Monday, June 30, 2014

Take A Stroll Through The September Solicits

I'm sure it will shock you to learn Hawkeye was not listed in the solicits. Can it be considered an ongoing if it never comes out?

Beyond that, at Marvel, I don't know what's going on. I'm not sure if Avengers Undercover is ending, or just starting it's last arc. I'd kind of expect it to last one more month, ship twice, and reach 12 issues. Makes for two trades. But who knows. On the other side of things, Superior Foes of Spider-Man claims it isn't ending with #15. So I don't know if it got a last-second reprieve, the cancellation was a load of bull, or the solicit is lying to us. It is a villain book, they could be lying.

In less confusing news, Deadpool's safely out of the land of Original Sin tie-ins. Daredevil, too. Thank goodness. That first Deadpool tie-in was not promising.

Outside Marvel, I'm giving DC a wide berth. I don't care about Future's End, I don't care about 3-D covers, nothing there for me. Just the way DC intended, no doubt. Ah well, the money will go elsewhere. Not just to Atomic Robo, which will allegedly be wrapping up Knights of the Golden Circle, though I note issue 2 did not ship in June as it was solicited. That's hardly new. Red 5 really needs to find a new printer or something, their guy is always screwing them over and causing delays.

The only bit of new business is I decided to try that new series Roche's Limit from Image. I guess I'm a sucker for comics titles after astronomy terminology.  I'm not entirely sure about a series set in the future where mankind's attempt to establish new settlements in space has turned out poorly. Sounds a bit like an excuse to do a gritty crime story in space, but we'll give it whirl. Sounds like it'll run in 5-issue installments, so if it doesn't end up working, I should have a pretty easy opportunity to bail out.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.14 - Beholder

Plot: A retired general is killed on a golf course. The only witness is blinded by some gun that flash fried his eyes. The killer is the notorious assassin, the Chameleon, and the retired general's son, a rich software tycoon, has placed a large, tax-free bounty on the killer's head. The Official is all about that, and running the records, he and Eberts have determined that there is some connection between the Chameleon's victims and a well-known model, Leila Bach, who also happens to be blind. Off Fawkes and Hobbes go to her latest shoot, though Hobbes is quickly distracted by other ladies, and Fawkes tags along invisibly in Leila's car with her chauffeur. A man named Claude waits at her home, but once Fawkes fails his stealth roll, the guy finds him, beats his ass, and panics when he sees Darien's badge. Yep, he's the Chameleon. Fawkes tries running, Claude fires his weapon, Darien Quicksilvers as it hits, and that's why he'll only be temporarily blind, rather than permanently.

There are two twists. One, Fawkes can see when his eyes are Quicksilvered. Guess the parts of his eyes that respond to whatever higher spectrums the Quicksilver lets in weren't flash-fried. Two, Leila wants to spend time with him, I guess because she feels bad this happened. Fawkes wants no part of it, only wants to get out there and find Claude, but the Official benches him. So he and Leila hang out, she helps him learn how she perceives the world, he helps her understand how Claude could lie so easily, since he did the same to Casey. Remember Casey? His girlfriend, from the Pilot? Meanwhile, Claude prepares to strike another target, and stalks Leila. Then he abducts her. Darien tries to pursue, even leaps on the roof of the car, but is flung off by Claude's aggressive driving. Claude promises this is his last job, and wants to know if she will leave with him. She asks him if he would stop killing people if she did. He asks if she could love him. She can't tell him that, so she's now a potential decoy to cover his assassination attempt on the software tycoon son.

Fawkes has already deduced this, thanks to something Hobbes said, and the general's funeral is pretty well-covered. But it still comes down to Darien on the roof against Claude, who has Leila tied up in a trunk with a lot of explosives. Fawkes Quicksilvered his walkie-talkie, though, so Hobbes hears it all and rescues her. Then Darien goes Quicksilver Mad, because he's been using it too much as a workaround. This is bad for Claude, because crazy, invisible Darien beats his butt, then knocks him off the roof where I think he falls to his death in a empty fountain. Darien's eyesight is restored, and he and Leila take another trip to the beach.

Quote of the Episode: Claude - 'I don't want to murder them. But I'm forced to choose between my freedom and their sight.'

The "Oh crap" count: 1 (20 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Lao Tzu's advice to look for the good in everything, the line about lighting a candle rather than cursing darkness, and maybe, "She Blinded Me with Science".

Times Fawkes Goes Quicksilver Mad: 1 (6 overall).

Still Fish & Game. Not sure if I would count Fawkes being thrown from the roof of one car through the rear glass of another in the unofficial, "Almost run over count". Maybe it should be "Near Death By Car"?

Other: I'm always a little leery of these episodes where a character loses their sight or some other sense and learns it's entirely possible to function in everyday life. It's a good message, but I always wonder if it doesn't come off as patronizing.

Beyond that, I has questions. One, if Leila's much more attuned to her other senses, how did she not sense Darien's presence riding shotgun in her car? She didn't notice a different scent, the sound of two sets of breathing besides her own, the shifting of weight in a seat other than the driver's? Also, Claude's called the Chameleon, but he doesn't really use disguises much. He lays one out when preparing for the hit, but his shtick is that he renders people incapable of giving a good description (because, as Hobbes notes, they can't tell if the sketch artist is capturing their description right).

I don't know, what's a better name for a guy who blinds witnesses to remain anonymous? Solar Flare? The Bathroom Light At Midnight?

Remember in "Reunion", that Fawkes kept trying to use his badge to get help from people, and it kept not working, because it's from Fish & Game? Hobbes knows how to do it properly. He shows them the tin/shield, whatever it's called, but not the i.d. badge. Let them be impressed, without giving them something easy to read that won't impress them as much.

Little surprised the writers brought Casey up. They haven't really mentioned her since the pilot, but the tale of what happened between her and Fawkes did fit the circumstances. He lied to Casey, just as Claude lied to Leila, in each case because it was easier than stopping what they were doing, or telling the truth and dealing with the consequences. Interesting to contrast that with Leila, who can't lie to Claude about what this revelation has done to her feelings for him, even though lying would stop him from killing more people. This assumes Claude could actually successfully vanish with a world-famous model along for the ride, which, ehhhh, might be tricky. I don't know, I've never tried it before.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #6 - Power Girl

The hardest part of this post may be deciding which images to use. Kind of a wealth of options.

Character: Power Girl, aka Karen Starr, aka Kara Zor-L

Creators: Gerry Conway, Ric Estrada, Wally Wood

First appearance: All-Star Comics #58

First encounter: Infinity Inc. #7. I once received a large group of seemingly random comics, and this was in there. I didn't understand most of it, and Power Girl didn't get much of a chance to do anything (her fight with Superman just barely started), but it is the first time I saw her. She's kind of getting her butt kicked on the cover, which is why I didn't post a picture of it. Have some panels of Power Girl and Terra at the movies drawn by Amanda Conner instead!

Definitive writers: Amanda Conner, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti. I don't remember Conner getting a writer's credit during their Power Girl run, but I imagine she had some input.

Definitive artist: Amanda Conner! I also like Jerry Ordway and Adam Hughes' versions, but Conner's is the one I think of.

Favorite moment or scene: Power Girl #12, the last issue of the Conner/Gray/Palmiotti run. Vartox shows up, being pursued by some big alien overlord angry that Vartox was making time with his wife. Vartox had already shown up once, causing major trouble in some lame attempt to impress Peej sufficiently she'd help him repopulate his planet (it involved a glowy egg thing that uses energy to kick in his people's regeneration cycle). Now both he and the other guy starting trying to hit on her, and fed up, Power Girl basically uses Vartox like a club to beat some sense into both guys, and tells them to leave before she gets really mad. Which the overlord fellow does, because he thinks that'll impress her (it doesn't), and Vartox doesn't, because he's an idiot. And that's how Vartox got tossed across New York, again.

What I like about her: My history with Power Girl covers a fairly short span of time. It runs from roughly when she joined the Johns/Goyer JSA book, up to the beginning of the new 52. I've ignored the current Power Girl, and I only know bits and pieces of her history from the '90s and earlier, and what I do know isn't pretty. Disclaimer firmly in place, lets move on. I've said previously I like her outfit. The boots, the short red cape, the either gold shoulder pad or gold buckle that the cape attaches with, the belt. It all works really well together. Also, she's a super-strong tough lady that enjoys fighting crime and helping people. Always a plus. Another thing I wouldn't have necessarily expected to like, but do, is how several of the younger superheroines look up to her. Stargirl, Cyclone, especially Terra. Her and Peej's friendship was always enjoyable.

It does make sense. From their perspective, Power Girl is an older woman who is a tough, successful hero, one always at the forefront of the battle, trading punches with the heaviest hitters the bad guys have. She owns her own company, she's confident, assertive, speaks her mind, and she's not defined by a relationship to a guy*. What's not to love?

* I guess you could argue that she is Superman's cousin, but her being from a different universe since Crisis on the Infinite Earths seems to put her at a slight remove from Superman, compared to Supergirl, Superboy, or even Steel. She doesn't wear the "S", either. And beyond that, she doesn't have many romantic relationships. There was that thing with Hal Jordan that resulted in a magical pregnancy that was never mentioned again, but other than that, nothing leaps to mind. No, Vartox doesn't count.

One thing being on the Internet has made me more aware of is how much crap society dumps on girls and women about how they should behave. Don't offer your opinion without being asked for it, just smile and put up with that drunk guy pawing you, or politely ask him to stop, don't wear short skirts because dudes can't control their urges (speaking as a dude, that's bullshit), that kind of stuff. Power Girl has no time for any of that crap. If Wildcat says some sexist, belittling nonsense ('cause he's a drunk old fart), she's not forcing a smile while she bites back on a cutting remark. She gives him an earful. She's not putting up with Wally West making constant lewd and unprofessional remarks while they were in the Justice League together, she goes after him. I know that most of Power Girl's explanations for her costumes are the writers and artists trying to excuse wanting to draw sexy ladies and all. But in-story, I like that she likes her costume the way it is, feels comfortable with it, and how other people react is not her concern.

One of the things I liked best about the Conner/Gray/Palmiotti Power Girl run was they showed that yes, this ugly crap happens a lot, but no, you don't have to take it. They don't show her reacting with fury or anything, but she sets the offender straight. Consider it a gentle course correction for them. If she's interviewing a potential hire, and he talks down to her because he saw Dr. House get away with it every week, welp sorry buddy, you aren't getting that job. When the idiot from the Big Bang Theory tried hitting on her at the movies, she calmly stood up and explained to him that his behavior was unacceptable, and offered a suggestion on how to modify his behavior to have more success talking to women. Then she sat back down to watch the film with her friend. When some weirdo tried flashing her and Terra, Peej gets mildly exasperated. . . and sends some freezing breath in the direction of his nether regions. Not going to kill the dude, or even cause frostbite most likely, but an effective lesson.

There's an issue of JSA, #39, where Power Girl relates to Hawkgirl and Stargirl her run-in with a super-powered crook who was also a creepy fan, and it ends with her saying, 'Always show 'em what you've got.' Which is what I like best about her, she doesn't hold back, doesn't keep opinions to herself out of fear of stepping on somebody's toes. She is not about to be any less of who she is because somebody else feels threatened by her. It reminds me of that quote from an early Defenders issue, when Namor asked Valkyrie why she hates men, and she replied she doesn't, she just knows she's as good as they are. That's Power Girl, she doesn't hate people (except bad guys who hurt her friends), but she's not about to pretend she isn't awesome.

Because she is awesome. This is the lady whose response to the Spirit King unleashing a bunch of souls the Spectre had damned is "drop a bus on them". Which leads to another good exchange between her and the original Hourman, where he says he likes her, and she replies, 'Everybody does, they just don't want to admit it.' Whose response to that aforementioned creepy fan trying to kiss her is to knock him into next week. And when he doesn't take the hint and starts blowing stuff up, she hits him with construction equipment until he gets the message. When the JSA travels beneath the Earth to rescue Sand, Power Girl's the one who carries his body up through miles of the Earth's crust, even though he's molten hot at the time.

She was able to bring down the Ix Negaspike Vartox released to impress her, while also dealing with Vartox continuing to try and impress her. She did all that with minimal property damage, and was eventually able to get Vartox to simply explain what he needed, so she could help him and make him go away. It speaks highly of her she was willing to help at all, considering he tried to use some musk to make her more receptive to his charms, and only succeeded in a) making Dr. Mid-Nite black out, and b) making the Blue Snowman fall in love with him, which got her eaten when he unleashed the Negaspike. When Peej found out Ultra-Humanite got his brain inside Terra's body, she went right after Satanna and immediately heat visioned one of her arms off to make herself understood. Normally, I'm not a big fan of the heroes getting graphically violent (though it certainly fits with DC's motif of characters losing limbs), but in certain circumstances, I think it works. Like when your best friend has their brain removed by some villain, and their body stolen by some other villain, and you have no idea how long that's been the case. Yeah, I can see getting a little hostile there.

Which is one other thing I like about Power Girl, for all that she has a bit of a gruff exterior initially, she actually is very friendly. It's pretty simple, if you treat her with respect and kindness, she'll reciprocate. It's the people who act like jerks she has no time for. She likes to make friends, maybe because she doesn't have many, she just isn't willing to put up with any poor behavior out of them. It's makes sense. She's basically Supergirl of Earth-2, right? And Supergirl has usually been a really kind character, wants to be helpful, wants to make friends, love and be loved, all that. Stands to reason Peej would have similar inclinations. But she's older, a little wiser, a little more wary. She's had a few more bumps in the road, what with all that mess about where she came from after Crisis on the Infinite Earths, the stupid magic pregnancy, etc. So it's a little harder for her to open up. Being on a Justice League full of jerks and goobers probably didn't help. Who wants to open up emotionally to brain-damaged Guy Gardner? Anyway, once she decides she does care about someone, she'll go to the wall for them. Then through the wall, because you know, invulnerable. And if you're between her and said wall, well, you're going through as well. Good luck with that.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Support Your Local Wizard - Diane Duane

This contains three different stories, each between 150 and 180 pages long, which were written over the course of 7 years, so it's a collection. There are certain gaps between the end of one and the start of another, though it's a few months at most.

The stories revolve around Nita and Kit, who both came across How-To manuals for being a wizard. They each agreed to take the Oath, and this puts them in various situations where they have to thwart the Lone Power, the one who introduced Death in all its forms into existence. Wizards are supposed to work to slow down the ultimate death of the universe (via entropy) however they can. But the Lone Power wasn't happy being booted out, so they keep running up against it.

The plots are generally entertaining, although the third story took a long time to get anywhere. The problem there was it was Nita's little sister undergoing her Ordeal after rather blithely accepting the Oath, and so you knew she was on some sort of important mission, but it was quite a while before the mission became clear. Powers moving in mysterious and ambiguous ways, I guess. Deep Wizardry, which was the second story, was my favorite of the bunch. That may be because a Master Shark is prominently involved. You make a key character that is an ancient, massive, predatory shark, one which can command and control all other sharks if it wishes, and I'm probably going to dig that.

I did have some issues with certain aspects of the philosophy involved. There's a quote before one of the stories, supposedly from the most powerful resource in their world that says 'Those who refuse to serve the Powers, become the tools of the powers. Those who agree to serve the Powers, Themselves become the Powers.' I can't say either of those options sounds palatable to me, and I'm never a big fan of fictional universes where abstract concepts start jerking people around like puppets on strings. I prefer the idea that one gains (or unlocks) the power, then uses it for good because they choose to, rather than because some unknowable force is just going to twist them into doing so if they don't, or punish them for refusing. We're told if a wizard breaks the Oath, or won't complete a task, they are stripped of their power and memories of anything related to wizardry.

At one point, Nita is contemplating not carrying out something she promised to do, she's told that the ritual she's supposed to participate in will fail, and so she'll contribute to the that-much-sooner death of the universe, and she'll carry a nameless sorrow in her soul for the rest of her life. Which is fucked up enough, but then the character explaining the stakes to her says, that's not so bad, lots of people think going through life with a nagging sorrow in the bottom of their soul is natural.


To say I disagree would be an understatement. I can't buy that even if people do feel that, they think it's natural. And the fact the Powers would drop that sort of bomb on someone for being unwilling to die for their goals, strikes me as an extremely petty move to make. The Powers remind me of the NCAA: They try to take all the credit and all the benefits of what the wizards/athletes, and if said wizard/athlete tries to step outside the bounds the Powers/NCAA establish, try to act in their own self-interest, that brings down the hammer. Any system that reminds me of collegiate athletics is not a system I'm going to be fond of.

So that was an ugly undercurrent to the last story and a half of the book. The first story and a half were good, though.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What I Bought 6/6/2014 - Part 6

Last reviews, at least until sometime in the next week or so when my next batch of comics show up. I hope. Going have a heck of a time getting them if they don't arrive by the 3rd. No pressure!

Atomic Robo: Knights of the Golden Circle #1, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Anthony Clark (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - CalvinPitt Hyperventilation Alert! Robo is wearing a poncho, Man with No Name style! Holy crap! This is not a drill! If you have paper bags, just hand them over quietly. I don't want what's in them, just the bag itself. Unless one of those ponchos is in there. I will absolutely take that.

Robo is in Colorado in 1874, trying to keep to himself in the wilderness and build. . . something. Looks like a turbine, or a motorized unicycle or something. But trouble forces him out of seclusion, and he saves an old man trying to escape an "outfit". However, the nearest town is not terribly helpful, as the doctor is away, and the townspeople are sure they want to get involved. There is a deputy marshal, but he's more concerned with arresting Doc Holliday for murder, and Holliday's more concerned with getting away from said deputy marshal. But, a whole lot more bad guys show up, so I don't think escaping is on the menu.

Oh, and Robo is being confused with the hero Ironhide, who was presumed blown up a decade previously. Unless Robo is soon going to be flung backwards in time by another explosion.

So this is very curious. I have no idea what this Butcher Caldwell fellow is up to. The recap/intro on the inside of the cover says Robo is about to face the greatest threat to America. No idea what that could be. Election fraud? Strip mining? Chain letters? So we'll see how that goes. The recap/intro also mentions Robo's running out of nuclear fuel, which is not a problem I've seen him face thus far, but it's a reasonable problem under the circumstances. I guess trying to mine for some appropriate fusionable material (I'm assuming Tesla didn't build him to run on nuclear fission) would have been too disruptive to the timestream.

I like the look of the lighting in the saloon Robo brings the wounded man to. I'm not sure if the credit for that goes to Wegener's shading, or Clark's coloring, but it had a muted look to it that suggested the light sources are kind of lousy, and there's a lot of smoke in the air. I also like how, when Robo rescues the old man, he just hurls his way through the wagon in an impressive smash. It's an effective attention-getter, and perfectly reasonable for a big metal guy.

This wasn't the strongest first issue of a Robo mini-series I've read, but the simple fact they've placed him in the old West is enough to keep my interest while they get further into the plot.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Those Hydras Will Keep You Busy

I've been thinking about this since I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It does hinge on that big reveal, so maybe this is a spoiler for the movie, or the Agents of SHIELD series, if you were waiting to catch up on that.

So, you know, look away if that's an issue.

OK, there's the reveal that HYDRA's been lurking within SHIELD for decades, using it to carry out their schemes. What I was thinking about was, how does this affect that Agent Carter TV series we're supposed to be getting? The whole HYDRA thing kind of casts a pall over the missions she takes, because we're going to be wondering if she's unwittingly carrying out HYDRA's goals. You can obviously have her get suspicious, start trying to ferret out the truth, or maybe figure out ways to not carry out the objectives in ways that won't get her fired. But the fact HYDRA persisted all the way up to the point Steve Rogers finds Zola's brain recordings in that bunker would imply she ultimately failed. Which is kind of depressing. Or she stopped trying, which doesn't seem much like Peggy Carter.

I'm not trying to be a downer before the series has even gotten started. I think it could be very cool, and I hope it is (though I haven't really heard good things about Agents of SHIELD, for what that's worth). It's possible they could start out with things going well, then gradually turning more sinister. Carter notices the shift, starts trying to trace the cause, runs into stonewalling or missions that seem like they're meant to get her killed, and the end game would be she deals HYDRA a crippling blow, but a few of them keep their heads down and are able to start over. Cut off one head, two more, etc.

She's going to be working for SHIELD in its very earliest stages, so perhaps they can argue HYDRA hadn't started twisting things around yet. Problem there being, I can't imagine SHIELD or the OSI waited long to recruit Zola. Like they just left him sitting around in Switzerland, twiddling his thumbs after Cap went into the drink.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I Bought 6/6/2014 - Part 5

Not completely books I bought on the 6th. One of these, as well as the one we'll get to on Thursday, weren't in the box, so I had to find them elsewhere. But in theory, they would have been books I'd have bought that day, so whatever, count 'em.

Deadpool #28 & 29, by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn (writers), Scott Koblish (artist, #28), John Lucas (artist, #29), Val Staples (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Aw, look at that cover! So adorable. It makes me extra sad for how horribly Deadpool and Shiklah's relationship is probably going to end (because comics).

#29 is the start of the Original Sin tie-ins, and if Lucas is going to draw all of it, this'll be a long stretch of months. His people are very lumpy and oddly shaped, especially Agent Adsit. Looks like a gremlin, or a troll or something. Plus, the way Lucas draws the SHIELD outfits, it looks like they're wearing neck braces. Bleh. And some of the grins are terrifying, even when they aren't meant to be.

The plot is that Dracula's really pissed Deadpool married Shiklah, since Drac wanted to marry her, and has sent some strangely amped-up vampires after them. Shiklah is going to attempt to negotiate, while Wade kills all the vampires. He tries talking to Dazzler, Agent of SHIELD, about helping, what with the light powers and all. But she turns him down, because it's actually Mystique. See, that's the sort of thing that would only work in a Bendis-written comic (which is where it originated), because Mystique can be safely assured she will never be called on to do anything with the light powers she doesn't have. Stymied in that direction, Wade breaks into the FF's building (which is missing several floors for some reason I'm not aware), and steals a time-travel device to go back to Disco Dazzler and ask her to return to his time and kill vampires. Dazzler agrees eagerly to help the Fantastic Four of the future.

Also, Preston and Adsit showed up at some fight from the main mini-series and were shown secrets about Deadpool from the Watcher's eye. So Preston knows where to find Eleanor, and Adsit saw something ugly he won't share. Calling it now: Butler had Wade kill Eleanor and Butler's brother who he left her with as a baby during that phase of testing where Deadpool was happy to go along with things. Man, that's gonna be a tough one for Wade to swallow.

I don't know, if the art were better I'd be more into it, but it's just ugly. Moving on! In issue #28, Deadpool and Shiklah visit Tokyo for their honeymoon. Well that's kind of an interesting choice, but it's a nice city, lots to see. But wade's also carrying a huge suitcase full of money around, which is quickly stolen by some little urchin. Who has other urchin friends who transform into big, cutesy anime monsters. And as Wade and Shiklah fight those and chase the briefcase, the Yakuza, crooked cops, the Hand, and Sunfire all gradually get involved. Yes, Sunfire, because heroes can't visit Japan without running into that asshole. Pretty sure that's an intentional joke on Posehn and Duggan's part. Sunfire shows up talking his usual spiel, and is immediately buried under a mass of all those other groups. Anyway, Wade's true reason for coming to Japan was to meet Kim, the fellow turned into a discount Nightcrawler by Butler and North Korea, and give him that suitcase full of money. Such a kind gesture, and Shiklah is touched by her husband's generosity, and they go off happily together and Kim, well, Kim is sick, and that makes me sad. But he has a big case full of money for his loved ones!

So I liked issue 28 much better than 29. It's a silly issue, a long chase scene that just keeps adding more and more elements to it, but it's done well. There's reversals, the standard "I got it! *yoink* Now I've got it! *yoink*" gags, all that good stuff. The kids saw a big case of money and took it without knowing who they were stealing from. But everyone else who sees the chase recognizes Deadpool, and so they figure the case must be worth something so they get involved. Though really, with Deadpool involved, you'd figure there was a decent chance it was chili dogs or a bunch of in-flight magazines he stole from the airplane.

The issue gives those of us who haven't read the Dracula's Gauntlet mini-series yet a bit more of a chance to see Shiklah, and watch her and Wade interact. Shorthand, she's a tough cookie who hasn't been out in the world much, so she's still learning surface world customs. The fact she's learning them from Deadpool should terrify everyone, but he's being the best example he can manage. And we got to see Kim again, which is important because he should be someone of importance to Wade, another person used by Butler, a person created from Wade, in the same way Wade was created from Wolverine. Deadpool's trying to do right by the guy in the way Logan has historically not done right by him. I am surprised Nightcrawler didn't get to come along. he did say he would like to meet Kim. Yes, it would have been awkward for him to accompany Deadpool and Shiklah on their honeymoon, but it would just be for a little while. Perhaps Claremont will handle that in Kurt's own book? Or Kurt and Wade will make another trip later. Posehn and Duggan have kept this thing pretty tightly plotted, so I doubt they put that in there just to ignore it forevermore.

Koblish's art looks very good here. I like the touch where Shiklhad sprouts her horns when she starts to get annoyed, but it's sort of an intermediate stage before she goes full-bore on her monster form. Also I think he sort of scuffs up her linework so she looks rougher. It maybe makes her stand out from the page more, like she's shifting out of the dimension, or becoming slightly divorced from this reality as she assumes her true form. The kids' monster forms were goofy, but had a look that suggested they'd all originated from one mind, with a particular sense of design, which seemed to be the case.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Joaquin Murieta - Yellow Bird

This particular version of the story Joaquin Murieta was written sometime around 1854. This is a reprinting based on what a Joseph Henry Jackson (who writes this 50 page preface to this thing) claims is the only known existing copy of this first version of Yellow Bird (or John Rollin Ridge as he was also known) wrote. So Jackson felt it necessary to add all these details about the history of Murieta, what is known and what was made up, the way the legends shifted in the telling over the subsequent 100 years.

In the early 1850s, there were believed to be roughly 5 different Joaquins, all with different surnames, running around leading bandit gangs through the mining camps and towns of California. The governor eventually commissioned a Captain Love to gather a posse of sorts and hunt down at least one of the Joaquins. Love succeeded in killing someone he claimed was Murieta, along with a 3-Fingered Jack. They put the alleged Murieta's head in a jar to preserve it and put it in a museum. There's no way of telling whether they got the right guy - odds are they didn't - but the powers that be were satisfied this would convince the public they weren't wholly incompetent, and that seemed to be good enough.

This seemed a sufficiently interesting end that Murieta became a folk hero of sorts, or at least a notable person, and Bird/Ridge was only one of many who tried to cash in. Ridge heaps misfortune upon Joaquin, as within the span of two pages, the bold young immigrant from Mexico is driven from his successful mining claim (and sees his lady love raped, though he is not so much a cad as to desert her) by Americans, is run off his farm by Americans, and is whipped when he rides what turns out to be a stolen horse he was loaned by a half-brother into town, and then sees said half-brother hanged by, you guessed it, Americans!

At that point, Joaquin decides to take vengeance on everyone, stealing horses, robbing miners, old women, random passerbys, and sure, you could sort of excuse it by saying these are all people benefiting from the system that persecuted him and other people who came up from Latin America, but he also robs Chinese immigrants and jeez, didn't they have enough trouble already?

The way Yellow Bird writes it, you can't quite tell whether he admires Murieta or not, or whether we're supposed to or not. He typically describes the men who pursue Joaquin as being good and noble sorts, and laments that they often die in their attempts to capture him. And he'll describe Murieta as having some demons or shadow that protects him, which doesn't make him sound particularly good, but he also spends a lot of time telling us little anecdotes where Joaquin shows mercy, or honors someone who stands up to him, or whatever.

Jackson speculated that Yellow Bird put a lot of himself into Murieta, as Yellow Bird's father and grandfather were killed by a rival faction in the group of Cherokees he grew up with, and Yellow Bird was never able to take revenge. All his attempts to rally people to help fell apart, but Joaquin is able to recruit dozens to his gang, plus many successful ranchers who help or look the other way. Yellow Bird tried his hand at both farming and mining when he moved West, but failed at both. Joaquin is successful, but ruined by the prejudices of others.

So maybe Yellow Bird couldn't stand to make Murieta a true villain, or else he figured that wouldn't be as profitable, not that it worked out for him monetarily anyway. I wouldn't say the story is well-written necessarily, but it keeps moving. Murieta rarely stops and never reflects or muses upon his actions. There's always another near-escape or gun battle to have. Problem being I can't decide whether I want him to escape or not.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.13 - Cat and Mouse

Plot: The Chinese government is interested in the Agency's Invisible Man. Or so says some CIA guy. The Official, naturally, contends he has no invisible agent, but will be sure to keep his eyes peeled for one. As it turns out, though, China is convinced Bobby is the Invisible Man, and the Official wants to keep it that way. So Hobbes and Fawkes are stuck together until they can lure out their potential kidnappers, at which point they can be assured, the Agency's safety net will rush in to help. Darien's preference is to stay at home, Bobby's is to go to a bar he frequents, where everyone knows him as a successful owner of a textiles manufacturer. They are attacked by the valets, but the cops show up, rather than the Agency's guys.

Back at the office, the Fat Man and Eberts offer platitudes and more assurances. Hobbes however, is sure he's being hung out to dry. Darien assures him the Official won't do that, because he'd never find someone who'll work for as little as Bobby. Eventually it'll be Darien's head on the chopping block, which makes Bobby feel better, but leaves Darien wondering what that means exactly. The Keeper tells him there are two possibilities. One, they don't know what they're doing and kill him trying to remove the gland. Two, they do know, and simply bleed the Quicksilver out of him. At which point they don't need him and kill him. Oh goody.

So it's time to get sneaky. In practice, this means Hobbes and Fawkes leading their pursuers on a wild car chase through town that ends with Hobbes dying in a fiery crash. The funeral is a truly, truly touching affair, with the Official trying to get everyone to stop calling him "Fat Man", Darien hitting on people (and wearing his sneakers), but at least the Keeper is sobbing, and regretting not befriending Hobbes, who she describes as a lonely man. The effect is undercut by the fact Hobbes is observing all this with a directional mike and gets abducted because the Agency's safety net wasted all their bullets on the gun salute. Now Hobbes is a prisoner within the Chinese embassy. The Official and Claire - who was not told the funeral was fake and is seriously pissed about it, especially that Hobbes heard everything she said - create a diversion, largely by arguing with one of the embassy staff about the odd names Americans give their departments, but Fawkes is captured during his attempt to save the day. Turns out the Chinese knew who the I-Man was all along, and went after Hobbes as a way to lure Darien into a controlled environment where he couldn't escape. Now they can drain Quicksilver right out of his brain, and not give him a cookie or juice afterward.

So things are bad, but the Keeper convinced the embassy guys she had a syringe that if not given to the I-Man, will cause him to explode. In reality, it's some sort of smoke bomb thing that Darien is able to trigger by knocking it to the ground. he finds Hobbes, they escape the building, see two fellows loading the canisters of Quicksilver into a truck, Hobbes shoots them, rendering the van invisible but wasting the Quicksilver, and the day is saved. Except for the past where the Chinese will be back. And the part where they were still standing around in the embassy's parking lot during all this.

Quote of the Episode: Hobbes - 'Somehow your pain sort of eases me.'

The "oh crap" count: 2 (19 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? A guy named Man Ray, who said that anything original was made by desire, but a copy is made by necessity. And he quoted Will Rogers during the funeral.

Times Darien Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (5 overall).

Still Fish & Game. Definitely should have gone with the "nearly run over" count.

Other: One thing I was worried about when I started reviewing this series was I knew there was a point when the plots would get a little weak. I had actually been surprised it hadn't happened yet, but this one, yeah, not the greatest.

In theory it makes sense. If one country had an invisible agent, every other country with any designs on being a major world power would either want one, or want to understand his powers so they could effectively counter him. It's a little awkward to have people constantly walking around wearing thermal goggles and carrying nets, you know.

In practice, it's a little too convoluted. Targeting Hobbes, then trying to capture him with guys disguised as valets. The whole mess with the different cars and the faked death, but the Chinese kept guys stationed at the funeral to make sure. But that's all a ruse to lure Darien into one specific room. It's too far down the rabbit hole into that "I know that you know that I know you think you know what's going on!" stuff.

So the overall story was kind of a dud. What did I like? Fawkes reading Philosophy Now. Wonder if he traded in Scientific American for that. Hobbes being bothered by being turned invisible. Darien no-selling the significance of the funeral by having his speech written on a tiny, folded up piece of paper. Oh, and the hitting on ladies stuff. Darien is so bad at the playing a role aspect of being a secret agent. Whereas Bobby does it even in everyday life, as we learned on our trip to his favorite hangout. Textiles, who knew? Oh, when the Official and Claire stall the embassy staff, Claire says the Fat Man's name was Roger Moore. I'm not sure why. Though they did announce only that they were with Fish & Game, which prompted the embassy staff to ask if this was about the Olympics, because "game". Which leads to the Official explaining the other meaning of it, complete with placing his index fingers on either side of his head to form horns.

Maybe it was all worth it for the final bit with Claire and Bobby. We know Bobby's interested in Claire, he's let enough things slip in discussions with Fawkes, and Claire is at least amused by him, but the part at the end was actually kind of sweet. It was especially interesting that Bobby was very genuine in what he said, thanking her for her words, having that sort of awkward mumbling he does in difficult moments (like when he tried to express himself to his ex-wife Viv in "Separation Anxiety"). No false bravado or smooth talk. Claire meanwhile, tried to play the whole thing off, pretend she knew all along and was just playing a role. Which is understandable, she was angry she was kept in the dark (they told the rabbi and the funeral director, but not her), and she's embarrassed she heard her say that stuff. But it's a bit of a reversal of what you normally see, where women tend to express their appreciation and dudes try to play it cool, pretend they don't have feelings because emotions are lame.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #7 - Rocket Raccoon

Character: Rocket Raccoon

Creators: Keith Giffen, Bill Mantlo

First appearance: Marvel Preview #7

First encounter: Besides the Internet? Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #1. That's where that panel comes from, courtesy of Keith Giffen and Tim Green II.

Definitive writer: In his original incarnation, Bill Mantlo, obviously. He's a little more Errol Flynn, swashbuckling hero in that form. In his more recent revival, he's more Bruce Willis, with the snappy one-liners and the sarcasm. So for that Rocket, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Definitive artist: For the earlier version, Mike Mignola. For the more recent years, Timothy Green II.

Favorite moment or story: Just on an amusement level, I like his 'That's how we do things in the Raccooniverse' line from Annihilation: Conquest #5. He even puffed away the smoke from his blasters when he said it. His attempt to save his big buddy Groot from the cyborg woodpeckers designed to kill him (the first Annihilators mini-series). That time the Guardians of the Galaxy were able to rescue Moondragon from a planet full of Church of Universal Truth dopes because Rocket figured out how to pilot the decapitated Celestial head that is Knowhere and use it to attack the Church (Guardians of the Galaxy #22, I think). His whole '80s mini-series where he's able to survive two different factions of evil toymakers trying to kill him (with mercenary rabbits and evil clown robots), and essentially free everyone on the planet from the roles they'd been confined to.

What I like about him: He fights and destroys murderous clowns for one thing. Seriously, look at these things. Anyone who exterminates them is OK in my book.

On the most basic level, he's a cute little furry critter that saves the day with a combination of tactical genius, heavy artillery, and sarcasm. He seems like he should be a joke character, the "funny talking animal", but he's not. The situations he's placed in may seem absurd from our perspective, but they're deadly serious and real to him. Kelvin Green had a good quote that sums it up in this article here: 'Just so we're clear, he's a flying raccoon with a level of military genius that both impresses and frightens a race of warmongering space Nazis, and who rides around on the back of a giant walking tree with his collection of big shiny rotary cannons and missile launchers. If you honestly can't see why that's pretty much the best thing ever, I don't know why you're even reading comics at all.'

I mentioned Abnett and Lanning write him a bit differently from Mantlo (I haven't read Bendis' stuff, so we'll be ignoring him, but I assume he writes Rocket the same as he writes all his characters, a lot of chatter that doesn't say anything). I think you could chalk the difference up to circumstances (unless you wanted to chalk it up to him having his memories tampered with to help keep Star-Thief imprisoned on Halfworld). On Halfworld, in the Mantlo/Mignola mini-series, Rocket is a big wheel. He's the law, for all intents and purposes, and the threats are on a similar scale to him. Robot clowns that throw explosive juggling balls, weird shadow bats (as you see to the left, thank you Mantlo and Mignola), evil turtles and moles bent on world domination. Dangerous, but on a somewhat lower level. It's a world built for him (or he's a hero built for that world, whichever you prefer).

Once he got off Halfworld and went exploring, he's the little fish in a big universe. Now there's all these alien galactic empires to deal with, full of superhumans, often run by genocidal lunatics (D'Ken, Vulcan, the Supreme Intelligence, the Badoon). There are Heralds of Galactus, Mad Titans, Abstract Concepts like Death and Time that assume physical form and walk among mortals, the Phalanx. It's a completely different scale of things, and suddenly, Rocket looks a little outclassed. It gets harder to survive, the rules are different, he gets a little meaner, a little sneakier, a little more caustic. He drinks some now. Exploring what lay beyond Halfworld and the Keystone Quadrant lost some of its shine once he met reality.

Maybe it's allowed that innate tactical sense to come to the forefront. The nifty weapons he had there - the blaster, the jet boots - aren't so special out in the galaxy. Lots of people have that stuff, or better. The odds are that much higher against him, he has to be that much more clever to survive. And he pulls it off. Star-Lord might lead the Guardians, but he's no tactical genius. Rocket is the one who comes up with the plans. He's the one who figures out how to destroy the Babel Spire Ultron was using to keep the Kree Empire walled off from the rest of the universe. Star-Lord was the one who thought trusting Thanos was a good idea, that he had it all under control. Rocket was the one who had the big weapons necessary to drop the Titan when he went berserk again and thrashed the rest of the team.

He's a little smartass underdog who always comes through. I love characters like that (see also, Spider-Man). It took him a little while to remember what he was good at (helping others), but once he did, he committed to it. He didn't let the duplicitous methods Star-Lord and Mantis used to put the team together wreck what they were doing. He gathered together the ones he could, those who didn't leave in a huff, and kept on with it. Still people out there who needed help. When a bunch of the team died in Thanos Imperative, yeah, he was at loose ends for a time. He'd formed some real bonds, probably the first since he left Halfworld, and many of them died, in circumstances beyond his control. The doubts about whether he could accomplish anything crept back in. I think he'd always had so much success saving the day on Halfworld, the times where he can't make it all turn out OK hit him hard.

Well, that's not unusual. Sometimes we do well at handling the smaller problems in our lives, but find bigger things come along we can't handle. It's frustrating, it can be humbling. It happens to me, where I get mad, or get down on myself because something's come up I either can't resolve as quickly as I'd like, or I can't handle it without dragging other people in, which always bugs me. But ultimately he pulled himself together, rescued his friend, and got back on track. You can't keep him down.

I think it's worth noting that even when Rocket loses his way, he's still doing productive stuff. When Star-Lord first met him, Rocket had been arrested by the Kree for going through some restricted zone (he claimed they failed to set up proper notification beacons which yeah, sounds like the sort of crap the Kree would pull as a way to harrass all the "inferior" species out there. You know Kree cops are big on racial profiling). But he must have been doing some sort of space trucker/smuggling work (which explains how he's friends with that space trucker U.S. 1/US Ace/whatever his name is. When the team fell apart after Thanos Imperative, he took a job as the mail room guy at a company. Not necessarily noble work, but at least he's doing something. When Star-Lord lost his drive after he had to sacrifice a colony to stop a rampaging former Herald of Galactus, he let himself be thrown in prison and sat in there engaged only in self-loathing and moping. That's not helpful to anyone.

Rocket at least tries to get on with his life, until he realizes helping people is his life. He's good at it. He's brave, loyal, resourceful, fearless, and he and Cosmo have a love/hate relationship, as is only natural between a raccoon who sometimes skirts the edges of legality, and a dog that's essentially a space cop. Maybe Rocket recognizes a little too much of who he was on Halfworld in Cosmo, and that's the problem. That final image there is drawn by Wes Craig, from Guardians of the Galaxy #23 or 24.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pacific Crucible - Ian W. Toll

Well that didn't take long. Took a two-month break from military history, and it took less than two weeks to get completely burned out on it again. The next two books - whenever I get to them - are going to be something different.

Pacific Crucible examines the War in the Pacific from around Pearl Harbor up through Midway. So basically up to the point the U.S. got its act together. He uses the fairly limited timeframe as an opportunity to delve a little deeper into certain specific areas, which are the parts I found most engaging. I'd just read an entire book about Nimitz, Halsey, and King, so the parts on them weren't much use to me. Though I do find it interesting Toll describes King as being more fully on board with the Allies' "Germany First" plan than Borneman, who described him as grudgingly accepting of it.

However, the sections of the book on the American cryptoanalysts, who are trying to break Japan's military communications codes were more new to me. Most histories of the Pacific War make mention of them, but treat the code-breaking as something that was simply accomplished, no big deal, and the hardest part is using what they learned without tipping Japan off that their codes were broken. Toll not only introduces us to some of the key figures, he details the strain they were under, how secret there work was even from other officers on the base, and the factionalism that made it harder for their work to be successful.

The other section of the book I found enlightening was the chapter on Japan in the years leading up to World War II. A lot of it is concerned with Admiral Yamamoto, but there's also a lot about the culture of Japan, the feelings of superiority that mingled with (reasonable) concerns that they were being treated as second-rate by the U.S. and Britain on the world stage. There's a conflict between the old guard senior officers, most of whom agree that the last thing they want to go is get in a naval arms race with the U.S., and the young, aggressive officers who think the old guard and the politicians have sold out their country and failed their emperor. Which leads to a few military riots, and more than a few politicians being killed, with essentially no punishment levied against those responsible.

So a few sections were new to me, the rest was old hat by now.

'Every other concern was to be ruthlessly subordinated to what King called those "two vital Pacific tasks." Though it had not yet been acknowledged in Washington, the Philippines would fall. Though it had not yet been acknowledged in London, Malaya and Singapore would fall. Burman would fall; the Dutch East Indies would fall; the remaining British, Dutch, and American forces in the southeast Pacific would disintegrate. The U.S. Asiatic Fleet - a ramshackle array of old cruisers and destroyers - would probably be annihilated by the enemy's ships and planes. Its main contribution to the war effort would be to slow the rate of the Japanese advance and buy a few precious weeks to secure the seaways linking San Francisco, San Diego, and Panama to Brisbane, Auckland, and Sydney.'

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What I Bought 6/6/2014 - Part 4

It occurs to me that I should have grouped the comic in this pair that involves robot smashing with Ms. Marvel, since she also smashed robots. Ah well.

Nightcrawler #2, by Chris Claremont (writer), Todd Nauck (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Cory Petit (letterer) - That's a nice cover by McKelvie there, though it makes me wonder if Kurt was given that particular sound effect as a joke, or a hidden message that he is a bad ass mofo.

Kurt and Amanda travel to Europe, to the off-season home of the circus they grew up in. Which also happens to be the town where Kurt was chased by a mob when Xavier found him. He sends the little bamfs out to find his and Amanda's mother, Margali, and also keep their eyes open for the Trimega guy from last issue. Meanwhile, he and Amanda will sit and chat. Kurt thinks back over their past, Amanda questions why he didn't give her the chance to save him, which I don't quite follow. Does she mean keep him from dying, or save him from fighting his father in the afterlife, or whatever it was Jason Aaron said Kurt was up to. Anyway, Claremont's clearly going with the route that Kurt isn't entirely comfortable being alive again, but is trying to make the best of it. At least he's less mopey than Buffy was.

The bamfs return and lead them to the circus, where they are attacked by many of their old friends, who aren't at all accustomed to people returning from the dead. Understandable, I guess. Things are sorted out eventually, Margali steps out and claims she has nothing to do with any of it. And then the Trimega guy appears.

I think you can definitely do a good story about someone struggling with the idea of being back from the dead, either because they were at peace, or because they found the afterlife was not what they imagined. I'm not sure Claremont is the one to do it, though. But after two issues, it's clear that Kurt's jokes and good humor are partially a cover for the questions he has about coming back to the land of the living. Also, if Amanda wants to convince us she could have saved Kurt, it would be nice if Claremont would let her do something useful. So far she's only succeeded in getting tied up twice, and teleporting them to Europe. Oh, and sassing her mother. I'm hoping that in the next issue it's going to turn into a big free-for-all against Trimega, and she'll get to show her stuff a little.

Nauck's artwork is still stronger than I can remember it being. His linework seems steadier, stronger, his figures are more consistent, he has a good flow in his fight scenes, and he draws the bamfs to be suitably adorable. I wonder if Rosenberg's colors help. Obviously they help the overall look of the book; they're bright and sort of upbeat, which suits a book about a swashbuckler like Kurt, even if he's putting up a facade at the moment. But are her colors also making Nauck's work look better, smoothing over some of the rough spots? I don't know, but it's still a good book overall. Here's hoping that over the course of this first arc, Kurt embraces being back among the living and ditches the doubts about it.

She-Hulk #4, by Charles Soule (writer), Javier Pulido (artist), Muntsa Vicente (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Jen is rocking that trench coat. I know it's partially because her title is in the lower right corner, but it's kind of interesting Daredevil/Matt isn't entirely on the white half of the divide, since Doom is entirely in the green.

Jen is also not happy with how the previous issue ended, but isn't sure what to do. So she travels to San Francisco to consult Matt Murdock on just how far she should go to serve her client's interests. The conversation convinces her to travel to Latveria under an assumed identity. She storms Doom's castle and smashes many of his Doombots until she's grabbed by an enormous Doombot. Jen makes her case for easing off Kristoff, and Kristoff even backs her up on it, pointing out that Doom wants him to be a ruler, but how can he do that if Doom is also crushing him under his thumb. So Doom backs off, and Jen and Kristoff depart, though he still can't pay her in anything other than Latverian francs, which the U.S. Treasury Department will confiscate, because they're jerks. Back at the office, they're low and cash and cases, so Jen has no choice but to look into the strange blue file she has no memory of.

Oh man, one of the names in the file is Kevin trench, which sounded familiar but I couldn't place it for the longest time. Then I remembered, he's Nightwatch, the Spawn rip-off they created for the Spider-books roughly around the time of Maximum Carnage. Wow, that might be the obscure character callback of the year right there.

Beyond that, it's a nice issue. A little slight perhaps, but good. Pulido continues to draw it well, and continues to have Jen's hair get wilder when she really cuts loose. It's a nice shorthand for her holding back up to that point. Also, I'm curious to see how many issues Soule can have her fights robots of some sort to start his run. It's at 4 so far, pending last week's issue. I like that Jen actually removed her heels to walk down from the Golden Gate Bridge. Not that falling off would hurt her, but it would certainly damage the bridge, maybe cause a few wrecks. Better to remove the chance of stumbling or slipping. It's a little thing, but it's a nice touch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pondering The Origins Of Super-Teams In Fiction

Perhaps you are familiar with the character Baron Munchausen. Travels the world, meets a lot of people with strange abilities who join him in those travels. They have adventures together, I think he ends up riding a cannonball to the moon or something like that.

The idea of a story about a charismatic guy assembling a group of people with an array of skills is much older than that, obviously. Robin Hood leaps to my, probably Arthurian legends with all his Knights qualify as well. Jason and the Argonauts are another.

What I'm wondering is two things. One, what's the earliest story like that? The earliest we still have any records of, at any rate. Two, what prompted it as a storytelling engine? Giving characters specific cool abilities can give writers ideas for specific obstacles to place in their path, as well as being an easy way to distinguish characters, or serve as a basis for personalities. "Fast Guy" is impatient, impulsive, Strong Guy is maybe kind of dim, possibly short-tempered (or conversely, kind of sweet and gentle unless angered). Was it borne out of some memories of early bandit hordes, that terrorized settlements so effectively they were believed to be possessed of gifts beyond normal humans? Kind of an excuse for being ransacked by them, they were far too mighty for the ordinary villagers to defeat. Or to make your own people look better, by ascribing those same gifts to them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What I Bought 6/6/2014 - Part 3

The NBA Finals were most agreeable to me. I don't actually dislike the Miami Heat that much - they can be pretty entertaining when they actually try - but the beat writers who cover them are insufferable. Greg Cote and LeBatard in particular. You'd think they were the ones who won two consecutive titles, for as much condescending trash as they talk about other teams. Now the Heat get kicked in their faces, and Cote's trying the "Hey, two championships in four trips to the Finals is nothing to be ashamed of" route. While true, it's a surprisingly moderate approach from a guy who was talkin' that good shit five seconds earlier.

Harley Quinn #6, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Chad Hardin (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), John J. Hill (letterer) - Love the crossed out hammer-and -sickles on Harley's mallet.

After dropping the lady they attacked at the end of the last issue into the inferno she turned her house in to, Harley and Syborg head for the zoo, to find their next target. He, in turn, tries to unleash the animals on them, but only succeeds in getting his head knocked off by a bear. Eh, it was funnier when Ennis and Dillon did it in Punisher. This guy was dumb enough to kick and berate the bears, he was asking for it. The remainder of the Russians show up, and are swiftly dealt with through use of pipes, exploding bagels, and gunfire. Which just leaves one remaining target, the one Sy didn't have a file for. The guy who sold him a beautiful car with a radiator leak. And when Sy had to leave it by the road to get more coolant, it was completely stripped down. Quite why it took Sy decades to get after the guy, I don't know, but it was a mistake. Once he mentions that with no family, he might have left the car to Harley, she chucks the guy out the window. Ah well, dead is dead, right? Sy and Harley watch a sunrise together, and Harley returns home to find Poison Ivy with two more would-be assassins, claiming she knows who put the hit out on Harley.

I had toyed with the idea, after Sy's first target was a guy in a coma, that this was going to be a case of senile dementia. That Sy might very well have been a secret agent, but these were not his surviving arch-foes. I ruled it considering they had just done a story about Harley being mislead by an old lady with Alzheimer's, but Sy going after a guy for selling him a lemon was a bit much. Is it just Palmiotti and Conner trying to remind us Harley's not a hero? She chucks some dude out the window over a car that wasn't even hers? The one thing that confuses me - other than Sy waiting so long, because Harley didn't seem that vital to things - was why he was so hellbent on killing them. One of the Russians even asks. They aren't spying, they're living comfortably, they like America, with its soft toilet paper and assortment of breads and cheeses, what's Sy's deal? Is it that they committed horrible acts in the name of their country, and should not be allowed to enjoy life, the principle of it, or can he just not let go of the past?

Chad Hardin's art is still OK. I don't love it, but I don't think there's anything wrong with it. The sequence between Sy and his old flame/arch-foe, where we the panels keep getting closer to them, and Harley and the animals keep squeezing in to watch, then Harley winds up upside-down when they actually kiss, that was nice. The elephant wrapping its trunk over its eyes was a good touch.

Ms. Marvel #4, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist), Ian Herring (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) -I do like that new costume, though I wish it wasn't taking quite so many issues for her to get around to putting it together. The scarf is a nice variation on Carol's sash accessory.

Kamala was shot, but when she changes back to looking like herself, she's healed. Quite the surprise for Bruno, who had unfortunately already called the police about Ms. Marvel being shot. The injury seems to prevent her from shifting back to the Ms. Marvel look, so they improvise a mask for when the cops show up. The cops are not convinced, since Ms. Marvel is the blonde with big. . . powers, but Kamala demonstrates that she does, in fact have, BIG powers. That was well done. Her wearing that goofy, lopsided makeshift mask and a big grin as she makes herself tall and smashes the top of her head into the ceiling.

At any rate, that's enough for the cops, and they leave. Which leaves Kamala and Bruno to decide what to do about Bruno's wanna-be robber brother. Kamala makes herself the beginning of her costume, and heads to the last place they know Vick went (Bruno went through his phone). She fights some creepy, laser-firing bug robots, and finds Vick tied up in the basement. As they turn to leave, they're confronted by some idiot with a mohawk, a glowy pistol, and a shirt that says, 'I'm the Bad Guy'. Sir, if you have to advertise it, you aren't. Hope you enjoy that giant knuckle sandwich you're about to get.

I'm worried the friendship between Kamala and Bruno could get a little too precious, but I appreciate that sometimes you need a friend to help you see your own worth. If Kamala intends to be a superhero and save lives, it'll be easier to do if she isn't also focusing on looking like what she thinks people want their heroes to look like. Be yourself and save the day, that's plenty. And her powers even play into it. If she needs to heal, she can't change to look like someone else, but she can still grow or shrink. Trying to hide who she is not only complicates things, it hurts her in a way.

Alphona's still doing a stellar job. During the fight with the little robots, all her attacks are defensive. She's always leaning away, or scrambling backwards. She's still a rookie, not confident, working mostly on instinct. It's like if a spider plops down in front of your face and you flail at it while stepping back quickly. Nothing graceful or aggressive about it. Also, the cop actually making those hand gestures when he says, 'big. . . powers', just amuses me. And still, that grin as she shows off her BIG powers in response. Didn't even react to hitting the ceiling. Fantastic. I really love this book. Oh, and the line about sneaking out to a party with her ten atheist boyfriends. Though, if her mom hates sarcasm that much, she'd hate my guts. I expel more sarcasm than I do carbon dioxide.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Admirals - Walter R. Borneman

Now you're thinking I read a book called The Admirals already this year, and you'd be right. But that was a ranking of all the greatest admirals in the Royal Navy. This book called The Admirals is focused strictly on the four 5-star admirals the United States had during World War II. That's not entirely accurate, since none of them were fleet admirals for the majority of the conflict, and Halsey didn't officially reach that rank until December of '45, after the war was over. But William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey are the first four Americans to be given that rank in the Navy, so I guess it makes for a nice connective thread between them.

Borneman moves the retelling of their lives back and forth between them, with some chapters being focused on a specific sort of event - each man's first command, for example - and others relating to a certain span of time during the war. Some chapters focus more heavily on one admiral or the other, as chapters which discuss the ongoing conferences between the Allies tend not to involve Halsey or Nimitz, and the conferences are mostly argument about where to attack Germany. Likewise, when Borneman turns his attention to action in the Pacific, Leahy, serving as FDR's chief of staff, tends to recede. Ernest King is the one who remains a factor throughout, which makes sense as he's the head of the Navy, on the military side at least (which I'm sure he would have contended was the only side that mattered).

I haven't read much about the Navy, so most of this was new to me. There is that recurring American military idea of presenting one's subordinates with an objective, but giving them the leeway to decide how best to achieve it. Nimitz is very good at it, while King certainly espouses the idea, but as he moves up the ladder, he finds it difficult to follow his own suggestion. He does manage it eventually, though he never entirely wrangles his tendency to be abrasive. I suppose the Navy needed someone like that to argue for it, but it hampers him sometimes, mostly with the British. King, and to an extent Halsey, are the types who will go too far in what they say, or how they bend the rules to make a point without realizing it, then have to do damage control to save their necks. Nimitz and Leahy are much calmer, willing to listen, make their arguments forcefully, but accept if things go against them. So Leahy serves as a valuable check on King, and Nimitz can step in to shield Halsey from his worst enemy (other than typhoons), his mouth.

One of the interesting aspects is that all four attended the Naval Academy in the era of the battleship, the Alfred Thayer Mahan school of settling naval conflicts with one massive fight between both sides battleships. Yet Nimitz, King, and Halsey all embraced the potential of submarines and airplanes. In some part, it seems to be a result of those were paths to advancement. Borneman notes that submarines were often a fast path to command opportunities for young officers, and that's how it worked for Nimitz. King likewise saw an opportunity in exploring the potential of aircraft in naval combat, which was an even newer area, and thus even more open for advancement and distinction. As it turned out, submarines and carriers did come to dominate naval combat. The ability to not be constrained by the doctrines they were taught, and the ones that the majority of the people in command staunchly believed in.

One thing Borneman brings up that was curious is that early in the war, Japan had great success using their submarines to attack Allied warships and especially shipping. Then they stopped doing that, using them to deliver supplies to various island bases instead. Borneman can't determine why they did that, since it wasn't a case of the Allies repulsing the attacks with the convoy system, as they were ultimately able to manage with the U-Boats. The Japanese largely gave up the tactic on their own. Curious.

'In undertaking these tasks, Nimitz quickly came to the same conclusion as King. This was to be a different kind of war. The days of Commodore Dewey standing on the bridge of his flagship, leading his fleet into battle, and uttering some pithy remark were over. The numbers of men and ships flung across the sprawling Pacific demanded that nimitz maintain his headquarters at Pearl Harbor, where some measure of central command and control afforded him half a chance of keeping the big picture in mind.'

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.12 - Reunion

Plot: We find Darien in a reflective mood as the episode starts, looking over photos of him and his brother. We learn their parents died when he and Kevin were children, and they went to live with their Aunt Celia and Uncle Peter. This sad piano music accompanied trip down Memory Lane is interrupted by a call from the old family physician, Dr. Anthony, who tells him Kevin has been in an accident. Kevin, who died in the first episode.

Darien lies to the Official, giving him some line about his aunt being sick, and refuses offers of aid from Hobbes and Claire. Upon reaching Dr. Anthony's office, he's told Kevin fell down some stairs, but should be fine. By the time they reach his room, he's gone, having already called a cab. Fawkes visits the cab company, but his attempt to use his badge fails when the owner notices it's from Fish & Game. So he lets the air out of their taxis' tires and uses the distraction to go through their log book, which leads to the retirement home where Aunt Celia lives. She's happy to see Darien, and doesn't ask how he got out of prison. As they talk, Kevin, no sporting a manly beard, walks in. He and Darien see each other, and Kevin bolts. Fawkes pursues, but is almost hit by a truck, which hits a cop car instead, and the cop arrests him. Again the badge fails to save him, and so does the fact he knows the sheriff from their hellraising days. So Fawkes uses chow time to sneak out, only to get busted by Hobbes, who came to check after Fawkes' name was checked by the police computers. This leads to an amusing argument where we see things either from Hobbes' perspective - through his thermal goggles - or Fawkes' - through his Quicksilver vision. Either way, Fawkes can't shake him, so Hobbes is with him on the case.

In search of clues, they travel to Darien's old home, and while they don't find anyone, they do find evidence of recent habitation, and someone turned his uncle's lab upside-down looking for something. Darien can't determine what they were looking for, but he does find an old photo. It has 3 people in it: Uncle Peter, Dr. Anthony, and the Official. Dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn! Dr. Anthony isn't terribly helpful, fearing vague reprisals. Darien is now convinced Kevin survived, and the Official is hiding him. Hobbes isn't sure about all this, but opts to stand with his partner. They find a hair on the pillow, juke the local cops with some nonsense about parapsychology, and head off to confront the Official. Back at the office, Claire confirms the hair belonged to Kevin, the Official explains that Uncle Peter's work was the early stages of the gland, and it was through Peter he met Kevin who took that early work to fruition. But, he insists Kevin is dead, and they agree to dig him up.

The grave is empty.

Fawkes returns to the old home, and stews over what he believed to be Kevin's death. Then he gets a call from Kevin, asking to meet where they used to go, which turns out to be an old cabin in the woods. Darien rushes in, and finds no Kevin. He does find three books that were missing from the house, and inside, are Uncle Peter's notes. Also inside by this point is Arnaud, somehow alive after last being seen standing in the midst of at least five live grenades. Arnaud faked the whole thing to try and find Kevin's notes. Used a voice modifier, dug up and moved the body, all of it. Arnaud has a gun, but Darien has Hobbes, who also has a gun. But Arnaud also has the guy who was playing Kevin, and he has a gun. There's some fighting, Darien pursues Arnaud, who realizes he won't escape running blind through the woods. So he gives Fawkes a choice: stop Arnaud, or save the notes as he throws them in the stream. Darien opts for the notes, but it's no good, because from them, Claire could only devise how to make a new gland, not remove one. She asks Darien if he'd like to get dinner, but he declines to attend Kevin's reburial, though he ends up doing the burying himself. And Hobbes shows up to help. Awwww.

Quote of the Episode: Hobbes - 'I think you are pulling up to Paranoia Plaza, and for me to think that you have got to be nuts.'

The "oh crap" count: 1 (17 overall)

Who's getting quoted this week? Charles Schulz, who through Linus opined that sisters are the crabgrass of life, which Darien figures applies to brothers. Also PJ O'Rourke, who noted that as you get older, you find the things that matter are the things your parents told you would matter. What a horrifying revelation.

Times Darien Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (5 overall). Pretty surprising considering how much he used it. The cab company, escaping jail, tricking the cops, chasing Arnaud.

Still Fish & Game.

Other: I really should have done a "Nearly hit by cars" count for this series. That's three in just the last two episodes.

I notice that Darien was absent from the photo taken at Kevin's graduation. I suppose he could have been taking the photo, but it seems more likely he was in jail at the time. I also noted that when he visited Celia, she motioned for him to sit down next to her, and Darien took a chair diagonal from her. Keeping a little distance.

Love that all the people in this show actually read what's on the badge, rather than accepting it at face value. Pity nobody respects Fish & Game, though. Also love that when Darien went into the Official's office to get leave to deal with the "family illness", he has his fingers crossed behind his back. One wonders if he'd actually try to use that as an excuse if they called him on his behavior later. Wouldn't put it past him, he still likes to take the easy path, at least as he defines easy. In this case, it's easier to lie and go lone wolf than explain he received a call from a family friend telling him his brother's alive and well.

Celia and Peter must have been loaded. That's a pretty nice retirement place she's living in, yet she hasn't sold the home or the old cabin. The home even still has electricity! Maybe it's some pension or life insurance Kevin set up for them? Not sure who else he'd leave the money to. Darien likely wouldn't have accepted it, there's no sign Kevin had a special someone.

Last week's episode ended with Fawkes saying he wouldn't end up like Simon Cole because he had all his friends at the Agency. This seemed a little strange since the episode started with them being extremely hostile and assuming Darien beat the hell out of the Fat Man. Not very friendly at all. This episode is actually a much better support for that argument, though it demonstrates Fawkes' continuing trust issues. Hobbes offers to go with him for this "family illness", and Claire offers to contact the doctors, see if perhaps she can be of assistance. The Official doesn't even hesitate to agree to give him compassionate leave. Once Hobbes shows up to investigate, he's on board with helping. Even when he thinks it sounds crazy, even when Darien's spoiling for a showdown with the Official, Hobbes sides with him. Claire does the DNA test with no apparent hesitation, the Official seems completely willing to dig up Kevin to prove Fawkes is nuts. Granted, he's not doing the digging, and they did it secretly at night, but he seemed quite willing to go along with it to try and calm Fawkes down. Maybe he's worried Darien will go invisible and beat the hell out of him again.

Or he's afraid someone pulled a fast one on him. He likes to joke about how Darien vastly overrates the Official's abilities, but the Fat Man definitely thinks he's pretty slick. That, "aw shucks, I'm just a humble public servant" stuff is a facade. He's got more than a bit of Amanda Waller in him. The idea that someone may have rescued Kevin and recruited him to their side, or that perhaps Kevin orchestrated the whole thing himself would no doubt be galling to him. And he was visibly shaken when the coffin was empty. He knew he had nothing to do with it, so who did? And he didn't know, which might have been the worst part of all.

And in related news, Arnaud is back! Yay! Arnaud might be one of my favorite fictional villains ever, up there with Arcade. Dr. Doom, and Gilroy from Season 3 of Burn Notice. It's been awhile since I'd watched these episode, so I'd forgotten he had an accomplice. I thought Arnaud was passing himself off as Kevin, which would have been impressive given the considerably different shapes of their heads. It is a strange plan, though. I can't tell whether drawing Darien in was always part of it, or an audible Arnaud called halfway through. Was he getting nowhere on other avenues and coerced Dr. Anthony, or did his lackey actually injure himself and once they learned Darien had been contacted, Arnaud just rolled with it? I'm guessing the former, but man, that's a lot of trouble. Kind of wished they hadn't done the flashbacks to Kevin's death, where they prominently feature Arnaud, there at the end. It maybe tipped the hand too much, but I guess we hadn't seen Arnaud since the Pilot, so they wanted newcomers to have some idea who he was.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #7 - Amanda Waller

Character: THE WALL (Amanda Waller)

Creators: John Byrne, John Ostrander, Len Wein. Really tempted to say to hell with my alphabetical rule and put Ostrander first.

First appearance: Legends #1

First encounter: Probably the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, where she was so ably voiced by CCH Pounder. Then I wandered into the comics blogowhatchamacallit, and oh there were so many posts extolling the virtues of Suicide Squad. Dave Campbell, Chris Sims, so many others. That got me on the lookout for her, and the first comic encounter was probably the Suicide Squad: From the Ashes mini-series Ostrander wrote in late 2007 - early 2008.

Definitive writer: John Ostrander, and probably also Kim Yale since they wrote a lot of that together.

Definitive artist: Jerry Bingham. Now, so far as I recall, Bingham didn't draw a single issue of Suicide Squad. He did, however, draw that cover right over there, of Waller putting Batman in the corner. When I think of the Wall, that's what I see. Batman can be "I AM THE NIGHT!" all he wants, but guess what? Walls don't care whether the sun's up or not. They do what they do 24-7-365.

Favorite moment or story: Jeez, where do you even start? Waller taking no crap from Rick Flag, or setting Boomerang straight on who runs this show (those are both from Legends, judging by the art)? Her revenge on Boomerbutt for being the mystery pie thrower (Suicide Squad #37)? I know her smacking Granny Goodness is quite popular, though I think the more impressive moments come later, both when she blows off Darkseid's offer to resurrect her dead niece (knowing he would then be able to control Flo, Suicide Squad #34-36), and that after Granny threw her into the ground hard enough to make an impact crater, Amanda got up. She doesn't have actually super-powers you know; she's just that tough. There was the time Deadshot came in looking to kill her and she calmly talked him out of it, and hired him. Or the time he did shoot her in the chest and she shrugged it off, because if he wanted to kill her, he would have. Now they were square and he might accept a job next time she asked (Secret Six #18).

But there are two I really like, one silly, one not. The first is from a backup story in Suicide Squad Annual #1, when Waller comes home to find her daughter waiting in her apartment, complaining her husband is too controlling. Said football playing husband soon arrives (drawn by Keith Giffen as filling the doorway), and the couple bickers as Waller calls up the doorman and tell his he's doubly-fired for allowing another person up here without her say-so. When her daughter announces she'll be staying with Amanda, it's over. The Wall hits the roof, informing them they will work out their differences and respect each other's opinions, or she will retire and move in with them to make their lives miserable. At one point, while giving R.J. the straight talk, he tries to retort that she can't speak to him like that, he's a trained professional athlete. Waller blows that off with, 'You'll be chump change if you mess with me!' I like that for how completely unimpressed she is with him, and how irate she is at having her home disturbed by noisy children. I really wanted to find a scan of that, but the Internet failed me.

The other is from issue #39. After Lashina hijacked half the Squad and dragged them to Apokolips, Waller's out. She's played too many things too close to the vest, the Squad's being shut down. But there's the matter of the Loa, a drug cartel who has placed an additive in their drugs which will turns users into zombies they control, which they will use to extort the government. Waller's not having any of that, so under the table she recruits Ravan, Poison Ivy, and Deadshot. They'll all be getting locked up when the Squad's shut down, but if they help her, she'll let them go. They do, and the four cut a swath through the Loa's forces, right to their office. Once there, the drug pushers attempt to surrender, figuring they can afford lawyers to get out of jail. But Amanda has no official standing, this isn't a sanctioned mission, and she and Deadshot gun them down. That's pretty badass on it's own, and a valuable reminder that taking power away from Amanda Waller is as dangerous as giving it to her, but what I liked is she kept her word and released Floyd and the others. Probably not the best thing she he and Ravan would go out and kill people, while Ivy would grab control of Count Vertigo and set herself up like a prince, but she made a deal, and she kept it. Then she stayed behind to take the fall.

What I like about her: Everyone likes Amanda Waller. Well, except Captain Boomerang. She's not comic book super-scientist smart (ala Luthor), but she's still smart. She'll fight dirty when she needs to, play it honorably when she can (or has to). Like when Batman sneaks into Belle Reve to gain evidence to shut down the Squad, Waller is willing to threaten using the fingerprints he left to determine his identity and out him to the world. And Bats knows she not only would do it, she can do it. So he agrees to return the information he took, and she promises not to. And each knows the other will keep their word.

I don't like it when Waller is portrayed as Government Person Who Doesn't Like Super-Heroes. She's not DC's answer to Peter Gyrich (she's not incompetent for one thing). She can be an antagonist, certainly, and a good one, but it shouldn't be her default state, for a couple of reasons. One, Waller is smart enough to know placing yourself in direct opposition to super-heroes never ends well. She has a prison full of people - that she sends on dangerous missions in exchange for early release - who are proof of that. It can be unavoidable, but it's not the best route to take. Beyond that, Waller's pretty perceptive, and she knows most of these costumed heroes are actually trying to do good, and she respects it. Unless they make themselves an immediate threat, she's not going to concentrate on them. Making contingency plans for someone who might become a problem, someday, down the line, is for people with too much free time on their hands. Amanda Waller has dozens of threats right now that need taking care of.

I see Waller as not being on a constant collision course with the other heroes, but more a diagonal course. Sometimes their goals will intersect, sometimes their methods will differ, or their interests in a person will differ, and yeah, sometimes they'll be in direct conflict. But it can vary.

Beyond the fact she's crafty and vicious if need be, there's the simple fact she's tough. If she can't outsmart you or beat you fighting dirty, she may just roll right over you. She takes no crap from anybody. Even when she was pitching the idea of reviving Task Force X to Reagan, she took time to chide him for cutting a lot of the social welfare programs that had been so valuable to people in tough circumstances, such as Amanda Waller. She can give as good as she gets in an argument with Batman, survive a fight with mind-controlled Ted Kord, or talk calmly with a complete loon like Deadshot when he's just kicked in the door and said he's there to kill her.

She has her flaws. She takes on too much, she plays things too close to the vest, and sometimes she just makes rash decisions. She figured out Duchess was actually Lashina, but didn't tell much of anyone else, and whatever provisions she'd made were clearly not enough. And Flo died as a result. She gets a little too in love with the power she wields, which means she makes decisions based on holding on to that power, rather than using it well. She keeps people around to act as a check on her, but she makes that so difficult they tend to leave. Nemesis left, Dr. Lagrieve left, Rick Flag went off the deep end, killed a sleazeball Senator, and eventually blew himself up in nuclear fire (he got better, because comics). Nightshade left, Bronze Tiger had a nervous breakdown, Vixen left, came back, left again. Not all of that was because of Waller, but it's notable the people most likely to check her have trouble lasting, and it isn't because they die. Mostly.

Which is maybe the most important thing about Amanda Waller. Beyond how clever she is, how good she is at fighting dirty both politically and literally fighting, she endures. That's what a wall does. It stands in the face of all sorts of hardships, and it holds up whatever it's meant to hold. Amanda Waller believes she can help make the world safer, and she keeps moving forward along that path. Sometimes she makes a bad choice, alienates an ally, creates a new enemy, but she keeps going forward, learning from that, changing her methods. When she felt being part of the U.S. government was hampering the Squad (because of all the official oversight, and the stupid p.r. missions they occasionally had to do, like rescuing that writer in Russia), she took them freelance. If you can find them, and you can afford them, maybe you can hire the Suicide Squad. It gave her more freedom to decide which missions they took, and how they accomplished them. She adapts, but is always moving toward that same basic goal.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Marshall and His Generals - Stephen R. Taaffe

Marshall and His Generals is a book along the same lines as Weigley's Eisenhower's Lieutenants. It's not identical. It's 300 pages shorter, for one thing. Taaffe's book covers the entirety of the United States Army's involvement in World War II, rather than focusing strictly on the European Theater from Normandy onward. He's less concerned with describing specific tactical deployments and maneuvers, except when discussing a particular general's ability or lack thereof in that area. He sticks strictly to American generals, as those are people under Marhsall's command. So very little mention of Montgomery.

Taaffe is more interested in trying to determine what Marshall (and to a lesser extent, Eisenhower and MacArthur) looked for in a general, where there any common threads, and how successful were those selections. Marshall wanted younger men (meaning below 60) believing older fellows didn't have the physical vitality necessary to lead in combat. He wanted them to have a clear head, and he wanted them to be aggressive. That last one is the area where most American generals fell short, that or tactical creativity. Taaffe argues that's not a huge deal because the Army was working from a numerical advantage and as part of a combined effort with air and artillery, so they needed calm and competence first and foremost. And in those areas, most American generals did well. They didn't lose their heads if things went badly, or got bogged down, and they mostly kept their objectives clear in their minds. They just weren't typically innovative in how they accomplished them.

So it's an interesting book. Taaffe gets into personalities a lot, and for all that the guys at the top might claim they made their decisions on who to promote or assign on the basis of merit, there's a lot of cronyism. People are frequently requested for commands by those the came up the ranks with, or people they like, even if they aren't very good. Courtney Hodges certainly comes off as someone getting by because Eisenhower and Marshall think he's better than he is, while Taaffe takes Ike to task for constantly belittling Jacob Devers, who did quite well, especially considering he was at the end of the line for supplies (as far as the European Theater went, anyway. Still probably ahead of the guys in the Pacific).

That was one thing I learned in the book I appreciated. Weigley had made mention that Ike didn't like Devers, but didn't expand on it. Turns out that when Ike was in charge during the Sicily and Italy invasions, he asked for some bomber squadrons from England, and Devers turned him down. Which was enough to get him on Ike's shit list, apparently. So he denigrated him at every turn, and criticized him quiet unfairly. Which is why it's kind of funny Devers outmaneuvers Ike bureaucratically again later in the war. Maybe the problem isn't Devers, Ike. It's disappointing considering Devers did a good job working with the Free French forces, which required the sort of deft touch Ike should have appreciated, both from dealing with DeGaulle, and having to pull a similar juggling act between American and British forces (though of course, Ike felt Devers wasn't doing a good enough job of it). Devers may end up being my American version of Auchinleck.

Marshall's better, but even he has his favorites - Joe Stilwell among them - and there are times he seems too hands off. Marhsall's policy was to not try and force commanders on generals, because he wanted them to work with people they trusted and felt comfortable with. But that means you have Ike giving certain people much too long of a leash, or MacArthur selecting people based on whether they'll rob him of any spotlight. OK, that's unfair to MacArthur. A lot of times he simply prefers to go with men he trusts because he's seen them in action as commanders. But he does like Walter Krueger in part because Krueger hates the spotlight, which means Mac doesn't have to share.

The one other thing Taaffe brought up that was new to me was the idea that Patton's time spent in exile in Sicily (after some ill-advised comments at a dinner) had a positive effect on him. He used it for self-reflection, and when he gained the Third Army in France, handled his subordinates much better. He would still get impatient and yell, but he had a better grasp of which ones needed prodding and which needing supportive words. That isn't something I'd read about in any of the other books which have discussed that I've read this spring.

'Marshall looked for officers with integrity, initiative, a sense of duty, a can-do attitude, aggressiveness, and drive, which was a big reason why so many combat leaders shared so many of these traits - they were all cut from the same Marshall cloth.'