Monday, July 31, 2017

What I Bought 7/27/2017 - Part 2

I hate grabby drunk people. The ones who lose all respect for personal space - assuming they had any to begin with - once they get a few drinks in them.

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #5, by Peter David (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), John Dell (inker), Jason Keith (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - That is the opposite of how I would expect that fight to go, but the actual comic taught there are many things different about Kaine from what I remembered.

Kaine and Ben fight for the entire issue. Ben keeps trying to stall, so he can get Kaine to listen to him, Kaine just keeps trying to kill him. Ben, after failing with the, "let's play with swords" tactic, and the, "You want to shoot me? Fine, shoot me," tactic, eventually plays the "Uncle Ben" card, which does convince Kaine to listen, and Kaine agrees to let him live until he saves the little girl. At which point Kaine will kill him. Also, the mysterious "Thorne" causing Ms. Mercury trouble is her brother, who runs a rival casino.

I wasn't aware Kaine doesn't have a spider-sense, but I also thought he was still far stronger than Ben or Peter, which apparently isn't the case. How things change with a character I've barely paid attention to in 20 years.

Watching Ben's various attempts to get Kaine to lighten up was mildly amusing. It added something to the fight between them, kept adding new elements to the fight. Though it's hard for me to take Ben's arguments seriously. It all feels like an attempt to manipulate Kaine, rather than genuinely reason with him. Of course, Kaine's hellbent on killing him, so trying to honestly debate with him would probably be stupid.

I would have preferred Bagley not skimp on the backgrounds as much as he did in certain panels, but he did a good job laying things out so an element in one panel guides the eye naturally to the next. Like Kaine throwing a sword at Ben, and it's point guides us to the end of Ben's sword in the next panel as he deflects it, and Ben's sword guides us down to the dialogue and also the deflected sword, which brings us to the next panel (Kaine webbing Ben's sword). The webline draws us back to the next dialogue balloon, and that and the angle of the sword point us down to the last panel on the page, where Kaine's pulling Ben off balance. It's basic stuff I assume, but it's also important stuff to making the story work.

Also, Bagley's remembers to establish where characters are in relation to each other at the beginning of a scene, and then making sure the action works from that. So if he shows there are knights to Ben's left, and Kaine tries to web him, Ben's going to jump right, and sends a couple of weblines left to snag their swords. Just basic panel-to-panel continuity, but I feel like there are a lot of artists who either don't get that stuff, or just don't give a shit.

Still, enjoyment of the fight scene aside, I don't know about this book. I still don't really care about this thing between Cassandra and Thorne, siblings or not. It's two casino owners in a pissing match. It's probably setting something up that will present Ben with some important character moment down the line, but I don't know if I'm going to care to stick around until then. I've gone back and forth just in the time since I started working on this post about whether I'm even going to give the book a chance once Bagley leaves. I say no, then talk myself back into it, then out of it again.

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #18, Christopher Hastings (writer), Gurihiru (artists), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - I'm most disappointed in Howard. After all the times angry mobs have chased him, and he turns around and partakes in the chasing himself. Tsk, tsk.

Teddy, Gwen's brother, wound up in the Marvel Universe when she did, but didn't adapt as well, and struggled to get by. Which is how he wound up working for Mr. Orto, the demon Gwen killed in one of her first jobs. Which means Teddy watched his sister calmly murder a bunch of dudes, then cheerfully run off to She-Hulk's Christmas party. At which time a future Miles Morales appeared and warned him of all Gwen was going to do. Gwen's still in the weird space outside the universe (but still in the story) so she learns all this, and jumps back in to confront Teddy with the fact his plan didn't work, and they're still in the comic.

Hastings may have completely lost me here. They're still in the Marvel Universe, but in some halfway dimension? Or is it an astral projection, an elaborate illusion, they borrow one of Mongul's Black Mercys?

I'm not sure whose side I'm meant to be on here. Teddy is messing with Gwen's life, not cool. On the other hand, Gwen does kill people with pretty no remorse or hesitation whatsoever. Her machine-gunning a bunch of goons in an alley was not an isolated incident. Her argument would doubtlessly be that they're fictional, and nameless unimportant characters, they're put there to die. But their lives are real to them. Gwen is mad because, essentially, Teddy is interrupting her treating the world like her private Grand Theft Auto. The fact that Teddy's time in the Marvel Universe has placed him as one of those nameless unimportant characters plays into his perspective as well. It's difficult to be on her side, given that.

But the issue felt pretty thin. I got to the end and was surprised that was it. Because it spent so much time on a flashback, there wasn't much forward momentum. Two steps backwards, one step forward.

The two panels of Teddy sitting horrified on the fire escape and then silent one of the bleeding corpses was effective. This is not something I say often, but I didn't like how Gurihiru version of a character, specifically The Thing. Because they gave him a neck. Normally he's drawn like his head sits directly on his shoulders (or else his lower jaw extends down far enough that it blocks his neck). Anyway, he just looks odd.

Outside that, though, they're doing their usual excellent work on the art. The panels of Gwen in that white void, where she's observing everything and slowly gearing up are kind of terrifying. She's casually stepping on pages of her past adventures, reaching in and helping herself to items from them. She's not raging or outwardly furious, but she's not geeking out over what seems like would be a cool experience. She's kind of miffed, in that way cosmic entities are shown to be when they see a mortal preparing to confront them and aren't worried, but are still offended someone would try to challenge them. Gwen having reached that level is not a good thing. She's going to break everything worse than Thanos usually does before he learns his latest Important Lesson.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.6 - Hyper Psy-Crow

Plot: We open on Jim imitating Seinfeld and just dying on stage. None of his foes could have devised a more horrible end. We transition from there to Psy-Crow being brought before Queen Slug-for-a-Butt (and Mrs. Bleveridge), and told if he doesn't bring the Queen the super-suit this time, or else.

Meanwhile, Jim is presenting a Lifetime Achievement award in heroism to the Puce Dynamo, who takes this opportunity to claim credit for inventing everything related to heroism, including costumes and sewing, while blasting the current heroes as phonies. Which sparks Jim's inner fire, as he calls for the heroes to fight evil. Then proceeds to wait in the banquet hall for evil to arrive. Which it does, in the form of Hyper Psy-Crow, as the villain drank an octuple espresso and has various speed-related powers. The other heroes are so busy arguing who gets to stop him, Psy-Crow destroys a pillar and drops the ceiling on them. Jim, Peter, and the Dynamo flee to the Home for Elderly Heroes.

Jim proposes they overload Psy-Crow with more coffee, which the Dynamo calls a terrible plan. Then he suggests the same thing. They lure Psy-Crow to a Museum of Oversized Items and enact their plan. Which succeeds in turning Psy-Crow into Hyper-Hyper Psy-Crow, a being of pure energy. Really up against the wall, Jim uses aromatherapy to become Super-Mellow Jim, but when the two collide, they destroy the universe. Whoops. Fortunately, the Great Worm Spirit has survived, first in the form of an Energizer Bunny knockoff, and then in the form of Doug TenNapel, who is Jim's creator after all. The three use their combined memories of the universe to recreate it, almost exactly as it was, and Jim and Psy-Crow are returned to their lives before the mess began.

Jim opts to tell the Dynamo to shut his trap, while Psy-Crow is less successful convincing the Queen to drop the whole thing. So he prepares to set it all in motion again, only to be stopped by Jim, who objects to using a 'here we go again' ending on his show.

Quote of the Episode: Dynamo - 'You're telling me? I invented retreating! You young punk.'

Times Peter turns into a Monster: 1 (18 overall).

Cow? Yes, at Jim's insistence on not using other shows' cliche endings.

Other: Walter, Jim's cellmate in the first Evil Jim episode, is the barista at the coffee bar, "Grounds for a Lawsuit". Too bad his job at the International House of Haggis didn't work out.

Jim didn't seem bothered by the Dynamo claiming credit for everything until he claimed he invented worms (which came after Jim explained his battle cry of "Eat dirt!"). I was sick of the old man after he claimed to invent sewing.

The only thing different in the recreated universe is that Death of a Salesman is about Urkel, and for some reason I thought Jaleel White had died recently and was leery about mentioning that reference, but apparently not. Anyway, Urkel reference, because '90s show.

Psy-Crow knows the Great Worm Spirit because he claims it saved his life in 'Nam. Seemed completely serious about it, too. The Dynamo has a letter from President Truman thanking him for offering to end World War 2, but they had a bomb they wanted to try. That's in questionable taste.

The gag about the Energizer Bunny surviving the end of the universe got a laugh out of me. Psy-Crow was blaming Jim for destroying everything, Jim insists something must have survived, the rabbit marches past. Then Jim sneers that someone probably thought that was sooooo clever, which, yeah, I thought it was. Good job, joke writers for the show!

I expected a little more of the story spent trying to stop Psy-Crow, maybe some stuff in the vein of a Road Runner/Wil E. Coyote cartoon playing off Psy-Crow's speed and short attention span (the espresso turned him into Impulse, essentially). Could have used less of the Puce Dynamo, that didn't really go anywhere. It isn't as though Jim isn't normally hot to fight evil, anyway. And as Peter pointed out he wasn't pointing out, Jim's first plan to defeat Psy-Crow was the same as the Dynamo's, so the old man was kind of pointless.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What I Bought 7/27/2017 - Part 1

All three of the comics I was after this week were on the shelves at the store. Someone must have abruptly given up on Cave Carson (and also Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but I already had that issue). I'm only reviewing one issue tonight, because it's been a long week and I'm tired. We'll get the other two Monday.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #10, by Jon Rivera (writer/story), Gerard Way (story), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer) - Was not expecting a Poison Ivy guest appearance. Or maybe it's Evil Swamp Thing! You'll have to read it to find out.

Cave's cybernetic eye has gone back into the socket, which means he's seeing his dead wife again. Still, he got his depth perception back, you think that'd count for something. The group is attacked by what's left of one of the crew of the other Mighty Mole, now some giant fungus/tree thing. They're saved by the son of a different universe's Cave Carson, with Cave being very excited at meeting a male child of his. Right in front of his actual daughter. Cave Carson: Continuing the long comic book tradition of scientists being shitty dads! Cave Jr. brings them to his world, where that universe's Will Magnus has his Metal Men restrain them while that universe's Cave Carson downloads everything from the cybernetic eye into a robot version of Cave's wife.

I'm sure there will be some reason for this chicanery, that Mazra is the key to defeating the Whisperer. We'll see if it works out that way. Cave insisted last issue that seeking out an alternate version of Mazra was a waste of time. She wouldn't necessarily know them, so she wouldn't feel anything for him. That was shown to be a lie in this issue, just from how excited he was to meet the son of some other version of him. So now he's confronted with one that I assume is going to be some sort of recreation of the Mazra he knew. Is this all going to turn out to be some big thing about getting Cave over his depression over the death of his wife? His eagerness to remain fixated on that is a symptom of what the Whisperer feeds off of?

Wild Dog is proving to be a much better team player than I expected of a gun-toting solo vigilante. Always seems willing to help, usually by hurting someone, but still. Chloe seems to use him as sounding board for her concerns about her father. He's out of his depth, but he hasn't backed down at any point. Although I notice his mask doesn't have that notch where he got a machete lodged in it last issue. Or did he pack a spare?

My favorite panel is the expression Chloe makes while mocking the exchange between Cave and his "son". There's a definite element of hurt behind it, plus Cave taking this proud parent approach with someone who isn't his son just begs to be mocked. On the other hand, Alternate Cave Carson's head looks out of proportion to his body on that last page. Possibly intentional - things are getting distorted over the course of this trip - but I'm not certain of that. I did also like the panel of Cave's memories of the Mighty Mole, where Oeming reduced the number of lines, simplified things a bit, the nostalgia effect. The way he drew Cave made me think of Tintin, a little bit.

As the group first comes under attack, Oeming and Filardi adds these pale green leaves encroaching from outside the panel border. They aren't part of what's going on, more like an addition to the border, but then they reappear as the group meets Cave Jr. Foreshadowing that he's a threat? The leaves reappear one more time, as Cave ends Alexa, but now they're white against an orange background. The animating force behind them is gone, they're empty now.

I feel as though the book's lost some momentum in the last few issues, but I was admittedly looking forward to more adventures under the Earth, so maybe I'm just disappointed with the universe-hopping stuff.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hemingway and Gellhorn - Jerome Tuccille

The book's about Ernest Hemingway and the third woman to make the grievous error of marrying him, Martha Gellhorn. It follows Hemingway around the time he and Pauline moved to Key West, and Gellhorn from much earlier in her life, as she heads out to try and become first a journalist, and then a writer.  She travels a lot, meets various men, most of whom seem to fall madly in love with her, while she can only stand to be around them for brief stretches of time. But when she does want to be around them, she's as passionate about it as they are.

She eventually meets Hemingway on a family trip to Key West, they fall for each other, he starts seeing her on the (not very) sly. They travel to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War together. Eventually they get married. Things go south from there. Martha grows more comfortable as writer, starts to experience success on her own, where she isn't quite so chained to Hemingway's legacy, which irks him. The more he tries to control, the more she pulls away, the more resentful he gets, the more she sees all the parts of his personality she doesn't like so much. Like the constant drinking and partying with his vast array of hangers-on and buddies.

In the broad strokes, there's nothing here I didn't already know. Martha and Ernest were terribly suited for a long-term relationship together, in large part because Martha was not going to spend her life as "Mrs. Hemingway". Ernest is a jealous jerk who destroys every friendship he has. Martha, while a passionate journalist, was not above ignoring facts that went against the cause she favored. But some of the details were new, such as Martha's efforts to get into mainland Europe and cover the Allied invasion in 1944 (despite Ernest getting her fired from Collier's). Or their travels in China.

Tuccille effectively highlights the differences in their perspectives and personalities through their reactions. Such as Martha not doing so well with the hygienic conditions in China, while Hemingway seemed unperturbed - until his booze ran out, naturally. Or Martha's tendency, pointed out to her by Hemingway at one point, to think everyone should think and react to everything just as she did. Hemingway, of course, was fully aware other people had different opinions from him. He just didn't particularly care what they were (he didn't say that, that's just my assessment of him).

'Ernest, undoubtedly, was suffering from guilt pangs over his treatment of Pauline. Years earlier he had blamed Pauline for breaking up his marriage to Hadley, and now he was finding reasons to blame Martha for his all-but-doomed second marriage. Someone had to be the scapegoat, as long as it wasn't Ernest.'

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

October's Looking Like A Promising Month

So the last several months haven't brought much to discuss in the solicitations. Maybe a new mini-series to consider trying, or the usual wavering about whether to drop a Marvel title or not. Incremental changes. Well, October has said to hell with that minimalist bullshit, many things to discuss.

First order of business, I made the decision last week to start buying Giant Days in single issues, starting in August. Granted I've only bought the first trade so far, and even counting the trades I've flipped though in bookstores - which I will purchase eventually, I'm deliberate about trade buying -

Deadpool: [When he says, "deliberate", he means cheap.]

Shut up Wade, you ruined the surprise. As I was saying, I'm a dozen issues behind even going by trades, but I really enjoy the wacky adventures of those college ladies. And the book sticks to its monthly schedule, so there will be a new issue to purchase in October.

In other good news, Copperhead is returning with a new story arc, and even better, new Atomic Robo mini-series! I said this last year, but Atomic Robo is one of the relatively few things I get excited for every time it comes out (even if I wasn't thrilled by The Temple of Od).

On DC's side of things, Cave Carson is absent from the solicitations. Maybe it was 12 issues and out, or maybe they're taking a break to let Oeming get ahead on art again. Yeah, it's probably done, but you never know. In other news, Ray Fawkes and Inaki Miranda are releasing a Ragman mini-series. I'm not familiar with either of their work, and it's updating the origin, but it could still be worth a look. There's also another Deadman mini-series, but it's by Neal Adams. Which means it's probably as nuts as Batman: Odyssey and those other, similar projects he's done the last few years. I don't think I'm up for that. Blue Beetle has a new creative team. Again, I'm not familiar with Christopher Sebela or Thony Silas' work, but if the Giffen/Kolins team wasn't doin' for ya, maybe these two will. Bernard Chang is handling writing and art chores on Batman Beyond in October, for a fight-focused issue. I didn't pick this volume up, and I bailed on the previous volume after two issues, but Chang's art wasn't the problem. Dan Jurgens' writing has never done anything for me. It isn't like nothing happens in his stories, but something about his writing keeps it from connecting with me.

And then there's Marvel, now hopefully safely past Secret Empire and into their Legacy thing, which at least got them to drastically reduce the number of books they were releasing. Granting the total is still over 60, but it was over 80 previously. Baby steps. Remarkably, none of the books I was buying got it in the neck, either.

The renumbering thing is being done in Marvel's usual half-assed manner. Mighty Captain Marvel gets to count all Carol Danvers' previous series, but Hulk doesn't do the same with Jennifer Walters'. And she should be almost to 160 issues by now. Venom (with Mark Bagley taking over as artist, meaning he isn't coming back to Scarlet Spider. Boooo, booooooooo, boo) and Despicable Deadpool are both going to new numbering, as is Cable,

Deadpool: [Well, it looks better if Nate's series ends on issue #154 because I killed him, than if it ends at #7 because nobody's buying a Cable book in 2017.]

That's true. I had forgot they were even giving him another ongoing. Oh yeah, and I'm picking up Deadpool again for the time being. Surprise.

Where was I? Right, so those books are doing the cumulative numbering, but Champions, Defenders, and Daredevil aren't. On and on. Does any of it matter? Probably not. It's mostly the same books, by the same creative team, just jumbling around the numbers and confusing everyone again.

As for the books I would be buying, or was buying, Gwenpool is going to try and take on Dr. Doom, which is stupid. You'd think her near death at Deadpool's hands would have taught her a lesson about messing with characters higher up the pecking order. Squirrel Girl is still tangling with Ultron, Ms. Marvel has a new hero showing up in Jersey City. I think it's Red Dagger, the local hero Kamala ran into when she went back to Karachi in issue #12. Iron Fist is teaming up with Sabretooth so I don't think I'll be buying that. Is Sabretooth still doing that sort of good he's been doing since Axis, or did he finally slip back into his old self? And Ben Reilly is going to have some trouble with this new version of the Hornet (I'm not ruling out the possibility Wil Sliney's art has improved or changed sufficiently I decide to stick around on the book).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Everybody Behaves Badly - Lesley M.M. Blume

Everybody Behaves Badly is about Ernest Hemingway's path to make a name for himself as a writer, and how he turned one of his excursions to Pamplona into the basis for The Sun Also Rises, which was his first novel (depending on whether you count his poor attempt at satire/hatchet job, The Torrents of Spring).

As you might guess, most of his acquaintances who were on the trip, and ended up "starring" in the book, weren't all that happy with it. Though Hemingway trashes just about everyone over the course of this time period. Whether a staunch ally or a critic, or a cheerleader for his work when nobody had ever heard of him, he will tear them down in an instant. It's that form of ego where he proceeds as if there's only so much praise in the world, and so every bit that goes to someone else lessens what can someday be lavished upon him. And he can't abide that.

Which isn't anything terribly new; I've read enough other books on him to know about his vicious, petty streak. Though I'd forgotten just how entirely indiscriminate it can be. I think maybe Hadley, his first wife, is the only one he doesn't entirely disparage at some point, and of course, he ultimately cheated on her and then they divorced (though he signed over all royalties from The Sun Also Rises to her, which surprised me).

The book provided some stories and insights I either never knew, or had forgotten. I had always thought Robert Cohn, the fellow who moons hopelessly over Lady Brett, and was just getting out of an unhappy relationship with a party lady who wanted to destroy his writing, was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently Cohn was based on Harold Loeb, who had been a staunch supporter and believer in Hemingway's talent, but committed the grave mistake of coming from money and I guess being Jewish. Also possibly for mooning over Lady Duff Twysden, who Hemingway was also interested in (and who wound up being the inspiration for Lady Brett). Looking back, I was basing too much of my guess that it was Fitzgerald on Hemingway's unflattering description of "Frances", who I figured was meant to be Zelda Fitzgerald.

Silly me, thinking Hemingway could only despise one woman at a time.

As the title says, everybody behaves badly, so there are plenty of amusing anecdotes. Hemingway's seemingly unerring ability to recognize people who could further his goals, and his even more surprising ability to avoid alienating them before they could help him. And of course, lots of people being drunk idiots. I enjoy the parts about him struggling with his writing, trying to sort out his style, figure out what he wanted to write about and really get it going. How he learned from Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, adopted some of their suggestions, but bent them to what he wanted to do. He has some of Stein's repetition, for example, but in his own style.

'There must have been moments during this period, however, when both of the Hemingways began to see themselves through the eyes of their rich new friends. It is difficult to imagine that the veneer of bohemian romanticism never once dissolved and revealed instead a scene of cramped, dreary struggle.'

Monday, July 24, 2017

Writers Can't Always Hit The Mark

There are certain combinations of writers and characters that make me wince. I'm thinking of situations where the writer just misses the point of the character, different from simply not wanting to see yet another Thanos story written by Jim Starlin. It's subjective, but sometimes you just want a writer to leave a character alone.

My primary example is typically Adam Beechen and Cassandra Cain. I know Beechen got a raw hand with editorial dictates, but even when DC had him write a mini-series to fix all the damage they had him inflict, with the crazy, and the murder, and the mind-warping drugs, it was still a mess. He's written other things I enjoyed - his work on Batman Beyond with Norm Breyfogle for example - but with Cass, he just seems to miss the point.

The other would be Bendis and Clint Barton. It's curious to me that Bendis put Wolverine on the Avengers, in-story because 'he can do what we can't' in Stark's words, and then consistently has one of the Avengers historically most staunchly opposed to killing, keep killing people. Or trying to, at least.

I've known a few people who would pick Geoff Johns and Wonder Woman. I recall a lot of grumbling in the comic store about how he handled her in Infinite Crisis. Or maybe Bendis and Dr. Doom, although I've mostly avoided that, so I might actually say Mark Waid and Doom. Waid doesn't seem to have any time for Doom's air of nobility or honor, or any of those flashes of the guy who possibly be a great force for good if he could only get over his own hang-ups. Which works I guess, but it leaves out a lot of what I find interesting about Doom.

Those are a few of mine, share a few of yours in the comments. It's good to vent.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.5 - Evil In Love

Plot: Evil the Cat seeks the The Fiend Which Dares Not Speak Its Name, and meets Malice the Dog, who seeks the same thing. They fall in love, which leaves Henchrat feeling left out. Their searches reveal a tablet that tells how to summon the Fiend, a process which involves balloon animals and the Hat Pin of Destiny. The latter just so happens to reside in a steamer trunk in Jim's attic. Jim, Peter, and the Princess are overcome by Malice's Fleas of Eternal Slumber, which traps them in the Land of Nightmares. Which doesn't impress the heroes much until the Lord of Nightmares summons their greatest fears: Swedish Chef's cousin, Scottish Chef, public restrooms, and  those ladies in the department stores who spray perfume in your face.

I'll let you figure out who was terrified by what.

While the heroes grapple with their fears, the villains hit a roadblock as their claws keep popping the balloons. I though cats could retract their claws, but not Evil. Which means a lot of kissing up to the underappreciated Henchrat to get him to do it. Then they learn the Hat Pin can only be wielded by one who is pure of heart. Fortunately for the villains, all the obstacles, gave our heroes time to wake up and reach Heck, so taht Jim can be tricked into using the Hat Pin and releasing the Fiend. All seems lost against the trans-dimensional horror, but Jim employs bureaucracy to stymie it, because it doesn't have a permit to bring about the Apocalypse. Evil is undaunted, but Malice has an offer for her own show in another universe and departs, so now Evil is a little daunted.

Quote of the Episode: Henchrat - 'Boss no longer need Henchrat. Once special relationship turned to bitter tears in Henchrat's mouth.'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 0 (17 overall).

Cow? Yes, although it may have doomed the universe, 3 billion years from now.

Other: Jim really enjoyed dressing up as a flapper. Good for him. The Princess wasn't so amused.

The episode saw the return of Jim's Manta Shield, which worked better against Acid Furballs than it did against Bob's cat assistants.

For some reason the Lord of Nightmares talks in some faux New York tough  guy accent, while wearing a wide brimmed hat, a trenchcoat with the collar turned up, and smoking a cigar. I have no idea why they went with that particular design.

The Fiend is actually pretty terrifying. Not as terrifying as Mr. Bunny-Bun, an educational program character that keeps recurring through the episode (and hopefully will never appear again), but close.

Having the Fiend be told it will take 3 billion years to finish the paperwork, then showing up what happens in 3 billion years when he does finish it was a nice touch. That was my first thought at the time, 'Well what happens when he gets the application finished?' The answer was bureaucratic incompetence, to the point I'm actually glad for the Fiend when the cow lands on the bureaucrat. Possible doom of existence the Fiend may be, he dutifully followed the instructions to get his permit, only to be screwed by some stuffed shirt who is clearly enjoying the problems he's caused.

Friday, July 21, 2017

What I Bought 7/19/2017

I must be going into the store I buy comics from enough they recognize me, as the guy behind the register mentioned the store does pull lists. I don't think I can go back to that, although I do miss hanging out in comic shops shooting the breeze with other customers. Haven't done that regularly in a long time.

Ms. Marvel #20, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Marco Failla (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - That's no way to hold a superhero. She's going to hop right out of your grasp if you slack-ass it like that.

Aamir is being interrogated for his one-time occurrence of powers, and will possibly be deported, or maybe disappeared. Kamala is trying to pull herself together and fight back, but isn't haven't much luck against the considerable resources HYDRA is bringing to the fight. It might be going better if she abandoned her attempts to reason with the angry shouting crowds, but she's a better person than me, so she keeps trying.

Gotta love the panel of Discord standing there in his ridiculous outfit, insisting they are getting rid of superheroes to get things back to "normal". Shades of Max Lord nattering on about needing to get rid of superhumans so "regular" humans could determine humanity's course, and saying this while using his mind control powers to keep from getting beaten up. It's also reminiscent of any number of unpleasant real world examples of hypocritical jackasses, but I'm trying not to think about those every moment of the day.

I don't understand how the brief skirmish between Kamala and Discord/Lockdown was a stalemate, but I do appreciate the absurd amount of firepower on the hovering whatever that tried blasting Kamala. That's the kind of overkill you want to see your municipality waste tax dollars on. I'm wondering if the giant clock at Chuck's rally will be a recurring theme. "Time running out," or something similar. Regardless, good on Failla to show that time is progressing during the fight. A little touch, but a nice one. I wonder if the clock is to keep track of whether the trains are running on time or not?

There's a stunned look Failla gives Kamala in one panel, as Chuck's spewing his crap and then the crowd responds with a resounding "Yeah!" It's that realization there actually are a lot of people buying into the nonsense, a lot of people who think she's making their lives worse, who aren't super-villains. It's an effective scene, for how what Hallucination Bruno said about her being alone on this one.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wonder Woman

So I went to see Wonder Woman two weekends ago. There were probably 15 other people in the theater, maybe more, which isn't too bad for a noon showing over a month after initial release.

Spoiler warning.

The movie tracks Diana from her childhood on Themyscira, training secretly against her mother's wishes, until Steve Trevor crash lands on the island. Trevor has information on a new gas weapon Dr. Poison is developing for the Germans, and so the Germans arrive on the island. The battle and Steve's description of World War I convinces Diana Ares is behind it, and she sets out into Man's World to stop the war by killing Ares.

I liked it. I did want it to hurry up a little at the beginning and get Diana out into the rest of the world, but the time on Themyscira was important for showing the world she came from, the stories she grew up on - which play into why she's so determined to go out and find Ares - the things they didn't tell her, etc. But pretty much from the point where she and Steve get on the boat until she finally meets Ares was good stuff.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on Wonder Woman, but I thought Gadot got the character. She's compassionate, bold, has a bit of a sense of humor, and she's a skilled fighter without seeming like she enjoys hurting people. I think when she liberates that village she's enjoying the fighting, the moments where she's leaping around between them and kicking butt, but it's not as though she's enjoying breaking bones or whatever. Chris Pine was an excellent Steve Trevor. Trevor is supposed to be a good man, not perfect, but at heat, a decent guy, and Pine gets that. And Steve is supposed to recognize Diana can pretty much take care of herself, with maybe an assist every now and then, and the film's version of him gets that too.

I especially liked the scene where  he's admitted he lied to his boss and when Diana accuses him of possibly lying to her now, he immediately grabs the lasso to prove he's telling the truth. Like, it isn't just the most expedient way to convince her, it really matters to him to do so. He's worried about her and doesn't want her going off alone (and also probably knows his mission's chances of success improve greatly with her along. But I think it hurts him that she thinks he might be lying to her.

Lucy Davis as Etta Candy didn't get a lot of screen time, but she made the most of it. Wouldn't have minded if there'd been a way for her to have a bigger role in the movie. Trevor recruits three people, Sameer, Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock, for the mission to destroy the gas, and Diana's initial assessment of them is, 'a liar, a murderer, and thief,' and then the film takes the time to show their other facets, to explain why they're like that. Diana is new to the world, and she's learning, and the film shows that, her growing as she goes along. And even when she's determined to get to Ludendorff, who she believes is Ares, she's still stopping to try and help people in trouble she encounters along the way. All the little acts, that may add up to something more down the line.

My favorite scene involving Ludendoff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru/Poison (Elena Anaya) was when they opt to gas the German General Staff, and Ludendorff throws a gas mask - that will be entirely ineffective - into the room before sealing the door. And admits it was because it'll be fun to watch them fight over it. It's such a petty thing, and Maru thinks it's just great, it's a fun scene. They're an interesting pair, Ludendorff seems driven by ambition, to win, to dominate, be the big man. Maru, I think is mostly curious, about death, about just how lethal you can make something. And each of them will sacrifice anyone else to get what they want, but each provides the other with the means to their goals, so they stick together.

This isn't connected to anything else, but I was surprised how unperturbed the German soldiers were throughout the film. Here's this lady, she leaps in a second floor window with a sword and a shield, starts blocking bullets and beating their asses, and they keep attacking. Nobody tries to run, nobody tries surrendering. I at least thought when she started hefting armored cars we'd get somebody freaking out like that guy on the cover of Action Comics #1. Or the ones who landed on Themyscira, you'd think those guys would be a little more confused about what's going on. Maybe they're just grateful not to be mired in knee-deep mud and rat excrement.

It's been mentioned by other people, but the last bit of the movie, when she actually finds Ares and they fight, doesn't feel like it fits in with the rest. Up to that point, things had been in a sense grounded. She's fighting ordinary soldiers with regular guns and bullets, or having to deal with all these old white guys' ideas about women, or our capacity to be indifferent to the suffering of others. Diana is a fantastical figure, but what's she confronted with is more everyday horror. And then, at the end, she finds Ares and now it's people telekinetically hurling bullets and tanks and it abruptly all feels entirely cut off from everything else. Sameer and Chief are not too far away trying to help Steve, but it feels like another world entirely, almost like they're two different films that happen to be taking place on the same screen.

Which could very well be what Patty Jenkins was aiming for, the gap between the two worlds Wonder Woman can inhabit. Our world, and this larger, mythic world, where humans can be seen as playthings or pests to be removed. And a big part of the film is Diana realizing there isn't a simple solution, that's her mission is going to be a long process of her repeatedly setting an example by helping others. But that's in the future. In this film, she's convinced the entire time if she can just find Ares and kill him, War will stop, like flipping a switch. Steve doesn't believe - although Chris Pine does a good job showing how much Steve wants to believe - but ultimately it's something Diana has to learn herself. Which means she has to confront Ares, the one she holds responsible, and defeat him, and then see you can't lay our faults on his doorstep.

I'm not sure how you handle the "defeating" part without some kind of a fight. Diana could reject his offer to team-up and he could leave, as a way to prove his point, but then what? He'd be doing that to demonstrate that he's right about us, which means he'd come back at some point to try and coax her to his side again. She'd still have to reject him, and it would seem like they'd be at an impasse and have to fight. So I don't know.

Those misgivings aside, I had a good time. I don't know if it's in my Top 5 comic book property movies, but it has to be close, at least.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What I Bought 7/15/2017 - Part 2

It's extremely hot here this week. I hate July. I have a new computer now! The last one provided six strong years for me (after three years for my dad), so this one has a lot to live up to. I'm definitely enjoying the much larger screen.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I'm glad to see Doreen remembered practical footwear for her trip to the Savage Land. Stubbed toes and blisters are no fun.

Doreen and Nancy enter a computer programming challenge and win a trip to the Savage Land. After an extremely long flight to Antarctica, they are greeted by the dual horrors of gift shops and snooty Latverian computer science students, who hate Squirrel Girl. But one of them locks eyes with Nancy, and rose petals appear, so that could be something. Assuming Stefan didn't blow it with that 'some things are worth being Doomed for,' line. Which I thought was pretty great, especially since he somehow suggested the "D" was capitalized by his pronunciation, but Nancy did not agree. Although Latverian schools probably train their students to imply capitalization with how they pronounce the "D". Like an "a" in German having an umlaut versus not.

But the trip isn't all burgeoning romance and sweet, featherless dinos. The students were brought here because of their sick programming skills to help save the Savage Land. Dun-Dun-Dun!

Nancy did not believe the Savage Land existed, because its Wikipedia page invoked Atlantis, which she took to mean the whole thing was bunk. Even though Nancy lives in New York City, which is invaded by a half-naked guy calling himself the Scion of Atlantis as he declares war on the surface world every other week. Like, how does Nancy not realize Atlantis is a real place in her world? She's not your typical dumbshit American who doesn't know anything about other places.

That was the single most unbelievable part of this story that involves an alien technology maintained jungle in Antarctica filled with dinosaurs. But it was funny, so it's OK.

I'm assuming Dr. G is evil because she has yellow, maybe even golden eyes. That seems unusual, and ominous. Like an android, or maybe a lizard person? I know the solicits said there's a certain villain showing up, but maybe Stegron the Dinosaur Man could also show up?

This book doesn't use double-page splashes much, so the three pages of dinosaur fun were pretty effective. Although my favorite panel might still be the one of Doreen noticing the look between Nancy and Stefan. Her completely goofy look is hilarious. Then again, the oddly cheerful looking Doom on the Latverian passport one page earlier is a strong contender. Though he should look stern, shouldn't he? The passport warns that the person holding the passport better be allowed admittance or else.

Wait, I just noticed that in the panel where Doreen is giving Nancy the thumbs up, there's an Iguanodon in the background. They had these thumbs that were kind of sharp and tended to jut upwards noticeably, so the dinosaur is also giving Nancy a thumbs up. Kudos to everyone involved on that gag.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Assassination (2015)

Assassination, set mostly in 1933, Japan-controlled Korea, is about an attempt to kill both the longtime commander of the Japanese forces stationed there, as well as a notable Korean industrialist who has chosen to ally himself with the Japanese. To that end, the Korean Provisional Government, based in China, pulls together a trio of soldiers, each with special skills, each one currently behind bars, and sets them the task of killing both targets.

Things are complicated by a turncoat within the Provisional Government who informs the Japanese, who opt to hire a hitman pair, Hawaii Pistol and Buddy. Things are further complicated because the sniper on the assassin team, An Ok-yun, has a connection to the industrialist she isn't aware of.

The movie has a lot of chance encounters between characters, which then complicate their interactions and entangle their stories more and more. Ahn and Hawaii Pistol meet each other on a train before either knows they should be on the lookout for the other. Ahn has a twin sister (neither aware of the other's existence), who catches a glimpse of her when they both happen to be in a department store. The kind of thing Guy Ritchie used for comedic effect, where all these different characters eventually end up colliding (often literally) at the climax of the film, wiping each other out without even necessarily knowing why.

Director Dong-hoon Choi isn't playing it for laughs, but does use it to great effect in creating an air of unpredictability. There are certain cliches I'd expect to play out in movies (or maybe just American movies) with some of these set-ups. But in Assassination, I never felt entirely confident I knew how it would play out. Who would survive, would the targets be eliminated, would that turncoat get what's coming to him. It was hard to tell which side someone would land on, even when it seemed like there was a clear answer, I couldn't quite be sure. There was one death in particular, maybe I should have seen it coming, but I was caught completely off-guard by it, and it ramped up my anticipation for the finale.

It's a nice film to look at, I thought the costuming was pretty good - I don't know how period accurate it is, but the characters look distinct and some of them look very cool - the frequent gunfights are entertaining. There's one hand-to-hand fight which was kind of unusual, since one of the characters supposedly learned his fighting style from tennis.

As you might expect, the Japanese do not come off well, but the ones who ally with them get it even worse. The spy within the ranks is fun to watch, where I wonder how much he believes the justifications he spouts. At sometimes, it's an act, like when he feigns being willing to shoot himself because a superior distrusts him, because he overheard an earlier conversation and knows the gun's not loaded. But later, I think he might actually believe what he says, that he sacrificed for his country.

There's a spot where the film dragged a bit, starting maybe in the last forty-five minutes, until the last 20 minutes, where I was wanting it to hurry up and get to the end. For the most part, though, the film moves at a brisk pace, changing things up with betrayals and complications, forcing the characters to change their plans and scramble to stay alive long enough to finish their mission.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What I Bought 7/15/2017 - Part 1

Did manage to pick up last week's comics. I opted not to get Real Science Adventures, but I found the other two books I wanted, plus I took a chance on a different book. Which ended up being a mistake in this case, but oh well.

Wynonna Earp Season Zero #1, by Beau Smith (story, writer), Tim Rozon (story), Angel Hernandez (artist), Jay Fotos (colorist), Christa Miesner (letterer) - I'm a little concerned about the guy in the back. Looks like one of those SS stormtroopers you'd kill in some vaguely horror-themed first-person shooter.

So when Wynonna originally left home, indulging her bad girl side, she met up with a group called the Alpha Team X, and they did a lot of stuff. And now someone named Keegan is trying to kill all of them to get something Wynonna has the key to. She's determined to find her old friends and help them. Her new friends are determined to help her, but are so far just arguing with each other about the best approach. I appreciate the novel approach of not having Wynonna have a huge heated argument about how she has to do this alone. She accepts pretty quickly they're not going to allow that, and is ready to move forward.

There's a lot more hostility between Agent Dolls and Holliday than I remember from the mini-series I read last year. I don't know if these mini-series are reacting to events from the TV show (which I've never watched) or something else. Something may have happened to ratchet up the tension. Also, at the point when the two begin arguing, I can't shake the impression the word balloons are ordered wrong, or attributed to the wrong character. Holliday asks Dolls opinion and gets this response:

'In my experience, if you fail to prepare. . . prepare to fail. It's always better to have a plan and not need it, then to be without one and need it. Sounds more cowardly than common sense. Do those words mean anything to you?' Which prompts Holliday to respond, 'Common sense? Hhmpf. . . I coughed that up with my lungs years ago.'

It's not just me, right? That exchange tracks strangely. Holliday hadn't mentioned common sense before Dolls did.

It's a very chatty issue, lots of talking, since there's so much backstory to lay out.  Maybe Smith and Rozon decided to get it all out of the way at the start, but I doubt it.

Hernandez doesn't get a lot to do on the art side. Mostly people standing around talking, or panels of just people's head or faces as they talk. Seems very good at drawing people scowling or otherwise looking unhappy. There are a few panels the expressions don't match what I would expect under the circumstances. One where Wynonna has this light smile on her face as her friend is bleeding out on the pool table. It didn't seem like his comment was amusing enough to prompt that reaction at that moment.

It's an open question if I'll buy the second issue or not.

Tinkers of the Wasteland #1, by Raul Trevino (writer/artist) - I have been a few places where a battle-scarred Mini Cooper loaded with chickens wouldn't qualify as unusual.

33 years after an apocalypse brought about by a meteor swarm, three kids - Milla, Splitter, and a third one I don't know the name of - are trying to get some dinner. By stealing some chickens from the tower fortress of, sigh, King Queer. The theft is helped by a meteor knocking over the tower and freeing the chickens, but they're observed by King, and will probably have to drive for their lives next issue. Also, one of the chickens swallowed a piece off the meteor, not sure what that's going to do.

I like the art, it reminds me a bit of Jamie Hewlett's, probably because Splitter looks a bit like one of the Gorillaz. The faces are expressive without an excessive amount of linework, and the shading is mostly a light touch. Trevino saves the heavy blacks for the meteor and that one particular chicken, as well as Splitter when he's chasing it. He would be a terrifying sight to a chicken. The design of the settings and outfits aren't anything unusual to this type of story, but they look good.

There is the issue of the King. I can't decide how bothered I should be by him. I know "queer" is a term some people use for themselves, while others would find it offensive to be referred to with it. I assume the King took the name for himself. He's dressed in the typical S&M gear bad guys wear in this post-apocalypse stuff. He wears some make-up, and has a lackey that serves as a make-up artist. The lackey's arrival somehow unnerves Splitter more than the King. He referred to Splitter as "dear" once, but at least doesn't seem to be falling into the cliche of the cross-dresser that's a child predator. It may be too early to tell, but I had a reflexive reaction when I saw the character. If the King is meant to be a frightening figure, it hasn't played out that way so far. But he doesn't seem like he's meant to be a comedy figure yet, either.

Which brings us around to one other issue: I think the book is supposed to be funny, but I'm not laughing. Milla and Splitter spend most of the issue yelling at each other about plans or lack thereof. The third kid vanishes for half the book, then shows up at the end having collected a bunch of helmets for some reason. He just likes helmets, I guess. Maybe more humor will come in subsequent issues, once the story finds more traction? Assuming I get the second issue, which is up in the air.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.4 - The Exile of Lucy

Plot: Psycrow and Professor Monkey-for-a-Head are about to destroy Jim, but are ordered not to by Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, who still wants that supersuit. Which gives Jim and Peter time to start a musical number, distracting the villains until Jim can steal their weapons.

In the aftermath, the two villains are understandably cheesed that they got fried because of their lazy boss, and resolve to overthrow her. Which they accomplish thanks to Psycrow threatening the narrator into stating they did. The Queen is exiled, sans scepter, and crash lands on Earth, in the backyard of Mrs. Bleveridge. The two strike up a fast friendship over their combined love of shit talking. Lucy takes to life on Earth, finding a job, hobbies, and eventually love. No, not with Mrs. Bleveridge, but with a Cuban bandleader.

Jim and the other heroes, oblivious, play poker until Princess What's-Her-Name arrives to ask for help. Seems the Professor and Psycrow are busy having the populace of Insectica build war machines, and she needs help stopping them. Off our heroes go, but their plan runs into a snag in the form of Red Wormtinite, which transforms Jim into a bowl of candy corn. Also, the Princess can't get the scepter to work for her, so she has to take it and run. After all the heroes fail to step up, she turns to her sister and Mrs. Bleveridge. They rescue Jim and trash most of the war machines, but the last one is a doozy, and only by letting Lucy wear the supersuit will they have a chance of destroying it. That, of course, carries its own risks.

Quote of the Episode: Mrs. Bleveridge - 'I mean, you give that suit back or I'll hollow out your butt for a storage shed!'

Times Peter turned into a monster: 1 (17 overall).

Cow? A day late, and probably a dollar short, but yes.

Other: During the musical number, Peter stated he wets the bed. You'd think he'd have been housebroken at some point. Thankfully, Jim's attempt to start another musical number during the attack on Insectica was interrupted by Peter turning into a monster.

I did not remember Wormtinite at all, so that was a pleasant surprise. Although being turned into candy corn at least ensures no one will try to eat you. Though Peter was hungry enough to consider it. In which case, it's probably good Jim didn't turn into a bowl of fun-size Snickers or Milky Ways. Chocolate and dogs, man.

The Professor's monkey believes that bananas were invented in France, and is therefore interested in conquering it. Yeah, I don't know where he got that idea, and neither does Psycrow. Times like that, he has to question the choices he makes in partners.

Lucy's one saving grace as a ruler was she was too lazy to ever do anything, like start invasions. Which is true. We only ever see her trying to destroy Jim and get that supersuit. Contrast with Evil the Cat, or Bob the Goldfish, who do expend some effort trying to destroy Jim, but also frequently encounter him while on some other nefarious scheme.

Once again, I have to wonder what the Professor was thinking when he designed that suit, if it was truly meant for Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. It doesn't match her body type at all. Did he think she could enter some chrysalis stage and emerge with just two arms and legs? Had he never seen her before? Just gets a letter, 'Build me an all powerful supersuit or I shall destroy you and use your entrails for hair extensions!'

Once again, a trip to outer space didn't go so well for Mrs. Bleveridge. She keeps catching stray rounds, although she's one tough lady. But, now she gets to live with her best pal Lucy in a big palace (that looks like it's made from the fresh secretions of something I'd rather not see), and hopefully have a ball doing whatever they want.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Griffins and Cupcakes and Bullshit and Puzzles

In the story of my second D&D campaign, I left off at the point where we had killed some members of the thieves and were preparing to storm their stronghold. We knew the members of the group each had a tattoo, and were able to draw a facsimile on our arms, but didn't know if there was a password. So once we reached the fortress, we stood in the shadows debating what to do. We eventually decided to try bluffing our way in, but it turned out to be unnecessary. We had the tattoo, nothing else was required. The sentries couldn't figure out why we stood there awkwardly chatting them up. Well, overthought that one.

Inside, there was a maze we made our way through without incident until reaching a room with three chests and a sign that says "Evens and Odds". We opened one chest, and a panel in the wall slid open, revealing 5 kobolds (lizard people). We had heard from someone along the way there were some lizard people among the bandits (whoever we talked to also told us about a swamp to the west with possible treasure but lots of monsters, which we decided was a distraction from our quest and ignored). When a Ranger hits Level 5, he can choose a Favored Enemy, which he gets bonuses against. So I picked "humanoid - reptilian" with that intel in mind.

And so I opted to try Bluffing the kobolds, specifically by lamenting that the "bourgeois" thief bosses made the poor, proletarian kobolds sit in a cramped room behind a wall with no food or drink. The DM responded, 'They have no idea what you're talking about.' They also couldn't or wouldn't tell us how to solve the puzzle, so we got impatient and opened all three chests at once. Five more panels opened, 10 more kobolds and 15 goblins entered the room. So it's a fight. I made an impassioned plea for the first 5 kobolds to rise up and help us, but they opted to go back in their room and close the wall.

So the Marxist rhetoric failed to gain traction. At least I got five enemies off the board.

The fight wasn't much trouble, even with the numbers. The monk took some slings to the head, but was crushing enemies left and right with attacks of opportunity. Our wizard had taken the Fireball Wand we found in the spider cave, but wasn't having much luck with it. Magic Missile fared better, and Nylis busted out a Flaming Spear attack that killed at least 4 enemies. In all, it was a slaughter, but left us no closer to finding what we were after.

OK, I don't have any notes from our recovery of the relic. I remember there was a different room, and the relic was within some sort of cage. The thief couldn't find her way through, so I think we used the Ring of 3 Wishes to get her inside the cage, grab the relic, and then get her back out. The Sack of Holding was involved somehow as well. I'm sure we made it infinitely more complicated than it needed to be, but I frankly hate that aspect of D&D where you have to declare you want to inspect something, then roll to see if you noticed anything when you inspected, and hope your character is intelligent enough to understand what they see, if they see anything. If you roll crappy, then what are you supposed to do? Shrug and throw up your hands? Oh well, quest over, we're too dumb to figure out this trap.

Anyway, we got the relic, and fled the bandit's fortress, which was remarkably easy. I think the leader was away at the time, but you'd think thieves would be more alert to theft. I can't talk, though, since that night, as we camped on our way back, it was stolen from us. By Ordai the cleric, who turned out to be a doppelganger. Apparently, the DM was worried we would figure out something was up with him earlier because he used Death Touch, and a cleric shouldn't do that. But most of the players wouldn't have any experience to know that, and I'd watched a cleric in my only previous campaign kill one of our own party in a fit of pique sooooooo. . .

I assume clerics are basically crazy, violent religious fundamentalists. Like the Crusaders, basically. Spread your religion of peace and tolerance by killing people different than you. Maybe that's actually paladins, I haven't played in a campaign with one of them yet.

Now we had to return to the village and explain we'd let the relic be stolen a second time, and maybe question why we were assigned a cleric that wasn't actually a cleric. Along the way, we revisited the elf commune, only to find it devastated by the doppelganger. Many were wounded, and the chief was dead, although his son had survived his injuries (and was happy to see Taug, which embarrassed the barbarian, though he was still kind enough to be friendly). We continued on and were caught up to by the leader of the thieves and some of his men, on horseback. Fortunately, we heard them coming with enough time to dive off the road into the bushes. Unfortunately, Nylis was too busy eating a cupcake and was caught flat-footed in the middle of the road when they rode up. But she served as an excellent distraction for when the rest of us jumped out to attack.

The fight itself wasn't terribly competitive. Oswald dealt the finishing blow to two of the lackeys, I killed a couple, Taug used Cleave so hard one guy basically exploded (27 damage, he might have had half that many hit points). Crulin was able to use Stunning Fist on the leader so we could have a chat with him.

Will once again volunteered to do the talking. The team, having not learned their lesson from last time, let him. Will tried being pleasant while crouched over the thief, who was tied up on his back. When that failed to produce results, he became angry and cut his hand with the head of an arrow, dripping blood on the very intimidated boss' face, while pretending not to notice he was doing this. The leader confessed the doppelganger had hired his crew to take the relic (though he may not have know he was dealing with a doppelganger), and must have mentioned something about an island far to the east. Will opted to cheerfully ask if the thief had considered accepting Pelor as his savior. Leah incredulously pointed out the guy probably worshipped the same god she did. Well, by that point Will was just messing with the guy for kicks. You may have heard, kicks, they just keep getting harder to find.

We let the guy live, because he promised that, even if he kept stealing, he wouldn't hurt any people. As Leah had pointed out, we already had a thief on our team, who had proved in the tavern she wasn't above (attempting) robbing anyone she pleased, so I suppose Will didn't see that we could throw stones. Or he was uncomfortable killing another helpless foe.

Back in town, we reported what happened, and learned there really was an Ordai, though no one could figure when he'd been replaced. It turned out he's the brother of Vera, the flirty bard we met in the tavern at the start, and she was interested in finding him, and offered her help. Which included hooking all of us up with Legacy Weapons of various types (Will got himself a quiver full of special arrows, and the quiver boosted a couple of his abilities), and a flying carpet. Also, Nylis must have leveled up to the point she unlocked some nifty bonus, because rather suddenly, a griffin showed up to be her companion. She named it Sage. Vera also knew, from her extensive travels, that there was a portal in a village to the east which might lead to that island.

Looking back over this, I'm starting to suspect the DM put the bard back in because she realized we'd never figure things out on our own in time to finish the quest before the field season ended and we scattered to the four winds.

We went east and found the village full of nothing but children. They told us monsters had come, killed all the adults, burned the women, and carried the monsters off through a portal. There was some debate over the next step, because some people wanted to help the kids before proceeding, and others (Will included), did not. Will likes kids about as much as he likes squids, OK? Even among the "leave 'em" camp, there was debate between just leaving them, or seeing if the griffin was hungry. But the kids were ultimately transported to a nearby village where the people agreed to look after them. Then it was back to the ruined village, and through the portal.

We exited the portal on an island, and were immediately confronted with a massive fortress of grey, forbidding rock. Oh, and two flesh golems guarding the entrances. And a minotaur. And a wizard. But we spent too much time playing Child Services, so I'll tell you how things wrapped up next time.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman

The book is what the title suggests. Ackerman looks into the work that's been done in testing how smart birds are, or can be, and in what ways they're smart.

Each chapter deals with a different aspect of their intelligence. So one may deal with their ability to navigate, how we've tested it, what we've learned, what we still don't understand, whether their gifts in that area constitute "intelligence". Other chapters deal with tool creation and usage, or their vocalizations, or their social connections.

Ackerman clearly has a lot of enthusiasm for the subject, and she'll add in her own experiences with observing bird behavior among the discussions of research into the topics. Her stories tend to involve birds that most people in the U.S. would be somewhat familiar with (such as the one about a jay trying to drive a crow off a feeder with a pointed stick, only to have it backfire), emphasizing we aren't just talking about certain rare species in far-off lands. There are birds all over the world that exhibit some of these traits, albeit often belonging to particular families of birds. The corvids - crows, ravens, those guys - are pretty exceptional in tool usage and problem solving. Pigeons and the like not so much, but they have outstanding navigational abilities.

The book provides a look into a lot of the discussions that are going on, the differing theories, and ways people come up with to test the birds. If a dead jay is laid out on a yard, and one jay notices and calls others over, what does that signify? If they all stand in a circle around it for some time, then eventually fly off, is that a sign of intelligence? Or, how much does a lack of predation pressure contribute to being able to use tools?

'For birds, it seems, the quality of relationships, not the quantity, calls for additional brainpower. The mental challenge is not remembering the individual characteristics or hundreds of individuals in large flocks or roosts or managing a large number of casual relationships. The really demanding task - at least from a psychological and cognitive point of view - is forming close alliances, especially forging bonds with a mate and providing long-term parental care to young.'

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What I Bought 7/7/2017 - Part 2

I didn't realize the Justice League movie was coming out this year. I figured that thing was still years away. But until a month ago, I didn't realize the new Spider-Man movie was coming out now, either. I thought it was still a ways off, too. My grade school self would be appalled.

Real Science Adventures #3, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Lo Baker (artist/letterer Flying She-Devils), Wook Jin Clark (artist, The Sparrow), Anthony Clark (colorist), Tessa Stone (letterer, Flying She-Devils), Jeff Powell (letterer, The Sparrow) - A bottle of hooch, a seaplane, and a sturdy tree to lean comfortably against. That covers everything you need.

The She-Devils discover that Mad Jack watering his booze with hooch hurts fuel efficiency, so it's a question of whether they can reach the rendezvous point before they hit "E". Also, Jack isn't out of tricks to try and recover his plane - and his brewmasters - mostly undamaged. As for Sparrow, the Nazis caught her, but she stashed all the munitions she took off soldiers in the base in various places you wouldn't want explosives, so stuff is blowing up, which is going to give her a chance to get loose and wreak more havoc.

Baker's certainly good at drawing characters that show the wear of their lives. Nobody looks too smooth, everybody has a worn look to them, and in the case of Jack and his men, a maniacal look to them. As for the flight combat, which I was curious how Baker would handle, there isn't a lot of it yet, since Mad Jack is still trying to be crafty. The little there was, was OK. Baker breaks up the panels of the action outside with shots of the She-Devils' and the Tongan ladies' efforts to fight them off. Keeps the reader's attention on the stakes. The Sunderland dominates most of the panels it's in, but doesn't convey much sense it's moving. But it's essentially a fortress (not be confused with the B-17 Flying Fortress) under siege. Like in Sahara (the Bogart movie, not the Matthew Mcconaughey one) or whatever story about a small group trying to hold a position against overwhelming odds you prefer. The plane is target, everything else revolves around it.

That said, I don't know if I'm going to stick with it. I can't say I'm incredibly invested in it, and despite Clevinger's efforts to keep things moving at a brisk pace, the same is true of the Sparrow story. Although there it's because it's broken into six page chunks. Just as you start to get into it, it's over for another month.

Copperhead #14, by Jay Faerber (writer), Drew Moss (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer) - No jokes, I just like that cover. It's fairly simple, but it's straightforward and tells you what you need to know: there's gonna be a fight.

The Sheriff is trying to find this assassin, and has to ask Ishmael to lean on some possible sources, which nets them a picture of the killer, right as said killer takes a shot at the sheriff. A fight ensues, and the sheriff narrowly wins. And it's right then that Clay finally reaches Copperhead, and he finds the sheriff immediately. That's probably bad.

I'm wondering what the big surprise is going to be in the next story. Faerber keeps hinting there's more going on with Clay's obsession with reaching the sheriff than her simply being the one who put him away. References to Clay wanting revenge on the partner who sold him out, which makes me wonder if Clara was originally a crook who went straight, or was undercover as Clay's partner, or what. Still wanting to see what Mr. Hickory's plans are. Seems bigger than simply not wanting a sheriff who isn't properly deferential to him. Although my track record on guessing where Faerber's going with a story is so abysmal, I'm not even going to bother.

It's Moss' first fight scene on the book, and it works. He doesn't do anything particularly dynamic with panels or layouts, focuses on the action, two people ultimately punching each other a lot. There's one panel where the sheriff avoids being impaled and he draws her nose as being really wide, but it works as a suggestion of how fast she had to move to dodge, that our view of her is warped by it. I do wonder what happened to all the people that were shown in the background watching the fight right after that, who all seem to have vanished by the end when Clay appears. Granting that a brawl in the streets of Copperhead is probably not unusual, this one involves the relatively new sheriff, which you think would draw interest, if only from people waiting to see if the law is gonna get it in the neck.

There's a page where Clara scopes out the train station, trying to decide who looks like an assassin, only to pan over a whole crowd of rough-looking types and conclude that's going to be a tough call. Moss uses one wide panel, but breaks it up into three with a couple of panel borders, which, I feel works at cross purposes. If you're going for Clara scanning the crowd carefully, one wide panel suggesting an uninterrupted moment would work better. But if you want to suggest she's glancing around, eyes darting from one face to the next, multiple panels are a good idea, but then it probably shouldn't be drawn where a figure that starts on the right side of one panel, continues on the left side of the next. The general impression is still conveyed, but it doesn't work quite as efficiently as it could.

Overall though, Moss is still getting the job done, even if there are some stylistic tics I don't love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Re-Kill

You know how it is, you're wanting to kill some time, or just feel like having something on while you do other stuff. I'm certainly not going to watch something I have real interest in, because I might get interrupted.

Re-Kill is a zombie apocalypse movie, but set after humanity has seemingly reached some sort of equilibrium. The undead are mostly under control, people are back at their jobs and homes, but there are of course still random undead out there who could start the whole mess over again if not found and killed. So there are teams for that, and being America, we have turned their struggle into a TV show, where a camera crew accompanies them on missions, and interviews them, and so on. The movie is basically one "reporter", Jimmy, and his camera guy following one particular team through a series of increasingly bad missions, as it quickly becomes clear the undead are starting to learn and organize. They use strategy, distractions, misdirection, in addition to overwhelming numbers (and these are fast zombies, fyi).

The movie is trying to be a satire, in the same way as the original Robocop. There are lots of commercials, many of which promote sex as part of some American committee promoting repopulation. There's one that shows a couple screwing on a bed and the phrases, "Good for her, good for him, GOOD FOR AMERICA" overlaying the scene. The network is promoting a week of stories about how people survived the apocalypse, at least one of which was probably not a guy surviving a zombie so much as using the apocalypse as cover to kill his pain in the ass father-in-law. The Re-Kill show picks out a rookie on his first mission as their main character and give him lots of screen time, really push the blonde white boy as the star, even though he knows nothing. It's not exactly subtle or difficult targets, but it's more effort than I expected.

The very end end doesn't quite fit. It doesn't take place within the show, but after, as a reveal of how things turned out. SPOILER, the outbreak emerges again and what's left of humanity is trying to hole up in some "ark" hidden inside a mountain, sending out teams to try and rescue any other survivors they get word of. And the one member of the team we followed who survived has become a big wheel in all this. Something about the "massive survival bunker" thing didn't sync up with the rest of the movie for me.

Still, it was a better movie than I expected, and worked as something the pass the time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What I Bought 7/7/2017 - Part 1

I was at the movies over the weekend - although we won't get to the actual film until next week - and I saw the trailer for The Murder on the Orient Express. I initially thought they'd tapped Johnny Depp to play Poirot. That would have been a shitshow, just Depp mugging for the camera like a clown, though my dad's reaction when he found out might have been worth it. He's a big David Suchet Poirot fan. Anyway, here's reviews of some of the comics that arrived late last week.

Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #9, by Jonathan Rivera (writer/story), Gerard Way (story), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (color artist), Clem Robins (letterer) - I went with the Michael Cho variant, not because Oeming's cover was bad, but there was a copy with the variant for a little cheaper, and it's still a good cover.

Pursuit of the Whisperer continues across worlds. Cave's eye is hiding on it, watching everything, for what purpose we still don't know. The Whisperer, through the old man it merged with, gives the usual spiel about how much better everything will be when everyone is united under it's control and guidance. Cave and the others get close of for their Mighty Mole to attach, the MM Mk 2's crew, fully on-board with the Whisperer land. There's a fight, Cave's side wins, although Wild Dog survives a freaking machete to the head, takes the Mk. 2, and get dragged into yet another world, of relative giants, one of which the Whisperer controls and uses to pluck our heroes from it's hide and flings them into the distance.

Story feels like it's playing for time. Rivera and Way threw in a few bits about the justifications the Whisperer's followers are duped into making that feel like an attempt to make a point, plus some stuff about rebooted universes and things carrying over from them, but the latter especially doesn't fit in the flow of the story. It's a big, desperate chase and then blurp, here's a page of blah-blah about rebooting universes. Even the story doesn't want to listen to it (and Wild Dog's asleep during the whole thing) because it abruptly shifts to Cave and Chloe arguing in the front seat about whether alternate universe versions of people will care about you, simply because your universe's version did. Which is a pretty dumb conversation. Why would they? You're the kid of some other me, so what? This issue is not a high point for the series from the writing side of things.

Filardi adds yellow speckles to the panels set on or around the Whisperer, or in worlds he's already affected. The characters don't interact with it or notice is, so it's more like interference on our perspective. It's over everything, but not to a distracting degree, just there, evidence of its presence, or influence. The fight scene was brief, and almost entirely focused around Wild Dog fighting that one guy, so there wasn't much sense of place or flow to it, but it's questionable how important it was in the grand scheme of things. They're ants scrabbling around on the back of a whale.

That said, the panel of a blade getting buried in the top of Wild Dog's skull was an attention-getter. For a moment, I completely bought in to the notion they'd killed him off. And the following panel, of him mocking the guy with the blade still in his head (with a background of neon concentric diamonds centered on where the blade is stuck), that worked too. It's an affecting image, even if I'd expect a lot more blood, even just a moment or two after.

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #4, by Peter David (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), John Dell and Andrew Hennessy (inkers), Jason Keith (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Foolish title, you can't stop those two from fighting. Don't you know you'll only wind up smashed or jumbled, like so many titles before you?

Kaine survives more attempts on his life and heads for Vegas where, in plainclothes, he's mistaken for Ben by both Aunt June and Slate, the latter is back from beating up one of the guys who tried robbing the casino. You'd think even bent cops would prefer you not rip the door off a guy's cell when you aren't supposed to be back there, but I guess there are a lot of bent cops in Vegas. Or doors fall apart quickly.

Slate drags Kaine upstairs to make "Ben" get back to work, which gives Kaine a chance to see everything Ben's up to. He winds up in Ben's lab, Ben's there, tries a sales pitch on Kaine, it doesn't work, they start fighting, including going out a window, which you'd think would attract Ms. Mercury or Slate's attention.

I thought Kaine was bigger than Peter or Ben, as a result of not being an entirely successful cloning attempt. You'd think some people would notice that, maybe not June or Mercury, but Slate, surely, from having fought with the guy a bit. But I think Kaine's died and been reborn a couple times, maybe he shrank in the cosmic laundry.

Hennessy is heavier on the inks than Dell, in that there are pages where the lines on characters' faces seem much more heavily emphasized than others. So the lines on Aunt June's face are more pronounced than they were in previous issues. Sometimes Slate's face is shaded in a way that makes the art vaguely remind me of Stuart Immonen's work. There's still a trend of characters inflicting damage to other people, and the panel being close in on the person being hurt, but very little of the character doing it is visible. So Kaine stomps a guy's hand, or kicks his face, all we see of Kaine is his foot. Which still feels like a way of implying disconnect between the act and the character. Kaine, or Ben, hurting someone, but it doesn't affect them, they don't care, it's just what they have to do (or tell themselves they have to do).

That said, I'm looking forward to what's hopefully a more extended fight sequence next issue. So far the book keeps doing these quick, one or two page skirmishes, before jumping to something else. I don't think they're strictly to keep things from getting too talky, that David and Bagley are trying to highlight some things about the participants by their actions, but it's hard to get into the flow when the fights keep ending just as they start to get interesting.

Also, in the second-to-last panel, I think Keith got it backwards and colored it in as Kaine saying, 'You wanna go? Fine.' when I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be Ben (since Ben is the one who says, "Let's go!' in the next panel.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Earthworm Jim 2.3 - Darwin's Nightmare

Plot: Bob's attempt to flood the universe by backing up the Cosmic Commode fails utterly when Jim jiggles the handle. Bob decides he's going to have to meet the universe on its terms if he's to conquer it, and builds a device that will steal the evolutionary energy from those around him, and transfer it to him. Thus, by the time Jim and Peter confront him on the Planet of Man-eating Socks (thanks to Jim receiving a page from the episode's script), Bob is a dinosaur. Once he adds Jim and Peter's energy, he becomes a human, and our heroes are reduced to cavemen. They are only saved from being chewed up - but not swallowed! - by the socks thanks to Princess What's-Her-Name.

While the Princess futilely tries to re-educate Jim and Peter, Bob begins conquering Earth. Our trio tries to catch him by surprise, by this fails as well, and Bob de-evolves the Princess to some tiny ladybug, while he advances to the state where you have brain so large it exists outside your cranium. He could have finished things right there, but got a little too involved with evil laughter, giving Jim and Peter a chance to clumsily fall out of his warship. Jim tries one last time to be a hero, only for Peter to wind up de-evolved to a trilobite, which pushes Bob further up the evolutionary ladder, where he changes into. . . his original form, which releases the stored up energy back to its original hosts, after which things are settled rather swiftly.

Quote of the Episode: Jim - 'My head is floppy.'

Times Peter turns into a monster: 0 (16 overall).

Cow? A missing link between fish and bovine, but I'll allow it.

Other: Peter does an extended Three Stooges riff, after being re-evolved which just feels like stalling for time until the end of the episode. Jim and Peter, in their cavemen states, do a couple of Beavis and Butthead references, laughing at the word 'but'. There's a couple of Baywatch jokes, a stuffed crust pizza reference, a whole thing with a knock-off of Jacque Costeau who is kind of loopy. It's kind of a strange episode.

They did warn us of at the start, this episode contained scenes of graphic strangeness. I'm just not sure it's strange to me in the way they intended. The whole thing with Bob evolving himself and de-evolving everyone else would seem weirder if we weren't watching a show about an earthworm that was mutated because an alien supersuit fell on him. A supersuit that was built by a guy with a monkey for a head.

The start of the episode also warned us not to sit too close to the TV, because it was bad for our eyes. Then during the massive battle of Earth's militaries against Bob, the picture goes blurry because we've ruined our eyes. By the time we back up to a proper distance, the battle is over. That was a good gag.

Bob being defeated in part because it turns out he was right about fish being the highest form of life in the universe was a good twist.

In the opener, Jim refers to Peter as a 'kettle drum', which sets Peter off with accusations that Jim is saying he's fat. And Jim seems thoroughly annoyed by Peter during it. I thought there was going to be some hostility between them, maybe one of those episodes where the heroes struggle because they're too mad at each other. That's a pretty classic action cartoon plot. But no. Peter must have directed his insecurities about his figure inward, which is going to no doubt manifest in unhealthy fashions. Hopefully not with interpretive dance or the use of puppets.

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Trip Down A Trail of Bad Purchasing Decisions

Due to the holiday, my comics didn't arrive in the mail until today. Meaning I'm not prepared to do reviews, so a different idea. We've all had series we ultimately dropped, that looking back we should have dropped even earlier. It doesn't happen as often for me these days. Mostly because Marvel cancels books so fast that by the time I'm considering dropping a title, it's already gone.

So I'm going to look at some titles I dropped in the past, and then when I should have dropped them. This may be a recurring series, we'll see. I'm going to start as far back as I can recall and work gradually forward. Feel free to share any series from your own experience in the comments.

JLA: I started buying the book during Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch's "Queen of Fables" story arc, probably because there was a lot of buzz from the just concluded "Tower of Babel" story (aka, the one where Ra al'Ghul uses Batman's own secret plans to take down the League). I stuck with it until around #110, in the middle of some story involving the Qwardians and the Crime Syndicate of America from the anti-matter universe. I had no idea what the hell was going on. Probably dropped around #113 or a couple issues earlier.

In retrospect, I should have dropped the book sometime back during Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke's run. Maybe after the story where Martian Manhunter overcomes his weakness to fire (with DIRE CONSEQUENCES). That would be roughly issue #88, but that means I would have stuck it out through that Axis Amerika story, so maybe I'd be better off jumping ship before that, so #79.

How many issues too late - 23 at minimum, possibly as much as 34. Although the book was double-shipping for a little while there.

Uncanny X-Men: Started with Joe Casey's run, probably #396, stuck through the entirety of Chuck Austen's run, into the return of Claremont and Alan Davis. Stupidly enough, it was being introduced to X-23 (wearing the costume of the character Fang from the Shi'ar Imperial Guard for some reason in-story) that drove me off. Oh boy, a girl with a couple of Wolverine's claws, past Calvin said while rolling his eyes.

Well, I also remember wondering what the hell the X-Men were doing being part of the XSE, which was a thing they introduced to the status quo at the time, considering that was part of the mutant-hunting organization Bishop had worked for in his hellish time. But the X-23 thing really seemed to be the straw. I think because with Austen, I had kept thinking he'd either leave and Casey would come back, or they'd get back to the plots Casey had been writing eventually. I didn't keep track of creative team changes to the extent I do these days. Claremont and Davis brought this whole new status quo with them, which seemed to be a clear signal there wasn't going to be any going back to Casey's stuff.

So that's. . . Jesus, did I really buy the book all the way up to #450? It didn't seem like it was that long. Smart play would have been to jump off when Casey and Sean Phillips did, so #409. Austen's first story, which brought in the Juggernaut, wasn't terrible, but why take chances?

How many issues too many - 41. That's gonna be tough to beat.

Sensational Spider-Man: Originally was titled Marvel Knights Spider-Man, switched to Sensational after The Other storyline, and with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina taking over the book from Reginald Hudlin and Pat Lee, I think. I couldn't tolerate Medina's art, and the book hadn't been doing it for me for awhile, so it was dropped at #25.

The book started with a Mark Millar/Terry Dodson 12-issue story, which as Millar-written things go, I found good then, almost tolerable now. There are parts of it I like, the Black Cat getting to play a prominent supporting role being one, but there's also Millar trying too hard as usual to introduce some big reveal. I didn't end up keeping any of the series in my collection, so I could have skipped it entirely. Failing that, I definitely didn't need to stick around for Hudlin's run.

How many issues too many - 13 at minimum, 25 maximum.

Wolverine: This was the second ongoing Logan by that title, the first had concluded after about 190 issues. It started with Greg Rucka/Darick Robertson, then went to Millar and Romita Jr., and eventually wound up in Daniel Way's hands. I dropped it after some particularly boring story where Logan remembers Winter Soldier took some kid of his we never knew Logan had (and neither did he, prior to House of M), and goes after him for revenge. Of course it accomplishes nothing, nobody dies, whoop-de-doo. I wasn't interested in the traipsing through Logan's past, so I dropped the book. And then dumbly picked up the first issue of Wolverine Origins before realizing it was what I was trying to get away from.

I think #39 was the last issue I bought, didn't even stick around for the conclusion of the story.  Enemy of the State and Agent of SHIELD had a certain action movie appeal to them. A Mark Millar written story approximating the dumb summer blockbuster feel? The hell you say. So maybe I could have stuck until #31. But I probably would have been fine dropping after issue #12. Rucka's last storyline is one I didn't even remember until I looked back over the series online.

How many issues too many - 27 maximum, 6 minimum.

New Avengers: I can't even remember why exactly I bought this. I guess because I was buying Avengers when it was canceled, and then this was the only Avengers book on the stands. Hard to believe these days, I know. And I probably figured Bendis could write Spider-Man OK, so it would work out. In theory, I still liked the core of the team he put together (Spidey, Cage, Spider-Woman, Captain America, Iron Man). In practice, well. . .

I dropped the book at issue #20, after the lousy "Collective" story, just before Civil War tie-ins commenced. It would have been better never to buy it at all. There are sporadic pieces in there I liked, but they're scattered among a lot of other junk.

How many issues too many - 20. Let's hear it for blogging about each issue, which helps confront me with the realization I'm not enjoying titles more directly!

Robin: Issue #85, as I was drawn in by the combination of the "Batman Dies!" blurb on the cover, plus the image of an uncertain-looking Robin inside the Joker's head. The book went from Chuck Dixon/Pete Woods, to Woods and Jon Lewis, to Bill Willingham and a slew of artists (mostly Scott McDaniel) to eventually Adam Beechen and Freddie Williams II. Which was when we got the delightful story about Cassandra Cain being crazy and evil. Dropped at #152.

Looking back, it's a bit tricky. The simplest answer would be to drop the book when Willingham took over. There was some initial promise there, but it got buried under a lot of decisions that were out of his hands, like Spoiler's death in War Games, and the death of Jack Drake in Identity Crisis. On the other hand, it was because I was buying the book that I started buying Batgirl, because of a crossover between the two titles. If I drop the book with Willingham, I miss out on Cassandra Cain's series. There's always the chance I come back around to it later, like I have all sorts of other series, but there's no guarantees. So, either #120 or #133 for final issue.

How many issues too many - 18 a minimum, 31 maximum.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man - Bought right from the start because heaven forbid I not buy all Spider-Man books. It opened with parts of "The Other", and I dropped it at #8 when it seemed like they'd introduced an alternate universe version of Uncle Ben who was murdering people. That was a bridge too far, apparently.

Turned out to be a version of the Chameleon from an alternate universe. Or was it a Mysterio? I forget. Smart play would have been not picking it up at all. There were some good issues in there - there's a two-parter where Spidey gets roped into fighting this mysterious luchador being pursued by his own specialized hunter - but there wasn't anything essential.

How many issues too many - 8! Woo, progress! Let's hear it for getting angry about silly things! Impatience won out for once.

Teen Titans - This was the Geoff Johns-written book, combining parts of the Wolfman/Perez Titans with the crew from Young Justice. I started buying it somewhere between #11 and 14. I had #11 for sure, but I'm not positive I bought the next couple of issues. I stuck with it through Identity Crisis fallout, Infinite Crisis tie-ins, and gave up a couple of stories into One Year Later, issue #41. No one on the team liked each other or seemed to want to be there, so why the hell should I keep buying?

Dropping it after #20, the issue that deals with Tim Drake trying not to deal with his father's death, would have been a sound decision. The next story is the one that introduces Speedy (Mia Dearden version) onto the team, but also brings in not-magically lobotomized Dr. Light. Then after that comes a story where Luthor controls Superboy, and man, I have always thought making Superboy's human genetic material come from Lex Luthor was just stupid. It's trying to be too cute, or too obvious with some metaphor. I know, not a surprise coming from Geoff Johns.

How many issues too many - 21. Hmm, so much for progress.

That carries us up through 2006, which seems like a decent place to stop for now. Looking at it, there is just that inertia that's hard to fight against. A story is real good, but I stick through to the end to see if it picks up. It doesn't, but here's another story, maybe they'll do better this time. The potential is there, I'm sure of it. I've liked what the book was doing before, or liked the character before, why can't they just do more stuff like the stuff I liked? Or in the moment, reading the issue, I'm into it, and it's only afterward, going back and looking at it that I shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Although sometimes the writer or artist does something in the story that prompts that response. Using Teen Titans as an example, Johns teased this mysterious blue arrow Roy Harper left for Mia. What could it be? Turns out to be a Phantom Zone Arrow he stole from the Fortress of Solitude on a tour Superman gave, which she tries using against Superboy-Prime. And it works - for about two panels. All that build-up for that.

Where was I? it feels easy to just drift along, buying the book I was always buying. Before I know it, I've got a crapload of comics I never want to read again, that I have to find someplace to donate or otherwise unload them. Still happens now, though not as often. Sometimes even with my back issue hunts. I try something, it turns out to be a dud. Just one of those things.

Anyway, like I said, if you've got a story of a title you stuck with too long, share it in the comments. I'm not going to point and laugh. I mean, you've seen some of the dreck I bought, I've no high ground.