Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quietly Quality Months Are Fine

Last month's solicitations had quite a few things going on I was interested in. This month's solicits, not so much. First order of business: the Atomic Robo mini-series is "Temple of Od", not "Temple of Ood", which I think is what I typed last time.

Deadpool is finally emerging from the haze of Civil War II tie-ins, so maybe it would be a good idea for me to just wait until then to start picking the book up again. I sat out Axis, but I want to think the creative can make something of this tie-in. Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat is wrapping up its second arc. More importantly, there's no indication the book is ending with said second arc. I worry because I'd read it's not selling in the direct market, but maybe digital sales or critical acclaim is carrying it forward. I'll take whatever I can get.

Detective Comics is going to have a crossover with some of the other Bat-books. Pass. As someone (potentially) buying the book for Cass, Steph, and Tim, I'm disappointed the solicits only ever seem to mention Batman, Batwoman, or sometimes Nightwing. I don't give a crap about any of them, and this makes me think I'd be wasting my time buying the book. Wonderful when I can practically talk myself out of buying something before I've even started.

DC's also shipping the Rebirth issue for Batman Beyond the same month they ship the final issue of the current Batman Beyond series, which seems as though it could cause confusion. I doubt they'll screw it up this severely, but I'd laugh pretty hard if the Rebirth issue ships before the other one. I'm lying, I wouldn't laugh, I'd shake my head like an adult deeply disappointed by their child or pet doing something stupid.

Other than that, Henchgirl, Wynonna Earp, and Darkwing Duck are all chugging along. Nothing else really jumped out and demanded my attention, but that's OK.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What I Bought 6/21/2016 - Part 3

Long day on Monday, thus no post then. But here's a post now!

Darkwing Duck #1 and 2, by Aaron Sparrow (writer), James Silvani (writer/artist), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist), Deron Bennett and D.C. Hopkins (letterers) - Poor Launchpad, he got left off the first issue cover.

The way I understand it, this is picking up somewhere after the end of the second story arc of the Ian Brill/James Silvani volume BOOM! published 6 years ago. But it's ignoring the last arc, where the book crossed over with their Ducktales comic, for reasons I'm unclear on (I'm guessing some powers that be didn't like how that story went, but I don't know).

St. Canard is celebrating opening a new supermax prison for all their super-villains, the Mayor brings a bunch of schoolkids to the celebration, because he's an idiot. Darkwing crashes the party because he's incensed he wasn't invited, which works exactly as Negaduck planned, as he gets the prison to go into lockdown, trapping everyone inside as he releases the prisoners from their cells. Issue 2 is Darkwing trying to recapture the villains while they all try to kill him, as Negaduck watches. There's a few other possible subplots, including Mortimer, a classmate of Gosalyn's who was briefly a super-villain in the earlier volume, enlisting the help of a Hannibal Lecter-themed cat villain, but it's unclear if they're going to end up helping or harming. Probably one, then the other.

There are some decent one-liners, and the dialogue feels about right. Silvani was always good at the action sequences, but I think he's more willing to loosen up his style some. Really embrace the cartoon aspect of the series he's working with. I might be wrong, it's been a few years since I reread the earlier volume. Either way, he's still doing a good job with expressions and body language. There's something a little different about the colors, but I'm not quite sure what it is. The art has this slightly, greyed out looked to it, like things aren't quite as bright as they ought to be. I think the inking's different, a softer line being used, but again, not sure about that (or whether that would have anything to do with this). It's not awful by any stretch, it just feels more subdued. Maybe it's something about the printing process.

I'm not sure about starting the book by having Darkwing fight his entire rouge's gallery right off the bat (that always seems like it makes a hero's enemies look kind of incompetent), but that misgiving and whatever it is about the shading that's throwing me, I'm enjoying the book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic is about the slow, drawn-out, unnecessary death of President James A. Garfield. Garfield was officially killed by a man named Charles Guiteau, who had first convinced himself he was of major importance and should surely be awarded the ambassadorship of Paris, and then, when this didn't happen (because he had absolutely no qualifications or connections, regardless of what he thought), decided Garfield needed to go. Garfield was, after all try to do away with the cronyism that saw important civic posts handed out to lackeys and major campaign contributors, and actually get people selected based on merit.

As it stands, Garfield would likely have survived Guiteau's attempt if not for the attending doctors. Millard weaves into Garfield's story the resistance by the established American doctors to Joseph Lister's ideas about trying to create an antiseptic environment, to avoid getting germs in wounds. The idea had taken hold in England, but for whatever reason, most American doctors in the 1870s thought it was hokum. Which is how you get a situation where one doctor sticks his unwashed finger into Garfield's bullet wound, looking for said bullet, while Garfield is still laying on the 19th century train station bathroom floor.  In reality, Garfield died because his primary doctor, a Dr. Bliss, got him riddled with infection and was too dumb and stubborn to realize it.

Millard brings in several variously connected threads and makes an engaging read of them. The early lives of both Garfield and Guiteau, and the distinct contrasts between them, but also the issue of Roscoe Conkling, a major adversary of Garfield, and the man who was certain he owned Garfield's Vice President, Chester Arthur. Arthur's transformation, thanks is large part to a series of letters from a Julia Sand, is detailed, and so is Alexander Graham Bell's involvement in the attempt to save Garfield's life. It's impressively done, and highly recommended.

'Not only did many American doctors not believe in germs, they took pride in the particular brand of filth that defined their profession. They spoke fondly of the "good old surgical stink" that pervaded their hospitals and operating rooms, and they resisted making too many concessions even to basic hygiene.'

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Zorro 2.33 - Invitation to Death

Plot: A tranquil morning at the de la Vega hacienda is disturbed by the noisy arrival of one Captain Arellano, who was providing security for the governor's wagon, which has overturned nearby, gravely injuring His Excellency. The governor is soon brought to the hacienda and set up as comfortably as possible in the sala while Diego fetches the doctor. The captain explains to Diego and Alejandro that he suspects foul play at the hands of a group called the Rebatos, who resent the governor's call for all Californians to take a loyalty oath to Spain. In fact, the governor was coming to Los Angeles to make a call personally for the people to take the oath. He won't be making that appointment, but Phelipe (the captain), will as he is appointed temporary governor. While Phelipe seems uncertain of himself, he makes an impassioned plea in the tavern, and aided by Alejandro vocally and publicly standing up to be first to take the oath, seems to have carried out the governor's wishes. As other citizens line up to take the oath, a Manuel Larios approaches the captain, and asks if he has considered that, were the governor to die, the captain could continue being governor, which might be very good for the captain. Phelipe says that sounds an awful lot like treason, but the idea takes hold in his mind.

Back at the hacienda, poor Sergeant Garcia is stuck as the governor's orderly, which means trying to get him to take his foul-tasting medicine, with poor results. Meanwhile, Diego is outside talking with the governor's daughter, who is concerned for her father's safety and wonders why there is so much political violence. Diego's attempts to lift her spirits catch the eye of the captain, who fancies the young lady, despite her complete lack of interest in him. So he makes a bit of a scene, and implies she's been behaving improperly and that he will not allow her to do so going forward. Which earns him a well-deserved smack in the face from her, and later still, a dressing-down from her father, who has apparently decided Phelipe will never become the man he hoped he would. Having lost the confidence of the governor, Larios' suggestion is much more appealing to the captain, and he soon rides into town, dragging Garcia and Reyes with him.

Fortunately, Bernardo notices and warns Diego. Unfortunately, Larios' men are wasting no time going on the attack, and Diego apparently needs a year to change into Zorro, so Bernardo has to enter the sala through the secret passage and stop the first killer (though not before the governor takes a bottle to the head). Bernardo and Zorro move the governor to Alejandro's room, and Zorro places the first would-be assassin in the bed with the blanket over him. Two more rush in, and while Zorro is busy with one, the other knifes what he thinks is the governor. The two killers then flee, having failed in their mission. Afterward, Captain Arellano gets the third degree from everyone as to why he took away the guards, but the governor tells them to stop, out of pity, perhaps.

Quote of the Episode: Governor - 'This will be an opportunity to show what you are made of, to vindicate my faith in you.'

Times Zorro Marks a "Z": 0 (13 overall).

Other: Little surprised Zorro didn't draw his sword when dealing with two assassins. Yeah, the governor is safe elsewhere, but perhaps you don't want these killers to escape without finding out who they're working for and with. It's the second week in a row he doesn't seem to be taking the actual fight entirely seriously.

I don't know what it is the doctor is making the governor take, but hopefully he won't die because he's making Garcia take it instead.

Arellano correcting Garcia and insisting on being referred to as "His Excellency", but only because of tradition was a pretty great slimeball move. You can tell Garcia doesn't buy that explanation at all, either.

Diego frames the actions of the people trying to kill the governor as those of people looking to claim the considerable natural resources and wealth of California for themselves. I guess as opposed to letting Spain have it all. He's probably right, but people might also resent being told they need to publicly affirm their loyalty to a country that really doesn't seem to give much of a damn about them. It sends them brutal Army officers and corrupt government officials almost constantly. And just because Arellano pulls a JFK a couple of years early (asking the people to ask what they can do for Spain, rather than the other way around) doesn't change that. I'm not blaming the governor for that state of affairs, but he hasn't made a visit to Los Angeles for anything else that we know of, so this is what he's apparently deemed most important, and it really isn't.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What I Bought 6/21/2016 - Part 2

So like I said Wednesday, I didn't buy Deadpool #13 yet because it was too expensive for my cheap ass, even though it was probably a good value, in terms of cost per page, relative to other comics these days. But here's two other Deadpool comics, because Marvel publishes plenty of them.

Deadpool: Last Days of Magic, by Gerry Duggan (writer), Scott Koblish (artist), Guru eFX (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - That is an awful cover. Just boring as shit.

So Dr. Strange is dealing with a threat trying to wipe out all magic in his book. Deadpool has some magic-using friends, plus his wife is a succubus that rules a Monster Metropolis, so this actually makes sense as something he'd get dragged into. He and his friends stave off total annihilation, but the Ghost of Ben Franklin decides it's time to move on to the afterlife (after confirming that story where he and Clea did the nasty in the past-y is in continuity), and Wade's necromancer friend Michael dies stopping the Empirikul's magic-eating machine. Wade does a spectacularly poor job delivering the news to Michael's girlfriend Daphne, who also has magic abilities, and may have actually cursed Wade. Or it may have just been a generic "Curse you!" When things go to shit in Wade's life, it'll be hard to tell.

I feel like Koblish was homaging/doing a parody of Barry Allen's death in Crisis on the Infinite Earths with Michael's death, mostly the panels at the bottom of page 23 where Michael slowly crumbles to dust. Except Koblish's art makes it seem slightly less heroic, slightly more comical. I don't know that it's intentional, although most of the moments for Michael up to then are making fun of him. Puking after using the teleportation spell, failing to try and heal someone (because the spell doesn't work anymore), the echo of the Ancient One facepalming at Michael planning to use Togbon's Journal. I think that's the point, he looks like a screw-up, and he isn't any sort of great mage, but he still saved a lot of people (albeit temporarily if Strange doesn't get his shit together and deal with this problem). Anyway, Koblish does an excellent job on Deadpool's desperation to try and help his friend, and his sadness when he can't. His immediate turn to Doctor Voodoo to find some way to bring Michael back, the way he stands there and takes Daphne's hatred. And the moment when Michael promises to make the Ancient One proud before teleporting away (followed by that facepalm), he had such a look of happiness, it was heart-wrenching. Guru eFX softened the color scheme a bit for those two pages as well, which helped. It's a quieter moment, the colors aren't attacking my eyes, things don't feel as frenzied, and so it lets everything sink in.

It's an effective tie-in, I just would have preferred it not whittle down the parts of Wade's supporting cast I actually care about.

Deadpool #14, by Gerry Duggan (writer), Mike Hawthorne (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - I went with the Koblish-drawn continuing adventures of Deadpool and the UPC code through time. This issue, they landed in the worst story in Simonson's Thor run, that one with Justice Peace of the Time Variance Authority. If they erase that story and replace it with something better, the whole thing will be worth it.

The Ulysses kid with the precog stuff warned all the heroes about a Celestial (I think?) showing up, and the day was saved. But Wade is not being properly appreciative to his Mercs and they're planning to go into business for themselves. Oh no, please don't, you are such an integral part of my enjoyment of this book, he said with no emotion whatsoever. That's pretty much it, other than the Mercs trying to convince Cable to fund them, and Adsit leaving to return to SHIELD. After a half-dozen issues, where he did almost nothing as the guy running Mercs for Money day-to-day. I suppose this could all be part of the curse, shit falling apart rapidly for Wade, although, again, it's hard to tell. Deadpool is the last person who should be trying to run a business, given his lack of attention span and routine indifference to the problems (like bills) of others. But given Ben Franklin's warning of dark days ahead before his departure, and Ulysses telling Wade he wouldn't want to be believe in predicting the future either, if he had Wade's lifeline, yeah, it's probably the curse. Still, the rapid dumping of Adsit feels like I'm back in Daniel Way's run on Deadpool, where he careened one way then the other with seemingly no plan. That's not something I wanted to be reminded of.

At the end of the day, Duggan hasn't done enough with the Mercs for me to care if they stay or go. There's a lot he could do, since all of them represent different facets of Wade (which is no doubt why they were picked), but so far, it hasn't materialized (except with Madcap, I guess). The Mercs are just baggage distracting from the cast members I'd actually like to see Wade interact with (because it's actually been established how they play off him, resulting in me giving a crap about them): Preston, Eleanor, Adsit, Michael, whoops he's dead, oh well. If it's a point about Deadpool getting everything he thought he wanted, and losing all the stuff he really cared about (Last Days of Magic points out Wade has pretty much dropped his friends from the previous volume now that he's a big Avenger), fine, but it doesn't make it anymore enjoyable.

The high point of the issue is Cable explaining to the Mercs how he has money, which involves a flashback to Cable traveling back to the 18th Century with some cash, which he deposits in a bank, and draws from when he returns to the present. Not so much for that explanation, but Mike Hawthorne drawing Cable in a top hat and coat with tails, plus an eye patch to cover the glowy eye. I had not realized I ever wanted to see Cable dressed up like that, but it was great. Deadpool thinking precognition is a bunch of crap feels appropriate too. Otherwise, he'd have to acknowledge what everyone's been telling him about how it's all going to end badly for him, and I don't think he wants to do that.

That turned out very angry, but the books happened to combine to form a perfect combination fo everything that's frustrating me with Deadpool right now.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Jack Staff - Everything Used To Be Black And White

One of the occasionally frustrating things about reading Jack Staff is how many plates Paul Grist has spinning at one time. Normally, this isn't the sort of thing that bothers me; I grew up on '80s Marvel comics with multiple subplots. But Grist moves back and forth between them so frequently that just as I'm settling into one thread, he jumps to another*.

What helped though, was an introduction Grist had on the inside cover of an issue of Weird World of Jack Staff. He explained his approach was the book was essentially a whole lot of different comic strips, which all just so happened to be taking place in the same universe, and all of them were kind of happening around the title character. So Jack isn't necessarily the main character, he's the lucky (unlucky) fellow who keeps getting sucked into other people's problems, in addition to some of his own. The structure of the story made more sense after I that.

That actually isn't an issue in Everything Used to be Black and White, which contains the first 12 issues of Jack Staff, those published under Grist's own Dancing Elephant Press. It's just a particular thing that keeps cropping up in my mind as I reread the issues. In those early stages, Grist has to go through the process of introducing these characters to us for the first time, sketching out personalities and quirks, backstories, making us care, and getting the ball rolling.

He's very successful at all that. He starts with a story that moves between a wartime adventure of Jack's and the present, when the threat seems to have reemerged. From there, some of the characters have to deal with the fallout of the battle, the injuries, changes, or even deaths they incurred, and then it moves into a couple of odder stories. One about a book actually coming to life and trying to construct a physical form for itself. Then one about a "time leech", which had tangled with a master escape artist a century ago, and is just now starting to get back into circulation (as is the escapologist).

I'm very impressed with how Grist weaves it all together, bringing in new characters, who end up starting their own arcs and progressions, but it doesn't feel forced. He introduces them smoothly, and then later starts devoting more page time to them. So we're introduced to the Q Branch (who investigate "question mark crimes") in the initial story, but we don't necessarily know that much about them. Then Grist gives them a little more page time, and we see how Harry Crane and Ben Kulmer got into it. If we don't learn the same about Helen Morgan just yet, we do learn about some of her abilities, and her personality**. Or we meet Detective Inspector Maveryck's partner, "Zipper" Nolan as they investigate a murder, and the story hints at something going on with Nolan, but that also won't come to the forefront until later. It's all very skillful, and I wonder at how mapped out Grist had all this beforehand, and how much he pulled together as he went along. Either way, it seems to run together very well, one story creating situations that lead naturally into another.

I think, on the whole, I prefer the book in black and white, compared to the later volumes published through Image in color. Not because the color work is bad - it's vivid and bright, and used effectively to create mood. Like I've said before, I'm a sucker for using negative space, or letting shadows or their absence suggest at things, and Grist does that quite well. And it seems more natural when the whole book is in black and white. Either way, Grist has a good sense of page layout and design, and he's able to create distinct characters who all seem as though they can occupy the same world, be it a regular cop, a demon, or a giant robot person.

I really like the page above, with the Spider's lair shown as this cavernous place where anything could be lurking, and you're stuck navigating by moving from the platforms. Which are in a web motif, so Jack is caught in the web, even when it appears his old foe is being entirely polite and open with his intentions. And the image of Jack on the monitors, which could be the appearance of him being a barred gate, suggesting the Spider's possible eventual plan (I'm not sure if he counted on Maveryck to that much of a crooked cop as to try burning evidence that exonerates a suspect).

* Also, coming to the series now, after the fact, there's the knowledge a lot of those threads are not likely to ever be resolved. Which, again, is something I should be used to from Claremont if nothing else, but it's still a little irritating.

** In general, Helen seems like the sort of person I'd want to trust, because she seems to be generally decent, but I don't think I could ever be certain she wasn't just setting me up to be used for something down the line. Has that air of constantly appraising whether everyone around her is useful or not. With reason, which makes her both a sympathetic and frustrating character, in addition to frequently being very cool.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What I Bought 6/21/2016 - Part 1

I didn't get every book I intended to from the last 3 weeks. Deadpool #13 and Detective Comics #934 were far more expensive than I was willing to accept. Maybe next time (although I've seen scans of Detective Comics, and can't decide whether it's going to be for me or not.) Better to deal with the comics I have than the ones I don't, right?

Black Widow #4, by Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (writer/artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I like the two birds watching the whole thing. Don't know why.

Natasha doesn't die of her wound, because she's saved by an old friend. Said old friend also tells her who is behind the little kid that stabbed her, where to find them, and hooks her up with some equipment. Which Natasha says is really old, but we didn't really see her use any of it, so I don't know what it was. She retrieves the file she was after, because the head of this new training program was waiting for her and gave it to her. Maya wants to kill Natasha, as a "prove myself" thing, but is advised to do it when Natasha is 100%. So Natasha has what she needs, but her comes that one SHIELD agent. Is he the Weeping Lion? Probably.

Things are starting to gain momentum, though I'm surprised by how many old friends Natasha has, given the mortality rate for espionage. But every time you turn around (or every time she gets a new series), there's another friend, still alive. And another enemy. The situation with her and Maya is going to be ugly, considering the very attitudes Natasha took to keep herself alive in the Red Room, are what helped her make an enemy of Maya in the first place.

The panels Samnee did of Natasha breaking in, set within a larger panel of a maze, was obviously some good work. I notice that when Natasha retrieved the file and went to the spot to drop it off, she started wearing some sort of eyeliner. Either that or she's really tired. Does it subtly alter her face, so people might not recognize her as readily, or is she just more relaxed now? I also like how Wilson colors the outfit Natasha uses for the break-in. The interplay between black and red in this series seems like something I need to look into more, when I get a chance. The red tends to be intense, but sometimes, even when a character is standing in a spotlight of it, if they're wearing black it doesn't seem to be affected. Anyway, I'm enjoying the book more the farther in we get with it.

Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat #7, by Kate Leth (writer), Brittney L. Williams (artist), Megan Wilson (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - I can't quite parse Jessica's expression there. It looks slightly weary to me. I'd be more befuddled, wondering how Patsy got into the Blonde Phantom's wardrobe, but whatever.

Jessica offers to help Patsy by going to visit Hedy (who of course owns some stupid froo-froo dog) and see if she can find anything they might be able to use to block Hedy's attempt to discredit Patsy. She also convinces Patsy to do a book signing at Tom's store, which is painful enough for Patsy she compares it to being dead. She and Jess try breaking into Hedy's apartment, and get caught. Smooth. Patsy finally blows her top, but sadly, does not kick Hedy in the teeth. Right about then, She-Hulk discovers Patsy's mom was doped up out of her mind on morphine when she signed the rights over to Hedy, so the contract is void. Well then, all's well that ends well, until next month when the book has to deal with Bendis killing or making comatose a member of the cast.

I admit I expected Patsy and Hedy to have some heart-to-heart, and Hedy would reconsider, and they'd mend fences, because Patsy's been making friends with enemies some of the time in this book. But no, I don't see that happening after how this ended. Which actually bums me out a little, I liked how they were portrayed as actual friends by Steve Engelhart when Patsy first came back to life.

I laughed at Luke Cage's reaction to reading the (I'm guessing) fan-comic of him and Iron Fist as a romantic couple. C'mon Luke, do you not spend any time on the Internet? Right, he has a kid, meaning he has no free time. Never mind. Huh, I just noticed Squirrel Girl came to the celebration at the end of the issue. Will Marvel do a crossover between those two books, or at least a team-up? C'mon, they had Squirrel Girl team up with X-23, sorry, Wolverine.

Williams uses the bit where she's goes a bit more exaggerated with character expressions judiciously, which I appreciate. It makes it more effective. Like the panel of Hedy being huffy and put off after Jess leaves at the end of her first visit. It's different enough from her regular style to catch the eye, but still recognizable. And I laughed at her drawing herself getting to meet Patsy. I wonder if that bit where she says she loves how mean Patsy and Hedy were is reminiscent of something she experienced at a convention (being complimented on something kind of awful), or something else.

Also, there's two panels in this issue where the character is placed in front of a solid black background. One is when Patsy mentions that her mother tried to make a deal with a demon to steal Patsy's body, and the other is when Hedy, having heard this, reacts with a blithe, 'Is that all?' The two panels are pages apart, but revolve are the same selfish (possibly drug-induced) act, one framing it as the fairly hurtful thing it is, and the other completely dismissing it. It's like two ends of a conversation the characters weren't even necessarily having with each other at that specific point in time.

I continue to greatly enjoy this book, and hope that it continues for a long time