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Dynamite Entertainment

The Six Million Dollar Man: Season Six

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Dynamite Entertainment

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. Stray Bullets: Killers #1

By David Lapham
Image Comics

David Lapham's Stray Bullets was an influential comic from the 1990s, an era when people weren't really doing crime comics like they are now. Heavily influenced by the Quentin Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction, Lapham told single issue stories that fit into a fractured, larger narrative, bouncing back and forth in time from the 1970s to the '90s with a large cast of characters making appearances at different stages. His stories often took ordinary people and threw them into situations with ruthless killers. The violence they witnessed would often have damaging effects on their psyches, and the comic tested innocent people to see how quickly they would turn down an irreversible, immoral path.

Lapham self-published the comic up to issue #40 and then, in an example of how tough the economics of comics can be, put the book on hiatus with one issue to go while he moved on to work-for-hire projects to pay the bills. For nearly ten years, fans have been hoping that somehow Lapham would find a way to get back to Stray Bullets. Finally, thanks to Image Comics, it has returned.

This week, Lapham releases Stray Bullets #41, which finally concludes the previous storyline and simultaneously begins a new chapter with Stray Bullets: Killers #1. Moving forward, the book will be published in more of a mini-series format rather than continuing the previous numbering. However, the new story continues the approach of single, self-contained plot lines feeding into the over-arching narrative. Set in 1978, the issue introduces a boy named Eli who follows his dad to a strip club where he befriends familiar Stray Bullets tough guy Spanish Scott. What he learns about his father leads Eli down the horrifying, transformative path we're used to seeing in Lapham's world.

On a personal note, Stray Bullets is probably in my top 5 all-time favorite comic book series so I'm very excited to see its return this week.

Read a preview of The Killers here.

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2. Deadhorse: The Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1

Written by Eric Grissom; Art by Phil Sloan; Colors by David Halvorson
Frankenstein's Daughter

The second volume of Eric Grissom, Phil Sloan, and David Halvorson's Deadhorse begins when the last pay phone in the world begins ringing. This kind of enigmatic mystery is par for the course in a series that's had a box that can make something out of nothing (including an entire town), two-headed dog markings that show up everywhere, and a Senator who commits suicide on live TV while talking to a hand puppet. If this sounds intriguing, I'm not even doing justice to how well it has played out so far. The creative team is setting up the pieces for a great conspiracy-style mystery that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Grissom and Sloan have a great sense of comedy, which manifests itself in sight gags and playful interaction between characters.

The story follows William Pike whose father held the the key to the mysterious box that was used to create the town of Deadhorse, Alaska. As Pike searches for answers about his father, he picks up a couple of travel companions—a teenage runaway named Elise and a geeky, Zardoz fanfic writer named Edgar. When volume 1 ended, the three were trapped in a temple underneath a campground called Trapper's Keep.

This past weekend, Comixology celebrated the one-year anniversary of their Submit program for self-publishers by selling a bundle of 100 of the top Submit comics for only $10. Deadhorse is one of the best of the bunch, and the first issue of the second volume came out last week. Anyone who picked up the bundle (which contained the entirety of Deadhorse Vol. 1) will be able to jump right into the start of volume 2.

You can buy Deadhorse: The Ballad of the Two Headed Dog#1 on Comixology here.

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3. The Six Million Dollar Man: Season Six #1

Written by James Kuhoric; art by Juan Antonio Ramirez
Dynamite Entertainment

The newest trend in comic book licensing is to take a classic TV show that ended too soon and give it a new "season" in comic book form. This started in 2007 with Dark Horse Comics' Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 and has picked up steam in the past couple of years with new "seasons" of X-Files, Firefly, and Samurai Jack.

This week, Dynamite Entertainment brings back The Six Million Dollar Man with a "Season Six" to pick up where the classic TV show left off. This is not the first time Steve Austin has had his own comic book series though. Dynamite recently published a Bionic Man series based on a Kevin Smith pitch for a rebooted TV program. This comic will be true to the original program which starred Lee Majors in all his track-suited glory. The first issue introduces Maskatron, a character that never appeared in the show but will be familiar to anyone that owned the original Bionic Man toys.

The series is written by James Kuhoric with art by Juan Antonio Ramirez, who previously worked on Dynamite's Bionic Woman series. There's also a painted cover by nostalgia maven Alex Ross that perfectly captures Steve Austin in full bionic action mode.

You can read a short preview here.

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4. "Boy's Toys"

By Mike Dawson
mikedawwwson.tumblr.com

Stay-at-home dad and award-winning cartoonist Mike Dawson recently posted this cartoon about gender roles and children's toys that I found to be pretty much in line with my own findings as a dad. In this day and age where progressive parents actively try to avoid gender stereotyping their children, there still seems to be a natural proclivity for girls to gravitate towards princesses and boys to gravitate towards cars and trucks.

Dawson has been doing a number of little one-off comics about parenting-related topics including one about Disney's Sofia The First that he published on Slate. If you have kids of a certain age, you may relate to and appreciate Dawson's work.

You can read all of "Boy's Toys" on Mike's Tumblr 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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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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