Monday, January 14, 2008

Where's Wally, The Twelve, and Technical issues

I don’t read “Funky Winkerbean” as regularly as I used to. I guess part of me is still grieving over Lisa’s death, one of the most emotional storylines in comics ever, whether you’re talking comic books or comic strips. There are people that disagreed with it of course. These are people that think that the comic strip page should be nothing but humor strips and all aimed for children. You know those types of fans, the ones that dictate that everything in a medium should conform to one reader, one taste. Usually their own. Not me. I applaud Batiuk in taking chances with the characters and storylines and fully engaging us in multitudes of ways. The strip’s a lot like life. It’s funny and sad, joyful and tragic, full of successes and failures.

While strip creator Tom Batiuk was able to jump his strip ahead ten years immediately following Lisa’s passing, jumping past much of the grieving process, I was unable to do that myself. I remember when my father was dying and there were times when I wished I could do just that, wake up and be me some years down the road pass all the grief and hardship, that living it day by day was too difficult. While the characters of the strip were able to do just that, not so this reader. Suddenly, all the characters are older, more wistful and bittersweet. And there are new characters and status quos. A lot of new stuff to absorb, but I wasn’t quite ready to move on and embrace the new.

So, it was with some surprise that in the Sunday strip 01-13-07, that I see that Wally Winkerbean’s wife Becky is now with comic shop guy John (who had fallen in love with her when Wally went MIA the first time). Now the last time I remember seeing Wally in the strip was before the time jump and his fate was left a bit questionable while in Afghanistan. I have no clue as to what the story here is. Did I miss some other subtle clue as to Wally’s ultimate fate? Whether it’s the death of a sympathetic character or of a relationship that I rejoiced to see, it looks like there’s more sadness in store. Just another bittersweet indicator of the passage of time and life going on.

It gives me a chuckle when I think of comments by a friend in an APA who commented a couple of years back in that he thought Batiuk was gearing towards giving happy endings for all of his characters, Funky falling in love and getting married, Wally turning up alive and marrying Becky etc.

The Twelve #1.

The first issue is out. And for the most part it’s good. Color adds a lot to Weston’s rather stiff drawing. The story is told mostly from the Phantom Reporter’s point of view as he narrates the twelve going into Berlin, walking into a trap and getting put in suspended animation (and addressing why they stayed lost for 40 years), and coming to in the present day and then ending on a cliffhanger as he discovers the dead body of one of the group. A pretty darn good set-up issue, with some mysteries involved.

But the bad… the cover is horrendous. I don’t know how many books are bought these days by casual buyers based on covers, but this cover will surely kill that. It’s a painted cover of the heroes just standing there ala Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME covers. Only, this artist is no Alex Ross and such a cover is visually boring if you don’t really have the skill of Ross or Neal Adams to pull off. Notice that when Maguire did the iconic JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 cover that was then parodied endlessly by other artists (the cover may have been designed by Giffen), there is an attention to detail and a sense of attitude in the faces. There’s still a story/message being conveyed by the cover. Here, it’s looks like some generic computer painted fan art, the characters at best looking a bit constipated after their long sleep.

A plot hole that may actually be a clue to the identity of the traitor, just why were the Nazis in a hidden bunker lab apparently prepared and wanting some superheroes to happen to find them? Unless Mastermind Excello is working with them, it doesn’t make much sense. Excello’s knowing where he is fated to be could be a blind, that he knows where he is supposed to be because it’s all been a cover. The Phantom Reporter’s narration hints at some of the things “known” about these obscure heroes might not be true, Excello’s powers might be it. I think an interesting twist would that he saw that he and the others were fated/needed to be in the present to stop some threat, so he “betrayed” them in the past to get them to the here and now.

Although, another plot hole is, if they were part of the larger invasion force of heroes (some cool scenes there), why weren't they noticed missing? Especially considering the power levels of a couple of them. Dynamic Man and Fiery Mask might be obscure to modern readers, but in the context of the times, both were incredibly powerful heroes, and a technological marvel such as the robot Electro, I cannot imagine there wouldn’t be all sorts of investigations, even if undercover to find what happened and recover the bodies and technology. This would be like knowing we lost an atomic bomb in Berlin and be content with thinking that the Communists probably wouldn’t find it. Why wouldn't the professor behind Electro have an investigation launched? He presumably saw everything up to the trap being sprung .

I think we also see the weakness of JMS’ background as a television writer coming to the fore. Almost half of the book is spent just getting the heroes into the suspended animation. Too much is just watching the heroes cross a room, going down the stairs, etc. While the narration is good of the Phantom Reporter talking about the other members of the group, we don’t really see them doing anything. Instead of pages of other heroes like Bucky fighting in the invasion, why not really show off the heroes the book is about. Instead of an empty bunker and them casually walking down stairs, let’s see them fight their way, let’s see Laughing Mask be good with his .45’s and the Blue Blade with his sword instead of just the Phantom Reporter only commenting on it. It’s not television or a movie, we don’t need to see characters walking from point A to point B. It’s a superhero comic, show us ACTION. When we get to the cliffhanger of the last page, it’s really the first sign of the actual plot to the story, the rest has been all set-up of the characters and background information. If you watch LAW & ORDER, what we got is pretty much reserved for the first 3 – 4 minutes of the hour-long show to get you through the credits and make you care for the rest of the hour. Maybe if not so much page space was spent just putting the characters to sleep, we could have gotten to the meat of the story, saved some of that background to layer into the story later on.

What also struck a flat note was the preoccupation with Dynamic Man’s preoccupation with sexuality. Dynamic Man is an android (yet he falls victim to the gas and it’s his life signs that are being checked later) so I’m sure there’s a point to it. A lot of it read to me as a teen-age boy that is first discovering his own sexuality and in trying to sound adult about it, goes over-board with the talk. But it also struck me as a writer trying to sound more mature and adult like all those fan-favorite British writers. “See, you can tell this is a serious and adult book, we have sexual references and possible deviances.” You want to write stuff like that, take it to the MAX line or Vertigo. Just give us some superhero stories.

I guess I shouldn’t expect more. After all while he makes the Phantom Reporter and the Witness sound like really cool characters it's by a little subtle writing sleight of hand. First, he dismisses them in an interview, ignoring their heritage and reducing them to being 2nd rate even next to the equally obscure Fiery Mask and Rockman. He then reinforces that in-story by bringing over the reference to them being "tourists" and looked down by the super-powered types (and possibly modern fans as well). Only THEN does he get to be the rescuer of the characters by showing off how cool they could really be. But, he's the one who set them up as "tourists" in the first place. It's like the fireman who sets buildings on fire so he can be the hero by putting the fires out. It's a passive aggressive way of writing characters.

And if JMS is busy on bringing the characters down a level in order to tell more “realistic” tales, ie with sex, death, betrayals and bodies of clay, at least the art is keeping up with him. Weston’s tweakings of the costumes work for me. I like how in settling on a single look for the Fiery Mask, the costume is made up of elements of his various looks and thus still looks on-model for the period. The color differences in the Phantom Reporter and Mr. E work to differentiate two visibly similar characters. And the Laughing Mask’s theatre mask fits in with the look of that character as well. But, he also accentuates the negatives of the costumes such as the Blue Blade’s and where the costume design would otherwise work, he seems to go out of his way to make things ugly such as the hairy legs or making the Laughing Mask homely behind the mask and the rather weak weaselly face he gives Mr. E. Look at Paul Smith's artwork in THE GOLDEN AGE and he draws the characters accurately without highlighting the ridiculousness of grown men trying to be taken seriously in costumes. He handles all these different costumes and they all work. Here we have an artist that takes pains to make the costumes or the people less so.

JLA CLASSIFIED #50 on the other hand is pretty much pure fun. There’s a mystery villain that’s immensely powerful, and Byrne’s art is clear and powerful whether depicting a reflective Martian Manhunter, an analytical Atom, or just all out battle. It’s a great opening arc to a story that’s unabashedly pure superheroics and fun.

Roger Stern is a long-time and old style comicbook writer. He knows how to write longer arcs, his Masters of Evil taking over the Avengers mansion is a classic. And he knows how to tell quieter tales as some of his work on Doctor Strange can attest. This looks to be a great story by two of the masters of the genre. And probably a darn sight better than the majority of the mainstream superhero stuff put out right now by the big two.


There’s a reason why it’s been a week since updates have shown on my site. Basically, working on some of my villain pages, I discovered that the ftp client Filezilla would not connect to my geocities web pages. Now, it was working fine with no hint of an issue at the end of the year. When I tried using Fetch on my work computer, it also was giving me issues for several hours before deciding to work. Got home, Filezilla still not working. I don’t know if you ever tried contacting an Online company with a technical issue, but it’s next to impossible to actually find a service contact phone number anywhere on the pages.

I email them. 24 hours later I get a standard response asking for more information regarding my account. Respond, and about 24 hours later again I get a response saying that they don’t “currently support Fetch or Filezilla” and “if and when” they’ll be able to and that I should just use the EZ Upload on their site. I email them back detailing that EZ Upload doesn’t allow downloading which I need (even if I didn’t, the Fighting Yank stories and an upcoming expansion are way beyond the limits of EZ Upload) and that their website says that they do indeed support both of those programs, both are actually recommended (I don’t point out that I told them already that Fetch did eventually work). 24 hours later, no response.

So, I compose a sterner and nastier email since I had been brewing over the last one. I pointed out that 1) I was a paying customer and one of the things I pay for is the convenience of not using their EZ Upload that they offer to non-paying customers and doesn’t do half of what I want and need it to and 2) the fact that if they don’t support those two programs, their website is still soliciting business on the basis that they do and that’s fraud, taking a technical issue and making it a legal one. For the record, I don’t think they are guilty of fraud as much as the guy that wrote that email response just didn’t want to do any work. So, he recommended a “solution” that he hoped I would be content with and tried to give me a reason to not pursue issues with the programs further. I got a quicker response, within that same business day of someone willing to work some and suggested a few tests to run. Also that one of the problems might be with the ISP and not them as they cannot replicate the error.

I ran the tests. Ping’ing my website didn’t work at all, running a trace showed me timing out about halfway. I emailed the results to Yahoo. Knowing it’d be the next day before I heard back, I decided to try my ISP provider. We have digital cable through Time Warner and the internet through Earthlink. Again, a little tricky finding a phone number but I do so. My brother warns me that their stock answer is call Time Warner. In this modern day and age, everything is automated as much as possible in the name of “better servicing your needs”. I see this even in the company I work for. I rarely received mis-directed calls before we went to some voice recognition system. Now, if someone mumbles, they get me. This isn’t much difference. Answer a few yes or no questions and sure enough, I get an automated number giving me the Time-Warner telephone number.

I call Time-Warner, go through some automated answers again (letting the computer know I am calling about Earthlink and not Road Runner) and after being on hold for a little while, get a live person! And, surprise, in America! The gentleman is polite and admits that he cannot help me so he’d forward me to the “Tier 2” level of technical service. The young woman there is patient while I re-iterate my problems. She informs me that once the trace clears line 10, it’s leaving their servers and not much they can do. But, she volunteers to take a look. And…

“Are you an Earthlink or Road Runner subscriber?”


“Then why are you calling Road Runner?”

“I’m not ‘calling’ Road Runner. I called Earthlink, talked to a computer who directed me to Time Warner. I called Time Warner and the guy there forwarded me to you. I didn’t actually call you.”

“But this is Road Runner. I can’t help you. I don’t know why Earthlink told you to call us, you need to talk to them.”

“I called them. You don’t get a live person, their idea of tech support was to send me to Time Warner. They didn’t ask me if I was Road Runner or Earthlink, they just forwarded me to you.”

As this was going in circles, she asked me what Earthlink number I called and I read the one back from their website. She gave me a different 1-800 number to try. As my phone was beeping at me in frustration and was about to give up on me, I placed it back in its charger and resolved to see the next day what advice Yahoo gave me before trying again with Earthlink.

The next day was another non-answer in that they could not recreate the problem, it seemed to be happening somewhere in between Earthlink and them. I should just try and use a different computer on another network. Excuse me? And, that helps me with my home computer that I do 90% of my webpage work in what way? Besides, the whole point of this is I want to be able to access work done and uploaded from another computer and network at my home computer. How many of the people that have issues with them have the luxury of just going to another computer on a different network? It’s interesting to note, that every single one of these emails was signed by someone different. Apparently, at no point did I have the same person twice working on my problem.

Saturday morning. Girlfriend is working out to an exercise video, I get back on the telephone with the 1-800 number to Earthlink that the people of Road Runner provided. I get the computer again. With this round of computerized voices I must answer something differently (correctly?) because I get put in the queue for a live person. I wait and I get the IT department out of India apparently. To his credit, he speaks good English and I explain the issues and he tries to help. When directing me to type things, he spells them out as “C as in Charlie”. This is where the language barrier comes in. If someone has trouble pronouncing a sound, there’s a good chance they will have trouble pronouncing both the letter and the clarifying word as well. So, we get to “H” and it comes out as “Eh as in Ehyo”. Huh? And, he apparently doesn’t know the the difference between the letter X and the letter G since he directs me to spell “cryptofix” as “cryptofig”:

“G as in GO”

“I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?”

“G as in GO”

I’m thinking that’s not right, but he’s the professional, so I type that in. My computer responds, “Do you perhaps mean ‘cryptofix’ you numbskull?”

The results I end up with aren’t what he expects, so we end up letting him take control of my computer remotely, he runs this program, restarts my computer which takes forever to boot up anyways… and the end result after 30 minutes or more on the phone is Filezilla still does not work any differently. He gives me the familiar refrain that the problem isn’t on their end, I’m clearing their servers with no problem, it’s not until I hit the geocities' computer. I try to point out that I have no trouble connecting using a completely different network Fetch on the Mac but the brick wall has gone up. Doesn’t matter, by this point I don’t really think it’s the ISP either.

So, I decide to call Yahoo. I had done so when this first started, but I wasn’t quick witted enough and they had directed me to using the “Online support”. This time I was ready. Only I couldn’t remember where in their morass of pages the phone number was. There’s the little bit that paying customers have access to 24 hr toll-free support, but there’s no phone number. And at this point I feel really sorry for anyone having issues that’s not a paying member and has to do it all via email. I finally find a number to call, not under Geocities and their various help pages still hawking Filezilla and Fetch, but under Yahoo.

I call and the “I don’t really want to help you” mentality kicks in with the person as I tell her my case number, outline my problem, she tells me that the support line is for the Plus and Pro members ie paying customers. I was ready for this, my hoo doo was strong and it’s with great restraint I didn’t holler, “ I AM A PLUS MEMBER, A PAYING CUSTOMER” I AM A MAN, NOT A NUMBER….sorry. I digress.

After that, the person was extremely kind and helpful. We found out a few new things. Ping and the Trace showed no problems if I tried just the Geocities server and not actually sign into my account. But, at the end of 30 plus minutes, they still cannot fix the Filezilla problem but direct me to downloading a different FTP client: Leech. A solution they could have just as easily done the first day and was a far sight better answer than telling me to use the free EZ Upload or going to a different computer and network. It’s not a fix, but it’s an acceptable workaround. I hope maybe Filezilla will fix itself, at least before Leech decides to also not work.

Leech seems a bit clunkier. And it’s too smart for it’s own good as it somehow looks at content ala file size and not modification date in deciding if the file it’s moving is the same as the one in the target folder. And if it is, it doesn’t allow you to override, it just refuses to copy, a problem I had in trying to download the updated index page to my computer over my older one. Yet, somehow in trying to get it to do so, it UPLOADED the old file to the server. Though the date on the file in the server still said the new date, I discovered almost two days later that my home page was the one from 12-31-07 and NOT 01-04-08! Sheesh.

Ain’t technology grand?

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