Thursday, February 25, 2010

On a small point of physics

Usually I let scientific errors in comics roll off my back like complaints off a Southwest Airlines Customer Service representative. I mean after all, when you're dealing with a book where people can fly and have x-ray vision, complaining about the speed of light being unbreakable is a little hypocritical.

But occasionally I come across one I feel the need to comment on.  In JSA 36, Jesse Quick and Baroness Blitzkrieg are having a brief high-speed chase/fight.  Baroness B remarks that she doen't have to engage in fisticuffs with Jesse, she only has to "spread a number of obstacles in your path".  She pulls a bunch of super-bounce balls from her satchel and tosses them in Jesse's path.  The result, as Baroness explains that at the speed she's running, they hit her like bullets.  Good idea.

Small problem.  At the time she releases them, they're both running, at almost the same exact speed.  If two objects are traveling at the same speed, relative to each other, they aren't moving.  If one is moving at 500 MPH and the other at 501 MPH, the second one is only moving at 1 MPH, relative to the first.

So if Baroness releases the balls (there's no way to write that without sounding dirty), they're traveling at the same speed as the two runners, and in the time it takes for Jesse to plow into them,  they haven't slowed down enough to strike her with much velocity at all.  They'd be minor annoyances.  Still something that could make her lose her stride and tumble (especially considering she's relatively new to speedstering, and doesn't have the reflexes, friction aura or ability to vibrate through obstacles of the flashes), but not enough to hit her "with the force of wrecing balls".  If Blitzkrieg had been standing still and done the same, then yes, Jesses would have plowed into them at whatever speed she was running, and would have hurt like hell. Indeed, they might have just cut right through her, were she not able to avoid them.  Of course, being bouncy-balls, a few might have bunced right back at Blitzkrieg and hit HER at Jesse's speed, having absorbed her kinetic energy.  So, not as good an idea.  Still, an elegant move, as Baroness calls it, tho.

I recall a story decades back that dealt with relativistic speeds of moving objects that got it RIGHT, but nobody could understand why it worked.  John Ostrander did a mini about the cops of Gotham City (might have been called GCPD; too lazy to look it up).  In the last scene there was a riot which the cops quickly quelled.  Gordon mentions there were guns in the crowd, but most shots were fired in the air and injuries were from bruises as the bullets fell back down from the sky.  People on Compuserve (an antiquated communication system similar to smoke signals) were asking how those bullets didn't kill anyone. After all, they're bullets.

I had to step in and explain that John had gotten it right, as he usually does.  If a bullet is fired straight up, gravity starts to slow it down at the rate of g, or 9.8 meters per second per second.  Once it comes to a halt, it starts to fall back down at that speed, but the bullet does not now have the terrific force of the gun's propulsion behind it.  It's going to come down as it it had just been dropped from that height, which considering its small size and air resistance, is going to cause no more than a sharp sting if it hits anyone.

As you can see, I clearly have too much time on my hands.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On being given an unsolicited opportunity to undertake a grand adventure

Long story short, I got laid off today.

Don' worry, you're getting the long story as well.

I was getting new work to do right up until Friday, everybody was pleased with my work, and all seemed well with the world.  But after lunch today, my manager asked me to "come to a meeting", have mumbling that we had to go down to HR.  Not the place one wants to go to a meeting.

The company is expected to have a harsh year, and as a cost-saving measure had to lay off a bunch of folks in a number of offices, and alas, I was on that list.  It was made abundantly clear it was a choice from on high, out of their hands, yadda yadda.

I didn't get upset to speak of, we walked through my severance package and a short time later I was packing up my stuff.  My previous manager was near tears - she had even tried to get me transferred back to her department, as she didn't want to lose me in the last corporate shuffle.  No go, alas, tho they are keen enough about me that they want me to keep in touch should any other positions open up.  So that's something.

I'll get the ball roling tomorrow.  What with the electric-type internet, I can get all the paperwork and resume spreading going without having to get dressed, so that's nice.

I'll remain optimistic for quite a while - I'm that way.  I'll try to keep being funny and yammering on about comics and other stuff that doesn't involve self-pity.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On analyzing the success of a bold experiment

World of New Krypton has spent a year doing something that had been met with suspicion at best - taking Superman out of the Super-titles. The story, if you haven't been reading the Super-titles, is that the Bottle City Of Kandor was finally freed from its diminutive status after being liberated from Brainiac's ship. Once it was made quite clear that the governments of the Earth didn't quite know how they felt about 100,000 people with the power Superman suddenly appearing, they took the entire city off-planet and built a new Krypton on the other side of the sun.

Superman decides he needs to travel to New Krypton to check things out, considering among other things, the Kryptonians saved General Zod from the Phantom Zone and put him in charge of the military. He stays on the new world, assigned the rank of Commander of the Military Guild by Zod himself. Over the course of his stay, he deals with a series of assassinations of the ruling class, an uprising of the labor class, while all the while keeping a wary eye on Zod and his equally dangerous compatriots, Ursa and Non.

Of all the things I liked about this book, the greatest is that it successfully confounded everyone's expectations. Zod has been played as a hero to the people of Kandor/New Krypton, because that's what he was when they last saw him. And he's been exactly that. No plots to take over the Earth, no moustache twirling, nothing. He works with Kal-El, contentiously at first, but coming around to respect his more peaceful way of doing things. At no point throughout the book is Zod revealed as having a secret plan at all. He really is the hero of New Krypton. The series ends with Zod and Kal-El having a positively polite conversation. Admittedly, the conversation is dramatically interrupted, but there's no rug-pull. I was SO pleased at that.

I've complained in the past about mini-series that serve no narrative purpose, books like Oracle: The Cure, which neither delivered what the readers thought it was supposed to deliver nor told a complete story, rather just telling us to pick up Batgirl #1 in a couple months. WoNK (I wish it'd had a better acronym, but whajagonnado) did none of that. It served an important part of the overall Superman storyline, and it told a solid and coherent story that was ended. The secret of the conspiracy on Krypton was explained, it was solved, and the chracters behind it were punished. The surprise ending of Brainiac's ship appearing in the sky was a cliffhanger to a NEW story, not a dangling carrot that made you feel duped for buying an incomplete one here.

We got to see New Krypton grow as a planet, using its advanced science to terraform (Krypto-form?) the world from a lone city to a quite pretty place, even able to re-create some of Krypton's geographic wonders. We got a look at galactic politics, as representatives from Rann and Thanagar, as well as closer neighbor Saturn come to invetsigate this powerful new player on the field. (Robinson loves bringing back obscure characters, so Saturn was represented not only by Jemm, Son of Saturn, but The Faceless Hunter, a character who also just got a cameo on the brilliant cartoon Batman: The Brave and The Bold.) And we got to see how a planet full of of people who have spent most of their lives imprisoned reacted to suddenly not only being free, but having godlike powers overnight. It all worked very well, and did a spectacular job of setting up New Krypton and its people as real three-dimensional characters, something the residents of Kandor never really were back in the Silver Age. Because if you started to really appreciate and care for them, you might start to feel for their glass-enclosed plight.

It's exactly because they've done such a good job of "humanizing" New Krypton that I'm really hoping that once War of the Supermen is over, they don't get wiped off the map. As I've said before, a planet of 100,000 Supermen is rather a big Mcguffin to leave lying around, but there's any number of happy endings I can think of for the planet that would allow them to stay a part of the universe, one that Superman could visit for happy personal reasons if he chose. Park it around a red sun and have a fleet of L.E.G.I.O.N. ships keep strict watch on any ships entering or leaving the system, for example.

The only real complaints I had about the story are vanishingly small:

One, pulling a moon from Jupiter seems like a rather unsettling move to make, from both a "physics-al" and from a PR point of view. Even if they did nod to the three-body issues, saying that the variance in gravity is vanishingly small over the long run, the people of Earth would have to have been rattled that these people just grabbed a moon from another planet, just cause they needed it. It seems to me there's more than enough raw material in the asteroid belt to fashion a moon-sized object without rattling any cages, and they could still have gotten the same "moon headed towards Krypton" story that they wanted.

Secondly, while I'm sure we'll get an explanation for the mysterious abbatoir and the use of the animals' silvery pelts, I think it was played up a bit more than it should have been for a plot point not to be used in this story. Chekhov's Gun still applies; if you show the audience a gun, make sure it goes off. If it gets used in the Brainiac story or in War of the Supermen, it'll require a clunky moment to remind everyone of it. Also, since it didn't actually have anything to to with the mystery the story was working with, it was functionally a red herring. Again, just a minor point.

I've also mentioned that I'd loved to have learned more about Krypton's leisure time activities. We learned a small bit about its art, and a good bit of its mythology, but I'd love to see more. What is Kryptonian theater like? Their comedy - is slapstick funny to a Kryptonian, or do they prefer wordplay? I understand there's little place for such points in an action and intrigue-based story, but if there's a Secret Files coming out in association with WotS (not a much better acronym, but again...) it seems like a good place to put one. Again, the more you make people understand the characters, the more you draw the reader into the story.

As the story on Krypton ends, it's made clear that Earth, or more specifically General Sam Lane and his cronies in Project 7734 are the bad guys there. The conspiracy on Krypton was fomented by Lane, in the person of Superwoman, AKA Lois Lane's sister Lucy. Zod has kept his promise of worrying only for New Krypton's defense, and not its expansion. With Brainiac attacking (thanks to the able assistance of Lex Luthor), Krypton will be on the defensive, and surely Zod and his military guild will step to the forefront of both the battle and the narrative. At this time, there's no way of knowing which way War of the Supermen is going to go. Some people are already waving it off as "another Amazons Attack" (perish the thought) but based on the complex plotting (a term that could be taken many ways there) of the Super-titles so far, it might be any number of possibilities. There's nothing that says it mightn't be Earth and Krypton teaming up against Brainiac, or some other threat. I'm simply not sure...and I couldn't be happier about that.

The past year has been filled with a number of parallel plotlines in the Super Books. Each has spent time with different new and old members of the Super-Family, and how they deal with a World Without Superman. I'll look at them in detail in a later piece, as their stories are still unfolding. But all told, the Super-team has done a great job of telling a sweeping story, while still making each title entertaining in its own right. A lot of folks took the mindset of "If there's no Superman there's no reason to read the book" but I think they've really cheated themselves out of a great bunch of stories. I look to the future of the Superman narrative with a hopeful eye.