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Drew Weing

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Drew Weing

Every Wednesday, I highlight the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. These are generally more short previews rather than complete reviews. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about.

1. Moon Knight #1

Written by Warren Ellis; art by Declan Shalvey; colors by Jordie Bellaire
Marvel Comics

Moon Knight has been kicking around for a long time and has built a devoted cult following, yet the superhero hasn't managed to connect with a large audience or sell enough comics to be considered a bankable character. Every attempt to launch a new book seems to inevitably fail, but there's something about Moon Knight and his untapped potential that keeps him coming back and has A-level creators jumping in to try their hand at making him work. This time out, Warren Ellis is making his big return to writing an ongoing comic (after some time off writing novels) by taking a shot.

Ellis has written Moon Knight before, using him to great effect during his run on Secret Avengers a few years ago. His plan is to make him somewhat of a detective solving "weird crime" cases such as a sewer-dwelling serial killer. He also is looking to rectify all the various interpretations of the hero from over the years. In the past, writers have tried many different hooks to make Moon Knight more than just a Batman knockoff. His backstory includes Egyptian gods and multiple personality disorders (among other things). Ellis plans to shed the stuff that doesn't work in order to hopefully make a definitive Moon Knight that sticks.

Joining Ellis is Declan Shalvey, an artist who has been rising in prominence of late for his consistently spectacular cover designs. Here he has a chance to show his stuff on the interiors and is collaborating with his girlfriend, Jordie Bellaire, one of the most prolific colorists in comics. The striking things about the preview images from this book are the new design for Moon Knight's costume and the way Shalvey and Bellaire render him almost as negative space on the page. The absence of detail and shadows is a complete 180-degree turn from recent detail-heavy renditions we've seen from artists like David Finch.

You can read a short preview of Moon Knight #1 here.

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2. Starlight #1

Written by Mark Millar; art by Goran Parlov; colors by Ive Svorcina
Image Comics

Throughout his career, writer Mark Millar has specialized in violent and sometimes shocking takes on classic comic book tropes. His modern update of The Avengers in The Ultimates helped set the foundation for the eventual blockbuster movie adaptations of his own creations —Wanted and Kick-Ass — which brought superheroes and villains into a world more like our own. Millar has a knack for dark, cynical, movie-friendly takes on the kind of comic book material he grew up reading.

In the first issue of Millar's new mini-series Starlight, a man who is very similar to early 20th century science fiction heroes like John Carter or Flash Gordon returns home from his epic intergalactic adventures to lead a normal life for the next 40 years. He raises a family of self-involved, unappreciative kids and loses his beloved wife very suddenly to cancer.

But then the aliens come back for him. Millar describes it as "Buzz Lightyear meets Unforgiven" or "Buck Rogers meets Dark Knight Returns." It's already been optioned for a movie.

The artist on the book is Goran Parlov, who first attracted attention by stepping in on various arcs of Vertigo's now classic Y: The Last Man series. He's since worked on numerous books for Marvel including the highly acclaimed Fury MAX comic with Garth Ennis. He's an amazing choice for this book as he can combine gritty realism with retro-space adventure to achieve that juxtaposition Millar sculpts. His art here goes from looking like Moebius in the intergalactic scenes to Frank Miller or David Mazzuchelli in the earth-bound scenes.

Read a preview of Starlight #1 here.

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3. The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo

By Drew Weing
www.drewweing.com

The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo is a new webcomic by Drew Weing that looks like a fun, all-ages mystery about a precocious kid who moves into a decrepit building that seems to be inhabited by monsters. With 12 posted pages as of this writing, it's a little early to tell where the story might be going. We just got a glimpse at our first monster this week so now's a good time to jump in.

Drew Weing has been working on webcomics since pretty much the beginning of the medium. In the early 2000s he drew a popular strip called Pup for the now-defunct Serializer.net. His recent graphic novel, Set To Sea, was originally serialized as a webcomic before being published by Fantagraphics.

With Margo Maloo, Weing channels Maurice Sendak as well as some of the great French cartoonists like Joann Sfar. A new page gets added every Tuesday and Thursday on drewweing.com Some older comics, like the previously mentioned Pup, have also been added to the archives.

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4. Denver

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; art by Pier Brito
Kickstarter

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have had a long and successful writing partnership that dates back to the early 2000s with The Resistance and 21 Down. They've recently started their own company, Paperfilms Studios, with artist Amanda Connor and are now in the middle of their sixth Kickstarter campaign together.

The Kickstarter campaign is for Denver, a science fiction graphic novel in the vein of movies like Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. It's set in a future in which Denver, Colorado is the last major city in the U.S. still standing after the devastating impact from a meteor disrupts the Earth's orbit and raises the planet's ocean levels. People are dying, killing, and doing anything necessary to get into Denver and Max Flynn, a Coast Border Guard, is one of those tasked with keeping the border secure.

Palmiotti and Gray are working with Spanish artist Pier Brito who has a rich, detailed style that evokes the moody, hyper-realistic art of Heavy Metal magazine. Similar to the adult sci-fi of that magazine, the cover image here suggests there will be an abundance of sex and violence in this comic.

Another member of the creative team is a music composer, Hans Karl, who has scored soundtracks for various films and animations. He has written and recorded a soundtrack for this comic which is available in various reward packages to backers of the Kickstarter.

Denver is already completely funded on Kickstarter but it's not too late to get in on it.

Below is an exclusive page from the book, courtesy of Paperfilms:

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5. Fowl Language

By Brian Gordon
www.fowllanguagecomics.com

If you're not reading the new webcomic from Brian Gordon (of Shoebox's Chuck & Beans fame), you really should change that. Fowl Language is a laugh-out-loud strip about life, parenting, social media and anything else Gordon sees fit. The latest strip, shown above — about how to explain gay marriage to your kids — is a great example of what to expect.

Browse his archives at fowllanguagecomics.com.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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