Astonishing X-Men Vol. 4: Unstoppable , by Joss Whedon

It was really hard for me not to be reminded of Firefly when reading this series, especially this last part. Maybe it's because Cyclops really looks like Nathan Fillion without his visor on.

Whedon really knows how to write a great ensemble of characters, and this is no exception. He even manages to bring out interesting aspects of these decades-old characters that I've never seen before, such as Wolverine befriending a young student, or the cute relationship between Colossus and Shadowcat.

It was also fun to see so many other great Marvel characters in this one, though their part was fairly small. We got to see some other X-Men (Storm, Nightcrawler, Iceman), the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider Man, Dr. Strange, and a bunch of others I didn't recognize.

It was also great to see Cyclops kick so much ass (which makes his treatment in the movies so damn stupid), and Beast is not just smart, but borders on smart-ass. There's a lot of humor and clever dialog throughout the series - sometimes too clever, like all of Whedon's work, but that's fine by me.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions at the end of this, though the story itself is self-contained. Obviously it's an ongoing comic series, so they need something to write about in the future.

Safe Area Gorazde,
by Joe Sacco

The artwork throughout is excellent. Sacco has an amazing talent for landscapes, and his line work is incredible. Though I didn't care for the way the people are drawn at first, I eventually picked up on how subtle and nuanced he draws them, and how well he conveys their emotions with just a few slight line changes.

The storytelling was a little hard to get used to, and at first I didn't like how he handled text boxes. But I got used to that too, and it really works. Sacco uses text boxes - many text boxes - in the same way that we use punctuation, onto to convey more of the complexities of language.

I appreciated the inclusion of humor in the tales being told - granted, it's mostly gallows humor. This book is about a horrible war, and horrible things happened to the people Sacco interviewed, but the people involved are still human, and still alleviate their stress through humor, celebration, drinking, and all the other things you'll find all humans doing, in all situations, around the world.

If there's one complaint I have about the book, it's that it's only portraying one side of the war. And there are certainly reasons for that: Sacco went to a Muslim city and talked to Muslim people. Naturally the Serbs were their enemies in this war, and they get painted in a horrible light (probably deservedly), but if this were a book about a Serb city that was attacked by Muslims instead of the other way around, would they be saying the same things? Did both sides actually commit similar atrocities, or was one side truly less "evil" than the other? I don't know.

Green Lantern: Brightest Day , by Geoff Johns

Though this is mostly buildup to the War of the Green Lanterns storyline, there's a lot of cool stuff in here. I really like the concept of having multiple Lantern corps with their own motivations and goals. Even though some of them seem evil, they're not monsters, and seeing all the Lanterns working together again is a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, the stuff with Larfleeze (the only Orange Lantern) was hilarious. My favorite part was finding out that Larfleeze had set up his new home in North Branch, Minnesota (a town just 30 miles north of me) and was stealing everything he could find, like plastic flamingos and dishwashers. It was especially amusing to see that he planned to track down Santa Claus to have access to limitless wealth. And finally seeing him flip out in greedy glee when he located an all-you-can-eat buffet in Las, I love that character.

Seeing that the Red Lanterns actually have some redeeming qualities was nice, because they could've easily become purposeless killing machines if not written well. Same goes for the Indigos - it was cool to see that, though they're usually on the side of the Green Lanterns, they're not necessarily always on their side.

This got me really anxious to read the War of the Green Lanterns, and I'll be starting on that next.

Batman: R.I.P. , by Grant Morrison

This was all over the place. It had a cool premise, but its execution left a lot to be desired.

The Black Glove organization seems like it could've been great, but it's an idea that would've been better if it had been given more time to grow in the reader's mind as a potent new threat. Also, the members of the Black Glove were mostly forgettable, and we learn very little about them and nothing about their reasons for wanting to destroy Batman.

I still have no idea why or how the Joker was involved in all of this, and the plot thread of the BG besmirching the Wayne family legacy went nowhere. The idea that the leader of the BG could be Thomas Wayne is very interesting, but almost nothing was done with it.

The book started out pretty good, but once Batman's mind was compromised, it went off the rails and never came back. The parts with Robin and Nightwing could've been left out entirely, and I have no idea why the Club of Heroes was brought in at all. And why the hell were Talia and Damion in this?

This book had a ton of potential, but most of that potential was wasted. At least the art was great.

Empire , by Mark Waid

Jeez, Waid really knows how to put a unique twist on the classic comic book formula. In Empire, the premise is that the bad guys - who are always trying to take over the world - actually HAVE taken over the world. With no good guys left to fight them, it's fascinating seeing what the bad guys do with their time, and what sorts of infighting and back-stabbing occur within their highest ranks.

My only complaint is that there isn't more to read. The story here is self-contained, but there's PLENTY more to do with this concept, and the world is wide open for expansion.

A day at the (woodtick) races

I was up in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Minnesota’s Iron Range last weekend, on a yearly camping trip with several friends: Ty, Garret, Kevin, Maggie, Val, Dan, and and Dan’s almost-one-year-old daughter Sammy. Kev and Mags noticed the local newspaper at a gas station, and had to buy one when they saw the front page. Above stories about and a mountain bike festival and an especially friendly grouse, the main headline was about the annual Woodtick Race, which has been going for 32 years as a fundraiser for the local fire department.

Well, we had to go.

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Determining our fates
with cold, apathetic,
wonderful math


Minnesota is currently debating how to redraw our state district borders, as we do every 10 years, with new census data to guide us. Creating fair, impartial boundaries seems impossible, because it’s always tempting for the party in power to gerrymander everything to give themselves more power. I’ve long been critical of the shape of our 6th district, home of state shame Michele Bachmann. It conveniently bends around liberally-leaning downtown areas and grabs many of the richer, fiscally-conservative parts of the state and merges them with rural, socially-conservative parts of the state.

But how the hell do you draw fair, unbiased district boundaries? On the one hand, people don’t want their communities split down the middle. On the other, it’s really easy to lump certain communities together to create districts that are easy for one party or the other to control.

Here’s one way that’s pretty interesting: math.

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My experiences with Champions Online

While I’m on hiatus from WoW, I thought I’d try Champions Online. It seemed like it could be cool. I’ve been on a big comic book kick lately (I’ve been reading Hellboy, Irredeemable, Flash, Scalped, and other great books) and the thought of creating my own superhero and engaging in superheroics sounded fun. And best of all, it’s free…sorta.

At first, I felt like creating a big dumb oaf good for smashing things, like The Hulk or The Tick. I gradually worked my way through the extremely elaborate character creator (man I wish WoW had more character options) and came up with this dude, whom I named “Adam Smasher”. Puns are an important part of superheroics.

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