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Dan Panosian/Dynamite Entertainment

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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
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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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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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