2018-10-31

Halloween Man: Hallowtide, by Drew Edwards and Lucio Inzunza

The world of Drew Edwards' Halloween Man is, despite it supernatural flavor and horror pedigree, very down-to-earth. Opponents are dispatched with physical weapons, often of the melee variety, and generally have at least one bloody bite taken out of them by the hero. When greater powers do appear, they may be mysterious, but they're not exactly revered. The mystic who made Solomon Hitch into the titular hero, Morlack, is such a greater power, as well as a lush, a slob, and an all-around horse's rear.
While Solomon and Lucy do the heavy lifting of dispatching Spring Heeled Jack, whose powers flow from a source similar to Halloween Man’s, the engrossing part of this Samhain story is the embroidering of the universe in which it’s set. While it’s a small window into Morlak’s lengthy past, it helps round out the enigmatic and frustrating character by  adding a few data points about just where his line between right and wrong is drawn, as well as a better idea where his moral compass points. His role in, or rather his failure to stop, the creation of Spring Heeled Jack both extends the character's aloofness to humanity into an incredibly longstanding element of his personality and provides new and more personal impetus for aiding humanity in his own caustic way. Along the way, the effects of the villian on our hero open a new and abstract way of looking at the cast - animal-head avatars that convey their true nature. While Lucy's rabbit head is a great in-joke, it also suggests her quick wit and vulnerability; Morlak's cockroach head suggests that he is above all a survivor, even at the cost of being repulsive.
This arc is a great and timely as a seasonal adventure, but as a piece of world building, it excels.

2018-10-14

A Year on the Strida Evo 3


When I resolved to rationalize and expand my bicycle stable, I realized that my trusty, elegant commuter and reliable little folding bike would have to go. Ivy Mike was a lightly modified 2011 Novara Fusion that met all my on-road needs in style. However, when he was in the shop, or I needed to be flexible with my transportation plans, it was Nightbeat, a 2014 Novara FlyBy that took up the slack. In order to make room for a folding mountain bike and a folding road bike to explore the many trails in Austin and the many long organized rides around Austin respectively, the roles of my two steed would have to be met by a single new bike.
What folds small for logistical flexibility, has multiple internal gears, disc brakes for wet stopping, fenders, and can mount panniers? I'd been pining after the Tern Verge S8i for some time, but at $2,100, it was simply more than I was willing to spend. I examined its features and picked what I could reasonably compromise on. Hydraulic discs were never that important in my mind; mechanical would be fine for my needs. I enjoyed the dynamo hub on my Fusion, but I'd been using high-quality rechargeable lights on the FlyBy for some time without issue, and besides, the Verge S8i has a handlebar mounted headlight, which would just be obscured by my rain cape when things get wet. With these considerations, I revisited the world of folding commuters and found a possible candidate in the Strida Evo 3 at a full $1,000 less than what I'd been looking at. My only remaining hesitation was that it has a mere 3 gear ratios, and I have hills to climb

Meeting Bluestreak
After several months of hemming and hawing and looking at my bank account, I pulled the trigger on the brushed silver Strida Evo 3 of my dreams on Amazon. It arrived in short order at the Performance Bikes near my house for assembly, and I drove on over to pick it up. With many non-standard parts, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the saddle mount was not installed correctly, but the absence or loss of the rear fender flap and QR seat mount locking lever retainer was disappointing, moreso as I realized it only after signing the release paperwork, and so found myself ordering replacements from Strida Canada West. Within a few days, everything was properly adjusted and secured.
I dubbed my shiny new steed Bluestreak after the first-wave Autobot (it is a transformer, after all) of the same color, mentally bracing myself for years of explaining why it's not blue ('Streak earned his name for being talkative, not by being sky-color), and set about getting used to its non-name-related quirks. I folded and unfolded, worked out how to attach my panniers and carry a lock, found a closet to stow it in and the best way to roll it around.
To put it to the test, I plotted a day-long sojourn of nearly 30 miles along fairly even roads, visiting a few local breweries along the way. By then end, I had a good feel for the very upright riding position, and the saddle was making frenemies with my bottom. I still could not, and after a year of pedaling daily still cannot, remember which of the three gears I’m in. Luckily, It’s never that far away from the best option!

Evolving
After a couple attempts, I gave up on the kickstand entirely. The stock stand was fine as far as it went, but in the manner of all one-sided kickstands, it made loading packed panniers a bit of an exercise in estimating how much I could rely on it before the whole thing tipped over. To remedy this, I replaced it with a scissor-action double-legged kickstand. When it worked, it worked beautifully - loading was easy, unloading simple and stable, and it proved rock-solid when Bluestreak was simply standing around unburdened. The problem arose from the unusual kickstand mount on the Evo3. Instead of having a place for a bolt to pass through the frame and into the body of the kickstand, there is a threaded hole on the underside of the bottom bracket, the surface of which is curved front to back. While I could affix the kickstand there, it invariably had some play to it, and worked its way loose over time, flopping into the line of the crank arm, which became very annoying. In the end, I abandoned it, and simply learned that leaning the bike against things was far better for pannier management than either kickstand had been, and that folded up, Bluestreak was quite at home resting on the rear rack’s tiny nubs.
Apart from the kickstand saga, my modifications have been minor - some screw-on loops for a barrel saddle pack, a regular Cygolite headlamp mount stretched to its limits on the stout front fork, and a tail light mount on the cargo rack.

Celebrity Status
A powerful, expensive sports car will no doubt draw attention from bystanders; some may even comment on it. If it’s a convertible, you may even be able to hear those comments over the roar of the engine. For far, far less, you can enjoy not only looks of curiosity, amusement, or awe from folks on the sidewalk, as well as shouted words of admiration for or interest in your ride, but also be connected enough to the street scene to later be identifiable on sight by those spectators and even reply in an appropriate manner to their reactions, depending on your speed and level of exertion. In the past year, I’ve demonstrated the folding mechanism countless times for coworkers and random folks present when I’m locking it up in public, learned to shout “It’s a Strida!” over my shoulder to the common “What kind of bike is that?” query often lobbed at me from park benches and sidewalks, and found a number of ways to gracefully accept a compliment for owning a thing rather than making or doing a thing.

2018-07-05

Lucy Chaplin: Science Starlet, by Drew Edwards, April Guadiana, Evan Quiring, and Paul Tuma

When a superhero title spawns a spin-off, it can usually be expected that the loyal sidekick or even a prominent rival will be the one taking the spotlight. Always exploring new perspectives on traditional tropes, the new special from Drew Edwards' perennial action horror series focuses not on one of his paranormally super-powered friends, but on Lucy Chaplin, nominally his girlfriend, but in the world of Solar City, a personality far better-known and admired than her half-dead hunk.

As a whole, the book has a zippy silver age feel to it, featuring a solo adventure with a new threat our heroine is uniquely suited to battle, a fourth-wall-breaking expository piece about Lucy’s professional life & interests, and an in-universe magazine interview with the science starlet herself.

The villain of the first piece, Lucy Chaplin vs the Sons of Samson, is the contemporary strain of toxic masculinity personified, which is to say, the sort of thing a woman like Lucy would deal with daily but with a more intimidating costume - wrapped in the flag, carrying an (iron) cross just above hs codpiece. Like the balance of the issue, this main adventure serves as a slice of super-science life, digging into Dr Chaplin’s public and private personas as she attends to the business of being a multi-axial talent. The action of the story is straightforward, leaving plenty of room to depict our protagonist in turns as an entrepreneur-inventor presenting new technology, a publicity-conscious celebrity, and a bare-knuckle adventurer. Solomon Hitch is not entirely absent, staying in touch while he’s having a very different sort of adventure with a very different aesthetic, illustrating as only the graphic medium can the distance between their respective worlds and the richness of their shared universe. Quiring’s art is a bit of a departure in style for these characters, employing a more detailed and less cartoony look, taking several opportunities to play with layout, perspective, and focus. Lest the audience forget that Dr Chaplin is known for her figure as well as her facility with figures, cheesecake poses in panels and splashes are sprinkled liberally throughout, as are visual easter eggs for fans of 80s animation.

Great Inventions of Lucy Chaplin harkens back to second-person backup features of the sort found in silver age annuals in its approach to worldbuilding, walking us through Lucy’s workshop as she demonstrates the panoply of gear she’s devised with her brand of ecto-enhanced super science and following her out into the field in snappy vignettes where she puts it to use. Tuma’s vision of applied weird science has a distinctly mid-century sci-fi feel to it, which when combined with the horror elements inherent in world that’s being built and Dr Chapin’s bold fashions has the distinct effect of having enjoyed a space opera/zombie double feature at the dive-in and getting the details scrambled the next day due to one’s date being the actual main attraction.

Following a series of fan & artist pinups of Lucy, the final feature, Lucy Chaplin Cosplay Photo Shoot, is framed as an interview in Super Science Monthly titled “Super Science Monthly Interviews Dr Lucy Chaplin”. The interview closely models how a mainstream weekly magazine might approach Lucy, and her responses dovetail neatly with her Halloween Man legendarium. But being a photo shoot, the real attraction here is the fun Jamie Bahr — Edwards’ wife, muse, and well-nigh real-life Lucy — seems to be having playing the role of her comic book doppelgänger.

2018-05-30

Halloween Man vs The Invisible Man, by Drew Edwards and Sergio Calvet

The second entry in Drew Edwards’ series of Halloween Man specials, Halloween Man versus The Invisible Man melds emotional realism with the titillating and the fantastical to create a gritty and satisfying adventure. Solar City’s fetish community has been rocked by a series of unexplained deaths when the grand dame of the scene, Claudette, comes to visit her old frenemy Lucy Chaplin, or more precisely, Lucy’s beau, Solomon Hitch. Our hero is reluctant to engage in this sort of heroism; while he’s commonly called upon to thwart the ghastly and creepy, the problem is a mystery, and he’s no detective. While comic book heroes often express token reluctance in order to build suspense, it can usually be chalked up to a gruff misanthropic streak or false humility; in this case, Solomon is genuinely out of his depth and has good reason to defer, only taking the case out of a sense of solidarity with a subculture that is marginalized and sensationalized by the media in the same way he is.
The tale unspools slowly, with setbacks and false leads as the nature of the threat is revealed to be Mr Griffin (his name filled out to “Herbert George Griffin” by Edwards, attributing H.G Wells’ first and middle name to his creation), the original literary Invisible Man somehow resurrected and gone mad from sensory deprivation. Combined with his mysterious return to life and the sadism evidenced in his original appearance, he is convinced he has become a god. Bringing judgement on those he deems perverts and fornicators for their excess of pleasure-seeking provides moral satisfaction in place of physical sensation. Of course, from the perspective of regular mortals, he’s become a monster, an aspect that Solomon recognizes and identifies with, as he is monstrous in appearance and sometimes manner after his own resurrection. However, although he experiences alienation from humanity, it is an alienation born of being rejected by humanity, while Griffin’s alienation is a result of his own rejection of humanity.
Through it all, despite the pressing crisis, the personality conflict that drove Collette and Lucy apart proves authentic, sustained on both sides. Collette’s well-intentioned but abrasive monomaina for her community and by extension her business motivates the story, but her manner is subtly contrasted with Lucy’s relentless inquisitiveness and problem-solving using every available fact. Although they share a bond as strong women at the forefront of their worlds, and end up making an effective team at times, it’s no surprise that they do not enjoy each others’ company for long.
Sergio Calvet’s art, a staple of Halloween Man’s regular issues, works very well here. For most of the story, Griffin is fully covered or completely invisible; when he’s in between, though, is when things get interesting. A pair of apparently empty pants walking around is to be expected, but the instances of mist, fog, or blood revealing his partially-transparent outline are especially well executed.

2018-05-19

Ride: An Urban Cycling Overview

As part of Bike Month, and a few days ahead of National Bike to Work Day, I gave a presentation focused on best practices for transportation cycling and aimed at allying misgivings potential bike commuters might have about giving the pedal life a try.