Sunday, July 14, 2024

Sunday Splash Page #331

"Deep in the Red," in Marvel Comics Presents #110, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Steve Lightle (artist), Kelly Corvese (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer)

Marvel's most successful pure anthology run (at least here in the U.S., maybe not overseas), running for 175 issues from the late-80s to the mid-90s. A real staple for the "5 comics in a bag" things at the grocery stores of my youth. Four stories in each issue, different creative teams. Usually a mixture of done-in-ones and multi-chapter stories, spread across several issues. So the image above is from chapter 2 of an 8-part Wolverine and Typhoid Mary story, but that issue also had a one-off story about Nightcrawler encountering a Jack the Ripper-style killer in the streets of London.

Confession time: I own about 30 issues, but they've all been dismantled. I pulled the staples, gathered the page of the specific stories I wanted (like the one above), and then clumsily reassembled them, thereby removing all the chaff. Mostly stories about Venom, War Machine, or Vengeance. Those three really dominate the back half of the run.

As expected, it's a real mix. You get stuff like Sam Keith-illustrated Venom vs. Wolverine stories, or early Pat Lee on a Beast one-shot. Alan Davis dusting off his ClanDestine characters again. Gerry Conway and early Scott Kolins on a 9(!)-part Young Gods story. Nocenti wrote a pair of multi-chapter arcs about Typhoid Mary crossing paths with first Wolverine, then Ghost Rider, culminating in the entire 150th issue being devoted to a story with Wolverine, Daredevil, Vengeance and some vaguely-Silver Sable looking lady all gunning for Mary for various reasons. All of those drawn by Lightle.

There's also a lot of random stuff by writers or artists I've never heard of, lots of very '90s art with absurd physical proportions and a severe lack of visual clarity. That's the risk with anthologies titles. You pay for stuff you don't want along with the stuff you do. I don't think that's why Marvel and DC can't sustain books like that any longer; more likely fans are conditioned to dismiss anthologies as "unimportant" titles. Either that or the majority of writers and artists can't do compelling, or even entertaining, stories in 8 pages.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Saturday Splash Page #133

"Plot Threads," in The Spire #1, by Simon Spurrier (writer), Jeff Stokely (artist), Andre May (colorist), Steve Wands (letterer)

The spire in question is a city, one where the buildings are built almost atop each other, rising into the sky like a pyramid that went through redesigns at several points. From the land surroundings it, a barren plain of rocks that look a bit like skulls, it an imposing and bleak grey monument. Within, a maze of different levels and social strata, all narrow alleys and vertical handholds along the outside of buildings.

Many of the inhabitants look basically like humans, but there are others who don't (to varying degrees), and whose abilities are certainly different from humans. In polite company, they varied lot of them are referred to as "Sculpted." Less politely (or alertly, depending on the speaker's level of peripheral awareness), they're called "Skews."

Constable Sha, head of the City Watch, is a Sculpted. Able to project wire-thin tentacles from her body. Also to knit of reform her body as needed, although this can have deleterious effects on the mind, depending how far you go.

The Spire is a mystery. Who is the mystery killed Sha is tasked to apprehend, and why are they attacking their particular targets? Why is the new Baroness, no fan of the Sculpted in general, or Sha in particular, so pissed about this particular killer? Why doesn't Sha know her past or of any other people like her? It seems like several mysteries, layered upon each other, but with brief flashbacks every issue to a tense carriage ride, it's eventually revealed as one, very old, mystery. Some people try to run from ugly truths, others to bury them.

Stokely creates some varied designs for the Sculpted. Frog-like in one case, in another what seems like a bunch of asparagus that have bundled together into a bipedal organism. The Sculpted without eyes sometimes wear wooden masks with press-on eyes, so others will find them less off-putting, and hopefully not fear them so. Sha has a messenger/comic sidekick, a lumpy and battered looking fairy-thing called Pug. It's like some mashed together a satyr's lower half with the naked upper torso of a child's doll, put fly wings on the back and a peeled potato going bad atop the shoulders.

Sha is very much a Spurrier protagonist, much like Hum in Coda. Cynical, sarcastic, impatient, disrespectful. Likes to talk, though rarely about what's useful. If she complains and snarks, then the other person may push back. Then she can grumble and insult them more. If that doesn't produce results, then she has something to complain about. Win-win.

Friday, July 12, 2024

What I Bought 7/5/2024

My usual comic guy got shorted on his Marvel stuff last week, but I had to visit a different store to pick up a new longbox for Alex, and that guy had Deadpool, so let's take a look at one of the only comics I'm planning to buy this month.

Deadpool #4, by Cody Ziglar (writer), Roge Antonio (penciler), Eric Gapstur (penciler/inker), Jonas Trindade (inker), Guru-eFX (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Can't stop staring at Death Grip's swollen-looking lower lip.

Taskmaster puts Eleanor through her paces, where we see she can eventually figure out how to do acrobatic stuff by watching. The move she does when that happens doesn't entirely match the Spider-Man flip Taskmaster used on her two pages earlier, mostly because she kicks him in the back of the neck on the way down), but I don't know if that's her combining the stuff she's seen him do or something else.

I'm also not sure who's drawing which parts. The lines seem smoother is the first half of the book, fewer extraneous little lines, which makes me think that's Gapstur. There's also one panel where Wade's eyes turn into big hearts because he's so happy about how cool Ellie is that doesn't feel like something Antonio would do, based on the previous three issues.

And her healing abilities also let her build strength faster because she doesn't need to rest long between workouts, though Taskmaster doesn't think she can get super-strength out of it. That's a relief, I was worried Ziglar was going to go nuts with this idea, he said, insincerely.

Still, Deadpool is not prepared to let Eleanor join him on missions, especially not when Death Grip sends a persona video advising Wade to either visit, or prepare to receive visitors. Never one to overlook the chance to ruin someone else's toilet, Deadpool and Taskmaster go to temple. The cannon fodder are, well, cannon fodder, but Death Grip does something that seems to remove Deadpool's healing factor, then cuts him across the chest.

It seems like, if you've incorporated a blade that nullifies healing factors, there's no need to do a specific move to remove said healing factor. Just cut the guy. But I don't really get this cult, either. The acolytes are hoping Deadpool will teach them his ways of being unkillable, but Death Grip is trying to kill him. If they see death as a gift, shouldn't they not want to learn how Deadpool is so hard to kill? Shouldn't they all see him as an abomination?

Maybe this'll make more sense if I read the whole arc after it wraps up next month.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Fen, Bog & Swamp - Annie Proulx

The subtitle of the book is, "A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis," though the book is not so narrowly focused as that. Proulx does spend time discussing how bogs were dug up over turned over for conversion to agriculture, or how swamps were drained or otherwise dried so they could be "useful." Often at public expense, but for the benefit of a very few who buy up all this new land.

She also describes the ecological differences between fens, bogs and swamps. I have helpfully included a photo I took at the Knoxville Zoo several years ago that provides a definition. What plants and animals dominate those habitats, or find refuge there. This can take the form of pages about the immense amount of life found in one cubic foot of Sphagnum mosses in a bog, or the eventual extinctions of the Bachman's warbler or ivory-billed woodpecker.

But Proulx also spends a lot of pages describing how humans have used these locations, back when they were less destructive towards them. This takes the form of pages and pages about all the various archaeological evidence that's been found in bogs, and the new evidence it provides for the lives of Mesolithic people. It also results in Proulx going into great length talking about the destruction of 3 Roman legions by the Gauls, not in Teutoberg forest, but in a narrow pass along the edge of a bog.

Not that this isn't a cool story, and I guess you could argue it relates to human usage of peatlands, but it feels a tad off-course. As do some of the digressions into the destruction of the rainforest. Again, this relates to climate change, release of great amounts of carbon dioxide, but not really about peatlands themselves.

I suppose I expected to learn more about the ecology of the peatlands, be it fens, mangrove swamps, prairie potholes (which are mentioned in passing.) The section about mangrove swamps and the specific challenges different countries were finding in restoring them was very interesting, for example. But that's not really what the book is, given Proulx spends as much time relating stories from her childhood involving exploring fens or swamps, or quoting the reactions of different writers to those sorts of places, as describing anything biological.

'Bodies were deposited in both fens and bogs. Van der Sanden points out that in fen bodies the soft tissues decompose but the skeleton persists. In bogs the soft tissues are preserved but sphagnan dissolves the bones.'

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

The Quarry (2020)

A man (Shea Whigham) is found along the side of the road by a preacher traveling to his new assignment. The man won't say what he was doing there, but the preacher can guess he's on the run. He pulls off in an old quarry far from anything and offers the man a chance to confess.

The man kills him instead, then assumes his identity and assignment, rather than, I don't know, just taking the van and any money and running. The first night in town, he doesn't heed the caretaker's (Catalina Sadino Moreno) advice and bring in his (the preacher's possessions), and they get stolen. Including his bloody shirt. As it turns out, the thieves are her family, and she's also in a relationship with the widower sheriff (Michael Shannon). "Relationship" might be too strong a word; he comes to her place for sex, but never stays the night or for breakfast the next morning.

And so, while the sheriff hunts and arrests Valentin, and ultimately charges him for the murder of the body in the quarry, the man tries to be a preacher, telling others about God, forgiveness, and all that, while watching another man be hunted and tried for his crime.

Whigham plays his role as soft-spoken, when he speaks at all. You'd almost expect that the sheriff would remain silent, allowing the killer to expose himself, but it's the reverse. Shannon always fills the conversations they have, mostly by talking about himself or how the town's gone downhill. He clearly envisioned this as a job where he'd be respected and beloved, the big lawman, and it hasn't worked out like that. Whigham lets him talk and never reveals much of himself.

Everything Whigham does say could be taken two ways. When he tells his (rapidly growing) congregation that he, 'just reads the words,' they take it that he's merely a vessel for God's words to reach them, and so there's no reason for him to speak down to them as the previous preachers apparently did. When really, he's just grasping at straws to keep this facade up. He begins a prayer for the dead man, but is too overcome to continue speaking. No problem, the congregation take it that he's encouraging them to pray aloud as a group. And so it goes.

The way the movie ends - the man asking forgiveness from one unable or unwilling to give it - makes me wonder what the true preacher was running from. He drank excessively, and didn't seem to have much zest for his assignment. He mentions he loved a woman once, which makes me wonder if she was underage or married, but says no one knows about it. But it feels like, when he encouraged Whigham to confess his sins there in the quarry, that he might have been looking for his own absolution, as Whigham is at the end.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Arcing to a Conclusion

I don't know. A solid portion of the U.S. sure loves the Confederate Army, who definitely lost. Or, for another example, Trump. Multiple times bankrupt, convicted of several crimes, lost an election. Complete loser, but beloved by a disturbingly large portion of the dumbasses in this country.

Tangent Comics Volume 3 collects the last 8 one-shots from the original Tangent Comics run. *Deep breath* In order, Superman (Mark Millar, Jackson Guice, Lovern Kindzierski, Comicraft); Wonder Woman (Peter David, Angel Unzueta, Jamie Mendoza, Pam Rambo, Comicraft); Nightwing: Night Force (John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Gloria Vazquez, Comicraft); The Joker's Wild (Karl Kesel and Tom Simmons, Joe Phillips, Jasen Rodriguez, Moose Baumann, Comicraft); The Trials of the Flash (Todd DeZago, Paul Pelletier, Andy Lanning, Joe Rosas, Comicraft), Tales of the Green Lantern (James Robinson, J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray, Lee Loughridge, Comicraft, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mike Mayhew, Wade von Grawbadger, Georges Jeanty, Drew Gerard, Ostrander, Ryan Sook), Powergirl (Ron Marz, Dusty Abell, Dexter Vines, James Sinclair, Chris Eliopoulos); and JLA (Dan Jurgens, Darryl Banks, Norm Rapmund, Rob Schwager, Comicraft)

I'm not sure why they distributed the comics so unevenly between the volumes (6 for the first volume, 5 for volume 2, but 8 here.) Especially given the differences in goals of some of these stories. Superman, Wonder Woman and Powergirl fit in theme with the comics from volume 2. Each provides an origin and introduction for this universe's version of these characters, albeit with wildly different approaches.

Millar's Superman (real name Harvey Dent) is the sole survivor of a covert government experiment performed on a largely African-American town in an attempt to perfect a way to give people super-powers. It worked on one baby, in the sense that his mind is evolved far beyond a normal human's. A Man of Tomorrow. Wonder Woman's the result of an attempt to broker peace between two alien races by combining their genetics into one perfect warrior. Except both races consider her an abomination. And Powergirl is China's second attempt to create a superhuman warrior. She's a real success, but she's not sure she wants to be.

Millar's is fairly cynical, as Dent grows increasingly detached from humanity, dealing with crises because he just wants problems to solve rather than actually caring much about the people he helps. I mean, I doubt those people care, but his girlfriend does care that he's distanced himself from her. The bit where she confesses cheating on him and Harvey responds that he's a telepath, so he knew she was going to cheat before she did made me roll my eyes. I feel like this character heavily informs how Millar writes Reed Richards, but maybe it's just Millar in general.

Peter David turns his story into a running gag, as the title character spends an entire fight having an existential crisis. She's can't help but "wonder" whether she has any right to exist, or if she even does. It gets obnoxious after about three pages, but the payoff is apparently that she can reorder reality by thinking (or wondering) hard enough. She erases the aliens attacking her from existence by simply insisting they don't exist, to the extent all the damage from the battle vanishes, because the two who started the fight never existed to cause the damage in the first place.

Marz only actually brings Powergirl out at the very end of his issue, fitting into the idea of her as a designed weapon who wishes to make her own decisions. None of the people the story follows up to then - the U.S. President, formerly part of a black ops group, the guys from Nightwing, the Chinese government - see her as any thing but a tool to gain advantage. They're all just fighting over who has their finger on the trigger. When she finally arrives, in a design that makes me think of an elaborate doll crossed with NASCAR, they're left standing there gawking as she casually revives the dead and then leaves.

Trials of the Flash, The Joker's Wild, and Tales of the Green Lantern follow-up on the earlier appearances of each character. Green Lantern's is "multiple origins", as she relates three different possible ways (each by a different creative team) she came to exist. Sook seems to channel a lot of Mignola in his story, the characters very angular and sharply defined, while Jeanty's work is very similar to the Dodsons.

Dezago and Pelletier make Trials of the Flash into an extended cartoon, as the Flash's dad spends the entire issue trying increasingly elaborate super-science weapons to capture or kill her, only to have each backfire on him.

So that leaves Night Force and JLA, the former of which heavily leads into the latter, albeit with a lot of stuff about different covert organizations at war with each other. There's Nightwing, but also Meridian, which is like Nightwing but in Europe. Night Force, who think they're fighting Nightwing, but are actually being used by it. And there's a "Dark Circle" which may stand above both, or not. Really feels like something that needed more time to play out. But hey, we find out the USSR is still run by Vampire Josef Stalin. I still think "cryo-frozen, uses a giant mech suit" Stalin from Simonson's FF run is better, but that's pretty cool.

The big ending though is that Stalin's attempts to harvest the souls of three-quarters of the Doom Patrol goes haywire once Night Force shows up and end up combined into some missing puzzle piece monster calling itself the "Ultra-Humanite". Or maybe like a mech whose joints are connected by electric arcs. That rolls into JLA, where the Humanite somehow has armed soldiers surrounding the U.S. capitol building, while he's still busy crushing the Secret Six in two pages somewhere else. And yet another secretive cabal decides they need to kill every superpowered being they can find (except the Ultra-Humanite), and their fuck-ups bring together Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the resurrected original Atom.

It doesn't really work, since it's hard to believe they could actually work together. Jurgens dials back Superman's detachment a bit (though he ignores that Millar's story ended with Dent offering his girlfriend the same powers), but this group just doesn't seem likely to mesh. Wonder Woman's off in her own world half the time and Batman's got his big redemption quest. And Atom's only around for as long as Green Lantern's power let him stay that way. And how did Batman get from London to Missouri so quickly? And why the hell not wait to try and kill the other superpowered types after the Ultra-Humanite's dealt with? See if they solve your problems for you, or failing that, at least wear each other out.

Maybe I just liked the Secret Six group more and wanted to see more of them in action.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Sunday Splash Page #330

"Bank Fraud" in Marvel Adventures Super Heroes (vol. 1) #14, by Paul Tobin (writer), David Baldeon (artist), Sotocolor (colorists), Dave Sharpe (letterer)

So Marvel eventually canceled Marvel Adventures Avengers and replaced it with this book. Instead of a more or less stable cast, this book took a couple of different approaches.

Sometimes it was more of a Marvel Team-Up. Dr. Strange enlists Spider-Man to help deal with some mystical monster babies that eat the threads that hold reality together, or Hawkeye and the Blonde Phantom investigate bank robbers who claim to have Bruce Banner as a hostage and might dose him with laughing gas to unleash a crazed Hulk. Other times the book would have two different solo adventures, similar to the old Tales to Astonish where Ant-Man and the Hulk each got a story. Either way, all done-in-one adventures, usually with some clever solution by the heroes.

Then near the end of its 21-issue run, Tobin started a series of stories about people, first one, then, entire towns, going crazy. The heroes would team-up, then continue working together in subsequent issues and eventually decide they should maybe just go ahead and form a team.

By the time the book started over with a new first issue, we were back at the Avengers after all. Yeah, I don't know. Kind of an odd roster; lot of traditional Avengers - Thor, Vision, Iron Man - but also Nova as designated rookie, and the Invisible Woman (in a non-FF, incredibly generic, outfit.) Black Widow joins up, apparently at the behest of Reed Richards. Who, on the one hand is vaguely concerned about Sue's well-being, but also doesn't really listen to Natasha's reports (especially when she mentions there's sparks between Sue and Captain America.)