Saturday, February 28, 2015

Things Are Uncertain With May's Releases

May could end up being the calm before the storm on the comics front. Convergence will be wrapping up, but we won't really see what comes out of it until June. I want to see the solicitations for all these new books DC is going to put out before I start making any decisions on that score. So look forward to that next month, I guess.

I still can't believe they got Ennis and McCrea to do Section Eight. When I saw that title I glossed over the creators, so I just assumed it was another book about yet another paramilitary, semi-secret group. Like Team 8, or Suicide Squad, or that spy group Dick Grayson is a part of now. But no, I guess it's going to be about Sixpack and Dogwelder and the rest. Maybe. They could do something entirely different. Have to wait and see.

On the Marvel side, it's the start of Secret Wars! Oh boy! *fart noise* And here we see the beginning of the likely to be nearly endless wave of tie-in mini-series. The only one they have listed for May I might buy is Master of Kung-Fu. I skipped that recent Shang-Chi mini-series because I doubted Tan Eng Huat's art was up to the task, and I generally haven't heard good things about it, so score one for me. But this has Dalibor Talijac listed as artist, and from the few Deadpool things I remember him drawing, that's fairly encouraging. As I'll be down to a measly 5 ongoings from Marvel by then - Rocket Raccoon, Ms. Marvel, Ant-Man, Squirrel Girl, and the rapidly approaching its end Daredevil - I can spare the space. At some point there's going to be a Spider-Girl or MC2 mini-series with the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz team, and I'll probably get that, too, but beyond that, who knows? And I read somewhere Ms. Marvel is definitely doing one of those "Last Days" tie-ins, which is what I was afraid of. Secret Wars is too big for books to just ignore it.

Outside those two companies, Descender will be continuing, but there's as yet no sign of Roche Limit. Though I haven't decided if I'll continue with it or not. See how issue 5 goes. No sign of an Atomic Robo mini-series, either, but that could be because it either hasn't started yet, or that when they decided to go the webcomic route, they're abandoning print versions entirely. Hopefully there'll still be trade collections. I still dislike reading comics on a computer. I have a few trades of other things I'm waiting to have come out, and if I like them, I might start buying those. That sci-fi/Western series Copperhead is the most notable, and the trade comes out this month, so if I get that quickly enough I may pick up the new issues where the trade left off. More wait and see.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Aliens vs. Time Travelers

Have we ever seen Kang go to war against any of Marvel's big alien empires?

I started thinking about that because of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. When Kang first arrives, he's trying to avert the death of Earth in the Kree/Skrull War because of a decision Captain America will make. His solution, besides killing Captain America, will be to provide Earth of the early 21st Century with the technological advances it needs to defends itself from his these star-spanning empires. Of course, he's going to do that by conquering the entire world and ruling. I know, it's shocking that Kang the Conqueror would turn to conquering as a solution.

The Avengers did defeat Kang, and took care of the Kree and Skrulls themselves, but it left me wondering if he'd faced off with them at other times. I'd imagine so, if only because one usually doesn't build an empire without fighting and defeating other, preexisting or contemporary empires along the way. Also, if we're going with the version of Kang that likes a challenge, then at some point he'd have tried the Kree Empire.

On the one hand, fighting an empire that spans a galaxy presents a certain set of logistical challenges. Reinforcements at crucial points, communication, supply, then throw in the fanatical aspect of the Kree, where you'd have to crush every single world. By comparison, fighting only a select group of people on one planet is a fair amount easier, given that the Avengers aren't typically much for hit-and-run tactics. You'll know where to find them (or how to draw them out). On the other hand, the space empires rely at least in part on having overwhelming advantages in firepower. Which, if we're talking 20th Century Kree, or 35th Century Skrulls, they probably won't have that when they face Kang, direct from the 41st Century. The Avengers are used to facing alien races who are far more advanced than Earth. They're used to being underdogs and winning anyway.

I'd actually be interested in a story where Kang uses the various alien empires to further some plan of his. Maybe he thinks they'd be more of a challenge if they're united, so he engineers conflicts between them until one stands supreme (which would have been the Inhuman-ruled Kree by the end of Abnett and Lanning's cosmic run, but I have no idea who it is now. The Spartoi, maybe). Or he takes power in some disguise, then throws one of them at Earth to test the Avengers, or even to toughen them up for when he arrives with his true forces.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who Names A Town Warlock? Really

Warlock is a late '50s Western starring Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark. Fonda is an ace gunman named Clay Blaisedell, hired as a marshal by the citizens of Warlock, who are tired of their lives being ruined by a gang living up in San Pablo, run by a man named Abe McQuown. So Clay and his partner Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn) take the job, and they do pretty well getting the point across without killing anyone, though poor Curley (played by DeForest Kelly a few years before he'd be Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) nearly gets killed in a showdown will Clay. Fortunately, Clay felt it sufficient to show he was a lot faster on the draw, and Curley was able to walk away.

Widmark plays Johnny Gannon, who was a member of the gang, but gets tired of them always settling things by shooting guys in the back. He ends up staying in town, no longer welcome in McQuown's headquarters, but not entirely trusted by the townsfolk. Still, when the townsfolk tell the sheriff they're sick of him never being around, Widmark accepts a job as deputy sheriff.

I expected a fairly straightforward story, with Clay and Gannon eventually teaming up to fight McQuown, but there's a lot more going on. Clay falls for the local girl, Jessie Malone (played by Dolores Michaels), and considers hanging up the guns, to Tom's consternation. Lily (played by Dorothy Malone) comes to town, with a score to settle against Clay. She had brought along a man whose brother Clay killed, but that fellow is killed during a stagecoach robbery Gannon's brother was part of as she Lily was coming to Warlock. But the robbers didn't do it. Then she and Gannon fall for each other, but she still hates Clay, and there's Tom, moving about in the background.

Gannon does end up facing McQuown and his gang, but it isn't Clay that ends up having his back. You would think the townspeople standing behind their duly appointed representative of the law would be a good thing, but it only brings things to a head, and Clay is actually the one who ends up with the hard choice. Gannon doesn't get as much of a conflict. Sure, he didn't really want to fight his old friends, but he'd sworn to uphold the law, and that's all there was to it. He was going to try and do the job, even if it got him killed.

Clay is in this spot where he has to decide who he's going to be going forward, especially when he learns about all the things that have been going on around him without his knowledge all these years. There's a question of just what he's been doing all these years, how much of the Clay Blaisedell reputation is actually Clay, and where he draws the line, if he draws one. I thought his solution was fairly clever.

I'm not sure the film says anything good about people, though. At least enough of the citizens of Warlock wanted Clay to get him hired in the first place. And they seemed mighty pleased when he got McQuown's men to back down in the saloon. His reputation worked for them. But once Gannon is deputy sheriff, and shows the law will stand up to McQuown, suddenly Clay's rep is a liability. It'll bring in guys looking to make their rep against him. So he's gotta go. It's the Dark Knight thing: Die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain, but Clay never really changed. If anything, he was about to give up being a gun-for-hire, and they still turned on him.

They were still a step up from those backstabbing cowards in High Plains Drifter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Hellish Wasteland" Got More Literal

Over the weekend I had this dream where I was in Fallout 3, roaming the Wasteland. It was the usual burned out remnants of a long ago destroyed society, but at least I wasn't getting attacked by Raiders or Deathclaws. Then doorways to Hell opened and there were demons all over the place. Which as a video game would probably not be all that different from Doom, except I didn't have a BFG 9000. I mean, I liked Ol' Painless from Fallout 3, but a .32 rifle is not necessarily the best instrument for fighting demons that are 25-30 feet tall. To say nothing of the swarms of moderately large - we're talking beagle-sized, as opposed to bear or car-sized, which is why I said "moderately large" - demonic insects that were this shiny black color, except for the parts that were a dull red.

I have a fair number of dreams that turn into gun battles, but this one didn't. It also didn't become one of those dreams where I'm being chased forever and just running over the same place over and over again. I didn't fight anything. I ran for a while, dodging demons as they clawed their way out of the earth. I slipped into an old one-story house through the back door to catch my breath, and watched 3 Super-Mutants as they peered out at the world through boarded up windows while they argued over what to do. You know things are bad when those guys are hiding and talking rather than running at something and trying to beat it to death with a board with nails in it.

Eventually I wound up in some large garage, or transmission facility, and was going to try and figure out the password for a computer so I could send off a radio signal. What that was meant to accomplish, I don't remember. I don't think I was trying to warn anyone so much as get a lift out of there, but I doubt Hell was only breaking through in the remains of the suburbs of Washington D.C. It didn't come to anything, because I noticed something crawling on the ceiling above me, and I was trying to decide whether it had noticed me yet, and whether I should keep trying or get the heck out when the dream ended.

What I found interesting was that the way things played out in the dream generally conformed to what I enjoyed about playing Fallout 3. I didn't get involved in any combat. Instead I spent my time running/sneaking around, seeing how the inhabitants were reacting to this set of events (that mostly involved dying, or hiding while trying to figure out a way to not die). So that was nice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Binge-Watching Avengers Cartoons

Finished watching Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes late last week, so here are some thoughts, in no particular order (probably be some spoilers):

- I didn't like the shift in season 2 away from the full theme song to a spoken intro by Nick Fury, followed by just the last few seconds of the theme song.

- I did notice that in Fury's voiceover, he refers to Thor as "Prince of Thunder", not "God of Thunder". Trying to avoid the wrath of irritating, whiny Christian parent groups, no doubt.

- They pulled out pretty much every big Avengers threat. Kang, Loki, the Masters of Evil, Ultron, the Kree/Skrull War, even Galactus. Really, the amount they get in, even just as nods or references, is pretty impressive. Beta Ray Bill shows up, Malekith, Jimmy Woo and Clay Quartermain, Jocasta gets referenced, Annihilus, freaking Air-Walker and Firelord show up (sort of).

- The interesting thing is the varied approaches they take to the stories. They use the mass super-villain breakout Bendis kicked off New Avengers with, but put the Enchantress (working with Loki) behind it all. The Kree are presented in more or less their classic form, of a vast militaristic empire that claims whatever they see is theirs. But the Skrulls are in their Secret Invasion status of a people without a home (thanks to Big G), trying to take Earth because a prophecy says they will. It better plays to their strengths as a race of shape-shifters relying on deception, but it never gives much sense of them as a rival empire at war with the Kree.

- They do change the hero the Skrull Queen poses as, since Spider-Woman doesn't show up in this universe.

- Watching the Avengers fall apart because of mistrust over the Skrull presence got tedious after awhile. I was ready for them to stop squabbling and start punching bumpy-chinned aliens. I much prefer stories where the heroes are caught between squabbling villains, rather than the heroes hampering themselves because they can't get along. The Enchantress' war of revenge on her mortal allies, with the Avengers trying to corral all of them before Amora can kill them, that was fun.

- The one outcome of all the Skrull-induced dissension I did enjoy was the brief Kooky Quartet that gets formed. Captain America, Hawkeye, the Wasp, and the Hulk. You'd expect the Hulk to be a real cause of strife, but it's actually a case of pairing him up with the characters that were most likely to give him benefit of the doubt, or just be friends. The Wasp and Hawkeye pretty consistently get along with old Jade Jaws. and Captain America has made his feelings on the Hulk quite clear to the big fella.

- Then that got broken up by the appearance of, sigh, the Red Hulk. He and Adam Warlock were my two least favorite characters to show up in this series. I was so excited for a Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers team-up, and then there's Adam Warlock and his stupid Soul Gem. Booo, boooooo, Adam Warlock.

- I liked pretty much everyone on the show, even Stark, whose arrogance annoys all the others just enough they enjoy poking at him whenever possible (the first time the Avengers go to Wakanda is almost one long stretch of Stark getting egg on his face at seeing an entire country that's years ahead of him technologically).

- Hawkeye, unsurprisingly, was my favorite. He just seemed perfect. Brash, smart-mouthed, arrogant enough you enjoy the times he gets egg on his face, but good enough to come up big and show the ego is justified. He and the Hulk make a pretty good duo, because Clint's confidence in himself is so great he thinks nothing of threatening the Hulk to his face (and that amuses/impresses the Hulk he doesn't pop Clint's head like a grape). They did make him a SHIELD agent, but they let him keep his traditional costume (as opposed to the current Avengers Assemble cartoon, which has him in that stupid ass movie/Ultimate universe inspired thing with the sunglasses), and they at least kept the time in the circus as part of his backstory.

- Spider-Man gets to show up a few times, and his interaction with Captain America in the first appearance is pretty good. It's very much Peter in his early stages as a super-hero, still a kid, and this is at a point when Cap's standing with the public is pretty low, something Spidey can relate to, and struggles with. It even makes pretty good use of the Serpent Society, who get a fair amount of respect in this series overall. Whirlwind seems to be the stock "loser" villain, or maybe Blizzard. Thor did refer to MODOK as 'the head of a frost giant on an infant's body', but he at least gets to be a credible threat sometimes.

- I can't decide if I wish Galactus had more build-up or not. He's referenced once by the Skrulls prior to the last episode, when he shows up on Earth, looking for dinner. It works in a sense, because it's a big universe, and the Avengers are still learning how big, but it kind of blunted the impact to have it all in one episode. But it was the final episode, so maybe they'd have built it up more if they had a 3rd season. The Surtur Saga was going on all through season 2, but never got a payoff.

- I never was quite clear on why the Enchantress would work with Loki. I understood her working with the mortal villains, because she was always going to betray them, because she thinks them inferior to her. But she really ought to know better than to trust Loki, or to work with him even if you don't trust him. I mean, he was taking Odin's power for himself and was going to conquer all the Realms. How did she think that was going to work well for her? He'd just give her Thor, his hated brother, and let them go live happily ever after somewhere?

- I like the idea of different super-villain prisons for different types of villains. If nothing else, it reduces how many dangerous beings you have stored in one place, though it also disperses your forces for controlling them.

 - Hank Pym gets characterized as a pacifist, committed to rehabilitating the villains while they're confined. Which is not a characterization I've seen for him previously, but I thought it made sense. Hank has historically struggled with feelings of inadequacy about being Ant-Man, which has led to him either trying to be big strong heroes (Giant-Man and Goliath), or one that's really cocky and violent (Yellowjacket). But those are usually roles he's shown as not being comfortable in, or come about because he has a nervous breakdown. He's seemed most natural to me in roles that emphasize his mind, either Ant-Man or that Dr. Henry Pym stint (his time as the Wasp would probably also count, but I haven't read much of it). Being a superhero who relies on punching isn't his strong suit, so take it to an extreme conclusion and make him a pacifist, who then struggles with the fact that being an Avenger means punching, and means he's always putting out a new fire, but never dealing with the aftermath of the last one.

- Then you contrast that with Jan, who loves the adventure and the fighting. She understands it isn't Hank's cup of tea, but I think she fools herself into thinking he's at least adjusting to the idea. Also, Hank's bad at feelings, which annoys Jan, and then there's a lot of confusion and awkwardness in how they feel about each other. On the plus side, she does not try to marry him after he has a breakdown, but she does try to help him. Come to think of it, they never really resolved that plot thread either. Hank had an almost complete personality shift, and it just kind of stuck. Ran out of time, I guess.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Really Got To Stop Watching War Flicks

I was fairly impressed with Twelve O'Clock High, if only because it actually managed to make me dislike Gregory Peck for most of its runtime. He takes over command of an American bomber squadron in England, during the early days of the U.S.'s involvement in World War 2, because the brass determine the previous commander has become too emotionally invested in his men. The result of that is he's let discipline go lax, and the performance of the squadron is suffering.

So Peck takes over, and is the sort of stock, hardass commander I w always hate in movies. He tells the men to stop thinking of themselves as special, to give themselves up for dead. He criticizes the former second-in-command for laziness and cowardice, and assigns him a crew of all the worst guys in the squadron, in a plane with the words "The Leper Colony" painted on the side. When one of the bombers breaks group cohesion on a mission to hang back with a damaged plane, Peck demotes that pilot to The Leper Colony, and makes everybody change roomies so they'll stop caring about the other guys in the squadron.

So you're supposed to care about the group, but you aren't supposed to care about the people in the group. That makes a lot of fucking sense. Just care about the group as an abstract concept, to keep everyone alive. Oh wait, but you're already dead, so who cares? Might as well get drunk and crash a jeep into an embankment, then. Saves you freezing your ass off on a flight to Germany where you can catch a 20mm cannon shell in the abdomen.

Of course, as it turns out, Peck does care about the men, he just feels the tough love approach is the only way to make them the highly disciplined unit he feels they need to be to be successful. And the longer he's with them, the more he ends up like the previous commander, too emotionally invested.

The basic gist seemed to be that yeah, they were asking a lot of these men, but it had to be done. They were all that was available at the time. So you just keep sending them up until they don't come back, but you do your best to train them so they will come back. And that apparently requires stamping out any sense of them as an individual, or any sense of the other planes as individuals.

I get all that, in theory. But the approach here just seems so wrong-headed. And heck, when Peck makes his initial, "you aren't special, give yourself up for dead" speech, every single pilot applies for transfer (which is what he said they could do at the end of the speech). So Peck has his adjutant "lose" the paperwork, so he can have time to convince them to stay. Even then, he only pulls it off because all the other pilots take their lead from Lt. Bishop, who won the Medal of Honor (for flying the plane under fire while struggling with the captain, who had gone wild after taking some shrapnel to the head), and Peck basically browbeats/shames the kid into not transferring. By suggesting the young man would be shirking his duty if he transferred to another branch of the service. Which is a pretty shitty tactic from where I'm sitting.

It just seemed he could have still achieved discipline (and avoided the paperwork hijinks) if he hadn't taken the Bobby Knight approach to leadership. The "you're all pieces of crap I'm going to mold into men" bullshit. Respect the work they've done already, rather than crapping all over it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Zorro 1.3 - Zorro Rides to the Mission

Plot: We start with Monastario humiliating Sgt. Garcia by making him recite a speech about how he's a fat, stupid pig, and a disgrace to the army. At least it was happening in the privacy of the Capitan's office. Garcia has failed to find Don Nacho Torres, but along comes a local Indian, who reveals Torres is hiding at the mission, in exchange for the reward, which Monastario actually pays. I was sure he'd stiff the guy on the 500 pesos. Off the soldiers go, passing Diego and Bernardo on the way. At the mission, Torres and Padre Felipe watch as the Indians bring in the orange crop, but whoever was up in the bell tower helpfully alerts them to the approaching soldiers, so Torres makes it back inside the church before Monastario can grab him. And even the Capitan isn't willing to violate Sanctuary.

About this time, Diego and Bernardo arrive, but Torres tells him to stay out of it, as it would be bad for Diego or his father to aid a man accused of treason. While Diego tries to find a solution, Monastario conscripts all the Indians into pointless, backbreaking labor as way of tormenting Torres into surrender. Which nearly works, but Diego is able to convince Don Nacho to wait, and sends Bernardo off to get Tornado. By the time Bernardo returns, and Diego is able to don his Zorro outfit, Monastario is whipping the Native Americans, and Torres can hardly bear it. But Zorro rides up, grabs away one of the whips, and turns it on the soldiers, and then he and Monastario have themselves a whip fight on horseback, which I'm sure was great fun for those horses. But Zorro gains the upper hand, while all the Indians escape.

Quote of the Episode: Garcia - 'It is very hard to chase a fox through the rocks, Comandante.'

Times Zorro marks a "Z": 0 (3 overall).

Other: I'm pretty impressed a Disney show would have a whip fight back in the late '50s. I'm sure stuntmen were involved, and hopefully those guys had extra padding under the outfits, but still. There used to be an old bullwhip in the basement of my grandmother's house I would fool around with (because Indiana Jones), and those things are no joke. It's like what they say about nunchuks: If you don't focus on what you're doing, you're gonna have a bad time.

I did not know Sanctuary only works for 40 days, but according to the padre, that was how long the church can keep Torres.

Interesting to see Monastario, for all his bluster, still obeys the conventions of the Church. He removes his hat when entering. He even puts a peso in the poor box, and you could see a moment where he wasn't going to, and then he thought the better of it, or remembered to, before confronting Don Nacho.

I've been in a few too many history classes to completely support Padre Felipe, though. His comment about 'growing a fine crop of Indians' was probably meant well, but it still boils down to the Spanish probably forcing them to work on the mission so they can "save their souls" by converting them Christianity. I'm sure picking oranges is better than being forced to move heavy rocks back and forth for no particular reason other than cruelty, but still. This is going to be one of those things that'll be problematic for the duration of the series, isn't it?

So the Native Americans have escaped into the hills, removing at least one lever for Monastario to use against Torres. But the soldiers still surround the mission, and Torres can only hide in there for so long. Zorro's gonna have to come up with something before Monastario does.