Pervasive language

We saw a trailer for an R-rated movie, and one of the rating justifications was for "pervasive language."

"So that means it's a 'talkie'?" my friend said.

Apparently this odd wording has been remarked on since 2005 or so, but I had not noticed it till then.

Following is a paragraph from a 2009 MovieChopShop post on the MPAA's vernacular:

And we all know about their little one-fuck, two-fuck rules that bump a PG-13 straight up to an R.  But why does Reservoir Dogs have “strong language” while The Departed has “pervasive language,” and Pulp Fiction has “pervasive strong language,” when they really all seem like they might as well be about the same?

The Merriam-Webster site says pervasive can be neutral ("a pervasive sense of calm") but "is most often used of things we don't really want spreading throughout all parts of something," such as "a pervasive stench."

The M-W site ends with a shoutout to the MPAA:

... Beginning in the early 1990s, the MPAA started giving the R rating to movies with "pervasive language." Most movies have language throughout, of course. The MPAA is using the phrase "pervasive language" to refer to the frequent use of a particular kind of language: profanity.

Strong language? Profane language? Bankrupt language for an obsolete and purposeless ratings system?

Creating a recurring email message in Windows Outlook 2016

The Situation

At my day job, there's an email I need to send every week. Same subject, same message. The recipients stay mostly the same, though sometimes there are changes in the lineup.

I don't want to have to manually create this email every week. I want the computer to do what computers are supposed to do: remember and do stuff for me so I don't have to remember and do it.

We use Outlook 2016 on Windows 10. Outlook lets you create recurring appointments, recurring reminders, and recurring tasks -- but not recurring emails. Fair enough. The other recurrences only bother you, but sending recurring emails can bother lots of other people.

Because our workstations are locked down, I cannot easily install any macro or automation software that could help me with this situation.

Two Solutions

So here are two solutions I cooked up using just the tools available to me from Windows 10.

The first one made me feel like the Professor on Gilligan's Island creating a catapult from bamboo and coconuts. The second one is plainer but gets the job done.

Neither of these are exhaustively tested or vetted procedures, so use at your own risk.

Solution 1: Fully automated

1. Create a contact group

Create a contact group in Outlook containing the message's recipients. Let's call it Recurring email group.

If the recipients list changes in future, then you only need to add or drop names in this group and nowhere else. The email template we create next will still work fine.

2. Create an email template

Microsoft describes the procedure in more detail, but here's the short version.

  1. Create an Outlook email with the text of the recurring message and the subject line.
  2. In the To: field, enter Recurring email group.
  3. If you usually include a signature in your emails, then do not include it in this template. Outlook will add the signature automatically when the new email is created.
  4. Save the email as an outlook template file (*.oft). For the purposes of this exercise, let's call it Recurring email template.oft.

By default, templates are saved to C:UsersusernameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplates.

You can specify a different path but it's easier to just accept the default; if you specify a different path, make a note to yourself of the file's location because you will need the file path in the next step.

3. Create a batch file

I couldn't believe this is what I had to resort to, but it was. God bless batch files. Still incredibly useful little tools.

  1. Open Notepad (do not use Wordpad or Microsoft Word, use Notepad).
  2. Add the following lines to the batch file:
@echo off 

cd C:UsersusernameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplates 

start "C:Program Files (x86)Microsoft OfficerootOffice16OUTLOOK.EXE" "Recurring email template.oft" 

There are many ways you could write the batch file; for example, I could have entered qualified paths to both the .exe and the .otl. In this case, I did what made sense to me to do.

Save the batch file to a folder on your hard disk. An obvious place is your C:Usersusername directory, but anywhere will do. Again, remember where you saved it because you need it for the next step.

Before you go any further, double-click the batch file and make sure it works as intended (a new email is created with the contents of the template file).

4. Create a recurring task in the Task Scheduler

Here's where our elaborate little Rube Goldberg contraption1 comes together.

  1. From the Start menu, open Windows Administrative Tools>Task Scheduler. (If you don't see an icon for the app, then try some of these methods to open it.) The Task Scheduler sports a most horrific UI. Fortunately, we won't be here for long.
  2. In the right panel, under Actions, create a Basic task.
    1. The trigger is the time you want to send the email, such as every Friday at 11 a.m.
    2. The action is to run the batch file. Navigate to the batch file and select it.

You can search Google or YouTube for more help on the Windows Task Scheduler.

5. You're done!

Now, every Friday at 11 am, the Task Scheduler will fire off the batch file, which calls Outlook to open the template file, and a new email will open up -- ready to go -- for you to review and send.

6. But just in case...

There are lots of moving parts to this contraption. Glitches happen and a component may not fire off correctly.

So, set a reminder in your calendar for an hour or so after the email is supposed to be created, something obvious like "WAS THE EMAIL CREATED??".

Aside: What methods didn't work

  1. Getting Task Scheduler to simply open the template file. The Scheduler wants either a program or script; specifying the .oft file is not enough, even though the file is associated to Outlook.
  2. The Task Scheduler would not accept a qualified path to outlook2016.exe (which took a while to find, BTW) with the .oft path as an option.

It was when these two obvious ways did not work that I hit on the batch file method.

Solution 2: Manual but maybe more foolproof

  1. Create the contact group, as above.
  2. Create the email template file, as above. Open up a File Explorer window so you can see the .oft file you created.
  3. In your Outlook folder hierarchy, create a new folder called "Templates" or something equally brilliant.
  4. Drag the .oft file from the File Explorer window to the "Templates" folder in Outlook.
  5. Set a task reminder or calendar reminder for the date and time you want to send the email.
  6. When the reminder fires off on the date and time you selected, go to the Outlook "Templates" folder and double-click the email template. A new email will open up with the template's contact group, subject, and message you specified.

The second solution is more manual, but also less prone to gremlins in the system. Outlook task and calendar reminders always perform solidly.

We just spent hours to save minutes. You're welcome.

  1. Search YouTube for "mouse trap game." I was amazed at how many videos there are. Not just of the board game contraption, but many animations recreating the action of the trap. ↩︎

Avoid The "Just One More Thing" Impulse

I have been posting a business/productivity/mastermindish type article every Sunday on LinkedIn for a few weeks now. 

Usually, I take a post or part of a post I've published here first, revise it, clean it up, and post it. 

The "Columbo" post is from an idea I read somewhere on Mark Forster's site, though I cannot now find the reference. I put a structure around it, added the Columbo references, a dash of 3 Principles, and there it was.

I had wanted to present this video compilation of Columbo's "just one more thing" tactic, but the studios restricted the video's playback to YouTube only. Shame.

So the only video I could really link to that worked with my article was the following short (under 10 seconds) video illustrating what you need to do when you hear that "just one more thing" gremlin in your ear.




Jimmy Dean on luck

A great reminder to stay a little bit awake as I move through the day.

You gotta try your luck at least once a day, because you could be going around lucky all day and not even know it.
— Jimmy Dean

Outage breaks posting streak! (The March 27 post)

Frontier DSL experienced a mass outage in Durham, NC, last night, before I was able to make yesterday's post.

I refuse to tap out a token post on my iPhone SE, so I let it go. Thus was my streak of daily posts -- started last Christmas day -- ended. Boo-hoo.

In retaliation, I will post twice today. This post will count as my March 27 post; the next one will be the March 28 post.

The DSL was still down this morning and may not come back till sometime tomorrow, if then. So I may draft another quickie post and schedule it for tomorrow, just in case.

(I'm using The Man's internet till then.)

Jacques Barzun on True Work

I cannot remember where I got this quote, but it impressed itself on me so much that I had it posted in my office cubicles for years, on my old Google blog site, and on my old Tumblr site. I love it so much I want to post it again.

True Work is that which occupies the mind and the heart, as well as the hands. It has a beginning and an ending. It is the overcoming of difficulties one thinks important for the sake of results one thinks valuable.
— Jacques Barzun

AI's intelligence and stupidity in one photo stitch fail | Engadget

My friend Bob told me about Google Photos’ capability to automatically stitch together a sequential series of photos into a panorama shot with mostly good results.

Googling that capability surfaced this amazing photo created by Google’s auto-stitching algorithms. The article shows the series of photos that were stitched together to make that awesome panorama.

Bob told me of another way to abuse the auto-stitch feature. A friend of his was around when someone was photographing groupings of their friends in sequence to create a panorama. “Wait,” the friend said. He then inserted himself into each group of people that were part of the series. They were puzzled as to why he was pushing himself into every photo.

When the shots were stitched together into a panorama, it looked as if there were six clones of the friend hanging out with his/their friends, with each clone in a different pose: laughing, talking, looking at the sky. Brilliant!

(originally posted 2018-03-25, updated for

Shook | Austin Kleon

A bomb exploded in my neighborhood last night on a sidewalk I walk every morning with my wife and two sons. We’re all okay. The boys are oblivious, thankfully, but my wife and I are a little shook. I wanted to get down a couple thoughts…

Writer-who-draws Austin Kleon lives in a neighborhood where one of the Austin bomber’s devices exploded. He shares a bit of the panic and anxiety he felt about his family, and where to find the best information in an emergency. 

Forget breaking news and even neighborhood listservs. The best information was via the official Twitter feeds of the police and EMS departments.

I also admire his taking of the long view; some information is always there, ready for the taking.

What Exactly Does a Librarian Do? Everything. | Literary Hub

Lots of different types of library work happens everywhere—new jobs crop up daily, thanks to evolving tech and shifting community needs—but there are some standard positions that remain eternal.

Kristen Arnett begins a new bimonthly column on the job that never earns enough to pay back the student loans. It has the punchy humor and wry tone that I associate with literary humor (that’s an observation, not a criticism!).

Because I got my master’s at a library school, I have a soft spot in my heart for librarians. Those who love it, really love it. The young folks coming in to the field are energetic, imaginative, and really pushing the limits of what the local public library can offer. Public service is what it’s all about for them.

If I recall correctly, at the time I was in school (2006-2011) the undergrads were overwhelmingly “library science” whereas the graduate students overwhelmingly “information science.” This was trending to an overproduction of information science faculty nationwide, leading some commentators to wonder who was going to teach the students interested in brick-and-mortar institutions? Most librarians get a Ph.D. to qualify to lead a research library or similar institution, they don’t always come back to teach.

The Portlandia Effect: How Did the Show Change Portland?

After hundreds of voters weighed in, the results came back. Old Portland died on January 21, 2011 — the day Portlandia debuted.

The end of Portlandia is time to look back on a show that opened the door to a type of hipster humor that felt young and fresh until its moment, like all moments, passed.

The Vulture’s article on the death of Old Portland at the hands of Portlandia reminded me of similar stories, particularly how the villagers of Port Isaac are fed up with the Doc Martin series filming in their village

Are the shows really to blame? Austin has long had a hip reputation and old-timers lament the passing of landmarks, but I can’t recall any TV shows set there. Our little town of Durham is growing by leaps and bounds yet there’s no TV show fueling that. Maybe Old Portland would have changed even without the attention the show brought to it. 

But there is such a thing as “buzz”; downtown Durham has it for better and worse, and we visited Portland based on watching Portlandia. The buzz will die away eventually, it has its moment, as humor does. In the meantime? Suffer the tourists and techno-nomads, perhaps, or search out the next Portland or Austin or Durham and stake your claim. More fun to create your own scene than hang out at someone else’s.

Hold On to the Badge

This is a rather silly little hack but when I do it, it solves lots of little problems. 

The situation: 

  • At my workplace, our badges have a chip to unlock the secure doors. 
  • The badge also logs me in to my computer. After inserting the badge into the computer, I enter a PIN and wait a minute or two or three for the login process to finish and Windows to boot up. Once booted, I can pull out the badge. 
  • People forget about their badges and leave them in their computers. This is such a frequent occurrence that a big window will pop up on the screen after 20 minutes or so if the badge is still inserted. 
  • But by the time that window pops up, you have walked out of the locked office area to the bathroom or to get coffee. Returning to the locked door you  realize you left your card in the computer. You are locked out. Much knocking and embarrassed, hushed "thank-yous" follow.  

So, what to do? Here's what I tried:

  • I printed out signs with big red letters screaming BADGE!!! Within days, I'd stopped seeing them. 
  • I moved the signs to places where I'd be sure to see them when standing up or exiting my cube. I walked past them as if they weren't there. 
  • What worked sometimes was simply to sit at the computer while it booted up that boring or what? I would get impatient and walk away, promising myself I'd remember to retrieve my badge but usually I forgot. 

As I've learned from Mark Forster's books and blogs over the years, the first step in plugging a leaky process or system is to not take the failures personally. This is not about correcting perceived character flaws. I didn't fail, my system failed. Failing provides information I can use to tweak my system so it will work with me and not against me.

As I daydreamed about what would help the situation, I remembered a detail from Thomas Limoncelli's time management book. He mentioned that he kept his badge in his hand as he took off his coat because if he ever set it on a desk or shelf, he'd forget he'd done so and walk off without it.  

Hmm. Maybe instead of reminding myself to retrieve the badge, the simpler solution would be to never let the badge leave my hand. 

The following system is what has worked best: After I insert the badge into the computer and enter my PIN, I put my fingers on the badge and I wait for the computer to boot up. After I'm logged in, I whip out the badge, put it into my badge holder, and go about my business.

No need for signs or reminders, no forgetting the badge, no embarrassed knocks on a locked door. It's a pretty leakproof system.

I can't explain why keeping my hand on the badge and waiting works for me while leaning back in my chair and waiting does not. Perhaps the simple act of holding the badge is enough to engage body and mind. I'm actively rather than passively waiting. 

Also, waiting that minute or so teaches me that the pain of boredom is imaginary. Just ignore that feeling and wait, if waiting is what needs to be done.

Teaching the New Testament – A Jewish Professor Looks Back

By 1992, as I approached my 20th year of university teaching, I’d evolved the philosophy that we who taught about religion had two tasks to perform with our students.  One was to shake them up.  The other was to build them up.

David Halperin tells the wonderful story of a Jewish professor teaching a New Testament class in the South to what could be described as a tough crowd.

So many lessons here on the value of shaking things up, yes, and also the responsibility to build something in its place, and the wonderful surprises that can occur when you take a calculated risk. Something alchemical happened between professor, students, subject matter, and dialogue that produced something unique and unattainable elsewhere. 

I had lunch with David recently; he said he had discovered over the years that fundamentalist students were happy to challenge when they were in the opposition, but they shut up when handed the mic. This “interactive method” for teaching a large class neutralized that stance; it also, from his description, called forth from the students resources they did not know they possessed. What they learned they had earned.

He never taught the class again nor deployed that method again. A golden memory, to be sure. 

Productivity Update

I have noticed an interesting change in my attitude about Inbox Zero – basically, I’ve stopped trying to maintain it.

When I get home, my priorities are a workout, supper with Liz, we maybe watch some TV (only until 8pm on school nights), I wash the dishes, and I make our tea. A perfectly pleasant and comforting evening routine.

Then, I go up to my office and the first thing I do is write my blog post for the day or – if I’m really productive – for the next day. Some evenings I cycle through several ongoing drafts of posts in Evernote, adding or editing text (Mark Forster’s continuous revision process), before settling on something I like well enough to finish.

By the time I’ve published the post, it’s 10 or 10:30 p.m. and I need to get ready for bed. 

I will scan the inbox for anything time-sensitive. But by and large, I let most emails wait till I schedule time to deal with them, which may be later in the week or the weekend.

For now I’m content to let my bigger desire (writing and posting daily) overshadow the smaller duty (empty inbox). We’ll see how it goes.

For further reading

Boiling Ourselves to Death

These panels are talking to me about politics, the workplace, life, lots of things. Laugh or get out of the water?

Source: Ruben Bollings' Super-Fun-Pak Comix for March 14, 2018, via Go Comics. 

  <a href=""><img src="" alt="" /></a>

For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...? 


Search for: "The Untold Story of *"

In writing yesterday's post, I did one of my cheeky searches in the Audible catalog for "The Untold Story of" and discovered 243 untold stories that, saints be praised, were now told.

A search of Amazon's Books area yielded 5,000+ untold stories.

And a Google search for "the untold story of *" returned over 32 million hits for untold stories.

It seems we love stories. Especially untold ones.


Do Audio Books Count As Reading? | Literary Hub

James Tate Hill's essay is a fascinating memoir of how he went from sighted, sporadic reader to visually impaired omnivorous reader of audiobooks. 

He also examines various facets of the essay's title: do audio books count as reading? Are they instead a performance? Is the physical smell, heft, and tangibility of a book -- beloved by so many sighted writers -- the essential part of the reading experience? We have the same debates about ebooks, he notes.

When I was recovering from a detached retina in the fall and winter of 2003, I was for a couple of weeks unable to watch TV or look at a computer screen comfortably. Reading was out of the question; the page swam in front of me and I experienced vertigo. Audiobooks became my lifeline. I "read" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  and Stephen King's On Writing. Many hours of recuperating and resting went by more pleasantly having a good long narrative in my ear, taking my mind away from my troubles. When the reader and the material align, the trance I go into with an audiobook is the same as when I read a physical book. 

For myself, I find that non-fiction audio books go down easier than fiction, and I prefer books read by the author, if possible. They know how they want the story to sound. Alan Bennett's diaries simply have to be read by Alan Bennett to be truly savored.

A satisfying audiobook is made or broken by the reader. I tried recently to listen to The Picture of Dorian Gray and simply had to stop after Chapter 4. Part of it was that this philosophical, talky novel became a closed, airless world I simply did not want to live in anymore. Another was that the reader would read something like, " 'Stop,' he cried," so languidly that I got irritated. The text is telling you how to read it, man! Put some life into it!

I'm trying another novel now: Edward Herrmann reading John Updike's Villages. Herrmann does an excellent job as the omniscient narrator or in close-third person, and manages Updike's stylistic flourishes beautifully. But I have trouble discerning vocal differences between his characters when in conversation. Odd, given Herrmann's skill as an actor.

Despite my occasional ups and downs with audiobooks (and with "real" books; not every papery book is a masterpiece for the ages), I will not give them up. I think we live in a wonderful time when there are so many options for people to take in the stories they need.

For further reading: Hill mentions a book that smells a bit like a Ph.D. dissertation dressed up for the mainstream: The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery tells the story of audio-recorded literature, including its social impacts and controversies. Available from Amazon and, as one would hope, Audible.




Tom Hardy on The Sanity of Actors

“A performer is asked to do two things,” [the actor Tom Hardy] tells me. “To be disciplined and accountable, communicative and a pleasure to work with. And then, within a split second, they’re asked to be a psychopath. Authentically. It takes a very strong human being to sustain a genuine sense of well-being through that baptism of fire.” Then: “Drama is not known to attract stable types.”


International Eye Test Chart (1907)

Another wonderful discovery from the Public Domain Review: an eye test chart from a 1907 San Francisco optometrist George Mayerle. It not only featured international text and symbols, it had a positive and negative side.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1024.0"]<a href=""><img src="" alt=" George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) " /></a>  George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) [/caption]

Lower your voice to calm down

This is a useful tip I've handed out since it was given to me years ago.

At the time, in my 20s, I was excitable, jabbered on and on when talking to people, and was concerned -- given my job at the time -- about the impression I made on people. 

A mentor advised me to lower my voice when I talked. When we're nervous, our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster and more shallowly, we talk faster, and as we talk faster, our voices rise in pitch.

So when I caught myself talking fast or feeling nervous as I talked, I reminded myself to lower my voice. The change in attitude was almost instant. 

As my pitch fell, I could feel my voice's center move from my head down to my chest. Lowering my voice slowed my speech, which slowed my  breathing. I could feel my shoulders relax (I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders).

And I could feel my mind slow down too. My thinking evened out, I took my time, and I usually felt like I was now consciously participating in the conversation, not flailing like a fire hose.

Notes to Myself

I stand 6'3" (1.91 meters) and wear size 15 shoes.

At the movies today, as I stood to move into the aisle and down the stairs, it hit me again that the world does not quite fit me, or maybe I don't fit into it. 

I unfolded myself, stepped carefully around the seats and railing, arranged my feet on the stair, and then deliberately started down. The little people all around me had no trouble navigating the cramped space.

Left to myself, I stay up late and get up late. But I live in a world where I must go to bed by a specific time so I can get up to go to work by a specific time, leave by a specific time, or otherwise adapt myself to other people's or group's schedules.

What would my own personal world look like, if I were the Dungeon Master?

There would be room. I could move freely without bumping into things. There would be space in my calendar to move freely without crashing into someone else's constraints.

Note: I am aware, of course, that physical reality demands honoring appointments and deadlines, paying our taxes by April 15, etc. I accept that. I just didn't feel like accepting it today.


Eight Books, Audiobooks, Comics

Encounters With an Enlightened Man by Linda Quiring. Of the three books written by Quiring about Sydney Banks, this is probably the best. It misses the freshness of the first two books, which were written in the early 1970s when Banks started sharing his enlightenment experience, but it tells a beginning-middle-end story and paints a more complete picture of the place and time. Of interest mainly to people interested in the history of the Three Principles and Banks' personal history. I am drafting a bigger post that takes a look at all three books.  

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt, read by Patton Oswalt. A memoir by Oswalt of the movies he compulsively watched during his first years in Los Angeles. It's a story of being in the grip of a mild obsession well-known to those of us with a geeky/nerdy bent. His girlfriend at the time asks him to walk her out to her car from the theatre, and his first, absolutely natural, response is, "But I've never seen the start of the next movie and I don't want to miss it." Exit one relationship. 

Parallel with his obsession is the evolution of his standup, writing, and acting career and how he tries to juggle that with the nightly movies shown at the New Beverly. The most chilling and haunting story to me is of a long-ago standup comrade who imposes on Oswalt for a shot at becoming a star; Oswalt has already become a character of fiction in someone else's movie. He introduces and returns to the idea of special, sometimes dark, moments that propel one forward in life or work. He wrote this before the death of his first wife, so listening to those passages struck me as especially poignant.  

The Correspondence by JD Daniels. A collection of laconic essays and two short stories that originally appeared in The Paris Review. Here's a passage from a short story: 

She'd gone to school for years to study library science. He didn't see how it could be so complicated. It seemed like a hoax. 

All the essays and both stories have that terse, dry flavor; the humor is almost an aftertaste. A rather short book, too -- I read one essay or story a night in about 30 mins or so. 

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett, read by Simon Vance. Bennett finds a loophole in Dickens' story to spin a tale with 19th-century flavors, coincidences, and voices. It's a clever reworking of the original material that exploits unexplored nooks and crannies, though he does get a bit bogged down as the spirits explain the metaphysical mechanics of the afterlife and what is required for Scrooge's reclamation. Though, if I heard the story right, it's Marley's sacrifice that redeems Scrooge rather than Scrooge's own change of heart. If so, that makes Dickens' story subservient to Bennett's, which does not sit well with me.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, read by Michael C. Hall. I had never seen the movie nor read the book so this was new to me. It is very much a book of the 1950s -- rather gray and  naturalistic, the secondary characters all stagey and one-note -- except when Holly explodes into the narrative with unnatural color and life. Holly is clearly the most interesting character and the mysteries surrounding her are the ones I cared about the most. Hall's reading was fine though I didn't care for his expression of Holly's voice. For further reading: an excellent Open Letters Monthly essay compares and contrasts Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly.

Just Keep Going by Jeanette Stokes. Disclaimer: Jeannette is an acquaintance we run into at random cultural events here in Durham. The book is part of her ongoing memoir series; this one focuses on how her relationship to writing, art, and creativity marked key passages of her life. A compact memoir with a good collection of basic advice and resources for the new writer and timely reminders for the experienced one.  

Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert, Archie Goodwin (Comixology). Archie Goodwin had a long career in the comics industry and was a much beloved writer, editor, and mentor. His Batman stories in this volume span the years 1973-2000. They tend to the pulpy and the "well-made." He also seemed interested in expanding the canvas on which Batman stories could be told; many of the stories delve into character histories and motivations -- with lots of exposition -- making Batman almost a secondary character.  

They're good meat-and-potatoes Batman stories that color in unnoticed areas of Batman's universe (who did design the Batarang and Batmobile?). The highlights for me are the six or so Manhunter stories that ran as backup to the main Batman series and that I still remembered from when I was a kid; so glad they've been collected at last. Goodwin's updating of the 1940's Manhunter character to the cynical modern-day prefigures work that Alan Moore would take to another level a decade or so later. It's Walt Simonson's artwork that made these stories instant minor classics. 

Alan Brennert has been a successful writer in many media: stories, novels, TV, even the book for a Broadway musical. He only wrote nine stories for DC, his first in 1981 and his last in 2000. Yet they include some of the most interesting takes on the Batman mythos, mixing the pleasure of nostalgia with the character development he used in his scripts and novels. For me, his stories pay the best dividends every time I re-read them. I remember buying these comics back in the day and noticed even then how different his stories were, how he pulled out details or emotional colors that I did not see elsewhere.  

  <img src="" alt="" />

Brennert had a particular fondness (as do I) for the "golden age" or "Earth-2" Batman and my favorite story of his -- maybe one of my favorites of all time -- is the Earth-2 Batman teaming with Catwoman to hunt down the nefarious Scarecrow ("The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"). Joe Staton and George Freeman drew the chunky Batman from the '50s, a style that instantly evokes the light-hearted adventures of that era. But Brennert adds a moment that stops that feeling dead in its tracks.  

Batman removes his shirt so Catwoman can attend to his wounds. She gasps at the scar tissue covering his back; it's key that we see only her horrified reaction and Batman's stoic response. That scar-tissue detail is so unexpected in the context of a "retro" Batman story, yet such a common-sense detail considering his life of fighting, that I am still amazed Brennert was the first to conceive of and use it. It's a telling detail that's now accepted as a given and enshrined in the movies.

Brennert had that freedom of approach -- perhaps from his work in other media -- to give his characters time to breathe amid the action and feel the weight of emotional moments. That's not something you see in comics very much, and it's always appreciated when it happens.  

For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...?