Dan Panosian/Dynamite Entertainment
Dan Panosian/Dynamite Entertainment

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Dan Panosian/Dynamite Entertainment
Dan Panosian/Dynamite Entertainment

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. 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.

James Bond #1

By Warren Ellis and Jason Masters
Dynamite Entertainment 


Warren Ellis writes smart, gritty, techno-thrillers (Transmetropolitan and Injection, among others) and is a good fit for Bond, especially considering that he plans to write 007 to be more like novelist Ian Fleming’s original incarnation—a “vicious bastard,” as Ellis refers to him. He has been working closely with the Fleming estate to get the character right, and until Daniel Craig brought some of Fleming’s original grittiness to the big screen, most of us didn’t realize that Bond actually is the perfect Ellis character: acerbic, brilliant and damaged.

This new ongoing series coincides with the opening of the latest Bond film Spectre, and it shares enough similarities with the recent films to appeal to those fans. Ellis starts the comic with a film-style cold open, a nearly wordless action sequence in which 007 tracks down the killer of a fellow agent.

Here’s a preview.

iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel

By R. Sikoryak
Tumblr


Cartoonist Robert Sikoryak can skillfully mimic other cartoonists' styles, a trick he used well in Masterpiece Comics, a parody of literature drawn like classic newspaper strips. He is now using this talent for a weird but utterly brilliant new project, iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel. 

Every day, Sikoryak adds a new comic to his Tumblr, taking a portion of the famously verbose legal language one has to agree to in order to use Apple’s iTunes software, and illustrates it in a different style. He takes from a vast array of cartoonists like Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Daniel Clowes (Eightball), Hergé (Tintin), Kate Beaton (Hark! a Vagrant), and Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead). A cartoon Steve Jobs narrates text that is pulled—unedited—straight from the agreement.

As of this writing, there are 48 pages posted. Follow along here.

Extraordinary X-Men #1

By Jeff Lemire, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Marvel Comics 


For fans of 1980s X-Men, this new series may have the closest team lineup you’re going to get to that classic era, though not without a few weird, modern twists.

Marvel is in the midst of its “All New, All Different” line of comics, and every week we get new #1 issues with new creative teams. With Extraordinary X-Men, Jeff Lemire—who has been everywhere from DC to Valiant to Image in the past few months—gets his first shot at writing the X-men. Joined by Marvel veteran artist Humberto Ramos, they’ve created a team led by Storm that includes Iceman, Nightcrawler, a now-bearded Colossus, Illyana Rasputin (Magik), Jean Grey, and Wolverine. As the new series begins, the team must confront the Inhumans and their Inhuman-creating Terrigen Mists which are causing mutants to go extinct.

Since both Jean Grey and Wolverine are dead, these are alternate versions displaced from their own timelines. Jean is the teenage Marvel Girl from the original "Silver Age" X-Men, and Wolverine is “Old Man Logan," who was introduced in a series of Wolverine comics back in 2008. 

Here’s a brief preview.

The Sandman: Overture

By Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III
DC Vertigo


There was quite a bit of excitement in the comic publishing world in 2013 when Neil Gaiman returned to The Sandman, the book that made him famous two decades earlier, for a six-issue series called The Sandman: Overture. Some of that excitement fizzled when it became plagued by delays. But for those who prefer to read graphic novels in one sitting, publishing delays of individual installments hardly matter once the final collection is in bookstores. That’s where we are now.

For those unfamiliar with The Sandman, it was the cornerstone of DC’s Vertigo line in the 1990s. It is one of the most universally acclaimed comic series to ever come from one of the “big two” publishers, and it helped turn Neil Gaiman into a world-renowned author and media superstar. The original 75-issue series was a gothic fantasy exploring the nature of storytelling, and it featured a family of immortal beings known as “The Endless,” one of whom is the title character, The Sandman, a.k.a. Morpheaus, a.k.a. Dream.

The Sandman: Overture is essentially a prequel. When we first met Morpheus in The Sandman #1, he had escaped from 70 years of captivity, but we never found out what had led to his capture in the first place. That is, until now.

Here’s a preview.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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