not to

So, I decided to stay at home. I actually got up early and did an hour numbers this morning. It wasn't a very successful hour numbers, but that's what happens when you don't do it for nine months. I'll be better next time. And next time will be later this weekend - I've also got the day off work on Monday, so I can make good use of the time. Tomorrow, binary and hour cards. Maybe a bit of abstract images, too, I need to be practicing that quite regularly.

God, I'm boring. Maybe I'll go to a party instead. Is anyone having a party?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Swe or not to Swe

It just occurred to me today that it would have been my dad's 65th birthday next Wednesday. He would have reached the statutory default retirement age two days before it's abolished!

Anyway, I'm in two minds as to whether or not to go to Sweden this weekend. I'm thinking that a national-standard memory competition over two days, plus another day either side travelling to and from, wouldn't be as much use to me, world-championship-practice-wise, as staying at home and memorising hour cards and numbers.

Although I'm not sure whether I could motivate myself to do all this hypothetical training this weekend, or whether I'd feel more like lying around feeling sorry for myself because I've got a sore throat. Did I mention that I've got a sore throat? I feel sorry for myself.

So I was thinking that if I do a 30-minute binary tomorrow morning (I'm off work) and then the Online Memory Challenge at 1:30 GMT - ooh, by the way, everybody join in the Online Memory Challenge! It'll be commentated by Mattias live in Gothenburg, and good fun will be had by all! - and still feel like I can get more good training in this weekend, I'll stay at home and do that. If I feel lazy, I'll fly to Sweden and compete in a memory championship.

That sounds backwards, but it makes sense to me.

PS I edit this a couple of hours later after realising I should have told people how one goes about joining in the Online Memory Challenge. Send an email to Simon Orton, who has a gmail account with a dot between his first and last name, and he'll set you up with your own personal account if you haven't got one already!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Curse missed opportunities

That phrase has been in my head all day. And not because of anything to do with the German Memory Championship, it's just that the person who sits next to me at work has a laptop that plays a couple of notes whenever he does anything, and they remind me of the intro to the song 'Clocks' by Coldplay.

Which is a catchy song, but I don't know most of the lyrics - it's sung in a sort of mumbling way with just occasional phrases that stick in my memory, like "curse missed opportunities" and "a tiger's waiting to be tamed" and "shoot an apple off my head" and so on. Frankly, I don't want to know what the rest of the lyrics are, because those disjointed snatches are far more cool by themselves. So if you hear me singing strange cool-sounding words and phrases punctuated by humming and dum-de-dum-de-dums, that's why.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Remembering Germany

The Experimenta (which is an extremely cool edutainmental science museum kind of place) was host to the usual huge army of Germans and one or two foreigners in the German Memory Championships - as well as fifteen adults (who included Julian Geiger, choosing to compete in the grown-ups' event instead of the juniors) in the Walter Matthau lab, there were 21 young people in the big square room called 'Kubus', also up on the fifth floor.

The adults' competition also featured the latest great graduate of the junior competitions, Christian Schäfer (who beat me last year and who I really didn't want to beat me again), old-timers like Ferdinand Krause (the only person there who'd been competing in these things longer than me - come back, Gunther, all is forgiven), hot favourites Johannes Mallow and Simon Reinhard, gigantic Fabian Saal, nearly-as-gigantic Nelson Dellis all the way from the USA, Boris Konrad who also beat me last year, and more.

Actually, I should list the 'more' too, because otherwise it sounds unfair. Annalena Fischer, Giselher Mandel, Dana Häußler, Carsten Diete, almost-newcomer Rebecca Ernst and total-newcomer Dennis Horst Proksch.

It's a long day's memorising in Germany - three half-marathons and an abstract images on the first day. We started at 8:30 with the images. I'm still in "doing a safe 300 and only making a couple of mistakes" mode, intending to expand it to attempting 375 at the world championships, but I ended up making six mistakes for a score of 264, while Hannes broke the world record with 385. This is a bit worrying. Christian came second with 291, which is a bit more worrying, and I got the bronze medal. We were awarded medals as soon as the results of each discipline were announced, which is much better than doing it in a protracted prizegiving ceremony at the end of the championship - take note, WMC organisers!

Then after that, we ploughed on with the 30-minute numbers, and I was hopeful that my new approach to it would get me a good score. I even thought that with a bit of successful guesswork, I might have only made a couple of mistakes and beaten the world record, but in fact I ended up with a score of 1124 (seven mistakes), while Hannes broke his own world record with a score of 1320, very closely followed by Christian's 1295 and Simon's 1260.

In my day, if you got a score over 1000 in 30-minute numbers it was astonishing. Now I was getting worried because I had at least three rivals who were all on top form. We had a lunch break - free lunch in the Experimenta restaurant. The funny thing about that restaurant is the security barrier. Everyone who comes to the Experimenta gets to wear a wristband with a barcode on it that lets you through the turnstile to get in. There's another turnstile to get in to the restaurant which allows anyone to go in whether they've got a wristband or not, but won't let you out again unless you scan your barcode! Okay, it's because there's an outside door into the restaurant and they don't want to let you into the rest of the Experimenta without paying, but it made me giggle to think of someone going in there, spilling tomato sauce over their wristband and being trapped in the restaurant forever.

That didn't happen to me, anyway, and we went back upstairs for binary digits. This is supposed to be my specialist subject, but somehow I just can't do it any more. Perhaps I was too worried about my rivals to concentrate properly, but I just got a rubbish score of 3115, when a good score for me used to be 1000 more than that. I still ended up in second place in the discipline, not too far behind Hannes's 3315 and ahead of Christian and Simon who each got just under 3000, but I just have to recapture my old form if I'm to have any chance of winning championships again. I've got a plan, too - I've been practicing speed binary these last couple of years, and I'm going to stop. I only ever used to practice 30-minute binary in the old days, and I think that'll help me build my scores up again.

The final event of the long day (luckily we were sustained by complimentary bottles of drink - fizzy water, of course, it being Germany, plus orange and apple juice - an apple a day to keep the Dr Gunther Karsten away, a bag of nuts and two little bags of gummi bears) was 30-minute cards, which really is my specialist subject. The room was really getting very hot and stuffy by that point - it was a lovely sunny day - but I don't really mind that, it's being cold that slows my memory down. I attempted 18 packs, knowing that I've always been successful with cards even when the other disciplines aren't working out for me. It worked again - I got sixteen packs, which wasn't so bad by my standards, and four-and-a-bit packs better than my closest rival Simon.

I'm still hugely better than anyone else at the marathon cards disciplines, and I don't entirely understand why. Perhaps I'm just naturally gifted. Or maybe I'm the only one who's really got the hang of that two-card thing I invented all those years ago. Anyway, after that, we got to go back to our hotels for a well-earned rest, while the hard-working arbiters marked our recall sheets.

Those arbiters, as always, worked very hard and did a great job. They were primarily Klaus Kolb the instigator of the whole German Memory Championship history, and Gaby Kappus the competitor-turned-excellent-organiser. There were also the usual mob of helpers who stayed in the back room marking papers and get no credit, poor things, and Michael Gloschewski the man behind, which was broadcasting the results live to the world. Memocamp also provided the results announcements - unlike the World Championship, where we get Tony Buzan reading out the top ten and creatively pronouncing foreigners' names, then a piece of paper pinned to the wall for everyone to crowd around, the German Championship does multimedia displays with a computer and projector. However, it's fair to say that it wasn't an unqualified success this year - every announcement of scores came with a lot of um-wait-a-minute changes of display options and resizing of windows that somehow never quite managed to fit everything on one screen and make it readable. But still, technology is the way of the future!

After a surprisingly good night's sleep and a really great dream about Doctor Who, it was back to the top floor for the spoken numbers. I'm not the world's best at spoke numbers in English, but in German it's even more confusing. Especially if the voice is a dull monotone that makes "null" and "neun" sound quite similar. Well, that's my excuse anyway - nobody else had much of a problem. Still, out of the three attempts, my best score was 72. Luckily, my rivals were all trying to break the world record and falling short - the top score ended up being Giselher with 140.

Onwards to historic dates, another of my specialist subjects! And another horrific failure on my part, for some reason I can't quite work out. My head must just not have been in the right place. I got 72, a long way behind Hannes, who always wins dates, and just a little bit further behind Christian, who unexpectedly won it this time. Not another German who's better than me at dates! Dates was always my thing!

By now I was well adrift of the leaders and trying to keep pace with Christian, who's nineteen years old and shouldn't be beating me at memory things. I've been doing competitions since he was eight. That's depressing. Still, the next discipline wasn't going to be the one where I caught up - good old names and faces. The less said about that the better, except that it was Simon's turn to try to catch runaway leader Hannes, winning with a new-world-record 155, way ahead of everyone else, even Boris.

Then we went on to speed numbers, and I really wasn't concentrating right by that point. My 'safe' 360 was riddled with errors and ended up scoring 253. Still, you get two attempts, and the second one was scheduled for straight after lunch.

It turned out that the arbiters were a long way behind with the junior competitions and hadn't marked our papers during lunch. Someone needs to whip them harder, or not let them eat anything themselves until everything's been checked and triple-checked. Poor arbiters, I do feel sorry for them. So we did the random words instead. I only got 170, which isn't great but could be worse. Boris, names-and-words-master, set the top score, just narrowly beating Simon into second place. Christian got a low score in this one, which gave me hopes of maybe catching up with him after all.

He did, however, end up with the top score in speed numbers, while I didn't manage to improve on my lousy score. So now we're going into the speed cards, and I'm languishing in fourth place.

As always seems to happen, I was a long way clear of fifth place (Boris), so couldn't find any justification for doing a super-safe slow time to make sure of fourth. And at about 300 points behind Christian, I still had a chance of snatching third. With a super-fast time, indeed, I had a chance of overhauling Simon, and even Hannes if he completely failed to do anything at all.

I did a more-or-less-safe 35 seconds in the first trial, and hoped my rivals would all make mistakes. They didn't - Hannes did a safe 47 seconds, Christian a safe 51 and Simon a safe 32. 32 seconds is 'safe' for him nowadays. I'm jealous.

So I was still behind Christian and needed to improve drastically while still hoping he didn't improve on his time. I decided to go all-out for a world record, but stumbled over the third card ("wait, why did I just memorise that as the ace of clubs when I know it was the ace of spades? Go back and check - yep, ace of spades. I'm an idiot. Where was I?" sped through my head in a couple of seconds, which is never a good start). After that, though, it went smoothly, and I was pleasantly surprised to still stop the clock at 23-point-something seconds. Not a world record, but it would have been a personal best. However, the recall wasn't all there, I had a big gap in the middle that I couldn't fill. So instead I went over to see what Simon had done, to find that he'd broken his own world record. 21.19 seconds!

I've beaten that in practice, but he does it so much more consistently than me. Can I ever get my favourite record back? Anyway, that was just enough to snatch first place away from Hannes. All hail (or Heil-bronn) the new German Champion! I was fourth, behind Christian. Just a hundred points behind, but still behind.

That win also nudges Simon up to second place on the world ranking list, and shunts me back down to fourth. With Christian lurking right behind me, ready to leap ahead of me at the World Championship, no doubt. I've got to improve!

Okay, practice time! I've got a new training regime planned out, and maybe I can stick to it. I just wish I could forget that I've been World Champion already. If I could only replicate the enthusiasm and desire to win that shines eerily out of the eyes of Simon, Hannes and Christian!

Here's Gaby's slideshow:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heilbronn again!

It's a bit late to write up the whole German championship tonight, so I'll just do a little introduction, and finish it up tomorrow.

I arrived in Heilbronn quite late on Thursday night - my plane was late again. I noticed on the train that the place I was booked into requires you to check in by 8pm, and that it was already half past. So sure enough, I got to the Pension Frey and found it was all shut up for the night. Not daunted over-much by this, I went to the much nicer hotel I stayed at last year and asked if they'd got a room, only to be told that they'd already got a booking for me on the system.

Did I book a room there and forget about it, or did someone else book one for me and not tell me? Possibly it was a guardian angel of some kind. I know I would have booked a room there if Klaus hadn't told me everything was fully booked. Still, never mind, it's a great hotel - the Insel, which means Island and is in fact on a little island in the middle of the big river. It's also right next to the Experimenta, where the competition is held.

We were back in the same room as last time, the Wilhelm Maybach lab, which for some reason I always want to call the Walther Matthau lab, even though he was an American actor who as far as I know didn't have any kind of scientific leanings. Anyway, it's a very nice venue for a competition, but it got a bit hot in the lovely sunny weather of Heilbronn.

Also, having been to Heilbronn before, I now knew where the McDonald's is, and could go there for breakfast in the mornings and get the competition off to a great start!

And on the Friday night, half way through the championship, I had a really epic dream about a Doctor Who adventure starring the sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors (plus Peri and Ace), a combination so unusual that I doubt you'd find more than five or six stories like that on Heck, maybe I'll write it myself, because it really was a great dream.

I'll talk about the actual memory bit and the people there tomorrow - don't worry, I am actually quite cheerful and enthusiastic about the whole thing now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Superer Sunday

For those who are too lazy to look at last week's blog entry on the same subject, DC Comics are "relaunching" their entire range in September. There are 52 comics with "#1" on the cover, thirteen each week, and this is week two. I'm giving them all a try, with my head firmly in "new reader" mode (I'm familiar with a lot of the characters, but haven't bought a new DC comic for a good few years) and I bought this week's batch in the ever-awesome Nostalgia & Comics shop in Birmingham, on my way to the airport on Thursday. There was only one of the thirteen they didn't have, and they also had two of the ones I couldn't find last week, so we're now down to just two out of 27 that I've read without paying for. I'm more than doing my bit to keep those writers and artists in business!

So, week two. It's normal practice to save the best for the first and last week in situations like this. Remember all those comics with beautiful, crisp, clear artwork and snappy writing last week? This week we get a more eclectic mix, with a lot of demons and dragons and general weirdness. And lanterns of all colours. I read them in reverse alphabetical order, since that was the order they ended up packed in my bag in the shop, which means we start with...

Superboy #1
Scott Lobdell, R.B. Silva, Rob Lean

Written by Lobdell, pencilled by Silva, inked by Lean.

Superboy is a clone in a tube in a lab, hairless and naked except for a pair of modesty-covering pants that the scientists have kindly provided him with. He was created three months ago, as a fusion of Kryptonian and human DNA, and he hasn't had much to do except float there and take in what the scientists are saying. It's not good news, though - they don't think he's showing any signs of life, so Dr White is going to kill him. Red-headed female Dr Cait isn't happy about this, but Dr White goes ahead, only for everyone to be killed with a big boom. His last words to Dr Cait, who's safe on the other side of a window - "I shouldn't have kept you in the dark! The human cells, they came from..." splat. Don't you hate it when you mistime your last words like that? If he'd only phrased it in a normal way, like "the human cells came from..." he might have finished his sentence!

Anyway, Superboy's alive and well and now he can communicate with Dr Cait. And a month later, he's in school in Kansas, making friends with Rose Wilson and completely ignoring a cry for help from a woman in a burning building. It turns out that this is all just a virtual reality created for him, and he's still in the lab. He knows, but the scientists don't know he knows. They're more mystified by why his subconscious mind created the small-town Kansas background (the scientists don't have the advantage of knowing Superman's origin story) and where he got his complete disregard for the sanctity of human life (that one's still a mystery).

Dr Cait has a chat with the real Rose, who's apparently there to "put down Superboy if he ever snaps again", although how she'd go about that isn't clear. A Dr Umber, meanwhile, is sneakily feeding the lab's secrets (except the existence of Superboy) to the only journalist he can trust, who happens to be good old Lois Lane. Then the big boss, "Templar", arrives, and announces that it's time to activate Superboy. There's a mission for him.

The verdict? Story - excellent. Sets up the all-new Superboy, gives him a proper introduction and background and more than enough mysteries to keep us interested. It's a prologue, but it has great promise for the future. Art - nice. Everyone seems to have boggly eyes and funny noses, but the lab scenes are very detailed, and the storytelling is clear throughout. All in all - I like it, and I want to know what's going to happen next. I think I'll be back for #2.

Suicide Squad #1
Adam Glass, Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty

The three above get their names on the cover, but the credits page inside attributes the writing to Glass, and then "artists: Federico Dallocchio & Ransom Getty & Scott Hanna". I suppose Hanna lent a last-minute hand with the inking, but I do wish credits would actually say who did what.

Anyway, we're in a gloomy archetypal abandoned warehouse, and Deadshot is being tortured by a man with a bag on his head. Nasty torture, too, involving rats. He's not alone, either. Bag-heads are torturing another six super-types, trying to find out who sent them. Instead of telling them, Deadshot reminiscences about how he got into this mess in the first place - he's an assassin, and a darn good one too, but he was caught by Batman while trying to kill a senator. (After "Men of War" last week, that raises the senator-count in these comics to two, and there's more to come. Maybe the full 100 will have shown up before we're finished!) But he's not telling the bag-heads anything, however much of him gets eaten by rats, because it's all part of the job.

El Diablo is in a similar situation, although he's less the cold-blooded killer and more the warrior monk type who kills people while thinking in Spanish-accented religious terms. But when he accidentally killed a bunch of women and children, he gave himself up to the police willingly. Harley Quinn, meanwhile, used to be the Joker's lover, but his arrest last week in Detective Comics drove her a little bit more loony than she already was, and she set out to kill lawyers before she was caught by the Black Canary. She actually quite enjoys being tortured, so she's not at all in the mood to snitch on her employers.

Black Spider and Voltaic don't get introductory flashbacks, just a namecheck each, and then we move on to King Shark. He's a big giant shark-man, as the name implies (although I'm not sure if he's actually king of anywhere), and he's not the talkative type at all. He plays possum, then bites off a bag-man's arm when he gets too close, exulting "Meat! Meat! Meat! Ha ha!" I like this guy.

The seventh member, Savant, eventually cracks. He explains that they're Task Force X, colloquially known as the Suicide Squad. If you're serving a life sentence, this is the only way to get out. Albeit with a bomb implanted in your neck and a lot of really sadistic training. On their first mission, to bring in a rogue agent, dead or alive (Deadshot just shoots him through the head straight away, to save time), they were caught in a booby trap, and then all the torturing started. The bag-heads thank Savant, then drag him off to do even more horrible things to him, while his six team-mates scoff contemptuously.

After one final tell-us-or-we-shoot-you session, the six are told they've passed the final test, and they're now officially in Task Force X. The sinister leader, Amanda Waller, sends them off on their first mission, which is apparently to kill six thousand people in a stadium. Wait, is this the government, or just a gang of slaughter-enthusiasts?

The verdict? Story - It takes the decision to only introduce half the characters in any kind of depth, which I think makes sense. Other team comics have rushed through everyone or else not shown most of the team at all, but I think this one gets the balance right. On the other hand, it's a rather excessively dark and nasty kind of story with just a lot of gore and rats and not a lot of plot. Art - suits the story very well, it's dark and gritty, and King Shark's happy bloodstained grin is really awesome. Some of the poses are a little strange, though. All in all - it's not my thing, really, but it does a good job as an introduction to the characters and settings, and I do find myself wanting to see where it goes. I can stomach another issue of gore, I suppose.

Resurrection Man #1
Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Fernando Dagnino

Written by Abnett and Lanning, drawn by Dagnino.

Our hero is dead. He's just been left alone after his autopsy, and he muses to himself that everything tastes of metal this time. It seems that coming back to life is nothing new to him. Once he's recovered from the unimaginable pain, he notes that this time, his "talent" seems to be an empathy with and control over metal. He steals some clothes and some money, and heads to the airport, where his latest compulsion has driven him. He vaguely wonders what his mysterious purpose is this time - he's given up wondering where he gets these "things I have to do" from.

So that's four pages and we already know everything we need to know about the character and his setting! Excellent, concise and clear writing! We're also introduced to a few of the other passengers on the plane before our hero, who calls himself Mitch, is joined by a strange woman with a red teardrop-tattoo on her face. She says that "they're closing in", and then turns into a horrific demon-thing. Mitch's soul is overdue, and she wants it. He has to launch the both of them out of the plane (closing the door and trying to save the passengers along the way) but then sees scary faces in the storm, which the demon helpfully narrates as "phantoms of the afterlife, closing in to claim the dead". Spooky.

Mitch manages to contrive a way to get the demon struck by lightning, but then his latest life comes to an end when he's sucked into the plane's engine and, well, the word "skrunntchh" sums it up. The plane crashes, everyone dies, and when Mitch comes back to life with the ability to turn into water, he's left mystified by what the heck is going on. The demon has taken a new human form and is after him, and meanwhile, two creepy young women are searching for him and having fun killing people along the way. And there's a weird fortune-teller saying something cryptic to end the comic.

The verdict? Story - introduces our hero very well, and sets up the stories to come - poor Mitch's life (or lives) will be plagued by all kinds of horrible things. You have to feel sorry for him, but you also want to see how he's going to deal with it. And what strange powers he's going to get the next time he dies. Art - a bit unclear in places, with heavy shading, but Mitch has a very distinctive and consistent face, and the action scenes are nicely done. I like it. All in all - I'm interested to see what happens next. It's not a top favourite of mine, but it's something I want to check out in the future. The central character is very sympathetic.

Red Lanterns #1
Peter Milligan, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter

Milligan writes, Benes pencils, Hunter inks.

More torture! This time, nasty blue aliens are torturing a different kind of alien on a spaceship. But they're just doing it for fun, and the leader is getting bored. But then they're boarded by a cat in a red Green Lantern costume. A whole two-page spread, just of this cat! And it's really, really well-drawn, too. It's got a constant stream of red stuff coming out of its mouth, which seems to be a common complaint among characters in this comic, but it just adds to the coolness of it. It wears a red Green Lantern ring on its tail.

The cat proves quite efficient (and brutal) at fighting the nasty aliens, but they eventually catch it. However, then the cat's owner, Atrocitus arrives, and he's really bad news! He's also a Red Lantern, he's also streaming red stuff from his mouth (is it some kind of energy? Is it helping him fight? The art is excellent, but the red stuff is a bit unclear) and he really lays into the blue aliens, while considering his life. It seems he's not as filled with rage as he used to be. His people were killed by the Guardians (the Green Lanterns' bosses) and he's been raging ever since, but it's getting a bit old.

Meanwhile, on Earth, in "Small Ockdon, United Kingdom" (which looks very American, complete with car on the right hand side of the road), an old man is mugged by a street punk. Then we're back with Atrocitus, who leaves the kitty (it's called Dex-Starr) to rest and recover, then goes to tell his Red Lanterns to stop fighting. One of them is a woman called Bleez, who's more than a little loony and doesn't do what Atrocitus says, the others just stand in the background. We don't get told who they are.

Atrocitus goes to talk to the dead body he keeps lying around the place, and helpfully recaps his origins for the benefit of the reader. Krona, a Guardian, created the Green Lantern corps by convincing the other Guardians that they should use people and not robots. He proved this by programming the robots to kill everyone on Atrocitus's world. Atrocitus has been raging ever since, especially after Krona was killed by someone else (Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who we'll be hearing more from later), leaving the big guy just to keep Krona's corpse and occasionally shout at it. Then a nearby "fever pod" explodes, covering Atrocitus in painful red stuff and re-awakening his rage.

He decides to dedicate his rage-filled life to punishing those who deserve retribution. He'll need the help of his Red Lanterns, although they currently seem to be feeling uncooperative. And maybe the story will also involve what's happening back on Earth - the old man has died, and his grandsons Ray and John (another chalk-and-cheese pairing) are bickering about it. We can only assume this will eventually have some bearing on Atrocitus and co.

The verdict? Story - fills us in on the central character, but skips over the rest of the Red Lanterns. We're not told who they are, where they came from, how the whole Red Lantern thing works, anything like that. In a comic called "Red Lanterns", that's sort of what I expect. And the flashbacks are written in a way that suggests there's more story there that's already been written, rather than this being all you need to know in #1. Art - extremely cool. The Lanterns, from what little we see of them, are a fascinating bunch, and the aliens at the start look awesome, as does the cat. It's very bold and dynamic. All in all - I feel a bit like I'm joining in mid-story, rather than at the beginning, and the sub-plot on Earth is so totally disconnected from what happens on the other pages, it's a bit disorienting. It doesn't quite grab me, somehow.

Mister Terrific #1
Eric Wallace, Gianluca Gugliotta, Wayne Faucher

Wallace writes, Gugliotta pencils, Faucher inks.

London, England! Mr Terrific is nimbly evading laser beams in that stereotypical action-hero way that always annoys me - why do they design those beams so that there's a person-sized gap in the middle of them? And ooh, the lab he's in has more of those omnipresent floaty computer screens! It's a beautifully-drawn opening scene, though - our hero is an athletic type who flies around on big floating marbles, and he's being pursued by a bad guy in a flying suit of armour. They blast through the wall and out into the streets of London (the part of London full of American-style buildings with Big Ben in the background) before Mr T cleverly turns the London Eye into a giant magnet to catch the villain. He introduces himself as the world's third-smartest man, and then reminisces about his origins for a while.

It seems he's a successful millionaire scientist, whose wife tragically died, following which he threw himself into science. When that didn't work out, he decided to kill himself, but was then visited by his time-travelling future son, who urged him not to give up, before disappearing in a scientific explosion. Science is a theme of this comic, and I worry that the writer doesn't seem to know much about science himself.

Back in the present day, our hero, real name Michael Holt, is back at home in Los Angeles, chatting with his rich and successful sort-of-girlfriend Karen. Nearby, an average working guy is suddenly zapped by some kind of intelligence-enhancing beam. It makes him be rude to a waitress, then go out and kill a beggar. Intelligence isn't good for you, it seems. Once the police pick him up, they call in Mr T and show him the strange equations he's been writing ever since they brought him in. "Some kinda science gibberish", the policeman quite accurately calls it, but Mr T says that it's highly complicated and clever differential equations. Obviously you need to be really really clever to see that it isn't just a random collection of mathematical symbols.

Terrific goes to his secret headquarters in another dimension and shows it off to the readers for three pages while pondering this latest case, then goes to his political fundraiser for a sleazy Senator he approves of because of his commitment to science. We're briefly introduced to his friend/colleague/something Aleeka and a teenager called Jamaal who seems to be part of his entourage, although we're not told why, and we get a bit of discussion about weighty race issues. This is, it's clear, a comic about a black superhero, unlike for example Static Shock, which was about a hero who's incidentally black.

But then Mister Terrific is also zapped with the intelligence-beam, and realises that the senator has to be killed. He immediately gets to work starting a big giant earthquake, and we're promised that next issue we'll meet "the villain called... Brainstorm!"

The verdict? Story - Science! And a strange underlying theme of "don't trust intelligent people". The central character is effectively introduced, and he's likeable. There is a story in there, but the science-gibberish and the black-man element sort of stop me appreciating it for the good story it probably is. Art - really good. The action scenes on the first few pages are beautiful, which makes up for the rather inconsistent drawings of faces in the non-action scenes. All in all - I'm on the fence. I'll have to see if it improves next time round.

Legion Lost #1
Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods

It's just "by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods", the credits don't tell us any more detail than that.

At a hospital, doctors and nurses are wrestling with a strange superhuman man talking an unidentifiable language. He yells that they all deserve to die, and then things go boom.

Somewhere else, in Minnesota, seven superheroes arrive in a malfunctioning "time bubble". One of them notes that "the Time Institute warned The Legion Of Super-Heroes not to ride the timestream." So, is that who these people are? It's a strange way to refer to yourself, but the comic is called "Legion Lost", and this is the only indication we ever get as to what this gang call themselves.

All in all, even after reading the whole comic, I'm not sure who these people are. I think they all get a namecheck at some point, but they're slipped in among a lot of dialogue. Let me try and sort it out here. The leader's called Tyroc (he has powers of 'harmonic manipulation', whatever that is. He can fly.), there's a man called Timber Wolf whose name is Brin and Londo (one must be a first name and one a surname, I suppose), a shapeshifter called Yera/Chameleon Girl, an energy-man-in-a-suit-of-armour called Wildfire (Drake), a birdy thing called Gates who can teleport, a big monster called Tellus with telekinesis, and a woman called Dawnstar who's sort of in tune with nature.

They've come from the 31st century, and they're chasing Alastor, the guy from the first page. But none of their fancy equipment is working, and several of them are feeling unwell. Nobody's sure why. But it seems that Alastor has released a pathogen into the atmosphere, which might be something to do with it. Wolf tracks Alastor down, but only after he's smashed up a town and then fainted.

They try to go back to their own time in the bubble, but something's going wrong. Alastor, after gloating about how he's doomed the entire human race (oh, Tyroc can also reduce the volume of people's voices - that's a weird kind of superpower), turns into his big-giant-monster form, and chaos breaks out in the cramped confines of the time bubble. Gates tries to teleport Alastor away, Chameleon Girl tries to restrain him, and the whole thing goes boom.

Tyroc, Dawnstar, Wolf, Tellus and Wildfire survive. Wolf and Dawnstar both have to pass on the bad news about their teammates - bits of them are falling with the rain. And Alastor's just vanished. It's too bad, I liked Gates, from what little we saw of him. So, to sum up, our heroes are trapped in the 21st century, possibly infected by something nasty, and it's raining. What are they going to do now?

The verdict? Story - This feels like Legion Lost #235. It doesn't really introduce the team so much as drop them, fully formed, into the story and expect the reader to catch up. Right at the end, we seem to settle on the status quo for the new series, but I'm not sure how many people will have stuck with it that far. Art - pretty cool. The characters look distinctive, and the various chaotic action scenes are well handled. All in all - I'm reading these comics for new beginnings, and I'm fairly sure this is a continuation of something I haven't read. We don't really get a feel for the various characters - only Wolf shows any real glimmer of individuality - and I'm not really interested in coming back to learn more.

Grifter #1
Edmonson, Cafu, Gorder

The front-cover credits don't give full names, apparently because the penciller is just called "Cafu". That doesn't explain why the cover and the interior credits spell writer Nathan Edmondson's name in two different ways, though. The inker is Jason Gorder.

We open with Bob Harras, the editor-in-chief of DC Comics, making a cameo appearance as a passenger on a plane who's annoyed when a man in a hat barges past him. The man is mumbling about voices in his head, which is never a good sign, but it seems he's justified in this case - the voice he's picking up is coming telepathically from the innocent-looking woman next to him, who's secretly not human and is planning to kill him. She decides to do it now, and lunges at our hero, but he kills her first. He forces a flight attendant to open the door, but the flight attendant is also "one of them", and they fall out together.

Flashback to how this started. Our hero, Cole, is a conman. He's just successfully swindled another con artist out of a briefcase full of money, and he's on his way to catch a plane and rendezvous with his collaborator Gretchen. But on the way to the airport, he's grabbed by a weird creature. He wakes up strapped to a table, with a horrible thing looming over him. There are voices in his head. A normal-looking man mentally calls his 'brothers' to tell them that "one has escaped the transfer" and "the host body has escaped" and so forth. In a panic, Cole kills him. He runs for it, checking his watch and finding that seventeen minutes have passed while he was unconscious. What happened in that time?

He steals a hat, apparently thinking that this will make him unrecognisable, goes to the airport, catches his plane, jumps out of it, and here we are back where we came in. He kills the latest monster in mid-air, lands in the water, swims to shore and calls Gretchen. She's not happy. He's been gone for seventeen days, not minutes. She assumes he's betrayed her, and is determined to get back at him. Elsewhere, the army have identified the 'terrorist' who killed the people on the plane, and assign his brother, Max, to track him down. Poor old Cole hides in a graveyard, voices still very much in his head and everyone against him, and puts on a mask. Come and get me. He also says to himself "I want my seventeen hours back." Hours? What, is he splitting the difference between the seventeen minutes he thinks he was out, and the seventeen days Gretchen said? Where does 'seventeen hours' come from?

The verdict? Story - it's compelling. Creepy and mysterious, although I don't know how it's going to keep carrying on indefinitely. Art - a bit inconsistent, Cole looks different from one panel to the next, although if he's going to be wearing a mask from now on, that won't be too much of a problem. All in all - I like it. I'll stick with it, just to see where it goes.

Green Lantern #1
Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy

Johns, who also wrote Justice League, writes another adventure of the Green Lantern, Mahnke pencils and Alamy inks - helped, apparently, by Tom Nguyen.

But we start with Sinestro, the big-red-headed enemy of the Green Lantern. It seems that although he betrayed the Green Lantern Corps long ago (for reasons of not liking the Guardians, he insists, and for the good of the universe rather than for reasons of being evil), a green ring has 'chosen' him again, so the Guardians make him a Green Lantern once more. The one Guardian who disapproves of this idea is killed by the others.

Back on Earth, it seems that Hal Jordan isn't a Green Lantern any more. He's somewhere in California, with a huge pile of unpaid bills, an impatient landlord and a tendency to still try to help people. He's also lost his job with the air force, and his old boss/girlfriend/apparently also former superhero is prepared to give him a job, but not as a pilot. They vaguely reference previous adventures they had in the past - she had a 'star sapphire ring', it seems, which sounds like she was a Blue Lantern.

They come in all colours of the rainbow, obviously. Back in space, Sinestro has an army of people with yellow Green Lantern rings. One of them takes exception to Sinestro wearing green, and has to be killed.

Back on Earth, Hal has a disappointing dinner-date with Carol, and comes home to find he's been evicted. And also, Sinestro is waiting for him. If you want your ring back, you'll do everything I say.

The verdict? Story - introduces our characters nicely, but it again feels like we're joining in half-way through an ongoing story. It's not a new beginning so much as a jumping-on point. But it leaves me wondering what'll happen next. Art - classic superhero stuff, very well drawn. Sinestro and Hal especially have distinctive facial expressions, and the action tells the story well. All in all - all these Lanterns are confusing me. I don't really sympathise with Hal enough to care what happens to him next, but I feel like I should give it a chance. I'll check out the next one.

Frankenstein, agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Jeff Lemire, Alberto Ponticelli

Lemire, who wrote Animal Man in last week's lot, writes this one too. Ponticelli draws.

No, really, Frankenstein is an agent of S.H.A.D.E. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this. It's silly. But actually, it takes a silly premise and plays it completely straight.

The town of Bone Lake, Washington, is attacked by monsters. Frankenstein (the monster, not the scientist) is called back from his holiday on the moon, and we're introduced to the new hi-tech headquarters of the Super Human Advanced Defence Executive. His father, who changes bodies every decade or so, is now a small girl, and fills Frank in on what's happened so far. Frankenstein's estranged wife was sent in to deal with it, but has disappeared. So now it's up to Frank and his new support team, the Creature Commandos, to fight the monsters.

There's a fish-woman, a werewolf, a vampire and a mummy. Like Frank, they've been created specifically to "tap into man's irrational fear of the unknown". Except the mummy, who is apparently an actual mummy. Anyway, they get to work fighting monsters and looking for surviving humans. In a somewhat anticlimactic cliffhanger, they find some.

The verdict? Story - It's daft, but it is fun, and it does have a proper story too. I rather like it. Art - I don't think it suits the story as well as it should. This calls for a more old-fashioned kind of artwork, more realistic-looking, to emphasise the weirdness of the central characters. It tells the story well enough, though it's not always easy to see what's happening. All in all - I have a weakness for silliness. Even deadly serious silliness. I'll stick with it.

Demon Knights #1
Paul Cornell, Diógenes Neves, Oclair Albert

Cornell shows his full range of writing ability by following last week's Stormwatch with something quite different. Neves pencils, Albert inks.

It's England again, but Camelot this time. There's an absolutely beautifully-drawn first page of (presumably) Sir Bedivere clutching Excalibur. He watches as Arthur is taken away in a ship by mysterious women, and then throws the sword back to the Lady of the Lake. However, one of the women, Xanadu, decides to try to change the story by diving in after it. Meanwhile, Merlin has the demon Etrigan captive, and is wondering what to do with him now Camelot's finished. He traps him within the body of a passing guy called Jason of Norwich.

Four centuries later, and Jason and Xanadu, both being immortal, have hooked up. They happen to be in a village that the Horde of the Questing Queen are heading for. In a pub, they bump into another immortal of their acquaintance, Vandal Savage, a huge, well, Vandal who's savage. Also in the pub happen to be the Shining Knight, Sir Ystin, who might actually be a woman, and another couple of unusual people called Al Jabr and Exoristos, who don't really get to do anything. There's also a mysterious figure on a horse nearby. But then the Horde break into the pub, the various magical types resist them, and the Queen decides to send in the dragons.

The verdict? Story - sword and sorcery only really works if it takes itself seriously. And this doesn't, really. It sets up the story nicely, although some characters show up so briefly that they go unnoticed. There's clearly more to come from them. Art - really quite epic in places, it's exactly right for the story. All in all - it's just not my thing. Admittedly there aren't any Dungeons and Dragons jokes in it yet, but it's the kind of comic that would have them, if you see what I mean. I'll stick to the present-day comics.

Deathstroke #1
Kyle Higgins, Joe Bennett, Art Thibert

Higgins writes, Bennett pencils, Thibert inks. The cover seems to write it as two words, Death Stroke, but inside the comic it's just the one.

Deathstroke is a tough guy. Super-powered mercenary who can do the impossible. Narrative captions tell us all this on the first page, and demonstrate it by illustrating him killing a man surrounded by armed guards in Moscow. It's very nicely drawn, but I can't help but see the scene as showing how rubbish the guards are, rather than how awesome Deathstroke is. They just stand there and don't even fire their guns!

Anyway, having established who he is, we see his boss Christoph assign him a new mission. He has to work with a group of annoying teenagers, and he's not happy about it, understandably. But the mission is to kill an arms dealer and steal his briefcase, all while he's safely aboard his private plane.

Luckily, Deathstroke is really cool, so he can jump from another plane onto the top of that one, cut his way in with a sword and confront the target. He turns out to have a plane full of monsters, but they only last one page before Deathstroke takes care of them. It turns out, though, that the target knew he was coming, and wanted him to have the briefcase. Deathstroke is surprised by the contents, which the reader doesn't get to see. Still, he goes ahead and blows up the plane, escaping dramatically with the aid of his support team.

They celebrate a job well done, but then Deathstroke kills them all. I mean, teenagers. Annoying ones, too. He has words with Christoph - he wants better work than bodyguarding and occasional assassinations, but it seems people think he's past it. Have to do something about that.

The verdict? Story - yes, he's cool. Even despite the idea that employers don't want him any more, Deathstroke is completely indestructible and infallible, which just doesn't make for a compelling story. There's really no hint as to how the series is going to develop, which at least makes me curious to see the next one, but it's not a character I can really care about. Art - good all the way through, it tells the story and depicts the violent action scenes nicely. All in all - It just spends a bit too much time telling us how cool he is. I don't really like him, I'm afraid.

Batwoman #1
J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman

Williams and Blackman write the story between them, with Williams doing the art too.

Last week we had Batgirl, but this is a very different thing. Williams's art is watercolour-like and dreamy in the flashbacks that start the story. A scary ghost woman came into a house in Gotham City and stole three children. Batwoman arrived and fought the ghost woman, but couldn't stop her getting away with the kids. Batwoman is also rather spooky, with chalk-white skin and bright red hair.

Later on, the parents explain what happened to Detective Sawyer. She makes them feel worse by telling them that twelve children have been taken so far, and that she doesn't know if they'll ever find out what happened to them. As she's showing the parents out, she sees Kate Kane in the lobby. Kate's got chalk-white skin and bright red hair. I wonder if she knows anything about Batwoman?

Kate is mooning about a picture of dead police officer Renee Montoya, who she apparently had a relationship with. But she snaps out of it and asks Sawyer out on a date instead.

Then we turn the page, and I thought at first that it was Sawyer who was with Kate at her headquarters, but it's someone with slightly different hair, who's called Bette. She seems to be Kate's cousin, although it's not made entirely clear, and the base was built by Kate's dad. Bette is apparently a superhero called Flamebird, but Batwoman has decided to demote her to wearing a drab uniform and being called Plebe. They go out for some rooftop acrobatics training.

Meanwhile, in New York, a skeleton assigns a woman called Agent Chase to go and investigate what's going on in Gotham. They've given up on unmasking Batman, but they'd like to know who Batwoman is. A Colonel Kane has classified everything, apparently. Still, it seems to me that Kate Kane stands out in a crowd somewhat, so it surprises me that she manages to keep a secret identity.

Back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon (he's a busy man) and Detective Sawyer are looking into a case of drowning, and Kate has a confrontation with her father the colonel. It seems she had a sister who he said was dead, but then she showed up as a supervillain. Soap operas should have plots like this. And then Batman shows up to have a chat with Batwoman on the final page. Batman's a busy man, too.

The verdict? Story - dark and weird, but the subplots are a little confusing. The central character is a real enigma, there's no attempt to explain who she is or what her story is, and yet there are references to her history with people like Flamebird that seem to assume we'll understand what it's all about. Art - varies from weird to extremely weird, but it makes a change from the rest of the comics out there. Batwoman herself is really striking, in jet black, chalk white and bright red, but since Kate Kane looks like that too, it's all a bit surreal. All in all - it doesn't really grab me. I think it's another one to keep an eye on and then come back to if and when it gets through the first storyline and shows signs of telling us what it's all about.

Batman and Robin #1
Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray

Tomasi writes, Gleason pencils, Gray inks.

It's apparently Moscow, and someone is being chased by a Batman-like person, who describes himself as "an ally of the bat". However, they're both shot dead by an invisible someone or something, which describes itself as "nobody".

Meanwhile, in Gotham, Bruce Wayne promises his dead father that tonight's the night. He goes and wakes up his son, Damian. While they change into Batman and Robin, Bruce talks about his parents and Damian, an irritating child, is contemptuous of Batman's whole obsession with death. Batman takes Robin to the place where his parents were killed - it's the anniversary - and explains that he's going to stop obsessing about that, and from now on celebrate their wedding anniversary instead.

Why he needs to commemorate any anniversary of his late parents, I'm not sure, but Robin chips in with helpful comments like "Grief and remorse are a disease of the weak." He's a precocious as well as irritating ten-year-old. He also implies that his father wasn't around for most of his life, so presumably there's going to be some explanation some time as to why Batman now has a son. It doesn't come in this issue, though. Instead, they're called to a situation at Gotham University.

A gang are stealing something, but our heroes stop them, despite Robin not doing what he's told, and Batman spending more time telling him what to do than fighting. Robin chases the baddies as they escape, messes with their strange vehicle and makes them crash. Batman prevents the reactor from overloading, or something like that. Commissioner Gordon comes in to make his contractual appearance in every Batman-related comic, and Batman chides Robin for trying to kill the baddies. They seem to have escaped the crash, but Batman still isn't pleased.

Robin then makes the strange comment that "I'm not like Tim, or Jason, or even Dick. I'm light-years ahead of all the past Robins in skills and training." So let's get this straight - Batman has only been around for five or six years in this new universe of DC's, and he's already on at least his fourth Robin? What is he doing with them? And there's an epilogue with that Nobody person, resolving to visit Bruce Wayne.

The verdict? Story - Robin is so very annoying, it's hard to pick out any good points in this. It's standard Batman stuff. Art - quite cool, but Robin looks a lot more cartoony than the other characters, which gives quite a weird effect. All in all - hmm, it's one of about half a dozen Batman comics in the "new 52", and this isn't a very interesting one. I think I'll give it a miss. Until this latest Robin gets bumped off, anyway.

Well, it's better than fifth

There was a time when I was thrilled to be able to boast that I had "the fourth-best memory in the world". However, that time was the year 2003, and a lot has happened since then. Nowadays, my inexorable slide down the ranking list worries me, because I'm honestly not sure whether it's ever going to be possible for me to...

Wait, what's the root of the adjective "inexorable"? There's no such verb as "exor". Well, to heck with it, lateral thinking is what I need if I'm going to do it, so I'm inventing a word. Where was I? Ah yes...

Nowadays, my inexorable slide down the ranking list worries me, because I'm honestly not sure whether it's ever going to be possible for me to exor it. We've got the likes of Hannes and Simon representing the best of the current crop of memorisers, all excited about breaking world records and winning championships, we've got the likes of Christian representing the up-and-coming future world champions, and then there's me, representing what can only be described as the past. Is it time to give up and find something else to do with my time?

Well, no, it isn't. That was what I was thinking yesterday, and I liked the 'exor' bit so much that I wanted to blog it anyway, but I've woken up this morning feeling fired up to get back to the top. I've spent the train journey home from Birmingham dreaming up half a dozen new journeys, because my current ones are feeling a bit over-used right now, and I'm making plans for a training schedule that won't allow any time for work and/or sleep for the next week.

Anyway, I'll blog the German Championship as soon as time permits, but in the meantime I think I'm going to amuse myself by writing about comics again this afternoon. In between watching football and quite a lot of memory training.