Friday, April 29, 2016

Sabata Returns, Less Serious Than Before

Return of Sabata is my favorite of the three films, if only because it seems like the strangest. It opens with Sabata (played by Lee van Cleef again) in a gunfight for his life against 5 men in some strange room with green and red lighting, while a different group of guys sit behind a conference table and watch. All of which turns out to be a carnival game. Pay your money for the chance to duel the famous Sabata (with blanks). Then he sees one of his old lieutenants from the war, and the opening credits is said looie trying to run all over town to escape, only to find Sabata always waiting. Like one of those Droopy Dog cartoons where the wolf can't get away from him. That's the first 5 minutes.

After that, it settles into slightly more standard fare of Sabata deciding he's going to rob the local big shot, who adds ludicrous taxes onto everything, with all of it supposedly going into a community fund to build a hospital, a newspaper, all that stuff. Except he's really using it to buy gold for himself. And his bride to be is fooling around with the lieutenant (who runs a tavern/casino) behind his back. And the lieutenant can't get it through his head to quit trying to double-cross Sabata. You'd think the first time it failed would have been enough. Why take chances that Sabata's patience is going to run out?

Van Cleef seemed to be enjoying himself on this one. Sabata seems constantly amused through the film, and more than willing to play along. When the lieutenant tries to trick them during the heist, Sabata just removes the bolts from the carriage he had waiting out back, the leisurely rides along behind. There's an absurd sense to the whole thing, and he's embracing it. Ignzaio Spalla is in this film as well, this time as a sort of town crier, maybe a hype man for McKintock (the local big shot). He does use his wagon like a taxi service, but he also carries around a drum and frequently publicly derides Sabata for refusing to pay the ludicrous taxes. In turn, Sabata makes fun of his cheap cigars, and keeps not paying the ludicrous taxes.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Arsenal of Democracy - A.J. Baine

The Arsenal of Democracy is broadly about the United States trying to get its vast industrial capacity into a wartime gear. It's easy for FDR to say, "We're going to produce 60,000 warplanes this year," but actually getting that done is another matter entirely. What companies are building them? Do they have the facilities? Do they have the workers? Are the workers trained? What's the incentive for these companies to stop making cars or dishwashers and make guns and planes instead?

Baine explores this mostly through Ford, the automobile manufacturer. By the 1930s, Edsel Ford, Henry's son, was running things. Edsel had been kept out of the draft for World War because Henry used his influence (without consulting Edsel) which meant Edsel took a beating publicly as being a coward and draft-dodger. So as another war approached, Edsel wanted a chance to prove he was willing to do his part. As we've discussed here previously, a big part of the U.S. strategy was a belief in the ability of heavy bombing to break the enemy's will to fight (which didn't really work out, but that's what they thought would happen). One of the bombers was the B-24, initially produced by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation. But their production approach was a mess, and there was no chance they'd be able to produce enough bombers to meet demand. Edsel and Henry Sorenson basically decided to take the assembly line approach used for cars, and apply it to airplanes, and they vowed that they would be able to produce one of these 60,000 pound (fully loaded), four-engine planes every hour, at a plant they were going to build specifically for that purpose.

So Baine goes through the many difficulties they face in making that a reality. All the problems I mentioned in the first paragraph, and more besides. Labor shortage led to hiring lot of black workers (male and female), which didn't go over well with certain segments of the workforce. The U.S. Air Force keeps changing what it wants out of the B-24, without realizing the problems that creates. Henry Ford had long ago hired a morally questionable guy named Harry Bennett to be his security guy, and Bennett is causing all sorts of problems. Henry himself is a pacifist, and not really on board with making munitions (Baine mentions Ford was also against the U.S. being involved in the First World War, and charted a vessel to travel to Europe and try to work for peace. Only to get over there and realize he was wrong. Yet he seemed to learn nothing from the experience. I'm curious what exactly he saw that made him change his mind that first time, though). And Edsel is dying, while trying to make all this work, protect the people he trusts at the company from Bennett.

It's an interesting story, especially for what it told me about Edsel, someone I knew nothing about, and also Henry Ford II, his son who takes over after Edsel's passing. Henry the Younger has a surprising arc because all through the book, Baine gives us these snippets of what's going on with him - flunking engineering, trying to be a commander in a naval training exercise and failing miserably - and he just sounds like someone who will be in over his head. But when the time comes, he shows he has a strength to him his dad didn't necessarily has, along with the sense to try learn whenever the chance arises.

'As Knudsen had said, what was a bomber but a large machine made of small pieces? Pieces that could be crafted just like automobile parts? Like a car, an airplane was a frame built with seats for humans, housing an engine that provided propulsion. The leap from a car to an airplane required the added theory of aerodynamics to supply liftoff and control of the skies, and heaps of horsepower to put that theory into practice. A car could conquer time and space. The airplane increased the distance exponentially and added an all-important dimension: altitude.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

July Brings Questions

So, looking over the July solicitations, not a lot of good news. None of DC's new offerings that month appeal, and practically everything at Marvel is doing Civil War II tie-ins. Even Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat is doing a tie-in. I don't see how that's going to work, frankly. Marvel is, as usual, trying to make the Big Event seem like a big, serious deal, but the general tone of Hellcat so far hasn't been anything I think can convey "big, serious deal". Maybe if Leth and Williams goal is to take the piss with the whole thing, but I don't get the impression that's what they're going for.

At least Black Widow and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (which is another book I couldn't see keeping a straight face if it tried tying in to Civil War II) are avoiding it so far. Please, please, continue to avoid it.

Also, I meant to ask this last month but forgot: I want to know which one of you is responsible for Deadpool vs. Gambit. Come on, fess up. One of you must have given them the impression this is a book people wanted, which is a damn lie. Just cop to it.

Let's see, outside those companies, there wasn't much I got excited about. Wynonna Earp will be wrapping up. There'll be a new issue of Henchgirl, that's good news, at least. It'll probably be another month or two for the next Atomic Robo mini-series to be released in print. July does bring issue #1 of IDW's new ROM series. I'm curious to see how that works with ROM divorced from the Marvel Universe setting the original series was placed in. Bill Mantlo came up with a lot of stuff for that series - though I don't know how much of that Christos Gage will get to use here. Does Marvel own Galador and the SpaceKnights as a concept? - but the fact the series took place in a setting somewhat familiar to us from other Marvel comics probably helped.

I'm also curious to see how Gage writes Rom. Is he going to try and mimic Mantlo's style, or stick to his own. Because Rom launched into soliloquies more often than he banished Wraiths to Limbo, and he banished those guys to Limbo a lot. And again, I'm guessing at least some of the people who buy the series are going to have a specific idea in their mind of how Rom talks, and if he doesn't match that, then what? I've liked Gage's writing fairly well in the past, myself. He's never written anything I can recall just loving, that really got me going, but he's a solid, smart writer. He knows how to work with preexisting characters, so he'll probably do OK.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Forsaken - Tim Tzouliadis

With a title like The Forsaken, you know it's going to be a really cheerful read. And indeed, the book is broadly about the Soviet Union under Stalin, the show trials, the Terror, the state-sponsored fear, denouncing, torture, and of course, the Gulag.

Tzouliadis focuses mostly on Americans caught up in, many of whom had emigrated to the Soviet Union during the Great Depression because of the promise of jobs. Once there, they found it very difficult, if not impossible, to leave. And the State Department, even once the United States officially recognized the USSR as a country in 1934, was no help. In many cases, the emigrants passports had been collected when they arrived in the Soviet Union, and they'd unwittingly signed paperwork making them Soviet citizens. But even when that wasn't the case, the U.S. government basically sat on its ass. Frequently because the midlevel people felt it was useless for them to try negotiating Soviet bureaucracy, and their higher-ups were too busy trying to make friends with Stalin (at FDR's behest). It's incredibly galling, if not exactly surprising. The Soviets even helped themselves to American prisoners of war in Nazi POW camps the Soviets liberated, and the U.S. government basically did jack shit. Oh, they did send the Russians soldiers they had captured who had been forced to fight for the Nazis back to the Soviet Union. Where most of them were executed or sent to the Gulag, which is basically the same thing.

It's hard to fathom. Not that people can do that to other people, or even that a few could survive it, and a few of the people Tzoulidas follows do survive the Gulag, and even make it back to the U.S. Just the sheer scale of it, the number of people being denounced, arrested, tortured, shipped to the ass-end of nowhere and set to laboring until they die from the cold, the malnutrition, being shot, whatever. That the country could swallow up that many people, however many millions - Tzoulidas mentions a census done in the late '30s where the Soviet statisticians noted the population was only 157 million, when it had been projected for 176 million, which probably gives some sense of the number of lives lost, a number which soon included those statisticians - and continue to function.

If you would prefer to maintain any faith in humanity whatsoever, or you have blood pressure problems, I would not recommend this book. I had to stop fairly regularly to either shake my head at the imagery brought up by something Tzoulidas described, or to rage at incompetent diplomats. If those aren't concerns, and you aren't already well-versed in this dark corner of 20th Century history, give The Forsaken a chance.

'Around six months later, in the spring of 1933, Beal had made a second trip, this time to a Ukrainian collective farm, near the village of Chekhuyev, and walked several miles east. Here the atmosphere was thick with the cloying smell of death, hunger, and despair. By the side of the road, the Massachusetts-born trade unionist came across a dead horse still harnessed to its wagon, and a dead man holding its reins in his hands. Walking into an empty village, Beal looked into a peasant hut and saw a dead man still sitting by a stove: "His back was against the wall, he was rigid and staring straight at us with his faraway dead eyes." On one village door someone had written: GOD BLESS THOSE WHO ENTER HERE, MAY THEY NEVER SUFFER AS WE HAVE. Inside the house, two men and a child lay dead beside the family icon.'

Monday, April 25, 2016

Can You Say Adios When He Won't Leave?

Adios, Sabata seems to have higher production values than Sabata did. It also has Yul Brynner in place of Lee van Cleef in the title role, which, eh. I know Brynner is the more highly regarded actor, but I tend to not have strong feelings one way or the other about him.

In this case, the film uses the setting of the Mexican Revolution against Maximilian. Sabata is hired to try and steal a shipment of gold from the Austrians, and then take it across the border into Texas to buy guns. Except the nefarious Colonel Skrillim had already planned to attack the shipment himself, to hide the fact he mostly sent bags of sand and kept the gold himself. He hadn't counted on Sabata and a handful of revolutionaries finding this out, and they try to infiltrate his compound to get the gold back. When they get caught, they decide to just kill all the Austrian soldiers and take the gold that way. Which works, somewhat remarkably.

But there's a lot of odd or silly things in the movie. The colonel has a little trap he likes to use to kill people, hidden in a model ship. One of the revolutionaries, Septiembre's, favored weapon is a pair of slings he has set up on the tops of his shoes. He drops the steel balls into the sling, and then does a sort of roundhouse kick to fling the projectile and hit people in the head. I guess you could get more velocity on it that way. Again, Sabata also pairs up with a former acquaintance he seems to find very annoying. This time it's a guy named Ballantine, who is also a halfway decent painter and keeps a book with him to makes notes because he apparently can't remember anything. Brynner has this look of almost pained exasperation when Ballantine is around. Like the guy is giving him a headache just by being there. Yet he keeps saving the guy from being killed by Escudo (Ignazio Spalla, who was also in the first movie, as a different character) when Ballantine keeps trying to betray them or ditch them. But Ballantine is actually doing a portrait of the Colonel, so he's supposed to be their in. Yeah, that worked well.

The writing is a little dodgy. There's a sequence, before they realize the shipment of gold they stole is mostly sand, where Sabata and Ballantine try to convince Escudo to just divvy up the gold. The Austrians are retreating all over, the revolution is won. Why waste this gold on more guns and weapons? Escudo resists, claiming the money is for the revolution, and he seems to have won the argument. Then the camera pulls back to a long shot, and we see the wagon do a 180, and before you know it they're opening the chest and pouring out the gold in the few actual sacks of it on top. I guess we were supposed to take it as Escudo changed his mind after the camera pulled back, but it seemed like he'd won the argument.

There's also a point where three different groups - the revolutionaries, Skrillim, and Sabata, all plan to blow up the same bridge, albeit at different times. So Sabata is climbing down into the supports to set nitroglycerin in there, when there's already dynamite tied in. Also, the Austrians plan to retreat into Texas? I had a hard time picturing the Texans just opening their arms to a foreign army retreating into their country.

And the Austrians really like to remind you they're Austrians. Skrillim does it more than once, sometimes in consecutive sentences saying, "We Austrians. . ." But this was an Italian film originally, and Italy does have some history with the Hapsburgs, so maybe it was trying to play that up? Austria-Hungary had collapsed over 50 years earlier, but people might still remember. Or are the Austrians stand-ins for the Nazis here?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Zorro 2.24 - Zorro and the Mountain Man

Plot: We open with a large, bearded fellow pulling a donkey along behind him, singing about mountain men as he descends from the hills. We'll learn soon enough he's Joe Crane, an American, but for now, he's just some guy who happens along Bernardo, stranded in the mud, his buggy having lost a wheel. Crane can't understand Bernardo's sign language, but he still puts the wheel back on the buggy, and the two go their separate ways. For Joe, that's into Los Angeles to the tavern for some food and drink. He introduces himself to Sergeant Garcia, and then sufficiently butters up Garcia so as to avoid being arrested for not having permission to enter Spanish California. He also receives the thanks of Diego for helping Bernardo.

Unfortunately, Joe also decides he'd like to kiss a pretty girl, insisting that all women want to be kissed, over Garcia's response that Spanish women don't. Joe insists that if you trick the lady, then it's OK because no one will think badly of her, and she gets to have the fun of being kissed. So he sets to tricking Carlotta, the waitress, into leaning close enough he can kiss her on the cheek. Which draws the ire of Don Carlos, who slaps Joe with a glove, and gets backhanded over a table in response. Things nearly get bad, but Don Carlos can't back up his confidence, and Garcia arrests Joe for his own safety. But Carlos is not willing to let things slide, and is determined to sneak into the cuartel to finish Crane off while he's trapped in a cell. Good thing Diego overheard, and so Zorro slips into the cuartel and liberates the cell keys from under Garcia's pillow. The sergeant awakens and makes an attempt to stop Zorro, only to get his suspenders cut. By that time, Zorro has already freed Joe, but forced him to leave without his harvest of furs. Zorro easily eludes the lancers, and even rides past Don Carlos as he approaches the cuartel to mock him on having missed his chance. Don Carlos isn't about to give up, though.

Quote of the Episode: Diego - 'I understand how the Americanos won their country from the English. They talked them out of it.'

Times Zorro Marks a "Z": 0 (8 overall).

Other: Joe's donkey's name is Esmeraldie, if you care. And Joe wound up in California because he pissed off a group of Paiutes, and that was the available safe direction.

Have to love Carlos insisting that murdering Joe is patriotic, because California must be free of foreigners. I'm sure the people who were there before the Spanish would agree with you, Don Carlos. So why don't you hit the bricks?

I'd like to be happy that Joe's insistence that girls want to be kissed blows up in his face, except Carlotta seems quite taken with him. You could figure her not letting Carlos run Joe through was just figuring that was an extreme reaction to Joe's offense, or not wanting to have to clean blood off the floors. But she brought him cupcakes in jail. And made sure Sergeant Garcia couldn't have any. At least Crane recognizes women get unfairly judged for kissing a guy, even if the rest of his logic is a little cockeyed.

It's worth mentioning that when Don Carlos prepares to kill Joe in the tavern, Diego tries to intervene and is stopped by Carlos' servant jamming a pistol in his side. But when Carlos starts losing, and the servant goes to help, Diego judo flips the guy. I feel as though Diego's been letting his disguise, the scholar who has no interest in anything but books and music slip more and more. He was already getting involved in political matters in Season 1, albeit always advocating writing letters, or trying to speak to someone. But he seems bolder this season. Is he just getting tired of the facade, or does he not even realize it's happening?

Friday, April 22, 2016

What I Bought 4/19/2016 - Part 2

One thing I forgot to mention from Cape-Con. I stopped at Brian Rhodes' - creator of Mike and the Ninja - table, and bought a collection of ink drawings he did as part of something called Inktober. Which was pretty cool, but he also mentioned he had a new comic coming out later things year, Six Legs, No Heart, so I'm excited for that.

Deadpool #9, by Gerry Duggan (writer), Matteo Lollia (artist), Ruth Redmond (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Again, I bought a variant cover, in this case Scott Koblish's cover, which is a continuing comic in itself of Deadpool's adventures with a sentient UPC-PO cover code. This month, Wade got shot in the Deadpals by the Rawhide Kid, because Wade's life is pretty awful.

Somehow, considering Wade had his boot on Creed's head and sword back, he failed to kill Sabretooth. They fight a bit, Wade gets disemboweled in front of a busload of kids (great set of reactions from Lolli. Love the two kids high-fiving), Sabretooth shoves him in the way of a passing car, then goes to a crappy bar to wait for Wade. Because Sabretooth thinks it might be better for him to take the blame for killing Wade's parents. I agree, mostly because I'm hoping taking the blame will involve Sabretooth dying.

There's really not much to the issue. The gag about Wade trying to be a good role model in front of aforementioned bus full of kids is probably the high point. There's some stuff about Creed having an abusive dad, which is why he liked Butler's idea of having Deadpool kill his own parents, which, I don't care. There's also a bit where Magneto shows up and gives Sabretooth crap for caring about Deadpool, who is beneath them according to Mags. Nice of Erik to conveniently ignore how much higher his body count is than Wade's. I haven't forgotten that time you hit the entire planet with an EMP, killing how many people as airplanes fell from the sky and hospital generators failed (Claremont and Jim Lee's last story together)? I'm sure Magneto would justify those actions somehow or the other, but it'd be bullcrap. You know it, I know it, and to Sabretooth's credit, he knows it and tells Magneto they're both more like Deadpool than they'd care to admit. We aren't supposed to agree with Magneto, but it still bugs me he cops that attitude.

That one thing that got me riled aside, it's a dull middle chapter of a story which is ultimately not likely to produce a satisfying result for me. It's interesting, but something about how Lolli draws Magneto, he almost looks like a different artist drew him. As though he doesn't even belong in this book. Bit of a Jamie McKelvie vibe, which isn't who Lolli's art normally makes me think of. It might be Redmond's colors, there's a shininess to Erik's outfit that reminds me of McKelvie's work, even though that'd be someone else's colors? Mike Norton? Or is Redmond McKelvie's colorist too? Maybe Magneto just looks out of place because he's not bleeding and torn up like Sabretooth and Deadpool.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #6, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Chip Zdarsky (writer/trading card artist), Joe Quinones (van art artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer and production) - Again I went with a variant, I think Kamome Shirahama's. It wasn't cheaper or anything, I just liked it better. The Squirrel Girl-shaped Kool-Aid Man hole in the wall was pretty cool.

Set sometime before the time jump that happened before/after Secret Wars ('cause Hickman did a time jump in his books, but everyone else did a time jump after it was over, and I don't know it it's the same time jump or a second one). Anyway, months ago, Howard tried stealing Mew, because he was hired to retrieve a cat, and can't tell cats apart. Doreen stops him easily, then Kraven the Hunter shows up, grabs Squirrel Girl by the tail and hurls her into the air, and abducks Howard. I misspelled that intentionally.

Kraven is payin' the bills by kidnapping intelligent animals for a nutso cosplayer named Shannon Sugarbaker, who wants to hunt them for sport. She also is the one who took the cat Howard's looking for, and turned it into one of those cyborg animals from that one series Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did. We3? I assume that's what they're referencing, maybe it's just a coincidence. Doreen has tracked them, but even having beaten Doombots, she's not match for Shannon's functional superhero dress-up garb. So now she's prey as well, and so is Kraven.

I like Henderson's Howard better than Brittney Williams. The beak looks better. I like the parallel panels on pages 14-16. Doreen up top, fighting Doombots that are imitating Spider-Man enemies. Below, Shannon leads Howard past her other prisoners down in the basement, until at the end, Doreen smashes the bots right through the floor and into the other set of panels. Can't believe Doreen stood there and let Howard draw all over her Deadpool's Guide to Super-Villains card for Howard. Now she doesn't have a mint condition set! Truly Howard the Duck is Marvel's greatest villain. Which is why Squirrel Girl needs to fight him. He's the only one left after you beat Dr. Doom and Galactus.

I was unsure if I was going to bother to get the Howard the Duck issue, since I kind of resent these attempts to make me buy books I don't normally buy. But this was enjoyable enough I want to see how it ends, so I will get the other half. Plus, I'm curious to see how they work Erica Henderson into that issue. Quinones got to draw Kraven's airbrushed van, Henderson's going to have to come up with something pretty great to match that in terms of scarring my brain.