Friday, May 29, 2020

Random back Issues #31 - Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #4

What time is it? Time to reset the "Days Without a Hank Pym Breakdown" counter to 0!

A comic written in the mid-2000s about comics written in the 1960s. OK, that doesn't narrow it down much, but we're looking at the second Avengers mini-series Joe Casey wrote, set at the point when the Vision joined the team. I used a page from this issue for Sunday Splash Page #52.

The first half of the issue is the the Avengers attacking an island under AIM control. While the Black Panther, Wasp, Hawkeye, and Vision try to reach Central Command, Giant Man faces a wave of Adaptoids alone. He stops them, but he went somewhere ugly in his head to do it.
Unfortunately, the Super-Adaptoid escaped, which means Nick Fury isn't happy, and neither is Agent Mirch, who is some sort of proto-Gyrich government liaison dipshit. The type who blames the Avengers for not doing a better job, blames them for the existence of threats like AIM, says the President is used to disappointment, crap like that.

In other developments, Hawkeye and Vision stop a high-tech bank robbery, but get some flack from a mouthy cop. Hawkeye quite reasonably points out that if the police are so sure they can handle guys with disruptor weapons, they're free to do so. Note that I'm not saying Hawkeye says it in a reasonable tone, only that he makes a good point. This is the exact reason I wouldn't last as a superhero. Someone would complain about how I saved them and I'd tell them to fuck off and handle their own problems next time.

On top of that the public hasn't exactly warmed up to the Vision, and neither has SHIELD, which harbors suspicions he's actually the Super-Adaptoid in disguise. Hawkeye notices their surveillance van and knocks on the side, asking if they can have a copy of the footage. Hawkeye's kind of honked off at SHIELD anyway, since he thinks they're stealing Natasha away from him. No Clint, that would be Daredevil doing that. Eventually.
This is also during the stretch where T'Challa is teaching high school under the name Luke Charles. He's worried about one of his students, a quiet kid named Delroy, who misses school a lot and gets bullied by some hotshot everyone calls Mack. Or "The Mack", whichever. Guy is twice Delroy's size and has six guys backing him up, pardon me if I'm not impressed. Anyway, Mack implies that Delroy should just kill himself, or else Mack will do it for him. Lovely.

And then Pym has the nightmare above. It's the Adaptoid in his mouth that really sells the creepiness. He heads to his lab where he thinks about Captain America and Iron Man telling him about the heavy burden of being leader, then begins smashing up his equipment in frustration. By next issue, he'll be running around as Yellowjacket, claiming he killed Hank Pym.

This is the halfway point of this mini-series, and before we're done, we have the Yellowjacket fiasco, the Super-Adaptoid shows up, a certain section of Wakandan society sends a top assassin after T'Challa for apparently abandoning his duties, and the Wasp tries marrying Yellowjacket to shock Hank out of this. . . whatever you'd call it.

[2nd longbox, 70th comic. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #4, by Joe Casey (writer), Will Rosado (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Wil Quintana (colorist), Comicraft (letterer)]

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Road to Perdition

A movie about fathers and how they mess up their sons.

Paul Newman raised an entitled brat (played by Daniel Craig) who thinks he ought to have everything he wants, and should be able to boss people around like his dad. Only for his father to humiliate him in front of people repeatedly. Craig's character, Conner, is never going to be of any use, even as a bootlegger. Too arrogant, too stupid, too hot-tempered, too oblivious to his own limitations.

Even so, his father can't bring himself to do the smart thing and let Michael (Tom Hanks) just kill the fucker for what he did. It's the same mistake Viggo in John Wick made. Sooner or later his son's going to die anyway, because of the nature of the man he wronged. All the fathers accomplished is getting a lot of other people killed or hurt in the process.

With characters like that, I wonder if they refuse to hand over their sons because they actually love them, or because they're so used to having everything their own way, the concept of someone taking something, anything, away from them is just unacceptable. With Viggo, I really think he just felt he couldn't afford to be intimidated, given his position. He had to at least try to stop John Wick. With Paul Newman's character, I don't know. I think he recognizes on some level that he fucked up raising Conner. That his son is a crappy human being, even by the low standards of the bootlegging/mobster community. And this is the best he can do for him now. Try to keep him alive.

Or maybe he's more concerned with Michael, and knows if Michael keeps going, he's going to make too many enemies. That Newman seems closer to Michael, certainly treats him with more respect, than his own son, is a wedge between them. But Michael is probably what Mr. Rooney wants in a son. Hardworking, no-nonsense, reliable, and above all, grateful for all that Rooney has bestowed on him. Because Rooney is like a lot of bigshots. It isn't enough for him to have everything, people have to kiss his ass when he deigns to spread a little of it around.

Then you have the two Michaels, father and son. The first time we see Hanks, his son is watching him from down the hall as he changes out of his suit and puts away his handgun after work. His dad doesn't know he's there - or doesn't acknowledge him if he does - and even when his son calls to him taht dinner is ready, Michael Sr. responds without even turning to look at him.

When they go on the run, his son rides in the backseat, which creates a disconnect. It reminded me of Driving Miss Daisy, making Michael less of a father and more of a chauffeur, or a bodyguard. He doesn't know how to connect with his son, and for a time, can only resort to trying to order him around the way he probably would someone who owed Mr. Rooney money. Grab him, get in his face, snarl orders.

Ultimately, Michael confesses he maintained distance because he saw too much of himself in his son, and didn't want to encourage those traits. The opposite of the Rooneys, where Conner doesn't seem to be enough like his dad to please the man. Didn't want him to end up on the path to Hell like his father, like Mr. Rooney, like Conner. Which carries right up to the climactic confrontation at the beach with Jude Law's creepy weirdo character.

(It's interesting how long that drags out compared to how perfunctory Michael's eventual killing of Conner is.)

I don't know that I buy that Young Michael killing someone would have put him on the same road as his father. Killing a man who is almost certainly going to kill you doesn't exactly scream "future enforcer" to me. But I'm not sure exactly what Old Michael did that put him on that road in the first place.

It makes me wonder if either father, Michael or Rooney, sees themselves clearly, let alone their sons, and therefore, how accurate they are in their assessments. The elder Rooney might have hid it better than his son, but there's still that sense of entitlement to him, that he's the one who gets to decide how things are. Conner may have been more like his old man than either recognized, just without the public show of false modesty and honor. Young Michael might have a penchant for violence - the scene where he gets in a fight at school after learning what his father does for Mr. Rooney is clearly supposed to suggest as much - but maybe he's just confused and frustrated because no one is providing any answers, or seems to find anything at all wrong with the situation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

August Isn't Only June's Leftovers

I wasn't expecting there to be any solicitations for new comics in August. I figured April's comics are coming out in June, May's in July, and so August will just be all the books that were originally going to come out in June. And to a certain extent, I think that's right, barring the second wave of the pandemic putting everything in lockdown mode again.

But there were a few things listed I didn't see in June's offerings. The 5th issue of Amethyst. I also noticed they solicited the 4th issue of that Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic Conner and Palmiotti were doing. I'm not planning on buying it, but it looked like Cass has a costume, but it's the one that one kid wears. I think he's called Signal? The Signal? That guy. Couldn't she just have her Black Bat costume from the Batman Incorporated days?

The first issue of Rogue Planet came out today, so maybe by next week I'll have some sense of how likely it is I'll buy the 4th issue in August. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are doing a two-part Locke & Key story set in World War 1 called Pale Battalions. I wasn't too impressed with that Dog Days one-shot last year but this sounds like there's more meat to it.

Source Point has the first issue of something called Broken Gargoyles, about two guys recovering from their experiences in World War 1. I think I mostly noticed it because the title's font reminded me of Atomic Robo's. The solicit also uses the term "dieselpunk", which I had never heard before. Learn something (useless) every day.

Oh, and Marvel has a Fantastic Four mini-series drawn by Neal Adams. Sadly, it's written by Mark Waid, so it won't reach the delirious insanity I remember hearing about in those Batman: Odyssey mini-series Adams wrote and drew a few years back. Based on Sallyp's descriptions, those things were nuts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lockout

Guy Pearce plays an ex-CIA agent accused of murdering his friend and stealing a suitcase full of important secrets. His only chance for a reprieve is to board a supermax prison in orbit to rescue the President's daughter, who was up there investigating claims that the prison operates in a inhumane manner. Which it does. The prisoners are kept in some kind of hibernative stasis for the duration of their sentences, which can cause dementia. So it's actually worse than the system they had in Demolition Man. Stallone's character at least came out 30 years on ice with his sanity in one piece.

It's also, while used by lots of countries, run by the United States, but possibly built and maintained by a corporation, which is definitely not ethically dodgy. It's also revealed the prison is not in a stable orbit around the Earth, and requires constant corrections by the staff to avoid falling to the planet. How difficult is it to get it in a proper orbit? The International Space Station exists in the movie, because the prison crashes into it at one point, and it orbits at a sufficient speed to avoid dropping out of orbit. But apparently it was too much trouble to do the same with the massive prison.

This is what happens when you hand over infrastructure to private industry. They cut corners and then where are you.

There's also a bit where the head of the Secret Service got the Vice-President and Congress to agree to invoke part of the 25th Amendment to temporarily strip the President of his authority so they can launch an armed assault against the prison. Somehow that guy is not fired by the end of the film when the President has re-assumed authority. Which is surprising. Kind of expected the President to get rid of someone who pulls that kind of power play, if not have them outright killed.

What, like you wouldn't have any motherfucker that crossed you assassinated if you were President. No? You wouldn't? Just me then? OK, fine, so I'm the bad guy now.

Pearce only actually agrees to go because the guy he gave the suitcase to wound up there, and he needs to know where the suitcase is to prove his innocence. So up he goes, snarking and rolling his eyes all the way. Which is the problem. Pearce is sarcastic and irreverent about everything, including his own problem, which makes it hard to care about any of it. It's very much of the Bruce Willis in Die Hard approach, except John McClane still had moments between one-liners where he paused to freak out, worry, or try to save someone. You know, imply that there are actual lives at stake that matter.

Pearce's character can't be bothered to do any of that. Even when he tries, it doesn't work. When he's supposed to look frustrated or angry at one point because someone died, it looks more like a child trying to hold their breath. It made me laugh.

There's just nothing to the movie, really. No interesting or cool action pieces. The CGI in the chase sequence at the beginning is terrible. It reminds me of something you might see on a DVD right before you get to the main menu. It's probably OK for what it's trying to be, but that's the nicest thing I can say about it.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Map of the Dead

I didn't know "effulgent" was also a synonym for "shitty".

When I picked up The Necromancer's Map, I didn't realize it was actually the second in a series of stories, following on from Songs of the Dead. I figured it was strictly its own thing, and, like some of the other books we've looked at recently, just starting from somewhere in the middle.

What you have is your general European medieval setting, with some magic and other races of beings thrown in. Well, so far I've only seen elves, but I'm assuming there's more than that. Bethany's a necromancer, wanting to decipher an old map she found to locate the Covenant of Necromancers. Which is presumably a safe place to be, since necromancers are apparently frowned upon by most people in this world. There's even a group that runs around killing necromancers in accordance with some dead king's wishes that pops up in the third part of the story.

Bethany's accompanied by Elissar, the glowing lady up above, who she apparently met in the previous story, and then got killed in a fight with an assassin. Bethany then used her magic to revive Elissar, something the woman is not exactly pleased about. I think the only reason Elissar sticks with Bethany is because a woman she knew told her the necromancer would lead her to the person she wants to find most. We learn about who that is and why in the third part as well.
And they add a third to the party in Jonas, who was studying magic at a school Bethany hoped could decipher her map. The school is both the most ridiculous and interesting part of the comic, because they are essentially training the children to be magical housestaff for rich people. Meaning, use magic to create a charming ambience for dinner, or tidy up a messy room. It doesn't exactly surprise me someone calling themselves a God King would decide having people to do such things magically was necessary, but it seems kinda pointless. Maybe magic is just that common and easily accessible for them.

Jonas gets to play the cheerful and naive member of the party, who seems mostly excited about the opportunity to be on an adventure, and reveals a few extra talents he didn't even know he had. The fourth part of the story has him teamed up with Elissar the entire time, the classic pairing of the grumpy veteran and the inexperienced newbie. It makes for a few funny moments.
The book is pretty good at the funny reaction moments. Bethany resurrects a man because his children can't find his will and are squabbling over the estate. His first response to one of his daughter's teary greeting is to wish to be dead again. I don't know the breakdown in writing responsibilities between Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron, so maybe that's a joint thing, but it was the part of the book I found the most enjoyable. The bits and pieces of world-building are kind of interesting, but I don't have much of a feel for the setting, how any of the different places we see are interconnected.

Sam Beck's artwork is a fairly realistic style. Not much exaggeration in figures or movement. Sometimes body postures or proportions are a little awkward, but it's a minor thing and doesn't detract from the story. Fight scenes are low-key, people swinging swords around a bit, nothing too flashy. Nobody chucking lightning bolts or anything. Most of the more magical elements are represented by the colors, different auras and things like that.

Overall, I think the art works for the story. Even though there's a lot of fear of necromancers going mad with power, the dead that are raised rarely look terrifying or monstrous, and neither does Bethany, even when she feels like she's losing control of her power. The scariest looking guy is the necromancer that's actively hunting Bethany, and that's by design. He's a bad guy, or a sap twisted into believing all this stuff about how it's all the other necromancers that are bad, but not him.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #115

"Weirdest Gender Reveal Party Ever," in Beware the Creeper #5, by Denny O'Neil (writer), Steve Ditko (penciler), Mike Peppe (inker), Morris Waldinger? (letterer)

So we're going backwards for one week because I thought this series was just called The Creeper, and that the notation I had for Beware the Creeper only referred to the Vertigo mini-series we looked at for Sunday Splash Page #80. But actually I'd forgotten to list that one in the big word document I have for keeping track of the collection.

That's not really a splash page, but the only one I could find in this six-issue run was from the last issue, when penciler duties were split between Ditko and Jack Sparling and the art just didn't look very Ditko-like. Maybe he did breakdowns or layouts and Sparling handled finishes. And this is a pretty good page, so what the hell. I broke the rules for Bandette (and Avengers Arena), I can break it for Steve Ditko.

After being introduced in Showcase #73, the Creeper gets his own series, which ends after 6 issues. Other than the first issue, where the Creeper tries to track down a costumed killer called the Terror who is trying to blackmail various crime syndicates, most of the series revolves around the Creeper, and his special investigator secret identity of Jack Ryder, trying to track down the mysterious Proteus, who can make himself look like anyone. Hence Ryder's fever dream up there.

It's an ongoing game of cat and mouse, with the Creeper pursuing any lead they can get on Proteus, each of which ends up dying before they can reveal much useful information, like any of Proteus' aliases. Meanwhile, Proteus keeps circling around Jack Ryder, impersonating his co-workers and bosses to get his hands on any evidence Ryder may have. They have a few skirmishes across several issues, before a final battle atop a dam in issue #6

There's a Sergius O'Shaugnessy that writes the first couple of issues, who I think is Denny O'Neil, who ends up writing the last few issues. Not sure why he couldn't use his real name initially. I do wonder how much input into the characters personalities Ditko had versus O'Neil.

The Creeper puts on this act, with the nutty laugh and calling criminals "mortals", implying he's something else, but he's still Jack Ryder, no matter how different the chemicals that get activated make his body. Ryder's role at the TV station is amorphous, since he can seek out people with info for scoops, but also gets assigned to protect their weather lady, Vera Sweet.

Proteus reveals his goal is to strike back at a world that he feels met him with scorn and mistrust, when all he wanted was friendship. Which doesn't quite jibe with the first few issues where he was working with criminals to get politicians in his pocket, and trying to frame the Creeper.

Ditko draws the Creeper as a physically normal guy, more defined musculature than Jack Ryder, who has the more typical wire-thin Ditko guy look. But all of the Creeper's movements are bizarre. Ditko draws him running in this odd hunched posture, up on the balls of his feet. Sometimes with his chest almost parallel to the ground as he runs or throws punches. His arms are all over the place. It's like an ancestor to how artists like MacFarlane and Erik Larsen would draw Spider-Man later, all the weird contortions where his knees are even with the top of his head while he's swinging around. Which is odd since it doesn't really match how I picture Ditko drawing Spidey himself moving.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Random Back Issues #30 - Hourman #23

Wow, Hourman's got the '90s saliva trail going there something fierce.

This is right near the tail end of the Peyer/Morales Hourman series. The Hourman in question, an android from the DC One Million era, has decided to use the last of the fuel in his time ship to take all his friends (and a couple of his villains) on a little vacation through time. How nice.

Having not installed a bathroom on the ship, they pull over in 1954, still in Happy Harbor, where Hourman set up while he was being "mentored" in humanity by Snapper Carr of all people. While everyone else is using the facilities, Hourman assumes his secret identity of "Matthew Tyler", who looks like a '90s slacker/geek type guy. Doesn't exactly blend in, as he and Snapper run afoul of the local police. They're briefly saved by Aubrey Lee, mother of Bethany (Snapper's ex and currently dating Hourman), when she claims to be escorting these prisoners. Only problem is, she introduces herself as chief of police of Happy Harbor. True in 2001, not in 1954, especially since she's talking to the chief of police of 1954's Happy Harbor.
Aubrey beats the crap out of him, revealing he'll eventually be caught by the feds squeezing a school for the blind for protection money, dying broke and alone. He tries to shoot her, but Matthew stops the bullet and Aubrey, well, you see how that ended.

Back in the time ship, Snapper bemoans giving the gas station attendant a gold coin worth $600 to pay for Dave buying a case of beer (that he loves that stopped being made in 1971) and some pre-Code horror comics. Beth points out the money was from his book being published, when Snapper didn't even know that happened. Hourman knows who published it, but refuses to say. He also refuses to check in on his and Beth's future together, until she argues him into it.

Still in Happy Harbor, just 20 years in the future (so about a year from now), most of them drop in on Beth, finding her married not to Hourman, or Snapper, but Gary. Aubrey's useless schulb of a deputy. No one other than Gary seems particularly happy with that reveal. Give the audience what they need, not what they want, I guess. Up on the roof, old Hourman foe Dr. Togg, a demon called Torcher, and Dave's annoying teenage son Sticky are plotting a mutiny. Togg and Torcher because they're bad guys, I guess. Sticky because he's pissed they haven't left Happy Harbor yet. He wanted to see Woodstock '94!
I didn't even know there was a Woodstock '94. I just know the original one and the late-90s one, where everyone blames Limp Bizkit for a crowd of drunk idiots deciding to break and burn shit. Speaking as someone who has (unwillingly) gone to a lot of parties involving drunk people, they don't need encouragement to break shit. Anyway, Hourman's got Amazo's skull on his time ship like a hood ornament, and they're going to reactivate it. Definitely nothing that can go wrong with that plan.

And in the 853rd Century, the original Hourman is there running Tyler ChemoRobotics (then returning to his time with his memories erased), and gets a visit from Batman 1,000,000. He tries to fight him, but gets dosed with something that cancels the effects of Miraclo, but also 'paralyzes your psychological defenses against challenging new ideas.' OK, sure. Despite the Justice Legion A agreeing to leave their Hourman be, Batman is still spying on him, and he's not happy. He's Batman, no matter the time or universe, he's never happy. He tells Rex that the android let a cop be assaulted (leaving out it was by another cop, all versions of Batman also apparently being dishonest cocks), and Rex concludes he needs to scrap him.

The book only has two issues left after this, which involve android Hourman giving Original Recipe Hourman some much-needed peace, and the android and Snapper going their separate ways as Hourman rushes off to fight Amazo one more time.

[6th longbox, 61st comic. Hourman #23, by Tom Peyer (writer), Rags Morales (penciler), Dave Meikis (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), Kurt Hathaway (letterer)]