Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Redemption

Jason Statham plays a veteran who escaped before he could be court-martialed and took to living on the streets back in England. While running from some goons who extort the homeless for rent one February night, he falls into the apartment of a photographer who is out of the country until October 1st. He takes advantage of the situation to get his life together for 9 months so he can look for a friend of his who also ran from the goons, and when she's found murdered, seek vengeance. He also sorta courts a nun who helps the homeless in the area, and tries to help his estranged wife and daughter.

It's not a happy movie. You find out late in the film what he did to be facing a court martial, it's not a case of someone being railroaded for taking a principled stand. He has bouts of PTSD, although I don't know how accurate a portrayal his hallucinations are. The money he uses to buy pizzas and takeout for the homeless guys, that he sends to his wife, that he uses to buy the nun a nice dress? Is pay for being an enforcer for a bunch of drug runners and human traffickers. He only knows how to deal with things with violence, can only hope using money he earned doing evil to help others will make up for it. Not a great long-term strategy, and he knows it.

As he puts it at one point, "they" sent him up a mountain and told him to kill, what did they think would come back down the mountain? I think that perspective informs his approach. The idea that anyone might be able to help him, or might want to, is foreign to him. He knows he's a lousy person, and dangerous, so he tries to make himself not dangerous the only way he can think of. Maybe he's right. I imagine the court martial probably sends him to prison, rather than some place equipped to help him process trauma. They either didn't think he'd come back down from the mountain at all, or they expected he'd be quietly broken, only harming himself, easily ignored.

I was left wondering at the end whether, overall, he did more harm than good during the nine months he put himself back together. Maybe on a micro level, for a couple of individuals, he helped. But on the macro level, with everything he did for that crime syndicate, probably not.

Monday, January 25, 2021

What I Bought 1/20/2021 - Part 1

Only three comics so far this month, but I did manage to find all of them last week. I was even able to find the specific covers I wanted for the two where I had a preference. Take the small victories. Gonna look at the two mini-series today, save the one ongoing for Wednesday.

The Union #2, by Paul Grist (writer), Andrea Di Vito (penciler), Le Beau Underwood (inker), Nolan Woodward (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - If you're gonna kneel over someone's defeated body, you could at least look at them.

The remainder of the team's fight against the possessed guards ends quickly, and badly. The Choir gets possessed - because apparently sound isn't a problem for symbiotes anymore - and Union Jack gets decked. By the time he wakes up, the bad guys are off to the nearest town, wreaking havoc in an amusement park. The symbiotes are destroyed by Jack jamming a sword hooked to a generator into a bunch of water - because apparently symbiotes are vulnerable to electricity now, fantastic - recovering Choir and saving that particular, limited day.

Then the rest of the team tells Jack they're leaving, because they were only in it for Britannia, and they're not stoked about taking order from "Union Jack". To make matters worse, Jack learns that if he can't produce a team to lead, he's in violation of some contract he signed with the government, and he's going to jail. At least according to some shitbag PM that acts as liaison. I'd question how likely that is to happen - you just lost several more heroes, you want to throw one of the few you got left in the pokey - but given the whole Brexit thing, I'd say Britain's government doesn't deserve any more benefit of the doubt than the United States'.

Well, we got to see a little of what the new characters could do, which is something. And I do like the tension between Jack and the rest of the team. I'm curious though, if you took him out of the picture, would the other three get along, or are they only united in the face of the symbol of England? I don't have any idea how well Scotland, Ireland, or Wales work together when left to their devices.

 
I like The Choir's design, with the scarf across the lower half of her face, although I thought it was a little funny the symbiote even covered the scarf where it hangs off her. I guess that means you can't just grab it to try and swing her into a wall, but it seemed like overkill. Overkill, in a Marvel Event tie-in about symbiotes overtaking the world? The hell I say! I wish Kelpie had a look that suggested "water demon" more than generic spandex. I know she's supposed to look like a superhero, and something streamlined is probably smart for a water manipulator, but it's a little underwhelming compared to Choir and Snakes.

Iron Fist: Heart of Dragon #1, by Larry Hama (writer), David Wachter (artist), Neeraj Menon (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Aja can't keep a monthly schedule to save his life, but I like the guy's work.

Danny's Randall Gate has been modified by a guy named Fooh to be able to travel to the other Heavenly Cities, so they do a test run to the Under City and finding under attack from undead ninjas on horseback. Danny's asked to protect the dragon, and finds Taskmaster has killed it an stolen its heart. Now I like Taskmaster, but that seems. . . improbable. Him beating Danny and escaping, not nearly as improbable. Back in New York, Luke is babysitting the future Iron Fist, Pei, and a baby dragon (the one that so liked Felicia in that issue of Black Cat). Then Lady Bullseye shows up with more undead ninjas, but Iron Fist and Fooh's return makes her run. In the meantime, though, someone killed Tiger's Beautiful Daughter and her city's dragon, too. 

Why does Tiger's Beautiful Daughter seem to draw the short straw on this stuff? She was the one that Davos beat down, and now she's the one that gets killed. Let Dog Brother or Bride of Nine Spiders take turn. Or John Aman.

I'm not sure it isn't just Hama's writing, but Taskmaster seems off, in terms of dialogue. Oddly formal, even when he's boasting or talking trash. 'Might I remind you that I am fighting you to a standstill without the use of my left hand?' It makes me wonder about possession, but Luke also uses the word "obstreperous", which is not one I'd see him using casually with friends. More like something he'd use with someone who was talking down to him. But I'm not up on Luke Cage's current status, so who knows. It's fine, just odd. 

At any rate, I definitely appreciate that Hama just dives right in. Danny's gonna visit a city, oh crap, it's under attack! Dead dragon! Luke Cage punching undead ninjas! Shit's going down! Screw decompression and lots of build-up via talking! Larry Hama and David Wachter know you want to see action!

 
Wachter goes a little heavy with the extra lines on characters' faces and the shading, but overall, I like his work. There's a good flow in the action sequences, where you can read how one action leads into another, and it leads the eye across the page naturally. He took an intermediate approach on Danny's costume between the classic with the really high collar and the shirt open to the navel, and Aja's more streamlined version. It leans towards the classic look to be sure, but the v-neck isn't as deep, the collar's more restrained. 

I wish Menon would brighten the colors up a bit. Maybe in the Under City, which I'm guessing doesn't get much sun, it makes sense for things to be drab, even for a "heavenly" city. But back in New York, I feel like the colors could pop a little more.

Minor quibbles aside, I have a good feeling about this mini-series. Getting excited to see the rest of it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #150

 
"The Logical End Point for Televangelists" in The Demon (vol. 3) #42, by Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist), Stu Chaifetz (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)

Etrigan's third go at an ongoing lasted almost 60 issues, the first 40 of which were done by Alan Grant and, for the first couple years, Val Semekis as artist. I don't own any of those, and from what I've seen there's far more Lobo in those issues than anyone should be exposed to. What I do have is 8 issues of Garth Ennis and John McCrea's run. All of which, not coincidentally, are part of storylines that involve Tommy Monagahan, aka Hitman. 

We'll look at his first appearance next week, but focusing on this stretch, it feels like Ennis really ramped up the animosity between Etrigan and Jason Blood. Not that either of them was ever happy with their arrangement, but here it's really played up that Etrigan has amused himself by torturing Jason Blood at every opportunity. That he has more than once, over the centuries they've been bonded, done things so awful it broke Blood's mind for decades. Meaning Etrigan had free reign to do whatever he wanted, because Jason couldn't summon the will to tell him no.

That continues here, as Blood's hopes of having some semblance of a happy life with his lady friend Glenda are dashed by Etrigan accepting an offer to be "Hell's hitman", which will send him all over the world killing demons. When it turns out Glenda's pregnant, that too is part of Etrigan's plan to destroy Blood once and for all. It backfires on him spectacularly, and gives Jason the upper hand. 

That leads to Blood, who is enjoying the hell out of his moment, letting Etrigan out with the oath, 'Gone o little man so tame, arise the demon whathisname.'

(Blood will eventually lose that upper hand due to Tommy's desperation, but in Tommy's defense, Blood also stiffed him on his $2 million for shooting Merlin in the head first.)

Ennis' Etrigan is gleefully cruel and violent, but it's overlaid over a lot of anger and hurt that comes out if anyone crosses him. He's like a particularly moody teenager, yelling about how no one knows hate and pain like him.

McCrea goes an entirely different direction with Etrigan from basically any other artist I've seen. Most of them default to Jack Kirby's bulky, muscular Demon. Sort of the conventional superhero build. McCrea makes him this jagged, almost emaciated looking creature. He has muscles, but his wrists and joints are all thin and bony, his ribs are visible, his shoulder blades jut out, his neck can be unsettlingly long. His clothes fit on him in a way that reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character somehow. It's a very unique look to be sure.

If I remember right, the run ends with some particularly angry archangel taking control of Heaven and deciding to try and destroy Hell once and for all, and Etrigan pulling himself out of a funk to lead a defense of Hell. I assume it succeeded, but I don't remember for sure.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Random Back Issues #51 - Daredevil #263

Matt, you're going to get so much self-flagellation material out of this fuck-up.

It's a new year. Last year's purchases have been added to the boxes, some stuff has been culled, and things got redistributed a little bit, so let's see what we get randomly this year. First up, part of Daredevil's tie-in to Inferno!

We just missed the issue where Daredevil is nearly strangled to death by a demonically possessed vacuum cleaner, after Typhoid Mary had a bunch of people he'd fought recently kick the shit out of him. Then she took him to the hospital so she could twist the knife (figuratively) on Karen Page. Twisting the knife (literally) will be left to Mysterio. Karen flees and seems to embrace the demons' offer to fall back into her heroin addiction.

Matt gets up and running again on some instinct, after his possessed life-support equipment was either trying to save his life, or eat his heart. Maybe both. He's wrapped up like a mummy, down to his boots, part of his mask, and his costume is basically a pair of Daisy Dukes. But that's not gonna stop him, as he heads below the streets, where a subway train is possessed and ready to take a bunch of people to their next stop. No, not Shea Stadium, someplace even worse.

 
Elsewhere, Typhoid is rocking a nice new helmet and cape as she informs Fisk that Daredevil isn't dead. Kingpin's not too pleased, but Typhoid is, since she can kill him again. And, you know, she's sort of in love with him. Fisk insists she stay with him, and Typhoid just laughs. I appreciated the way that Fisk wanted Typhoid to turn Matt/Daredevil inside out, attack his heart, and while she did that, she also did it to Fisk, too. Now he wants Typhoid, the way Matt wants Mary. And Typhoid enjoys getting the reactions out of both of them.
 
She lets in a demon I don't think is Mephisto, who she describes as Wilson's boss. Fisk denies this, claiming that he's the boss. The demon counters that Fisk sold them his soul years ago. 'A small thing. A tiny soul - an intangible worthless thing - worthless to you, that is.'

Daredevil's attempt to use the controls to stop the Hell-locomotive predictably fails, so he climbs outside and tries to steer it via its horns. It works, and they reemerge on the surface, all the passengers carried gently back to Earth while the demon, a thing of 'A thousand eyes a thousand teeth a thousand horns and spikes a thousand horrors' grabs hold of Daredevil as they crash roughly in the street.

 
It spits hellfire at Matt, designed to burn the soul, little realizing the power of Catholicism means guilt only makes Matt stronger. As long as he can avoid confronting what he's guilty about, that is. DD takes it head on, his billy club growing as he does, until he hits the creature between a couple of its thousand eyes and sends it packing back below. Laying bleeding in the street, he's approached by one of the local kids, Butch, who tells him the legal clinic was closed by the cops, and that Karen's gone, her and Matt's flat burned. Butch is sure Matt betrayed her (true), and then vanished somewhere (not yet).

The next issue is unconnected to Inferno, about the Owl using a bunch of punks who think he's passe to rip off a bunch of cocaine shipments so he can get real wings, and a baby a bum found a few issues earlier getting caught up in. Drawn by Steve Ditko. I'm not doing the tonal whiplash justice, especially when they go back to Daredevil wandering New York in a haze, beating the crap out of demons in the issue after that. A couple of issue later, he does flee NYC for over a year. During which he fights the Blob and Pyro, kills the craziest Ultron ever, and fights Mephisto in Hell, among other things.

[3rd longbox, 54th comic. Daredevil #263, by Ann Nocenti (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Max Scheele (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)]

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Lost Islands - Henry Stommel

One of a few books I got at Christmas after reading The Undiscovered Islands last spring, this one is more grounded in facts. Rather than including islands from antiquity that were rumored to house strange beasts, Stommel focuses on islands that were described since the Age of Imperialism kicked off, that were eventually removed from major nautical charts.

It's a drier read, as Stommel talks quite a bit about the difficulties in determining longitude, and how those errors cause a lot of confusion and mislabeling of the same island multiple times. So, you know, not exactly gripping reading at times. On the other hand, he also discusses some of the reasons people thought they found islands when they didn't. Only a few of them are related to people trying to make a name for themselves and banking on their fraudulent claims!

But sometimes icebergs can appear very different at a distance, depending on the light. Some of the theorized islands were based on some reporting they saw "discolored water", which I'm assuming means water with sediment in it, which would have to come from land. There's reefs and shoals that can produce unusual water patterns. Most interesting was one Stommel heard from a friend of his, where he was convinced one night they were headed right for an island, and it turned out to be a nighttime rain squall. The clouds and the rain in extremely dim light looked like cliffs apparently. That was pretty cool.

There's several general maps, some just showing where islands supposedly were in relation to other, actual islands. Some of them are old ship's logs showing the courses a captain believed his crew to be taking while they searched. You can tell he really did his research, although it's still a short book, about 150 pages.

'In the spring of the year 1783 a volcanic island was thrown up from the sea in the neighborhood of Iceland, and according to the Danish Captain Von Loewenorn, the crew that witnessed its birth thought at first that it was the end of the world, but since they heard no trumpet and the sun continued to shine, they decided Iceland itself had exploded.'

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Grow Up and Set Aside Ninja-ish Things

There's an entire channel on Pluto TV devoted to just Ninja Turtle cartoons. Which is right up there with the channel for just American Gladiators on the good ideas list. Especially if you just want something playing in the background*. 

Anyway, so ninja turtles. There's been several cartoons and I don't know how many different comics over the years. And I was thinking, have any of the turtles ever decided to just, stop doing the ninja thing? 

Most of the origins I remember say Splinter (whether he was a rat that became humanlike after exposure to mutagen, or a human who became ratlike after exposure to mutagen) found the four little turtles, and raised them and trained them in martial arts. 

(I assume there is some Discourse out there about how Splinter is the real villain because he raised these four turtles from babies and turned them into soldiers and assassins, and Shredder is actually the good guy who takes in troubled people and gives them a clan to belong to. Because this world is a hellscape, and other people are the greatest source of suffering on it.)

Next thing you know, they're fighting ninjas, guys with a disturbing amount of metal accessories, squishy brain aliens in exo-suits, giant talking alligators, all kinds of shit. Time travel, space travel, fearful and violent humans.

At some point, one of them had to say "Enough," right? I'd assume either Donatello or Michelangelo, if only because they're the two usually depicted as having the most other interests outside martial arts. Donnie could probably cheerfully go into engineering or computer programming, and Mikey would pursue an X Games career or become a professional gamer. Raphael and Leonardo strike me as enjoying fighting too much, and being too devoted, respectively, to ever abandon it.

I don't know of it ever happening, though. I vaguely remember Mikey being captured by the government and experimented on in the '90s Archie Comics series (which is the only one I really bought), and he might have been blind for a while because of that, but I'm not sure he stopped entirely. I mean, if you figure the Turtles were originally playing off Miller's Daredevil run, they can't very well let being blind stop them.

But I figure there have certainly been deaths, brainwashings, severe injuries that may have taken one of them off the board for a time. But in terms of simply looking at the life they're living, seeing it's not the life they want, and doing something about it? Not that I know of.

I don't know if they all just love it too much, or if they feel too much loyalty. That walking away would feel like turning their back on their brothers and their father/teacher.

* Although that's been less necessary the last week since the neighbors downstairs and their extraordinarily loud kid moved out. It is 200% quieter in this building now just from that kid not slamming their door 70 times a day, no exaggeration.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2020 Comics in Review - Part 5

So this is the point where I compare and rank the different series and titles against each other. As always, the "best" stuff is restricted to things I actually bought. So if you don't see something you love, well, you knew what was up for consideration after the first four posts.

Favorite Ongoing Series (minimum 5 issues bought):

1. Black Cat

2. Sera and the Royal Stars

Honestly, I'm not even sure what qualifies. Like, is there going to be more Wicked Things, or were those six issues it? Allison is doing more Steeple online, but I haven't read it, and I don't know how to count it. They didn't ship enough issues, but what are Kaiju Score and Sympathy for No Devils?

The only other series I'm certain would count is Deadpool, but. . . yeah. That's not in the running. So it's Black Cat, which had five issues I loved dearly.

Favorite Mini-Series (at least half the issues shipped in 2020):

1. Canopus

2. Wicked Things

2. Amethyst

So I'm counting Wicked Things as a mini-series, because that's what I know it is until I see different. I gave Canopus the nod, despite loving Allison and Sarin's work because I found the story much interesting. Allison's a smoother writer for dialogue and humor, but the plot for Canopus was a lot more gripping, and Chisholm's art worked for his story. Amethyst would be a distant third, narrowly ahead of Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists on the strength of Amy Reeder's artwork.

Other than those, there were again very few options. Spy Island and Broken Gargoyles were both disappointments. Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage kind of laid a dud at the end, which killed it for me. Taskmaster and The Union didn't ship enough issues. Not that either would break in based on what I've seen so far. Ditto for Sea of Sorrows, and I'm not sure about Kaiju Score and Sympathy for No Devils.

Favorite One-Shot:

1. Hedra

2. Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir

These are the two options, other than Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler, which is not in the running, seeing as it was yet another regrettable mistake on my part. I wouldn't say either of those two books were great, but Hedra was more interesting to look at, so that gets it the nod.

Favorite Trade Paperback/Graphic Novel (anything purchased in 2020 is fair game):

1. Raule and Gabor's Isabellae volume 1

2. Koren Shadmi's Highwayman

3. Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad: Collected Stories

I decided to split manga out from everything else, just to narrow down the choices. Isabellae had a nifty story about family and duty, wrapped up in some cool supernatural stuff and beautiful swordfights. Highwayman was about a guy wandering around, trying to determine what his purpose was, which is usually going to get my attention. And Blacksad is just really good noir stories.

Other than that, it'd probably have been either Star Power volume 2, or maybe one of the All-New Wolverine volumes I bought. Probably the Civil War 2 one, on the strength of that Squirrel Girl team-up issue.

Favorite Manga (anything purchased in 2020 is fair game):

1. Kino's Journey volume 3 (Iruka Shiomiya, Keiichi Sigsawa, Kouhaku Kuroboshi)

2. SandLand (Akira Toriyama)

3. Dirty Pair Omnibus (Haruka Takachiho and Hisao Tamaki)

When you boil it down, sometimes I just want comics where people beat the crap out of each other in either creative ways, or where it's at least drawn in a creative way. Volume 3 of Kino is the title character getting sucked into a tournament for a country where it grants you the right to make a law if you win. SandLand is more adventure than fighting, but you know Toriyama can draw a fight scene when he wants to, and he can do comedy too. All Dirty Pair comics are just stuff getting blown up and people dying, and this omnibus is no different.

Favorite Writer:

1. John Allison

2. Dave Chisholm

3. Jed MacKay

I know I put Canopus ahead of Wicked Things, but I figure Allison wrote two different things I really liked, and Chisholm only wrote one. I liked Black Cat a lot, but Taskmaster has not been entirely working for me, so he lands behind the both of them.

Favorite Artist (minimum 110 pages):

1. Max Sarin

2. Dave Chisholm

3. Audrey Mok

I love Sarin's artwork. It's lively and funny and expressive, and she can exaggerate if you need it for comedy, but it's not an all the time thing. She can do somber if you need that. I'd be curious to see Chisholm's work on another book, but he had a knack for memorable visuals, which was critical for his story, since it's supposed to be about a character being confronted by all their repressed trauma. With Mok, I just really like the sense of design for characters and outfits.