Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Cool World

Remarkably, No Escape Room was not the worst movie I watched two Saturdays ago. All those early '90s comics that had ads for this on the inside cover, and I'd never seen it.

I didn't know how good I had it. I gave up on this after 50 minutes, and that was at least 35 minutes too long. It's like someone decided to do the '90s Image Comics version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, right down to really shitty art and incoherent plot. There's a whole toon world, and a cartoonist in the '90s who thinks he created it, except it already existed in the 1940s long enough to bring Brad Pitt over there right after his mother dies in a motorcycle accident.

Just the parts I saw have all these random digressions into toon stupidity, but not in a way that really tells you anything you hadn't already figured out about the "Cool World", namely that it's a depressing, crime-ridden shithole. The Jessica Rabbit stand-in, Holli, wants into the real world because girls can feel things there? She clearly already feels envy, so I'm not sure what she's missing. The cartoonist guy's been popping over there enough Brad Pitt knows about it, but the cartoonist acts befuddled every freaking time.

It felt like watching an extended Ren & Stimpy episode, with all sorts of nonsensical crap stuffed in that's supposed to be funny, but is really just trying to pad it out. Early strong contender for worst movie I watch this year! At least, I hope I don't watch something worse than this.

Monday, March 01, 2021

You Might Give It the Slip, but Time Catches Up Eventually

Chase Stein being unable to successfully fight anyone is a truly hilarious character trait and I love it.

While I've begun picking up the current volume of Runaways as it comes out, I've also been backtracking to buy the tpbs of the earlier issues I missed. I picked up Volume 1 late last fall, but we're on Volume 2 today, which is largely about growing up. Either being afraid of it, disillusioned by the realities, or just unsure about it. Kris Anka draws a lot of characters looking nervous or uncomfortable, trying to avoid eye contact like it'll save them from unpleasant emotional issues.

Having reunited most of the team in those first six issues, and determined Molly's grandmother was a genetic engineer who created Molly's parents artificially, they're mostly living in the underground base that used to belong to their parents. But Molly still has school, Victor has no body, and Gert is - via the magic of time travel - back after being dead three years. So there are things to address. For one, someone has to be Molly's parents now.

Oh. Guess that takes care of that. Now all Molly has to deal with is whether or not she would like to avoid ever having to grow up by eating an enchanted cupcake her best friend received from the Enchantress in the 1960s. And most of the others keep implying that growing older is, in fact terrible, but also that they don't entirely take her seriously as long as she's so much younger than they are.

Against that backdrop, Karolina's girlfriend Julie Power (aka Lightspeed from Power Pack) shows up, only to be repeatedly brushed off or ignored by Karolina. Either Rowell didn't like those two being a couple, because she almost immediately puts Karolina and Nico together, or she didn't feel like keeping Julie as a regular cast member. I guess having a significant other who's actually a successful superhero (as Julie notes, the Runaways kind of suck at saving the day. Their casualty rate probably rivals the Suicide Squad's, if not the Great Lakes Avengers) would probably complicate the stories she wants to tell. When Julie eats the magic cupcake, she immediately starts calling Dr. Strange or Tony Stark, and that is. . . pretty much the opposite of how Karolina's crew runs. 

When they're talking, Anka usually drawing them in separate panels, so there's a sense of isolation. When they are in the same panel, they don't seem to be making eye contact. Usually because Karolina's look elsewhere, and more than once that elsewhere is Nico. Triona Farrell colors the backgrounds for those conversations a lot of cool blues. Which isn't unfriendly, exactly, but kind of melancholy. And when it shifts, it's to something red when Julie's starting to get frustrated with how her girlfriend won't share or discuss anything with her.

And in the middle of all that, a Doombot shows up intent on rescuing Victor and giving him a snazzy new robot body. Which Victor very much does not want. We find out why in the last issue in this trade, unless you read that Tom King Vision series, in which case you probably already know. I didn't read it, because all Tom King's stuff seems horribly depressing and/or complete shit, but the magic of the Internet meant I didn't have to. Anyway, Doombot's arrogance and extreme theatricality are a nice contrast to the main cast's constant snark and sarcasm (except Molly, who is enthusiasm personified most of the time.) Plus, this Doombot wears a nice green suit and his hood is part of a big coat (which he sorts of wears like a cape). He generally looks very snazzy and definitely classes up any room he enters. Unless he destroys it when he enters.

Somewhat in the background through all this is Gert's situation. For her, it's as if no time passed, but for everyone else, she's been dead three years. She's closer to Molly's age than Nico, Chase, or Karolina's, all of whom are legally adults now. So she's trying to figure out where she fits. Like everyone else, she has to adjust to a new situation, but unlike Chase or Nico who can have a concrete goal of finding employment, Gert isn't sure what she should do.

Rowell and Anka also take the time to address the fate of Clara, who I think the team picked up during a time-traveling adventure that was part of the frequently delayed Joss Whedon run that torpedoed the momentum of the book for years to come. And things actually turned out well for Clara! She gets a happy fate, which is nice. Again, I don't know if Rowell didn't want to write, or simply didn't have anything planned for her, but either way, this is a perfectly good way to handle it. Somebody should get to have nice parents.

I'm sure someone who understood fashion cold go in-depth about what Anka is telling us about each character with the clothes they wear. I am not that person. All I can tell you is there's an interesting variety. Enough that I actually notice, which is more than I usually bother to do with what characters wear. But the characters are mostly standing around talking, except sometimes they sit, so I gotta have something to look at. There's a couple of brief fight scenes, which mostly involve the team getting pummeled, and Anka does fine with those.

One thing that kept tripping me up is that a lot of the pages are set up to be read across the two facing pages, rather than reading down the left page, then the right. I don't know if that's Anka or Rowell, but they seem to favor it more than a lot of creators I've seen, and I ended up confused more than once because I'd start down the page, then have to stop and catch myself. I think the wider horizontal gutters were supposed to guide me, but it didn't work very well.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #155

"There's a Void Inside Me. Outside Me, Too," in Dial H #3, by China Mieville (writer), Mateus Santolouco (artist), Tanya and Richard Horie (colorists), Steve Wands (letterer)

I wouldn't describe DC's New 52 as a success. That they abandoned it at least partially by summer of 2015 with the "DC You" branding (and then entirely with "DC Rebirth" a year after that), less than four years in, would suggest they agreed.

There were a lot of factors. DC throwing out their history and legacies, but even more half-assedly than they did after Crisis on the Infinite Earths. So Batman could still have four Robins (in 5 years, apparently), but there could only be one Batgirl (Barbara, naturally). Four Earth Green Lanterns (and Geoff Johns just kept doing the same stories he already had going), but only one Flash (Barry, naturally). 

The Jim Lee redesigned costumes, were to put it politely, too busy. To put it bluntly, they sucked. The claim that things were going to be new, but the majority of the books were helmed by guys who had been writing comics for decades didn't help. I've enjoyed Tom DeFalco's work, but he's not a writer I'd turn to for something new. Then editorial kept driving creative talent off books with heavy-handed oversight. Not much point to putting George Perez on Superman, only to piss him off in less than 6 issues.

Saying all that, it did give me 16 issues of China Mieville's Dial H series, so it wasn't a complete loss. DC canceled some titles 8 months in, and Dial H was one of the replacements. It's one of the few real examples of DC trying to get outside the box, in the sense they brought in a published, award-winning novelist with, to my knowledge, no prior comic writing experience. If you're looking for something "new" and attention-getting to be done with your characters, that's a better bet than handing them to Scott Lobdell.

Mieville dives into the concept of the dials, how they were made, how they work, how they end up where they end up. Gives them an air of body and especially psychological horror. The toll it takes on the person who uses it, to have another entire personality and memory super-imposed over their own, especially one that seems so much greater than them. One of the two main characters (Nelson) struggles to keep track of who he is and what he planned to use the powers to do when he dials, while the other (Roxie) hides whatever identity she dials behind her own mask, costume, and codename, as a way to keep her mind clear.

There was also an entire issue based around the idea some of the dialed heroes are just too culturally offensive to go out as in public unless there's no other option, which was pretty hilarious, and a fair point, given comics' questionable history when it comes to depicting races, cultural trends, sexual preferences, so on.

As far as the designs for the dialed characters, I don't know where the breakdown is between Mieville and his artists (Mateus Santolouco for issues 0-5, David Lapham for issues 6 and 7, Alberto Ponticelli for 8-15), but the designs are great. From the creepy Boy Chimney, to the ridiculous Cock-a-Hoop, to the Glimpse (who is drawn so you only ever see a small bit of him in the panels). There's an essentially sentient mass of plankton that beats the crap out of a whale. Like I said, I don't know who gets credit, but all parties involved did a great job coming up with some interesting designs and powers to go with them.

Lapham's work is probably the closest to a realistic looking, and the two issues he draws involve the least action by dialed heroes, focused more on a Canadian secret agent with powers. Who is basically a guy in a suit, so it works. Santolouco's art is heavier on shadows, characters look more shell-shocked or freaked out by what's going on. By the time Ponticelli takes over as artist, most of the characters are ones used to this dial stuff, and they just looked kind of tired. His art has a grimy texture, and everybody looks older. His linework's also busier than the other two, a lot more extra shading and scratch mark lines, to the point of overdoing it at times. 

Some of that might have been deadlines, because things clearly get rushed at the end. Mieville had a big, universe-hopping arc going, with Nelson and Roxie teaming up with a crew called The Dial Bunch to chase a dangerous "Operator". Unfortunately, DC canceled the book at issue 15, and you can tell Mieville and Ponticelli were scrambling hard to cram enough in to make some sort of a coherent ending. Which they managed, at times quite well. Mieville ends up just alluding to several worlds they've visited along the way, making it seem as though they may have been at this for years. But if they had even another five issues, it could have been so much better.

There was a post-script of sorts, when DC did a "Villains Month", called Dial E (but it was an issue of Justice League, #23.3). It was one of those jam comics, where each page is by a different artist, and it's as much a mess as those usually are. But it did provide a little bit about the fate of at least a couple of the characters.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Random Back Issues #55 - Amazing Spider-Man #281

How long you think Hydro-Man's been waiting to use that one? For that matter, how long did it take him to think it up?

An opportunity to use my "sinister syndicate" label! It's a great day! This is the second part of the first story that actually introduced that bunch. I have a soft spot for them since they formed to improve their chances of making money, rather than out of a desire for revenge.

Silver Sable's put Spidey on the payroll to help her catch Jack O'Lantern, and how nice, Jack called to tell her he'll be at Coney Island at midnight. Sable knows it's a trap, but figures with Spidey along they've got it under control. Now they're up against five super-villains (although Sable's disappointed none of them have a decent bounty on their heads.) Oh yeah, and Spidey's nursing an injured shoulder after he tripped Speed Demon last issue, and Sable hurt both her ankles kicking the Beetle. You know, the guy in the powered suit of metal armor. (She's not coming off as very bright, especially since she's putting a wrap on the right ankle she insists isn't too bad, rather than the left.)

Things look bad, but then the Sandman decides to join the party, having heard the commotion. Spidey and Sable dip out, but you know Parker's not going to abandon someone in need, so back they go. Sandman's doing pretty well when he lets Rhino just pass through him, but tries to match him power for power and gets smashed, then scattered by Speed Demon. He pulls himself together in time to go at it with Hydro-Man, as those two apparently really don't like each other. I do enjoy those kinds of petty beefs among villains. It's fun. 
Although Sandman describing Hydro-Man as like looking into a 'broken, distorted mirror,' is a bit much. But this is part of that gradual shift to being a good guy Sandman went through for a few years in the '80s and '90s, so I guess he's gotta feel bad about his past behavior.

Silver Sable takes out the source of Beetle's sting blasts (his antennae?) and Spidey slams him into a roof, then stops Boomerang. Unfortunately, Hydro-Man's learned turf beats surf and goes for the easier target (Sable) instead. Spidey disrupts his concentration by throwing Boomerang through him, giving her the chance to grab a fire extinguisher and spray it into waterboy, which makes him nauseous? Sure, fine. Unfortunately, Spidey took a serious hit in the back from the Rhino to make that throw. Fortunately, this activates his secret super-power (at least when DeFalco's writing him), The Desperation Flurry.

Sandman gets the drop on Speed Demon (who was already had one foot out the door wondering what it took to stop Spidey), but Hydro-Man gets the webslinger off Rhino and the villains retreat. Sable tells Spidey he's not getting paid because he quit when he chose to come back to help Sandman, but she wonders if Sandman would like a job? (As we saw in Random Back Issues #20, the answer's yes.) That lady is a shitty, shitty boss. Probably deducts funeral expenses from their pay. Spidey tries swinging home, broke and broken, and collapses on a roof before long, wondering if he got a permanent brain injury. Well, that would explain so many things from the late-2000s.

In other developments, the "Who is Hobgoblin?" story still isn't finished. Flash Thompson was arrested in a costume, but Robbie Robertson isn't convinced. Then Jack O'Lantern breaks Flash out of jail, thinking rescuing the Hobgoblin will make him a player in the New York underworld. What it actually does is piss the real Hobgoblin off. I don't know how framing Flash was going to work long-term since presumably the Hobgoblin would want to get back out there at some point.
The two of them fight from inside Jack's base out onto the rooftops, but it ends inconclusively. Hobgoblin gets Jack with a 'computerized barrage of electro-blasts', but Jack's armor protects him long enough to hit Hobgoblin with a pumpkin bomb, sending him careening into a storefront window. Meanwhile, Flash escaped in the confusion and is wandering the streets, unsure what to do.

The Hobgoblin thing has a ways to go yet, and of course the eventual end (Ned Leeds), ends up being retconned later, but at this point they've been teasing the mystery out for like 40 issues, which is just way too long.

[1st longbox, 60th comic. Amazing Spider #281, by Tom DeFalco (writer), Ron Frenz (story layouts), Brett Breeding (pencils and inks), Nelson Yomtov (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)]

Thursday, February 25, 2021

No Escape Room

A dad's trying to make his one weekend a month with his disinterested teen daughter a fun one, but their car breaks down. But wait, the town they're in has an escape room, and she's mentioned those, so they go. They meet three other people they'll be working with, and an odd young woman named Josie who offers them tea and explains the house was owned by an inventor and that there are rumors about it. The game begins, and things go wrong.

I think my biggest issue with the movie is it can't decide what kind of horror it's going for. Are there monsters loose in the house? Sometimes, maybe. Is it ghosts? Possibly. Is there time travel? Apparently so. What's the deal with the scene where the dad steps through a door and ends up next to a river and a random woman emerges to make out with him until chains wrap around him and nearly drag him underwater (but don't, for reasons that are also unclear)? When one of the other players picks up the phone and is talking to her earlier self, why does she just repeat what she heard herself say? Why does she still tell her boyfriend to run away, even knowing how that ended for him (badly)?

If the inventor is interested in the dead and the spirit realm, why would he be fucking with time travel? Why all the weird locks and gears in the walls of the house? In that sense, the house reminds me of the one from Thirteen Ghosts, except it looks normal instead of being all clear glass walls and whatnot.

Entirely out of nowhere late in the movie, the daughter hypothesizes that they are caught in an "echo" as she puts it. Why would she come to that specific conclusion at that moment? Why does the monster wait as long as it does to drag away the guy that came alone? It's not even a particularly effective moment, and we don't ever see a body. It's like they realized, "oops, we need this character to be dead now," and so they just did it.

The movie could have done something with the tea being drugged and it being a sort of slow-creeping, unsettling horror where they can't trust their eyes. Things being just a bit off-center. Or it could have really leaned into things being messed up, but done a better job establishing some sort of rules for how that shit worked. It didn't really do either, but I guess the title is accurate based on the ending. Points for that?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

May is for Collections, Maybe

The solicitations for May are not as encouraging overall as those for April. However, if we're talking quality over quantity, Volume 4 of Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin's Bandette is coming out! Whoo! Everything is coming up Calvin! The rest of these solicitations can go pound sand, who gives a damn about them?!

. . .

OK, fine, we'll keep going.

DC is bringing the Milestone characters back, again. Just like the last, what two, three? times they did that, it will probably peter out after six months or so. Still, it's better than Marvel doing a Heroes Reborn mini-series.

*forehead strikes desk repeatedly*

I'm sure there are some people who have enough faith in Al Ewing to go for that, but I'm not one of them. To be fair, it seems mostly to be a world where the Squadron Supreme are the big heroes, and most of the typical Marvel heavyweights are absent. If you think that just sounds like DC with the Justice League, well, one of the tie-in series is Peter Parker as a photographer who is also Hyperion's best friend, which, you know, would not do anything do dispel your concerns.

With Marvel, The Union is wrapping up, Iron Fist will be on its penultimate issue, Black Knight's at issue 3. Runaways' solicitations says it can't even show us the cover for the issue because it would spoil possibly the best comic of 2021. I don't know man, that first issue of Iron Fist had Danny Rand knock an undead ninja's skull off with another undead ninja's arm. That's gonna be tough to beat. Black Cat gets a visit from a certain spider, and Way of X does not help its cause with a solicit about a threat in the mindscape, which makes me think Shadow King. No Shadow King, please.

Image has the trade of Dan Watters and Jan Wijngaard's Limbo, which came out five years ago, but I'd swear I saw this solicit for the first time before the time of plague, but maybe not.

Behemoth Comics has the second issue of You Promised Me Darkness, so if I like the first issue, that'll be something to look forward to. There's also Freak Snow by Kevin Roditeli and Rob Cannon, about a guy addicted to psychedelics living in a frozen wasteland on a quest to find a mystic hole of truth. Could be fun, could also be a complete mess.

Mad Cave has a tpb of Hollywood Trash, about two garbagemen who steal from a powerful executive and must survive his attempts to kill them via swords and giant mechs. Also forest fires, but this is set in California, those could be unrelated fires. Vault has the first volume of Brandon Sanderson's Dark One, where a man learns he's prophesied to travel to another realm and become a great destroyer, and has to embrace that? Doesn't that seem like a fate you should be trying to avert? But in this day and age, who hasn't had thoughts of destroying everything?

Beyond that, there's the fourth issue of White Lily from Red 5 Comics, and Source Point has Graham Misuriak and A.L. Jones' Yuki vs. Panda, about a panda that has spent ten years bent on revenge against a schoolgirl for something that happened at the zoo. It sounds bizarre enough to be worth a look, you can go different ways with that.

Scout Comics has the tpb of Sweet Downfall, the story about the crash test dummy turned hitman, I reviewed the sampler issue of last month. And there's a "Legendary Edition" of something called Phantom Starkiller, about a 'cosmic ghoul warrior', based on a toyline? Points for the name alone, though.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Ice Museum - Joanna Kavenna

Kavenna travels to many different places that have been suggested as the mythical Thule that Pytheas says he reached back in fourth century B.C. It's also about what "Thule" as a notion or concept meant or means to different people, and why certain places either did or didn't match those expectations.

For example, the first place Kavenna tries is the Shetland Islands, because the Greeks knew of Britain, and the Shetlands would have been within the six days of sailing Pytheas said he did when he left Scotland and reached Thule. And she discusses what she sees and finds when she travels there, how it makes her feel, but also how it was common for would-be explorers of Victorian England to travel to the Shetlands seeking Thule. Only it seemed too close, too normal, to be such a fanciful place to them. So they set their sights elsewhere, pushing Thule further away.

Sometimes it goes that way. People reach a land they think is strange, but once they've reached it, well, it's just not strange enough is it? But in other cases, it goes the opposite direction. Fridtjof Nansen explored the north polar region, searching for both Thule and a way to the North Pole, but ultimately decided his homeland of Norway was Thule. Kavenna speaks with a former President of Estonia who is convinced that it is Thule, that when Pytheas speaks of the natives taking him to the place where the sun sets, he's referring to an island off the coast where a meteor struck centuries earlier. That the memories of that moment, the explosion, the fire, handed been handed down through the locals, and that's what they showed Pytheas.

And, because the Nazis got it in their heads that Thule was like some Aryan paradise, she has to talk about that for a while. I could have done without that. The only thing I need to know went through Himmler's brain is a bullet.

Kavenna's writing style is very flowery. She's really working hard to try and describe what she's experiencing as she visits all these different northern realms. So a lot of descriptions of the color of the sea and the sky, or the little communities that hang on up there somehow. It feels excessive, maybe because I doubt the words can really do it justice. But I can appreciate the attempt. 

Unfortunately, she's also kind of judgmental and a little condescending in how she describes some of the people she talks with. Like one lady who lives in the very northernmost part of Norway, she feels she needs to mention the inside of the woman's house is adorned with 'ugly china.' Why? One, I don't know what qualifies as 'ugly china', so it doesn't really give me a sense of the setting any more than just saying 'china figurines' would have. Two, what the fuck does that have to do with anything? I'm not here for Kavenna to Marie Kondo this woman's home. She lives up on the proverbial welldigger's bum of the world, let her decorate how she wants.

Kavenna admits that she often has the desire to move to new places, and also to flee the city for remote locations. And the way she writes about people does convey the air of her being a tourist. She shows up, admires the scenery, looks down at the locals, and moves on to the next place. Not so different from some of the Victorians she describes complaining because they couldn't take their fancy dinnerware on horseback across Iceland.

'It was a realistic sublime: the glacier was beautiful and spotless; the ice fields of Iceland, looming above the blistered plains and the curdled pools, supplied a sense of ancient space. It was a Thule of silence, a Thule of magnificent mountains and cold glaciers. A deep-time Thule, the indifferent ages revealed in nature, in the vast and implacable ice.'