I can get a little lost in my job here, working with Koha, troubleshooting code, trying to make things work for our clients, doing training courses and the like. Not that I can’t do it. A lot of my job consists of being the filter to handle everything I can so Edmund isn’t getting swamped by little things, but clients are demanding and I’m hitting my limits every day.
So it’s awesome when I get to do reader advisory work, even if it’s on a volunteer basis.
The other day I got a stack of Marvel comics from the library and spent a good chunk of the afternoon reading them in one of our house’s common spaces. This didn’t go unnoticed. A couple of days later, Javier’s brother, Luis, asked about them, was amazed that the library had comics, and asked if he could borrow one or two. I got to talk up my favourites and recommend Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk and generally be a bit geeky.
Today on Google+ one of my library school friends asked about Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, and then about what I would consider more mind-blowing than that, so I got to talk comics again.
Those kinds of interactions are my favourite part about being a librarian. I love telling people about stuff that’s awesome. In our class right now we’re talking about participation in social media and what the limits are or should be for information professionals. And I tend to think there shouldn’t be limits. Like we should be actual people recommending things we think will be useful. The difference isn’t that we’re professionals, it’s that we’re just a bit better steeped in this stuff.
When I was done telling Luis about why Ultimate Human was a good read but he should read Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk first, Holly looked up from her book and addressed him: “You just made Justin very happy.” Which was true. And it’s not the same kind of happy I get when figuring out a knotty system preferences problem.
I should really do my best to find a job in comics librarianship when this degree is done.
The thing about not growing up as a comic book geek is not being hugely invested in the various continuities of the Marvel & DC universes. I didn’t grow up with a certain Green Lantern so it wasn’t traumatic when he went crazy and destroyed the universe (or whatever). I also knew most of my Marvel history from the cartoons, but I knew somehow those weren’t the “real” versions (even if Kevin Conroy is the voice I hear when I read Batman). They’re all just characters with stories being told about them.
So I kind of really like the Ultimate line of Marvel comics. The idea is to strip these long running stories down to a more manageable and modern history, so Peter Parker hasn’t been 16 for 50 years. This Saturday I settled into reading volumes 4-8 of Ultimate X-Men, the more recent Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk and Ultimate Human. I got them all from the library but there’s at least one of them I would buy.
I like the young X-men you’ve got in the Ultimate ‘verse, and the classic storylines (Cyclops and Wolverine really don’t like each other and Jean Grey is in the middle of it) mesh interestingly with stuff like Beast and Storm (Hank and Ororo) having broken up after a teen romance. Magneto was much more villainous than my preferred interpretation (Magneto as a slightly more radical version of Xavier): at one point he’s threatening to reverse the entire planet’s magnetic fields. And I suppose Beast, my favourite X-Man, is better in Astonishing X-Men than this young Ultimate version, but whatever. This Nightcrawler (my second-favourite X-Man) is pretty awesome.
But I really like the Ultimate Tony Stark who appears in a couple of these books (most notably Ultimate Human, which is written by Uncle Warren and has some good batshit science fictional stuff in between Hulk smashing the shit out of things). He’s funny in the way that 1970s Tony Stark wasn’t allowed to be. I also like the idea that he’s been infused with nanomachines and thinks of the Iron Man suits as a product, a product humanity will use to go out into space and elsewhere.
The best of these books though, was Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk. Wolverine starts the story off by getting ripped in half by Hulk. There’s a meeting between Logan and his spirit animal (not a wolverine), an answer to how the man with an adamantium skeleton makes it through airport security, loads of angst from Bruce Banner over the hundreds of people he’s killed as Hulk, and Nick Fury (the other thing I love about the Ultimate ‘verse is that it’s the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury) being enough steps ahead you’d think he was the goddamned Batman.
So yes. Superhero comics can be pretty fucking awesome. Even when they’re silly and basically just excuses for things to explode and get punched. In the middle of one of the Ultimate X-Men volumes there’s a great story about a young mutant who accidentally destroys a town and Logan has a talk with him, offers him beer and murders him in a cave because a mutant like that is terrible PR and Logan is the mutant who does what needs to be done.
Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News is a comic about journalism, but unlike DMZ or Transmetropolitan this book’s journalists aren’t the (tarnished) heroes: they’re the enemy. The Nightly News is about revenge-killing journalists for their crimes of fucking with people. It’s also about cults and American politics being owned by media companies, and there’s a lot of Chomsky. It’s pretty awesome.
“Well, pardon me for being frank, but Chomsky’s a fucking retard.”
- Senator M. Jay Rector
One of the awesome things about it is how the pages are designed. There aren’t really many panels, but overlapping images in black white and monocolours/pages (oranges & browns for the present timeline, blues for the various other times). Infographics are interwoven through the pages, too. It doesn’t look like a regular comic book.
It gets a little over-the-top at times (the running joke with the media conglomerates/senators using quotes from famous Nazis that get mistaken for McLuhan and Chomsky is great, though). The characters we’re following are kind of terrible people. I appreciated the references at the end of the book, where Hickman explains some of the references being made and how it all got put together. The subtitle for the book is A Lie Told in Six Parts, but he still has to explicitly state “I am not the Voice in this book. This is a story, not a sermon.” (It reminds me of Warren Ellis having to state every once in a while that he and Spider Jerusalem aren’t actually one and the same being.)
I got this book from the library but I think I’m going to want a copy when I return to the Northern Hemisphere.
Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi make a hell of an X-Men comic in Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box. At this point in the Marvel universe, Cyclops and Emma Frost are an item and the remaining X-Men have moved to San Francisco where they consult with the police. I like dipping into continuity every once in a while to see what the “current” state of affairs is. (Evidently Nightcrawler’s dead! Nooo!)
This state of things is pretty awesome. This is a very Science Fictional story with beautiful, sort of arcane looking art. There’s lots of good banter (not Whedonesque, but the casual viciousness that comes out of Warren Ellis’ brain) and there’s actual discussion of the impact of all the violence they undertake. Ororo (Storm) doesn’t want to kill anyone and hates that she’s in a position of power that she’d have to. Some people do well with that kind of adult power. Some wish they could remember being young. It’s a good story about multiverse hopping, too. And freaky sex between Beast and his girlfriend ends up saving the day. (Beast is awesome.)
At the end of the collection is an issue called Ghost Boxes which explores some alternate versions of this story that didn’t turn out so well. I loved the fuck out of that. An examination of what happens if the pyro burns Cyclops instead of Wolverine. Of what if they just failed? So good. I would love to see more of that kind of stuff in comics.
I have been neglecting my reviewing duties. But don’t worry, I’ve still been reading. I haven’t given up on the printed word (and image). Just been slow in typing about them. So here is a list of the books I read before coming to Australia.
Warren Ellis’ Planetary has taken a long time to finish. It’s one of those books I keep going back to every once in a while just to reread. It’s science fiction about the weird fiction of the twentieth century. Spacetime Archaeology is the final volume of the series and it ended up pulling the whole thing together in a way I found satisfying, even though it felt a bit like it was speeding to a conclusion. There was a bit of anticlimax as is usual when it’s a story that’s taken so long to be resolved. In a couple of months I’ll go back and reread the entire thing through and will like it very much.
My favourite part of this book was the explanation of this spacecraft’s propulsion system. Elijah Snow (explains that the third dimension they experience is just a simulation and that really everything is information, and the spacecraft just manipulates the information that says it’s travelling without any of the messy physics. Which was awesome on two levels. 1) I like the idea of the universe being information. I’m an information kind of guy. It’s nice to feel important. 2) That exactly describes their reality as characters on the pages of a comic book. Which was so excellently meta I couldn’t stop grinning. It’s not done with a wink or a “See what I did there?” or anything. It’s just tossed out as a fact of how their tiny part of the multiverse is constructed. Which makes me glad it’s now sitting on my shelf next to the rest of the universes I’ve been collecting.
At the end of November I finally decided to revive my del.icio.us account. I figured the winter break would be a good time to get everything organized and figure out a way to integrate my Google Reader shared or starred items into it, or possibly my Tumblr. I wanted this kind of functionality because, though Tumblr is great for ephemerality, I hate its search function. And Google Reader is good for searchability, but the tagging bothered me and not everything really fits that kind of reverse chronological format. If I want to read that thing I read about Benford’s Law, I don’t care when I posted it. A bookmark service is what I wanted and del.icio.us was a bookmark service.
This desire hung around and hung around but I didn’t get any further than ruling out some of the alternatives. Then I read (on Warren Ellis’ blog first but then everywhere) that del.icio.us was shutting down. So I went looking for an alternative. It bothered me to no end that Google Bookmarks are so terrible at integrating with both Chrome and Google Reader. Come on people. Eventually, through LittleBig found Pinboard.
Pinboard is a bookmark manager that’s very similar to del.icio.us. Here’s my stuff (beware that the dates on when everything was bookmarked can be wildly inaccurate, since I imported a whole whack of everything over from my browser and other places at once). You can tag things, have rss feeds of your bookmarks, sort things by their tags, all that stuff. There are also simple options for making tags private, and marking bookmarks as unread. Fine and dandy. But, and this is the killer thing for me, it’ll monitor your Google Reader shared items and import them as bookmarks. Sadly, it doesn’t import the tags from Google Reader, so I have to go through those untagged items every couple of days to get them organized. I’m a nerd who doesn’t mind doing that though, so it’s not a deal-breaker for me. The other thing I just flipped the switch on is Twitter archiving, which might be a good idea since I’m so damned interesting on Twitter (warning: my Twitterfeed is very boring).
One of the big sticking points about Pinboard is the cost. There’s a fee to sign up, based on the number of people using it. The idea is that’s how it keeps itself free of spammers, and the earlier you join, the less you pay. If you read the LittleBig post you saw that in December Pinboard made itself freely available to librarians and library school students, which was pretty sweet. Only $9 but it was a great Xmas present from a stranger.
At this point I’d recommend Pinboard pretty unreservedly, but I’m using it for free. If it would also monitor Tumblrs and import those as bookmarks, or just keep the Google Reader tags when it brought things over, I would call it a must have. If you like keeping track of the things you read on the internet, that is.
Warren Ellis writes a lot on the internet. Shivering Sands is a collection of his essays. They’re very good even though I’d read them all before. He talks about writing about cooking about music and most importantly about the future. This book was a Print on Demand experiment and it hasn’t made a lot of money. But it’s a good little book to take with you places and read and think.
A few nights ago at work I found a disc from The Hour’s Disc Drop endeavour. The idea is that people make mix CDs and then leave them places to spread them around like the flu. Evidently the one I found started at Stradbrook and Osborne or something. It’s an okay disc with muy funky grooves at the beginning but then gets all electro-dancey at the end and I stop paying attention.
So yes, the title for this post is a bit inaccurate. Or maybe a little too accurate. I don’t know.
I’m impressed with how the disc-dropper managed to leave it in the (often smelly) new books area in the middle of a table after cleanup. The only person I saw around there was a big balding bearded guy (who always reminds me of Warren Ellis but in a more homeless kind of way). I don’t think he left it but he saw me pick it up. Maybe he thinks I’m part of a horribly unprofessional spy network, doing our dead-drops out in the open.