About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell

I don't think Ken Russell was a particularly good director, but I'm nonetheless quite saddened to hear that he has passed. The one film of his that I did like, Altered States from 1980, was a good film indeed, and perhaps one of the most influential experiences in setting me on the path of being a real film buff.

It was Christmas vacation in 1980 when my sister, younger brother and I took the Shortline bus into Manhattan to do a double feature of Simon at the Cinema 1, followed by Altered States at the Loews Astor Plaza. I hadn't to that point had a lot of big screen 70mm experiences at the movies, a few including The Empire Strikes Back that summer, but there was something about Altered States that effected me in an entirely different way. It didn't just use 70mm sound to make spaceships and light sabers woosh by. It used 70mm and six-track sound to heighten everything, to make the low points in the movie a little bit lower and the high points a little bit higher. Even more than with Empire, it used makeup and music and sound effects and just about everything to really really show me everything that a movie could do. Ultimately, if there's any one moviegoing experience that I have to say did it for me, that made me fall in love with going to the movies, it was seeing Altered States at the Astor Plaza on that December day in 1980.

I think it's also important to mention that the film holds up for me. Altered States got some good reviews, has a cult following, but screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky divorced himself from the film, the reviews weren't all raves by any measure. But when I saw it as an adult many years later in 70mm on the much smaller screen or the Riklis theatre at the pre-expansion Museum of the Moving Image, the film still worked its magic. If I could see it again on the big screen tomorrow, I happily would.

Interestingly enough, it wasn't until I was reading about the movie many years later and saw somehow or other that it had opened at the UA Gemini and Loews Astor Plaza that I actually realized it was the Astor Plaza where I'd seen the movie, and this was my introductory experience with what became my favorite movie theatre. I didn't live in NYC then, I didn't go back to the Astor Plaza for another couple of years.

Au Revoir, Ken Russell. And thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

movie go round

As a member of the Museum of the Moving Image, I get a chance to see screenings. The museum has a great new theatre, and again this year the Museum has also gotten some seats at the Variety Screening Series. And with awards season going, it's screening after screening after Q&A after Q&A as the studios try and attract attention of Oscar voters and other Guild members in NYC. And I've been finding time for some other films as well.

I'm just back from seeing Like Crazy, an interesting romance with Anton Yelchin, who played in the Star Trek reboot as the young Chekov. Good, not perfect. It's a little too quiet in that amerindie kind of way, and I never quite felt the heated passion between the two leads that I was supposed to. Which is more the fault of the script than of the direction, because Yelchin and the female lead Felicity Jones get more out of their roles with charm and bonhomie and Yelchin especially with youthful good lucks than I think is there in the script. In fact, script-wise, I was rooting for the girl to pick the other guy, that was the relationship that seemed more real to me. And then the movie ends on one of those notes of indecision. Good enough, but I think the critics have overpraised. Prior reference point: Green Card. Which this kind of updates a bit in a post-9/11 kind of a way. At the AMC Empire 25, #24. Playing now.

Maybe I'd have dozed off in Like Crazy if I hadn't gotten a little napping in earlier in the day, during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This new version of the John LeCarre classic cold war spy thriller, earlier a British TV mini-series with Alec Guiness, comes from the directorial hand of Tomas Alfredson, who previously directed the intriguing Let The Right One In, a Scandi vampire movie that was remade as the inferior US film Let Me In. Tinker Tailor is awfully well made, beautifully photographed and edited and good music cues and all kinds of good British actors, but it's also so cerebral and so back and forth in time and so true to the intricacies of the original novel that it's rather a dreary chore to actually watch and keep track of. I don't mind going to and even enjoying a good movie that might be a little depressing. But I don't really go the movies to do work, and this was a little too much work for me. While I can recognize what's good about the film, which is an awful lot, I think the whole is somewhat less than the sum of its excellent parts. At the DGA Theatre, Manhattan. Opening in December.

Last night it was The Descendants. This is the new film from Alexander Payne, 7 years after his Sideways, and his earlier films include About Schmidt, Election and Citizen Ruth. The Descendants has gotten some rave reviews, I wasn't sure what I'd think because Sideways was a movie everyone loved, which I happily and contentedly ended up sleeping through. Tinker Tailor, I hated that I was having trouble staying awake, Sideways was one of those movies when I'd wake up, and then decide I really needed the nap more. But why dump on Sideways, when the simple fact is that The Descendants is indeed one of the best movies you'll see this year. George Clooney gives a stellar performance. The script and direction are perfectly attuned to the real world reality that people are often kind of textured, and we keep finding layers peeled back on the characters, the annoying in-law and loving father all in one, the surf dude annoying boyfriend who has a lot more going on than just that. There are just a lot of things that come together in the best scenes in the movie, starting with a uniformly excellent cast but including how the scenes are lit, how they're framed, how they're scored, how they're edited. I could go on and on diagramming everything in the hospital scene with George Clooney and his in-law. I won't. I'll just say this is the real thing, that rare critic's darling that deserves every bit of praise, every accolade, every kind word. It's in limited release now, coming soon to many more theaters, and so totally worth seeing. I'd be surprised to find a better performance than Clooney's for Best Actor this year. Moving Image theatre.

Thursday night was The Muppets. The Museum of the Moving Image has been running a Jim Henson exhibit that's been at other museums across the country, probably not so often with such an extensive program of weekend events including the family, long-time co-workers, more. Doesn't hurt that the home base for Muppet manufacture is just a few blocks away from the Museum. This screening of the new Muppet movie was attended by Henson's wife and daughter. Talk about awkward! One can't say enough about Jim Henson's legacy, and my greatest fear has been that this attempt to reboot the franchise after so many years of creative uncertainty and ever-changing ownership would totally suck. Which, yes, is really awkward if you've got Henson's wife and daughter sitting in the theatre with 200 people who aren't liking what they see. Well, that totally isn't what happened. The Muppets is good, maybe even better than good, not Jim, nothing can really be Jim Henson at his best, but good. There's a new Muppet in town facing an identity crisis, he doesn't quite know he's a Muppet but he knows he loves them, and he has to get the old gang back together to save the old Muppet Studio and Muppet Theatre from an oil tycoon. The plot is a little unoriginal, though of course the original Muppet Movie was a "let's put on a show" variant so we can't fault The Muppets for being the same. It's maybe too self referential. There are some nice new songs and good production numbers here which owe something to Enchanted, but there's also a reprise of Rainbow Connection -- two of them, actually, one an ad for a seedy Reno hotel which might alone be worth going to the movie to enjoy. But couldn't we have tried for another new song to rival the perfection of Rainbow Connection, instead of going at it twice? Star Jason Segel co-wrote and got the film going by sheer force of will, at least according to the press notes, so it's a little disappointing that he seems ill at ease acting opposite the Muppet, the best humans in The Muppet Movie or on The Muppet Show always seemed perfectly at ease, Segel doesn't. I'm focusing on the things that didn't quite work, but that isn't the message I should be giving, which is that this is an entertaining film that is 100% certain to satisfy all of us baby boomers carrying fond memories of growing up with Jim Henson and The Muppet Show. It's harder to say how today's children will react, this was the big concern expressed by my guest for the screening, author Myke Cole, I'm less worried about that than he is but it's a legitimate worry. I may end up going to see this again with my brother and 13-year-old nephew over the holiday weekend. If I do, it won't be reluctantly. Which is the main thing, this may not be a movie that I'll cherish seeing every few years the way I do The Muppet Movie, but it's a movie I'll happily see at least once more. Oh -- it is preceded by a delightful Toy Story short. Moving Image Theatre.

Let me also circle back to Being Elmo, a documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppetteer behind Sesame Street's Elmo. This delightful film is still playing here and there around the country and worth seeking out. Clash grew up idolizing the Sesame Street muppets, and took to making his own creations. Which led to a job on local TV, then to a job on Captain Kangaroo, eventually to Sesame Street where he took an anonymous puppet that wasn't quite working and made of it the Elmo that launched the Tickle Me phenomenon. It's a heartwarming story, of course. Clash was at the screening I saw and seemed as genuine and heartwarming in person as the version of him presented in the film. In his life story, in his journey, in his enjoyment at what he does, there's this temptation to say he's the next coming of Jim Henson. Except of course that Being Elmo also reminds that Jim Henson was so much more than most mere mortals, not just as a puppeteer but as businessman, as a writer, as a visionary, as technician, so much in so very very many ways. Being Elmo does a great job of telling us how special and wonderful it is to have one or two of Henson's gifts, and at the same time reminds us of how sad it is that someone with all of Henson's gifts died so young.

Other movies I've seen recently, but I'll have to call it quits here. It's nice to find some time to do at least a few quick takes, and wipe a cobweb or two from the blog.

Concluding message: The Muppets is the family film to see this Thanksgiving, and The Descendants is the one for the adults to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

52 Books Later

Cautiously, but clearly, I'll give a "Mission Accomplished" to DC's New 52 project.

Earlier Posts on the New 52:
Here
and Here
and Here
and Here

Prior to the New 52, I was reading a handful of DC superhero books, tops, and that might be a generous assessment. I might try this one, or dip into one for a few issues and then dip out, but all told a handful over the course of a month.

For the second month of the New 52, I took upwards of 20 #2s.

And of the 20 #2s I purchased, there are only a couple that have me bailing out of an issue #3, Savage Hawkman the most noticeable disappointment. All of the others, there were some that were picking up steam (the back-up feature in Men of War is growing on me, as an example) and a few that I'm maybe a little doubtful about over the long run (Green Lanterns: New Guardians and Aquaman had iffy moments along the way in their #2s, but ended up leaving me with a good impression and lingering doubts), but overall the quality was holding up. There are even six or eight books from the first week of the New 52 which came out last week with #3s, and I'd say on all accounts that if I picked up those #3s, I would be back to buy the #4s.

If I had concerns along the lines of "well, so I'll buy all of these in September, how many will I still be buying in January" it looks like it will be at least 15, maybe even more. The New 52 will have tripled or quadrupled my monthly purchases of DCU titles.

It isn't just the New 52. There's a new Huntress series by Paul Levitz and Marcus To that came out in the 2nd month of the New 52, and issue #1 (of 6) was terrific.

Which points to another oddity, that there are writers who are doing one book that I'm finding really interesting and then turning around and doing another that is leaving me absolutely cold. Levitz, with the disappointing Legion of Superheroes #1, and then sneaking in with the wonderful Huntress mini-series. Scott Lobdell, with Teen Titans on the credit side and Red Hood and the Outlaws on the debit. That really does surprise me, I'd have expected to find good writers always being good writers and bad writers bad, that's how it works in my day job, but clearly there's a lot more going on in terms of the characters, the overall series conception, the mix with the artwork, where overall the writer is in control but not quite in the unitary single-handed control that we find over the course of working with 40 novels by Simon Green, 25 by a Tanya Huff, Elizabeth Moon or Charlaine Harris.

So yes, it was a Good Thing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flat Tax

So here's the thing with a flat tax, it doesn't actually make filing taxes all that much simpler.

Most people already have a pretty simply tax situation. They earn money from their job, which gets reported to the IRS. In fact, for a lot of people, your state and the IRS could just send you a bill based on the information that's given to them on your W2 and 1099 forms. Some states have even tried doing this. Of course, companies like H&R Block spend considerable lobbying dollars to stop this from happening broadly.

The complexity in the tax code, lots of it is someplace where it can't be so easily eliminated, which is in defining what income actually is for businesses or for people with more investments and wrinkles in their earning picture.

I have a relatively simple business to keep track of, I take money, I send most of it on to clients, but then there are still a lot of rules and will always be a lot of rules for just what amount of the rest of it is an expense. As an example, the government has decided that entertainment costs are only 50% deductible so that there is a disincentive to business owners to have the government subsidizing those famous three martinis at a three martini lunch. Health insurance is a fully deductible business expense, some people think it shouldn't be. If you spend a gazillion dollars buying assets that will last a gazillion years we have depreciation schedules and exceptions thereto. There isn't a great way for flat tax to just do away with all of these rules that we use to determine what the word "profit" means. For a lot of my clients, who are self-employed writers, a flat tax isn't going to be an easier tax, there will still need to be some form of Schedule C, you'll still need to save those receipts, deal with a home office deduction, maybe. And very few people who benefit from various of those things like a home office deduction will be eager to see those things eliminated in the interest of simplicity. Even if you might end up with less tax being paid in the end, all you'll see is that your little special deduction is going away, and you'll be opposed.

The first Sookie Stackhouse novel DEAD UNTIL DARK was published in 2001. The cover price was, I think $5.99 or $6.50. It's currently $7.99. Let us say hypothetically that Barnes & Noble ordered 2000 copies of the book in 2001, and that over the ten years since B&N has never had fewer than 500 copies sittling on its shelf. So which 500 copies are sitting on the shelf? Copies that were ordered in 2001 at $6.50, or copies ordered in 2011 at $7.99?

That's a complication in the tax code. If B&N can say for tax purposes that it has always had 500 copies purchased ten years ago for $6.50 sitting on its shelves, which is known as "last-in first-out" or "lifo" inventory, it gets to reduce its profit for tax purposes, because its cost for the books that are selling is based on a $7.99 price instead of a $6.50 price. That's approximately $.75 for each of those 500 books, or around $350, that B&N has made in the real world (there are not many or any first printing copies of Dead Until Dark sitting on bookstore shelves) that it hasn't made for tax purposes.

Tax complexity! Can you use "lifo," or do you use "fifo" where the goods you sell are always the goods purchased or made first, or do you use "dollar cost averaging" where you use the average price?

There are all kinds of decisions that businesses have to make that are like this, where you can do or say one thing or another and end up with a different tax bill.

The $375 profit B&N might be deferring on Dead Until Dark doesn't seem like much, but pretend you are an oil company with big tank farms that can hold huge amounts of gas, and you can say those are filled with old gas that you purchased for $23 a barrel or new gas that you purchased for $86 a barrel. I have no idea how big a huge gas tank in a tank farm is, but if you're talking 100,000 barrels with a $63 price difference, that's an awful lot of swing to your taxable income.

This is where the loopholes lurk in the tax code, where the unfairness comes in, not in the fact that it's too darned complicated to figure out how much tax you owe because you're paying 15% on the first few thousand dollars in income and 28% on the last few thousand.

Favor a flat tax, don't favor it, just don't do either because you think it's going to make the tax system simpler. A simpler tax system wouldn't come about from a flat tax, it would come about from the wholesale closing of tax loopholes. And if you like your mortgage interest deduction or college tuition credit, are you any more eager to give up that credit, than Exxon would be to give up the ability to let it decide that all the gas sitting in all its gas tanks today is gas it obtained for $23 a barrel at some point in the past?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Change

I often tell people that the publishing industry has been dying for as long as I’ve been in the industry, on toward 25 years now.  Hence, the fact that it isn’t yet dead suggests that the impressions on any given day are not in fact correct.

Today, lots of people are saying that the industry is dying on account of the e-book.  My own impression as we are most of the way through “royalty season,” is that the industry is clearly changing, and almost certainly not dying of e-book.

There are incredible amounts of e-books selling right now, incredible. The growth over just a few short years is truly stunning. Simon Green’s Nightside books are now selling about as many copies in e-book as in print. Charlaine Harris’ Harper Connelly books are selling more in e-book. E-books now represent around 10% of her lifetime US sales of 20 million units even though they’ve only been around for a few years in her 30 year career. This is a good business to be in.

For both authors and publishers. Authors make more money from e-books. I’m making this bold unqualified assertion to make up for all of the people making the other assertion, that authors lose money on every e-book. In truth, you can make both. Authors can lose $2 every time somebody buys an e-book instead of a hardcover, but they can just as easily make $2 for every four mass market paperback sales that turn into e-books. Charlaine Harris has huge-selling hardcovers, there’s a hit to her income as those sales move to e-book. Jack Campbell has six Lost Fleet books never published in mass market, there’s a gain every time those sales move to e-book. So I shouldn’t say that authors make more money from e-books, but nor should anyone claim the opposite, that the e-book is the end of authors, of writing, of culture as we know it.

[You can look at 2010 hardbacks reported sold in PW. Pick any reasonable guess for how many of those sales migrated to e-book from 2010 to 2011, multiply by $2, and you're looking at a big chunk of change in lost royalties. Actually, I have no idea in the macro sense if the much larger # of authors who don't have those hardcover sales and are gaining on the mass market end. But what fun is a blog if you can't make blanket statements that can't be substantiated as firm hard fact that everyone should quote on the internet for sixteen years to come.]

To sum up: royalty statements come in, huge amounts of e-book sales, publishers doing well and many though by now means all authors doing better, too.

This is not the death of publishing.

With two caveats.

1. A situation where an Amazon can set the price level for e-books as a loss leader, they have the ability to bring the entire publishing industry to its heels. They can kill publishing in the blink of an eye no matter how much of it they decide to do for themselves. So, for that matter, could a court decision that declares the agency model an illegal restraint of trade.

2. People will lose places to buy print books faster than their actual desire to buy them. One thing’s for sure, the migration to e-book sales isn’t good for businesses that revolve around the sale of printed books. I think I worry more than anything about this. We could look back five years from now and view 2011 as the final flowering of a dual print/e-book marketplace that will dry up like a three-week-old bouquet into a shriveled e-only marketplace in which vastly fewer total numbers of books are being sold.

Putting aside those worst case scenarios, if the publishing industry isn’t dying of e-book, it’s certainly changing, and changing by the day. Tobias Buckell just kickstarted his 4th Xenowealth novel. Jim Hines has self-published electronically an earlier novel and some short story collections. Things like this leave a reduced role JABberwocky.

I worry and publishers worry about how we remain relevant in this changing marketplace. It’s one reason why we have a limited but growing e-book program at JABberwocky, helping our clients monetize their work in ways that weren’t possible a few years ago. But it isn’t “dying” that I use as the adjective there, it’s “changing.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

the 4th week of the New 52

The 4th week of DC's New 52 was the one week when I was interested enough of the 13 issues to buy a full bundle at a 25% discount being offers by Midtown Comics.  This meant I was getting some comics i had no particular interest in, but I wasn't paying any more for them  

So I guess it's no surprise that there are foru books that I just didn't like very much at all, and won't discuss at any length.  Those are Blackhawks #1, Justice League Dark #1, and Batman: The Dark Knight.  And I Vampire, which I don't remember if I'd actually wanted or not.

I don't know what to say about my relationship with Jonah Hex.  I read this book for a good long time in my earlier comics days, maybe when Gerry Conway was writing it, but I bowed out of the new series that started several years back by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.  I didn't dislike it, per se, but there was something missing that kept me from ever exactly warming to it.  Still, I wanted to see what they were up to with All Star Western #1, art by Moritat, which put Jonah Hex into an urban Gotham City environment.  Nice idea, but same result.  I can't point to anything that's exactly wrong with the issue, but it's very wordy, it reads like work, there's just something about it where I'm admiring it but not really getting any entertainment value out of it.  These writers must be doing something right, their last run on Hex was running well beyond any over/under I would have put on a revival of the character in the current day and age.  This is an interesting idea on putting Hex into the thick of the DCU.  This will do well, my hat's off, but I won't be part of the crowd.

I'm not sure I'd have purchased Green Lantern: New Guardians outside of the bundle, I didn't get any of the other GL books in the New 52, so it was a pleasant surprise.  I've always kind of liked the Kyle Rayner character as much or more than any of the non-Hal Jordan GLs (the DC Retroactive with Jon Stewart was a good argument for him, though, I have to say).  This story is probably, like a lot of these, a little attenuated, not exactly 20 pages, but it led to a fun place.  Power rings from all over the galaxy are making their way to Kyle, and shortly after the rings their former bearers are looking to get their property back.  I'm wanting to see how he deals with this. Written by Tony Bedard, art by Tyler Kirkham and Batt.  The art isn't great storytelling, but it isn't pin-ups either.  Even though it's not exactly what I look for, I would say it more added than subtracted to my enjoyment of the yarn.

The Savage Hawkman is a book I wouldn't at all have expected to want, I've never been a particularly big Hawkman fan, he's one of those DCU characters who's just kind of around and you put up with on occasion.   But a quick browse at the store suggested I give it a try, and I was glad I did.  Written by Tony Daniel, it introduces a Carter Hall who is kind of the reluctant Hawkman, trying without success to get rid of the get-up, soon facing supernatural baddie.  The art by Philip Tan works well for this book.  It's a little rough, shades over clean lines, and if the storytelling is a bit rough as well -- well, I'm always impressed when I find myself not minding the kinds of things I always mind.  It works.  Be back for more.

With all the New 52 excitement, I've forgotten to track down the Teen Titans graphic novel by Wolfman and Perez.  But let's just say that the new Teen Titans, written by Scott Lobdell with art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund, won't be confused with Wolfman/Perez, and I mean that in a good way.  There's an undercurrent of humor to the script and the art both, that isn't like anything we'd remember from the back then version of the Titans.  But it's good stuff.  There's some great art, pages 5-7 are complex but quite easily followed.  The script has a nice take on the Titans, setting the series in a world where teen heroes are the source of agita and approbation.  I'm not entirely thrilled to see the end of this issue tying into the new Superboy book, please no major crossovers, but at least here I am interested in the new Superboy book as well.

The Flash with story and art by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato has been getting some good buzz and deservedly so.  Great?  No.  Good?  More than.  There's a little too much Superman/Lois in the relationship between Barry Allen and Iris West, but it's an interesting and intriguing story overall, and I like how the art handles the speedstering part of the Flash persona.

Another book getting good buzz is the new Aquaman.  Geoff Johns redeems his very disappointing (to me) work on the Justice League reboot with this new take on Aquaman.  Some similarities to the "Superman on the road" thing that was going on over the last year in that book, Aquaman is on land, eating at a diner, being asked obnoxious questions while he tries to eat his chow.  But it helps more than a bit that the art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado suggests that we're playing that for laughs some.  A bit of a high wire act, because it's clear that the menace in the book is supposed to be real.  Where are the creators planning to go with this?  Keep on the high wire and try and balance some humor with menace, or will they end up taking the more serious turn that Johns' extensive experience doing all of these major tie-in events suggests as his default?   I'll be following along to see...

George Perez is writing and doing page breakdowns for art by Jesus Merino in the new Superman.  I hear that Perez will be around only for six issues.  But I'm quite likely to be reading those six.  There's a complete separation between this and the Superman we find in Action, which is fine (and perhaps not forever, it will ultimately be a surprise not to have a story that follows the character along in the different Superman books...).  This story has elements of all kinds of Supermans past, there's the Morgan Edge from two or three decades back as media mogul, the distinction between Clark and Superman is very much something from the Richard Donner Superman movies, etc.  But definitely one to come back to.

Voodoo had such nice clean well-told art (by Sam Basri) that a casual glance said it had to be read, and it ended up being an unexpected treat.  The script by Ron Marz was a tad predictable, you could see five pages before the end where the story was going to go, though that being said I'm not sure I'd have predicted the final panels, and the final panels not what I might have expected, perhaps I can find some more surprises in issue #2.  On the other hand, this is another of the stories that seems to be taking 20 pages to tell  a story that should really needs only 12 or 15.  My tolerance for those isn't indefinite, and the final issues of DMZ are certainly straining my patience for books that feel padded. But I shouldn't quibble too much.  Good script, clean art with excellent storytelling, fun to read.  If it can keep with those virtues, I'll be able to look beyond some of the flaws.

I've been a fan of Firestorm from the first issue of the first run in the 1970s, so I saved the new Fury of Firestorm (written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone, art by Yildiray Cinar) for last. In this version Professor Martin Stein is still dead, as he was left in Flashpoint.  Ronnie Raymond is still alive, and attending the same hgh school as the newer version of Firestorm, Jason Rausch.  So far, so good, I really liked the set-up of the relationship between Raymond and Rausch, and the school scenes overall were for the 2010s what the 1970s origin from Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom was to its day.  The terrorists that cause the arrival of Firestorm here are considerably, um, updated and upgraded from the 1970s versions, no problem there.  And I'm fine with the new idea that Jason and Raymond can each become their own Firestorm.  It's not the original idea, but as variations on the theme go this one is one I can live with.  The one thing I really hate is the newly found idea that the "Fury" in Fury of Firestorm isn't an adjective, but a noun. The idea here is that the two Firestorms can merge to become Fury, when they say Fury of Firestorm they mean it in a very literal way.  And Fury looks silly, the idea overbaked.  Whatever, there's enough good here that I'm going to see where it all goes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New 52, Roundup #3

Finishing my assorted purchases from weeks 2 and 3...

Superboy #1
written by Scott Lobdell, art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean
I rather liked the Connor Kent Superboy character, and quite liked the recent run by Jeff Lemire and  Pier Gallo so having a new Superboy wasn't at the top of my wish list for the New 52. Perhaps just as well that this is a completely new take that can't be directly compared, and at least a mildly interest new take at that. As with Connor is a clone. There is a hint that as in the new Action the character might not be entirely saintly when he emerges into the real world. The art didn't do much for me, though I did like that the story takes full advantage of the art form with a visual cue that isn't commented upon at the time but which is picked up on a few pages later, requiring the reader to pay attention to both words and pictures. A modest success. 

Deathstroke #1
written by Kyle Higgins, art by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert
Terminator this, if you please. I found this book to be outright dull. The character has been around at the margins of the DC Universe for some 30 years, and seems to have children with father issues in every city in the DC Universe, but never a great character. So this reboot starts out with an instant fatal flaw that nobody wants the guy around any more and the first issue is a setup to get him out of the way. What this guy needs is a good new reason to care about him, not an excuse for me to say "but I DO want the character out of the way. 

Suicide Squad #1
written by Adam Glass, art by Federico Dallocchio and Ransom Getty
The first three pages are great, and then all downhill from there. Two page spread on the Suicide Squad that has me poring over each image with curiosity about who the characters are, what is happening to them. But over the 15 pages following we find out very little about the characters, names or personalities or etc. We get a footnote to refer to Detective #1, which is not good for the second week of the New 52.  The art following is meh, pictures and panels but very little in the way of storytelling. This is a very definite one and out. 

DC Universe Presents #1
Deadman story and art by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang
I think DC Universe Presents is intended as the try-out title like the old Showcase to test something for a few issues. Based on this I do not see Deadman graduating to his own book. Deadman is one of the more interesting of the second tier characters in the DCU, but this presentation doesn't even do much to take best advantage of that, let alone move him higher in the rankings.  The book was so intent on being atmospheric that it didn't do 
a good job of presenting the concept of the series, and the mystery wasn't so intriguing either. The art didn't do much for me either. With a character like this you should either find major talent wanting to do it or some really fresh approach, this middling redo is neither. 

Batwoman #1
written by JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, art by Williams
interesting but maybe not interesting enough. I felt as if I was coming in on the middle of something instead of at the start. As a rule if one of the New 52 books is making me feel like I needed to have read something else, I think mission unaccomplished.  I loved some of the pages of artwork immensely, the ones that required good realist storytelling had in spades, and were just a joy to admire the flow. But the mysterious or nonlinear pages seemed unpurposefully unclear instead of purposefully so. With more time on my hands maybe I would see how it all played out.

Nightwing #1
written by Kyle Higgins, art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer
Since Higgins' Deathstroke wasn't to my liking, it's interesting to find myself liking his work here. Nightwing is Dick Grayson, the original Robin, and ettign back to being Nightwing after subbing for Batman for an extended period ore New 52. That is mentioned here, but it needs only a mention, no sense that you need to have actually read all of those books in order to enjoy this.  After visiting old friends at the Circus which Dick worked for lo those many years ago, he has an extended fight with a villain, a very nasty one, fresh off the bus into Gotham.  I liked the setup, the hints of involvement with the old circus crowd to add some supporting cast, the mysteries to whom this very bad guy villain is. I like Eddy Barrows, he has done other work in the limited menu of DCU titles I have read ore New 52.  Good storytelling, young characters that are nice to look at. Will be back for more. 

Batman and Robin #1
written by Peter J. Tomassi, art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray
Much less successful Batman family reboot. I like the dynamic between Batman/Robin Bruce/Damian, but not much else. 

Legion of Superheroes #1
written by Paul Levitz, art by Francis Portella
I do think of Levitz as the quintessential Legion writer, his classic zdarkseid battles from my youth are just that -- classic. But in the context of the anew 52, this series seems to be playing more toward the core Legion fans than to potential new readers. Doesn't start small, introducing us to a few Legionnaires with the ability to build out. A lots of Legion members, lots of story lines.  I yearn for this to be more of a fresh start than it is. 

Resurrection Man #1
written by Dan Abnett, art by Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino
A pleasant surprise, either a good companion to or way too much like Grifter, to the point where you could mix and swap scenes and pages between the two books and have the mashups make sense. Both have guys with weird hair and weird powers with powerfully weird airplane trips and mysterious other people chasing after. All kinds of weird and unknown reasons and motives at both ends. This has some swell artwork that goes really nicely from the "out there" pages to the more naturalistic, though the lines are always a bit rough, the faces a bit out of focus, which works very well for a book like this.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
written by Jeff Lemire, art by Alberto Ponticelli
With weeks 2 and 3 as with week #1, I saved the Lemire for last. When I initially did my week 2 shopping I left this out then went back to add when an enthusiastic review in AV Club reminded me it was Lemire. Think of any superhero group.  Change sleek HQ for twisted-looking orbital, well-muscled tights-wearing heroes for, errr, ummm, how would you describe them. Just turn it all by 137 degrees. Add in art that channels some of the best panels from Frank Miller's Ronin, odd shapes and odd lines that often compel a second or third look to soak it all in. Definitely in for more!!

The week 2/3 batting average is lower than for week 1, but still a few enthusiastic finds. Just luck, taste, or front loading?

Friday, October 14, 2011

More from the New 52

Comments on half a dozen mixed titles from the 2nd and 3rd weeks, I think I want to carry the blogging project through in part to help me remember which books I want to buy second issues of, otherwise without writing it down I am an old man and forget things. 

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
written by Scott Lobdell, art by Kenneth Rocafort
one and out here. This has a lot of the same ingredients as the relaunches I like, a little action and a little back story and a little "ooooh" cliffhanger menace stuff. But when the characters are talking about the All Caste, they may as well be talking about KAOS or SPECTRE for all I care. The depiction of Starfire/Koriander exemplifies the cheesiest pinup mentality that DC is taking some hits on. As a big fan of the 80s Titans reboot by Wolfman and Perez, I found it painful to watch this version slinking around like a centerfold. And Roy Harper and Jason Todd are not drawn with any eroticism. This was a "the ingredients are there" read for me, I want them stirred better. 

Catwoman #1
written by Judd Winick, art by Guillem March
I found this as deplorable and loathsome and reprehensible as I enjoyed Winick's Batwing. Unless you've been spending the past 45 years wishing Lee Meriweather and Adam West had done a three way with Burt Ward and then vivisected Aunt Harriet for kicks after, not that there's anything wrong with that, there isn't much else going on. We see Catwoman take out somebody's heart with her bare hands. She goes casual wearing dominatrix clothing which just on practical grounds doesn't seem like the best approach toward keeping a secret identity. She has torrid sex with Batman. Next issue promises "The Morning After." Which I would rather spend watching The Poseidon Adventure. For all that, the art isn't bad, pretty good in fact. What the art shows, not for me, but I would keep an eye out for Guillem's name on another project.  Winick?  Well, I still look forward to the second issue of Batwing. 

Mister Terrific #1
written by Eric Wallace, art by Gianluca Gugliotta and Wayne Faucher
a little overstuffed. the origins goes all over the place, and none of the places interest me or are more interesting elsewhere. the art is clean,but didn't make an impression either way. At least with Catwoman, I had passion, hated with but passion. This just makes me go " next."

Grifter #1
written by Nathan Edmondson, art by Cafu and Gorder
Hmmmm.  This one was surprisingly interesting. I didn't warm to it in the opening sequence quite the way I should have, it was confusing more in the confusing way than the intriguing one. But as we flashed back, the co. grifting was interesting to me, and then whom is it that grabs the guy and what are they doing, and when we got back to where we were at the beginning... Well, I still dont think i know or that anyone can know what happens on the plane, but still Grifter has questions and yes, I think I would like to know the answers to some of them.  Nice art, the storytelling is crisp when it needs to be and crisply confusing when that's intended, when the art wasn't helping I don't think it was supposed to. 

Batman #1
written by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Clapion
This is a bit of a mood piece, with a script that seems just the tad bit long, but I liked the mood it was setting, of a classic noir Gotham. Did a good job of putting the whole family of former Robins into the picture. Good enough to keep going. But the art is a murky mess, and it is intended to be because in recent years that seems to be the never-ending way of Batman books to be dark and murky. In which case of course Scott Snyder is the perfect writer.  The DC Retroactive with the new Len Weinberg story reminded me that Batman stories could be darker without drowning in it, though. So while I think I may stick with this for a bit because I have been feeling a little queasy that I haven't been reading Batman for years and want a finger in, I will still keep wishing for a different approach somewhere in the Batman line that can keep the dark in the Dark Knight without being quite so glum about it. 

Birds of Prey #1
written by Duane Swierczynski, art by Jesus Saiz
Never wanted to even go near a Birds of Prey, so that I even tried as part of the New 52 is a point to DC. That I may buy the second issue even more so. There are attractive women here that I think pre-pubescent boys can enjoy without having it objectified in the manner of Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws. There is an interesting, twisty story that doesn't require a complicated story structure in order to twist. The ending has some bang to it. Like Green Arrow, I don't think this is the best of the lot by a lot of measures, but it is attractive, fun, nicely done storytelling which I am happy to gave a little more of. 

Observation:  30-40 years ago did an origin story require a looping story structure?   Were readers more patient then so you could show Ron Raymond at school and expect readers to wait 12 or 16 pages before you found Firestorm?  Could readers suffer through some opening pages of Barry Allen, police scientist, before the lightning and the chemicals?  And is it that readers are less patient, or that comic creators lack confidence in their abilities to tide a reader over without a now/then flashback that has the costume or at least some serious action on the first page, or lack confidence in the readers?  Whatever it is, the need to have so much now/then in these New 52 is very noticeable. 

Also, bad things seem to be happening at airport security and on planes these days.  There seems to be more social commentary on the whole state of navigating an airport in the first month of the New 52 than in the entire mainstream media. Or maybe I am just wishfully over putting things in to the books that aren't intended. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The New 52 at DC, my week #1

When I started reading my selections from the first week of the New 52 at DC, with the earliest f these reviews done within days of the books appearing, before life started to get in the way, I had no idea just how many people would be doing series of posts on the subject. Having started in on week 1, I shall finish, too ,ate to even help guide selections on whether to pick up issue #2...

#1, written by Paul Cornell,art by Miguel Sepulveda
Very doubtful I return for a second issue here.  The stuff the story is made of is reasonably interesting.  Mysterious group of superheroes, looking for reluctant nee member. Something super weird strange is going on on the moon. Mysterious bad guy taking over member of team and from there he will take over the all of it. But at least for me it failed to cohere. It jumped around a lot. It assumed more knowledge of the group and if the characters than I think appropriate for the first issue of a reboot.  Any of the New 52 that I try, I did look thru the art first to be sure it wouldn't actively work against my enjoyment of the story. This didn't do that, but I will say over the course of the whole I found it a little too expressionistic, Goya doing superheroes. 

Batgirl #1, written by Gail Simone, written by Gail Simone, pencils Ardian Sayf, inks by Vicente Cifuentes. 
By modern standards this is very nicely drawn, not Dan Spiegle storytelling but there are pages like 1,2,12 that are outright good to watch,and overall there is a nice integration between the words and the pictures.  I might have preferred for a reboot to just forget the whole wheelchair thing ever happened, to the choice made here of a "miracle cure," but there are arguments to be made on both sides of that. I know I don't like just jumping in with a Family Games villain plot, in part because it's so derivative. And the other villain doesn't excite me.  And even though the front cover has a great first issue smiling superheroine pose, there isn't much of a sense of fun in reading this, no fun at all. I want some fun out of these. Liked this a bit more than Stormwatch, but still iffy. 

Men of War #1 is one of the attempts in the New 52 to be doing something other than a superhero.  It starts off with an origin story for a (not yet) Sgt .Rock. Very much in the reluctant hero mode. The usual cliche of a great father, now dead, he has to live up to. But it worked for me. The art was a little bit gauzy for my tastes, but not distractingly so.  I will be back for more. I do wish they had left well enough alone, but there is an entirely disposable SEALs backup story which jacks up the price to $3.99. Find better, or dump the backup and hold the line at $2.99. 

Batwing #1, written by Judd Winick, art by Ben Oliver
This is a keeper!  Kind of like Al Qaeda, Batman has international affiliates. This one is a policeman in an African country whom at night is battling the corruption of the police and the society in other ways. The main character is somebody I'd like to see more of. The art is nice and clean. Script is full of surprises, check out the cliffhanging final pages and panels.  The setting is fresh and different. Very very good. 

Green Arrow #1, written by JT Krul, art by Dan Jurgens and George Perez. 
This is exactly the kind of comic book I was hoping to see as part of the New 52. It is fun!  It has some action. It has some supporting cast. It has a main character whom I find interesting.  I love the art. It has hot guys, which I think is an underestimated virtue in comic books, and I am sure the gals aren't so bad to look at either. The last panel throws I some hot other kinds of things. I think I can understand why this isn't the best reviewed of the 52. I don't think this title has aspirations beyond entertaining. The characters have real life and fictional role models, Steve Jobs or Stark Industries or Wayne Industries. But I had fun with this one on so many levels, the kind of fun I loved having in the best of the DC Retroactive oneshots. Totally back for more. 

Swamp Thing #1, written by Scott Snyder, art by Yanick Paquette
The Swamp Thing tie-in to Flashpoint was one of the only I wanted to pick up for one issue, let alone stay with for the duration. Scott Snyder has been a hot newish writer for American Vampire, I haven't been reading that but have enjoyed the spinoff series. This first issue is a little attenuated, not as bad as the first issue of JLA but probably could be a half dozen pages shorter. The concept here is that Alec Holland is not Swamp Thing but had a kind of symbiosis from which he has now been severed. Superman checks in to see how he is doing. In the end pages we see that there is some red kind of swamp thing like thing that is causing trouble. And then some Swamp Thing and Alec at the end. Enough script wise for me to be intrigued enough to come back but not totally on board. The art has good storytelling from panel to panel, but the panels themselves are often weird looking, Superman with his back arched back in he weirdest posture, or strange facial expressions.  So good enough, at least. 

Action #1, script by Grant Morrison and art by Rags Morales
This has had some controversy because Superman has lots of attitude, boy does he have attitude. But why not. The ongoing problem with Superman is that perfection is boring.  Most of the best Superman arcs I can think of in a long history reading comics are origin arcs, John Byrnes or Geoff Johns or the Kurt Busiek take, because they can be away just a tad from the iconic Superman, which worked so well in Richard Donner's first movie more than as a rule in the comics. So why not go for an origin approach here, with a young and lively whippersnapper of a Superman. 

Animal Man #1, written by Jeff Lemire and art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green. 
I saved this for last because I was a big fan of Lemire's run on Superboy as well as what he had done with his recent Atom scripts. This ultimately wasn't the superlatively wonderful experience I had hoped for, but more than good enough to come back for a second helping. The art is all over the place, it starts out in a kind of realistic vein and then gets a little weird. This works at the very end when we are given a taste of some of the weirdness Animal Man will be contending with as the series progresses, but it doesn't work as well n the action centerpiece where I found the art to be a bit of a distraction, one strike here vs the brilliant art partner in Superboy. The story is classic origin fare. The placid domesticity of the home life seen in the opening pages is maybe too clearly like any horror movie not going to stay that way. Followed by action sequence to show off powers followed by ending designed to ,eave us wanting more. The Superboy run, with it's obligatory crossover diversions and then abbreviated run on account of the reboot didn't fully cohere with the odd stuff Lemire was mixing in, will this be more fully successful, or ultimately less so. 

All told, got 9 of 13, and inclined to be back for a second issue of six of them. Which already makes the project a success for DC. 

Now, do I have the time to read the other stacks from the next three weeks, or to post about them?  The blog has been undernourished for posting in recent weeks, but is this what the world needs me to post about?

Friday, September 16, 2011

the mournful dirge

Wrote this email to someone I know who worked at a Florida Borders...


Sorry didn't return your call, at a weekend long wedding with two days in office and to catch up on sleep before heading to St. Louis for Bouchercon where I am now.

Very sad. My last Borders visit last Sunday to Middletown NY between the wedding and the town I grew up in. I really wanted to be the last customer St a Borders as I was at 1003, but no way for it to happen,  Four of the StL stores already closed, two were going to close on Thursday but one shut a day early and the other as I kind of expected said "we may close in 15 minutes, we may close in 45," and i couldn't hire a car to take me ten miles into Illinois, wait around for who knows how long and in the process blow off the stuff I and to do at the convention.

Even though there was nothing to be done about it, I will feel like a loved one passed away without me getting to the bedside.

Then I go to the downtown Left Bank Books, it has one non-Charlaine JABberwocky book on shelves, typically indie it isn't Way of Kings or Warded Man or some other book someone may want to read but an obscure book that will be selling 7 copies a week on Bookscan if that once the liquidations are over.  There is no other trade bookstore for some four miles, the closest with any selection, i.e., a big BN, is further away than that.  Walked by Subterranean Books, the other major StL indie last night after it had closed, looked in and realized it wouldn't be worth another special trip to that neighborhood to actually walk into the store because it would be depressingly similar to the Left Bank experience downtown.

And speaking of Barnes & Noble, I can barely bring myself to walk in to one any longer. I go in, the first thing I see are the Nook covers. The boring BN corporateness, their strangely curated selection where they have long had the poorer selection of books/authors of mine not being carried by both chains, their ugly octagons with books buried on a shelf eight inches up from the floor, all of these things I could happily endure when I knew there was something better somewhere and that the BN I was just passing through.

But I will have a job, you leave the Dolphin with an uncertain destination, and I hope there will be some better next step ahead.  For you, for the other people gutting it out to the end for the hourly paycheck, while the bankruptcy court OKs $125K bonuses for Mike and the gang.   

My stock certificate is being framed, I overpaid for the store directory from base of escalator at #582, and purchased for $15 a "borders is 150k books, magazines, CDs, videos" framed poster with a big B on it from #592.  Once upon a time it was what the poster said, in another day or two it will be a memory.  If you find your way to NYC someday, we will have a cold something or other and reflect in front of my shrine.

Will give a ring when I am back home, and in the meantime you know my thoughts and wishes are with you.

oh, the entire sf/ f section at the downtown Left Bank is 96-ish titles n

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shame No More

Well, most of the obituaries I've read have neglected to mention Cliff Robertson's finest role, as Shame on the Batman TV show in the 1960s. I loved this show, it always saddens me when a Special Guest Villain passes the scene.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mandatory Lawbreaking

So I am at a hotel in Matamoras, PA, off of I-84, in a shopping area on a  multi-lane shopping strip, around a half mile from the old downtown where the same road is an old-fashioned two-lane main street. I want to walk downtown to buy a newspaper.  Now, in the tradition of bad car-centered development, the sidewalk ends at the edge of the old downtown. The extension of the highway has a nice wide shoulder and isn't unsafe to walk on, per se, but it is clear nobody thought anyone might ever want to walk from downtown to shop at the K-Mart. No sidewalk, no crosswalk, no walk signals, not a single thing about the road is designed with a second of thought for the pedestrian.  In fact, at the stoplights there are signs going all four ways that forbid pedestrian crossings in any direction.  (Or would, except that the red cross-hatch has faded off many of the signs) Unless there is some secret unmarked back way, there is no legal way for a pedestrian to get from here to there.  This isn't about pedestrian safety. This is about city officials realizing they are idiots who are going to have people die on their streets because they haven't done a single thing to make them walkable, and hoping that by forbidding all pedestrian crossings at any intersection that they can get out of liability in the inevitable lawsuits.  Shameful

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 plus 10

There is an adage that says "just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.". For most of the past ten years my general belief is that this is something that Osama bin Laden should have heeded.

I think Al Qaeda could've done serious damage to the US military and to US interests, the death of a thousand cuts with dozens of operations like the USS Cole or the Dar es Salaam embassy bombing, and people in the US just wouldn't have cared very much or for very long.  Militarily, 9/11 was a mistake. Bin Laden became a marked man. His organization was tossed from it's safe haven in Afghanistan. Countless leaders of the organization have been killed. Neither 9/11 nor 7/7 nor 3/11 have led to the death of NYC or London or Madrid. People still work in tall buildings and ride the Tube and commute to work.

However, part of bin Laden's calculus was different, and while I believe 9/11 was a military mistake NY Al Qaeda, the organization has had immense success.

Many of you may not believe this, but there was a time not too long ago when you could just walk into an office building without having to wait on line, show ID, pose for a picture, wait for your visitor pass to print out. There was a time when you could comfortably get to the airport 45 minutes or even a half hour before your flight. There was a time when you could breeze in to a baseball game without wondering why the Mets allow an iPad but the Yankees do not, why the Yankees allow a factory sealed one liter water bottle but the Mets only 20 oz, and why some teams won't allow your completely empty bottle in for filling at a water fountain when it is exactly the same as the 20 oz factory sealed bottle that is emptied out just the other side of the turnstile.  And in all of those instances we are giving up our liberty and hours of our lives, little bits and little infringements at a time.

There was a time when torture was torture.

And all of these things cost not only time but money. The TSA costs money, the guards that check your bags at the ballpark and your IDs in the office lobby cost money.

And that is just in the private sector. The government has spent a huge amount of money building a counterterrorism security infrastructure.

And getting us to do all of this was part of the bin Laden calculus.

So in one sense, the terrorists have won, they've gotten us to spend so much of our treasure taxing ourselves in time and dollars to attempt to win a war that can never entirely be run.

And still, 9/11 was a mistake.

If the western world collapses as a result of the erosion of our values and bank accounts since 9/11, it isn't a caliphate that will come next to pick up the pieces.  China, maybe; caliphate, no.

And a lot of what's happened might have happened with a stream of Dar es Salaams. US embassies would have become fortified and closed to the world, and other damage done to our standing and reputation. Was the extra damage from the sheer enormity of 9/11 worth that so few of its planners might be around to enjoy when the Chinese can finally conquer a depleted and degraded American empire?

Oh -- we manage to be so resilient in the face of every gun massacre of which the US had many. Why have we been so unresilient to the Richard Reids of the world?

And a confession -- deep down I am kind of happy circumstances have me away from NYC for most of 9-11-11.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Years Later

The Borders at the World Trade Center opened in 1995. I'm told it might not have been very profitable on account of the size of the rent, but it was the company's first store in Manhattan, an important presence for a publicly traded company just a few blocks from Wall Street, and Borders made money in those days. There are worse things than if your face to the world is a store with huge throngs of shoppers selling tons and tons of books.

Lower Manhattan wasn't in the beaten path for me, but because Borders World Trade was such a bustling and prosperous store that sold so many copies of so many books by so many JABberwocky clients it was a store that I liked to visit at least every several weeks. Even if it meant making a special trip, it was a pleasant destination. And on a beautiful day, what better really than take the occasional walk through Greenpoint and Williamsburg, over the Williamsburg Bridge, down East Broadway through Chinatown, down Park Row beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and past City Hall, and around 1:40 after leaving my apartment I was there.

Tuesday September 11, 2001 was a beautiful late summer day. The sky as blue and near to cloudless as you might like, the temperature perfect, and I hadn't been to Borders World Trade in several weeks, can't remember if it was early August or late July, but it had been a while. So the plan for the day was pretty simple, to try and escape from the office a little bit early if I could (and in those days, I could almost always escape from the office a little bit early and not worry anyone would miss me), be out the door by 4PM or 5PM and I'd have that nice walk with the setting sun looming behind the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan as I headed over the Williamsburg Bridge, and have a long overdue visit to the Borders.

Those plans changed.

There was an e-mail from Elizabeth Moon, mentioning this plane that had flown into the World Trade Center.

Like most people, my first thought was that some guy in a Cessna had lost his bearings and had an accident.

I sat in front of the TV for a while. Wondering what was going to happen. It wasn't a Cessna. It was a pretty big fire. It was 1000 feet in the air, and is there any way to fight that besides letting it burn itself out?

And then however many minutes it was after I turned on the television, there was that puff of smoke and then it cleared, and there weren't twin towers any more. And then there weren't any towers at all.

And then I went back to work, kind of.

Denial, distraction, avoidance, whatever the mental state was that was there, I couldn't do much but try and bull my way through whatever happened.

I went out to cast my vote in the mayoral primary NYC was having that day. I shouldn't have bothered, the primary was called off not long thereafter.

I went to the UPS depot with a box of books to send. I shouldn't have bothered. UPS had summoned its trucks back, they were rushing into the yard, they were pulling the gates shut.

I went to the Post Office. The Post Office was open. But a little bit down at the end of the block, you could see the sidewalk on Queens Boulevard full of people who'd walked over the Queensboro Bridge and were now walking however many miles they needed to walk in order to get home. Forest Hills was another five miles away, Kew Garden was six. It was one of those eerie sights you think you might see only in the movies.

I had lunch. I did have the TV on in the kitchen but I didn't sit perched in front of the TV for the rest of the day. One of the things I've learned is that there isn't much to gain watching the telly in times like this. Comes from hours of watching after Challenger, waiting for that NASA press conference that kept getting pushed back and pushed back, and you realize for all the time you're spending watching you're watching for hours and hours and there isn't any actual news.

I called Elizabeth Moon, and we discussed some revisions to her novel The Speed of Dark.

That night, it was hard to sleep. The next day, it was hard to concentrate on anything, to do any work at all. The mind was someplace else.

My synagogue had a memorial service that night. I walked into Manhattan over the Queensboro Bridge. You could look south toward Ground Zero, and how could you not, really. The winds were blowing most of the stuff from Ground Zero some other direction, but there was a smell in the air all over the city. Burnt metal, burnt flesh, burnt something. I don't know what it was, I don't like to think of what it was, I don't want to be reminded of it. But it was everywhere. It felt weird walking into Manhattan, but it felt weird not to, like whatever it was that happened yesterday it was necessary to still be doing something like what I often did. And Manhattan was, of course, eerie. Quiet, empty. I stopped by the Whole Foods in Manhattan (back then, there was still just the one in Chelsea) after the service, it was open and it felt good to buy something there even though they had signs up that they'd be closing early, that they might not have some things because they hadn't gotten any deliveries that day, but it was open and it was good.

The #7 train was running. And of course it was a weird ride back, especially as we headed out of Grand Central and under the East River. Everyone was looking at one another. What were you doing on the subway on this evening?

Those of you who know me know I have a puckish sense of humor. It was gone for the next three weeks. Nothing really seemed funny. There was this pit in stomach instead. Every time I was in Manhattan. Coming back on the LIRR from my annual September bookstore rounds of Long Island, sitting on the train heading back into NYC and kind of not wanting to do it.

Looking at some of the pictures from 9/11, New York Magazine has some in their current issue, I realize just how well I've managed to suppress some of the imagery of the day. Not my memories of the day, I don't talk about them or think about them very much, but I can always summon those images quickly, always there right below the surface, never far away and always a part of me. But the images of the twisted steel, the haunted faces, the people racing up Broadway, the jumpers, all of those things that were part of the day, but not of my part in it.

I can still give a guided tour of the Borders that was there. Head off the E train, past the newsstand, turn right in the World Trade Center concourse (some of the tiling of the section between the subway and the concourse survived), I think it's closed off now while they rebuild the PATH station, but will be back) and there was the small lower level entrance a little bit down, up the escalator to the main level by the main entrance doors at Church and Vecsey. Main cash wrap at the north end of the main level. The mystery, romance and horror lined up on the shelves there. A few steps up to the entrance into 5 World Trade Center, this was where you had your displays of new books. In the southwest corner of this main level was where you had your sf/fantasy, the new hardcovers and trade paperbacks wrapped around a column, three sections of low shelving for the mass markets, full of backstock all the time. Shel, one of the booksellers, had some old sf/f covers that he hung up in the section, they'd be part of that smell I could smell. He ended up at the White Plains store. The magazines were also on the ground floor, near the escalator up, which led into the cafe. After one of those walks to the store to meet up with a friend, it's that cafe where my friend and his wife were sitting, and I could kind of tell by that morning sickness look on her face before he said anything that they were expecting. The music was off to one side, this store had a smaller music section than most stores of that vintage. And then a long, narrow upper level with the non-fiction categories spread each side of an aisle that led back to a relatively small children's department at the far end. The store is gone ten years now, but I can still take you there.

So I didn't visit the Borders at the World Trade Center on September 11.

In fact, it was another six months before I went to Lower Manhattan at all. Shortly before I left for London Book Fair in March of 2002, I kind of forced myself to go down to Lower Manhattan, for every reason and for no reason at all. To walk by Ground Zero. To look west down Fulton Street, to this wonderful view of the World Financial Center that was never supposed to exist. To stand near the corner of Church and Vecsey.

As once upon a time, they were.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Good Bad Ugly

So over the past several weeks I've been spending more money week in and week out at the comic book store than I've done in a long time, mostly on account of the DC Retroactive series of comic books. This send off for the old DC Universe ahead of the New 52 that launched today with Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 was one of the more delightful ideas to come around. There were 18 issues, six each for the '70s, '80s and '90s, which paired a "new" story from the era in question with a classic reprint. The first few I tried were enjoyable enough that I decided I'd stop leafing through to decide which I should buy, and instead just went for all of them, $4.99 a pop, three a week, several weeks running. Not all of them were entirely successful, some had a good reprint but a so-so new story, others had a good new story paired with a so-so reprint, but the overall was just a lot of fun. Favorites might have been the Green Lantern story with the Jon Stewart GL, where someone learns why secret identities are supposed to be kept secret. Marv Wolfman wrote a Superman that fit in beautifully as a long lost prequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. There was a Len Wein Batman story that fit hand in glove perfectly with its time period. I wanted to like Mike W. Barr's Batman contribution a little more than I did, but I knew before I got to it that it would be a fair play mystery where the reader would be challenged to find the clues before Batman did, because that's what Mike W. Barr did.

But the big thing here was that these stories were all fun.

And to me, that's the challenge for DC's New 52. Can they bring the fun back to reading comics? Can DC take advantage of the opportunity it's given itself, to tell good fun stories that don't require a master's degree in continuity, that won't insist on getting bogged down in crossovers or big company wide events? Where you're as likely to decide to skip an issue because it's skipping whatever it is you're liking in the comic to tether itself to some other thing that requires reading 9 other comics to properly enjoy? Because you know, even though I'm in my upper 40s now, the kind of guy who can enjoy a serious Vertigo book like DMZ because of the adult pleasures it offers, I'm still likely as not to get my greatest enjoyment out of a good issue of Simpsons Comics or Futurama Comics that are just, you know, fun.

And speaking of which, it amazes me still how often I can enjoy a Futurama comic considering I never liked the show so much. The latest issue there had the gang working at a chain restaurant as big as a planet, which is a silly idea done with its tongue always in cheek that was a delight from first page to last. And there've been a couple great Simpsons issues recently, one where Homer goes off to Canada and discovers it's full of donut shops, as delightful an experience for Homer as when David Bowman goes through the infinite and discovers that it's full of stars. Only, this is way funnier. Or the most recent issue, where Ned Flanders is off on a cruise and finds love, while his kids are finding something else with Homer taking care of them.

Fun.

I want to read comic books for fun, or for some kind of adult intellectual pleasure.

What I don't want to read comic books for?

Sadly, that's what I found today in the dreary dismal disappointing messes that are Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1.

I read the first issue of Flashpoint, didn't find it interesting enough to keep going, but decided to come back for the finale because after all this is the big lead-in that puts a boot kick into the reboot for the New 52.

But the story doesn't make any sense. Maybe it would make sense if I'd read the three missing issues here, but I think the creators of this issue should have made an extra effort to get it to work on its own just on account of readers like me who'd decide to get in on the last seconds of the old New Year on the way to ringing in the New.

What there is of a story just isn't very interesting.

If it does lead in to the reboot, it requires looking at the fine print of what characters are featured in the art that aren't mentioned or discussed much in the story, There's this double-page spread where "and the RESISTANCE" is in big letters to tell us that the Resistance is important, and we can carefully try and figure out which characters are included because none of them are named. And then there's a Speed Force "Boooo ooooom" and the Resistance is gone a few pages later.

The cover says "It All Changes Here." Um, what changed? I didn't notice. Shouldn't I have?

Then we pick up Justice League #1.

Even though this is a reboot, there isn't much said about who Batman is. Or who Green Lantern is. If I didn't know who they were because I've been reading about them for 35 years, there's nothing in this issue that would explain why I should be reading about them.

I'm not sure why the two of them hook up, what their goal is, what their plot problem is.

There are seven superheroes on the cover. We spend time with two of them -- 2, only! -- in 24 pages, with a third making an appearance on the final page, and another who is in a pre-origin state. The JLA Retroactive reminds that it is possible to tell a good story with half a dozen heroes in 26 pages, so why does this original story deal with only 2 heroes in 24 pages? This doesn't make me want to come back again in a month to see more, it makes me think there are better ways to spend $4 than on overly attenuated stories that just go on, on, on, on in an inefficient and uninteresting kind of way.

Jim Lee's art does nothing for me. This is one of the things that will almost certainly keep me from enjoying a lot of the New 52. I do come from an era when art was supposed to be about storytelling. In my own experience, we can look back to Todd McFarland's run on Infinity Inc. as a prime example of how storytelling skills started to give way to a collection of pin-up pages, but at least I often enjoyed looking at the pin-up poses McFarland would give to the characters in that super team.

Look at page 20.

You can do what the first two panels attempt to do, Blake Edwards does this in Victor Victoria when he cuts from inside a restaurant to showing the aftermath from outside the restaurant viewed through the windows, but he carefully establishes the inside of the restaurant and gives visual cues to connect the shots. If you look at what we see inside the office on panel #1 and then try and match that with what we see in silhoutte of the office in panel #2, you can't make that match. Most of the characters close to the window have their back to it, the next shot has all the characters showing a profile to the locker room.

Going from panel #2 to panel #3, the character has his back to the phone in one panel but then has done a 200 degree turn to now have one hand resting on the phone.

Panel #3 to panel #4, we have another reverse angle, and it looks like the character is hanging up the phone with the left arm, whereas the previous panel had him holding the phone in the right hand. Do people often switch hands to hang up a phone? I also believe that in panel #2 the cord for the payphone goes in to the right side of the phone, while in panel #4 it looks like the chord is going into the left side, or that there isn't a cord any more. Either would be a mistake.

The physique of the character in panel #5 looks different than that same character in panel #1. The arms seem bigger in relation to the torso in #5.

Here and there, a nice piece of business. Pages 13 and 14, let's say. Green Lantern is ridiculing the idea that Batman is just a guy in a bat costume, then Batman shows who's boss by removing GL's power ring when GL loses focus and concentration and provides the opportunity.

The sad thing is that I know that Geoff Johns is capable of writing a good script, but he hasn't here, he tends to do his best work when he does a good people story about the people that are superheroes. But in his role as the co-creative-poobah of DC Comics, he doesn't let himself write those scripts. He focuses on doing the big crossovers, where he's occasionally capable of a good first issue and rarely six of them, or to doing something like this. But he can do better.

I don't know if Jim Lee could do better, I haven't looked at enough of his art to make that call. Of course, he is the co-publisher of DC Comics, so I'm not sure if there's anyone at the company who's going to take the time to tell the boss that he can't have the phone cord moving from the left side to the right side, can't have the characters all with their back to the window in one panel and their profiles to it in the next, that he should make some effort at continuity and storytelling. Maybe his people will never look like actual people or even like the muscular exaggerated versions of people that we accept in superhero comics, but some of this other stuff, all it takes is the effort.

You know, it's hard to let go. But I've tried to do it in running my business. My employees come to me and say they're ready for e-mail queries, I'm capable of telling them "you know, I don't have a dog in this hunt," instead of pretending that I'm still the one who looks at the query letters. Not at DC, Geoff and Jim might be the people who are supposed to be in charge, who are supposed to be the ones who be sure their editors are making each of these new 52 truly wonderful, and instead they have their own un-editable selves launching it.

Well, I'm sure that there will be better comics than this in the New 52, and I'm sure I'll still give a sampling to a decent chunk of them.

For all my negativity here, I think the idea of the reboot, of the New 52, is not a bad idea in and of itself. It is an opportunity to do great things for DC and the industry at large. In fact, I'm as negative as I am because I see the problems with Justice League #1 as a betrayal of what the New 52 could be, what it should be, what it needs to be.

For a much sunnier take on these two comic books, you can read the thoughts of award-winning sf writer Michael Burstein, who did a review for SF Scope. Click here.

And if I read Crisis on Infinite Earths today, would I still like that? Or is it not so much that comics have changed as that I have? Am I Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., decrying that the movies have gotten smaller?

The Noon Report

So on the tennis-related front, the #6 seed Robin Soderling withdrew from the US Open with an undisclosed illness, and his spot in the draw was taken as a "lucky loser" by Rogerio Dutra Da Silva. This would appear to be good news for Soderling's opponent, qualifer Louk Sorensen from Ireland, who goes from playing a top 10 player in his first round match to playing essentially another qualifying round match. However, Sorensen lost the first set 6-0 and has just taken a game to start the 2nd set, he couldn't be doing any worse against Soderling. Sorensen looked pleasant enough in the qualifying, but Da Silva is clearly the better player of these two. That said, I would expect the match will tighten up a little. It's a great opportunity for either player since the second round match will be winnable at least. The 3rd round match with Isner or Baghdatis less so, but one of these players has a good shot to be in the 3rd round of the Open.

And Vasek Pospisil is just demolishing Lukas Rosol, that match is at 6-1, 5-1, the first set took all of 19 minutes and the second set will likely be under 25 as well.

To interrupt this tennis post with some actual business news, we are told via publisherslunch.com that Waterstone's in the UK is ending the "3 for 2" book promos that have been a fixture of UK bookselling for years and years. Here in the office, Eddie's first reaction is that this is an awful decision being made by the new owners, since this has been such a fixture of the trade. I'm not so sure. I've found UK bookselling to be generally in a very boring state in recent years, with the plethora of endless 3-for-2 tables all stocking all the same books at all the same stores to just be deathly dull In any event doing the same thing for years and years can get boring and should sometimes be changed for the sake of it. But then again, if they'll just be replacing endless tables of 3-for-2 with endless boring same-everywhere tables of books being promoted in some different way, it ends up making no real difference. I guess we'll see how it shakes out.

For those not so good at math a 3-for-2 discount is the same as Buy 1-Get 1 50% Off promo that we've had on a lot of trade paperbacks in the US, and which in fact Borders might have imported as a variation from their UK stores.

As I typed those last two paragraphs, Pospisil took the 2nd set 6-2 and Sorensen and Da Silva are on serve after three games of their second set.

And here is a post from the NY Times Straight Sets blog about Malek Jaziri, the Tunisian qualifier who is facing top-rated American Mardy Fish in a 2nd round match tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I, Again, Oracle

Click here for a post from the NY Times Straight Sets blog about Ukrainian qualifier Sergei Bubka, who defeated the Austrian Adrian Haider-Maurer in their first round main draw match on Tuesday. I correctly predicted Bubka could win this. I also said the Rochus/Lisnard match could go either way, and indeed the qualifier Lisnard did emerge at the winning end of this first round match. Ir's easy enough to predict every qualifier to lose, you'd be right most of the time, I'm quite pleased so far to be pretty good this year in choosing the ones that will win.

Vasek Pospisil has his first round match at 11AM Wednesday on Court 10. This is rather annoying to me, because this court doesn't have TV coverage (Ashe, Armstrong, Grandstand, 11, 13, 17 do) so I won't even be able to watch on ESPN3.com on my computer at work. I guess I'll have to set up the thing that live tracks the score, I am really curious and eager to see if Pospisil can beat Lukas Rosol. There are only five men's singles matches tomorrow without TV coverage, so you can see just what a huge major priority this match is the world at large.

Another match with a qualifier, Joao Souza of Brazil against American Robby Ginepri, is on the Grandstand. Not an easy match, but I did tag this one as a possible win for the lower-ranked player.

I, Oracle

So I think I did OK in judging the chances of the US Open qualifiers to play on Day One. Jaziri won his first round match, which I'd suggested could happen if didn't outright say would. All the other qualifiers to play on Day One lost, most in straight sets, none huge surprises. I did give De Veigy a chance of beating Tommy Hass, he didn't but he took a set and it was a competitive match.

Alas for Jaziri, his next round opponent will be Mardy Fish, the highest ranked American player who has been on fire this summer. So Jaziri had best be prepared for enjoying the moment of playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium, because that's likely to be the best part of the day.

The NY Times tells me I watched history being made when I saw Louk Sorensen qualify. The two Irish qualifiers this year may be the first ever players from Ireland to play in the main draw of the US Open.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Looking Ahead

So the qualifying has concluded, and the draw has been filled out. Let's look selectively at what the qualifiers face in the days ahead...

The "top half" of the draw, the one with main #1 seed Novak Djokovic, got 10 qualifiers into it.

Romain Jouan and Augustin Gensse have both drawn seeded top 32 main draw players and are not likely to advance to the second round.

American qualifier Michael Yani has a first round match against a young Australian, Bernard Tomic, who made a strong run at the Australian Open this year and is considered to be a real up-and-comer. However, he's often a bit up-and-down, and plays a game that's based as much on taking his opponents out of their rhythm as on having a great rhythm of his own. Michael Yani doesn't have a particular rhythm, he's just happy to be in the main draw of a grand slam. Tomic should win, but it's not unthinkable that Yani will.

Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy has drawn Tommy Haas. Haas was a top 10 player, as high as #2 in the world in fact, but he's 33, he's struggled to come back from a lot of injuries in recent years. This isn't a bad draw, you've got to think, if you're de Veigy.

Sergei Bubka has an excellent draw. His opponent is Andreas Haider-Mauder, an Austrian who was in the qualifying a year ago, and is ranked in the 70s. He's not that good a player, and Bubka can win this match.

Marsel Ilhan and Frank Dancevic are lucky, they got a Q-Q match, i.e., two qualifying players getting to play one another in the first round, which is a guaranteed opportunity for one to get into the 2nd round. And the two players are just two years apart in age. But Dancevic, he's a player I followed in the qualifying for a year or two, he had his one big year in 2008 when he made it to the finals of a summer tournament and had a winnable match against Marat Safin a round or two into the US Open that he lost mostly because of lack of experience in Grand Slam situations. I feel he's 26 but on the wrong side of the career arc. Ilhan is only a year or two younger, but my instinctive feel is that he's still climbing. My money would be on Ilhan, won't complain if I'm wrong. This is a Court 14 match at 11AM in the morning.

Go Soeda of Japan faces top 40 player Kevin Anderson, who's currently playing the best tennis of his career.

Malek Jaziri has drawn Dutch player Thiemo De Bakker, who is top 50 but doesn't have the kind of name to inspire fear in anyone. This is Court 8 at 1PM, and could be a match. Or maybe I'm being a little bit of an optimist.

Flipping to the "bottom half" of the draw, Ireland's Louk Sorensen has top 10 player Robin Soderling, advantage Soderling.

Joao Souza of Brazil has Robby Ginepri from the US, and that's a match the qualifier can win.

Pospisil, he has a match that he can definitely win, against a Czech player Lukas Rosol who is currently ranked in the 60s. Rosol's rank is based entirely on a few good challenger tournaments where he beats qualifying level players, which Pospisil is distancing himself from, and a good run at this year's French Open. I'm a Pospisil fan, and expect he'll have a 2nd round match against the #25 seed.

Jesse Huta Galung has drawn James Blake. This match should go Blake's way.

Jean-Rene Lisnard has a match against Olivier Rochus, whom I've seen in the qualifying. This could go either way.

Robert Farah against Nicholas Mahut -- edge, Mahut.

Lucas Lacko got into the main draw as a "Lucky Loser," chosen by lots as a seeded but defeated qualifier to replace a late withdrawal from the tournaments. Odds are one or two other players will end withdrawing before their first match.

Not counting players I saw in qualifying this year only, there are close to 20 players in this year's US Open whom I've seen in qualies over the years.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tennis Anyone, IV

And to close...
The second set of the Pospisil match was anything but routine. It was one of the longest sets of tennis I've ever seen, 68 minutes for a 12 game set, vs. 41 minutes for the13 game tiebreak set Pospisil had with Guccione two days before. There was an epic game early on with Brezak struggling hard to hold serve. Pospisil, whose serve can be so strong, was having games go to 0-40 or 0-30 against and then struggling to fight back into it. Finally, at the very tail end, Pospisil managed to get a break and win the match. It was good tennis!
And as long as our 2nd set is, the Meffert/Farah match on the next court just keeps dragging on and on and on, but you get the sense that's a match that's interesting solely because it endures, not because either play is especially interesting. If neither player has the weapons and tools to really end a point, the points can go on. And on.
Next stop was over to Court 11 to find Dennis Kudla playing Romain Jouan, both of whom we'd seen previously, in a 3rd round qualifying match. This was decent enough tennis, but a rung or three below the highest level. Kudla is 19 -- and just -- and has been a Juniors finalist and a hitting partner for the US Davis Cup, and the good news for American tennis fans is that he looks good on the court, saw that when I saw him when earlier in the week and saw that again today. But holding one's own is nowhere the same as winning, and he just didn't have the oomph or the firepower of the 25 year-old French journeyman he was playing against, who won in two fairly quick and fairly routine sets.
During the first part of the match, I was standing atop the stands at Court 11 and looking down on Court 14, where the #3 qualifying see Marcel Ilhan was playing Lucas Lacko. Ilhan was looking pretty good as he took that in two fairly easy sets.
I was also able to watch people erecting the Citizen side above the south video board in the new stadium that is going by the rather prosaic name of Court 17. I wonder how many years that name holds. In any case, the world will know that Citizen is an official sponsor and official timepiece of the US Open.
I then wanted to see the 3rd round match for Vasek Pospisil, but this had been put on to one of Court 14 with limited bleacher seating, and one side of that was unusable because of the setting sun. Too crowded to find a good perch. I ended up drifting back to Court 8 to watch the Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Da Silva, whom I said yesterday I might want to watch more of, playing his 3rd round match against Sergei Bubka from Ukraine. This is decent, but it's lacking something. I'm pulling for Da Silva, who goes down in the first set, comes down to take the second, then goes down a break in the third. Sometimes you go in rooting for one player and end up a fan of another, as on Day One when I found myself going for Middelkoop over Janowicz, but there's nothing about Bubka that makes me enthuse about his winning over the player I'm rooting for. Toward the very end of the match there's a ball on the sideline I'm sitting on that's reasonably close and is called in. Everyone else near me thinks the ball is out, I'm not so sure myself, and then it has to be not that the call was wrong but that it was grotesquely wrong, that the ball was six inches out, way out. Which just isn't the case. The call's against Da Silva, it's the difference between being at 30-30 and maybe having an opportunity to break back or being 15-40 and staring death in the face, and the crowd's reaction only serves to make Da Silva just a little bit more certain he's getting the royal screw-over. It's the kind of call that makes you wish they had Hawkeye to allow challenges on every single court, so the player can make his challenge and get an answer and kind of get over things instead of stewing in the feelings of injustice. In any event, Da Silva ended up losing.
That match complete, I drifted back to Court 14, where the sun had now gone down far enough that the other bleachers could be sat in, and I found an open seat on the front row toward the start of a third set between Pospisil and a 24 year old Slovenian Grega Zemlja, who was the #8 seed in the qualifying.
What a way to end the tournament!
It was an incredibly tight third set, ended up going 75 minutes which is about as long a set as you can get. Sitting where I was, in the twilight, you could actually see the spin on the balls, and there was a lot of it. The players were both trying to get their shots as low over the net as they could get away with, so it looked as if every ball was in danger of being hit into the net. I was rooting pretty strongly for Pospisil, so it was disappointing when he went down a break fairly early in the third set, and wasn't getting a break back. You start looking at the scoreline, and realize time's starting to run out. But Pospisil did manage to eke out one break and go back on serve, and we headed into a deciding tiebreak. And I can't remember the last time I've been so caught up in a game of tennis I've been watching in person. Pospisil gets a mini-break, Zemlja gets it back, every single shot by both players especially sitting right at court level looks like it's going to go into the net. Every single shot. Except most of them somehow manage to motor their way over and sink toward the ground for a hard pickup of a really really low ball at the other end of the court. And so much, so much, at stake. And finally, Pospisil prevails. Phew!
It was a great day of tennis. In the third round of qualifying even the bad matches are played at a higher and overall more competitive level than in the earlier rounds, which in part explains why the tennis is just about as long in duration with 54 matches on the schedule as the first two days with 64, or one extra per court.
Often I'll savor the moment and linger on the grounds after the final point of the qualifying, today with Irene on the way I hastened ASAP out of the tennis center so I could hit the Lemon Ice King (strawberry banana) and then subway into Manhattan to Midtown Comics to get the Wednesday arrivals. Then I looked for a copy of The Onion, and headed up to the Borders at Penn Plaza and picked up half a dozen client books to refill shelves now that they were 50% off, and then treated myself to a fancy dinner at Keen's Steakhouse. I knew I wouldn't even have the choice of getting into Manhattan again until Monday...


1:05 PM
Pospisil looks awfully good taking first set 6-1

12:30 PM
Underway! Charles-Antoine Brezac vs Vasek Pospisil, reenacting the French Canadian wars!!

12:05 PM
The slow moving women's match on Court 8 has hardly progressed. I am now sitting between 8 + 9 watching Robert Farah (Columbia) and Dominik Meffert ( Germany) on 9 while waiting for 8 to end. Gensse won the Court 16 match.

11:50 AM
Sorensen won routinely, late break in first set and after a trade of breaks at the start of the second by two breaks 6-2. Next match I want to see is on Court 8, but there is time to watch the finish of a match on Court 16 between Portugal's Joao Sousa and France's Augustine Gensse. On serve 4-4 in 3rd set. While I watch the match I can listen to a test of the sound system on the new stadium on the site fo Courts 17 and 18 and also watch installation of the Citizen sign atop the north end video board in the new stadium.

10:35 AM
Around six hours of sleep. Took subway home and didn't have to wait long for train, did walk back this ,owning since I wad up in time. Hot and muggy so I did change my original plan to skip the Lemon Ice King. Cost around six or seven minutes but the mint chip was more satisfying than the handful of minutes of tennis would have been.
I decided to go the Grandstand court which is scheduled for two matches today. It is so intimate you can reach out ant give noogies to lines judges, and a rare treat to have it in use for qualifying. During the main tournament those front row seats are claimed like the land rush in Far and Away.
We are on serve 3-2 Portugal's Gastao Elias serving to Ireland's Louk Sorensen.
.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tennis Anyone 33 1/3

To Finish
Well, what a delightful final full match of the day. Donskoy won the first set 6-1, blink of an eye, thought we were headed for a rout. But somehow midway thru the second set Dennis Kudla finds another gear, and it's like the ball coming at him is as big as a pumpkin. He breaks Donskoy, rather to my surprise. Then Kudla starts grunting, as if that will find him another gear still. Grunting or not, he wins the second set 6-3. The third set sees each player break once and goes into a tiebreak, Kudla goes down a mini-break, comes back, takes the tie-break 7-5 and the match. This was very high quality tennis. There weren't many winners, the match statistics say there were only 11 of them between the two players. But there weren't a lot of errors, either, I'm not even sure I can trust the count which is only 1 of them for the whole match, except that it's hard to think of too many. There were balls that missed, but it does seem that almost all of them were off of really good shots by the other guy that weren't easy to get back. Very high quality. The difference in the match looks to be the differential on first and second serve, Donskoy was 70% getting the point on his first serve but only 43% on his second serve. Kudla was more consistent in that metric. Even though this match went to Kudla, I do expect we may see more from Donskoy, who is just 21 and talented. Kudla just turned 19, and is showing some signs of making a breakthrough this summer. Qualifying for the Open could easily lift him 200 spots in the rankings.
There was one match unfinished, so I watched the final games of a 23 year old Croat beating a 34 year old Italian. Not great stuff, probably could have skipped, but having waited out a six hour rain delay why not see some more tennis...
The answer is that play begins in 8:30, I've got to get to bed!
But it will be a very full day, as speculated earlier the plan for Friday is to have 22 remaining 2nd round matches, 21 3rd round matches with the Thursday winners, and then to trot out the 22 winners to play their 3rd round matches as well, two matches on the day, to be sure of having the qualifying done in time. Tour rules require a half hour between matches, and even the top players in the world sometimes have to do two in one day when rain backs things up badly at a tournament. The qualifiers can do it Friday. It's unfair in equal measure to all of them, at least, none of the morning winners Friday will end up facing someone who won Thursday and has the benefit of a night's rest.


10:40 PM
Musical entertainment! Sound check/practice from Arthur Ashe blasting over grounds. Just what tennis players want during big match at 10:30 at night.

10:15 PM
Lacko won the first set in a tiebreak. He is too one dimensional in his game to pose a real threat to anyone, baseline only. That set ended just a few points into the start of the Court 11 match between Dennis Kudla (US) and Evgeny Donskoy (Russia) which I shall stick with, I think. Fewer than 30 unattached spectators, maybe 10 or 12 more coaches/family members. Kudla just made an incredible leap to get his racket on a high smash bounce that nobody ever tries for, I was shocked to see a racket in front of me at my perch in the endzone seats. There is a reason no one goes for those, his shot went up 30 feet and backwards. But I admired the effort. Donskoy is quickly up two breaks, doubt this will be a long match. A few others started around the same time, if any of those are the three tight tiebreak sets which this likely not could be tennis until 12:30-1:00 AM.

9:10 PM
The matches on 15 + 16 ended within a few minutes of one another. Jaziri won his 6-2 in the 3rd set. This made me happy; I think Jaziri is fun to watch. I was watching right next to his coach who wad taking notes in Arabic, and either cheering on his player in Arabic or "get them in" in English. Ryderstedt offered his congratulations as he left the court. I wasn't as caught up in the other match which Bozoljac won 6-3 in the 2nd set, but I would probably take any of these 4 players over the ones on Courts 7 + 16.
Wandering one walkway over I watched the final games of a match between Rogerio Dutra Da Silva from Brazil and Adrian Menendez-Maceiras from Spain. Both were very big grunters and both seemed to my eyes to have especially powerful groundstrokes, Da Silva especially. He is the #5 seed, and won the match in straight sets. Maybe try and catch more of him tomorrow.
After grazing the buffet, I have settled back at Court 15 to watch Marius Copil (Romania) vs Lukas Lacko (Slovak Rep.)I think Lacko is the younger and with more main draw results, in any event are on serve and 15-15 Copil serving 2-2 in the first.

7:50 PM
Court 15 Serbia's Ilija Bozoljac wins first set tiebreak 6-1 over Germany's Andreas Beck
Court 16 Jaziri takes 2nd set, we go to a third
Will hang out between the two courts!

7:40 PM
The plan now is to get in 3 matches on each court, including the Grandstand which is used during the qualifying only in emergencies. That will be 42 matches out of 64 scheduled. Tomorrow play will start an hour early. With rain scheduled to arrive at some point on Saturday I don't know if they plan to have some players do both 2nd and 3rd round matches tomorrow or hope to get in 11 3rd round matches Saturday. The ballperson crews are down one since the youngest can't work overtime which is a problem when all courts need to go long into the evening.

7:33 PM
Back at Court 15 for Jaziri vs Swede Michael Ryderstedt. Jaziri lost the first set 6-2 but up a break in 2nd. Both of these players seem peppier than the others I have been watching.

7:30 PM
Middelkoop won in a 2nd set tiebreak. Not sure how good he really is, but at least good enough to march rou first two rounds here.
Walked over a few paces to Court 11 where Klahn had gone up a break and watched final two games of that match. Hard to believe Ebden is the person who won a 6-0 set yesterday. No game at all today. Klahn was serving very well, and had slightly better places groundstrokes, but not very compelling. Ome court next to the Vioka rooting section, at another found myself standing next to Dennis Kudla's coach. Kudos plays Evgeny Donskoy later.

7:15 PM
Ebden was broken and lost the first set 6-4. The lackluster second set saw both players broken with Ebden taking in a tiebreak. I was bored, after wandering a bit I am settled between Courts 15 and 16 watching the end of 2nd set of Matwe Middelkoop's match against Italy's Matteo Viola while Malek Jaziri plays on the next Court over.

5:20 PM
The match I am now once again watching play having resumed aroun 5:13, is the second round match for American Bradley Klahn and the rising Australian Matthew Ebden. It was scheduled for Court 11, which is one of the largest used for qualifying and thus has priority for drying. Players are just sitting down on the adjacent Court 12, which will resume play some 20 minutes after us, and dryers are still going on Court 16. It is 2-2,and Ebden is facing a break point.

5:08 PM
Since it may be a late night, eating on the grounds. The lamb haandi from Indian stand isn't bad. Have rad 150 pages of Benjamin Tate's Well of Sorrows, and a few issues of Variety.

5:05 PM
Sun has shine a bit, some courts near to dry, and teams of ballpersons are heading out to their assigned courts. May yet be some tennis today!

11:55 AM
Players back to locker room, I am under the overhang on the Grandstand Court near the ball person perch, Andy Murray just left the court after an aborted practice session. Rain really coming down now.

11:15 AM
Grim news, forecast for an afternoon thundershower but there are already a few drops of rain. With Irene coming our way this weekend it might be a challenge to finish the final two rounds of qualifying.
More Grim News: there are mo soap dispensers in the men's restrooms at Court 7 and Court 11. Can someone call the CDC or NYC Dept of Health or something and get that fixed muy pronto.
Grimmer News: A brief rain shower right at start of first match. Iffy day weather wise.
More Grimmer News: When they updated the schedule on the web site as the evening progressed they never updated the printable PDF version which has endless TBD on the later matches, not even "winner of this vs winner of that," just TBD vs TBD. With the weather we should be so lucky as to get to those matches today.