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DC Comics

So You Want to Get Back Into Batman Comics...

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DC Comics

So, you want to start reading Batman comics again but it's been a good 20 years since you got into the series. If you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of everything you might have missed, fear not: Here's all you need to know to get caught up.

There's Been A Reboot

In the summer of 2011, DC Comics relaunched all of their titles with new #1 issues, discarding the numbering system many of the books had used since the 1940s. The company also rebooted the continuity of their entire comic book universe to allow new readers to start fresh without feeling lost in characters' histories. So, in theory, someone looking to start reading Batman again is really only about 2 years behind and could do no worse than starting with Batman #1 without feeling like they're missing anything.

Except It Wasn't a Total Reboot

The thing is, DC was reluctant to just throw out a lot of good stories with all that continuity. To sidestep that problem, the company set the start of the relaunch five years in so that most of the recent, pre-reboot stories can still have "happened" within that five-year timeframe. Yes, that sounds counter-productive, but comic book continuity is best painted with broad strokes. The important thing to know is that the fundamentals of Batman are still the same.

Bruce Wayne has now only been Batman for about six years.

The reboot means the comics feature a younger Batman who is not quite the been-there, done-it, know-it-all he had been written as in the early 2000s.

He’s still got the same old villains (with a few updates)

The Joker had his own face removed and stitched back on, giving him a new look remarkably similar to Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight.

Catwoman and Batman still have a complicated relationship, and they've been shown to get quite intimate (especially in a pretty explicit scene in Catwoman #1).

The newer additions to Batman's rogues gallery have been very organized. He unearths a hidden group called the Court of Owls that has been operating on behalf of a secret cabal of wealthy Gothamite families for centuries.

There have been at least four Robins

It’s a little hard to see how Batman could have had so many Robins in just a few years, but there's been
- Dick Grayson, still the first Robin and still currently Nightwing.
- Jason Todd, who was killed by the Joker in a storyline back in the '80s but has been resurrected as the vigilante anti-hero Red Hood.
- Tim Drake, who is now Red Robin and the leader of the Teen Titans.
- And the fourth and most recent Robin is Damian Wayne, Batman's son, who is now deceased.

There was also briefly a female Robin, a young woman named Stephanie Brown who then took on the name the "Spoiler." Also, Carrie Kelly, the Robin from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, has been introduced into continuity in recent issues of Batman & Robin, but we don't know what Robin-related plans DC has for her just yet.

Yes, I said "Batman's son"

Damian was the 10-year-old offspring of Batman and Talia Al Ghul and was an awesome, precocious monster -- until he was killed by his own clone. This being comics, it's perfectly reasonable to think he might be back at some point.

Where should you start?

It's a great time to be getting back into Batman because Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are not only in the midst of what may end up being a classic run on the character, but they are also in the middle of an 11 part origin story called "Zero Year" that began with issue 21 of Batman.

A surprising piece of collateral damage from DC's reboot is that Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, the seminal comic that influenced the entire aesthetic of the Christopher Nolan films, no longer fits the continuity. Snyder and Capullo are repositioning the early years of Batman for a new era, and that's as good a place as any to start reading.

There are a LOT of Batman books out there, but not all of them are worth bothering with. Stick with the simply titled Batman, the highlight of the Bat-comics right now.

After that, here’s how you can catch up on more Batman.

Since you're not completely new to Batman, I'm going to bypass all the usual recommendations. Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Long Halloween are classics whether they're in-continuity or not. If you haven't read them, start with those.

Batman & Son
Not only does this story introduce Batman's son Damian, but it is also the beginning of writer Grant Morrison's long run on the book. This is not exactly a stand-alone story and will be more enjoyable if you continue with the followup volumes Batman: The Black Glove and Batman: RIP. It's the perfect entry point to sample Morrison's fast-paced but weird, history-heavy take on the character. From there move on to the first volume of Batman & Robin, featuring art by the great Frank Quitely.

Batman: Court of Owls
Scott Snyder took charge of the main Batman book during the New 52 relaunch. His run begins with issue #1 and the Court of Owls storyline. Snyder is joined by artist Greg Capullo and the two of them are crafting a new post-Christopher Nolan, post-Grant Morrison Batman.

Batman Inc. Vol 1
It's hard to keep recommending recent Batman comics without picking parts of Grant Morrison's 6-year run. It's also hard to pick individual pieces since they all play off each other. However, one of his most interesting contributions to the Batman lore has been the idea of a Bruce Wayne-run corporation of global Batmen who fight crime beyond the confines of Gotham City. Confusingly, because of the reboot, there are two Batman Inc. Vol. 1s out there. You can't go wrong with either one, although the one with the "Demon Star" subtitle does pick up on some threads that began in the previous Volume 1.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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