Thursday, May 30, 2013

X-Men #1: It's a milestone, but it's much more than that

If you're at all plugged into the comic book world - and likely even if you're not - you've seen the news that X-Men #1, released yesterday, has an all-female team.  When I was out picking up my comics yesterday, I also grabbed a copy of X-Men #1 because I'm a historian and it's historically significant.  But what I discovered when I sat down to read it last night is that - in addition to being historically significant - it's also a cracking good story.  This is exceedingly important because while the "all-female team" aspect might provide a bump in first issue sales, it's not going to sustain the title over the long term, and even more so because if the series fails, there will be people who say it failed not because of shortcomings in art or story, or because it just didn't "click" with readers, or because the market is saturated with X-men titles, but because it had an all-female team.  Like it or not, X-Men is standing for women in comics everywhere.

But if #1 is any indication, I don't think X-Men is likely to fail.  The art was quite good - outstanding in places - and the story managed to hit all the right notes without making any of the common issue 1 blunders.  The origin of the threat is set up efficiently, in only 2 pages.  The characters are introduced as they need to be, in the amount of detail they need to be.  The story starts out in media res rather than getting bogged down by telling the origin of each character, and bits of the history and surrounding world - including other characters - are mentioned without feeling the need to explain everything.  I can't be 100% certain, but I'm pretty confident that someone with no exposure to the X-Men - or whose exposure  comes only from the movies - could pick this up as their entry point to the X-Men comics and, even though they wouldn't understand everything, wouldn't be so bewildered as to stop them from coming back for issue #2.

So if you don't have it already, head out to your local comics shop (you do have a local comics shop, don't you?) and pick up X-Men #1.  You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

80% of life is showing up - but not JUST showing up

People know the quote "80% of life is showing up," or at least think they do.  Even if they know the source (it's Woody Allen), they probably don't know the full context.  He explains it this interview, and there's more to the idea than it appears at first glance:
I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.
So it's not just showing up.  It's showing up and doing the work.  If you want to write a book, you have to put in your "butt in seat time," as my writer friends refer to it.  If you want to be a blogger, you have to blog, day in and day out, for as long as it takes.  Market research, networking, search engine optimization - none of that matters unless you've actually done the work.

TL;DR:  You can't sell a product you haven't made.

Won't get fooled again - my thoughts on comic book crossover mega-events

When I picked up last week's comics, I discovered that they'd accidentally put a copy of Justice League #20 into my pull file. I didn't discover this until after I got home, so I decided that I'd just read it and see what I thought of Justice League. And I really liked it – so much so that I was considering adding it to my pull list. Until I saw that they were about to go into a mega-event that would also entail buying Justice League of America and Justice League Dark. I just went down that road with the Rotworld saga (Animal ManFrankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., and Swamp Thing) and I'm in no hurry to do it again. I imagine that the creators enjoy these sorts of mega-events, because it lets them paint on a bigger canvas. But so often (especially in DC) they either result in massive universe changes that (from my POV) ruin stuff as often as not, or else they have to find a way of undoing everything that happens, returning more or less to the status quo anteRotworld took the latter path – it was obvious from the first issue that it was going to end with everything getting undone, it was just a matter of how they were going to undo it.

I think crossovers work better in more “street-level” titles, where you can have a bigger story without it automatically becoming so big that the very structure of the universe is in danger. For example, I'd be very surprised to learn that no one at DC is working on – or at least has pitched – a crossover event involving Green ArrowThe Movement, and Team Green. I'd probably even buy that. But if they are working on it, I hope they don't do it for at least a year: The Movement and Team Green are brand new and just finding their legs, and Green Arrow is still in the process of being brought back from the brink of death by a new creative team. But eventually I'd enjoy seeing those cross over – and if no one in DC is working on it, I'd be happy to have a go at writing it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why the Producteev outage has me so upset

As far as I'm concerned, the to-do list is one of the greatest pieces of technology ever invented. The caveman who scribbled the first to-do list on a cave wall ("Kill mammoth. Domesticate dog. Drag home mate.") was an inventing genius  Or maybe it was a cavewoman, and the list looked more like "Scrape hides.  Gather herbs.  Avoid getting dragged home by Thog."  Either way, they were a genius, and they've made my life immeasurably better.

The next big advance in to-do list technology that has made my life better is the ability to keep one's to-do list on a computer and have the computer automatically update recurring tasks.  It saves one from having to remember to list items that have to be done over and over again.  Anyone who has any familiarity with Getting Things Done recognizes the importance of this:  Not having to hold something in your head frees up mental space from remembering to do things, which can then be used for actually doing things.

From the outside, my life doesn't necessarily look like one where a to-do list or other productivity technology would be necessary.  I work from home and my routine is largely the same, week-in and week-out.  But look again:  The inherent sameness of my days means I need to-do lists and calendars more because I don't have the mental cues (Monday was the big meeting about the Smithers account; Tuesday was when Charlie smashed the copying machine with a hammer) that help to separate one day from another.  On top of this, I have a wife and 2 kids with major medical problems.  This means I have all the usual responsibilities of running a household, cubed.  I've got hundreds of things to keep track of over the course of a month, with consequences ranging from minor (garage full of recycling because I forgot to take the bin down to the curb) to potentially catastrophic (ran out of medication on the Saturday of a long weekend).  On top of that, I have Asperger syndrome and an anxiety disorder.  If I don't know for certain that I've got everything I need to do plugged into a system so that I can be sure nothing's going to slip my mind, it's disastrous for my mental state.  I can't focus.  I snap at people.  I feel completely untethered from my routine and thus totally out of sorts.

For a long time I kept my to-do list in an app on my iPod Touch.  I had tried close to a dozen different apps before I found one that suited my needs:  To me, a task management app that doesn't handle recurring tasks is useless, one that only allows recurrences daily, weekly, or monthly is only slightly less so.  Everything was fine until I dropped my iPod in the toilet and it stopped working.  Since getting a new iPod wasn't in the cards right away, I started looking for an app that would let me keep my to-do list on my computer.  I once again had to go through an extensive search before I could find one that met my standards.  I finally found one:  Producteev.  I got all my tasks entered, repeating at their proper intervals, and everything was fine.

Then this Monday, Producteev had to migrate their software to a new system, and I haven't been able to log in since.  I know there are things I need to do, but I can't get to my data to see them.  I'll probably stick with Producteev once they get things up and running again, because checking out the competition during this outage has confirmed that Producteev still meets my needs the best.  But I doubt entirely trust them again - there'll probably always be some level of underlying anxiety that this could happen again.  I'm even entertaining thoughts of writing my own to-do list app just so that I won't be dependent on someone else's system.  But I know that - as much as I might wish otherwise - it's not practical to build everything I need myself.  It's just a hazard of living in an interconnected society, I suppose.