Photo Gallery: Apollo 11

Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and the Lunar Module.
Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and the Lunar Module.
Go to: NASA

Here's the photo I mistakenly attributed earlier. But I decided to give it its own post anyway. It's one of the most mesmerizing photos yet of two people walking on another world. Neil Armstrong was a pretty good photographer considering that those weren't the best lighting conditions to shoot in: Dark sky combined with a bright reflective surface, and everyone's wearing white. And then you have to work the camera while wearing those thick gloves. My hope is that I'll get to see this event replicated on a different world one day, even though I'm nowhere nearly as optimistic as I once was.

To Neil Armstrong, NASA, their Soviet counterparts, and all space explorers, past, present and future. Thank you.

Update: Charles Apple (via Robert T. Gonzalez) analyzes the dearth of good-quality images of the famous astronaut. I find it amusing that like many shutterbugs, Neil was actually camera-shy. He certainly took the majority of the Apollo 11 images, documenting Buzz's mission activities. It's also enlightening to find out that this famous portrait was manipulated. I knew that since the Hasselblad used  by the crew exposes film in the 6x6 cm square format, the image had to at least been cropped at the sides. But it turns out that Neil was no different from most snap-shooters in that he tended to chop off people's extremities when taking their pictures. So the editors at NASA had to restore the top of Buzz's head and add in some extra sky to balance the composition. The results are aesthetically pleasing, but journalistically dubious to professional news organizations. Eh, I'm still okay running it for this blog.


R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong inside the Apollo 11 Lunar Module
Neil Armstrong inside the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Photo from NASA archives, but presumably taken by Buzz Aldrin.
The first human to really set foot on another world is gone.
Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)

Thanks Neil. And send my regards to Yuri and Kudryavka.


Batman: Earth One

Batman: Earth One - By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh

Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Batman: Earth One is yet another retelling of Batman's origin story. Aren't we tired of hearing of it by now? It feels incredibly redundant. In fact, it feels like the comic book version for another Batman film adaptation. Like so many of those films, the plot strains to achieve some semblance of originality by tweaking the source material. Most of these changes are fairly distracting and seem to have been made just for the sake of contradicting earlier versions of the Batman mythos. But when the comic pokes and prods at every little thing about Batman's motivations, methods, and basic competence, he ends up looking less like a heroic figure and more like a delusional tool.

But this isn't an attempt at parody. It's a straightforward superhero adventure. In a scene reminiscent of Batman: Year One, Batman is shown chasing a suspect across Gotham's rooftops. His cable-gun tangles and he falls into the alley below. This Batman isn't just a rookie crime fighter. He seems to be in over his head. He pretty much blunders his way through the book. Bruce Wayne hasn't travelled the world mastering various disciplines. He stayed in Gotham learning from Alfred Pennyworth, now recast as a former Royal Marine. And throughout the book he disapproves of everything Bruce does: From the effectiveness of dressing like a bat to scare criminals as childish, to eschewing guns and extreme force as completely naive, to his belief that his parents murder was ordered by the mayor of Gotham as a lunatic conspiracy theory. All his criticisms are borne out. And it all adds up to a fairly realistic assessment of what would happen if someone actually did try to fight crime like Batman in the real world. The only problem is that this isn't the real world, it's Gotham City. Its aforementioned mayor is Oswald Cobblepot, never referred to as the Penguin. But portrayed as a bloodthirsty despot who keeps everyone in line with the services of a hulking serial killer who he pays off with young girls. It's a grim situation badly in need of a savior. So it's rather demoralizing when the one person who's actively opposing evil is proven to be basically wrong about everything.

Batman: Earth One - By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Then there are the changes to the supporting cast seemingly carried out for the sake of being different. Lucius Fox is a young, nerdy inventor instead of an older father-figure. Alfred is a security consultant who fails to protect the Waynes instead of a loyal butler. Harvey Bullock is an attention-seeking Hollywood transplant instead of a slovenly, cynical Gothamite. And James Gordon is a corrupt cop instead of the only honest police officer in the GCPD. The last two have character arcs which imply that they will eventually develop into their more standard incarnations. But they begin their respective transformations by torturing a suspect for information.

I'm not usually a fan of artist Gary Frank, but his style worked pretty well for the book. His love for drawing creepy fake smiles on people's faces served to capture the decadence and horror of a Gotham under Cobblepot's control. And I kind of dig the home-made look of Batman's costume. It's somewhere between the traditional spandex look and the more elaborate body armor the film versions of the character prefer to wear.

Batman: Earth One - By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

The end of the book suggests that this Bruce is evolving towards a more competent crime fighter. Ultimately though, Batman: Earth One still feels completely pointless. As an alternate take on a well-known character, it doesn't posses a unique enough voice to make me want to read further installments of the series.


Satire: Illegal Superheroes

Illegal Superheroes: Wonder Woman, by Neil Rivas

"Hello, you’ve reached the Illegal Super Heroes Department for the San Francisco Immigration Customs Enforcement Field Office. This is the report hotline for illegal super heroine Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, aka the former goddess of Truth, was born in Themyscira and is an Amazonian citizen. She has entered the U.S. illegally as a member of the Justice League of America and while running operations out of Washington DC and Boston.

She is suspected to currently be illegally present within U.S. borders. To make a report, please leave a detailed message after the tone.

Thank you & God Bless America."

Go to: Artinfo, by Neil Rivas (via Kevin Melrose)


More NonSense: Olympic Edition

Photo from Athlete, by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein
Photo from Athlete, by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein

Despite my dig at the spectacle of sports being no match for the wonder of scientific discovery, I actually do know how to enjoy the drama that arises from competition between athletes, from time to time. I've been following the Olympics like many TV viewers, and this is one occasion I will indulge in the bizarre tribalism that comes from pitting nation against nation (Will the U.S. beat China in the final medal count tally? etc). I can't really stand it in other contexts. To my mind, nothing encapsulates the primal appeal of the Olympics as the impressive performances of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, a man who makes America's finest jocks look like veritable slowpokes. G#&*n, that man can run!

There's a tinge of narcissism involved when celebrating the achievements of athletes or in fetishizing their public images. They're held up as role models of what we mere mortals can achieve if we put our minds to it. Uh, not likely. Elite Olympians are real-world "mutants" whose genetics fortuitously suit the needs of their preferred sport. And who knows how long we humans will let natural selection have its way before we reinstate the foolish practice of eugenics to engineer even more extreme athletes?

Photo from Athlete, by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein
Photo from Athlete, by Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein

Awhile back, Nina Matsumoto posted full-body images from photographer Howard Schatz's photo project Athlete. She was making a point about how her colleagues needed to be reminded about the physical diversity of the real world, and that this diversity needs to be better reflected in the pages of comic books. Andrew Wheeler extended that by arguing that physical diversity is a reflection of good character design. Fair enough. It gets pretty monotonous when people in comics are drawn the same way. Off course, all the world's athletes only comprise a very narrow spectrum of humanity's overall diversity. But Wheeler was primarily concerned with comparing the portraits in Schatz's photos to comic book renditions of superhero physiques.

Sumōtori Emanuel Yarbrough. Photo from Howard Schatz website
Sumōtori Emanuel Yarbrough. Photo from Howard Schatz website

From what I understand of the Golden Age of comics, its artists weren't exactly aiming for "realism" when drawing superheroes. Like their ancient Greek counterparts, they seemed to be more interested in capturing an ideal of physical perfection, informed by the fitness and bodybuilding aesthetic of the era. In short, they were of their time.* But I strongly suspect that if I could observe that period's real athletes, they would not have demonstrated the same variety found in Schatz's book. Why? Individuals who crush previous sporting records, like the great Bolt himself, are not so much paragons as they are outliers. Mutants if you prefer. There's no such thing as a generic ideal that all athletes should train for. Only how far one can push a body's individual limits towards a certain radical direction in order to win at one's chosen sporting event. And today's athletes surpass their predecessors from decades past with more conditioned, functional, and specialized physiques. Their bodies aren't perfect, they're just better molded to fit the task at hand. But ideals about absolute perfection still circulate as aspirational fantasies among supermodels, bodybuilders, the fashion and beauty industries, celebrities and media types, and geeks who take the "Olympic level" descriptions in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe a little too seriously. So it's probably inevitable when fans and media pick on athletes for not living up to those unrealistic standards, irrelevant as they are to in-field performance.**

What's even funnier is that mutant or not, elite athletes are as a group still a whole lot better-looking, not to mention better conditioned, than the general population. As Keith Knight reminds us:

The K Chronicles: XXX Games by Keith Knight
*  Anyone who looks at the evolution of superhero art will notice how ideas about physical perfection have changed over time. And naturally, some artists are less interested in idealization and more known for grossly exaggerating and distorting human anatomy for aesthetic effect.

** not to mention sometimes becoming the recipient of sexist remarks.


Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 3

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 3 by Naoko Takeuchi
It's only vol.3 of the Sailor Moon manga series, and it's already arrived at a definite conclusion to the initial "Dark Kingdom" story arc. Because of the newer publishing format being used by the Kodansha editions, this volume contains the conclusion of the first arc and moves without pause onto the second story arc. It's kind of an odd arrangement, but there you go. Did I mention that this manga is quickly paced?

And wow, this is quite a third act, and would have made a fitting end to the manga had it been cancelled at this point. Half the book is taken up by the final showdown between the Sailor Senshi and what's left of the Dark Kingdom, which includes the series Big Bad, Queen Metalia. It's a knock-down, drag-out affair that moves from Tokyo to the Arctic Circle, and spills copious amounts of blood and gore, or as much gore as Naoko Takeuchi's art is willing to make explicit. Both important characters and many innocent people die. And the fate of the world hangs in the balance. And yet the war ends happily, at least for the good guys. Despite the sense of impending doom that began earlier in the series, the heroes do learn to avoid rehashing the tragic results of the ancient past, therefore managing to defy fate. There's even a hint that the evil henchmen, the corrupted Four Generals of Prince Endymion (aka Mamoru Chiba), are in some way redeemed through self-sacrifice. And the end marks the apotheosis of Usagi Tsukino. As the story's principal wish-fulfillment character, her triumph symbolizes the point when she graduates from reluctant hero to full-fledged leader and warrior-queen of a new Moon Kingdom.

This is an entertaining and empowering fantasy that the comics industry could stand to use more of. But I will admit to feeling a little dissatisfied with the arc. Mind you, I am not, nor have I ever been a member of the manga's target demographic. So this a bit nitpicky on my part. But as a reader I didn't find Usagi's evolution from goofy teenager to a more confident figure to be completely organic. Rather, it felt more like she was following a series of steps in order to upgrade to "hero" status. The schematic nature of her character development also applies to the plot as a whole. Maybe Takeuchi's uniformly quick pacing may have hurt the story a bit.

Takeuchi's art also continues to be a bit awkward. Personally, I love it on it's own merits. Her lines are elegant, the designs are slick and appealing, the poses are cute, and the Sailor Senshi look feminine while still appearing tough and heroic. It doesn't look like typical shojo manga. But her tendency to crowd the page with small, detailed, and occasionally borderless panels can often make the storytelling seem random and muddled. And sometimes her figures' physical movements don't quite convey the proper weight and direction. A key moment which supposably turns the tide of battle left me a little confused on the first reading as to what exactly just happened to Usagi and Mamoru.

The next arc, which comprises the bulk of the anime's Sailor Moon R season, initially proceeds as quickly as the first. It introduces new character Chibi-Usa, named because she looks like a chibi variant of Usagi. And lo and behold, she's just as annoying to some fans as her namesake. Not surprising given that soon after literally dropping from the sky onto Usagi's head, she points a gun at her, then later forces Usagi's family into letting her cohabit with them through hypnosis. She's a brat. But she's also a frightened girl who hides a secret that weighs heavily on her. Her appearance coincides with that of a new antagonist. There's an undeniable repetitiveness to the villains, as they're also another mysterious kingdom looking to reestablish their "splendid history" by forcefully acquiring the Legendary Silver Crystal, led by another sinister entity. Takeuchi's approach to keeping the series fresh is to upgrade the bad guys. They're definitely more ruthless. They don't start out with the M.O. of hypnotizing the population and draining their life force. They're fully capable of murder. And when they learn of the existence of the Sailor Senshi, they target them directly and attempt to kidnap them, one by one.

So yeah, the second arc is a variation on a theme. Or a formula if you prefer. But I get the sense that Takeuchi seems to be getting better at, or at very least is making an effort to master the pieces she's assembled. And in the end, aren't most long-running fantasy series about overmatched heroes facing a succession of increasingly ludicrous foes over a progressively grander scale? At this point, I'm still curious to see how things will turn out.



Straw Feminists in the Closet by Kate Beaton
Go to: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

The Ancient Art of Rubbing It In

Lyoto Machida bows after knocking out Ryan Bader. Photo by Esther Lin.
Lyoto Machida bows after knocking out Ryan Bader. Photo by Esther Lin.

I enjoy these displays of grace and humility after one fighter has thoroughly starched his opponent. I doubt that it makes the taste of defeat any less bitter.

Plus this photo makes them look like two drunks after a night of binge drinking.


A Parade of Mediocre Ideas

Olympic Mascots
Photo from the Mascot Official Website
Go to: The Beat by Heidi MacDonald

I hate Izzy with all my heart.
I don't mind Cobi though.