Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Threat

A late 1940s movie about a hardened criminal (Charles McGraw) who escapes from prison, and before he flees the country, wants to take revenge on the District Attorney and the cop who caught him, as well as figure out who set him up.

McGraw isn't just the main piece here, he's almost the only piece. Everyone else is cowed or intimidated by him, pushed around with little resistance. He doesn't play Red Kluger as being crazy or anything, just coldly determined and indifferent enough to everyone else's fate you can believe he would kill any of them, including the men in his own gang, with no hesitation.

There's a bit where one of his goons complains his watch has stopped, and asks what time it is so he can re-set it. Red asks to see it, then smashes it, telling him, 'Now you don't need know what time it is.' There's nothing that says he got any enjoyment out of it. He's sending the guy a message to stop griping about how long they've been there.

The film plays with the tension of Red not knowing who set him up. He suspects a singer and brings her along, while she protests innocence and tries to pin the blame on Red's partner, who got away clean to Mexico with the money. That partner is supposed to be flying in to pick them up, but the wait drags on, and tempers fray, and you start to wonder if he's going to show up or not. And what Red will do if he doesn't, since there's nothing he can do to the guy if he stays south of the border.

It's barely over an hour long, and that's with some padding about the cop's wife realizing he's been abducted because of a conversation they had about baby names. It doesn't result in anything, since the situation is settled before the cops get their act together, but it doesn't detract from the main story too much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What I Bought 11/9/2018

Those comics I ordered finally showed up yesterday. They were supposedly in town Monday of last week, then somehow appeared in St. Louis on Sunday, and gradually made their way back here. We'll get to them eventually, next week, but here's two books from last week.

Harley Quinn #53, by Sam Humphries (writer), Lucas Werneck (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer) - Harley's not lined up with the arrow on the dial, so does she get whichever disaster the arrow points at, or the one she lands on herself? Either way, please no ear spider.

Harley is now filming dumb videos of herself to post online to make money to pay for all the damage she caused the city. This is taking a toll, since she has to be "wacky" Harley all the time to get the views that bring in the bucks. Minor Disaster is the daughter of Major Disaster, and frustrated she hasn't been able to make a cool disaster dial like her dad, opts to use what she's got to make all of Harley's videos go awry. You know, rather than deal with her overwhelming desire for her father's approval.

This is not how I envisioned this playing out. I expected it to be more comic, but it plays tragic, since Harley is trying to make this cash to repair damage she created (and presumably to avoid legal action and jail time). I guess I expected Minor Disaster to enjoy wreaking minor havoc, instead of being a frustrated, wannabe major super-criminal. More like the Prankster, or Mxy on his more playful days. It might play out in an interesting way (I figure Harley is going to try helping her tormentor through her issues at some point), but I'm not sure I care enough to stick around for that.

It's the same thing with the art, where I was expecting something more manic, maybe closer to Skottie Young, which is not Werneck's style at all. I think his works well for the quieter moments, where Harley is trying to do a video on her makeup, but keeps slipping into talking about the strain and exhaustion she's feeling, or when Minor Disaster is doubting herself. But during the scenes when Harley's trying to do her weirder videos, it could stand to be a little looser. Let the characters' expressions go more over the top. If you figure Harley is trying to play to the camera, give the people what they clamor for, she'd have to go that route. As it is, the Harley we see during the library stunt, or the aborted motorcycle jump doesn't seem all that different from how Harley typically is.

Giant Days #44, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Dang it Esther, the landlord said no nailing stuff on the walls! You're gonna lose the security deposit!

It is Valentine's time. Daisy is angry about, Esther is determined to somehow get a real relationship, and Susan is set on proving she can be romantic. Esther meets some dashing, wealthy inventor guy at an engineering talk she attends with McGraw, but breaks up with him for a bizarre reason, even by Esther's standards. Daisy has problems with an inconsiderate student on her floor, and Susan's attempts to be romantic don't exactly pan out (although charcoal is a good gift for McGraw), but that's OK.

I expected Esther's romance to last longer than half an issue. Granted, that was because I expected it to cause a lot of trouble for her and her friends, but it's interesting to watch her odd progression towards, whatever it is she's becoming. The interest in the sciences was a surprise. Susan not catching flack from McGraw for remaining mostly herself was nice. I'm still worried Esther is going to end up dating that Saffy girl, who appeared again this issue as one of the unhappy students on their floor. I keep expecting Emelia to show up again. She and Esther should still be in classes together.

Sarin has to draw a lot of characters with hearts in their eyes this month, and one girl on the first page who is sighing hearts. Seems like that might be a medical condition worth getting checked out. The panel where a heart smacks McGraw in the face made me laugh. I also love the variety of hairstyles people get, speaking as someone who still hasn't figured out drawing hair consistently. Although that one kid on Esther's floor has hair shaped like an onion.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

It's a slapstick comedy about a bunch of people who overhear a dying man reveal the location of $350,000 he stole years ago, and then set off on a madcap race to get there first (after a brief attempt at cooperation that falls apart after they can't decide on how to divide the money equally). All of this is being tracked by the cops, especially a captain (Spencer Tracy) who really wants to clear this last case before he can retire.

My dad commented that he couldn't figure out how Stanley Kramer got Tracy to be in this movie. They did a lot of films together, but not many like this one.

Like any comedy, it's going to depend on what you find funny when it comes to characters. Ethel Merman's bossy mother-in-law wore thin on me in the first fifteen minutes, but I enjoyed Jonathan Winters' character quite a bit.

It's a long movie, almost 3.5 hours. Certain sequences drag on forever, especially the ones of Ethel Merma's son, Sylvester, dancing with his girlfriend in his apartment. But the whole sequence with Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett in the plane also. They're trying to give everyone plenty of screen time, but they don't really have enough for everyone to do to justify it.

That said, there are some hilarious sequences (I enjoyed Winters destroying that roadside gas station), and I like the points when the police are just befuddled by what these idiots are doing. It just needed to be at least 30 minutes shorter.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Long Weekend in the Woods - Chapter 5


Waking up after being beaten into unconsciousness was a new experience, one I could have done without. My head felt like it was made of lead as I struggled to sit up from the floor of a. . . tent? As my vision cleared I saw that sullen girl sitting near the entrance, watching me silently.

She's not hitting me, so perhaps it's out of her system. The diplomatic approach might produce better results this time. I politely asked for water.

"No." Let's hear it for the diplomatic approach.

We regarded each other silently. I didn't want to be the first to speak again. It would make me appear desperate. However, without answers, I'd never get out of here, and I imagined she went days without talking. But she surprised me.

"Where are they?" It was always hard to read her voice, but it sounded quieter, more constrained than normal.

"The panda and the fool?" Slight nod. "I don't know. We got separated after we were attacked by some raccoons."

She regarded me skeptically, then gestured at a small pile of items. "You packed lightly for a mission of goodwill." The sarcasm was easy to read.

"I was only there to get them to pay a cleaning bill at first. I showed up just as they were getting ready to leave."

"Convenient. And you decided to tag along?"

"More or less."

"To help them look for me."


"You hate me."

"Well, now, hate is a strong word. . ."

"It's more likely all this is your doing, and you came to stop them from wrecking your plans."

"But I don't have any plans involving you or this place! I didn't even know half of what they got up to here!" Whether I wanted to appear desperate or not, I was starting to feel like she might intend to kill me. "We were headed for your home before all this happened. The two of them might be there now!"

"The creatures are around there, too. You could walk me into a trap."

"Creatures? You mean whatever is using ceramic armor? Then isn't it all the more important to go? The panda will probably be OK, but you and I both know the fool's odds won't be nearly as good." Her face may have softened, microscopically, so I pressed my advantage. "It sounds as though you need help, and you know they will if they can. Can you afford to throw them away?"

"Would you care if I did?"

"Seeing as they're the only ones who can convince you not to kill me and line you boots with my skin, yes. Besides, my life would be, boring without them."

I hadn't ever admitted that out loud. I wasn't proud of it, but it was true. She wasn't impressed.

"It's a game to you. None of it, their lives or our homes, really matters."

She was wavering, trying to convince herself I couldn't be trusted. I could make a final push now, if I handled it correctly. She wouldn't accept sincerity from me, but arrogance?

"It may be a game, but I'll play it to win if you'll deal me in."

Not my best pitch, but it seemed to work. Played into her worst expectations of me. She silently shoveled the pile of my gear into a satchel, then slung it over her shoulder. She hauled me up by my collar, then turned and tossed me through the front flap. It reminds me that she's stronger than she appears. A rock jabbed me in the ribs as I landed and I reminded myself I hate the outdoors. Every eye turned in my direction as I pulled myself up. The sullen girl stepped out and spoke to them.

"We're going back home." She turned to me. "Let's go."

Clever Adolescent Panda

Jonathan didn't listen to Claire's suggestions, so she decided to come with me. She said she'd smooth things over for me with Jerry, but I think she wanted to bargain for the jetpack. She wasn't happy to learn it blew up.

"You used it to blow up a war machine?"

"Or a mobility assist device. Pollock multi-tasks with her inventions."

"All over an April Fool's Day prank?!" She grumbled the whole way across the river, which she spent riding on my back. I thought about doing a roll and dumping her, but she was planning to help, and she was keeping the wrench dry.

And it would have been rude.

The trip through the woods was peaceful. We saw signs that large groups had been moving through, carrying that dank smell. But the ground was only torn up in small areas, not nearly as deep as the ones I'd seen earlier, like they gave up. We reached the cave and saw a dozen or so bears and raccoons snoozing on couches and beat up lawn chairs. A couple of the raccoons were on a raft floating in a kiddie pool, but the water didn't look fresh.

Claire patted my back and I crouched so she could slide off. She handed the wrench to me as she approached a raccoon clutching a pile of Twinkies in its sleep.

"Jerrrrreee," she called softly. He grumbled and gripped the snack cakes tighter, smooshing some of them. She grinned as she grabbed one of them and slowly smushed it on his forehead. Jerry still didn't wake up. I heard an annoyed "huff" from her as she grabbed him and pulled him to the pool. Then she dunked his head under the water. It took a few seconds, but he started thrashing until she let go as he sputtered and rubbed his eyes as he surfaced.

"Who, who the hell?! Claire? What are you-" He noticed me sitting off to one side, and his eyes bulged. Maybe I shouldn't have been holding the wrench. "Holy, holy crap! Rafe, Rafe wake up! That panda's here!"

The bear that had been on the couch next to Jerry woke up with a low rumble, "Who disturbs nap time?" His eyes fell on me and I could tell he was sizing me up. I could have cleaned his clock five times by now, but that would be impolite. I waved awkwardly instead.

Claire rolled her eyes. "Yeah Jerry, there's a panda. Can you hurry up and tell everyone else so we can get down to business?"

Jerry's mouth opened, then closed. He sat silent while the bear - Rafe I guess - stretched for a moment, then rolled onto his back legs. They shared a look, then Jerry replied, "OK, Claire, I get it. You and the panda aren't here to cause trouble. So what are you here for? More of the metal off that trailer? Because we already used that to build a sweet slide down by the river." He gave her a thumbs up.

"A slide? Come on, Jerry, just find a nice patch of ground to wear smooth like the otters do. I could use that metal as a conductor."

"The otters claimed all those, and they won't share. But this way we can have all sorts of twists and loops." He mimicked them with his paws. Besides, we don't need peanut butter or oats, so I don't see what you'd have to trade."

"Malcolm and I have almost convinced Jonathan -"

Rafe snorted as Jerry replied, "You've been telling me that for months. The old man ain't budgin'. Considering how much peanut butter he eats, I'm surprised he can move at all." A couple of the bears chuckled.

"Jerry, that's not nice. He's your family."

"Sure, that's why I can say it, we're family. Anyone else said it, I'd cut them and wash my hands with their insides." He looked at me when he said it. Rafe and Claire both rolled their eyes, while I tried to look like I was impressed. Really, I was getting impatient, so I spoke up.

"Excuse me, I'm just looking for my two friends-"

"Yeah, yeah, the one with the ball cap, and the one with the cape. We don't know where the cape lady is. Calvin was here awhile, but headed in the direction of the village. Said that's where all of you were headed. Left right as we started lunch, so if he walked straight through, he's probably there by now."

Claire was not happy. "Jerry, you let him go alone? You told me those strange guys are all over the place there."

"It was lunch time. We offered to send someone if he'd wait. He didn't seem too worried."

"Calvin doesn't really wait when there's something to do." He would also have definitely walked straight through, and probably faster than Jerry thought he could. He was definitely there already.

Rafe nodded. "I got that impression. He was very antsy."

"Yeah, yeah, and a real cold fish, too!"

"Maybe he just thought you were annoying, Jerry. Anyway, you're awake now, so you can come with us."

Jerry scoffed. "You got a bodyguard right there. My boys got enough bruises to know the panda can fight. Fred's gonna be limping the next couple weeks."

Claire whirled on me. "What did you do to Fred?!" I raised my paws defensively and shook my head. I didn't know who Fred was.

"I may have thrown him at one of the others? Sorry, but they were shooting at me."

Claire watched me, then sighed and turned around. "OK, fine. There's blame on both sides. Jerry, you aren't gonna let your favorite cousin go off in the woods alone with this strange, violent panda, are you?"

I didn't like being called "violent". Or "strange". She hadn't had any problems so far traveling with me.

"Who said you were my favorite cousin?" Rafe put a paw on Jerry's head and squished him, gently.

"You don't let any of your other relatives come to visit. Let's go with them."

Jerry grumbled, but grabbed a couple of those stake guns, while Rafe gave orders to some of the other bears, who had all been sitting around watching us argue. While he did that, he picked up a piece of rebar with a chunk of concrete on the end and slid it into a in a strap slung around his side. It looked awkward until he dropped to all fours. Then the club shifted and rested on a pad over one shoulder while the handle ran alongside his body. It would still be slow to get out, but you could carry it a long way like that.

Still grumbling, Jerry hopped on Rafe's back as Claire climbed onto mine as we headed for Cassanee's home, and hopefully Calvin. Maybe I could figure out how to find Pollock during the trip.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #40

"All Those Exposed Pipes Have to be a Safety Hazard," in Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #5, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (color artist), Jeff Powell (letterer)

I almost went with the page from issue 3 of Robo and Carl Sagan chatting outside a diner, but Obviously Evil Computer won out. This might be my favorite Atomic Robo mini-series. Strong contender, to be sure. Robo fighting against some creature from outside time and space that keeps reappearing again and again through his life, as Robo struggles to stop it.

There's a clever twist to how the creature operates relative to how we perceive time, appearances from H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Sagan, and mathematician Charles Fort (he and Sagan have different perspective on causality), a lot of good one-liners. Plus 1920s Robo's version of swearing. I need to start using "banana oil" and "horsefeathers" as dismissive remarks in my daily life.

Because the story takes place across several decades, Wegener gets to draw a variety of locales, and Robo in a variety of outfits (which helps for telling them apart near the end). I'm especially fond of 1970s Robo wearing a Gilligan hat. Does Robo even need to worry about getting too much sun on his head? I suppose it might make his brain overheat. Plus, lightning guns! Everybody loves lightning guns!

Friday, November 09, 2018

Share the Spotlight with Someone More Interesting

I was supposed to have comics from October by yesterday, but UPS and the Post Office have combined to foul that up somehow or the other. So, let's ad-lib to a question.

When it comes to fiction, be it comics, prose, TV, movies, video games, anything with a story, how often is your favorite character the main character?

I was thinking about this because I noticed that with a lot of animes I watch, I like the supporting cast more. A lot of times, it's the best friend of the main character who ends up being my favorite.

That could be because I watched a lot of shonen animes, and it gets tedious seeing the main character be the only one who ever gets the big victory, frequently due to some ridiculous asspull of a sudden massive increase in their strength.

But the same thing happens for me with American shows, although it's more related to whether the main character acts horribly a lot and doesn't get called to account on it. House would be a prime example. A little bit of Hugh Laurie treating everyone around him like morons goes a long way. I probably shouldn't want everyone to punch your main character all the time. If they actually do get punched, that might be OK, but it never happens often enough to suit me.

One area I'd say where the main character typically is my favorite is superhero comics. Then I wondered how many of the characters I like best would really be considered main characters. Nightcrawler is my favorite X-Man, but is he the main character when he's only showing up in Uncanny X-Men, a team book? Is there even a main character in a ensemble book, or does everybody take turns getting the spotlight?

It's tricky, because given enough time, Marvel and DC will give almost any character their own book, where they can be the lead. That doesn't necessarily mean they reach that level in the larger fictional universe. Nightcrawler's had a couple of ongoing series, though neither lasted past 12 issues. The Ray had his own book for 28 issues at DC. But outside those settings they're much more likely to be part of the background than one of the heroes front and center. Taking that approach, I'm not sure how many of my favorites would really are leads.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Devil's Chessboard - David Talbot

The book concerns itself mostly with the life of Allen Dulles, who was the official head of the CIA during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations up to the Bay of Pigs, and as described in this book, the unofficial head for several years afterwards.

So this covers Dulles' life in international intrigue, from his days of shielding former SS officers* from war crimes tribunals, to helping bring about the downfall of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, through the Bay of Pigs, when it appears Dulles tried to mislead Kennedy into believing the small force that was dropped off there would be able to complete a takeover without further assistance from the U.S. military, even though that was ludicrous. The argument is that Dulles figured it would be easier to convince JFK of this, then pressure him into providing air strikes when things started to go bad, than to sell the President on having air support right from the start.

The last third of the book is focused heavily on JFK's assassination, and the large amount of curious coincidences that surround it when it comes to the CIA. The FBI and CIA both abruptly dropping Oswald from their watchlists a few weeks prior, or how easily Oswald was able to regain his citizenship after loudly renouncing it when he traveled to the Soviet Union (despite limited funds). Some of what Talbot puts forward seems a bit too sketchy and far-reaching - 'this lady was introduced to Oswald and his wife through a old Russian noble who worked for the CIA, and her family just happened to be old acquaintances of an old confederate/mistress of Dulles' - but there's a whole lot of smoke there. Still, the book bogs down in that stretch, although if you're more interested in what happened in Dallas, it might go differently for you.

Given the apparent disregard for democracy and the will of the people Dulles demonstrates throughout his life, it isn't hard to see him doing in the United States what he helped bring about in other countries around the world.

The thing about Dulles is, he always seemed to know who to kiss up to. He knew how to make himself appear useful to people with money or power, so they'd support him being placed in positions of power, and then he would make sure to take care of them. Destroying inconvenient financial records for companies that were dealing with Nazis, or eliminating leaders of other countries that were being suitably deferential to American business interests. In turn, those people are the ones who tell Eisenhower that there's nothing wrong with the appointing the brother of his Secretary of State (John Foster Dulles) to be the head of the CIA. And then Dulles would surround himself with like-minded people that were intensely loyal to him and his ideas. So even once JFK sacks him, Dulles is still in the loop because he has so many people in the CIA that look up to him and come to him for advice, and he has his money and power connections to get himself on the Warren Commission.

Even when Dulles does something I would nominally support, like telling Joe McCarthy to pound sand when he tries to subpoena one of Dulles' guys, he does so in a way that puts my teeth on edge. In this case, essentially pulling the old "interests of national security" dodge as a reason why his people couldn't possibly speak in open court before Congress. The public can't know what the CIA is up to, which means they are beholden and accountable to no one. Not anything terribly new, but it's interesting how it's expanded and evolved over time (a point Talbot alludes to periodically when noting Dulles meeting with future lying shithead Donald Rumsfeld).

One thing I kept coming back to as I read was Michael Burleigh's Small Wars, Faraway Places, which I reviewed three years ago. Burleigh and Talbot have almost entirely opposite views on Eisenhower and JFK (as much as Burleigh loves Ike, Talbot loves the Kennedys more). But as you would expect, Dulles is a much bigger player in Talbot's book than in Burleigh's. The latter tends to portray the big decisions about whether to assassinate Castro or Patrice Lumumba as being the President's call, while Talbot strongly suggests that Dulles was running around authorizing executions without bothering to get the OK from the man in the Oval Office, regardless of who that was.

'Dulles's defiance of McCarthy won the widespread devotion of liberals, but it established a dangerous precedent. In his very first year as director, Dulles began molding an image of the CIA as a super agency operating high above mere senators. The CIA would grow more powerful and less accountable with each passing year of Dulles's reign.'

* I find Dulles' insistence they needed to protect the Nazis so they could help fight the Soviets to be a bad joke. Yes, the Nazis fought the Soviets, and their asses were ultimately sent scurrying back to their own country, the Red Army hot on their heels. You really need to keep Nazis alive so they can give you a brilliant strategy like, "Kill everyone in Russia"? Because that was basically the Nazis' plan, and it didn't exactly work.