Saturday, September 26, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 2)

Picking up from where we left off...

#5: MESSIAH WAR (2009)
Titles involved:
Cable, X-Force

In brief: Bishop travels through time and destroys the world to kill Hope, the mutant messiah. Cable and X-Force fight Stryfe like it's 1991. Deadpool boosts sales.

Friday, September 25, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 1)

Oy. I have at least three more posts' worth of hoi polloi Kant commentary to compose (after which I'll be able to honestly say to myself that I've "engaged" with the Critique of Pure Reason), but I've got to tell you: after that last one, I find myself suffering from acute proto-German Idealism fatigue. The cure: putting an inordinate amount of effort into writing something about pop-cultural feelgoods so I'll be desperate to think about Kant again. This is one of the benefits of a having a freeform blog—though perhaps in the drunk-man's-walk scatterplot of Beyond Easy's topics, the emergent rhythm is one of bingeing and purging.

So! Let's talk about X-Men comics for a while.

This week saw the release of the X of Swords: Creation one-shot, kicking off the first crossover story of the new and very much improved line of X-Men comics. Given the grand slam Jonathan Hickman hit with House of X/Powers of X and the generally high level of quality across the current line of X-books, I expect good things from this. (Drama! Schlock! Betrayal! Inspired retcons! Eldritch magic and weird science!)

Back in July, we observed the launch of a new volume of X-Factor with an overview of the best moments of the title's earlier volumes. Today, as X of Swords begins to unfold, we'll be looking at the ten best X-Men crossover events up until now.¹ What fun!


Mentioned on the basis that there's probably an off-the-books but strictly enforced law against talking about the best X-Men events without including everyone's favorite grimdark alternate-timeline epic. However, Age of Apocalypse is disqualified from this list because an event is not the same as a crossover (though most every crossover is an event). You can read each miniseries comprising Age of Apocalypse by itself without ever missing anything because you went from Generation Next #2 to Generation Next #3 without reading Factor X #2 in between. For it to be a crossover, you need to follow the "what to read next" instructions at the end of each book in the story, or else risk getting lost and confused. It's an imprecise rule, and there are exceptions (particularly during those bullish periods where the editors assume readers are already buying every X-book that comes out), but it works well enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 3)

Artist unknown, but found on as excellent a layman's
introduction to Kant as I've ever seen

Today, as a third step in my effort to better understand Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7), I will attempt to find fault with it.

Using a simile from a sphere I'm more at home in, this is going to be like trying to compete with Daigo or Sonic Fox through haphazard button-mashing. To confront someone like Kant, who's armed with a comprehensive homebrewed epistemology, one must either find fatal inconsistencies within his conceptual apparatus (which I doubt I'm qualified to do) or otherwise counter it with a proximately comprehensive alternative scheme—which I do not possess. I have inklings and opinions, yes, but these are insufficient to put a dent in something so densely armored by internal substantiation.

I won't be snatching at the low-hanging fruit for the Kant critic—his insistence on the ideality of space and time. This position was controversial during Kant's own life, and has become veritably indefensible since the development of non-Euclidean geometries and of Einstein's theory of relativity. To sum up the difficulties these present: contrary to Kant adducing Euclidean geometry as evidence of a priori concepts of space, geometry contains more than just a kernel of empiricism, and as it turns out, non-Euclidean geometries may be more useful to us when we're talking about the trajectory of a photon over trillions of miles (since the curvature of spacetime will bring parallel lines toward convergence or divergence when they're traced across supercluster-scale distances). And if time, as the pure form of inner sense (as Kant claims), has no independent existence, then how do we explain the necessity of correcting for relativistic dilations in GPS satellites' computations?

Responding to non-Euclidian geometry as a "gotcha," Kant might just shrug and say that Euclid's Elements remains a catalog of the a priori concepts which make possible our coherent experience of life on planet Earth. And he might say that whatever's going on with orbiting clocks doesn't displace time from is position in his scheme as the pure form of inner sense. He might also dare to venture that time, as we experience it, might not be identical to the physical process that makes a satellite's clock run a few microseconds slower than a terrestrial timepiece. My guess is that these new facts would compel Kant to make some relatively minor emendations to the Critique, but he wouldn't find in them sufficient cause to demolish his edifice and start over.

So what now?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 2)

Vasily Kandinsky, Examination (1930)


What we're going to do today is take an uncritical look at the ideas Kant devises and attempts to substantiate in the first half of his Critique of Pure Reason (in the "Transcendental Aesthetic" and "Transcendental Analytic" sections). I am doing this, firstly, because I'll never understand Kant's theories unless I try to articulate them for myself. And secondly, I do it in the hope that maybe somebody else will find it useful.

Even before reading the Critique, I found Kant frustrating because people who write about him on the internet usually provide a either summary that's too vague and too abbreviated to communicate much of anything at all, or commentary that's far too technical to be of use to anyone who isn't already sitting with Kant's book in their lap. I'd like to imagine this could be a serviceable middle ground between "Kant says we make our reality iirc" and any given Kant page on useful to somebody who wants to dip in more than just one toe, but isn't yet ready to get his ankles wet.

Please bear in mind that I am a mere layman trying his best; anything I say here is subject to error.

The bullet points will be interspersed with pretty paintings by Kandinsky in order to break up the visual monotony of the text and refresh your mind. (I know they help me.)

Monday, August 31, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 1)

Twenty-six years later, I finally know what book Hobbes is reading from.

Today I'd like to ruminate on the work of Immanuel Kant because, hell, it's not like I ever wanted readers anyway.

I began reading the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787) in April. What prompted me to take the plunge was something I puzzled over back in March: if mathematical entities have no real existence, and if numbers and geometrical forms are merely abstractions whose referents are those ineffable elements of reality that are present in all conceivable experience, what precisely are those elements? I understood that Kant was very much concerned with this sort of thing, and decided I ought to consult an expert who'd given the problem much more thought than I, and who was reportedly very systematic in his approach to it.

Well, I finished reading the Critique back in July. Or, I should rather say I arrived at its end—I'm not nearly at the point where I can shelve it just yet. It is without a doubt the most difficult book I've ever read, and as I review what I believe I've gleaned from it, I find myself consulting the index and flipping back through its pages seeking clarity on some obscure point or abstruse principle. I've read both the B and A versions of the Transcendental Deduction more than once, and I'll admit that I haven't yet fully assimilated Kant's reasoning. I wondered if perhaps fluency in German is required to parse his thinking, even in translation, but Ruven (librarian, wearer of florid shirts, native son of Deutschland) suggests that's not the case:
It so happens that a friend of mine here has a degree in German studies and philosophy and received very good grades, and I remember him saying some years ago that he'd very much like to travel back in time to witness Kant writing. Specifically, to stand behind him with a baseball bat as he wrote, make him read each finished sentence to an uneducated worker, and give him a good swing every time that worker didn't immediately understand it.
So it's not just me. But I don't think I'll be consoled until I get my goddamned head around this goddamned book. (I expect a long wait.)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

How the web was lost

oh god.

By whatever authority I have as an erstwhile webcomic author, I would bracket the period from 2000–2007 as the golden age of the online comic strip.¹ Not that we are or have ever been in danger of running out of well-written and visually captivating pictorial narratives to read in our browser windows, nor have webcomics declined in quality. To the contrary, today's strips display more technical proficiency and polish than the ones I followed in the early aughts. But the medium's glory days are nevertheless behind it.

I won't embarrass myself by trying to polish whatever infinitesimal legacy is left to my contribution, but I do take pride in having participated in what could fairly (if immodestly) be called a subcultural movement.² The webcomics scene, with its DIY ethos, camaraderous social networks, and the ingenuous passion of amatuerdom as its √©lan vital, was for kids like me what the ska punk scene was to my more gregarious and rambunctious friends.³ 

Jackie Lesnick, Girly (2003–2010)

At the beginning, nobody began cobbling together comic strips and slapping them up on the internet as part of a plan to pay off their student loans. Money and fame weren't the goal. Many of the early scene's biggest names—including ones who remain active to this day and have blueticked Twitter accounts—started out making and sharing their comic strips purely for amusement. For the first year or so of its run, Zach Weiner's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal was a series of scanned pencil drawings he produced in class in lieu of taking notes.⁴ The first pages of Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater certainly don't read like the work of someone who approached his web presence as though it were an audition for a Marvel Comics gig. David Rees assembled the first Get Your War On strips as a means of sorting through and screaming out his thoughts on 9/11 and the Bush Administration's ghastly, shambolic crusade against "terror." Even when the strip was appearing in Rolling Stone, Rees leased no space to advertisers on his website, maintained an irregular update schedule, and permanently retired the comic the day Bush vacated the White House.

David Rees, Get Your War On (2001–2009)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Peter David's X-Factor: 20 best moments

There are times during the doldrums of summer, when you're having a hard time concentrating on your "serious" writing, that the best way of unclogging the pipes of their lime and gunk is to compose a long, uncritical fanletter to a favorite piece of mass cultural ephemera. It's worked for me before, so let's give it another shot.

I mentioned some time ago how much I've been enjoying Jonathan Hickman's provocative soft reboot of the X-Men books, and I'm happy to see new issues finally trickling out after the COVID-19 outbreak effectively locked down DC and Marvel's release schedules for the better part of three months. This Wednesday will see the release of a new volume of X-Factor, one of my favorite X-titles. I'm very excited for it, and yes, I'm aware I'm behaving like a trained seal clapping and barking at a signal from its trainer. Marvel Comics (parent company Walt Disney Co., NYSE: DIS, market cap $215 billion) is gambling on my having enough strong positive associations with the title X-Factor that I'll buy a new book with that name, sight unseen, regardless of who's on its creative team or what it's about.

This was a bet they've already won.