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Category Archives: Comic Books

(Personal) What’s Up in February?

Self Improvement 150Now that January has been put to bed, it’s time to look ahead into the next month. What does a successful February look like for me?

For one thing, I’m glad that this month should be a lot quieter than the last one. It gives me time to take a breath, regroup and figure out a few things for the spring and summer. Looking further ahead, there’s a lot to prepare for: the dearest husband will be going out of town in April, and I’d like to have a revamped Oak’s Home campaign ready and waiting for him when he comes back; I’ll be taking a number of trips later this year, though I really need to decide where — Wisconsin for an annual gathering of friends, or WorldCon in Kansas City, or Rainfurrest in Spokane, or my sister-in-law’s wedding (assuming I’m invited) in Arkansas? Dates, expense, time off and all kinds of other things need to be sorted out and hammered down. Making sure I’ve taken the time to prepare for this makes it easier to plan for everything else down the stretch.

But that’s later; this is now. So here are my biggest priorities for the month.

The Jackalope Serial Company
My Patreon for serialized erotic fiction got off to a shaky start last month, and I’d like to work hard on it to make sure that doesn’t happen again. With any sort of regularly-updating story, communication and engagement with your audience is key, so I’ve bundled that in to my weekly task list for the JSC now — every Monday, there’ll be a brief note about what my patrons can expect in the week or two ahead.

There’s also the matter of making sure The Cult of Maximus is written. Last month (and most of this one), I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’d like to take the time to really plot out the next couple of chapters and write as much as I can so I can build a small buffer. This cuts down on interruptions, and being ahead of the curve means that I can double back and edit the weekly parts into a chapter a bit more easily. Having lead time to get things done is never a bad thing, right?

Beyond that, I need to sign up for a streaming service and buy a webcam in order to make writing streams or Internet hangouts a reality. And it would be nice to come up with polls for patrons contributing at the “input” level while The Cult of Maximus is going. Since this particular serial was designed to take us through 2016, it’ll be a little while before anyone gets to vote on the next one.

So: write as much of The Cult of Maximus as I can to get ahead of the release schedule, and work on making the patron rewards more consistent and clear. That’s what I hope to have accomplished by March 1st.

Other Writing
The People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction deadline is THIS MONTH, and so I need to write “The Tourist” and have it critiqued for a revision edit quick and in a hurry. Frith willing, the short story will be finished this weekend, sent to the writing group for notes and revised by right after Valentine’s Day. This is the fastest turnaround for a story I’ve ever attempted, but I would kick myself if I didn’t submit something — not just a story, but something I felt had a chance of getting in.

Once that’s done and my stomach is in knots waiting for a response, I can move on to the commission for a generous donor to last year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon. That’s been a long time coming — not as long as the commissioner for “A Stable Love” thank goodness — but still long enough. I’d like to have that work take me through the back half of the month, with an eye towards finishing a rough draft by early March.

So: biggest priority is making sure “The Tourist” is submission-ready by the Feb. 19th deadline, and I’ve at made progress on short story #4.

Reading
JM Horse convinced me to double-back and re-read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, and I’m excited to jump into that. I’d like to have that (book 3 of 20 to read this year) knocked out by the end of the month. I’d also like to write reviews for the Apocalypse Triptych and Kindred by Octavia Butler, to go up here, Amazon and GoodReads.

My friends loaned me Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition a few months ago, and I’d really like to start in on that so I can decide whether or not to buy my own copy of the hard-covers. I’ve been considering changing my Oak’s Home Pathfinder game to a system that feels like it’s fighting me less (like D&D5e or FATE), but any shift in system feels like a dealbreaker to at least one of my players.

Of course, there’s also my growing stack of comics to run through — I’ll start taking a few with me to work so I can read a few pages while waiting for queries or processes to finish. Most importantly, I want to cultivate a habit of reading; it’s not something that I’ve prioritized for a long time, and I want to change that as much as possible.

So: read Steppenwolf, catch up on my comics, and dive in to D&D 5th edition.

Other Things
Writing and reading take precedence right now, but I’d also like to re-dedicate myself to taking better care of my body. I’ve had a…distant relationship with it and that needs to change. I’d like to be more mindful of it — I’m not just a brain floating through space, and the body isn’t just there to support my thoughts and make sure I continue to think. Eating better, exercising, grooming and looking after my health are all things I’ll be trying to do a better job with, though it’s not quite with the same focus I’ll be trying to tackle everything else.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Comic Books, Reading, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Personal) What Happened in January?

Self Improvement 150January 2016 was an extraordinarily busy month; everything just took off like a rocket, and it was all that I could do to hold on. Most of the work was anticipated, but I think I under-estimated the effect of a lot of it, and of course my still-developing organizational skills weren’t quite up to the task of keeping everything in order so I could get stuff done. I spent the last day of the month traveling from New York back to Silicon Valley, so exhausted I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I got a good night’s sleep.

Even still, I can’t say it was a bad time. I did a lot of stuff that was fun and enriching, and now that I made it through the worst of it I can take a breath, look at what went right, what went wrong, and how I can use the momentum of the month to propel me through my projects for this one. Here’s a brief rundown of the major events last month:

The Jackalope Serial Company
On New Year’s Day or thereabouts, I launched the Jackalope Serial Company. It’s an idea that had been brewing through the last six months of 2015, and I felt I was finally in a good position to make it happen. The JSC is basically the label through which I tell serialized erotic stories, one chunk every week, until it’s finished. The idea is to put up parts of 1500 – 2500 words a week on the Patreon, then edit those parts into monthly chapters that get released to SoFurry, Fur Affinity and Weasyl at a later date. The first serial is The Cult of Maximus, which I’m expecting to be a 100K-word story when all is said and done. That should take us through the first year of the JSC’s existence.

Launch was reasonably successful; to date I’ve got 17 patrons donating just over $100/month for the cause. I appreciate every single one of them! John Cooner did a bang up job on the launch poster/wallpaper, business cards and other assets that will be rolled out in the next month or so. And I’ve put up the first three parts of the story in January, with parts 4 and 5 coming (hopefully) this week to close out chapter 1.

I wasn’t as regular as I would have liked to be starting out, for reasons that I’ll talk about below. I’ll be spending much of this month and next trying to build up a small buffer so I can make sure the schedule is regular even if something unexpected happens. For now, though, I’m flying by the seat of my fluffy white tail. Thanks to my patrons for the patience they’ve displayed and the feedback they’ve given so far; really looking forward to having things settle into a routine this month!

Further Confusion 2016
This is kind of the biggest furry event of the year for me, and this year was no exception. I took part in five panels this year: “Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World”, “Furries and the Other”, “Write Now!”, “Brainstorming in Real Time” and “Mindfulness and Transformation Workshop”.

The first two were the biggest surprises and fulfilling experiences I’ve had at a convention in a long time; there’s a real receptiveness to the idea of exploring our differences and power dynamics through furry fiction, and the audience was lively, insightful and wonderful. This is definitely a keeper; I’d love to be involved with it next year. The second two were awesome mainly because I just got to hang out with members of my writing group and talk with other writers about ways we can push ourselves past our blocks or think about constructing stories in a different way. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did in those two panels.

For Mindfulness/Transformation, my friend Kannik and I tried a structure to make sure we went over the most important ideas we wanted to transmit and I think that went over pretty well. The exercise portion of the panel could still use some work, but we talked about how to adapt that depending on the read we get from the audience; next year, I think we’ll have a pretty good handle on things.

Away from the panels, having conversations and meals with a few people I don’t get to talk to that often were the highlight. This fandom is full of such a varied mix of interesting, passionate and unique people, and cons are one of the ways we can plug into that directly. I love talking to people and seeing their perspectives on all kinds of things; it makes me fall in love with the community all over again.

The Day Job Summit
This was a bit of a wrench. My company had merged with a similar one in Europe after being bought by a holding company last year. Initially, the plan was to bring everything together slowly and carefully, making sure the customers for each side didn’t feel spooked by what was going on. Apparently, the executives discovered that was no longer a concern and ordered a giant event for the merger kick-off this last weekend in January.

So, this was the first work trip I had ever taken, which is another milestone in my professional development. Thankfully, my husband came with me to hang out and be a tourist, so I was able to enjoy the vacation side of things through his eyes. We also know quite a number of people in the area, and we were able to visit with a few of them.

The overall effect of the summit was building a sense of community between two very different sides of the company; I’m not sure how well that came off, but I know that my particular department (Technical Support) grew a lot closer through the experience. I got to meet a lot of really neat people in European tech support, and we traded war stories. But for maybe the first time, I feel like a fully-accepted member of the team I work in, and that’s just incredible. I can legit say I love the company I work for, and the people I work with.

We also saw our first Broadway show while we were out there — the runaway-smash musical Hamilton. If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet, do yourself a favor and pull it up on Spotify or your music-streaming service of choice. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s a hip-hop/rap musical about a founding father whose story almost never gets told, Alexander Hamilton. The inversion of race (Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and other major characters are black) really punches up the drive of the Founding Fathers, brings their tragedies home in a way I had never considered, and makes me empathize with them in a way I never had before. It makes this old, distant history alive and personal. It’s so good.

New York City is a hell of a town. We visited Wall Street, saw people fondling the bull outside of the NYSE, visited Trinity Church and Fraunces Tavern; we went to Brooklyn and had brunch at Flatbush Farm with a major sci-fi/fantasy author (!!); and partied pretty hard at Celsius in Bryant Park, The Eagle on the lower west side (?) and Grand Central Terminal. We saw subway dancers who were amazing, listened to cellists and jazz ensembles, saw the knock-off mascots threatening people in Times Square. All in all, a hell of a trip.

Writing/Reading
I started out strong in January, finishing my first short story of the year for MegaMorphics (“New Year, New You”) and wanted to have “A Stable Love” done but the JSC work sucked up all the oxygen in that room. I started The Cult of Maximus, but didn’t get as far with that as I’d like, so this month will be a bit of righting the ship as far as that’s concerned.

I did read an awful lot, though. I’m catching up on my backlog of comics — I’m finding “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” to be a singular delight, and I’m really digging “Sam Wilson: Captain America”. I finished Kindred by Octavia Butler, and that has been a life-changing book for me. It fundamentally changes my idea of black women for the better, and I’ll need to let that cook for a moment or two. I started The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and I’m looking forward to finishing that, and I finished the third collection of the Apocalypse Triptych, called The End Has Come. It features (mostly) post-apocalyptic stories, many of them continued from stories in the other two collections. It was a neat idea that had a satisfying and surprising set of conclusions, and I’m looking forward to talking about that later.

Meanwhile, my reading stack grows all the time. 🙂 Since it’s Black History Month, I feel like I should be reading something theme-appropriate, and there is no shortage of books that fit that bill. I’ll talk a little bit about that tomorrow.

So that was my January in a nutshell; incredibly busy, full of wonderful and enriching experiences, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and learning with various personal projects. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my plans for this month and what I hope to have achieved when looking back on it sometime in March.

How was YOUR month? What were your highlights? What stories did you complete or make progress on? What things did you notice that you could do better?

 

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(Writing) New Year’s Resolutions, 2016

Writing 150It feels like I swing back and forth with resolutions from year to year. One year, I’m all business with concrete resolutions that have a pass/fail success condition. Write 6 short stories. Read 10 novels. That sort of thing. The next year, having been beaten down by life and the unexpected, I ease back to more vague resolutions that have more subjective measurements of success. Be kinder to myself. Run more. Things like that.

This looks like it’s going to be a year where I have soft and fuzzy resolutions. It’s not necessarily that I don’t trust myself to make big goals and keep to them; it’s more that I just don’t know what’ll happen this year to take my eye off the ball. The more I settle in to the shape of my life and who I am, the more I realize that planning for November in January is just something that leads to disaster.

So I’d like to make resolutions that help me to refine my focus and habits towards a single goal this year. Instead of promising myself to hit a certain concrete measure of success, I’d like to make promises that help me fulfill my purpose. What is that purpose? To become a better writer, reader and person this year of course.

Finish what you start. This is a big one for me. I’ll often jump into projects easily with grand plans about what the end result will look like, with a vast underestimation of the time and effort it will take to achieve them. Sometimes, I just don’t have the space in my life to do what I would like to do; so it’s better to pick my projects carefully and devote time to making sure they’re finished before moving on to something else. If something that initially grabbed my fancy is really something I should do, then it will wait its turn in line until I get to it. It’s more important that I do what I set out to do. You don’t learn anything from a project until you have a finished one to look back on.

Be more organized. The ADHD diagnosis last year helped me realize that my brain just works in a certain way and I’ll likely never get it to be as clean and straight-forward as other people’s. Thankfully, I can rely on external tools to pick up the slack — notepads to write down bits of information that I need to remember; to-do apps that help me keep track of projects and deadlines to provide structure for my day; rituals that prime me to do certain things in certain spaces. Writing stories isn’t a science, or a project that lends itself to concrete and significant planning. But finally providing structure that allows me to focus on the important work will really help me to be more productive.

Read a LOT more. There are so many great stories out there you guys. SO MANY. As a writer, it’s really important to read. Period. You have to discover the stories you enjoy and the way you love for them to be told to learn more about your craft. A writer who doesn’t like to read is someone who has no idea how to create stories with an audience in mind. Besides, in order to come correct to the broader science-fiction/fantasy community, I’m going to need to know a lot more about what’s out there. In order to be a part of the conversation, I need to know a lot more about what it is. I’ve got a reading list of short stories and novels prepared, and I’ll be working on it throughout the year. I’m really excited to dig into books, comic books and other stories again.

See the spiritual in the mundane. The draw of Buddhism for me is the fact that its entire purpose is to push the mindset of the temple out into the world. For Buddhists, there’s no distinction between the you that’s on the meditation bench and the you that’s answering customer calls at work. Every aspect of your life deserves your complete attention; every interaction you have with someone else is a chance to worship the Divine. As I’m running through my day trying to meet deadlines or do the things I need to, it’s vitally important to remember this. Sometimes, that means slowing down, centering yourself, and doing the best you can to live up to your principles. It’s something I forget in the thick of things, and I’ll try to find ways to remember them this year.

Don’t forget to take stock. This year I’d like to save concrete goals for weekly and monthly check-ins. This week, I’ve set goals to make sure that something goes through the Writing Desk three times; that the first two parts of my serial will be written; and that a review for a furry anthology is finally edited and sent off to another blog for posting. I’d also like to make sure I get in a couple of runs and I keep a tighter leash on what I spend. We’ll see how that goes when I take my pulse for the week next Sunday.

So that’s it: this year, I’m focusing on seeing things through, putting myself in the best position to do that, reading and connecting with people more earnestly, and making sure I’m mindful of who I am and what I’m doing. Concrete goals will be set every week; project updates will happen every month. That’s the plan.

How about you fine folks? Have you set any resolutions for yourself this year? What does a successful 2016 look like for you, creatively?

 

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The X-Men Are Dead, Long Live The X-Men (Comics)

Reading 150The end of the Marvel Universe came and went before Uncanny X-Men #600 hit the stands, and it’s anyone’s guess why the powers that be decided to wait as long as they did. Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s big gun writers, had wrapped up the final issue of his years-long X-Men run earlier in the summer only to have it delayed by several months. Nominally, it would have been a great post-Secret Wars story that serves as the capstone to Bendis’ arc with the mutants and a good prologue to usher in the new status-quo set eight months after…well, whatever happens at the end of Secret Wars.

But delays have kept the ending to that multiverse-reshuffling story off the shelves, so here we have the end of one era for the X-Men and the beginning of a new one; the same week Uncanny X-Men dropped, Jeff Lemire’s first issue of Extraordinary X-Men came out too.

The end of Bendis’ X-Men run was laden with all of the problems I’ve had with his treatment of the title all along. Maybe he’s spreading himself too thin here; maybe there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the mutants; maybe too many events and crossovers kept him from doing his best work. But jumping Jesus, All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have been a hot mess for a long time.

Ever since the Battle of the Atom crossover (which saw three versions of X-Men from the past, present and future duking it out), it’s been really tough to get a bead on what Bendis has been going for with the titles. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Storm have been acting and re-acting to each other without a clear sense of what drives those actions, and there’s been precious little in the way of character growth for anyone save for the folks that Bendis have brought on, like Eva Bell and Goldballs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great characters — but you get the sense that Bendis doesn’t quite care about the rest of the gang.

Full disclosure: I’m a Beast fanboy, born and bred, and I’m willing to admit that most of my dissatisfaction with Bendis’ run comes down to his treatment of Hank McCoy. Under his writing, Beast mutated again, into some sort of oblong-headed, bat-eared, ape-mutant; brought the original five X-Men forward into the future; irrevocably broke the fabric of space and time by doing so, leading to the collapse of the multiverse; got a tongue-lashing from none other than the Watcher before he was murdered; and finally has to endure an “intervention” where pretty much every mutant who hasn’t stood with Cyclops calls him out. Through all of that, Hank has done little in response beyond look sad and then keep doing what he’s been doing.

So “The Trial of Hank McCoy” is…underwhelming for such a landmark issue. The gathered X-Men accuse Beast of breaking the laws of time and space, physics, nature; they want to “help” him, though they’re really vague about what he needs help with and what that help would mean; and Beast pretty much rants at them, calling down shame, saying “to hell with you!”, packing his bags and leaving in a huff. Before he leaves, he gets to see Cyclops — the entire reason he brought the original five into the present in the first place — hold a televised peaceful demonstration that…somehow proves him right?

It’s frustrating to see these characters you love twisted into shapes you don’t recognize by writers who don’t understand them. And I say this knowing full well that I’m just dude with a blog ranting about a fictional character in a universe that allows for Spider-Man, The Blob, The Punisher and Squirrel Girl to exist right alongside one another. I get how this sounds.

But there’s not a lot of cohesion to Bendis’ story with the X-Men. The only feeling you’re left with after reading #600 is “well…that happened.” There are interludes where young Bobby Drake confronts his older self about his sexuality, with Jean Grey there to provide the commentary, and the older Iceman’s reasons for remaining closeted all this time are actually pretty solid: because of who he was and who he ran with, he wanted just one part of his life to “feel normal”, even if that meant denying a basic part of himself. Those of us who exist in multiple minority spaces can sympathize with that — it can feel like you’re fighting against the current in every aspect of your life, and sometimes you’d give anything to know what it’d be like to not have to do that. I wish there had been more space devoted to this, but so far there’ve only been two whole scenes exploring the psyche of Bobby Drake. It’ll be interesting to see how this is handled elsewhere.

Ultimately, Uncanny X-Men #600 is a fitting capstone to Bendis’ run. The emotional beats are seldom earned, characters behave in confusing ways, and you’re never quite sure what to make of what’s happening. As a fan of Bendis’ work in the Ultimate Universe, I really wish he had done better here.

Jeff Lemire takes over from there in Extraordinary X-Men #1, and while a lot of the building blocks of the story are worn smooth by now there’s enough potential there that I’m curious to see what happens next.

Eight months after the end of Secret Wars and the restoration of the Marvel Universe, mutantkind are dealing with another extinction-level threat. The Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans are causing an illness in mutants and rendering them sterile; the rise of one race means the end of another. Against this backdrop, Cyclops’ stunt at the end of Uncanny #600 has caused humanity to lose their sense of respect (??) for mutants. Knowing they’re on the ropes and unlikely to fight back, mutants are being ostracized and eliminated to prevent the spread of “m-pox”.

Storm has taken leadership of the mutant nation now, and Iceman is her second-in-command. Right off the bat, it’s exciting to see Bobby step into a leadership position. Despite the fact that he’s apparently one of the most powerful mutants to ever exist, he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. It’s quite possible he’ll get to do so here.

The first issue is “the collection,” the part of the story where a catalyzing force realizes the need and taps heroes on the shoulder. Magik is put to use as the travel agent, locating mutants in trouble and bringing them to the Haven, a secret location where the X-Men are based. She goes for Colossus, of course, who is content to live out the rest of his days with a farm and a bottle of vodka. When she tells him he’s needed, he tells her he just wants a normal life — the same thing Jean Grey tells Storm and Iceman when they come to collect her.

Already, members of the team feel like they’re facing the same problem in different ways. Storm has doubts about her ability to lead mutantkind; Iceman has never really had any responsibility for anyone before; Colossus has never had a taste for the craziness of the X-Men; and Jean Grey doesn’t want the burden of being a symbol for Xavier’s dream. Almost none of them want to do what they’re being called to do — they’re doing it because they have to.

Nightcrawler and Old Man Logan round out the team — or will, once the former is rescued from a mysterious band of mercenaries collecting mutants as test subjects, and the latter once Storm and Bobby convince him to come along and figure out what his deal is. I get the feeling that the issue-ending reveal of the old Wolverine is supposed to be a big shock, and it probably would have been if Secret Wars had ended on time.

The art for both issues is pretty strong; Bendis has a number of collaborators for #600, and while it could have been distracting to have wildly different art-styles bouncing around between scenes it mostly works here. There’s enough continuity in the character models that you’re not left wondering who’s who, and there are some great dynamic panels that lend a sense of motion and emotion to the proceedings. (You can tell I don’t know how to talk about art here.)

But the artistic team of Ramos (pencils), Olazaba (inks) and Delgado (color) is pretty wonderful in Extraordinary. The character designs are crisp — cartoonish, but grounded — and the color palette does a great job at enhancing the mood of every scene. And not for nothing, but the new-look Colossus? Super hot. God. Damn.

The story for Extraordinary X-Men is likely to be unpopular. We’ve already covered the mutant race with their backs against the wall before, and the rumors that Marvel is effectively swapping out the Inhumans for the mutants seem to be 100% true. It’s kind of interesting that the editorial office is leaning in to the controversy by having the Terrigen Mists actually BE the reason for the extinction of the race.

But still, I’m hopeful for mutantkind. Even though they’re in possibly the worst situation they’ve ever been in story-wise, they’ve got good writers on their titles. It’ll be interesting to see how Lemire handles the relationships among Storm’s team. How will the adult Bobby react to the teen Jean Grey? Magik and Colossus haven’t seen eye-to-eye in quite some time; is all that bad blood really under the bridge? How is Storm going to get along with Logan? How does Logan deal with everyone else? I suppose we’ll see.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Comic Books, Reviews

 

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The Month in Comics – October 2015

Reading 150I fell back into comics this month, and I fell a little hard. It was a perfect opportunity to check up on things, actually — the first wave of Marvel’s revamped universe was shipped under the All-New, All-Different Marvel banner. Even though the big summer event that allowed them to shuffle the deck hasn’t ended yet due to delays, it’s still a good time to check in and see all the stuff the House of Ideas is doing with their flagship franchises.

I talked a bit about the comics I was planning to buy here, and on what platform, and why. Once I got in to my local comic shop, though, I realized just how much I missed spending time there. Anna and the gang at Illusive Comics work really hard to make it a community shop for the geeks in Santa Clara, and they want it to be as safe and welcoming a space as possible. I’ve got to support that, so I dusted off my old pull box and will be steadily stocking up on title subscriptions there. This might mean a smaller reliance on Comixology, but that’s just fine with me. Amazon borked the service quite a bit when they bought it, and I’ve been reluctant to go back to it ever since.

Anyway, I picked up a few Marvel titles last month — Sam Wilson: Captain America, the next volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, Howling Commandos of SHIELD, and two Star Wars miniseries, Chewbacca and Shattered Empire. I’m holding back on Uncanny Inhumans, and will probably go digital there. I’ve also picked up a few non-Marvel titles: Archie (from Waid and Staples), Jughead (from Zdarsky) and Bad Moon Rising, because I’m a sucker for a cover with a really intriguing werewolf.

I’ve only read three or four issues out of my haul, so next month’s write-up will be a bit beefier. For now, though, a few thoughts on what I’ve seen so far.

THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA
Sam Wilson made headlines last month with the first issue of his new series, and reading it I can totally see why. Nick Spencer is taking Captain America closer to the streets here; Sam wants the shield to be more than just a symbol, but something that regular Americans see and care about. Steve Rogers was more aspirational in his role as Captain, staying above the political fray as much as possible and making sure every single action he took reflected his ideals. Not a bad tack to take, but I could see how it wouldn’t work for Sam.

Besides, Steve has worked for SHIELD and the US Government for how long? He knows what they’re capable of, and his decision to change the way it works from the inside is something he has a fairly good chance of doing. However, Sam’s experience as a black man dealing with institutions he and his community has been disenfranchised with for so long leads him to simply abandoning them and trying to affect change on his own. That makes sense, too — even though it makes it that much harder.

Sam’s first story takes him to Arizona, where the Sons of the Serpent are rounding up illegal immigrants for some unknown purpose. I’m impressed that neither he nor Nick Spencer, the writer, is taking baby steps with this; they both know the shit-storm that’ll come down as a result of these choices, and they do it anyway. It’s a bold statement, not just for the character and the writer, but for Marvel itself. I know we’ve said Cap has always been political; while that may be true, it’s very rare that he’s been this topical.

I dig the hardscrabble nature of Sam’s operation, and Misty Knight, his right-hand gal, is lifted straight from a 70s blaxploitation movie in the best possible way. There’s a hint of romance there, because of course there is, but with Captain America and the new Thor kissing somewhere down the line in the new Avengers comic who knows what’ll happen there. I hope that they don’t introduce relationship troubles before the team’s really had a chance to come together.

Still, the strength of this first issue and the boldness of its choices has earned this a spot on my pull list; now that I know Sam has made the choice to distance himself from SHIELD and the government, it makes me a lot more intrigued to see if the All-New, All-Different Avengers will take a similar stance that promotes the idea that superheroics are best left outside the shifting landscape of the political theatre.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
My engagement with Bendis took a major hit over the course of his X-Men tenure; the quippy, crackling dialogue that worked so well with Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t translate so well to what was happening with the mutant corner of the Universe, and the direction he’s taken them is something I have a few issues with. Using Beast as a catalyst for his run — by breaking the time-stream to bring the original five X-Men forward to the present — has seen Hank McCoy’s character pretty badly damaged over the past few years; we’ll see how all of that shakes out with his run-ending Uncanny X-Men #600.

But what does this have to do with the Guardians? Well, a lot of the problems that Bendis brought to the X-Men have popped up with the Guardians, too. The dialogue, while pretty snappy, doesn’t quite fit all of the characters, and the plotting is so loose that there’s not a good chance to really get a feel for the title or the team. I was hoping that this new volume would be a chance to introduce a new status quo for the Guardians that would see them somewhat more stable, but the first issue makes me a little nervous.

Peter Quill — Star-Lord — has taken over as leader of the Spartax Empire and left the group, which means Rocket is the de-facto leader. The Guardians spend the first issue stealing an unknown artifact from the Chitauri, and that serves as an introduction to the new team — Rocket, Groot, Drax and Venom are joined by The Thing and Kitty Pride, who’s taken on the mantle of Star-Lady. (But where’s Lockheed?)

In order to find out what the thing does, the Guardians visit an obviously unhappy Peter and it’s clear they’re not on the best of terms with each other for various reasons. But before they can do much in the way of expositing, the issue ends with the appearance of two people — one the ally, the other, a villain.

It’s all a bit…shallow. There isn’t any room for deeper character beats, and the plot points don’t even get a chance to sink in before we’re on to the next thing. It makes me wonder if Bendis simply can’t write team books all that well; while he’s really able to do amazing work with single character books, I’m really not digging his team stuff. Maybe it’d be better to pick up Iron Man and drop this title? I don’t know.

Next month will see The Ultimates, Extraordinary X-Men (Welcome to Marvel, Jeff Lemire!) and a whole host of other titles for ANAD Marvel, and I’m sure I’ll pick up a lot more titles than I mean to. See you then!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2015 in Comic Books, Reviews

 

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My Writing Guide to November 2015

Self Improvement 150October was a pretty intense month. I went in for full training on changing my position at work, which means there are a LOT of holes in my technical knowledge that need to be filled. The shift also means that I’m down in the trenches with coworkers a bit more, and that means an opportunity to change the culture that I’d feel awful not taking. It’s important to me that any community I’m a part of feels more like a community because I’m a part of it — that may sound egotistical, but I like being a glue. I want to make people feel more connected, like someone has their back.

But that means paying attention to work in ways that I hadn’t before, which also means that it has to get a lot more of my time and energy. Because things happened so suddenly, I had to drop any other plans I had made in order to make sure I had the emotional space for it. Now that there are a few weeks of this under my belt, I think I’m able to take a beat or two to see where my head’s at and what I feel I can do.

I’ll still need to set aside a chunk of time to learn more about the technical aspects of my job, like getting to know Linux from the command line and how to work with PostGreSQL and maybe even learning more about SOAP API. But I’d also really like to use whatever remaining time I have for writing and reading — immersing myself in stories that matter to me and learning how to tell them better.

I won’t be able to join NaNoWriMo this year; there’s simply too much going on, and I’m too far behind on a few other things. Still, in the spirit of the month I’d like to set a few goals. They’ll be a bit more modest than what I may have originally planned, but I think they’re a good challenge for what I can handle right now.

WRITING
Ugh, I’m so far behind. On everything. But no worries! This month I’d like to focus on making writing a regular practice, so projects are geared towards that. In addition to making sure The Writing Desk is updated three times a week, I’d like to work on articles for other blogs like [adjective][species] and perhaps Claw & Quill. I’m not sure I’ll have anything ready to show this month — besides, at least with [a][s] they have a pretty solid line-up of posts to take us through the holiday season. Seriously you guys, I really think you’ll like what they have planned.

But there are things about the culture of the fandom I’d really like to write about — what we want out of an art/writing/music community portal, how the broader politics of other SFF fandoms influence our own, how the fandom treats mental illnesses, social maladjustments, and the expression of fetishes that aren’t seen as acceptable or respectable by the society at large. It’s interesting stuff to me and there are no easy answers for this, but it’s all top of mind and I think we should be talking about it, at least in a high-level way.

Here at The Writing Desk, I’ll try to tighten the focus to storytelling and the lessons I’m learning from it — which means more reviews of the stuff I’ve been reading, more thoughts on the lessons we can take from our stories to the broader world, and how our experiences in the broader world are baked into our stories. I’ll talk about the bricks of my Afro-Futurist philosophy as I discover places for them, and the ideas that are taking shape in my mind as I’m writing stories.

As for the stories themselves — well, I’ve got three short stories that I’d really like to finish before I really dive into anything new. “A Stable Love” is a commission that a friend of mine has been waiting on for years, and while I’ve been marching towards completion it’s well past time it was done. Another friend generously donated to my Clarion Write-A-Thon fundraiser, earning a commissioned story that I’ll begin as soon as “A Stable Love” is draft-complete. And then there’s a short story that I would love to submit for the People of Color Destroy Science Fiction anthology coming up next year. I have the idea and the outline for it in my head, and I’m really excited to get started on that.

I’ll also be working on a collaborative project with a few friends called “A Changing Perspective”. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story spun off from an interactive over on writing.com; since that website has issues with advertising for their interactive space, I can’t ask friends to go read those chapters in good conscience. A group of four writers has made an informal pact to revisit the interactive through Twile, and cone we’ve got significant chunks of the story underway we’ll find a way to host it.

So for November, I’d like to finish “A Stable Love” and write 12 chapters for “A Changing Perspective”; update The Writing Desk three times a week; and have at least one complete article for both [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill. It’s an ambitious schedule, but I think I can do it if I keep my focus.

READING
I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I should. I’ll be honest — I’m a slow reader, and I often spend time I could spend reading doing something else, like playing mobile games. Making an effort to read more means spending more of my downtime devoted to it, and that’s something I’m very much in favor of.

This month, I’d like to finish two (I believe) short novels that I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time — Kindred by Octavia Butler and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. The former is a great introduction to one of the biggest black voices in science-fiction, and has been served to me as an Outlander-type story of the slavery South. It sounds like it’ll be incredibly rough, but an illuminating read. The second is a good introduction to one of the best black intellectual voices from the Harlem Renaissance, and that alone has got me tremendously excited. Reading up on black literature — not just sci-fi/fantasy, but novels, essays, and poetry — is something that I want to feel better rooted to the tradition I’m coming out of. I’m hoping that it will help me better understand why my community is the way it is these days, and better imagine what my community will be like in the future, or how it would deal with magic, or how my personal experience fits in to an Afro-Futurist context.

I’ll also be reading through the slush pile for New Fables, though we generally only have poetry to deal with at this point; short stories and novels from friends, of course; and the comics that are coming through the pike as part of All-New, All-Different Marvel. Exciting times, and as usual there is no shortage of reading material.

ELSEWHERE
There is no shortage of demands for attention these days — it’s tough to distill your life down to the essential things that you want to be doing. One of the things I’ve been trying to remind myself is that everything I do is a choice; if I spend a lot of time doing something that doesn’t get me closer to being a writer or someone with good technical skills, that’s a choice I’ve made. If I goof off instead of do something equally enjoyable but possibly more enriching, that’s a choice I’ve made. At this point, it’s important to make good choices about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in the day, and it’s in my best interests to make them count.

This is a bit of a tangent, but it’s a bit like shaping your diet so that you eat better. If you’re trying to make sure you only eat a certain number of Calories per day, then it becomes a lot more important to make sure those Calories are doing something for you — either helping you with your exercise routine, or making sure you’re full for longer, or helping out with your digestion. When your Calories become precious or finite, the impact of empty Calories — those in say, candy or a milkshake — becomes startlingly apparent. If I’m holding myself down to 2000 Calories in a day, I really can’t afford to spend 650 of them on an Oreo milkshake, no matter how much I want to. It’s either that, or dinner.

Bringing that awareness to my time is a lesson steadily, painfully being learned. There’s only so much free time that I have on a weekday; an hour before work, if I wake up on time, and maybe two or three afterwards. What am I doing with those four precious hours? Am I playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on my phone? Am I looking at Facebook without actually absorbing any of the information I see there? What else could I have done that would help me get closer to the life I’d like to be living?

This month I’ll try to make more responsible decisions about how I spend my time. Don’t get me wrong — I know that I’ll need to blow off some steam, or do something inconsequential sometimes to relieve some stress. I’d like those activities to be a mindful choice, though, not the easiest option available, or some sort of default.

To those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! This will be a crazy and exciting month for you. I hope it’s fulfilling as well. Let’s get to work.

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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