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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews (though sometimes they are) but more pointing out noteworthy new comics that you may want to seek out. 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. Original Sin #1

Written by Jason Aaron; art by Mike Deodato; colors by Frank Martin
Marvel Comics

Someone has killed the Watcher and now every dark secret he knew about the Marvel Universe is out there.

It’s event week as both Marvel and DC are launching two major mini-series today that promise shocking revelations which will “forever” change their respective universes.

Original Sin is an eight-issue series that delves into some deep dark secrets lurking at the heart of the Marvel Universe. It begins simply enough with a murder, except it’s a pretty big murder. The Watcher, the bald demi-god who has been watching over mankind from the very beginning (or at least since his first appearance back in Fantastic Four #13 in 1963) is the victim and apparently everything that he has ever seen has been stolen with his eyes.

The original Nick Fury comes out of retirement to find the culprits and the book ties into pretty much every Marvel comic out there. In these books, expect to find some sort of payoff to the tagline of the promotional teaser: “Original Sin: Everyone Has One.”

From the moment this series was announced, some obvious comparisons have been made to DC’s Identity Crisis and Watchmen, but writer Jason Aaron, known for his crime-centric comics like Scalped and the newly released Southern Bastards, is simply following an age-old noir trope of an investigator trying to solve a murder and uncovering a conspiracy that is too big to handle. For those who enjoy a little synergy between comics and movies, the main players in this series will include future film stars like Ant Man, Dr. Strange, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Here’s a preview.


2. New 52: Future’s End #1

Written by Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Jeff Lemire; art by Patrick Zircher
DC Comics

A new weekly series set 5 years in the future, featuring the DC Universe debut of Batman Beyond.

DC, in many ways, is going back to the kinds of things that have worked well for them in the past: a weekly event series and a brief jump into the future to set up a mystery that asks, “How did things get this bad?"

In New 52: Future’s End, we get a weekly glimpse into a bleak future where everyone is recovering from a war with an alternate Earth, only to suddenly get attacked once again by some new invading force. This book will focus primarily on Terry McGinnis, a.k.a. Batman Beyond (the future Batman from the animated series of the same name), and Grifter (originally from the Wildstorm line of comics which was folded into DC proper a few years back), among others. Oh yeah, and a member of the Justice League is going to die.

This is one of three weekly series DC is rolling out this year, using them to replace some recently cancelled monthly books in their lineup. They have assembled a number of their star writers, each familiar with various aspects of the DC Universe, to collaborate and juggle the multiple plot threads that will weave through the nearly year-long mini-series. In addition, there will be a stable of artists taking turns throughout the series.

Both Marvel’s Original Sin and DC’s Future’s End have released “zero issues” (a prequel issue numbered with a “0”) in the past couple of weeks, but zero issues are industry code for “you don’t need to read this to know what’s going on" so don't even worry about them.

You can read a preview of Future's End #1 here.


3. Image Comics Humble Bundle

If you've ever been curious to try out some of Image Comics' best titles, this is the week to do it.

If you’re not already an avid reader of Image Comics books but have been curious to try some, there’s never been a better time than this week. Through the digital sale site Humble Bundle, Image is giving you the opportunity to get up to 12 of their top books for any price you feel like paying. You can pay as little as a dollar to get 4 of the books but need to pay over $10 to get the next 6 and more than $15 to get the whole set of 12. That’s still nothing, and as an added bonus, proceeds go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit dedicated to aiding the first amendment rights of comic book creators and retailers.

The books being offered here are all outstanding, from highly acclaimed and top selling phenomena like The Walking Dead (vols. 1 and 20 are available here) and Saga (vols. 1 and 2), to newer books like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s future sci-fi epic East of West and Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian near-future drama Lazarus. Image is currently at the top of their game, putting out some of the best genre comics on the market and they’re all "creator-owned."

There is a week to go on this offer so jump on it now.


4. The Complete Peanuts 1950 - 1952 (Vol. 1) - Paperback Edition

By Charles Schultz

Fantagraphics begins releasing their bestselling and much loved Peanuts archives in affordable softcover volumes.

When Fantagraphics began their decade-long (and counting) project of releasing the entirety of Charles Schulz’ classic Peanuts comics in beautifully designed hardcover archives back in 2004, they sparked a whole cottage industry for publishing coffee table and library-friendly definitive collections of old newspaper comic strips. While they still have a few more hardbound volumes to release before they complete the project (volume 21, which begins collecting strips from the 1990s, also comes out this week), they’re now starting back at the beginning by releasing new lower-priced softcover editions.

Volume one collects the very first Peanuts strips from 1950 through 1952. We get to see Schultz figuring out what he wanted to do with this strip and how he wanted these characters to look and interact. Some of the kids, like Linus, Schroeder, and Lucy, start out as infants before Schultz decides to make them the same age as everybody else. There is some biographical material included as well as an introduction by Garrison Keillor.

Find out more here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]