Thursday, December 14, 2017

An Ambivalent Punisher Review

I watched all of Netflix' Punisher series over the last two weeks. Originally, I hadn't thought I would. I wasn't sure I would be up for a guy with guns just running around killing whoever he deems to deserve it over a broad class of people. As it turned out, the series stuck to a more narrow revenge theme, rather than some "war on crime" story. Let's pause for stations identification, and for a SPOILER warning, here on the RML Network. SPOILERS, they'll ruin your day if you want to watch this show free of someone else's notions (which I was mostly able to do).

The Punisher is presumed dead. Frank has settled into a life as a mostly silent construction worker under an assumed identity, believing he's killed everyone involved in his family's murder. Wrong! And those people were also involved in ruining the life of David Lieberman, who has gone into hiding under the alias "Micro", and wants Frank's help to stop these people so he can rejoin his family. There's also Homeland Security agent Dinah Midani, back from Afghanistan, trying to track down the U.S. soldiers responsible for murdering a friend and contact of hers there, a murder Frank Castle might know something about, if only he weren't dead. . .

Like the second season of Daredevil, there were almost enough plates spinning to keep me from noticing pacing issues. That said, around episode 10, when they do that old bit where they show the same event in flashback from multiple characters' perspectives, I started to get impatient.

There is a lot of time spent on Micro spying on his family through cameras installed in their house, and Frank spending time with them, initially in a power struggle with Micro, later because he cares about them, and it's probably pleasant for him to recapture a sense of domesticity. It's a good idea if you want the audience to care about Frank, rather than him living alone in some basement, just eating beans all the time, stepping out periodically to kill some drug dealers. Show more of the mostly good person he was before, don't show him executing people so much. And it mostly solved my concern about watching this man run around killing whoever he deems a criminal whenever he feels like it, because that barely happens. Outside of him killing a few guys at the very beginning - who we're told were involved in his family's murder - I think everyone Frank kills is, at the moment of their deaths, trying to kill him or some other innocent person.

Still, there came a point I was sitting there wondering when I was going to see Frank Castle kill some of these bad guys. I kept thinking of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. "Now eventually, you are going to have some punishing in your Punisher series, correct? Hello?"

That said, Jon Bernthal as Castle and Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro have decent chemistry. Micro has this sad-eyed hangdog air to him, while Frank is gruff and awkward, frequently resorting to a raspy scoff when he doesn't know how else to react. Bernthal's Frank Castle can still care about people, he hasn't buried that part of him, but he tries to, and no longer seems to know how to react. I do like that he acknowledges that his family life wasn't always sweetness and rainbows. Even if it makes sense those are the memories that would keep coming back to him.

There's a series of threads running through about other soldiers and how they've adjusted or are struggling to adjust since they left the service. Frank has an old corpsman friend (played by Jason R. Moore) who has a discussion help group going, and his old Marine buddy Billy is a big shot running a private security firm. One of the people in Curtis' group is a young man who feels like he misses being in combat, and feels abandoned here. That ends badly.

It was interesting as contrast with Frank, not just in terms of what he lost once he returned home, but the sense he has that he left something behind on those tours of duty. There are parts of him he couldn't get back, and so he's never felt whole, even once he was back with his family. He left something behind, and something else followed him home. All these people suffered in some way or the other, and many of them continue to suffer after. Frank seems to have given up really trying to go forward with his life at the start of the show, he's just existing. Some of the people in the group are lost, others are trying to move ahead if they can, but aren't sure they're getting anywhere.

That said, the point at which Lewis decides to start striking back violently at society was a mistake. It felt too cliched, another soldier striking back at an entire subset of people he holds responsible for the dislocation he feels. Another mirror to play off Frank. But by the time it reached that point, I was invested in seeing Frank get the people he was after. Frank taking time to deal with Lewis was an irritating diversion. He was on one plotline, which I wanted to reach the conclusion of, and then was wrenched onto a different plot for two episodes. I preferred Curtis' discussions with his group serving as a parallel to Frank's story.

I couldn't decide if Dinah Midani (Amber Rose Revah) was unlucky, in over her head, or just incompetent. She's driven, but it seems as though everything she tries fails. Every clever scheme or attempt to get the upper hand backfires, often with people dying as a result. I thought she'd make the big save at the end, but couldn't even manage that. She mirrors Castle, someone out to avenge lost loved ones, but also too caught up in it, charging ahead blind to other dangers. Castle has Micro to at least try to pull him back, Midani didn't have anyone effective at that, only people who were good at telling her what she did wrong after the fact. I think she's also meant to make Frank face the things he did (under orders that he didn't know were actually bullshit), but I thought that got lost in the shuffle much of the time. So is she a different cautionary tale for Frank, like Lewis, or am I giving the show too much credit?

When the show does decide it's time for violence, it goes for it. People's faces gets beaten into bloody pulp, eyes are gouged out, a lot of people get stabbed multiple times. Definitely felt like another level from the violence in the other Marvel Netflix shows. Which, if you are going to do a show about a guy whose whole shtick is he violently kills lots of criminals, I guess you shouldn't hold back on said violence. Credit on that score.

Paul Schulze plays a pretty contemptible, arrogant villain in Rawlins. The kind of guy who was handed everything and believes that was his birthright. When things stop going how he wants, he loses all composure, maybe too much. Scenery chewing going a bit far. I can make explanations for him acting like that, but again, I'm not sure I'm not giving the show too much credit.

I don't think I ever got really fired up and excited during the show. Except near the end, when Frank gets at Rawlins, that might have been a "Fuck yeah!" moment. Otherwise, there were a lot of quieter scenes I enjoyed, conversations that were pleasant to watch, which is not what I would have expected, but that's the extent of it. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. I could watch it and have it mostly hold my attention for 50 minutes at a pop.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What I Bought 12/8/2017

Now that it's actually occurred to me to use the scanner for these posts, I find myself with a difficult choice. Do I select a panel or panels I think were funny/cool, or one that illustrates some point I was fumbling to make when I was discussed the art? The second option seems like the best, but the first one is awful tempting.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #23, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Irene Strychalski (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - In an attempt to really make her win impressive, Gwen has opted to fight Dr. Doom after shrinking herself with Pym Particles! Or maybe she enlarged Doom with Pym Particles!

Gwen's attempt to defeat the "real" Dr. Doom fails. Because Doom is not going to lose by being tossed into a weird dimension. Gwen eventually realizes she is entirely outclassed and tries to run, which doesn't work either. The current, "nice" Doom shows up and bails her out, leaving Gwen depressed at how little impact she's allowed to have, and her rapidly approaching mortality. Doom tries to give her some advice, but Gwen doesn't seem to have taken it the way he hoped.

So Gwen has to figure out how she fits in the Marvel Universe. Her early attempts at being a hero were not at all heroic. Her future self told her she was meant to be a villain, which Gwen rejected. She isn't succeeding at making herself important by trying to disappear villains, either. Which leaves what? Gwen doesn't want to be the person in the back of crowd scenes, who dies unceremoniously in some Big Event just because (fair enough). What's her solution? I doubt she wants to be some updated version of Forbush Man or Howard the Duck, popping up every 5-10 years to issue silly commentary on whatever's going on at the moment. It looks like she might be trying for the "rogue with a grey mortality", kind of a Black Cat/Gambit thing. Neither one sustains an ongoing for any extended period of time, but neither one gets killed or vanishes for too long, either.

I appreciated Hastings' writing for Evil Doom. 'You would open a dam because it is not satisfying enough to drown in a puddle,' is a pretty good putdown. 'But let us see how long you hold under a gaze as fierce and hateful as the Sun!' isn't bad, either. And Gwen telling Doom he's got a long fall coming, and a page later, he's been dumped into the void, with only his thought balloon still on the page (Strychalski gave Gwen a pretty good hardass glare on that page as well. Frank Castle would be impressed). After rereading Volume 1 earlier this week, it was funny to see Gwen trying the leg sweeps Batroc regretted teaching her against Doom.

Strychalski mostly works with 3-6 panels per page, and mostly straightforward squares or rectangles. Nothing too out there in terms of layouts (which would be worth exploring in whether that says anything about Gwen. Can she impact the design of the pages she's in?) But there's one 9-panel page, 8 of those panels as narrow vertical shots of Vic the Doombot struggling to process Doom's defeat, while Gwen moves through the same process much more quickly. Everything had been zipping along through the first 5 pages, but at that moment, it looks as though Gwen has actually beaten Dr. Doom. Two of him, no less. So the story pauses to let that sink in for the characters, even though we know it won't take (and Gwen realizes it as well a page later).

Also, I like Strychalski using what little is available in the Gutters to form panel borders when possible. She uses Doom's cape once, the outline of the pages Gwen is sitting on a couple of times. It's tricky, because how could there be panels in a place that exists outside the panels, but it still helps to have something to guide the flow of the conversation as it moves across the page (although for most of those pages, they go with a 3-panel layout most often, so things can just proceed vertically straight down the page).

I don't know if the book is actually dead two issues from now or not, but I hope not. It's got a good mix of funny and intriguing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clash of Wings - Walter J. Boyne

Another book I'm revisiting for the first time in years. Clash of Wings may have been the first book I read about the air war in World War II, so I was curious to see how it held up. And it mostly does. There were even a few things Boyne brings up I'd forgotten, or ideas I didn't remember reading anywhere else.

Boyne moves in basically chronological order, shifting between theaters for each chapter. The focus shifts from the large scale of how the number of planes lost (or ships and tanks destroyed by those planes) limits one side or the other, to paragraphs about individual pilots who either had major successes in battle or came up with an innovative flying technique or mechanical adjustment (such as "Pappy" Gunn's modifications to the B-25 that made it such an effective close support/ground attack aircraft). Those parts help keep it from getting too dry, as well as serve as a reminder of how much of the air war still came down to the pilots and the mechanical crews on the ground, and not just generals and politicians, or masses of aircraft.

So much of what happened in World War II with planes was people thinking one thing would be true, and finding out they were completely off, and someone having to devise a solution on the fly. Bombers not needing escorts, how effectively bombers could reduce a city to rubble or crush a population. The one everyone underestimated was just how large your air force has to be if you expect to establish air superiority. The Germans, for example, thought after conquering Poland that the size of the air force (1,600) they used for that was enough for everything else they had planned. France, Britain, the Soviet Union, they could all be handled with the same number of planes. Although Hitler did in 1938 call for a 500% increase in aircraft production, and was completely ignored by the chief industrialists and his Air Ministry, fortunately.

For airplanes that were extremely important to one side or the other, Boyne will spend some time detailing the development of it, as well as problems that came up. So the difficulties in getting the B-29 to actually operate successfully gets focused on in the final chapter, since it was a necessary piece if they were going to actually use the atomic bomb.

The book moves from one topic to the next frequently, so it rarely gets bogged down on any one area. There are a few aspects that might get short shrift, but it hits all the major points well.

'An invasion required air superiority. The only way to get air supremacy was to defeat the German Air Force on the ground and in the air. And the only way to do that was by bombing critical targets, for the Luftwaffe declined to engage the enemy over a target it did not feel was critical.'

Monday, December 11, 2017

What I Bought 12/6/2017 - Part 2

My neighbor downstairs I complained about last month came up last week and apologized. Turns out it really was the people in the apartment behind me who were the problem. Will wonders never cease? For today's post, we've got the first issue of a mini-series, and the last one of those three Marvel Legacy books I wanted to try. Will the mini-series fare better with me than Ragman did?

The Demon: Hell is Earth #1, by Andrew Constant (writer), Brad Walker (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Tom Napolitano (letterer) - It's never a good thing when both Etrigan and Jason Blood are smiling. If they're actually agreed upon a course of action, the title will be extremely accurate.

Jason's been having nightmares of a young girl, which have brought him to Death Valley. The young girl is on a vacation with her family, also plagued by the nightmares. Madame Xanadu is charging in on a motorcycle, hoping to avert whatever is about to happen. And then a test missile crashes in the desert, with a real warhead. A warhead of something unconventional.

Don't think I've read anything drawn by Brad Walker in a while. His Jason Blood looks fairly haggard, his Etrigan has a bit of that Kirby style, which I mostly notice in the Demon's hands. The squared off nails, the thick fingers that almost look like he's carved from rock. I guess most artists hew to the original design, but I've grown used to John McCrea's almost skeletal, oddly proportioned Etrigan. Anyway, Walker's Etrigan is a hulking wall, an almost solid mass, looming over everyone else. Even in panels that are supposed to focus on Blood, Etrigan barges he way in, either physically or via internal narration.

The idea of Blood floating about offering commentary on Etrigan's actions isn't that novel to me, I assumed since Etrigan could do so to him that it worked both ways, but I am curious what the deal is with the little girl, and how they're going to keep Etrigan involved in this story, since it's hard for me to see him objecting to Hell being unleashed on Earth.

Darkhawk #51, by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims (writers), Kev Walker (artist), Jeff Tartaglia (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Chris Powell looks awfully young there, unless it's meant to be a flashback to when he found the amulet.

Chris is a rookie cop now, trying to be the man he thought his father was (before he learned he was dirty). The amulet hasn't worked in a year, which hasn't stopped two of the Fraternity of Raptors from coming for the amulet. I didn't remember the suits having their own kind of sentience, but apparently Powell had an impact on his, and it had been trying to disconnect the member of the Fraternity from their access to the suits. He and Powell come to an understanding and prepare to head into space to contend with the Raptors. Issue end.

Of the three of these I bought, this is the one I feel like spends the most time recapping origin stuff, but also the one trying most seriously to set up something in motion for future stories. I wonder if Sims and Bowers could have gotten things to where they wanted without quite so much rehashing old stories, some of it feels unnecessary. I think it's meant to bring Powell back to the start before taking the first step on a new beginning. So make him a cop like his father, but making the choice to be a clean cop. Send him back to where he first got the amulet, give him a choice to keep it or not, accept the challenge or not, this time with a better sense of what that means.  And this is the one I'd most want to see going forward, if only out of some vain hope I'd get to see all the stuff I wanted from the Abnett/Lanning cosmic run.

When Powell accepts the amulet again, Kev Walker gives it a new design, and I'm not a fan. Remember how in the new 52, Jim Lee gave a bunch of heroes needlessly busy costumes, with seams on them suggesting interlocking armor pieces? That's kind of what Walker goes for here, in addition to even bigger shoulder pads than Darkhawk's traditionally had. And I know a belt may seem a strange accessory for a partially sentient armor, but I think the new look could use it. Compared to how the old armor looks when he draws it, I can't consider it an improvement.

All that said, Walker uses the jagged, broken panels he favors to good effect here. During the fight in the House of Mirrors, where the way the panels are set up combines with the reflections of the characters to be almost disorienting, and plays into Powell's confusion with everything that's going on. And during the reveal of what the suit has been up to while away from Powell, where you figure we're only catching glimpses of what's being revealed to Chris, or that this is how it gets processed by him - brief flashes, only barely connected by the spiel he's getting from the suit. And there's one panel of Chris reflecting on his past in the rain where I just really like the lighting and shadows Tartaglia gives it. Powell looks so much older and more thoughtful in those panels, at the moment he's going to be presented with a decision about who he wants to be.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Alternate Favorite DC Characters #9 - Deadshot

Character: Deadshot (Floyd Lawton)

Creators: David Vern Lee, Lew Schwartz, and Bob Kane. I'm guessing Bob Kane did not, in fact, have anything to do with it. Shout out to Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers, who plucked the character from obscurity and retooled him.

First appearance: Batman #59, but its cover had nothing to do with him, so you get this sweet Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, and Tatjana Woods' cover from Detective Comics #474, his first appearance in over 25 years.

First encounter: I'm not sure. Maybe the episode of Justice League he first appeared in? I bought Batman #592 when it came out, so maybe that was it.

Definitive writer: John Ostrander and Kim Yale.

Definitive artist: Nicola Scott when he isn't wearing the mask. Luke McDonnell when he is.

Favorite moment or story: No shortage of options, but I'm partial to a sequence in Suicide Squad #66. The Squad has to cross a jungle to reach their target, and something about it attacks them on a mental level. Captain Boomerang is flipping out hurling boomerangs at phantoms mocking him. Even Amanda Waller is sweating it as she pushes past all the people whose deaths she blames herself for.

At the bottom of each page, though, is Deadshot walking calmly and steadily though the jungle. He's already given up or lost anything that could matter to him, already "killed" himself once. Which has produced a kind of peace inside him. There's nothing the jungle can reach to haunt him with.

What I like about him: Well, Marshall Rogers designed a distinctive costume, which always helps. The asymmetrical mask, with the one eyepiece set to project out slightly from it. The silver works as a nice contrast to all the red, and then there's the big crosshairs right in the middle of the chest. Which works as a symbol for an assassin, but also ends up being factored into what Ostrander and Yale did with Lawton's psychology, that he gives people an easy target to aim at. Characters having weapons in wrist bracelets or gauntlets wasn't a new touch, but it being these very obvious guns wasn't as common. And most artists draw them at a fairly restrained size; it doesn't evolve into some ludicrous, Cable-like shoulder cannon. Floyd doesn't need something like that, because he's meant to be precise about his work.

Beyond that, Floyd has this particular way, a set of seeming contradictions, of looking at things that I find interesting. Life and death don't mean much to him. He'll kill just about anyone; loyalty is a temporary condition. William Heller hires him to kill Amanda Waller, Waller offers him one dollar more, plus the possibility of more work to go back and shoot Heller, and Floyd immediately does so. However, years later Waller makes a similar offer to ditch the Secret Six and rejoin the Squad, and Floyd shoots her in the chest. Because she'd betrayed him recently, and past association didn't buy her anything.

Still, he's particular about those sorts of things. The most famous is probably Waller telling him to stop Rick Flag from killing a Senator by any means necessary. Which Floyd does, by killing the Senator himself, then nearly dying in a shootout with the police (because he had his own issues to work out at the time). He doesn't kill Heller, because Waller merely said to shoot him, not kill him. When a member of the group Jihad vows that she'll kill him if he doesn't finish her now, Floyd calmly shoots her in the head. When Count Vertigo asks whether Floyd would consider killing him, Floyd says sure, so Vertigo better be certain he really wants to die before he makes that request.

Floyd doesn't take much responsibility for his actions. To him, as an assassin, he's simply the instrument. When he kills someone, most of the time there's nothing personal about it. It has all the emotional content of flipping on a light switch. It's someone else who wants this person dead, he's simply the instrument they chose to carry it out. The weight of the death is on them. As Batman observes, if Waller had told Floyd specifically to kill Heller, Floyd would have done it. And Deadshot agrees. Why should he have a moral code when the people willing to hire him clearly don't?

However, he still maintains control over his actions. Just because he kills for money, and just because he might take a contract to kill anyone, doesn't mean he will at that moment, or that he'll just shoot anyone randomly at any time. At one point he actually reached out to Reverend Craemer, who had worked at Belle Reve while Floyd was on the Squad, for help. Because he feels his control slipping. He's starting to visualize killing everyone he sees, and that worries him. Floyd does think before he acts, and he wants to kill people only when he means to do it, not start shooting people randomly as they walk by on the street.

When Jaculi issues her warning, there's a silent panel of Floyd thinking it over, and then he kills her. He's deciding whether to take her at her word or not. When Wonder Woman tells him to take his best shot, if he doesn't wind getting his balls ripped off afterward, he thinks about it for a moment there, too, before deciding to take the shot. When he shot Waller, he put the bullet too close to the heart to remove, but not a fatal shot. Waller recognizes that's Floyd evening the score for her betrayal, but having done so, still leaving the door open to work with her again in the future (and Waller, being a professional badass herself, doesn't take it personally). If he'd wanted her dead, she'd be dead, but he just wanted a little payback, so that's what he took. The choice was his.

He doesn't care about Vertigo's soliloquy over whether it qualifies as suicide having Deadshot kill him. Probably seems stupid and naive to him. But he still waits and lets the man make his decision. Even if Floyd doesn't care whether he lives or dies, or care whether anyone else lives or dies, he still knows it's a decision you can't take back, so he lets the Count think it over. He's for hire, but he still makes the call on when or if the trigger gets pulled.

Despite his being for-hire, and despite his general indifference to his or anyone else's well-being, Deadshot will demonstrate a curious loyalty at times. Ostrander and Yale writes it as being tied up in the Lawton's ugly family history. Floyd being not exactly the black sheep, but certainly second-best compared to his brother Eddie. That Floyd feels (partially) responsible for Eddie's death, and feels it should have been him. So, at times, if there's a way to save someone else, especially if it could get him killed, Deadshot will take it.

The example I think of most often was in the initial arc of the Secret Six ongoing, when he turns on the rest of the team and takes off with the "Get Out of Hell Free" card. Even though he shoots Scandal and Jeanette, and runs over Catman with a car, he's ultimately trying to complete the mission without the rest of the group having to die. He'll do it and be killed, and that'll be fine. In Suicide Squad #50, when it turns out Rick Flag had a kid he didn't know about, and the kid's been abducted, Deadshot surprises everyone by volunteering for the rescue mission. Probably tied into Floyd failing to save his own kid, and seeing Rick as another version of Eddie, the good brother that wound up dying. And sometimes he'll bite his tongue when he doesn't feel like crushing someone's worldview for no reason (see above). For a character that claims to not care, Deadshot can be surprisingly emotional, it just isn't always clear when that's going to pop up, or how it'll manifest.

Plus, Deadshot's indifference to his own life means he'll do things that are very cool and exciting to read, that a character with his skills wouldn't necessarily do most times. Floyd doesn't have any powers, no flight or invulnerability. But when he was tasked with keeping Stalnoivolk in line on a mission, and the Steel Wolf decides to bail, Deadshot still jumps out after him and bluffs the guy into putting on the parachute. Because Stalnoivolk knows Floyd is willing to die, and certainly willing to use that laser pistol to kill him before that happens. Deadshot's not really the character you want to gamble is bluffing, given the typical stakes when dealing with him.
So all of that is interesting. He's a character that a handful of writers have each put a lot of thought into, and built something fascinating. Floyd's morality is enough of an empty book you can use him in lots of ways. Work as a lone gun against a hero, as part of a group, bad guy, bad guy being used for hopefully not-evil purposes. It all mostly comes down to him shooting people, but the details of it, that particular maze Deadshot filters decisions through is an interesting variable. Half the fun is watching other characters try to navigate it, both the ones who understand it (Waller), and the ones who don't (most other people). That moment when you realize someone has badly misjudged who they're dealing with.

Let's go through the credits! Floyd is more concerned with chafing than ghosts in Suicide Squad #66, by John Ostrander and Kim Yale (writers), Geoff Isherwood (breakdowns), Robert Campanella (finishes), Tom McCraw (colorists), Todd Klein (letterer). Batman needed more prep time do deal with that comeback in Suicide Squad #44, by Ostrander/Yale (writers), Isherwood (artist), Carl Gafford (colorist), and Klein (letterer). Jaculi would have learned to keep the threats to herself, but she's dead in Suicide Squad #18, by Ostrander (writer), Luke McDonnell (penciler), Bob Lewis (inker), Gafford (colorist), and Klein (letterer). Floyd demurs in the face of love or attraction in Secret Six #8, by Gail Simone (writer), Carlos Rodriguez (penciler), Bit (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). Floyd seizes the opportunity to teach everybody a lesson in Secret Six #1, by Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (penciler), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), SwandS (letterer).

Friday, December 08, 2017

What I Bought 12/6/2017 - Part 1

When the trailer for Infinity War popped up, I kind of shrugged. Figured I was over the whole thing of movies with superheroes teaming up. Been there, seen that, not letting some massive company jerk me around. But then I watched the trailer and caught myself humming the Avengers' theme four hours afterward, so there goes my jaded comics fan cred. Comics I missed from November have arrived! Let's start with the books that are regulars here.

Copperhead #16, by Jay Faerber (writer), Drew Moss (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer) - By issue's end, that is not nearly as comforting a cover image as I'd hoped.

Sheriff Bronson is captured after what looks like a hell of a struggle. Clay leaves his current lady to guard the sheriff while he tries to track down his son. While Interim Sheriff Ford tries to find Clara, difficult when he doesn't have informants, and won't trust Boo. Clara sets to telling Annabeth the story of how she wound up with custody of Zeke, mostly to try turning Annabeth against Clay. Hard telling if that's gonna work. And now the "artie" is the only one standing between Zeke and his dad.

I have not been a huge fan of Drew Moss' art, but I enjoyed the facial expressions this month. He exaggerated the faces a bit, but it works. It makes the characters a little more lively, sells the story. That Clara's a prisoner, but still working the situation to her advantage. He still struggles a little with proportions, but he seemed to find a mostly strong balance between the panels where he can really focus on more details, and the ones where he's better off going simpler.

I'm curious to see how what happened to Clara's sister played a role in Clara being like she is. It isn't too hard to see her being protective of Zeke as a desire to protect the last piece of her sister, but it doesn't explain her being so dogged as a sheriff. Especially in light of what we hear in the flashback, about how she's drifting, always looking for the excuse not to commit to any path. Even if the necessity of raising a child forced her to stick to a job, she could still halfass it easily enough, but that isn't her style. She's the type of cop who never lets go of a case. A 180 from where she was before.

Atomic Robo and the Spectre of Tomorrow #2, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer, designer) - The more I get to see of Lang, the more I enjoy her direct, loud response to problems.

Robo has been doing a shitty job getting Tesladyne running. Given all these cybernetic people suddenly very publicly collapsing, which will likely cause a panic, I'd call it a suspiciously shitty job. He hadn't informed anyone that he was ignoring complaints from Richard Branson which have halted their work. Which has just about pushed Lang (and to a lesser extent Vik) to the brink. And Fischer's grasp on sanity is slipping fast.

I'm pretty sure all these cyborgs are failing because someone wants everyone pointing fingers and witchhunting. What they stand to gain, I'm not sure. Robo is tossing around ideas as to who's behind it, but I don't think he's on the right track. But he seems so distracted all the time. Maybe he just has no idea how to run any sort of company, despite having owned one for 50+ years. I could see that. Or his "death" and subsequent 110+ years spent as a deactivated head sitting in a forgotten box has altered his perspective on things.

Foley continues to serve effectively as the POV character, watching everything going to hell around her, Lang reaching a boiling point, and being confused at what is wrong with Robo.

I like the color choices Clark is making. He keeps using this kind of neon or glow-in-the-dark colors for each of the cyborgs as they break down around the world, while all the other people in the panels are colored in grey, maybe a bit of highlighting coming from the cyborg. But it conveys an otherworldly feel to them. When Foley ventures into the depths to find Robo, there's a faint pink tinting to her, a light source with no apparent source, which feeds into the uneasy sense that something's not right at Tesladyne. All the pipes and tunnels remind me of Robo's speech about "evil computers" from The Shadow from Beyond Time.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Stranger Even In A Strange Land

I'll probably pick up this week's issue of Gwenpool tomorrow, and review it middle of next week. In the meantime, I haven't reviewed any trades in a while, so let's look at Gwen's entry to the Marvel Universe.

Gwenpool Vol. 1 - Believe It collects the back-up stories from Howard the Duck where she first appeared, and then the first four issues of her ongoing series. At this point, Gwen is basically jumping at whatever crazy opportunity crosses her path, which eventually gets her dragged into M.O.D.O.K.'s employ. Until she defeats him, in what was equal parts self-preservation and revenge.

It feels as though Hastings was still trying to get a handle on how to play her. In the initial stories, Gwen acts almost like she's a cartoon character, leaping off tall buildings or out of helicopters with no plan on how to avoid going splat. This despite Gwen knowing she has no powers or training. Maybe she's meant to think that trying crazy stuff will make her more interesting and keep her story going. She figured getting a costume and being "someone" was the only way to survive, so maybe that's part of it.

And things do keep conspiring to work out in her favor, to the extent I wonder if Hastings is setting something up with that. Maybe her Evil Future Self has been manipulating things all along!

Danilo Beyruth and Tamra Bonvillain are the art team for the back-up stories (and a first issue prologue), while Guruhiru handle everything else from her series. Beyruth's Gwen (and style in general) is much more angular, kind of jagged. Gwen herself looks older when out of costume (maybe because Guruhiru's Gwen looks barely out of junior high), and a bit crazier when in costume.

I prefer Guruhiru's style myself, but the Beyruth/Bonvillain team works very well if the story is meant to be from Howard's point of view, where Gwen's actions have dragged him into working for and against the Black Cat, and against HYDRA. And he has to try and keep this costumed girl under control when she has no regard for anyone else's life, and possibly none for her own (or she's an idiot). It would be terrifying.

Whereas Guruhiru are illustrating the story as told from Gwen's perspective, where she's treating the whole thing like a game. It's bright and colorful, she gets money for killing people she can justify as being bad. The art and colors make me think of one of those "magical girl" animes. Has her bright costume, and hair color matches it. Has cool weapons, including a sort of familiar (her ghost friend Cecil). Since things keep ultimately working out for her, she maintains that perspective, even as other people are getting hurt and killed around her. The words of the cop who lets her go roll away like water off a duck's back.

The first arc feels a bit clunky, like Hastings is having to really work to get all the pieces in place the way he wants them, but there are still some good laughs, and he knows how to write an interesting fight (and Guruhiru especially know how to illustrate it).