Friday, May 07, 2021

Random Back Issues #59 - The Spectre #15

At least when he's passed out in his own vomit he's not condemning his friends' souls to Hell.

The last time we looked at an issue of John Ostrander's Spectre run, it was a fill-in artist issue about a scientist that created life but didn't respect it. This time, we've got that good Tom Mandrake stuff goin'.

Jim Corrigan, and by extension the Spectre, aren't doing too well. A good friend of his died a few issues earlier while the Spectre was tangled up fighting a demon. Jim, being a man from the 1920s and 1930s, deals with his grief like you'd expect: He lashes out. Problem being, he's attached to God's Spirit of Vengeance, so the blast radius is pretty wide.

The issue begins with the Spectre in the Sinai, debating whether to just destroy the planet since humanity is such a bunch of assholes. I identify with that mood. The Phantom Stranger pops up to tell him that wouldn't be allowed. Spectre's not even sure if he'll do it, but if he does, who's gonna stop him?

The Stranger sets off to gather a team of magical forces to help him out. Inza Nelson's rocking the Dr. Fate helm, and she's game. The only other thing she had planned was to maybe use its power to clean up a neighborhood or reupholster her couch, so why not? After that, it's on to a drunkard, a demon, a sorceress, and a woman who does not die. 
Constantine is, as seen up top, unavailable. Although Inza offers to flush his system, and the Stranger basically says, "fuck that guy." Oh well, good thing he wasn't part of whatever ridiculous plan you had. Jason Blood's a little put out nobody ever shows up asking for his help, but to be fair, Jason Blood's kind of a pill. Etrigan is at least cheerful, and curious to see if he's stronger than the Spectre.

I said Etrigan was cheerful, not that he was intelligent.

That's as far as that plotline gets this month. The rest of the issue follows the Spectre, who ventures on to Cairo. A major Palestinian leader is there as part of peace talks, and the Israeli super-powered security group Ostrander and Yale introduced in Suicide Squad, the Hayoth, are there too. But not to kill him. While Saad had committed attacks against Israel, including some that took the lives of their leader Colonel Hacohen's family, he's pushing for peace now, enough extremists on both sides hate him. Better to protect him, and spare more innocent blood.

Well, a certain chalk-white spook in a green cloak has other plans for someone with innocent blood on his hands. The mage Ramban senses his approach, but the Golem's attempt to smash the Spectre gets him scattered over the landscape. Ramban's a little tougher, because his magic draws on the same power that fuels the Spectre. He tries reasoning with the Spectre, that killing Saad will result in more death, but the Spectre brushes that off. He'll just kill those murderers, and anyone else who kills in response to their murders. Brilliant. DC's Spirit of Vengeance may have needed to pass a literacy test, but clearly wasn't imbued with common sense. God must have created that on the 9th Day. 

Though Corrigan can't blast Ramban directly, he can pummel him with large stones. The last member of Hayoth, the assassin Judith, tries getting Dr. Saad to safety (after fighting his security detail), but when she reaches her team's room, Hacohen shoots her. His rage at Saad - plus a certain black diamond - has brought him under Eclipso's control. He pulls the trigger, but the bullet halts in mid-air, and turns into the Spectre. Neat trick. Eclipso calls him "usurper", since he was God's fiery hand first, and they have a brief skirmish before Eclipso bails. Spectre's ready to get back to handing out vengeance, but Ramban explains his life force is now linked with Saad. Will the Spectre take an innocent life to kill this man?

Considering he killed every single person in the civil war-torn country of Vlatava, minus the rival leaders, literally two issues earlier, because he deemed everyone a murderer? Seems like a risky gamble, especially if you're a person who was part of a covert government strike force. Really doubt Ramban's hands are clean, you know? But the Spectre leaves, though his opinion of humanity hasn't improved. And now Eclipso's got plans to take advantage of his unbalanced state. . .

There's a couple more issues to go in this story, and then there's some understandable fallout. Suffice to say, the Phantom Stranger's plan to attack the Spectre is a bust, but a different group has a little more success reaching Corrigan.

[10th longbox, 15th comic. The Spectre (vol. 3) #15, by John Ostrander (writer), Tom Mandrake (artist), Carla Feeny  and Digital Chameleon (colorists), Todd Klein (letterer)]

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Chaplin (1992)

I'm not sure I've ever watched a Charlie Chaplin film (although I want to see The Great Dictator at some point), but I was curious to watch this. Robert Downey Jr., before Tony Stark, Ally McBeal, the rehab stint, all that jazz.

The movie presents Chaplin's life as him, via him discussing his autobiography in the 1960s with either his ghost writer or his publisher (Anthony Hopkins). Which allows the way the narratives told to offer insight into Chaplin, via what he focuses on, what he doesn't. He ignores his father entirely, and we never see the man. Hopkins notes at one point that Chaplin only devoted five sentences to his second wife, the mother of two of his children. This is while the movie is showing them working together on-set and constantly demonstrating affection for one another. 

And that's kind of how it goes. The things that mean the most to him, he keeps hidden. Either he can't find the words, or he doesn't want to share them. So he glosses over it, or makes something up, such as when he describes how he settled on "The Tramp" as a character, how the costume just called to him, and in the middle of this dramatic retelling, with Downey doing all this exaggerated gestures, Hopkins cuts in with "poppycock," and we see the real deal.

Downey plays it that way, too. When Chaplin is around people - fans, cameras, whatever - he assumes this energetic persona. The smiles, the waves, the greetings. A jovial guy. But the minute they turn away, he drops it almost instantly, and he spends a lot of time with this almost blank look. Like he's just waiting for his cue to start acting again. There's a lot of shots of him alone. Alone in a studio, on a street, in his house. Even in crowd sequences, there's often space between him and most other people, like when he visits a pub in England after WWI. The comedian who wonders if people actually like him is apparently a recurring thing, along with the comedian who wants to make films that speak on societal issues.

There's a couple of places where they apply the old style of slapstick film-making to the movie. Such as when they do a Keystone Kops bit when the police are trying to seize the film Chaplin and his studio are working on, because his first wife (played by Milla Jovovich, was not expecting her name in the credits) has listed in as an asset in their divorce. 

For that matter, the whole sequence where he first plays The Tramp was highly entertaining just for how it shows them making films. Basically, that the director (played by Dan Aykroyd, hell of a cast on this movie) shouts out instructions (like "Domino fall") and they react instantly. I guess it's just improv, but I'm used to that as people just talking, not physical comedy like pratfalls and chases.

So there were some funny bits, some sad bits, Chaplin's an interesting figure, and J. Edgar Hoover's in there, being his usual, hateable fascist self.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

What I Bought 5/1/2021 - Part 2

I'd hoped to have more comics to discuss in this round, but I couldn't find a copy of the first issue of You Promised Me Darkness, and the first issue of Jenny Zero, which was originally supposed to be out two weeks ago, is only just out today. So one book is what you get.

White Lily #2, by Preston Poulter (writer), Lovalle Davis (penciler), Walden Wong and Diana Greenhalgh (inkers), Alonso Espinoza (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer) - German bombers are like potato chips, shoot down one and you're hungry for another.

Lilya goes from winning her first dogfight to getting the instructor she beat to take her to bed. Lady who knows what she wants and gets it. It leaves her friend Katya pining, and one of the other pilots, Raisa, jealous. That goes on for six months, and then they're sent to Stalingrad, because most of the air units there are dead. Lilya shoots down a plane in their first real battle, and she Katya, and two other pilots are transferred to the same squadron as Alexi, the instructor she beat. Who Lilya's been keeping up a long-distance relationship with. No time for her to focus on that, because they're really going to get mixed up in the madness of Stalingrad very soon.

Davis continues to use the sideways page approach for the air combat scenes. I think it works better in this issue, because now Lilya's mixed up in huge dogfights with dozens or hundreds of other planes, so it allows for him to simultaneously show the scale of the fight, but have room to focus on smaller details within it. 

It becomes like a vertical double-page splash, where the backdrop is all the other planes flitting around, with Lilya or someone else occasionally in the midground. Then Davis intersperses smaller panels throughout that zoom in on a particular bit of action, or show the perspective from that fighter's cockpit (and he draws some of those panels in the shape of the cockpit glass).

There's also a page where Raisa makes a snide comment about Lilya constantly receiving letters from Alexi, where Davis spends six panels on Lilya pulling out papers, rolling the letter up in them, lighting it, and taking a puff. Then at the bottom of the page, she blows the smoke in Raisa's face. I like the deliberate step-by-step approach there, showing how far she's going for this brief, but satisfying bit of spite.

The bad news is, at the end of the issue there's a note from Poulter that Davis passed away not long after his finished this issue. Which is sad for a lot of reasons, obviously, beyond him not getting to finish this series. That's a low note to finish a review on, but it feels odd to go on discussing the differences in Wong and Greenhalgh's inking styles after that.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Young Sherlock Holmes

Not sure why my dad had this saved as something he wanted to watch. The movie feels the need to run a brief thing at the beginning and end that basically, "Yes, we know this doesn't match the canon established by Doyle's stories, just go with it will ya?" Film equivalent of Silver Age DC's "imaginary story" tag.

Holmes reads notices about two people committing suicide for no apparent reason, and decides there must be foul play. Even more so when one of his mentors ends up the same way. It turns out the victims are being dosed with some hallucinogenic via blowdart, and seeing all sorts of crazy crap. The serpent heads on a guys hat rack seem to come to life and coil around him. Watson is attacked by a crypt full of sweets, although they try to shove themselves down his throat rather than eat him in revenge. Feels like an excuse to show off the finest in mid-1980s special effects, or some props they must have had lying around from an early treatment of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The mystery is no great shakes. Granting that Holmes is not anywhere near the observational genius he'll become at this point, the movie feels more like a high adventure trying to use a half-assed mystery to get to the action set piece. It's really more a matter of how Holmes and Watson are going to overcome the long odds they're up against as two teenagers with no backup.

It's fine as far as a movie about Holmes and Watson meeting as adolescents and solving their first case together goes. The movie does the bit with nods to significant characters or costuming. Holmes already annoying Lestrade all the time, Watson buying an antique pipe that he gifts to Holmes later, Holmes trying to learn the violin and being annoyed he hasn't mastered it after 7 minutes or something. No early examples of Holmes taking illicit drugs, unless his getting dosed with the hallucinogen is what started him on his path of taking opium.

Monday, May 03, 2021

What I Bought 5/1/2021 - Part 1

I think I had less of a reaction to my second vaccination shot than the first. Better than having a worse reaction, certainly. Now I just have to wait another week or so and I'm free and clear, more or less. Although I really doubt all the people I see walking around with no masks are fully vaccinated, or vaccinated at all, given the state I live in.

Whatever. Humanity being fucked is not news. Here's a couple of first issues from Marvel. More pages than their average comic, but more money, too. Unless you buy one of them in less-than-perfect condition like I did.

The Marvels #1, by Kurt Busiek (writer), Yildray Cinar (artist), Richard Isanove (color artist), Simon Bowland (letterer) - I don't know which Torch Alex Ross is drawing there - guessing it's Jim Hammond - but he's got a creepy smile on his face. Not what you want to see when a burning man's bearing down on you.

Whatever the ultimate plot of this is going to be, at least for this first arc, seems to revolve around a place called "Sin-Cong", which seems to be sort of a stand-in for Vietnam. It's in French Indochina, it becomes a Socialist Republic, Flash Thompson went there while in the military (and saw Daredevil perform in a USO show, which is the most bizarre thing in this issue). It tracks. 

Busiek starts in 1947, with a lady fleeing from the All-Winners Squad, then jumps forward several times from there. To Ben Grimm and Reed Richards (pre-rocket flight, and Ben looking taller than Reed, which seems wrong to me, although I think Ben's been getting drawn as bigger and taller for decades now) investigating a strange giant corpse, to Thor and Iron Man fighting a weird dragon out at sea. All the way up to the present, with Frank Castle killing some drug dealers (one of the few universal constants), and the entire building blowing up. Accidentally for once, when Frank's around. And there are some new characters around, watching and talking in vague and ominous phrases. As you do.

It's not exactly what I was expecting. Which was something more along the lines of the old Marvel Comics Presents. A bunch of short stories about different characters which would gradually interconnect. It seems like it'll still sort of be that, but probably done more seamlessly and less gradually than I was thinking. But Kurt Busiek's a writer I trust to pull off something like that more than most comics writers I can think of. Not likely to lose track of plot threads or get too lost in the weeds. No guarantee every thread will play out satisfactorily, but a solid chance.

Cinar and Isanove don't try to switch up their styles as the story moves through different eras. Even though that's a stylistic approach I like, they made the right call. Keeps the feeling of all these different events being part of the same larger story. Things look like they're all over the place, but they're all connected. Cinar's art is very classic superhero, probably descended from the Neal Adams style. Reminds me a bit of Bagley's (although that might be Isanove's coloring), but with a slightly heavier line. The character's are outlined against their surroundings strongly.

Isanove doesn't muddy things up, keeps them bright and clear without going too high-definition. Busiek says in a text piece at the end of the book that while Marvels was superheroes from the average Joes perspective, this series is superheroes from their own perspective. So things really shouldn't look too wild or bizarrely day-glo. Superheroes see weird stuff everyday.

All that said, this feels like the kind of book that might be better read in collected format. If it continues to jump around like it did in this issue. If it settles in and focuses on one or two threads in subsequent issues, where the reader gets something closer to a full story (that's part of something larger), then that's another matter. And again, that's the sort of thing I'd trust Busiek to manage better than most in these decompressed days.

Way of X #1, by Si Spurrier (writer), Bob Quinn (artist), Java Tartaglia (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom Muller (design) - I'm guessing "design" means Muller does the text page/Krakoan files things. Also, I got the Skottie Young variant because this copy is somehow dinged up and it saved me almost $2. I can't see what's wrong with it, but hell, I'm not complaining.

So mutants have their happy, sentient island nation, but Nightcrawler's concerned. The younger mutants are daring each other to get killed because you have to experience resurrection. Pixie succumbs to peer pressure and lets a bigot blow her head off with a shotgun at point blank range. To think Nico Minoru missed out on being in a relationship with someone who has worse judgement than her.

There's also the whole bit where, if you were a depowered mutant and wish to be resurrected with your powers, you have to be murdered through brutal ritual combat first. When a young woman is asking Nightcrawler to do it because he's a kind one (meaning I guess he'd just teleport her head off), things are fucked. Unfortunately, Kurt doesn't understand what she's asking, so she ends up with Magneto cutting her to pieces with jagged metal and insisting they can't simply give that gift to people. Why the fuck not? You sure as hell resurrected Pixie in a hurry and she's clearly a fucking imbecile! Oh, and Chuck Xavier thinks his son is up to no-good. Well sure, why not? Maybe he'll make Chuck eat that stupid helmet.

So in theory, Spurrier's writing about Kurt's attempt to find some larger shared ideals Krakoa can believe in. Except it certainly seems to me they've already found them, namely this blind belief they've transcended normal human thoughts, even as they continue to do all the things human societies do. They're going to resurrect dead mutants, but Pixie gets to jump the line because she knows people, and precogs like Destiny or Blindfold get skipped over entirely. They say "kill no human", but then quickly disqualify all sorts of other life from that definition - like artificial intelligences or other genetically enhanced life - so they can kill it. You have to die horribly to get your powers back. Someone can be barred from resurrection for crimes against mutants and humans (Maddy Pryor), but Mr. Sinister and Magneto are walking around free as birds.

They have a faith already, and it's Apocalypse's. The strong survive. Or maybe the present day United States, where if you die because you can't pay your medical bills, it's your own fault for being poor. Which, to be fair, Dr. Nemesis says is what will happen if Kurt doesn't come up with something. No pressure! If I can't stick with this book, it's going to be because I want to see all these characters die horribly. Without being resurrected. Magneto especially. What a shithead. Someone make him eat that stupid bucket on his head.

Quinn's Nightcrawler is a thin, spends a lot of time with stooped shoulders. Even when he tries to lighten things by pranking Magneto, it ends with him slouched again. The coloring tends to shade his face darker, casting a cloud over him because he's troubled or depressed. A lot of characters shown as standing above or over Kurt - Xavier, Magneto, Legion, Dr. Nemesis. Either the ones making things happen while Kurt's stuck and indecisive, or just assholes. Mopey, Depressed Nightcrawler is not my favorite (and I still can't believe they didn't put Nightcrawler in Marauders. It's a book about X-Men being pirates and you didn't include the most pirate-obsessed X-Man of all.)

Also, those Krakoan file pages are straight garbage. They're so wildly different from how the actual drawn pages look that I kept thinking they were ads and skipping right past them. As it is, I could barely bother to go back and read them once I realized my mistake. Why would I want to read an organizational flowchart? I can do that shit at work, if I feel like making experience deep regret about my life choices.

Ultimately, I think both these books can get one more issue, but beyond that, I'm really not sure. I guess Way of X made me think more, but it may have simply crystallized a lot of issues I had with the current direction of the X-books as is. And it's entirely possible everything that bugs me is part of a plan, but do I trust the group of writers to not draw a frankly terrible conclusion. Probably not.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #164

"Bullets and Bike Shorts" in Domino (vol. 1) #2, by Ben Raab (writer), David Perrin (penciler), Harry Candelario (inker), Joe Rosas and Heroic Age (colorists), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letterers)

Welcome to Mercenary May! I couldn't come up with an appropriate alliterative title using "Domino", and the last Sunday on the month will be a different character anyway.

As far as options for this three-issue mini-series went, it was really either this, or the splash page from issue #1 of Domino in a bikini at Carnival. Where the captions describe her as 'having the time of her life', while the art makes her look bored. Or like her mind has left her body.

I don't know what prompted this mini-series to exist, other than it was Marvel in the late '90s (this came out in 1997), and so anything X-adjacent was worth a shot on a floundering ship. I guess not much had been done with Domino's backstory, so they figured it's free real estate. Raab goes the "never before mentioned spouse" approach, as we learn Domino fell for a guy with predictive abilities she was assigned to guard when she worked for, I'm not sure, Department H or SHIELD, or something. A group that has access to Mandroid armors, and least Henry Peter Gyrich in the door.

Domino thought the guy got killed by AIM years ago, but finds out from Puck (who doesn't love Puck?) that isn't the case. Donald Pierce, Lady Deathstrike, and the Reavers play the antagonists, as Pierce wants to put Milo's mind into electronic form so he can use it to dominate world markets or something. I dunno, like Domino, I tuned out when Pierce started monologuing about how Fitzroy's weird Sentinels didn't kill him in that issue of Uncanny X-Men (which is almost certainly more notable for appearing to have been Emma Frost's death).

Raab writes Domino as the sort who likes to banter and throw juvenile insults. She's impulsive and quick to act, which is a little strange, since I remember her playing more of a moderating presence in X-Force. I guess when she doesn't have to keep a bunch of teenagers (and Cable) under control, she lets loose.

At times, she's written as really relying on her luck power to help her somehow, but other times it just seems to save the day when she's not expecting it. Which is good, because she spends most of this story seeming completely outclassed. Her fight against Lady Deathstrike presents Deathstrike as almost like a Terminator, the flesh parts being steadily burned or shot away, increasingly revealing the metal underneath. Domino's barely staying alive, closer to Sarah Conner in the first Terminator than T2.

Perrin gives her the bike shorts and exposed midriff sports bra look above, which, maybe that was her usual look back in the '90s, I don't know. At one point she's wearing a skullcap to keep her hair under control while she infiltrates the base, but it's not like all her chalk-white exposed skin isn't going to stand out like a flare in a nighttime environment.

I own this because it was included in a collection of Domino stories Marvel released to coincide with Deadpool 2, along with next week's entry. From what I understand, it's the more highly-regarded Domino mini-series.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Random Back Issues #58 - The Mighty Thor #362

Sometimes the dice give me a comic nobody's talked about that turns out to be fun to dig into. Sometimes they give me one 500 other comic bloggers have already discussed extensively.

Probably the most famous issue of Walt Simonson's run on Thor (I figure either the Beta Ray Bill issues that started it or the all-splash-page fight with the Midgard Serpent are the other two candidates.) Thor led a host of Asgardian warriors into Hel to recover a bunch of mortal souls Hela isn't supposed to have. Noble as that is, Thor's also trying to avoid dealing with Odin being locked in battle with Surtur somewhere he can't reach. Plus the fact he said some harsh things to Sif while under the control of Enchantress' sister, Lorelei.

The mission's a rough go, as you'd expect when trying to steal from a death goddess. Some of the Einherjar are lured to their doom by visions of their loved ones. Balder's trying to hold it together since he barely made it out of Hel once before, and was a traumatized wreck for months after. Having his dead wife try kill him while proclaiming her hatred isn't helping. Although Thor finds out she lied to help Balder move on from her. Not sure how sound a strategy that is. Thor ultimately challenges Hela to a fight, one-on-one, for the souls. He wins, but she just about pimp slaps the lower half of his face off.

Still, souls won, and Hela having sworn to let them leave, it's time to go. Then Hela pops up, bringing along Skurge the Executioner. He was part of the army, but broke off when he found the Enchantress waiting. Balder reminds him things often aren't as they seem, and Skurge cuts through the illusion, revealing someone named Mordonna. Hela offers Skurge a job sailing the ship of the damned (made from the fingernails of the dead) once it's finished. She's actually hoping he'll attack her, so she can attack Thor and the others without breaking her word. Wonder what she'd have done if he shrugged and said, "Sure, mama always wanted me to be a sailor man."

Instead, Skurge blows up her fingernail ship with his axe. Whoops. With Hela now furious beyond measure, everyone beats a hasty retreat, only to find their path barred by all the warriors they've ever slain. Thor leads the charge through, and they're on their way to the Gjallerbru, the bridge that takes them out of Hel. But the tunnels beyond the bridge are dark, not suited for swift travel. They won't be able to stay ahead of the dead in there, not unless someone stays behind to hold the line. Someone brave, and strong, prepared to fight for honor.

Someone like Thor. Or, well, no, Skurge sucker-punches Thor. Nobody's real happy about that, but he explains he's going to hold the bridge instead. He's tired of feeling like everyone jerks him around and plays him for a sap, the Enchantress at the top of that list. So, rather than go back to that life, to letting himself be led around by the nose and losing all his self-respect, he's going out in a blaze of glory. And he does. Not one of Hela's forces gets past him, even at cost of his life. His stand apparently so heroic, that even Hela herself bows to him (and later allows him to leave for a happier realm of the dead, claiming one as noble as he doesn't belong there.)

Thor wakes up as they navigate the tunnels. Disappointed he lost his chance to escape his emotional turmoil in battle, but agreeing Skurge needed it more. Get the feeling Thor would not have minded dying in battle there, even though it would have been bad for those souls, and worse for Asgard. Meanwhile, they're almost clear, but Hela's guardian hound Garm is waiting. Too bad he's got to deal with a pissed off thunder god. It takes just one hit, and Thor's glad he didn't let his anger get the best of him and kill Garm, as he still has some role to play in the world's tale.

Safely away, the Asgardians return home to their families and ruined homes, while Thor ferries the souls back to Earth. While there, he's going to get roped into a combination Secret Wars II tie-in/Power Pack team-up. Then he gets turned into a frog. Being turned into a frog doesn't do much to stop him from beating Loki's face in.

We never actually see the extent of the damage Hela does to Thor's face. Either he covers it with a piece of his cape, or its kept in shadow when he shows others. Two drunks that tried mouthing off to him lose their lunches at the sight. Eventually, he grows a beard, which he maintains for the remainder of Simonson's run. DeFalco and Frenz shave it off immediately, revealing his wounds have healed. Skurge pops up again late in Simonson's run, when Thor has reason to settle some things with Hela.

[11th longbox, 117th comic. The Mighty Thor #362, by Walt Simonson (writer/artist), Max Scheele (colorist), John Workman Jr. (letterer)]