Monday, 24 November 2014

This past week...

I spent a lot of time at work.

I had sticky toffee pudding with my best friend and her son, and we wrote a song about custard.

I hung out with my other best friend and her kids, and we played Moshi Monsters cards in a carefully calculated way which meant I would always lose.

I saw my cousin pretend to be a Japanese woman in an amateur production of Avenue Q, with most of my family, including my grandmother. She loved it.

I suffered from moderate man flu.

I listened to Dark Eyes 3.

I saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1. I thought it was very good indeed. I lost focus a bit on the story when Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Dormer were both on screen.

I spent a lot of time at work.

The Doctor Who Project: The Final Season

The Canadian Doctor Who fiction series The Doctor Who Project is about to enter its fourteenth and final season. Season 40 (for it continues from the end of the original series) features three stories told over four installments, featuring their own tenth Doctor and his companions Val and Tom.

The season kicks off this Saturday with Ghost Ship, a spooky story by Krista Wilson and Matthew James, in which an isolated spacecraft is seemingly being haunted. You can read an extract here.

Ghost Ship is followed by Cybercult, by my expat friend Miles Reid-Lobatto. If you haven't gussed, it's a Cybermen story, but this time, they've brought religion with them.

The series ends with a climactic two-parter. In Final Reckoning by John Gordon Swogger, the Doctor and his newest companion encounter an ancient threat, and come face-to-face with no fewer than three incarnations of the Master.

The Doctor Who Project features novella-length stories available for free download in PDF format. Head over to the homepage on Saturday 29th November for the TDWP Doctor's final adventures.

Comics Round-Up: November (2)

Last one of the year. After this I shall be dropping almost everything due to the mighty expense of Christmas. It'll probably be a couple of last issues of short runs and a couple of the Spider-Verse tie-ins to keep me going till the new year.

Spider-Verse #1 (Marvel)

With so much Spider-Man related material coming out, it's tempting to assume it's just another huge cash-in event. Marvel is a bitch for those lately. However, most of this has actually been very good. Whether we really need Spider-Verse and Spider-Verse Team-Up as separate titles is debatable, but this short run anthology series is well worth having. Very brief stories in both new and established realities, each portrayed in a different style. The strip in the Marvel Mangaverse is a slightly weaker start, but the Steampunk Lady Spider, facing a steampunk Sinister Six, is fantastic. We get a wonderfully cutesie story for Penelope Parker on Earth-11, and a newspaper-style strip which is quietly ingenious. Looking forward to the second issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man #10 (Marvel)

This is the least exciting of the three Spidey releases these couple of weeks, seeing that it exists mostly to set up further adventures on the remaining spin-off titles. Seriously, the last few pages involve several groups of Spider-persons heading off into their own titles, helpfully annotated so you know where to send your money next.Still, it's quite fun, we have both primary Peter Parker and a time-displaced Otto Octavius as Peter Parker, plus Miles Morales from the Ultimate universe... yeah, this is complicated if you're not already steeped in it. But there is a Spider-Punk with spikes on his head.

Spider-Woman #1 (Marvel)

Having removed the grotesque Manara cover from the line-up, an altogether more pleasing new start for Spider-Woman arrives as one of Spider-Verse's many spin-offs. This is actually mostly about Silk, making good mileage from the contrast between the experienced Jessica Drew and the naive but tough Cindy Moon. Plus, 1930s Noir Spider-Man along for the ride. Whether this title can maintain any steam once the Spider-Verse events are over is another matter.

Batgirl #36 (DC)

What I like about this title is that, rather like Marvel's Ms. Marvel, the heroine comes across as the sort of girl who might actually be reading these books. Barbara Gordon juggles complex work with an increasingly difficult personal life - so far, so standard, but the details are spot-on. Hers is a world of awkward romantic potential, fragile friendships, social networking and anime marathons, albeit with a sinister faux-Batgirl manipulating her enemies behind the scenes. Really just a  lot of fun.

Batman Arkham #12 (DC/Titan)

I picked this up because Clayface is on the cover, and he has been one of my favourite Bat-foes since I saw the excellent "Feet of Clay" episode of the nineties animated series. The last strip of this issue begins a new story from The Dark Knight, with a powerful new origin tale for Clayface for the New 52. Really great stuff, with some appropriately oily looking artwork from Alex Maleev. Before that, though, are two dull comics from Arkham Unhinged and Detective Comics, both essentially very nicely drawn exposition, although "Icarus," Detective Comics' new story, shows promise.

Thor #2 (Marvel)

Ah, now this is more like it. While I think I'd prefer it if Thor had actually become female rather than be replaced by an as-yet-unidentified woman, but this is still great stuff now that she is finally here and kicking Frost Giant arse. New Thor's inner monologue reads pretty modern, so that suggests she's from contemporary Earth. A former Avenger? When she's speaking aloud though, she sounds just as portentous as the Odinson, posh typeface and all. It's lovely stuff.

All-New Captain America #1 (Marvel)

This, on the other hand, is really rather disappointing. Sam Wilson is now Captain America, although he still has his Falcon wings, while Steve Rogers is now retired because he's caught old age. Steve's son - who is actually Zola's son - is the new Cap's sidekick, Nomad. So with these somewhat baffling rejigs out of the way, this is really quite boring. Stilted dialogue, dull moral arguments, no plot to speak of.

Wild's End #3 (Boom!)

How Abnett manages to make a very straightforward tale of alien invasion so compelling is beyond me. Aside from the obvious incongruity of having Wind in the Willows inspired characters fighting alien death machines, that is. These are fairly cliched characters brought to life by some deft insights, making this a quietly powerful story.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 (Marvel)

Jumped ahead here, with the aid of some library copies of the trades. Current Guardians line-up consists of Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Groot, Rocket, Agent Venom and Capt. Marvel, although the great lady is not in this issue, which kicks off the "planet of the symbiotes" storyline. Have Marvel really never played this idea before? We're still a long way from reaching the aforesaid planet here, with this focusing on how utterly stupid it is to send Venom into space as Earth's representative. But this is cool. Venom extrapoplated to the nth, and that last page - yeah, very cool.

Star Trek #38 (IDW)

Excellent to see Kira enter the fray here. Of course she's going to be leading the resistance - who else would? Slightly odd to have Keiko O'Brien captaining a ship, but it gives her relationship with Miles a new dynamic. Not as fun as seeing Miles and Scotty bouncing off each other. This is still good fun, even if the DS9 characters all talk like they've swallowed a dictionary. Still two parts to go though, and the pace is starting to flag.

Doctor Who Magazine #480 (Panini)

Twelve's first strip story for DWM comes to a close in a clever if perfunctory way, with both Clara and the Doctor shouldering the world-saving duties. This nicely ties into developments in the TV series, with Clara displaying more and more worryingly harsh Doctor-like behaviour. Pretty bloody good start to Twelve's era in the mag.

Multiversity: Pax Americana (DC)

And finally, Grant Morrison's answer to Watchmen. Some might say it's a little late to be writing an answer to Watchmen. The last twenty years of superhero comics have been answer to Watchmen. Nonetheless, this is a very well written comic. Morrison gets to use the original Charlton Comics characters (albeit in their somewhat updated Earth-4 incarnations) rather than having to settle for barely disguised replicas as Alan Moore had to. While Moore had Dave Gibbons to bring his story to life, Morrison has Frank Quitely. I've bought some bad comics in the past on the strength of Quitely's artwork. It's intricate and powerful, and perfectly matches the comic's tone. Experimenting with narrative and causality, Morrison has not written an easy story here, but it's well worth picking up and working through. It needs to be read through a couple of times to fully appreciate it, I feel, but this is fine work.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Are we losing Dimetrodon?

Another installment in the great taxonomical debate that is rocking palaeontology, or at least, gently shaking it. Bathygnathus borealis is the name given to the very limited remains of an animal discovered on Prince Edward Island in 1854. It was lauded as being the first dinosaur found in Canada, before being passed around the 19th century zoological community and re-identified as a pelycosaur in 1905. The pelycosauria has since been abandoned as an order, although it is used informally to describe the sail-backed creatures of the Permian period. Nowadays, Bathygnathus is considered a sphenacodont, like the very popular genus Dimetrodon. Dimetrodon is also erroneously called a dinosaur all over popular culture - it turns up in cheapy plastic toy dinosaur sets all the time - and is one the beasts that people tend to think of if asked to visualise a prehistoric animal.

In 1940, it was suggested by Romer and Price that Bathygnathus and Dimetrodon were one and the same. Given that all that remains of Bathygnathus is one upper jaw, and that Dimetrodon is known from dozens of fossils and has numerous species, no one was really worried about Bathygnathus. However, recent reviews of the 1940 materials suggest that Romer and Price were correct, and that the two genera are synonymous. Which is a bugger, because Dimetrodon wasn't described until 1878, twenty-four years after Bathygnathus. If it is concluded that they are the same animal, Bathygnathus has naming priority. If this comes to pass, I suspect the ICZN will be petitioned to keep Dimetrodon as the name, much like they were for Tyrannosaurus, which was identified as synonymous with the earlier Manospondylus. As in that case, prevailing usage is clearly with the newer name, it has distinct cultural clout, and the earlier sample is so fragmentary as to be somewhat useless in the face of the later finds.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Rosetta arrives

All over the news yesterday but I was busy: the ESA spacecraft Rosetta has reached Comet 67P after a ten year voyage through space. Its robot probe Philae has also successfully launched, and after a bit of a wobble, has landed securely on the surface of the comet to begin its measurements.

BBC: Rosetta Comet lander now stable

Some people are questioning whether this is a valuable use of resources. Given the enormous strides forward in everyday technology that have come from NASA's developments over the decades, the relatively young ESA has a lot to prove. However, with ESA, as well as the Chinese and Indian space agencies making huge steps forward, it is they we should be looking to for future breakthroughs. In any case, I believe that knowledge is in itself a worthwhile goal. Examination of this comet will hopefully teach us a great deal about the conditions of the early Solar System, which in turn tells us more about where our world came from. That is, in itself, a worthwhile endeavour. And after the explosion of the Antares rocket at launch and the crash of the VSS Enterprise in flight tests, setting back commercial spaceflight by months if not years (and costing one brave pilot his life) it's encouraging to see  such a triumph in the field.

Daily Mash: Comet landing empirically cool, so shut up