Friday, January 31, 2014

What I Bought 1/27/2013 - Part 4

I had been planning to journey back to the boonies for the start of another year on Saturday. So naturally it's going to snow the next two days. Sunday it is then.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6 & 7, by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber (storytellers), Rich Ellis (artist, #7), Rachelle Rosenberg (color art, #6), Lee Loughridge (color art, #7), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Yes, a new book for the pull list! With all the books that ended earlier this winter, plus the ones I've dropped or am dropping soon, there was plenty of room.

I hadn't actually order issue 6, because it'll be included in the first trade, and I plan to buy that when it comes out. But I'm not going to fault my comic guy for being conscientious. The series, near as I can tell, is a group of five second or third-tier Spidey foes have formed a new Sinister Six (yeah, they can't count) to pull of heists. #6 is dealing with some of the fallout of their first attempt. Seems team leader Boomerang told everyone they were breaking into the compound of the Owl to steal the cyborg head of former crime boss Silvermane. That was ruse, and Boomerang just used them to steal a one of a kind painting of Dr. Doom, without his mask. The rest of the team was left behind, where they're about to be tortured by the Owl, until the Beetle places a call, and we learn she's Tombstone's daughter.

Issue 7 is Janice's (that's the Beetle) origin, where we see her as Daddy's Little Girl, apple of his eye. Bringing a new dog as a present for a another young girl's birthday, then using the dog as a distraction so she can steal all the other presents. Then calling the dog back to her as they ride off in her's dad car. I want to be outraged, but I can't help smiling at the audaciousness of that. She makes it through law school, gets a good job at a firm, but that's not what she wants. She wants to be a super-villain, but her father is opposed. As he points out, she can make more money as a crooked lawyer, businesswoman, or politician than he could ever dream of stealing or extorting. And she won't get punched in the face by Spider-Man this way. But Janice is undeterred, and when Baron Zemo needs some one to dose Bucky with some nanites the Fixer whipped up, Janice takes the opportunity. While also working out an arrangement between the two villains so Fixer feels properly compensated for his creations, but Zemo doesn't feel he's getting ripped off.

It's a little weird to have just these two issues, because 6 ends on kind of a cliffhanger, and then 7 is a flashback issue, so I'm still left hanging. But it isn't uninteresting to be sure. This group, regardless of what they call themselves, are the Sinister Syndicate reborn, because the Syndicate, unlike the Sinister Six, wasn't about killing Spider-Man. It was the second-rate guys trying to work together to make scores they never could alone, and that's clearly what this team thought they were up to. Now it turns out Boomerang used them, but back-stabbing in a Syndicate tradition as well. Still, it's nice to see super-villains that are just out for the money, rather than taking over the world, getting revenge on heroes, or trying to destroy the universe.

Plus, it's already apparent there's a lot of scheming and such among the group. Boomerang hoodwinked them, and assuming he survives the Chameleon's visit, that'll probably come back to haunt him. Boomerang says there is no Silvermane head, but Shocker certainly seems to have one with him. Boomerang was probably the leader, but then you have to factor in Beetle's desire to be a boss, as she told her father, and how that's going to play out. Which is good. Boomerang and the Beetle historically jockeyed for control, so in a sense, she's carrying on the tradition of her title. That was actually the one thing I found odd, that Abner Jenkins (formerly the Beetle, now Mach-5? 19? I don't know) apparently sponsored Boomerang's parole or something. Those dudes hated each other. I guess Abner's big on second chances now that he's a good guy and all.

The last time I saw Lieber's artwork, it was the Hurricane Sandy issue of Hawkeye, and I thought it looked a bit like Aja's, in how draws people, if not page layouts. I wouldn't say that's the case here, so maybe it was a matter of Hollingsworth's coloring, or Lieber purposefully altered his style to more closely resemble Aja's. His work as it stands here is fine, Boomerang's a real ham, so he gives Lieber the opportunity to draw some comic overacting, and he nails it. I mean, it's hard for me to believe Boomerang could possibly think that act he put on for Abner would fool anyone, but I can see someone trying it, and it's hilarious, which is more important.

I might actually like Ellis' art on issue 7, more though. The slightly exasperated/irritated/bored look Janice has as Zemo and Fixer bicker on page 15. Her cartoonish imaginings of the bickering are pretty funny, too. Especially pimp Zemo (though Deadpool still looks better as a pimp). Also, the wicked little smile she gets on the last panel of page 19. She's excited, but with her, that's kind of a scary prospect.

I don't know quite where this story is gonna go next, which is nice. I don't have any real expectations, except that I'll enjoy it, because it seems like kind of a funny book about awful people trying to work together and stab each other in the back at the same time. It's kind of like Secret Six, except I don't think these villains like each other anywhere near that much.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What I Bought 1/27/2014 - Part 3

OK, so there were two books I was hoping to get in this shipment that weren't there, so they'll be arriving separately next week. I get those reviewed and then hopefully, I'll get the Year In Review posts done before Valentine's Day rolls around. Probably.

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #4, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Nick Filardi (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - C'mon Robo, you have to twist at the waist more than that. We can only see half your butt, and your boobs are almost totally obscured by your arm. Get in the spirit of things here.

Bernard and the other two action scientist have been drafted to help free the subterranean rock people from Dr. Dinosaur's control. Bernard's the only one that seems really on board with it, probably because that crystal he tasted last issue told him the story of these people. Unfortunately the assault doesn't go so well, because the rock people are holding back against their loved ones, and the crystal helmets the scientists are wearing may keep the good rock people from being controlled, but it isn't freeing the ones Dr. D already has. About that time, Robo shows up on the back of that giant rock-gorilla thing that's been chasing him for the last 2 issues, and it collides with the, how did Dr. Dinosaur put it, 'big freaky crab thing' Dr. D summoned. None of which stops Dr. Dinosaur from triggering his time bomb, which he finished rebuilding sometime before the start of this issue. Also, Majestic 12's assault on Tesladyne seems to be going well. They've even captured Jenkins, although it took 3 guys in Mandroid style armor to do it.

For an issue where pretty much everything is going wrong for the heroes, this was surprisingly funny. Atomic Robo is usually humorous, but there were a lot of things that made me smile. Some of that is Dr. Dinosaur, who gets a steady supply of stupid lines, which Wegener draws with good comic timing. 'From Hollow Earth's heart, I stab at thee!' *pause* 'Also in the heart. Ha!' Something about that way he always feels the need to clarify, to go one sentence longer amuses me endlessly. Also, the combination of Jenkins and all those scientists who really aren't cut out for fighting works well. Clevinger and Wegener have gotten a lot of mileage over the years out of the scientists trying to muster up the nerve to do something heroic, and then Jenkins appears and kicks everything in the face.

Daredevil #34, by Mark Waid & Javier Rodriguez (storytellers), Alvaro Lopez (inker), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - See, this is how it goes with superheroes, a constant game of one-upsmanship. Daredevil hears about the time Iron Fist punched a train to death, and now he just has to try it. If all your friends jumped off a bridge Matt, would you do it too?

OK, bad question, of course you would, because they were probably thrown off by Mr. Fear or something, and heck, you'd jump off the bridge anyway, just for kicks.

Matt's back in New York, with those pages from the Darkhold. Dr. Strange comes by for a consult and tells him several things. One, the name of the alleged original serpent is written on the pages, and speaking it aloud allegedly gives the speaker persuasive abilities. Two, it was a bad idea for Matt to lie to Russell and the others about these pages being destroyed. Mostly, it's Satana he should be worried about. Three, no, there isn't anything in those pages that can cure Foggy's cancer. Gee, Matt, maybe you should have been nicer to Deadpool when he was trying to kill that dude who soul his soul for shape-shifting powers last year in his book. But noooo, you had to be all, "He's crazy, he smells bad, he's trying to kill people."

Matt experiences a brief moment of despair, then shrugs and gets on with his day. Which involves a nice jog through the park with Kirsten McDuffie, with lots of flirting, and then a plan. Matt borrows some equipment from the Avengers, and gets Nate (that old acquaintance he defended 6 issues ago) to hook up a nice transmitter on the roof. Then Matt tells the Serpents to hand over the Jester, or he burns their precious book. The Serpents do truss up the Jester for him, though they're trying to trap Daredevil, which works about as well as you'd expect. Unfortunately, Kirsten has taken it upon herself to escalate things, using the transmitter to implore New Yorkers to unite against the Serpents in their midst, which nearly gets her head blown off from a police chopper.

It's interesting that the Serpents are telling people to look with suspicion on those different than themselves, and Kirsten's suggested response is for New Yorkers to look with suspicion on those who make such suggestions. There's a fair amount of petard hoisting involved, but I guess the idea is if these beliefs are brought out into the open, if the primary motivation is exposed, they lose their power. People have to examine what the people saying it are really after, and why they were proving to be a receptive audience. Man, am I glad I reread the sequence. I had a part in here about worrying about a witch hunt, then noticed the panel where she specifically says not to start a witch hunt.

How great is it that Javier Rodriguez, in addition to be the colorist, is also the guest/fill-in penciler. it's like those 49ers teams that had Joe Montana at QB, and then, oh yeah, here's his backup Steve Young. The way he draws the Serpents in the four panels of reactions to Kirsten speaking the name of their god, those stark white outlines for their eyes, set against the heavy shadows over their faces. Keeps their faces from having too much detail, playing up the idea their hidden throughout the system, not easily noticed or detected. Plus the two page spread where Matt and Kirsten are in the park, and Matt stops a couple of purse snatchers, without really breaking stride in the conversation. The reaction shots of people to Matt's moves, the lady looking through her purse and Matt keeps talking to Kirsten, the smile on Kirsten's face as she catches up, which is friendly and impressed, but not overly so.

One of the books I'm waiting on is Amazing Spider-Man 700.4, and part of the reason I wanted it is because Rodriguez draws one of the stories in it. Timothy Green II and Emma Rios draw the other two, which are the other 2 reasons I wanted it. Marvel employs a lot of artists whose work I really love these days. Then again, with all the double-shipping, they'd have to just to keep up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What I Bought 1/27/2014 - Part 2

Don't you hate when you see someone make such an incredibly stupid argument that you know it has to be trolling, but you can feel yourself being drawn into taking the time to refute it? There was someone on ESPN trying to argue Tebow could have also lead this Broncos team to the Super Bowl, and even as I tell myself, "He's just saying it to stir things up," I'm simultaneously crafting the arguments for why that's nonsense. Argh.

Harley Quinn #1, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Chad Hardin (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), John J. Hill (letterer) - I actually like the version of her outfit Harley's wearing on the cover. Conner drawing has something to do with that, I'm sure, but it seems a little less ridiculous than the version she wore when I was buying Suicide Squad. Plus, it has a little more in common with her original outfit, the alternating black and red color scheme.

Harley reaches her new home, and even gets herself a new dog along the way. Turns out it isn't quite as simple as her just getting a new home. She's a landlord, so she has to collect rent and keep the place shipshape. Also, rent won't cover the buildings taxes and stuff, so it's job-hunting time. For a day job, Dr. Harleen Quinzel reenters the field of psychology, and on the weekends, roller derby. There's just one other small problem: there's a bounty out on her, and Harley's not exactly a hard target to find.

There's quite a bit about this set-up I enjoy. The bit with her rescuing the dog because she's moved by its suffering, but then dragging the owner behind her bike, that felt right. Harley can form deep attachments, and be incredibly harsh to anyone who mistreats those she cares about, along with being generally indifferent to the suffering of random folks. The tenants and her jobs provide plenty of chances for the development of actual supporting characters. The jobs are an interesting mix of the different sides of Harley's personality, and the psychologist job in particular could be a good look into her mind, through how she deals with other people with problems. I am a little surprised she can apply using her real name and not raise any red flags. You'd think there would be some records of Harleen Quinzel going nuts and running around with the Joker. But that plays into a certain sense of mystery that hangs over this. Who was this patient that left her the place? Who placed the bounty on her? Is it related to her killing a bunch of kids with exploding toys or whatever a few months ago? I was perfectly fine with ignoring that, but if it's going to stick, this is a reasonable way to deal with it. How are these prospective assassins finding her so easily?

About the only thing I'm not sure of is her conversations with the stuffed beaver, but if it's not a constant thing - and she doesn't seem like she carries it everywhere - I can live with it.

I mostly really like Hardin's artwork. It does have a lot of faint lines that make it look like they were part of his initial sketch that he didn't go back and erase later, but it's only occasionally distracting. Maybe it's that her face is white, instead of a mask, but I saw the Joker a lot in some of her facial expressions. Especially the grumpy looks on page 12. Also, page 2, last panel, I like the mushroom cloud in the eyeball to represent her rage. It's a Looney Tunes kind of thing, but that's not a bad tone for a Harley book to hit, at least some of the time. Also, Harley's mallet is back to being a more cartoon looking thing, instead of a flipping sledgehammer.

I'd call this an encouraging start.

X-Men #8, by Brian Wood (writer), Terry Dodson & Barry Kitson (pencilers), Dodson, Kitson, Hanna, Kesel & Pallot (inkers), Jason Keith (colorist), Joe Caramagna (lettering) - Five inkers. Sigh.

Typhoid Mary breaks into the school and makes off with all their files, plus a piece of Arkea. Rachel contacts John Sublime to let him know, but he's already talking with Ms. Cortes/Deathstrike, who is pretty blase about the danger of the whole thing. Then it turns out whatever of Arkea was in the sample is dead, which makes Sublime pretty happy, until Typhoid yanks the locations of where all the other pieces of the meteor Arkea rode down in impacted. One of those locations just happens to be near where Thor apparently exiled the Enchantress, after he took her powers. Isn't that just like Thor? He'll cut Loki eleven billion breaks, even after stealing Sif's body, trying to kill Balder, teaming up with Malekith, turning Thor into a frog, but the Enchantress is the one he comes down hard on.

Honestly, it's the smaller, personal subplots that interest me. The fact Bling and Jubilee can't find the time to try and discuss this whole thing about Bling apparently being attracted to Jubilee, because there's always another crisis. Which means thing's keep rolling under their own momentum, because no one can do anything to check it. Also, the relationship between Rachel and John Sublime, which is interesting to me mostly because, well, isn't "Sublime" actually a sentient bacteria that wears that human body like a suit? It's the same thing Arkea was doing to Shogo, right? That seems like something that shouldn't be encouraged, not to mention the fact the personality she's talking to is, again, a sentient bacteria.

As for the whole thing with Deathstrike and her new Sisterhood, eh, whatever. They're a bunch of idiots, messing around with poers they don't understand and greatly underestimate. Seems pretty likely if they do get Arkea up and running, it's going to backfire horribly against them.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What I Bought 1/27/2014 - Part 1

Yes, comics! Finally. Can't believe forwarding takes so long.

The Rocketeer & the Spirit: Pulp Friction #4, by Mark Waid (writer), J Bone (art), Rom Fajardo (colors), Tom B. Long (letters) - Is that a Mauser the Octopus is using on the cover? Interesting choice. I've fired one of those before. Not really my thing.

I had thought Betty was faking being mind-wiped last issue. You know, using her acting skills to gain an advantage, help out the Spirit. Nope, never mind, she really was made highly suggestible, and the Spirit has to snap her out of it, by mentioning her acting career, and how killing him on camera will negatively impact that. Feels like a missed opportunity.

Betty frees the Spirit, but there's still the matter of all the goons, but that's when the cops and the Rocketeer show up. Then the Spirit kind of trash talks Cliff, stating that Cliff's made it abundantly clear you can't fight crime and have a personal life. Oh swell, we're dealing with the new 52 version of the Spirit here. He does seem to recognize that's a silly attitude to take, or maybe just that he was too harsh on Cliff. Not that he's wrong about Cliff making things more difficult for himself, but trouble finds him most of the time.

Eventually the guys figure out Trask and Octopus were going to show off their invention by using it to teleport a bullet into FDR during some televised speech Trask arranged (big campaign contributor). So they use the set-up they found to bring FDR to safety. And then the Nazis storm in, so Cliff hooks up Roosevelt with the rocket pack, so he can escape, since running isn't in the picture. Nazis defeated, FDR plays party-pooper and tries to confiscate the rocket, so Cliff has to threaten to blow FDR's little polio secret. I'd say that's fighting dirty, but the President started it.

This is one of those issues that almost seems too stuffed, that there's so much going on, none of it has a chance to make an impact. The actual Nazi soldiers showing up seemed out of place. I had Germany pegged as a potential buyer, just like any number of other interested parties. That Trask and the Octopus were the movers, shakers, and financial bedrock of the teleportation stuff. So there being actual German soldiers involved, that they had booby-trapped some of the equipment (which they used to dispose of Trask), it was out of left field. Plus, German soldiers running around on U.S. soil trying to kill the President seems a bit overtly hostile. It's February of 1941, little early for that, not that I imagine FDR would complain, if he could leverage it into getting Congress to declare war on Germany that much sooner.

Fajardo's colors blunt Bone's lines some. Things don't look as crisp as they usually do, and the fight scenes are kind of weak. I imagine J Bone was a little rushed on things, since this wasn't supposed to be his project anyway, but the action bits definitely aren't his strongest work.

Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe #4, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Jacopo Camagni (penciler/inker), Victor Calderon-Zurita (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Man, that cover is the weirdest version of Atlas Shrugged I've ever seen. *pause* Look, it was the best I could do without making a "weight of the world on your shoulders" crack.

Reality is falling apart! Dr. Dipson has realized the possessed teddy bear is actually the Cosmic Cube, ruptured by the splitting of the In-Betweener. He and SpideyOck work to build something that will restore the Cube to its normal state, but Order has sent his pawn Deadpool to retrieve the bear and kill everyone. So Longshot needs to deal with that. Which he does, with tacos. I can buy that. Longshot's arrival helps the Cube to reform, and Longshot uses it to undo the damage he's done, at which point he meets the In-Betweener in his typical, robe-wearing form, and we learn that the Cube was shielded itself from his perceptions, and that it was the combination of the Cube and Longshot that was the threat, not Longshot by himself, and now that the two are separated again, the In-Betweener doesn't need to kill Longshot. Um, great? And so everything is restored to as it was, more or less, and Longshot ends the series helping the police use their jet packs to catch thieves on hover boards.

It took me the second read through to understand the reason the Cube wants to reform when it's around Longshot, and the reason Miss Dapples - the teddy bear - kept helping him is because a Cosmic Cube is a sentient being, and so like every other sentient being in the Marvel Universe, it wants to bone Longshot. Once I pieced that together, things made a little more sense. Note I said "a little".

The one thing I really liked Hastings did with this mini-series was explore those unintended results of Longshot's powers. I want to go more in-depth later (though with the backlog of posts, it may be after President's Day before I get to it), but this idea that even when Longshot does something to help a person, it can hurt someone else, or that seemingly innocuous actions can have great consequences.

Camagni and Calderon-Zurita do a pretty good job on the art chores. One thing is how stiffly they draw Deadpool's movements while he's under Order's control and fighting Longshot. Everything's sort of mechnical, restrained, he only uses a weapon when he has to. And it makes perfect sense, because Order has either wiped out or constrained all the madness that makes Deadpool who he is. Take that away from him, and he'd behave completely differently.

Monday, January 27, 2014

April's New Releases Are Kind of Dry

The solicitations for April don't bring much of a change for me. DC's canceling a bunch of titles, but not any I was buying. One of them is their Justice League of America title, which is being replaced with Justice League United, which has a zero issue in April. Unfortunately, I'd say United's cover kind of undercuts America's solicit, which says something to the effect of 'No one is guaranteed to survive!'

Yeah, "no one" except all the characters in the book who are also on the cover of Justice League United #0, which is most of them. Except maybe Vibe and Katana. They don't seem to have been invited to join the new book. Oh very good, DC, use the non-white characters as the "meaningful" deaths.

Nah, I'm sure Paco and Tatsu are fine, at least until the next Big Event. Katana's mixed up in something in Green Arrow, related to all those weapons clans.

The next round of Angel and Faith is starting up at Dark Horse, but I'm leaning towards giving it a pass. It's a completely different creative team, but even so, I think the story is always going to be about Angel first and foremost. He and Buffy are the special pets of the Powers That Be, so they're always gonna be the focal point. Everyone else just has to hope they can grab a little spotlight from time to time. It's the same reason I'm not going to grab Batman Eternal simply because they're bringing Steph Brown back. Even if we assume she's written as the Steph Brown I liked, rather than some different character with the same name, she's still just a supporting character in the 5,000th Batman book of the new 52. And I don't like Batman, because he's written as a jerk all the time.

Get me a Batgirls Unite!, with Steph, Cass, Barbara as partners, and we'll talk. Likewise, get me a Faith series (or Faith and Spike), and I might be interested. But I'm not prepared for another ride on the "Angel sucks Faith into his latest attempt to fix things that will actually screw more stuff up" merry-go-round. I know, Faith and Angel are not together based on the solicitation for the first issue, but you know theirs paths will intertwine at some point, because that's the conceit of the series. I don't know, maybe I'll grab it as trades later.

Fro saying the solicits weren't bringing much change, that was a lot of talking, and I hadn't even touched on Marvel. The only major thing at Marvel is I'm going to get Nightcrawler. I know, Claremont's a little dodgy, but I actually picked up X-Men Forever last year, and parts of it were quite enjoyable. Plus, they're promising swashbuckling Nightcrawler, not mopey Nightcrawler, so I think this is something to support. There are enough mopey X-Men already. {Edit: OK, so this is weird. I just went through the Previews order form, to make my list to send to my comic guy, as my comics finally arrived, and Nightcrawler #1 is nowhere to be seen. So it's already behind schedule?}

The only thing other than that is Marvel solicited two more series I would have considered buying if they'd priced them at 3 bucks instead of 4. In this case, Elektra and Iron Fist. I think that brings it up to 7 or 8 series they're starting this year where the price has deterred me from trying it. So I have to wonder if the higher price is really worth it. I mean, I could potentially be spending an extra 21 to 24 dollars a month on Marvel comics, if they just dropped those prices. I know each sale gets more money at the higher price, but have they done the math and figured out they can't get enough of a sales boost with the lower price to be worth it? Like, if Iron Fist is at 20,000 ordered copies, then that's $80,000. I'm sure it's more complicated then that, just roll with it. So at $3 an issue, they'd need orders of 27,000 copies to beat that. If it's at 40,000 orders ($160,000), then at $3 it'd need somewhere around 54,000 ($162,000). So I have to assume they think lowering the price won't help sales enough to be worth, but it's too bad. I'd sure like to try some of those other books.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Burn Notice 7.5 - Exit Plan

Plot: Sasha's on the loose in Cuba, but not for long, as Mike and the guys manage to track her down and convince her to work with them to escape together. Which could be tricky, as the police have found their escape boat, and all ports and airfields have been closed off. To make matters worse, there's a top-flight G.R.U. agent, Oksana by name, on their tails.

The brilliant plan this week is for Sam and Jesse to pose as bounty hunters who are after Westen, and have a network of locals who keep them just well enough informed Oksana keeps them around, so they can know her plans. Meanwhile, Mike and Sasha will be trying to fix up a small plane in a maintenance hanger in preparation for a quick escape. It sort of works, as is true of most of their plans. Oksana gets wind of some doings at the hanger, so Jesse has to slip out and pretend Westen and Sasha are actually outside the police station laying siege, and that they want Mr. Chuck Finley sent out so they can deal with him. Oksana was only too happy to agree to that request, and so our four heroes make their way back to Miami.

In other plot news, CIA Jerk Strong leans on Fiona to keep her in Miami where she can be of use to Michael in this whole thing.

The Players: Sasha (Person of Interest), Ruben Hernandez (Smuggler), Oksana (Spy Hunter), Strong (Not Fi's Lawyer)

Quote of the Episode: Mike - 'How's it look out there?' Jesse - 'Oh, you know. Classic cars, good music, crumbling infrastructure. Oh, and you two are the stars of a nationwide manhunt.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (1 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall). If I were a more egocentric individual, I'd say they were purposefully trying to avoid things people had grown accustomed to in the series.

Other: Giving Jesse the alias "Vigil Tibbs" is pushing the limit a bit. I know Oksana is Russian, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't know anything about In the Heat of the Night. Sure, she doesn't seem like the sort who would consider pop-culture references terribly relevant to her job (in a "know your enemy" way), but you can't be sure.

I do wonder how Sam and Jesse were going to slip away if Oksana hadn't gotten wind of something going on at that hanger, which forced the whole "Mike and Sasha are actually trying to kill you" ploy. Jesse made it outside alone easy enough, but I feel like if both of them had vanished, Oksana would have gotten suspicious. These guys were so eager to work with her, and now they bail? She's not supposed to be an idiot?

The best I can figure is they'd say they need to go canvass their sources. If they made themselves irritating enough, Oksana might be glad to be rid of them.

I was glad Fiona was open with Carlos about why she couldn't go to New Orleans, and that Carlos is willing to roll with it. I'm less happy Fiona tried the "I'm doing this for us" argument, and I'm still convinced Carlos is dead man walking. I'm not saying it's a good thing, he seems like a decent enough guy, it's just the impression I have. He's going to do something noble, and it's going to get him killed.

I can't believe Strong thought it was a good idea to break into the home of someone he knows to be heavily armed, has an itchy trigger finger, and hates his guts. He was even standing in front of a canvas that looked like he was bleeding. Just add his brain matter to the composition, Fi. A little texture for it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bullet for a Star - Stuart M. Kaminsky

I guess he uses the middle initial for some books and not for others. I thought I had the books laid out in chronological order, but no, Bullet for a Star actually ends right as Murder on the Yellow Brick Road begins. Ah well, it isn't a big deal, although yesterday's selection gave me the impression there was a much bigger gap between the two. Peters really didn't show much ill-effect to being shot in the back, which happened in the second half of this book. And he'd already set up in a new place, after being kicked out of his apartment because some toughs came in a beat him up. But the toughs arrive in the first half of this book, and the whole story only takes about three days. So the pacing between stories is a little curious.

In Bullet for a Star, the star in question is Errol Flynn, who received an envelope with what were supposed to be compromising photos of him with an underage girl. The photos are fake, though Flynn admits he may have done such things in the past, which, um, OK. Didn't really need to know that. Peters is brought in to deliver the payoff, in exchange for the the photos and negatives because he isn't directly associated with the studio. He's goes to the swap, gets jumped by a third party, and wakes up to find his gun missing, and the blackmailer dead. Which puts him squarely in the sights of his asshole cop brother, though Kaminsky plays it a little less direct about that fact for awhile. Not sure why.

I still think some of the actors who appear are gratuitous. Flynn at one point asks a couple of his fellow actors to serve as muscle to look after Peters, which, why not simply get some actual security guys? I know most actors back then knew how to ride horses and shoot guns and such, but I'm still not sure I'd want to rely on guys who are prone to pulling punches to have my back.

I did not figure out who the killer was this time. So guessing the cool, beautiful woman did it isn't going to pay off every time. Darn.

"Two days, Phil. Give me two days, and I'll hand you the name and maybe the killer."

"You'll hand me the killer?" He actually laughed, but it didn't sound as if he were having fun. "You can't even hold down a job; you lost your client's money and your gun, and everybody's beat the shit out of you."

"We all have bad days," I said.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Murder on the Yellow Brick Road - Stuart Kaminsky

Mention I enjoyed one book by an author, watch my dad produce six more books by the same guy, starring one of his other recurring characters, from the aether, and drop them in my lap. They're fast reads, though, if this is anything to go by.

Murder on the Yellow Brick Road is out of Kaminsky's Toby Peters series, about a private investigator in Los Angeles in the early 1940s, at as of this book. Near as I can tell, each book is going to involve Peters getting caught up in some thing with movie stars, or the film industry. Which could get old in a hurry. It seems a little convenient that Peters, would run into Raymond Chandler while pursuing his investigation. The investigation being one of the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz turning up dead, in costume, on the long since abandoned set (Oz having been released over a year earlier).

Kaminsky's a good writer, the story's fluid, moves along at a good clip, has some nice dialogue. Peters is prone to those clever, wry one-liners I'm fond of. This story isn't the first in the series, but he makes sure to give the reader a good sense of who some of the regulars are in Peter' world. His ex-wrestler landlord, the dentist he shares office space with, his asshole cop brother. And he's good at working in references to past cases organically, as a way to flesh things out.

I still don't think he's much concerned with the actual mystery. I had one of the culprits pegged from the first page they appeared, just going off story conventions. One thing I'm keeping an eye out for in the other books is if Kaminsky has a thing for femme fatales, or if it's just a coincidence the first two of his books I've read turned out as they did. The details are very different, but that could be chalked up to a difference between '40s Hollywood, and '80s USSR.

It's a light read, nothing heavy or difficult, and it works fine in that capacity.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Forgotten Soldier - Guy Sajer

The Forgotten Soldier is a bit of an odd book to read. It's written by a German soldier, about his experiences in World War 2, mostly on the Eastern Front. Which means there's a lot of dying, a lot of starving, freezing, a lot of feeling adrift in the featureless vastness of the Russian steppe.

People have apparently questioned its authenticity because of some of the factual inconsistencies, but as Sajer says in the book, this is meant to recount his experience at the level of common soldier, not to provide some authoritative account on the war. Which seemed abundantly clear to me without Sajer saying it. There are already a thousand books about the big picture, arrows on a map view of WW2, anyway.

It begins like a lot of these types of books begin, the wide-eye rookie being introduced to the realities of war. How that gradually wears down the things they were trained to hold on to. Nationalism, honor, things like that are ground down in the face of being overwhelmed by the sheer numerical superiority of the Soviets (or "Popovs", as Sajer frequently calls them), the relentless assault of the elements, the inconsistent supplies, the endless artillery barrages.

The most affecting parts of the book are in the latter half, when the Germans are in retreat, and Sajer describes the mental state of he and his close friends in his company. They enter this curious state, where they want to live, where they may think of what they want to live for, but Sajer describes each man as trying to hide that hope, afraid to let the others see it. As if having some reason to want to live will be precisely what gets them killed. Sajer describes himself as being past that point, because he's dreamed too often, he can't retreat to them anymore. They've all turned too sour, or, if they actually come true, that hurts too much.

He's also very good at describing the immense size of the Russian wilderness. I'm usually fond of open spaces myself, but Sajer makes you understand how terrifying it could seem, to be in a hostile land, where everything looks the same in every direction, with no sign if you're heading towards or away from direction, or even that you're moving at all.

Sajer's pretty open about describing himself as not being a great soldier. He's fairly small (and went into battle before he was even 17), and comes down sick multiple times. When and his company find their fellow soldiers brutalized by partisans, he wants to respond with equal brutality. Beyond that, he's not really cut out to lead. He's not the one who sparks the heroic charge, he's the one who keeps his head down for an extra beat before he gets up and follows the guy leading the charge. He's not a bad soldier, tries to do his best, but he's not the guy they were gonna make war flicks about. Not that I blame him. I wouldn't be eager to get up and move towards people trying to shoot me, or keep firing in the face of advancing tanks.

The undercurrent that ran through me the entire time I was reading this was the fact Sajer was fighting for the Nazis. He doesn't discuss the beliefs of the Nazis, outside of recounting a speech made by a Hauptmann of his, Wesreidau, who describes how the idea of all men being equal is nonsense, and these countries fighting Germany, while speaking of liberty and freedom, are all hypocrites. I get the impression Sajer was less impressed with the words, and more with the man saying them. Sajer and his friends regard Wesreidau with the same sort of affection, trust, and awe Easy Company had for Sgt. Rock. Even so, it wasn't the sort of sentiment I could ignore, and it reminds me of what these guys were fighting for, whether they meant to or not. For his part, Sajer seems most bitter towards the world that came after. The problems of peacetime are a trifle to him, and to hear others complain of them irritates him. I don't think he misses the fighting, but he isn't able to enjoy having survived, if he even considers himself to have survived.

'The relatively large size of our force was in no way reassuring. Even if we overwhelmed the partisans in the end, each bullet they fired was bound to hit someone, and if I should happen to be the only casualty in a victorious army of a million men, the victory would be without interest for me. The percentage of corpses, in which generals sometimes take pride, doesn't alter the fate of the men who've been killed.'

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not All Characters Have To Be Crazy The Same Way

It's seeming more and more likely the Year in Review posts are gonna have to wait until February. I had hoped that wouldn't be the case, but then comic guy shipped the books to the boonies, when I'm not there. Some coworkers were supposed to have forwarded them along last Wednesday, but here we are a week later, and nothing. So I don't know what's going on.

I've seen some folks discuss that Harley Quinn appears to be getting positioned as DC's Deadpool, and I wanted to see it for myself, via Harley Quinn #1. Ha, ha, life - and the U.S. Postal Service - laughs at my plans. Oh well, maybe it isn't necessary for what I'm going to say.

Certainly the #0 issue suggested strongly that Conner and Palmiotti were going that way, but I'm not sure whether that was a one-time thing, or if it truly sets the tone for the series. I don't think it's off-base for Harley to be a little out of her gourd, or for her to see things differently from your average person. She was a smart, somewhat unorthodox person even before the Joker threw her in a chemical bath. Having hallucinations, or threatening the creative team, yeah, that's a little close to Deadpool, but the key is to make that stuff window dressing for the things that are different.

For one thing, Harley is smart. Deadpool isn't a complete idiot, but he's not on her level. Between the cancer, the healing factor, the whole mess of memory-wiping drugs he was pumped full of*, you can't really fault him if his IQ has taken a hit. He can still be clever, and he's certainly unorthodox, but long-range planning isn't a strong point.

Harley's hopeless pursuit of Mister J's affections is somewhat similar to Wade's desire for love and respect, which seems similarly hopeless. The difference is, Harley's never going to get what she wants because the Joker is obsessed with Batman, and doesn't have time or interest in her. Wade's problem is he can't stop shooting himself in the foot. You see it every so often, where other heroes start to respect Deadpool, because he does something heroic, or they look past their preconceived notions about him and recognize he has a lot of pain. But inevitably, he does something horrible and throws it all away. He might have good reasons for doing whatever it was, or he might not. Either way, it's something that sours everyone on him all over again, and he's left starting from 0.

That's one other thing. Deadpool often tries to be a good guy, because he'd like to be. He wants to be the respected hero, with friends and loved ones, gets to hang out with the Avengers and stuff like that. But somehow, he can't ever make it stick. He's a little too quick to take the easy answer, too ready to fall back on hurting people who hurt him. Not always; that's why he can manage to keep building up his rep with the good guys, but often enough it always ruins the hard work he's put in. Part of that, I think, is because he's had so much suffering other people were indifferent to, it makes him indifferent to people's suffering, if it accomplishes something. In the second volume of his current series, when he's trying to keep himself and some others from having their souls devoured by a demon, he kills one of the others so that guy can go to Hell and parlay with Mephisto to save their bacon. It's great plan, even works, except for the part where that one guy had to spend the equivalent of years in Hell. Wade just kind of shrugs it off. He was asked to save the guy, he didn't see any other way, it worked, what more do you want?

Harley doesn't harbor any aspirations of being "good". Good and bad, I'm not sure they mean anything to her. It was about the Joker, what would get his attention, his approval, get his goat, on those occasions where he went far enough he pissed her off. There was a stretch in her first ongoing, where she fancied herself a Cupid, using crimes to bring prospective lovers closer together (such as two people who had been hired to catch her), but even then, I don't think she was working towards being a hero or anything. Love was important to her, so she worked to facilitate it, in her own unique way.

I think the end result is Harley mostly doesn't worry what others think, so she can make long-term plans and stick to them. Wade's more likely to leap on any given chance to make good, or make friends, so his path is likely to be filled with lots of fits and starts. Wade's more likely to do something selfless, Harley's less likely to ruin whatever scheme she has going. Deadpool's more likely to be direct, even if that takes him through a minefield, Harley would take a more circuitous route to get where she's going. The key for the creative in both cases is that their decisions should make a twisted sort of sense. You could see why they'd do that, even if it doesn't seem like a good idea.

Sooner or later, I suppose I'll get to see if I'm at all on target about Harley.

* I did get Volume 3 of Posehn and Duggan's current Deadpool series in the mail today.

Monday, January 20, 2014

These Are Fifty Of My Favorite Things

Last week, Sally had this nice post where she listed off some of her favorite comics and series of all time. This is not quite my version of that. I already put a lot of my favorite series in the comments of her post - surprise! there's a lot of John Ostrander, Fabian Nicieza, and Abnett/Lanning - but her post did remind me of something I did over six, nearly seven years ago. Jeez.

So it's 50 things I love about comics. I'm going to try and pick 50 different things, within reason. If I only cited a series in general last time, I reserve the right to select specific things from said series this time. Everyone good with that? Lalalalalala, I can't hear you!

In no particular order:

1. Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin's Bandette.

2. John Romita Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker). Dan Kemp (colorist) as the art team on Amazing Spider-Man. Romita Jr. is usually fine with me, and I think Hanna keeps his lines from getting too heavy, but the coloring in particular was really nice. Lot of interesting hues.

3. Batgirl #18, by Bryan Q. Miller and Dustin Nguyen. Stephanie Brown and Klarion team-up to find Teekl a girlfriend.

4. Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba!

5. Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera, Javier Rodriguez, Chris Samnee, and Mark Waid on Daredevil.

6. Ostrander/Mandrake, GrimJack #37, "The Revenge of John Gaunt".

7. The odd heroes Mieville, Santolouco, Lapham, and Ponticelli came up with for Dial H. Cock-a-Hoop, people.

8. That whole subplot in Suicide Squad about the mysterious pie-thrower.

9. Thunderbolts, especially after Hawkeye shows up.

10. Along those lines, Hawkeye. I'm always going to have a soft spot for the guy who took on a guy in essentially a flying tank with trick arrows, and did it for love. And ego, but mostly love.

11. Ennis/Parlov, Punisher #54. 'Memories like that, I try hard to kill. But you might do something with it, if you like.' There's a lot that sticks with me from Ennis' run with Frank Castle, but that line heads the list.

12. Power Girl's big sister/little sister relationship with Terra, as set-up by Conner, Grey, and Palmiotti

13. Atomic Robo's team-up with Carl Sagan to fight an other-dimensional Lovecraftian horror.

14. Sticking with Brian Clevinger, his version of Dr. Doom from Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet. It's a good use of his imperious, scornful nature for comedy's sake.

15. Booster Gold disguising himself as Killer Moth and whupping Batman's behind, from Booster Gold #11, by Dixon and Jurgens.

16. "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium", by Ennis and McCrea.

17. Kathryn Immonen and David LaFuente's Patsy Walker: Hellcat mini-series. I liked that version of Patsy, sort of flighty and impulsive, but still serious and capable when it was needed.

18. Arcade. Anywhere, anytime, against any hero.

19. Brian Reed and Aaron Lopresti's Ms. Marvel #19. Aaron Stack tries to disguise himself with a giant mustache.

20. Nightcrawler, when he's being cheerful and swashbuckling. So, Alan Davis Nightcrawler, basically. No mopey Kurt Wagner!

21. The design for the sorcerous Dire Wraiths who show up around ROM Spaceknight #47.

22. Spectacular Spider-Man #200. Yeah, it's a sad issue, but DeMatteis and Buscema earn it, and they gave Harry Osborn a little triumph before the end. It still gets me after all these years, so it must have been pretty good.

23. The brief Thanos ongoing. The idea of Thanos as someone who has decided to wander and try to find a new purpose, helping people in his own ruthless manner, had a certain appeal.

24. The Blank, introduced in Roger Stern's West Coast Avengers mini-series. I have a soft spot for villains that just want to make some quick bucks, and aren't caught up in world domination/revenge.

25. Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk's Agent of Atlas mini-series.

26. Abnett and Lanning bringing Namorita back to life in the pages of Nova.

27. Dr. Doom, when he's portrayed as having some nobility and sense of fair play. Triumph and Torment Doom is a good example.

28. The strange ideas and concepts Doug Tennapel fills his work with, usually around a strong core about family. Creature Tech was a good example.

29. Spider-Man/Batman, Batman tells Spidey to get out of Gotham because it has unique terrors and he doesn't want Spidey being hurt. It's not how it was intended, but the idea that Spidey needs to be afraid of Batsy's enemies always amuses me.

30. Batman as drawn by Norm Breyfogle.

31. Joe Casey's work on WildC.A.T.S. I don't know if he quite got to exploring what incorporating advanced alien technology into readily accessible things like batteries and cars would do to the world at large, but he started in that direction, while exploring how different people use to one way of life adjust to things being completely different.

32. Cowan and O'Neill's work on the Question. How much can one guy do, especially as a vigilante? And what happens to them in the process?

33. Taskmaster's ability to work as a character as a villain or hero, without really changing.

34. Puckett and Daimon Scott's run with Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. The sequence where Cass dodges bullets easily is a favorite.

35. Rocket Raccoon and Groot as best buddies.

36. The "Ultimate Knights" arc in Ultimate Spider-Man. It's the one where I thought Peter finally started to assert himself, reining in Daredevil, and using Fury as a lever against Kingpin, beating Fisk at his own game of influence.

37. Dave Stevens' Rocketeer. He knew what he wanted out of the story - dames and jetpacks.

38. Deadshot. The death wish, the family issues, the whole odd set of rules he seems to live by. There's something cool about characters who, even when they take the actions we'd want, do it in a strange or kind of evil way, or for reasons we don't totally agree with.

39. Along those lines, the Kesel/Dodson Harley Quinn series. Harley does some ugly things in there, but you can see the good intentions she has, and likewise, when she does something good, there are sometimes some really bad reasons.

40. The Identity Crisis storyline in the Spider-Man books. It was a stunt, sure, but the idea of using different identities, that emphasized different aspects of his powers, and different facets of who he is, that was cool.

41. Jen van Meter, Javier Pulido, and Javier Rodriguez' Black Cat mini-series.

42. Christina Z and Mike Deodato's Tigra mini-series. I found and read that series during what was not a particularly good time for the character (meaning, when Bendis thought it would be a good idea for her to scream and cry while getting pistol-whipped by the Hood), and that was a pleasant escape from all the crap.

43. Fat Cobra.

44. When Captain America bounces his shield off a bunch of different people or things and then catches it smoothly.

45. Kanigher and Kubert's Enemy Ace stories. Kanigher really enjoys hammering the point home, but it works, and Kubert's work is fantastic.

46. Nocenti and Romita's Jr.'s work on Daredevil.

47. The Ian Brill/James Silvani Darkwing Duck series from BOOM! It was a little rushed near the end, but it handled the mix of humor and action well.

48. The brief time in the '80s Wolverine ran the X-Men while Storm was busy hunting down Forge. It's not unusual for him to be in charge now, but back then, for me, it was weird to see him try to lead, instead of blowing off orders and doing as he pleased.

49. Deadpool hallucinating Norman Osborn as a 'stinky dummy-dum' version of the giant from Jack & the beanstalk. That was the best Daniel Way's hallucination shtick for Wade worked for me.

50. Damage Control. All three of the McDuffie/Colon mini-series.

Whew. The hardest part of that was getting my mind to settle on one thing long enough for me to put it down. You should all make your own lists, on your sites, or in the comments, or whatever.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Burn Notice 7.4 - Brothers in Arms

Plot: Burke captured Serano because several months ago, Serano helped the Russians capture a former agent of theirs, and Burke wants her location. Serano refuses, right up to the point he sees a video of Michael in his house, pointing a gun at his daughter's head. At which point Serano spills the beans. But Burke's a sweetie. He gives Serano a gun with one bullet, so the Russians will never know to come looking for him, or enact reprisals against his family.

Problem is, the agent in question is held within a secret Russian prison, in the remains of a Cuban fridge repair shop. Getting in and bringing the target out will be nearly impossible, so they need the Russians to bring her out on their own. So Michael plays the dissatisfied former CIA guy, who just so happens to know about a CIA strike team planning to hit the prison. How do they know about the secret prison? Because a guy working for the GRU in Miami told them. Fi and Maddy are the ones who abduct poor Ivan and make him look like a traitor, which might just be too bad for him and his girlfriend.

The plan seems to be working. Sam and Jesse do a credible job of making a hotel room look like the hastily abandoned headquarters of a well-informed strike force, then abduct one of the Russians and the car full of stuff they pulled from the hotel room, to make him look like a traitor. Everything's all set for them to bring her out to the marina, where Sam, Jesse, and Burke will be waiting. Oh wait, the Russians sent a submarine to handle the pickup. So Burke goes in, posing as the Agency guy working with Mike and clears a path to freedom. By blowing himself and a bunch of guys up with a laptop full of explosives. Well then.

Mike and the others escape, so everything is golden, except for being in Cuba, and once they make sure the marina is clear, that won't be a problem any longer. But the agent woke up, decked Jesse, and now she's on the run.

The Players: Serano {Bad Guy Who Knows Stuff}, Burke {Badder Guy Who Wants To Know Stuff}, Ivan {Patsy}, Vladimir Duboff {Warden}

Quote of the Episode: Burke - 'Your biggest problem isn't the Russians right now. It's me.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (1 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall).

Other: I find it hard to believe Burke simply accepted the first thing Serano told him. One of the things Mike harps on constantly is how unreliable torture is, that the person being tortured will say anything to make it stop. Wouldn't that also be true in this case? Serano would say anything to make that gun aim somewhere other than his daughter's head. Now you could argue that Burke will go verify the information, and Serano can take the chance of what he'll do if he finds out it's false, but Burke handed him a gun and a bullet. Which indicates he's accepting what he's been told, because if he isn't why let Serano kill himself? If you find out he lied, then where are you?

I guess the idea was Serano wouldn't take the chance of lying with his daughter's life at stake. Unless he's stalling for time, in the hopes someone can find him and rescue him. We don't know all his resources, or who might come looking for him.

I spent most of this episode thinking Burke was awful bossy and impatient for a guy who wasn't contributing anything. Then he went and saved Michael by blowing himself up. I'm not sorry to see him go - Burke's not my least favorite character, but he wasn't a nice person, ala Max. I do think they've done a good job gradually teasing out this devotion Burke has to something or someone over the first four episodes. The more we've been around him, the more we see he isn't just a hired gun, or a guy out to make a buck for himself. Something deeper than that was driving him. I suppose we'll find out what that is eventually.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Void Moon - Michael Connelly

I mostly burned out on Michael Connelly years ago, but my dad has a lot of his books, so I find myself drifting back to them every so often.

Void Moon doesn't involve any cops, or feds, or even a private investigator, really. For this one, Connelly makes the main character Cassidy Black, recently paroled former thief. She and her partner used to rob big winners in the casinos in Vegas, until Max got trapped one night and did a skydive. Apparently, since he died in the commission of a felony, and Cassidy was involved in said felony, she's guilty of manslaughter. Even though she was down on the casino floor, 21 stories away from where the actual robbery took place. Which seems like a profoundly stupid and hidebound interpretation of a law to me, but I've reached the point in life where there's very little that's so stupid I'm actually surprised by it.

Anyway, Cassidy has been trying to go straight, follow the rules, but for various reasons, she's decided it's not going to happen. She's going on the run, and she needs cash. Which means pulling a job, and there just so happens to be one back in Vegas, in the same hotel, on the same floor, as where it all went wrong.

But it doesn't go wrong. The heist goes great. Takes a little longer, but hey, she found even more cash than she was supposed to. A lot more. Instead of 300, 400 grand, it was more like 2.5 million. Hmm. Yes, that's mob money, and the casino has a troubleshooter - emphasis on "shooter" - named Jack Karch who's going to get the cash, and leave a trail of bodies along the way.

I quite liked the actual theft and the ending, when Karch tries to force Cassidy into a confrontation on his terms, and she does her best to play it her way instead. Those moments were sufficiently tense, and some of the surprise reveals at the end were pretty good. One of them in particular played into the recurring idea of misdirection Connelly kept bringing up.

That said, the book really drags for the first half. I appreciate Connelly's attempt to inform us about the tools of the trade, and how Cassidy is going to plant and use hidden cameras to help her, but he fell into the Michael Crichton trap of information overload, which bogs down the story. The book still reads quickly, but in this case that's both a strength and a weakness. Good because I can breeze through it, bad because part of the reason I breeze through is there's nothing I needed to stop and reread. No comment or bit of dialogue that struck me as clever, one worth pausing to appreciate or read out loud.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Lot Of Rambling About Acts Of Vengeance

I'm in one of those odd writing moods where I have three or four ideas for posts, but none of them feel quite ready to go. For two of them, I'm waiting for the next batch of comics so I can see how a couple of things play out. The others, I'm just not feeling like they're ready.

I spent most of last night flipping through all the Acts of Vengeance tie-in stuff. I have pretty much everything, save the X-Factor issues, which didn't seem necessary. The team itself is off-world throughout, so the tie-in is limited to Apocalypse mulling over whether to join Loki's little roundtable. Since I know he declined, it didn't seem worth the trouble.

I had read something of Tim O'Neil's from 2012, relating to how much of a disaster Avengers vs. X-Men was in terms of logical progression or coherence, and he brought up Acts of Vengeance as a comparison for how there used to at least be a minimum amount of care given to making sure the pieces fit. He mentions used to have a reading order mapped out for the whole thing, which sounded like the sort of odd time-consuming exercise I might enjoy. That was one of my projects two summers ago, pick up all the AoV tie-ins I didn't already have, but I hadn't gotten around to trying to figure out an order until last night.

It's early stages for me yet, so I'm not sure how it's going. I currently have no idea where the X-books (Uncanny and Wolverine) fit relative to everything else. Wolverine precedes Uncanny X-Men for sure, but past that. . .

It is strange to see the Mandarin in that weird blue armor he rocks for most of the crossover, then to see Jim Lee slap him in a suit about half the time during the Uncanny arc. I think he looks better in the suit myself.

I don't understand how Iron Man #250 can come after the whole thing had started, considering Doom doesn't give any indication he's part of some group. You'd think Loki might notice when Doom is magically whisked away to the future by Merlin.

I know Doom wonders why he has to work with a common gangster like the Kingpin, but the guy who felt most out of place to me was the Wizard. Kingpin can at least say he's an archfoe for Daredevil and the Punisher, and as he noted, he's the closest thing to a Spider-Man arch-enemy of the bunch. Mandarin's an Iron Man foe, Red Skull for Captain America, Doom for the FF, Magneto for the X-Men, Loki for Thor/Avengers (even if they don't realize he's there). The Wizard's smart, sure, but I had a hard time buying him as a topflight villain. He tries, but it's never really panned out. I think the Leader might have served better, as a Hulk arch-enemy, but this was the Joe Fixit era, when the Hulk was allegedly dead (though Doom clearly knows better), so maybe that's it. The Jester made an offer to the Leader, but he sent one of his lackeys instead, so I guess he had better stuff to worry about. The Wizard has spent more time networking with lesser villains than the others, so perhaps Loki thought that would help.

The order of the Spider-books among themselves isn't difficult. Amazing, Spectacular, Web, starts with Amazing #326, ends with Amazing #329, which comes after the big Avengers vs. Loki showdown in Avengers West Coast #55. I've had all the Spider-Man issues for years. Cosmic Spider-Man is one of my favorite stories ever. watching him struggle with the new powers, with the question of what he ought to be doing with them. And the idea that after years of being the guy who always winds up in fights where he's punching way out of his weight class, now he's the guy everyone else is overmatched against. Him uppercutting the Hulk into orbit is something I always enjoy reading, at least in part because Joe Fixit Hulk is such an ass he needs to be knocked down a peg.

It's kind of interesting to see which of the lesser villains pop up in more than one book. Most of them are among the third-raters that get trashed by the FF in their crossover. Hydro Man, Owl, Shocker, Orka, Whirlwind. The last two oddly, were a couple of the villains that didn't seem to make a successful escape from the Vault at the start of the whole thing, while the Owl fled for Canada at some point (naturally running smack dab into Alpha Flight). Shocker gets dropped by Spidey alongside Rhino as a warm-up to Doom sending TESS-One after him. Hydro Man winds up in a team led by the Jester, and attacks the Avengers at a town hall meeting the heroes are using to try and address public concern about heroes. There's a whole backdrop to Acts of Vengeance about a Super-Hero Registration Act - which the FF were called to testify about, and which Reed Richards spoke against, in stark contrast to his behavior in Civil War, in case you needed reminding the latter story was a pile of burning garbage. If you were trying to forget Civil War ever happened, sorry.

Maybe the trick is not to take the Fantastic Four issues seriously. Simonson was clearly having some fun with it, because Doom ends up picking the FF's foes. The trick is, he uses a device that compels all these loser, second-rate villains to attack, when they have no hope of winning. Half the time, the baddies don't even reach the heroes, they get taken out by the security system or each other. Which is the point. Dr. Doom is damned if he's going to let anyone else kill the accursed 4, so no Ultron, or the Wrecking Crew or whatever for them, no sir.

It's also neat to see how the different lower-tier villains get into it. Some of the are approached directly by one of the roundtable guys. Web of Spider-Man and Spectacular, are Doom and the Wizard setting up different guys to go after Spidey (Doom's mostly trying to get a sample of that cosmic energy). Oddly enough, in Amazing Spider-Man, most of the threat comes from Sebastian Shaw, who isn't even part of the group, but is approached about killing Spidey in exchange for the death of the X-Men, and also had a Sentinel project going (and ultimately, Loki fuses all the Sentinels together to destroy a nuclear plant and that's why Spidey got the cosmic powers). Some of them get suckered into it (the U-Foes and Mole Man both go after the West Coast Avengers because they think the Whackos attacked them first), or dropped in with no idea what's going on. Loki basically blinks the Juggernaut out of an English prison and dumps him in New York. Juggy has no idea how it happened or why, but he's fine with smashing stuff until the reason becomes clear. And that's how we got the New Warriors, which is why Acts of Vengeance is the greatest Marvel event thing ever.

Then there are villains no one approached, they decided to get in on it all on their own. New Mutants has a whole bit about Vulture being pissed no one thinks he's worth using, except as a dope to free Nitro so he can wreak havoc. Then Nitro goes and gets punked by Skids, for pete's sake. Moon Knight runs afoul of Killer Shrike and Coachwhip, both of whom spend the entire fight bemoaning the fact they couldn't find anyone better to kill. Which is pretty funny coming from a couple of losers like them. Coachwhip was second-rate even among the Serpent Society, who are hardly the Masters of Evil when it comes to super-villain groups. The first time I ever saw Killer Shrike, he was attacking Spider-Man, believing the Webhead had been sent to get him by some mysterious group, only for Spidey to take him down in three pages, sighing internally the whole time how tired he was of fighting the same foes over and over.

One thing that was kind of nifty was only one guy figured out who was behind everything from the start, and it was the Mad Thinker. Loki - in his role as a mysterious benefactor - offered the guy an escape from jail, and spot on the team, but the Thinker turned him down. Saw a high likelihood of failure, and immediately surmised who he was talking to. It makes a bit of sense the heroes would have so much trouble figuring it out. Even when they can catch one of the people who attacks them, assuming it's one who was directly approached, that person was approached by one of the roundtable. Loki somehow managed to play to all their egos simultaneously, making them all believe it was really each guy's idea, and he was merely a lackey helping them out. Which has the benefit of keeping him in the background, and the heroes chasing after the other guys, not realizing that Doom attacking the Punisher, or the Brothers Grimm attacking Spider-Man are all part of the same plan, hatched by the same person.

I don't know, it'll be a process, but it's been fun to go back and reread the books. A lot of them I hadn't read since right after I bought them. But a lot of them have a tone that suggests the creators know this is a little silly, but they're having a good time with it. Quasar, for example, treats some of the threats as serious, Absorbing Man with the power of the Quantum Bands, but it doesn't insult your intelligence by treating Venom like a real threat to Wendell Vaughn. They put him on the cover, possibly as a joking sales boost thing, and Quasar takes him out in the first two pages, then goes on to have slightly greater trouble with Klaw, before getting stuck chasing the Living Laser into the Watcher's digs, only to get sidetracked by the Red Ghost. None of these guys are really on Quasar's level, but he's trying to be polite and careful, and each villain keeps popping up to attack while he's preoccupied with the previous one, so he only ends up with one by the end of the whole thing.

In most cases, the ongoing plotlines are treated as being more serious, and these attacks by unfamiliar super-villains are intrusions that highlight those problems. The Avengers are scattered and preoccupied with their own problems, so no one can show up to defend the Hydrobase, or they have to fight Freedom Force with a bunch of people unaccustomed to working together. Having Cosmic Power amplifies Spidey's usual concerns about power and responsibility. Daredevil's trying to figure out what the hell's gone wrong with his life, whether the problem is that he doesn't want to care about others, or that he still does. And here comes an Ultron who can't reconcile all the different views in its mind, it's issues as creator and created, which makes it a danger to itself and others. The X-Men are scattered, which makes Psylocke easy prey for the Hand and Mandarin, and Logan still hasn't recovered from the thrashing Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers gave him. And everyone else thinks they're dead, so no one's on the lookout to see if they're in trouble.

Some of the stories work better than others, some of the art is much stronger, but it really does hold together pretty well. There's a common sense of the heroes being caught flatfooted by it all, and struggling to figure out what's happening. Meanwhile, there's tons of property damage (since Damage Control has been purchased by entities that gutted its effectiveness in their own mini-series). That the damage isn't being rapidly fixed, raises public concern, which plays into the whole arc about the Registration Act. Most critically, the creative teams are able to, as I mentioned above, use the thing as part of their ongoing plots. The stories they were telling don't come screeching to a halt for the duration. They keep moving in the background (like Immortus' plans for the Scarlet Witch), or they stay in the foreground and absorb the event into them. Which is not something I feel a lot of books these days can manage. Some writers can (bringing up Civil War again, I still contend Nicieza on Cable/Deadpool, and Peter David on X-Factor did just fine using it, without letting the stories they wanted to tell be derailed).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

We Can't Have A Murder If The Victim Won't Stay Dead

As soon as we finished The 39 Steps, we moved onto Laura. The first movie had been meant to illustrate some point my dad was trying to make in response to my comments about the odd lack of tension in The Watcher in Shadows. A point I'm still lost on, because the book didn't seem meant to be funny, while The 39 Steps doesn't take itself entirely seriously. I'll have to get around to asking him what he was driving at eventually.

Anyway, we watched Laura, because he knows I'm curious to see Vincent Price in non-horror roles. Here, he plays the ne'er do well fiance of the title character. He's big, handsome, sort of charming in a goofy, almost Hugh Grantesque way. But it's all a facade. He's got himself a sugar mama he's stringing along, while whispering sweet nothings in Gene Tierney's (she's Laura) ear. He's also a pitiful liar. Nearly every time he tries to be clever or sneaky, it blows up in his face within a minute. But he keeps doing it, so I can only assume he's been allowed to get away with it enough in the past he thinks he's good at it. Either that or he has nothing to lose.

Through the first half of the movie, we're operating under the assumption Laura's been murdered, and so Detective McPherson is trying to find the killer. I thought this was going to be one of those movies where the character who seemed all sweetness and light, but it gradually comes out they were not what they seemed. Then they introduce this thread that McPherson is slowly falling in love with Laura - who is, you know, dead - and he passes out drunk in her apartment while reading through her letters and such. I thought that came on abruptly, he's been on the case three days, tops, but there wasn't time to reflect on it, because that's when Laura comes walking through the front door.

Now my first reaction was Dana Andrews had lost his damn mind, hallucinating the dead woman returning, but no, it's really Laura. Which means she isn't the victim, which means they have to figure out who is, and there's still the question of who killed her, and why. And everyone is still lying constantly.

I didn't spend too much time trying to figure out who the killer was. There only seemed to be two real possibilities, and Vincent Price's character was too much of a goober to kill someone without giving himself away five minutes later. The film was more interesting for the odd contortions the characters go through, the strange and stupid things they do out of love or selfishness. Waldo trying to "protect" Laura, Laura believing she can "fix" Shelby, Ann wanting Shelby with her because she thinks they're the same. I'd disagree with her on that score, since I'm not convinced Shelby has sufficient self-awareness to recognize the sort of useless person he is.

So this was a different sort of role for Price from what I'm used to. He's not scary, but unlikeable. Scheming, but not clever enough to do it well. Charm has enabled him to skate by in the past, and so that's all he has to rely on, and so he's up the creek with McPherson. He tries for self-deprecating, but it's so obviously an act it becomes one more thing to despise about him. Especially since he ought to have a much lower opinion of himself than he does.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Too. . . Wheeze. . . Many. . . Gasp. . . Steps

And right on cue, here's a movie by Hitchcock, rather than a movie about him.

The 39 Steps is one of his earlier films, when he was still working I think exclusively in England. A London vaudeville show of some sort is interrupted by gunshots. As the crowd flees the building, a Canadian named Hannay (Robert Donat) is approached by a mysterious Miss Smith (Lucie Mannheim), who asks if she may go to his flat. Once there, she claims to be a freelance spy, trying to stop someone from smuggling the secret of England's new air defense plans out of the country. Hannay thinks it silly, but well, there are two guys standing on the street corner watching his place, and she does stumble into his room that night with a knife in her back, and a map of Scotland with one location circled. So it's off Hannay goes, the police hot on his trail as a suspected murderer. Except he keeps running into this one annoying woman (Madeleine Carroll), who simply won't believe his story, and keep pointing him out to the police.

The movie is very tongue in cheek. Hannay can be very determined when he's being actively chased by cops, but the rest of the time, he's wryly amused by the whole thing. Which means it isn't a very tense movie, but it is very funny at times. Hannay spends the night at the home of a deeply religious farmer, who suspects Hannay of trying to steal away with his wife in the night. He's almost relieved to learn she was actually just waking him up because the police are coming and Hannay is a suspected murderer.

The humor is somewhat undercut when we learn later that Crofter (the farmer) beats his wife because she gave his nice heavy overcoat to Hannay. I guess I should chalk that up to either Hitchcock's particular sense of whimsy, or maybe just a difference in the time I live, versus when the film was made.

But there are plenty of bits that are unambiguously funny. Hannay fleeing the cops by rushing into a meeting hall, only to be mistaken for a politico on the campaign trail, and getting into it by giving a stirring speech, even as the cops start filing in. Seeing as they were in Scotland, I felt he should claim the cops were working for the opposition, or better yet, landed English gentry. The crowd would surely have rioted and freed him.

You may have heard someone comment that a frequent problem with characters in zombie films is that they behave as if they've never seen a zombie film before. I had a similar issue with Hannay, in that he frequently seemed to make the worst decisions in terms of acting suspicious, or who to approach or not approach. Then my dad pointed out that in the 1930s, there might not be widespread access to stories such as that in any medium Hannay would be readily exposed to. And of course there's the fact that it's all very well and good for me to critique him from my comfy chair, but quite another to be the one on the run after a woman he only just met gets killed in his place.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keeping Us In Suspense Is What He Does

When I watch a film about actual people, I always wonder how accurate the portrayal is. It's not always an issue, but in biographical srots of films, it seems relevant. I'm also a bit leery of finding out some historical figure who I admired, or whose work I enjoyed, was a total scumbag.

So I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to watch Hitchcock, but I gave it a whirl. It's more a snapshot of a brief period in his life, after the highly successful release of North by Northwest, until the premiere of Psycho. Mostly it deals with Hitch's personal doubts, and the problems this creates for people around him. Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville, who is his editor and a valuable contributor throughout the creation of his films. The problem is, she's not receiving any recognition, being regarded primarily as "Hitchcock's wife", she and Hitch are growing a bit distant, and there's a reasonable desire on her part to do something that isn't inextricably linked to Alfred Hitchcock. So there's a thread where a writer, Whitfield Cook, asks for her to edit his script, but this seems largely a way to get his script in front of Hitchcock. Considering it makes Hitchcock suspicious that they're having an affair, this was hardly the best approach. Perhaps more than usual he buries his attention in his film, and his apparently unhealthy fixation on his leading ladies, this time Janet Leigh.

I was curious for more of Leigh's (played by Scarlett Johansson) perspective on it. She hears about Hitchcock's tendency to try and dominate the lives of his lead actresses from Vera Miles, but she doesn't seem to entirely buy it. Jokes about how he's easier to work with than Orson Welles. There is the sequence where Hitchcock demonstrates the stabbing for her death scene, and something about it terrifies her sufficiently to get the reaction he wanted. But there isn't any real follow up that suggests it significantly altered how she saw him, or even anything that suggests what she made of it. Did she suspect he had other things on his mind, or simply that he was very dedicated to his craft?

It was sort of an interesting portrayal of him. He doesn't seem like a bad guy, more kind of sad, a bit insecure. For all the outward bravado he directs at the studio heads, or the demands he places upon those who work for him, he doubts people respect his work, fixates on his leading ladies, thinking he can save them, improve them, something. Doesn't understand who he has in Alma until it's almost too late. I did like the idea that he didn't want to simply repeat his previous work, that he wanted to try something different. It's a desire I think is admirable. It can lead to odd things, but if he has the opportunity and the desire to do a dark, sort of screwball comedy like The Trouble with Harry, why not? I'm less enthused with the repeated scenes where he's in the book, talking to the killer Norman Bates was based on. Him getting too far into the mind of his monster, which is one of those things I wonder about being made up for dramatic purposes. Was that something he actually struggled with, or did they just think it made a nice thread.

I thought all the actors did well, Mirren especially. I quite liked Alma, especially when she takes over directing the film while Hitchcock recuperates, and rebuffs the studio head's attempt to insert a Martin & Lewis movie director. Jeez, that would have been a disaster. At any rate, the people we got were pretty good. I'd still rather watch just watch one of Hitchcock's movies. You can still learn a bit about him, based on the story he tells and what the characters are like, and it's usually more interesting.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Lesson In The Dangers Of Home Brewing

By the time Cowboy ended, the Spencer Tracy version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had started on another channel. I haven't read or watched any version of that since an animated version I watched when I was kid, and it's Spencer Tracy, so why not?

Tracy does a very good job with the role. Mostly I like how completely he shifts his mannerisms when moving between the two aspects. Hyde has that hunched over, shuffling run, his hat tipped at an angle. The leering grin, the way he constantly invades people's - usually Ivy's (played by Ingrid Bergman) - personal space. It's not as though Tracy is a large man, and I don't director Victor Fleming did a lot of camera tricks to make him look larger, but he does tend to dominate any shot he's in. He always seems to be leaning in taking more than half of the screen.

Bergman's performance helps. Once Hyde turns his attentions to her, she's in this state of constant nervous tension. It's done gradually, so that early on, when she's alone in her new place she's happy, but the moment he enters, her demeanor changes. she's tentative, pleading,, trying to find a way to keep him happy with her. Eventually, she's always tense, scared. Even when she thinks she's free of him, she's a drunk, miserable wreck. She can't relax, can't enjoy her freedom. She was even wearing a black band around her arm, but I'm not sure what she was mourning. Hyde's death, her suffering. It's a sad thing, because all the joy and vitality she had at the start of the film, the playfulness, Hyde steadily chokes out of her.

I liked the set design. The first time Jekyll moves from the main part of his house to his lab. The house is this huge, open thing, all shining white surfaces and open spaces. Then he steps into his lab - through two heavy wooden doors - and it's this dark, cramped place, shelves, and tubes, smoke bubbling out of beakers. It's not exactly subtle, the darker side of Hyde's mind. There's another scene where Jekyll and Beatrix (Lana Turner) have been talking at a party, and it's all very proper while they're in her father's house. As they step outside, into the garden, they get a little more passionate, there's some declaration of feelings, some kissing. You know, garden, life and fertility and such.

One thing I wondered was whether this whole thing was engineered by the Hyde part of him, as a way to get out. Jekyll was supposedly trying to devise a way to eliminate the darker, evil impulses within all people, or at least find a way to keep them from taking control. Except, it didn't work that way at all. Hyde got loose, with Jekyll maintaining control for shorter and shorter intervals. And there was no movement in the other direction, where Jekyll transforms into some being made purely of sweetness and light. Sure, he was a pretty swell guy already, real humanitarian, but he still had urges and impulses, which the story paints as being part of the darker side, Jekyll was his normal state, Hyde the evil. There was no strict good persona.

We were discussing why Jekyll makes his initial pitch for his work at a fancy dinner party full of stuffy old people, the sort who would certainly find it gauche to discuss such tawdry matters as urges. My theory was it was that darker side of him, such human impulse for self-destruction. The mass rejection helps spur him into trying his potion on himself to prove the soundness of his theory. Which lets Hyde out, and ultimately gets Jekyll killed. It's interesting, because when the police and his friend run him to ground, Jekyll can't keep Hyde under wraps, when he most needs him to. His friend is trying to claim he, the respected Dr, Jekyll, is actually the murderous Hyde, which seems ridiculous on the face of it. Jekyll could probably have brazened it out, if he kept Hyde under control. But Hyde burst through, and doomed them both.

I want to credit the makeup people before I end this. Hyde looks similar, but he's different in subtle ways. The brow is a little thicker, the dark circles under the eyes, my dad thinks they used cheek pads, and he had false teeth so he couldn't really close his mouth. All those little things add up.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Burn Notice 7.3 - Down Range

Plot: Michael's back in the Dominican Republic, trying to put thoughts of Fiona out of his mind. Burke's got something to help: heisting a truck. The guy he originally hired is a little smarter than Burke thought, and too greedy for his own good. Now he's dead, but isn't it lucky Michael knows some guys who can handle it? Strong wants to use his guys, but Mike argues convincingly that it needs to be Sam and Jesse, because their lies will match his lies. So they steal the truck, but a guard picks the wrong moment to step out for a smoke, and Sam has to kill the guy.

Don't worry, Strong assures us the guy was a merc, of the sort who burns down villages. Doesn't do much for Sam, but you can do something with it, if you like. Anyway, truck full of expensive severs and such successfully taken, and Burke has a major terrorist guy on the way to buy them. Trap is set, everybody ready to catch Burke and Serano, so Mike can get out from under Strong's thumb?

Too bad, because Burke's working for someone else, and his real goal is to abduct Serano and bring him to that someone else. So Michael has to keep the trap from being sprung, and do it in such a way Burke doesn't grow suspicious of him. Good thing Sam and Jesse stuck around. Now Michael's on a chopper with Burke and Serano, headed who knows where.

In the other story, Madeline is visited by Leo Sapienza, one of Nate's old bookies. Nate still owes him 80 grand, and Ruth is no longer inclined to pay (or perhaps isn't able if she's in rehab). But Maddy has a kid, so there's Leo's lever. And here's Fiona, Maddy's sledgehammer. So Maddy offers some jewels as collateral, the jewels have a GPS locator, they find Leo's safe, blow out the wall, and steal it. Meaning they have all his money, and his ledger, things his bosses will be very unhappy to learn he lost.

The Players: Burke (Man Who Needs A Truck Stolen), Strong (CIA Blowhard), Leo Sapienza (Bookie), Rafael Serano (Terrorist Bomber)

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'I killed a man today. So I'm not going anywhere until I know he didn't die for nothing.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? She let Maddy push the button, but I'm giving Fi credit for Leo's rear wall.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (1 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall).

Other: That moment of dawning comprehension on Leo's face, as he realizes this old lady took his safe, that was beautiful. And Sharon Gless played it well. She's outwardly very pleasant, but it's that sort of fake pleasantry that twists the knife. She could make a big show of this, humiliate him in front of everyone, just as easily as she could destroy him with that ledger. But she won't. She doesn't need to. The way she hands him the ledger, assuring him she has her own copy, is a nice mirror of his handing the little boy a bullet at the start of the episode. It's Leo's end, if he doesn't do what she says.

There's also how Fiona helps Madeline. One thing that's consistently frustrated me is how long Mike, Fi and the others kept up with trying to keep Maddy in the dark. Never trusting her until she called them on it directly, even though she came through for them. Here though, Fi doesn't try to shield her, or sugarcoat. Doesn't tell her to stay home while Fiona goes and handles things. She brings Madeline along, has her help set the det cord, push the button, and lets her lower the boom on Leo at the end. Fiona knows what it's like to feel helpless, forced to do things you don't want to protect someone you care about, just as she's been the one used as the threat. She gets it, and her nature is to strike back, to turn the tables. So she gives Madeline that chance, to feel the sense of closure firsthand. Maddy doesn't have to sit and wait for word that everything's OK, she knows everything's OK because she was there, she handled it personally.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dreams Rarely Survive First Contact With Reality

'Don't believe love will find a way. I know all the ways.'

If I told you Jack Lemmon was in a Western as a hotel clerk who takes part in a cattle drive, you'd expect it to be a comedy, but that's not Cowboy. Oh, the scales fall from his eyes as to the reality of life on the range, but it isn't done in a way where he makes lots of hilarious mistakes. Glenn Ford probably would have killed him if he had.

Harris (Lemmon) loans Reese (Ford) some money for a poker game at the hotel. That's how Reese sees it, anyway, because he was drunk. Harris believes he's bought into Reese's operation, and now they're partners. Harris gradually learns how ugly the trail can be, and his idealism doesn't make many friends. Life is cheap, camaraderie among trail hands is a pipe dream, the cattle are all that matters. But he never takes Reese's repeated offers to take back his money and leave.

And gradually he learns the lessons, which makes him a mirror for Reese. Reese doesn't like what he sees looking back at him, leaving him to try and fix the damage, if he can.

There are moments in the film where you could see the potential for humor, but the movie avoids that. Probably the point. The audience thinks that with Lemmon it'll be funny, Harris thought this would be like his boyhood dreams, but it isn't on either count. The tomfoolery around the campfire gets a man killed. When one of the cowboys is about to get jumped in Mexico for flirting with the ladies, none of the other cowhands are much interested in saving his neck.

The movie did that a lot, subvert my expectations. At the start of the film, Harris is quite taken with a young Mexican woman staying at the hotel with her family. Her father's having none of it, and that line at the top was his. As it turns out he's one of Reese's cattle suppliers, I figured Harris joined on as a chance to see her again, no longer as a lowly clerk, but as a businessman. He does see her again, but she's married now, and Catholic, so I'm guessing divorce is out of the question. His attempt to do something brave to impress her is preempted by Reese, and there isn't that moment I expected where Harris does something that so impresses her father that he changes his mind. Doesn't happen. Harris and Maria have a final goodbye, but that's it. Harris never had a chance, whether she'd been married or not. Class issue, I suppose.

It's not a relentlessly depressing movie, I should make that clear. It ends on a high enough note. It just isn't the laughfest one might expect.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Didn't Do Much, But I Liked The Parts of GTA 5 I Saw

Back in the fall, a friend loaned me Grand Theft Auto 4, and I found it sort of unsatisfying. While I was at Alex', GTA 5 was the primary diversion. They've already finished the story, so I didn't have any involvement with that. I did find a map on the side of a building at the top of a cable car, which sent Alex rushing to the Internet, where he learned of all the wonders that await if he and his roomies can just get that 100% completion.

So I spent my time trying to do some of the stuff to help make that happen. I found out I'm better at golf on Wii Sports than in GTA, and it's a cruel and unforgiving sport either way. Tennis is not any more fun for me to play than to watch. Skydiving and landing on moving vehicles is surprisingly easy.

The vehicles had a much greater sense of speed than I found in the ones I got ahold of in GTA 4, and much better handling. The ones that didn't handle so well were at least fast enough it made sense to me. The world provided is certainly huge. At times that was really impressive; other times it was exhausting trying to get from one place to another. You can call cabs and use them to fast travel to certain locations, but you know, that costs money.

Look, Franklin only had $21 million. You can't expect him to pay cab fare, at least not when I'm running the show.

Flying planes might have been my favorite part of the game. Flying helicopters, not so much. It's so awkward to get those things moving forward at any decent rate. The planes though, oh that was fun, except for when Johnny Law would get angry I drove on the airfield and stole a Lear Jet. It took far too many tries for me to successfully swipe a fighter jet off the military base and get away with it. Alex had some great idea about a hill to use as a ramp and vault the fence, but you had to hit it just right, so figure five or six times to get that right. Then get to the jet without being shot by the soldiers. Then get airborne, and get away from the base without being destroyed or damaged by surface to air missiles (the damaged bit happened at least 3 times). When it finally worked out, oh, I had some fun. Until I crashed into the blimp and died.

Anyway, it's 80% done now, so the rest of it is up to them.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

I'm Feeling A Little Chippy Today

The Baseball Hall of Fame results were announced yesterday. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas got in. Good for them. As a non-Braves fan, Maddux always frustrated me, with his ability to get strike calls six inches off the outside corner, but the way he pitched, that was clearly skill, not luck. Or luck as the residue of design. I'm not a huge DH fan, but they're part of baseball, so if they're good enough, I don't see any reason not to vote them in. I liked Paul Molitor, and he DH'ed a lot, and I'd vote for Edgar Martinez if I could, so no problem with the Big Hurt. Craig Biggio missed it by 2 votes, which is a little maddening. There's so many players I think deserve to be in to choose from, it would have been nice to clear the ballot a little more. I need the ballot cleared by the time Jim Edmonds gets on there (Note: I know Edmonds has next to no shot, but what the hell, I think he has a decent "peak value" case. Griffey gets in first among centerfielders, but Edmonds could go in later. Maybe the Veterans Committee gets Kenny Lofton in later).

Deadspin got a writer to turn control of his ballot over to them. In practice, this meant turning it over to the fans, since Deadspin opted for a polling approach. Every player on the ballot was listed with the question, "Is {Insert Player Name} a Hall of Famer?", then Yes or No below that. You could vote yes for as many as you pleased, or no, or skip any of them you wanted. Any player who got more than 50% yes, they'd try to put on the ballot. If there were more than 10 (since the rules say you can only vote for 10 players for some reason*), the 10 with the highest percentage of "Yes" votes get named, which is how it turned out.

I took the opportunity to vote. Just once, no ballot stuffing, but why not? I like baseball, try to follow it as much as possible. As I went into biology and not journalism, the chances of my ever getting to vote otherwise are pretty slim. Because only BBWAA-accredited sportswriters, with 10 years in that organization get to vote. Players or managers? No (well, as part of the Veterans Committee they do, if they've been elected to Hall already). Broadcasters, announcers, analysts? No. Fans. Oh, hell no. So I voted for around 15 players. I thought they all had strong cases, so I was gonna throw my tiny bit of support behind him, and see how things played out.

The voter in question was Dan LeBatard, which wasn't surprising once I thought about it. I figured it would be a voter I'd never heard of, playing the odds that there are about 600 possible voters. But it's the sort of grandstand act he seems to appreciate. Now he's barred from ever voting again, which may not be a good thing, if you're fond of voters who actually want to vote for lots of players. As opposed to sending in blank ballots to spite their detractors (I wonder if Murray Chass will do this as he's vowed), or taking a moral stand completely divorced from reality**. Then again, there are lots of people in the Hall of Fame most people couldn't name, while quite a few more people know Pete Rose, the guy forever banned from baseball. LeBatard might be more well known as the guy frozen out for going against certain writers' sense of superiority than as just another voter. Maybe. Strictly speaking, nothing in the rules says you can't crowd source your vote. Just like it doesn't prohibit sending in blank ballots to mock people who think you're an idiot, or voting for a guy you know doesn't belong (Jim DeShaies), because you want to write an article about why you voted for him. I'd say LeBatard's mistake was letting Deadspin name him, but Chass has been open about his intent, and so was the guy who voted for DeShaies, so it's really about letting the fans have a little voice. Besides, LeBatard's not the sort to shy from publicity (for the record, he didn't receive money, Deadspin donates to charity as specified by him)

So I'm not surprised at the outrage of some writers, but I'm still irritated. I know Tony Kornheiser's a cranky old man at the best of times, but his insistence the Hall of Fame is about as democratic as you get is silly. It is democratic, in the same way the United States was when it was first formed. You could vote, if you were a white man, otherwise, scram. You can vote for the Hall if you're a sportswriter, but otherwise, you couldn't possibly have the deep understanding necessary for such an undertaking. They see it as their exclusive little fiefdom (or country club), one gifted to them by the Hall 80 years ago, and woe be to anyone trying to sneak in under the fence. Or smash through the gate on a lawnmower, which may be the more appropriate metaphor in this case.

It's a little like the awful guys that perpetuate the "fake geek girl" idea and erect all these bullshit barriers to somehow bar people from also enjoying something they enjoy. Because those other people enjoy it differently, and that's wrong. The Hall of Fame thing isn't that bad, because at the end of the day, it's just a baseball museum. I know Tim Raines and Mike Mussina are good whether they get in or not. Also, most sportswriters don't go around being complete dicks to baseball fans who disagree with them. They can be overly defensive, arrogant, and hypocritical, but they don't actively try to run off people who like baseball. They might do it inadvertently, but there's not typically intent.

Part of what bugs me is a sense the writers are devaluing the players and baseball I watched and enjoyed. They know some players used drugs, but they don't know which ones (and it's only certain drugs that matter), or how much those drugs helped. McGwire used steroids when he hit 70 home runs in '98. OK, how many would he have hit without them? 63, 37, 11, maybe he would have been so bad without them he retires in 1996. We don't know, anymore than we know how much greenies helped Hank Aaron. Since they don't like the history they've been dealt, they try to wipe it out, deny its existence.  "Those guys don't count, they can't possibly compare to the players I grew up watching," they say. Like DC's, "let's roll the characters back to the Silver Age" strategy. More Hal Jordan and Barry Allen! You like Cassandra Cain or Ryan Choi? Tough shit, we're killing them off or just wiping them from history. Except unlike DC, the writers don't actually own baseball, or the Hall of Fame. They just enjoy acting like they do.

* Well, the reason now would be, "because that's how it's always been done", but I don't know the original reason.

** Ken Gurnick, the only guy who actually copped to not voting for Greg Maddux, argued he wouldn't vote for anyone from the so-called PED Era. I disagree with that, but it's at least in theory a consistent approach. Except he voted for Jack Morris, whose career overlaps Maddux' by about 7 seasons. He didn't vote for Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, or Lee Smith, all contemporaries of Morris. It frames PED use as something that didn't exist in baseball prior to Morris' retirement in 1994. Never mind that fans were doing "steroid" chants at Canseco as far back as 1988, or that players were popping amphetamines like Skittles as far back as the '60s, including no-doubt Hall of Famers like Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt. It undercuts the whole argument with how poorly thought out it is.