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Tradd Moore/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Tradd Moore/Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews insomuch as they are me pointing out new comics that are noteworthy for one reason or another. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. All-New Ghost Rider #1

Written by Felipe Smith; art by Tradd Moore
Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics is currently launching and relaunching a slew of books each week. Some—like this week's Daredevil #1—are simply a numbering reset in order to give readers an easy place to start. Others, like the new Ms. Marvel or this week's All-New Ghost Rider, are an effort to rethink lower tier characters and make them more relevant for today's audiences. It must be said that Marvel is doing a much better job at this these days than their competitor, DC. Marvel is also doing a great job of recruiting up-and-coming talent and giving them as close to free creative license as a major corporation is apt to give.

Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore—who have shown unique voices on smaller independent comics like Smith's Peepo Choo and Moore's Luther Strode—have designed a brand new Ghost Rider. He won't be replacing previous characters like Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, but will co-exist in the same universe.

The key difference for this new Ghost Rider? He drives a car rather than a motorcycle.

Smith and Moore have done a lot of thinking about character design (you can see some of the sketches here), moving from the old look of leather-clad motorcycle gangs and heavy metal music to the new aesthetic of souped up muscle cars and electronic music. The old flaming skull is now made of white chrome with a hot-rod style blower in the forehead that emits flames. The heavy leather jacket and chains have been replaced with a sleek jumpsuit, and underneath it all is Robbie Reyes, a young Latino-American gear head from East L.A. (He is reportedly modeled after One Direction band member Zayn Malik who will be the obvious choice for a future reboot of the Nicolas Cage movie franchise.)

Here's an unlettered preview of a few pages from the first issue of All-New Ghost Rider.

Update: All New Ghost Rider #1 was delayed at the last minute and won't be in stores until next week, but it was too late to bump it from this week's list.

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2. Cannon

By Wallace Wood
Fantagraphics

Wally Wood was one of the great comic book draftsmen of the mid 20th century. He was known for his work on the early days of Mad Magazine and for his sci-fi, horror, and war stories for EC Comics and Warren Publishing. From 1970 to 1973, Wood (a WWII veteran) produced a weekly newspaper-style strip called Cannon that was published in Overseas Weekly and distributed exclusively to servicemen stationed at foreign bases. It's a macho spy comic about a super-competent tough guy named John Cannon who had been brainwashed by the Chinese and then re-brainwashed by the Americans. He is sent off on Cold War-era missions that put him in the path of the Chinese, the Soviets, and South American dictators. The plots are fast-paced and fun, but don't go more than a handful of panels before a woman ends up in some state of undress.

Cannon reads like it was written by a hormone-crazed thirteen-year-old boy, but is obviously designed to appeal to its target audience of young soldiers eager for some tough-guy action and voluptuous figures to ogle; it's James Bond with no restrictions or shame. Cannon is at times misogynist and offensive, although it doesn't quite veer into the pornographic territory that Wood explored in some of his later works.

Although he oversaw a studio of artists on this comic, his classic approach to storytelling and craft is a wonder to behold in this new hardcover collection from Fantagraphics. In addition to a foreword from one of those studio artists, Howard Chaykin, there is additional content including the full color short Cannon comic Wood self-published in 1969 with art by Steve Ditko.

Check out a preview here, but if you didn't get the idea from the writeup above, be aware that it is NSFW. Below is just about the only SFW page I could find.

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3. Hellboy: The First 20 Years

By Mike Mignola
Dark Horse Comics

This week is "Hellboy Week," as Mike Mignola celebrates the 20th anniversary of his signature first comic. To commemorate, Mignola and longtime editor (and writer on other 'Mignolaverse' projects like Abe Sapien) handpicked pinups, page art and sketches to fill this new hardcover collection, Hellboy: The First 20 Years.

This serves as an inspiring milestone for supporters of creator-owned comics. Mignola built a whole world around what initially seemed like a simple idea for a character. It has spawned a multitude of comics, not to mention prose novels and two successful feature films. The new Mignola-drawn series Hellboy in Hell and primary companion book B.P.R.D. are still going strong today, which is an inspiration to creators hoping to achieve similar success with their own characters and ideas.

Hellboy: The First 20 Years starts with the very first drawing of Hellboy (unrecognizable from what we know of the character now) and brings us right up to present time, displaying full color art from various Hellboy comics.

Some sample images are available in this preview on the Dark Horse Comics website.

Mental Floss will have an interview with Mike Mignola about his 20 years working on Hellboy later this week.

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4. American Vampire: Second Cycle #1

Written by Scott Snyder; art by Rafael Albuquerque
DC Vertigo

Scott Snyder rose to stardom writing the American Vampire series, which began in 2010. It went on hiatus in 2013 when Snyder became one of DC's premier writers and needed some time off to catch up. Now, with the series at its halfway point, Snyder and regular artist Rafael Albuquerque are ready to resume the final 30 or so issues.

American Vampire tells the story of two immortal vampires, Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones. Sweet's tale begins in the late 1800s in the American West. He meets Pearl in the 1920s and turns her into a new breed of vampire, more powerful than their European counterparts. Second Cycle picks up with the two in the year 1965.

Although it's a continuation of the original series, Second Cycle restarts its numbering in order to provide a jumping-on point for new readers.

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5. Schmuck

By Seth Kushner with various artists
Kickstarter

Seth Kushner is a photographer who is perhaps best known to the comics world for his portraits of comic book artists and writers which became a collection called Leaping Tall Buildings. For the past six years, he has been writing his first graphic novel, a semi-autobiographical comic called Schmuck. Based on his own experiences, Schmuck follows the dating exploits of a 20-something New York photographer struggling to find out what he wants. It's for mature readers, as some of the depictions of dating life get explicit. Kushner seems to be going for a storytelling vibe that is a bit Harvey Pekar meets Bob Fingerman meets Larry David.

To publish his first book, Kushner has set up a new company called Hang Dai Editions with cartoonist partners Gregory Benton, Dean Haspiel, and Josh Neufeld. They've just started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of the book. Kushner's experience in putting out high-quality photography books means he's striving to make as beautiful a book as possible. He's brought in Eric Skillman—an award-winning designer who has created DVD packages for the Criterion Collection as well as his own graphic novel, Liar's Kiss—to design this book.

Kushner has also found 22 collaborators to help bring his anecdotal stories alive. The list of cartoonists includes plenty of newcomers but also some established pros like Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, and Bobby Timony. They have been serializing installments of Schmuck as a webcomic on Brooklyn-based Trip City, but the print edition will include plenty of previously unseen material. Also, the Kickstarter edition will have an exclusive Dean Haspiel cover.

Check out the Kickstarter which just launched this week.

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6. Black Roles For White Actors

By Keith Knight
The Nib

I really liked Keith Knight's recent contribution to The Nib on Medium.com, "Black Roles For White Actors," a reaction to racist online furor over the casting of black actors for the upcoming Annie and Fantastic Four movies. 

The Nib, an editorial cartooning hub started and edited by Matt Bors has grown substantially and is the place to find smart and opinionated cartooning online.

Read all of Keith Knight's cartoon 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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES