Monday, August 31, 2015

What I Bought 8/19/2015 - Part 3

I'm getting pretty close to finish up a couple of series I've been picking up in back issues, and so I was scouting for other possibilities. I was going to try the stretch of Mike Carey's X-Men Legacy where he made Rogue the main character, but geez. Every five seconds it's another tie-in. Necrosha, or Avengers vs. X-Men, or Schism, or some other crap. Really off-putting. Oh well, plenty of other options out there.

Ms. Marvel #17, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Carol could at least try to look like she's enjoying the team-up a little bit.

Carol doesn't do a terribly good job convincing Kamala the world isn't ending, but does agree to help find Aamir. While searching for him, they came across the same idiots that got run off from the school by Loki's spells, and Kamala urges them to 'You have skills! Go use them for good instead of stupid!' The body language Alphona gives her there is great, with the one hand on hip, but the other hand with the thumb jerked in the direction of the school. It's a very good example of being fed up, but in a way that works for Kamala. She's not going to be snarling through gritted teeth, she's just exasperated. She can't believe these guys decided this was the right thing to be doing.

She and Carol make their way to the docks, find some kittens that someone did their best to provide for, fight off Kaboom (the Inhuman girl with the electricity powers), and find Aamir, floating and glowing in the Terrigen Mists.

While I appreciated Carol's attempt to assure Kamala that everyone feels like they're screwing up all the time, she should have used a different example than Iron Man. If Stark actually spent any time wondering if he was screwing everything up, he might not have done half the stupid shit he's done in the past decade. That aside, I did enjoy the interplay between them. Kamala has a tendency to babble, and Carol's believable as the calm veteran for her to bounce off. Also, it's neat how Carol largely lets Kamala lead. She agrees to help, even though she has other stuff to be doing. When Kamala decides to stop and deal with the out-of-control electricians, Carol helps, but lets Kamala do the talking. And she lets Kamala work through where Aamir is hidden. It's a mentoring approach, giving support when needed, getting Kamala back on course when the enormity of things starts to get to her, being willing to poke fun at her even. I forget sometimes Carol has experience in the mentor role from working with Arana among other things.

I like how easily Kamala uses her powers now. It's something she does naturally, and Alphona conveys that well. When she makes her legs longer so she can check out rooftops, but the rest of her remains normal size. Or how she makes one foot larger when she's standing on the crazy electrician. It's very casual, very controlled use of powers. Overall, it's pretty much been what I was hoping for, though we'll see how it concludes when the next issue comes out in two months.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Maybe it's the angle, but Thor's head looks much too large.

The Thors and Nancy are in Asgard, trying to figure out how Ratatoskr got free, and how to get him back in. The answer to the first, as it so often is when it comes to things going wrong in Asgard, is "Loki", but at least he cops to it, and is quite taken with Nancy's forthrightness and love of Cat Thor. I'm not so taken with Cat Thor, but that's because Nancy made frost giants dogs. DOGS ARE NOT BAD GUYS! This may seem odd given the numbers of complaints I've made about my father's dogs (especially Charlie) over the years, but they aren't bad, just rambunctious (and some of them are stupid). Completely different. I give the fanfic a 2-star review, and one star is only because of Odin's "Aye, thee proclaims that every time," in response to Thor's "I gave them. . . Claws for concern?"

Back on Earth, the heroes are having some trouble with Ratatoskr, since it keeps turning Doreen's allies against her. Even the aid of Spider-Man's (stolen) web-shooters can't overcome the odds, but she's able to hold her own until the Asgardians arrive. With ear plugs. Squirrel Girl's big friendship speech mostly doesn't work, because saying not to be insecure and jealous is one thing, actually doing it is something else, but it helps just enough. Probably all the yelling was just really distracting, but the evil squirrel is defeated and imprisoned. Loki even provides a final twist of the knife with a note and a gift for it. I have to admit I enjoy this version of Loki. He's a good guy, but he's still a mischievous dick. So he keeps the Cat Thor head look just to annoy his brother a bit, but doesn't let it distract him from helping.

I have to say, even as much as I like Spider-Man, given the opportunity, I'd have stolen Captain America's shield instead. How could you pass up the chance to hurl that thing at least once? Plus, she could have altered the lyrics to that song to fit with her. "When Squirrel Girl lobs a shield that's been swiped, all the bad guys will, um have plenty of gripes." Something like that.

Henderson's work has a rushed look to it. The lines aren't as strong, faces are less detailed than they have been. There are certain panels where I think Renzi's colors are serving as the lines. It seems to happen a lot with Ratotskr, which makes sense given it's almost all black so lines would struggle to show up, but also Tippy-Toe, which looks more unfinished. Some panels are stronger than others, although given how much talking Loki does, she doesn't have much room to operate at times. But up to this point Henderson's drawn 8 issues, and they've all been on time (and I don't know if she's doing other books or commissions on the side), so maybe this is the limit to what she can manage without a skip month? If so, she's still well ahead of 95% of the artists working for Marvel and DC these days.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Most Divisive Issue Of Our Times

I've never cared for the designated hitter. I hate these big fat guys can be completely, hopelessly incompetent at fielding any position, and it doesn't matter. They can just sit on their butts except for the 3-4 times a game they get to bat. They're ballplayers, being able to play a position marginally well ought to be part of the job.

I understand that some people don't like watching pitchers hit, because they are mostly awful at it. But I appreciate at least the pitchers are trying to hit (though you couldn't tell by watching some of them), and it makes it all the more fun when one of them actually succeeds. Heck, even watching them fail horribly can be entertaining, in a "Greatest Sports Bloopers" way. It amused me how Randy Johnson was such a dominating pitcher, but looked awkward as hell batting, although my biggest laugh was that time Mike Mussina tripped rounding 3rd base.

I'm not going to argue one is inherently better than the other. That never gets anywhere. I saw a poll on Joe Posnanski's site where people who prefer the NL hate the DH, and people who prefer the AL think it's good. That seems about right. I don't see anyone being swayed by my feelings, and if the DH hasn't won me over by now, it's not going to. I know it's odd to have different sets of rules for the leagues, but just call it one of those quirks of baseball.

There's that whole scenario where the pitcher is coming up with men in scoring position, and there's a decision: Let him bat so he can stay in the game? Or take him out and roll the dice that a) the pinch-hitter comes through, and b) the bullpen does its job? And it isn't always the same answer. I've seen a manager pinch-hit for his pitcher in the second inning, because he was sure it was going to be a high-scoring game, so best to seize the opportunity. Other times they leave the guy in in the 8th, because he's cruising, or because the bullpen got worn out the night before. It doesn't happen every game, but that helps. It's an occasional little bit of drama or suspense. With a DH, the pitcher already has someone hitting for him, so it's a moot point.

Beyond that, I think it forces the manager to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the players a little more. The Cardinals have been playing Brandon Moss in left field recently. They've mostly been winning this year by not allowing runs, but this is not their best available defensive outfield - that's probably Tommie Pham/Peter Bourjos/Jason Heyward at the moment. But Moss is likely the best power hitter of the bunch (in theory). It's a case of sacrificing some of that outfield defense to get his bat in there and try to bolster what's been an erratic offense. With a DH, Moss could just hit, and they could have that all-defense outfield (though given Matheny's apparent distaste for Bourjos, it's more likely he'd go Piscotty/Pham/Heyward, but whatever). It's more efficient, but it seems less fun*.  Eat your cake and have it, too.

I look at it like a mosaic, where you can create multiple different pictures, depending on how you arrange the pieces. Most players are going to have holes in their game - they can't all be Mike Trout - so why not try and find entertainment in the imperfections? It's neat when a player excels in some area they normally don't. The slick-fielding banjo hitter puts one in the bleachers (narrowly). The lumbering slugger saves a run with a circus catch in the outfield (that anyone else on the team would have made easily, but still).

And watching teams go in vastly different directions when constructing teams, but still winning*. The team with marginal starting pitching but a lights out rotation. The team of guys who make a lot of contact, but have limited power, or the lineups of guys that strike out a ton, but can hit the ball a mile (and may or may not walk much). Teams with their best hitters in the positions in the middle of the field, but their best fielders in the corners. Some of these work better than others, but watching the different approaches is interesting. Obviously American League teams still have to weigh these things when building a roster, but they do have that option to stash at least one good bat/crap glove guy in the spot where he never has to field. It simplifies things a little.

There have been rumbles for years that the NL will implement the DH sooner or later, and that's probably true. Especially if offense continues to sag, or more accurately, if revenues sag because people want more offense than they're getting. I already lived through one high offense era in the late '90s/early 2000s, so I'm in no particular hurry for an encore. Maybe they'll be willing to hold off on bringing the DH to the NL until after I'm dead.

* This is something I like in the NBA, too, how you see teams build around very different approaches, based on the strengths of their best players, and how the roster fits together. Superhero teams, too, for that matter. The ones that aren't overwhelmingly powerful, but win by leveraging the abilities of the team.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"You Will Be Temporarily Suspected Of Murder" Is Not The Worst Fortune Ever, But It's Close

I figure this is as good a place as any to mention there will be no Zorro post tomorrow. I've ended up staying at my dad's longer than initially planned, and I didn't watch far enough ahead beforehand. Sorry.

I wonder what attracts my dad to movies like Cookie's Fortune sometimes. It's not a bad movie - it's one of those films set in a small town where every character is a little strange in some way, I don't know what you'd call that, a farce? - it just isn't quite what I'd expect him to be into. Trigger warning for suicide, I guess.

Patricia Neal plays an elderly woman (the Cookie in question), living in her big family house, alone save for her caretaker Willis (Charles S. Dutton). She's estranged from her two sisters Camille and Cora (Glen Close and Julianne Moore), but she likes her niece Emma (Liv Tyler, though I spent most of the movie thinking it was Anne Hathaway, because I associate the short haircut Tyler had with Hathaway now, I guess). While Willis is out running errands to get ready for Easter, Cookie, missing her husband and possibly suffering from senile dementia*, chooses to take her own life. Camille comes by to borrow a salad bowl, finds her, and fearing this will reflect poorly on her, tries to make it look like a burglary gone wrong.

I expected the movie to get grim at that stage, as Willis gets brought in, since it's his fingerprints that are all over the place, and there aren't any other prints. I figured we were in for a depressing trial, Willis being scared and unable to clear his name. Yes, the fact he was a black man suspected of killing an elderly white lady in what appeared to be a Southern town had something to do with my expectations. As it turns out, most of the cops are confident he's innocent, and the whole thing is sorted by the next day, sort of. It's all kind of a joke. The D.A. is running around trying to check Willis' alibi, which isn't going well. Liv Tyler and Chris O'Donnell (playing a meathead deputy) can't keep their hands off each other. Willis has to stay in his cell, but the door is open, and other people visit and bring him gifts at will. Camille blithely ignores the fact Cookie's house is a crime scene, tears down the police tape, and moves in within hours. There's a whole subplot about Camille directing a local production of Oscar Wilde's version of Salome, which is probably a metaphor for certain aspects of the film, but hell if it meant anything to me.

Camille's ability to ignore reality is fairly impressive. At one point, she asks God to forgive Willis if he did commit this act, even though a) the only other person around is in on it with her, b) they both know there was no murder, and c) she's praying to an allegedly omnipotent being. God is going to know Willis didn't kill anyone, lady. She reminds me of a relative of mine, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

My dad and I debated Moore's character afterward. I had asked early on if Cora had some kind of brain damage, but I think we're meant to read it as an act. My problem is, she would have to maintain the facade of being largely vacant and someone Camille can lead by the nose for years. No one in the film sees her behavior as odd. Not Camille, not the cops, not the other townspeople. One of the things that made Emma distant from Cora and Camille is that her mother has always seemed a puppet of Camille's, which means this has been going on at least 15-20 years. I just don't see her keeping an act up that long, waiting for the chance to hoist Camille on her own petard.

* We see one exchange between her and Willis, where they seem to be having two different conversations, like she isn't hearing anything he's saying, and he can't understand what she's talking about, shortly before she dies, but I'm not sure how much that plays into the act. She writes a letter that seems fairly clear in outlining her reasons.

Friday, August 28, 2015

What I Bought 8/19/2015 - Part 2

Comics Alliance had a poll up to see what were people's favorites out of Marvel's many, many events over the last decade. I naturally voted (repeatedly) for Annihilation, which is at least running second. Of course, it's second to Civil War, and the next is House of M. No accounting for taste, I guess. At least World War Hulk pulled ahead of Infinity.

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #3, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Stephane Roux (artist, pgs. 1-7, 12-19), Moritat (artist, 8-11), Elliot Fernandez (artist, 20-22), Paul Mounts (colorist), John J. Hill (letterer) - I keep thinking that cover reminds me of a different one, but I can't recall which. I'm probably just thinking of all those covers with one hero unconscious and held by their cape, while another rushes to the rescue. That's not an uncommon type.

Our heroines reach their destination, and are immediately attacked by another space armada. They fend that off, then spend 4 pages on a drug trip thanks to Groovicus Mellow. About the time they come down from that, Vartox shows up, and Power Girl has to start fighting him. I'm starting to think this would have been better served as a 4-issue mini-series. I know the creative team is mostly just screwing around with this whole thing, there isn't any particular point to it, but it was a little too obvious here. Or maybe it doesn't work because all the Hunter S. Thompson stuff is lost on me. The closest I've ever gotten to his work is either those articles he wrote on ESPN's Page 2 in the early 2000s, or the X-Play episode where Sessler dresses up as him while he and Morgan Webb seek the fabled burial ground of Atari E.T. games. I'm still not sure if the bald guy with glasses who showed up as the ladies shook off the effects was supposed to be Thompson or Grant Morrison. I'm thinking Morrison, given the nice suit and lack of a hat, but hell if I know.

I may not have cared about the "montage homage", but Moritat and Paul Mounts did a good job drawing it. Moritat's draws Harley and Peej with a simplified looseness, it somehow suggests their faces could radically alter shape any moment, but they're still easily recognizable. Mellow's face doesn't do this as much, but you could at least argue that he has a higher tolerance from repeated exposure to starflower pollen. Mounts gives everything this sort of oversaturated feel, where there are these purples and greens that are all over the characters, even in the shadows. It works for them being in this haze, the grip of the drug, and so it colors everything. There's definite skill at work, I just didn't engage with it in terms of being sucked in.

Starfire #3, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Emanuela Lupacchino (pencils), Ray McCarthy (inks), Hi-Fi (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters) - Nothing worse than being pursued by a giant, slobbering creature, who has your name written on its face. Everyone will just assume you bullied it, and so you deserve to get eaten.

The hurricane has passed, and the island tries to pick up pieces, and Kori starts moving into her new place, Stella and her brother's guest house. This is interrupted by a cruise liner crashing into the harbor. We had seen it pick up some poor shipwrecked guy, who is actually some sort of serial killer with mind powers. By the time Stella and Kori get on the ship, he's nowhere to be seen, and only one member of the crew is left. Since the ship is a crime scene now, Stella asks Kori to wait at a bar nearby, where every guy is interested in her, and she gets some advice from a helpful waitress. Then a monster that kind of looks like he's made of magma shows up, Kori assumes it's after her, but it's actually after the waitress, who is Power Girl's old friend Atlee (I don't know if she uses Terra as a codename).

I understand Conner and Palmiotti are playing up Starfire's lack of familiarity with Earth, but sometimes I think they take it too far. She spent time around other species while she was a prisoner. She lead them in a revolt/escape. She's had other adventures along the way. It seems strange to me she hasn't previously encountered things like sarcasm, greed, or police forces, or whatever. I'm not certain she needs to be this much a fish out of water, to the point she seemingly needs everything explained to her by everyone. Which is too bad, because the idea of Atlee getting to be the voice of experience is a nice potential switch for her, but I feel like it leaves Kori once again in the position of needing to be led by someone else. Maybe it won't turn out that way. Kori clearly knows things, she said she could build one of those weather controlling machines, so she isn't an idiot. Hopefully she'll get a chance to show off some of her knowledge and experience. I do like the fact Stella, even though she sends Kori away, asks her to stay nearby, just in case.

I did wonder how Kori was in her skirt and blouse when she met saw Stella running, but was in her costume by the time she flew Stella to the dock. She couldn't have been wearing it underneath, and it wouldn't have saved time to go back and change, then fly. On the other hand, Lupacchino did remember to draw six toes on the polydactyl cat, and the expressions on the faces of all Kori's possible suitors at the bar were well done. There are times Lupacchino's work seems kind of flat, the expressions are blank, or I can't shake the feeling a face is partially photo-referenced. When he loosens up, gets a little more exaggerated, I think it's an improvement, fits better with the tone. I mean, a bunch of guys and gals all buying drinks for Kori and being interested in her could be played as creepy, but it isn't playing it that way. It's a gag, everyone is attracted to her to the point she gets a ludicrous number of drinks. Everyone has little hearts above their heads, that one guy is sitting backwards in his chair with the classic "totally smitten" pose of resting his head on both hands (which are positioned on either side of his face), with a big smile. Even the cat is waving shyly. And that's a fairly normal tone for this book. Loosening up some might fit better, or at least carry the jokes farther.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Furious Jimmy Stewart's Oddly Compelling

I hadn't seen Winchester '73 before, though I thought I had. I must be confusing it with The Man From Laramie, or else Gary Cooper's Springfield Rifle, since those both involve trying to track down a load of weapons.

In this case  there's only one of the title weapons, and it's ancillary to Jimmy Stewart's dogged pursuit of Dutch Henry Brown. They have some history, and Stewart's been after him for some time, determined to kill him. He finally catches up to him in Dodge City, but with Wyatt Earp around making everyone turn in their guns upon entering town, there's not going to be any settling the scores. So the two end up in a shooting competition for one of the extremely rifles, and Stewart wins. So Dutch promptly jumps him in his hotel room and steals the rifle, then flees with his associates, Stewart again in pursuit.

What I didn't expect is the film to take the winding path it does. The rifle cycles through several other owners over the course of the film, from an trader, to an aggressive chief (played by Rock Hudson), to a man promising to make a new life with his lady love (the lady is played by Shelly Winters), to a different, slightly crazy, criminal, before ending up between Stewart and Dutch again.

I think Stewart is supposed to she the value in a life outside vengeance, which is why he needs to run into other people along the way. He has a friend with him throughout, but seeing as that guy's devoted his life to following Stewart around, he's not a shining example of life outside vengeance. Winters' character, Lola Manners, was getting run out of Dodge the first time we (and Stewart) meet her, I guess for being a dance hall girl, which made her undesirable to certain elements in town. She was hoping to start a happy life with her beau on a farm, but that didn't work out.

I'm not sure why the rifle needed to cycle through so many hands. The plot could continue pretty much as is if Dutch weren't such an impatient dope he couldn't wait 5 minutes to steal that rifle. I guess the argument could be made Hudson's character wouldn't have attacked a cavalry troop without his nice rifle, but he seemed pretty excited at the prospect of replicating the recent victory by Sitting Bull over Custer, so he might have gone for it regardless. It's a new piece of killing equipment that seemingly everyone wants, but it's only relevant to Stewart and Dutch's characters. They were both taught to shoot by the same person, and so the rifle can be seen as the reward for the one who absorbed all the lessons best. Not just how to shoot, but why, and at what.

Seeing Stewart in these darker roles is always a little odd. I tend to picture him more as slightly absent-minded, frequently befuddled stringbean, but he's pretty good at these roles. He's able to get this tension, where he's almost vibrating, and he's good at sort of spitting his words through clenched teeth. And he can snap into it quickly. When he meets someone with a line on Dutch, he goes from politely asking to suddenly smashing the guy's face against the bar and demanding answers before hurling the guy into the street.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

31 Days of Scans - Day 25

Today's for one's favorite adaptation into another media, which is a category with lots of choices. I loved both the recent Captain America movies. There's the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon. Batman: The Animated Series, Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited. Heck, there's even a few video games I'd consider. Batman Returns was my #4 Game Gear game, I really liked the Spider-Man game on the N64, and there's Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Tempting as all those are, I'm going with The Rocketeer. This may be a bit of a cheat. I saw the film in theaters when it first came out, but didn't read any of the comics until around 2009. I didn't even know it was based on a comic book until I found comic blogs. Still, it was an adaptation, whether I knew it back then or not, so as Blog Boss and Arbiter, I'll allow it.

Why do I love this movie? I know as a kid, the idea of finding a rocket pack. Cliff is already a pilot, he gets to fly fast and do dangerous stunts for a living, and then he finds something even better. He can fly faster, without a plane, than anyone else can fly with one. He gets drawn into a plot involving mobsters, Nazis, Howard Hughes, a fascist Errol Flynn, and a goon that got lost on his way to Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy movie.

It isn't a completely faithful adaptation. They use Hughes instead of Doc Savage, and Lothar isn't a circus strongman hell bent on revenge on Cliff. Bill Campbell plays Cliff as somewhat more affably clueless, rather than the extremely jealous hothead he is in the comics. Jennifer Connelly's Jenny likewise isn't nearly as fiery as Betty. But Campbell still gives Cliff that air of insecurity that drives him to take risks to prove he's worthy of Jenny, and Connelly has Betty's stubborn streak and wits, which help her see through Neville Sinclair's attempts to turn on the charm.

And, of course, Timothy Dalton going over the top as Sinclair. He seems like he's having the time of his life with his delivery. How he gets offended when Cliff suggests Sinclair doesn't do his own stunts. His response when Jenny learns that truth. 'Spy? Saboteur? Fascist. All of the above.' He gets more dramatic with each word he utters. He's really good at the melodramatic villain*.

The special effects don't look so great now, but for the era, they're solid. Sometimes Cliff zipping around with the rocket looks bad, but sometimes it looks very good, and that's what I tend to remember more. There's just enough humor, from Cliff and Peevy arguing (and their first test run of the rocket), and regularly interspersed gunfights, fistfights, and car chases. Lothar seems like an odd fit in the movie, but he works somehow. Maybe because Sinclair is such a sneaky, yet dramatic villain, the film benefits from a more direct, but understated henchman. Or maybe having a relentless, seemingly unstoppable, enemy is just a good thing to have in a film.

The Rocketeer is one of those films I can watch pretty much anytime (a list that also includes Hot Fuzz and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), which makes it a worthy selection.

* If they're going to do another Fantastic Four film in the future, get someone like that for Dr. Doom (if they insist on using Doom again)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When Hell Froze Over - E.M. Halliday

Halliday explains in the foreword that he published this book once before, 40 years earlier, as The Ignorant Armies. Then, as now, the book details the time in 1918 that Britain, France, and the United States sent troops into Northern Russia. Just why they did that, is a little muddled. Ostensibly, there was a desire to reopen the Eastern Front, so as to divert German troops who had been freed up when the czar was overthrown and the Treaty of Brest-Litvok signed. Of course, that was going to require getting the Russians to get back into the war, and Lenin and Trotsky weren't about to do that. They were too busy just trying to get a firm grip on the country. Of course, France and Britain wouldn't have shed any tears if this mission destabilized that government, because autocratic governments aren't fine, just so long as the rulers as inbred, I mean anachronistic, I mean aristocratic. Sorry.

So about 5,000 U.S. troops wound up spending roughly 9 months freezing their butts off alongside the French, British, and some Russian troops, fighting against the Red Army. It didn't start out too badly, but the size of the force was wholly insufficient for any of the ideas the leaders had (there was an idea about linking up with a force of 40 thousand or so Czechoslovakian troops held up between Bolsheviks on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, but it was going to require covering something like 600 miles), and the Red Army grew steadily better trained, under the leadership of Trotsky himself. There simply aren't enough troops, because each position they grab (to secure ones already held) required grabbing more territory to support them. Except Russia is a big country, and there's a limit to how much can be taken and held by a force of the size present.

More critically, the plan to build an army of Russians to help - and eventually take over for - the Allies failed utterly. In large part, I think this was because they failed to demonstrate how the government that would arise if the Bolsheviks fell (considering World War I ended while this was going on, they couldn't continue to argue this was about opening a second front) was actually going to be better for the peasants in the countryside, or the workers in Archangel. Most of the Provisional Governments that tried to get going in the city were completely ineffectual, lead by people with no conception of how to actually run things, or by those who had been loyal to the czar, and the Russian people wanted nothing to do with that. The whole thing was doomed from the start, another of those campaigns started by politicos without any clear idea of how to accomplish what they want, or the backbone to see it through.

I wound up feeling a little sorry for Woodrow Wilson. He kind of comes off as an idealistic fool, which is not the best thing to be, but not the worst. He didn't like the Bolsheviks, but he also wasn't comfortable interfering in another country's right to determine their own government. He tried to justify it by claiming the troops were only there to protect stores of ammunition and weapons that had been shipped to Russia earlier in the war, which the Germans were getting uncomfortably close to. In other words, the soldiers were there for defensive purposes only. Yet he allowed the British to supply the supreme commander, even though they clearly had more aggressive designs. Which is how you get GIs out in the frozen expanses, trying to take villages from the Red Army. Though Halliday noted that the American troops and the Russians mostly got along very well. Too bad none of those people on either side were involved in their countries' foreign policy.

Halliday takes the time to add some interesting information to the story. He spends a couple of pages describing the design of houses the Russians used in the small villages, which was relevant considering a lot of troops ended up in those houses as well. He discusses the struggle to teach the Allied soldiers how to use skis, as well as snowshoes, and the problems with the Shackleton boots provided (not designed for slick, packed down ice apparently). He praises the Canadian artillery, which is frequently outmatched in the size of their guns by the Russians, and overworked (they seem to be everywhere), but bails out the infantry on multiple occasions. There's even a section at the end about work done to retrieve the bodies of American soldiers buried there. The book probably could have used more focus on the view from the other side of things, but I'd imagine it's not always easy to get records from Soviet archives. Although Halliday refers more than once to a speech made by Khruschev that made clear the Soviets had not forgotten that early attempt to, as Churchill put it, strangle them in their crib.

'When the total pattern of Soviet warfare in 1919 is examined, it thus appears that Trotsky's strategy was to strike at the Allies in North Russia precisely whenever Kolchak was pressing him hard enough to make the plan of junction between the two anti-Soviet forces look feasible. Despite tremendous losses, the Red army opposing Ironside had such a commanding numerical superiority by the end of 1918 that from then on it was able to push the Allies back almost at will and keep the gap between them and Kolchak approximately constant.'