The Vanier Report: Tales From A DC Pull List (Cyborg #1 Review)

Gene'O:

I got busy last night and didn’t get anything together for today. Check out this awesome piece on Cyborg #1 from our friends at The Speech Bubble. Comments are disabled here to encourage discussion on the original post.

Originally posted on The Speech Bubble:

The Vanier Report: Week 26

Cyborg 1 largeCyborg #1
Written by: David F. Walker
Pencils by: Ivan Reis
Inks by: Joe Prado
Colours by: Adriano Lucas
Letters by: Rob Leigh

It’s hard to believe that a character as popular as Cyborg, who has been a member of two major superhero teams (the Teen Titans and now the Justice League) for the better part of 30 years, is only now getting his first-ever ongoing solo series. He has been featured before in a six-issue limited series, but otherwise, this week’s Cyborg #1 is a first for the character.

Written by David F. Walker and drawn by Ivan Reis, the debut issue of the new series finds Victor Stone returning to S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit where he seeks the help of his father in understanding the latest unexplained changes in his technology. As Vic replays footage from a recent battle, it is revealed that he…

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Social Media Sunday: Some Thoughts on the Direction of This Here Blog

My quarterly stats are past due. The old stats page that I was using to take the simple screenshots and do quick-and-dirty trend analysis went away (thanks a big fuckin’ lot for that, WordPress gods!), and I’ve just not had the time to crunch numbers lately. I’ll discuss how we’ve done here this summer at some point. In general, we’ve taken a traffic hit and our engagement is down since June. That’s mostly because I’ve not been around enough to keep up the chatter.

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Today I am more interested in discussing what’s worked here over the last 21 months and why. This is important because we’re one quarter away from our two-year blogiversary, and because I think we need to do more of what’s worked best.

What’s Worked Best

Batman

Worked because Jeremy blogged Batman (an insanely popular character) here every week for almost eight months, and he did a good job saying interesting things about Batman characters.

The Walking Dead Recap/Reviews

Worked because Luther is one of the most entertaining bloggers around, TWD is very popular, and we timed his reviews to catch people at the right time to offer them a recap of the previous episodes before the next one aired.

Penny Dreadful Season 1 Reviewspenny-dreadful-ep-6

Worked because Diana is just plain good at writing about anything involving monsters, has an engaging, easy-to-read style, and picked a winner — a show with a small but engaged audience as it was airing for the first time.

Marvel Comics, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe blogging

Worked because Marvel is growing in popularity and David’s made good choices about what to focus on. Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy both did very well; and Melissa’s Ant-Man post has also done well.

Sourcerer’s 11 Interviews

Work because they’re fun, easy-to-read, entertaining, and are good for capturing the attention of both this blog’s normal audience and the friends/readers of whomever is being interviewed.

A Handful of Blogging-Related and Social Posts

survivor-atoz_by_RetroI’m thinking of the Geek and Greet post, some of the A to Z organizational stuff, and a few of my Blogwanking posts. The Geek and Greet worked because I offered to do something for people who joined in and the event was an opportunity for people to get their blogs seen by other bloggers. The rest worked because they grabbed the attention of bloggers who are trying to up their games — and I say this a bit. Whomever else your target audience is,  it’s mostly bloggers who read and share blogs.

What’s Not Done as Well as Expected

Doctor Who Reviews

Will reviewed the latest season here at the same time I was reviewing it at Part Time Monster and Hannah was writing about it at Things Matter. That was a lot of fun, and it didn’t do so poorly that I’d rule out more Doctor Who. But it didn’t do what I expected, even though we timed the posts well. I think that’s because Doctor Who is so well-established that the competition for audience is just too intense for us to handle.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Reviews

Again, not so poorly that I’d rule out a third go. But it didn’t do what the first season did — especially not with search traffic. Lots of reasons this could be. Penny Dreadful hit us just as we were wrapping up A to Z and neither Diana nor I had time to do much in the way of interacting because of offline stuff. But I think either a lot of people lost interest after the first season, or a lot more people were writing reviews this time around, and so we had a tougher time getting into searches.

House of CardsHouseofCards

Diana and I just plain played this one wrong. Everything about House of Cards says we should be able to work it for traffic. We got the timing wrong and we shouldn’t have done extensive recaps. I think the time to post about a Netflix series is either immmediately after it’s released, or AFTER everyone’s had time to binge on the whole thing. I don’t see episode reviews being an effective way to blog about series that are delivered all-at-once. Because no matter when you choose to publish them you don’t have a weekly timeslot generating internet buzz on a predictable schedule. I think the way to go with these is to do one to three posts per season and publish them either on Mondays or Saturdays.

Arrow

The performance of these reviews was the biggest surprise to me in all the time I’ve been doing this. I expected them to do way better than they did, because I know a lot of people who love this show, but the audience isn’t absolutely huge. And I don’t think the problem has anything to do with Melissa’s blogging. Everything else she’s published here has done just fine, and she usually gets good comments. I think we timed them wrong. We didn’t have a lot of choice, because we had to work around the UK air date. But Friday morning has always struck me as a bad time to post long-ish, serious posts. That’s why I mostly do music videos on Fridays. I also think we overestimated our ability to compete for searches, and we expected too much, given that Arrow was into its third season before we ever started blogging about it.

Actual Music Blogging

I’m not talking about the posts where I share a YouTube video and write a paragraph or a personal note about what it means to me. Both David and I have tried serious music blogging, and it’s just never worked for us. Could be that we’d need to blog about music once a week for a year to gain the traction to make it worthwhile. It could be that music blogging is just not a good fit here, or that people who like our comics and tv posts have different taste in music than we do, so aren’t interested in what David or I have to say about music.

Arrr, mateys!

Arrr, mateys!

Everything else has been within the bounds of my expectations. I don’t always make content decisions based on the traffic I think it’s worth. Sometimes I approve things for the fun and the mischief value. Sometimes I just want to give another blogger the chance to step onto the stage here and try to find a few new readers, which is a game of ones and twos no matter how you go about it. But I always have some idea what I think a series of posts should do, traffic-wise. I don’t approve things that have no chance of getting read, and when a post does exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, I try to figure out why.

The Takeaway

Consistency, not Content, is King

Content quality and topic selection are vital, but the most important consideration, if you are trying to build an interest-based audience, is to offer the quality content on a schedule and do it so consistently that people just come to expect it. The most successful thing we’ve done here is comics, and we blogged about Batman every Wednesday for the better part of a year, then once the Batman run was done, we moved into Marvel without missing a beat just as the MCU was getting crazy-good. There’s no coincidence here.

Timing is as Important as Topic

It’s true that you have to write about things people are interested in if you want readers. But you also have to publish when people are looking for it. This is the lesson of The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, Arrow, and House of Cards.Arrow-arrow-cw-fanpop

Consider the Competition

If only a handful of big sites are writing about something, it’s possible for a blog the size of Sourcerer to get a slice of the search traffic (see Penny Dreadful above). But if everyone from io9 to the New York Times entertainment section is writing about a thing, best make sure you’re getting a lot of personal enjoyment out of your own writing, or bring friends along (see Doctor Who above).

Multiple Voices are More Compelling Than One on an Everyday Blog

If I had to, I could shut down my personal blog and run Sourcerer by myself. I could even keep the focus on pop culture and do comics every Wednesday. But if only I had been blogging here these past two years, I’d not have seen even the modest success we’ve achieved by publishing contributions from 12 to 15 bloggers.

What’s Next for Sourcerer?

Tl;dr version: Do more of what’s worked and less of what hasn’t.

Keep it up with the Comics

Comics is obviously the core interest at this point. Maintaining the quality of our Wednesday posts and finding ways to expand our comics offerings are the smartest things we can do for this blog over the next year. Since both comics and significant content from me are essential, it makes sense that I should find a way into comics. I’ve not written much about them here to this point because we’ve had so many contributors here who are better-versed and better at writing about the comics than me. That’s gotta change.

Get Smarter about the Television

I’d like to move away from blogging tv shows just because we like them. The time to blog about a tv series, honestly, is during its first season, unless you have a lot of advantages to work with (like we have with The Walking Dead). This means, for example, that while I might blog the next season of Doctor Who, I’m not twisting myself in knots to give it a prime posting slot, I’m looking at as a “just for fun” series, and I’m not asking anyone else to do it (though I’d certainly consider volunteers, because if someone else blogs Doctor Who here, that frees me up to do the same at Part Time Monster and we can link to one another in our posts).

I think we need to concentrate on Marvel Cinematic Universe series and promising new series (see what I said about Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy above), and we need to figure out how to blog Netflix effectively. TV viewers who also read blogs are moving decisively to a “binge on instant video when you can find the time” way of interacting with television as opposed to the old “drop what you are doing and watch at the same time every week” pattern.

I’m thinking the way we’ve been blogging tv is eventually not going to be a sound scheduling strategy, no matter how well we do it. We’re approaching the point where the behavior of our tv audience has changed so much that posting a review the day after a tv episode runs, in and of itself, doesn’t get us anything we couldn’t get on our own by sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

More Book Bloggingtolkien2

Our book blogging has always been sporadic, but given that we’ve never done it consistently, it’s been successful. Some of our most popular posts in 2014 were book lists written by a variety of contributors. Rebecca Bradley’s reviews did well here, and the fact that our first few Sourcerer’s 11 interviews were author interviews timed to coincide with releases has helped that feature a lot. All this tells me that people who read and follow this blog are interested in books — and interested in the same sorts of books we are. This is our easiest and most promising area for real growth. There’s traffic here to be had for the asking, and we’ve not fully tapped into it yet.

Marvel Movies, Please

It’s just essential for this blog that we review every Marvel movie from here on out within a week of its release, publish those reviews at a prime time, and share them around, for as long as we continue to hang together. Absolutely essential.

More Collaborative Posts.

See the Hannah-Melissa collaborative review of Age of Ultron. That’s a sweet post — quality-wise, one of the best we’ve offered to date. And this is something we can do that very few blogs can. We’ve got a dozen contributors, easy ways of communicating with one another behind the scenes, and this blog to post on. Collaborative posts could be a thing for us, and I think readers will love them. This is a genuine advantage. It’s something we have that almost no one else does, and it’s compelling.

Sourcerer’s 11 Reorganization

SourcererCollageEventually, I want to have more than one interview per month. For now, though, I just want to keep them going. They’re good, but the “tag, you’re it!” model just isn’t going to work for a feature that comes around once a month. We set these up from the beginning so we could not only interview authors to coincide with book releases, but could also sometimes interview interesting bloggers who don’t have books publishing. I’m starting the blogger interview thread of these next month.

What we need for this is a pool of contributors who like to do these interviews, and we need to have a once-a-month discussion about who’s doing the next one and who they are interviewing. If, on occasion, I want to offer people we’ve interviewed an opportunity to interview someone else, I will. But just not something we can do with every interview, because it puts too many constraints on the schedule and limits the pool of potential interviewees.

More Contributors

Not a lot more, but a couple. People come and go here. We’re in a phase now where a lot of the people who have contributed over the last year are ending runs and have other projects they need to prioritize. We have a rule that contributors come and go as they please, and that once you’re to the point where I trust you to schedule a post, you’re free to pitch future contributions to me at any time — a week from now, six months from now, doesn’t matter. We’re ok to get through the fall as we are, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if we had another blogger or two in the mix here.

And that’s it. This is where I think this blog is, and this is my vision/direction statement for the next phase. I thought I needed to do this today, because we’re certainly moving into the next phase.

Sci-Fi Saturday Netflix Review: Sense 8

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I recently finished the first season of Sense 8, a sci-fi show created for Netflix by J. Michael Straczinski and the Wachowskis. Since I don’t have a Star Wars post today, I figure why not give it a review. The concept of the show is interesting. Eight people scattered around the world suddenly develop the ability to communicate telepathically and share one another’s knowledge and skills. Of course it doesn’t take long to find out they’re going to be hunted by a big bad who has similar powers.

sense8

The Concept

The main characters are sensate, which can man any number of things in fiction. In this case it means the eight protagonists can share one another’s headspace in strange and fabulous ways. Their telepathic link works as s sort of bilocation. They don’t just hear one another’s voices in their heads, they can actually project themselves to the same location as other members of the group. They can even “let one another in,” a sort of consensual possession which leads to some truly weird sexual encounters before they learn to control their powers properly, and to a few awesome fight scenes. If you judge it according to the standards of typical American television, this show is w-a-a-a-y out there, people.

Here are a few things I liked and didn’t like about the show.

The Good

1. The acting and characterization are the best parts, and the casting is good. The characters, once you get to know them, are compelling.

2. The camera work is brilliant at times, and gives the series a cinematic feel, which is a strength with a piece of speculative weirdness like Sense 8.Sense8Logo

3. Lots of non-heteronormative characters are depicted in believable, loving relationships, and physical intimacy between same sex & transgender couples is actually depicted in the screen. This is a big one. The show is much more sexually explicit than I like my tv to be — definitely not something to watch while the kids are awake. But for the most part, the show gets this one right.

4. There’s a comic shout-out to the Matrix early on in the series that absolutely cracked me up. You’ll know that one when you see it.

The Not-So-Good

1. Sense 8 suffers from one of the problems Game of Thrones does: loads and loads of characters separated geographically and dealing with their own subplots. I never felt like I was seeing enough of any one character. I almost gave up halfway through the first episode, which introduced all eight, because the first 40 minutes is an incoherent mishmash of opening subplots and the incoherence feels deliberate to me. The show (sorta) brings it all together in the last ten minutes of episode 1 and ends with a good hook, which is why I kept watching. This way of organizing a long story works much better in print than it does on tv.

2. The pacing is uneven. Especially in the last half of the season, there were long stretches where I was thinking “ok, I don’t want to see this scene until you tell me what it has to do with the main storyline. And can we please get back to the action now?”

sense8cast

3. Despite the fact that Sense 8 deals well with LGBTQ relationships, stereotypical tropes abound in the characterization. Why does the Korean character have to be an underground kickboxer with anger issues and a wise sensei? Why does the German character have to be a tall, blonde criminal from an abusive family? And *EGAD* one of the American characters is a second-generation Chicago police officer with a soft heart.

Add in a pixie woman from Iceland who deals with a horrific tragedy by retreating into the London club scene, drugs, and dangerously unhealthy relationships, and well. That’s half the cast. Scattering your main characters around the world and making them diverse is good, but building them from standard, predictable tropes takes a some of the shine off. I will say, though. This wasn’t an issue for me while I was actually watching. Could be that I’m not as sensitive to this stuff as I should be. Could be that the characters are well-drawn enough to compensate for the problem. Your mileage will vary with this one.

4. The show goes a bit overboard with graphic depictions of childbirth. Now, I’m not squeamish about anatomy and such depicted in film, and at least the producers worked hard to make it realistic. But I’m talking frontal shots of bloody, crowning heads. Seven or eight of them. Everyone has their limits with this sort of thing, and Sense 8 exceeded mine.

5. The ending falls flat. I was thinking for the first nine episodes that the story was building to a truly interesting moment, but that just never materialized. The finale is a standard “rescue the princess from the castle of the evil overlord” episode. It’s cleverly-enough done, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen. I want more out of a show with this much potential.

6. And finally, the big one. In terms of deciding whether or not to give another 12 hours of my life to this program, should Netflix decide to order a second season, this is what gives me the most pause. The whole story relies on extranormal phenomena, but just how, exactly, the characters’ powers and weaknesses work is not explained adequately.

Sense 8 risks running into the same problem Lost did. I like entertainment with fantastical elements, but I want to know the rules of the paranormal game up front so I can adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t want to get two or three seasons in and find out things don’t actually work the way the authors led me to believe they do, or to end up feeling like the producers of the show are using the fantastical stuff to sidestep the need to actually resolve plot lines.

The Verdict

Watch this show if you enjoy at least two of these: utter weirdness, contemporary sci-fi with a dystopian twist, or Big Sexy Drama with martial arts and explosions thrown in. But don’t expect too much. If you’re looking for straight action adventure from your Netflix and a satisfying storyline, give Daredevil a try first. I’m on to Marco Polo myself. I think that one has real potential, but then, I’m a sucker for period fiction.

I’m developing a rating system for my reviews, and I’ve not settled on what to use in place of stars, nor created graphics. On a five-point scale, I rate Sense 8 a 3.5, and 1.5 of that is solely for the acting, fight choreography, and camera work.

Thanks to Hannah for discussing this show with me and convincing me to give it a chance. I find it worth watching and writing about, and I am interested to see what Hannah comes up with if she decides to post about it once she finishes the season.

Weekend Music: In Which I Have An Epiphany

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I went looking for the weekend music last night. Found this. It brought tears to my eyes. So, even though I’ve posted other versions of it here in the past, the audio quality isn’t so good, he talks way too long before he starts the song, and I am posting too many country videos lately, I’m going with it.

This one is entirely more than the sum of its parts.

This song was written almost 30 years ago, maybe longer, and Robert Earl Keen, as far as I know, is still playing it.

I first heard it in a bar in Hattiesburg Mississippi, being played by this guy. He left for the Southwest as I was finishing up my graduate degree, years ago now. The last thing he said to me was “Gene’O, use the headphones.” He said it through a microphone that he was also singing through as I left the bar. And I understand why he said that. Advice to a newbie who was trying to learn to play an electric guitar, is what it was. This happened at a place called the Keg and Barrel, just so you know.

Steve has “left the building,” as we say in these parts, and I did not know it when the song brought tears to my eyes. I found out because I went looking for his website to do him a good turn on account of that memory and the kindness he gave me back in those days.

Steve had a sweet dog. Her name was Edie.

He was good about playing requests. He knew Randy Newman front and back, and that’s no mean feat, since Randy is a pianist and Steve was a guitarist. He introduced me to a lot of music I’d never heard before. I’m grateful to have known him, even if only casually, and for a short time. I have one of his CDs, and I treasure it

“Feelin’ Good Again” a song about hope, and renewed friendships, and joy. It’s a story of a man who’s been absent from his favorite bar for a long time. He goes there. He recognizes everyone and I think they recognize him. He decides to buy a round. Realizes he didn’t cash his paycheck before he came to town. But then, miraculously, he finds enough money in his pocket to actually buy the round, and a REALLY SPECIAL PERSON appears on the scene.

It’s a beautiful story, but life doesn’t work that way.

Except when it does. Life does actually work that way sometimes. Not very often, but now and then. I’ve experienced life working in that beautiful way more than once in my short life.

“Feelin’ Good Again” is surely a song about joy, hope, and possibilities.

But it’s also about memory. And loss. It might even be an ode to wishful thinking. That’s the epiphany I had, when I stumbled upon this video and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s such a happy song, this is easy to miss. It is is about loss as much as anything else.

Despite the brightness of the chord progressions, the friendliness of the lyrics, and the comfort of the story, this is a sad song.