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DC Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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DC Comics

Every Wednesday, I'll be highlighting the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Superman Unchained #1

Written by Scott Snyder, art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams
DC Comics

You may have heard there's a movie called Man of Steel hitting theaters this weekend. If you follow the ins and outs of the comics industry, you may also be aware of talk that the box office returns from this weekend's opening could either send DC Comics and its parent company, Time Warner, into an organizational tailspin (even more so than they already seem to be in) or launch their original superhero back into his rightful place at the top of the sales charts (although it's debatable whether successful comic book movies lead to noticeable increases in comic book sales, anyway). In anticipation, DC is moving some pieces into position this week to try to capitalize on a best case scenario.

That best case scenario involves having good, accessible Superman comics ready the minute moviegoers step out of the theaters, adjust their eyes to the sunlight, and seek out their nearest comic book shop. There haven't been a lot of those recently, but DC hopes Superman Unchained #1 will be that comic and they've put their most popular writer with their most popular artist on it to make it so.

Jim Lee has drawn Superman before. but writer Scott Snyder, who is currently in charge of the flagship Batman book, is getting his first chance at the character now. He has said that he's approached this comic as if he only has time to tell one Superman story—the best one he can possibly tell—before he "gets booted out of comics forever." 

So, if everything clicks into place, you may have the opportunity to experience two great Superman stories this week.

Preview the first couple of pages here.

2. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon; art by Becky Cloonan
Dark Horse Comics

Yes, Gerard Way was the lead singer of the now defunct rock band, My Chemical Romance. And yes, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was the name of their last album. This is a comic book sequel of sorts to that album that will bring an end to that story. But what you need to understand is that Gerard Way once went to art school, and he wanted to make comics long before he got into the music business. In fact, this story started as an idea for a comic.

Way also wrote a comic back in 2007 called The Umbrella Academy that was one of the most unique and enjoyable superhero comics to come out in the last 10 years and has solidified his credibility as a comic book writer to watch for. Now that My Chemical Romance has broken up, Way is refocusing his attention on making comics.

This six-issue mini-series brings to an end Way's story about a war between the Killjoys and a "megacorporation" called Better Living Industries. Caught in between is The Girl, who is the only one that can stop them both.

Way is joined by superstar artist Becky Cloonan who is most recently known for her run on Conan and her exquisitely drawn fantasy comics "Wolves" and "The Mire." Being from a similar school of aesthetics as Way's Umbrella Academy collaborator Gabriel Bá, Cloonan is a perfect choice for this book, not to mention that at this point in her career, everything she does is worth checking out.

You can read a 6 page preview here.

3. The Sleep of Reason: An Anthology of Horror

Edited by C. Spike Trotman; various writers and artists
Kickstarter

The Sleep of Reason is a new horror comic anthology that has just launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for production. They're already more than halfway to their goal at the time of this writing and have plenty of time to go, but they have a number of stretch goals for backers and a nice bonus program for each contributing artist that increases by $50 for each extra $5000 that is raised.

The anthology is being edited and organized by cartoonist C. Spike Trotman, best known for her long-running webcomic Templar, Arizona. Trotman is a well-known figure in the webcomics community and is no stranger to Kickstarter (The Sleep of Reason is her third project). She's pulled together an impressive list of contributors including Evan DahmGabby SchulzKC GreenMeg Gandy, and Carla Speed McNeil. Not to mention a cover by Michael DeForge. The hook behind the anthology is that it will be a collection of horror stories that avoids the usual tropes of the genre: no vampires, no zombies, no "easy solutions," nothing that could possibly be considered familiar. 

You can watch the creepy video and read more about the project on its Kickstarter page.

4. Six-Gun Gorilla

Written by Simon Spurrier, art by Jeff Stokely
Boom! Entertainment 

Either this book has you at the title and cover image (by the amazing Ramon Perez) or it doesn't. If gun-toting gorillas are your thing, read on.

Six-Gun Gorilla is actually a long-lost pulp character from 1930s British magazine Wizard and is now in the public domain. In fact, no one even knows who originally wrote and came up with this character. Writer Si Spurrier pounced on the opportunity to take him and put his own spin on the concept. 

In its original incarnation, Six-Gun Gorilla was a weirdo western about a gorilla whose master is murdered by an outlaw gang, so he takes his master's Colt pistol and goes off seeking revenge. Spurrier, with artist Jeff Stokely, bring the gorilla into the future—the 22nd Century to be precise—and to another planet, colonized by humans and battered by civil war. Spurrier has gotten a lot of critical acclaim for his work on the recent X-men: Legacy book for Marvel. He excels at weird sci-fi concepts and this six-issue mini-series looks to be pretty out there.

There's an extensive preview here and you can read Spurrier's thoughts about the comic on his Tumblr here.

5. Tiny Tiny Stories


Written by Sloane Leong with various artists
Tumblr 

Sloane Leong is an illustrator, colorist and webcomic creator who recently started a Tumblr where she collaborates with various artists to produce these "tiny" short stories. Some are as short as one strip, others not much longer than three. They seem to often follow a theme of a journey being interrupted by conflict. Each reads like a little poem but the real attraction is the breathtaking way they are illustrated by the artists she is working with. Contributions by Ryan Andrews and Charles Huettner (both posted above) with their pointed use of otherworldly coloring just pop off the screen, not to mention other fantastic contributions from Brian Fukushima, Rosie Liao, Steve LeCouilliard, and Emily Carroll.

It's an interesting format that they are all working in and perfect for the Tumblr platform where beautiful, sharable images thrive and get reblogged forever and ever. There's only two pages of strips so far as they've only been going for about a month now. Go read them here.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK: 

Marvel announced a new Mighty Avengers comic title that shows one of the most diverse casts of characters we've probably seen in a major superhero team.

- Heidi MacDonald at The Beat addresses a few of the most recent gender issues that have come up in the comics industry with an article titled "The Week in Women: Do We Write About Gender Issues Too Much?"

- The case of comics writer Gary Friedrich vs. Marvel Comics over the right to claim ownership over the character of Ghost Rider took an unexpected turn when a Second Circuit Court judge ruled there is "a genuine dispute" over the ownership of that character, overruling a previous decision. 

- Voting for the Eisner Awards ends at midnight tonight. If you work in the comics industry, you can vote online here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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