Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The Hoodlum Saint (1946)

William Powell plays a journalist back from fighting in World War I. He finds a severe shortage of jobs, but manages to talk his way into working for a big paper after impressing the owner's daughter (played by Esther Williams) by sneaking into a high society wedding. Then, after having convinced the paper to really hammer a banking magnate, he switches sides and runs a P.R. campaign for the banking magnate. Which somehow gets him to executive vice president and giving financial advice to the nation. Until the 1929 stock market crash.

Does that seem like kind of a mess? Well, there's also a whole other thread about this quartet of, let's be square about it and call them losers, that Powell's known for a long time. They mostly exist to get into trouble, which they expect Powell to save them from. Powell eventually makes it look like he's stopped helping them, but really does, while pretending the assistance came from Saint Dismas, patron saint of thieves. The Internet says he's actually patron saint of prisoners, and Nicholas is patron saint of (repentant) thieves. But they didn't have the internet in the 1920s (lucky bastards) so we'll let it slide. 

This then turns into a whole charity the guys run, initially with good intentions, until Powell's lounge singer girlfriend (played by Angela Lansbury) takes over and decides they'll keep most of the money for themselves. So Powell has to stop worrying about making a fortune on his own and convince these people to see the true importance of community, or something.

It's all kind of a mess. Admittedly, part of the issue was Ben Mankiewicz oversold how much of a departure from the Nick Charles style characters this was for Powell. I was expecting a real scumbag, but it seems like the bad thing is he stopped constantly bailing his buddies.

Keep in mind, when we first meet them, it's because Powell has to use all the money he has to get them out of jail for running an illegal betting parlor. Then he finds out they sold all his clothes to pay their rent while he was off nearly getting gassed in the trenches. When he leaves Baltimore to try and work for the banker, they sneak on specifically because they know there is no one else who will save their stupid asses. When they keep falling behind on the rent for the pool hall (and illegal betting parlor) they run, he gives them the dough to buy it, makes them promise no more illegal stuff, and warns them this is the last time. Then they get busted trying to sell the place to undercover cops when they show off the illegal betting parlor in the back.

I'm supposed to shake my head disapprovingly at Powell for washing his hands of these dipshits? Hell, he still provided bail money, he just fed them the whole story about Dismas being responsible instead of him so they'd leave him alone.

I guess it's supposed to be bad he's using religion as a scam of sorts, albeit with the sole purpose of not being hassled by those morons. Or that he's decided money is all that's important. That he can buy the love of the woman he favors, when she never cared about that. Of course, she's not dealt with poverty, so it's easy for her to dismiss the value of something she takes for granted. I think the film is trying to show Powell's character isn't a bad man, just one that's gone astray, but it doesn't pull it off.

Either subtract the romantic subplot and focus on him and the "mugs", or subtract the "mugs" and focus on the two women.

Monday, June 05, 2023

What I Bought 6/3/2023 - Part 1

I have an electric toothbrush now. The regular kind have always worked fine, but it was a gift, so what the heck. Bit of a learning curve, such as the fact I should make sure it's in my mouth before I turn it on if I don't want the toothpaste to go flying. I'll get the hang of it eventually.

I have a total of six comics from last month to review, so we'll start with the book that shipped two issues. On the same day, no less.

Fallen #2 and 3, by Matt Ringel (writer), Henry Ponciano (artist/colorist?), Toben Racicot (letterer) - Ah, a lady in a backless dress. Never any trouble when they're around.

The story jumps to a year after Zeus' murder. Casper's playing P.I. now, handling missing persons cases and the like. Ponciano really does it up like something out of a Raymond Chandler story (even if this is set in the 1980s). The slatted Venetian blinds on the windows of his crappy office that throw shadows across the wall. A bag of frozen peas for an ice pack and scotch for dinner as he sits alone behind the desk in a darkened room. Might be missing a ceiling fan turning lazily, but otherwise you know the scene. 

Then Aphrodite shows up, asking him to start looking into the murder, even though he was warned to stay out of god business. So he's snooping, and back in trouble in short order. Athena's annoyed enough to sic Nemesis on him, which is where issue 3 ends, her telling him he dies tomorrow. Before then, he realizes Apollo's dealing some form of Ambrosia to mortals, though he can't find the Sun God, and there's some fabric left behind where Zeus died that he doesn't know the origin of.

Meanwhile, the killer is running around, attacking the Norse, attacking the Japanese gods, and generally making each group think one of the others is behind the whole thing. No doubt a big war is imminent. There's no real progress on that mystery, unless Casper lives long enough to learn something from the fabric. Mostly I'm curious why the killer seems able to shrug off attack from the other gods. They're apparently reduced in power, a concession to living on the mortal plane, but that doesn't seem an issue for the robed killer.

Scenes with the gods in them seem to be in more solid colors. When it's just Casper, or him interacting with other humans, there are more shadows, and more, I won't say realistic, but muted colors. Once he steps into the god's domains, things shift. Charon's mortuary is done entirely in a sickly green color. Athena's office is dominated by a lavender or purple. Nemesis is always shown in a mixture of golden orange and stark shadows.

It's not all the time; it doesn't seem to hold for scenes that focus on the Norse or the Japanese gods. The coloring there is more like in Caspar's office, except if they're wielding one of their weapons. Mjolnir glows bright blue, Izanagi's sword makes almost Tron-like yellow arc. I don't grasp the difference, beyond we aren't seeing those groups in their seats of power. Except we did see the Norse around their meeting table in the first issue - it even had Yggdrasil carved into it - and it didn't follow this pattern. Something to monitor.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Sunday Splash Page #273

"Self-Promotion," in Jaco The Galactic Patrolman, chapter 10, by Akira Toriyama

Released in 2013, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman is about. . .Jaco, the Galactic Patrolman, sent to Earth to try and intercept a dangerous alien believed to be headed there. Being fairly inept, Jaco hits the Moon and crash lands on Earth near an island that was formerly a research lab. Now it's home to a grouchy old widower named Omori. Omori reluctantly agrees to let Jaco stay until he sees if he can repair the ship enough to radio for help.

Several problems quickly arise. Omori learns the government wants the island as a getaway for important officials and so he has to move. Jaco can't resist fighting crime, but also can't keep a low profile, so once he beats up two cops he thinks are part of the gang he just stopped from robbing a young girl named Tights, he's a fugitive.

Toriyama writes Jaco as vain and more than a little incompetent, but not necessarily a bad guy. He doesn't get flustered about most things, unless it jabs at his pride. He gets angry about the extremely inaccurate sketch the police circulate of him, and also that they refer to him as "Mask Man," but the fact he's a fugitive doesn't bother him (partially because he's strong enough humans don't seem like a threat.) He did legitimately want to help Tights when she was in danger. At the same time, he admits that if the alien he's supposed to stop is an adult, he won't be able to stop it and then he'll just run away. He's here for his job, but he's not going to get killed over it.

Which makes for contrast with Omori, who has isolated himself for years and scoffs and sneers at what he sees of the larger world on TV. Yet when Jaco takes him at his word about humanity being awful and offers to use his "extinction bomb" capsule, Omori changes his tune and pleads that there are still many good people out there. Hanging around Jaco brings more people into Omori's orbit and forces him to open up and starting caring again.

(Also, when Omori pleads with Jaco to be careful with his extinction bomb, Jaco replies he only accidentally triggered one once. Like I said, more than a little incompetent.)

Toriyama fills the panels with lots of little details and visually interesting characters. The gang that menaces Tights is comprised of four guys each dressed as a different type of warrior (samurai, Roman legion, barbarian). Why? Because they thought they look cool, probably. Omori's island is circled by a giant shark with spikes sticking out of its back and multiple rows of visible teeth. It's freaking awesome.

He also uses Jaco's deadpan reactions for good comedic effect. When Tights helps he and Omori escape onto the top of an apartment building, Jaco gets on the railing to loudly introduce himself as a Galactic Patrolman. Which draws the attention of the police searching the streets. When Omori asks what's wrong, Jaco very simply replies that the police saw him, which leads to a panel of Omori freaking out. Toriyama knows how to draw action, but he's always been good at comedy, and Jaco lets him get back to that a little more.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Saturday Splash Page #75

"Gordian Archery," in Thunderbolts (vol. 1) #34, by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Joe Rosas (colorist), RS and Comicraft's Jason Levine (letterer)

Kurt Busiek concluded his run on Thunderbolts with issue 33, the T'Bolts having put a dent into one of the Secret Empire's plans. Things were going pretty well for them since Hawkeye assumed command, but no winning streak lasts forever. The Thunderbolts' ended pretty much the moment Nicieza took over as writer.

First issue out of the gate, Hawkeye makes a public announcement they're gonna catch the Hulk. I don't know what ol' Jade Jaws was wanted for this time, but either way, the plan flopped. A town was destroyed and Banner got away. Whoops. 

Things continued downhill from there. A team member is killed in their civilian identity, shot by a bullet that left no trace. Moonstone's having weird dreams about Kree warriors and feels like she's changing, without being sure why. Their old police liaison, who seemed to be revealed as the Crimson Cowl leading the Masters of Evil, returns as a new Citizen V. Atlas gets ambushed by Wonder Man, the both of them put under Count Nefaria's control for a crossover with Avengers.

The team is back on the verge of disintegration between the disappearances, deaths and everything else. Which is when the team finds out Hawkeye lied about the deal he had set up when he first approached them. The Commission on Superhuman Activites never agreed to pardon the T'Bolts if Hawkeye got them to clean up their act. Oooops.

Basically Nicieza puts them through the ringer, see how they handle it. Hawkeye did real well when he could show up playing savior for people with no plan. Can he lead them when they realize he's fed them a line of bull all this time? Can he keep his promises anyway, make the 'impossible shot', as Nicieza describes it in issue 50. Well, it's Hawkeye, what do you think?

A couple of characters come back from the dead, one killed by Nicieza, one by Busiek. Hawkeye gets to shoot Gyrich, always a pleasure. Nicieza even works a little fallout from Avengers Forever into the book, having Genis-Vell run into Songbird, who is probably the member of the team on the most even keel through this stretch.

This is also the stretch where Nicieza makes Abner Jenkins a black man as part of the team's attempt to disguise him after they get him out of the villain muscle gig he was press-ganged into by Justin Hammer. I don't think that was one of his better ideas, nor did it feel like he did much with it, so what was the point?

Bagley's art is as it usually is. Not inventive with panel or page layouts, but all the information you need is there on the page. I like his work, others don't, this is definitely not the run that is going to change minds on either side of that line. I like the hulking Beetle armor Abner gets while working for Hammer, and the look for the new Scourge is ridiculous in a way that almost fits the concept.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Random Back Issues #106 - Ms. Marvel #11

Right, sorry. "Avian-American," perhaps? "Genetically modified artificial resurrection"?

Last time we looked at Ms. Marvel, Kamala was still trying to figure out her powers and learning that swimsuit costumes ride up in uncomfortable places. She's got all that under control now, which is good, as it's the big confrontation with The Inventor. Who, as you see above, is Thomas Edison cloned into the body of a cockatiel. I don't understand the thought process behind it, but it's hard to argue with the results.

He's been abducting runaway kids and using them as an energy source, reasoning the youngest generation aren't good for anything else. But during an attack on Kamala's school, he grabbed a few students, including her best friend Nakia. Plus, he's got a big robot to fight Kamala and the kids that used to work for him until she convinced them to switch sides.

Recognizing there's too much for her to handle at once, Kamala calls her other best friend and sidekick Bruno and gets him to call the cops. Any port in a storm. Meanwhile, rather than "embiggen" and try to smash the robot, Kamala goes small, crawling in among the gears (and the capybaras? The tail is awful short for rats) until she finds a wire that lets her control the robot.

Great! Problem solved. Or not, because the Inventor figured out electromagnetic pulses disrupt her abilities and she starts to grow. Inside a confined metal box that is not going to grow with her. This is how you end up with the kind of claustrophobia where you create massive hurricanes when Doctor Doom makes you into a living metal statue.

Fortunately, one of the kids went and retrieved Lockjaw, offered to Kamala as an ally by Medusa (back when Marvel was still trying to make the Inhumans matter), and the big dog tears open part of the bot and hauls Kamala (and a bunch of wires, and a bunch of capybaras) out by her ankle.

The cops show up, the Inventor climbs his disabled weapon to pontificate, it collapses, and that's it for the cuckoo bird. Time for post-fight sandwiches! Also, the Inventor's creator is hauled off, vowing to show who the real genius is, and one of the cops advises Ms. Marvel to be careful, because now bigger threats than this will be aware of her. In Jersey? Bigger threats like what? Toxic waste? Traffic snarl-ups? Multiversal incursions the Avengers are powerless to prevent because Jonathan Hickman sez so? Pfft, what are the chances any of that stuff could happen?

[7th longbox, 110th comic, Ms. Marvel (vol. 3) #11, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)]

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Living Fossil - Keith S. Thomson

The coelacanth is a type of fish that was presumed extinct since before the dinosaurs died out, until one was caught and identified scientifically in the late 1930s off the coast of South Africa. It was a new species, not one of the fossilized species, but still a big deal. Thomson details the history of that find and the subsequent search for more individuals and more information.

The book was published in 1991, so its information ends in the 1980s. At that point, the individual found in South Africa was the only one found anywhere other than the Comore Islands. This factors into other parts of the book, where Thomson details the territorial view that descends as scientist from around the world want to catch and dissect their own coelacanth. One problem being, with so little information on how many there were, how large their range was, how quickly and abundantly they reproduce, there was a possibility the mad dash for coelacanths would wipe them out. At the very end, Thomson suspects Latimeria (the genus of this particular coleacanth) might be the first made extinct by scientists.

(Wikipedia tells me there are now two recognized extant species, one around the Comores and East Africa, the other around one island of Indonesia.)

The middle of the book is devoted to detailing what scientists had actually figured out about Latimeria, and how, given the limited number of specimens and how rarely they'd been observed in the wild (at that time, limited to Hans Fricke getting a submersible and recording them). Thomson discusses how aspects of the fish's anatomy resemble those found in other species, and how this enabled them to confirm the depths it likely lives at. The eyes of all the captured specimens had a milky coating, not present in the videos from the sub. Scientists were able to figure out the coating was the eyes being damaged by the pressure change as the fish was hauled to the surface.

There's a large section of one chapter devoted to the question of reproduction, based on inference from observations of Latimeria ovaries versus other fish. Do males and females release a bunch of eggs and sperm into the water and just roll the dice, or does the female carry fertilized eggs for a time internally, or is it live birth? Granted that without field observations, comparing them to what sharks or other fish do is almost guesswork, but Thomson's thorough without getting too bogged down in technical discussion about how they find as much evidence as they can to support a hypothesis.

'Everyone agrees that coelacanths were not the immediate ancestor, so they don't have quite the pride of place that one would like. But they are one of the only four genera of living lobe-finned fishes to remain out of the great Devonian radiation of love-finned fishes that was crucial to the matter.'

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Lockjaw Makes Talking Tough

I've been re-reading the John Byrne/Ron Wilson 1980s Thing series, as a bit of a precursor to its Saturday Splash Page entry in a couple of months. In issue 3, Crystal and Lockjaw come looking for Ben, because Quicksilver is determined to expose he and Crystal's daughter to the Terrigen Mists, even though there's no telling what that'll do to a half-mutant/half-Inhuman child.

Crystal's opposed, but Inhuman society, among its other fucked-up policies, puts full control of that decision in the hands of the father. Even when the mother's a member of the royal family, and the dad's just some jackass that married into the society.

Ben and Lockjaw both step in, but what ultimately convinces Pietro to stop is when Lockjaw speaks, revealing that he's not just some mutated dog, but that his form is what the Mists did to him.

What I remembered recently was, in his first issue on X-Factor, Peter David had a scene where Jamie Madrox tries to talk with Lockjaw, because he heard from Ben Grimm about Lockjaw being able to talk. Pietro laughs and explains that was just Karnak and Gorgon using a microphone to have fun with Grimm, by making him think he found a kindred soul.

That's a weird way to reverse that. I get Byrne retconned Lockjaw in the first place, and Marvel certainly seems to prefer Lockjaw just be a mutated dog. But in-story, that's not the time where you play that sort of practical joke. A child's life is potentially on the line, and given Crystal's power, if Luna dies because of this, there's a decent chance a volcano erupts right under Attilian and kills everyone.

Doylist explanation #1: Peter David decided the Inhumans had enough dodgy shit in their society, with the Alpha Primitives and all, so dog-man was a step too far.

Doylist explanation #2: Peter David was just being kind of a petty dick. Not a stretch for the guy who put Rocket Raccoon in his Captain Marvel run as a throw rug, or who dismissed an appearance by Hulk and Doc Samson in Amazing Spider-Man (first part reviewed here) that did not appear to contradict his run in any way as a "dream".

Watsonian approach #1, Pietro's lying his ass off because that whole circumstance was him being wildly wrong and he doesn't want to cop to it. Karnak and Gorgon did it to trick Pietro, not Ben, as a last-ditch move to make him stop. Obviously Pietro isn't going to admit he endangered his only daughter's life because he couldn't bear the thought of her being "merely" human. Even if he likes to pretend he doesn't care what others think of him, it would probably help if his new teammates aren't all looking at him like something they'd scrape off their shoes.

Watsonian approach #2: Lockjaw can talk, but as Thing surmised in the first story, it hurts. He's sure as hell not going to spare any words for a dick like Pietro (who he's likely only too happy to get far away from everyone he cares about). Or simply to prove that he can to a slack-jawed gawker like Madrox.

Of course, as the kicker, Pietro would forcibly expose Luna to the Terrigen Mists years later. She survived, so I guess he had that going for her, but he lied baldly to cover his ass and wound up with his daughter hating his guts and his now ex-wife married to Ronan the Accuser and seemingly fairly happy. Ha, ha.