Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 6

Let's wrap up the year with a couple of comics. One of these titles has been wonderful this year, the other has frustrated the hell out of me at times. Can you guess which is which?

Hawkeye #14, by Matt Fraction & Annie Wu (storytellers), Matt Hollingsworth (color art), Chris Eliopoulos (lettering) - Do you think when this storyline ends, that all these covers where Aja uses the hexagons, will turn out to fit together in some big collage thing? I could see him doing that.

Kate's still out in Cali, trailer sitting for those old ladies. I think. It's been awhile since Hawkeye Annual #1 came out, ya know. Unfortunately, she's broke. Fortunately, her neighbors Marcus and Finch had the orchids they were going to have at their wedding stolen. Well, it's not fortunate for them, unless you think orchids are a poor choice for a wedding. I have no idea if that's the case, but really where do you get off criticizing how they have their wedding? It's not always about you!

Anyway, this presents Kate with a chance to be a Hero for Hire, and recover the orchids. As far as I can tell, Kate isn't any better at detecting than Clint, but lucky for her, the florist knows exactly who took the orchids and burned down his shop. He just won't tell the cops, because he doesn't want Mr. Flynt Ward to kill him. So Kate sets out to collect evidence so Ward can be arrested. She's not terribly good at that, either, but that works in her favor, because once Ward spots her video-taping his weed buy, he tries to run her down with a car. Which she records. I swear, you teens today, with yer video phones. You'll be taking those "self-photos" of your own funerals soon. *removes grumpy old man hat* Ward buying weed doesn't mean anything (wait, weed is also legal in California? I thought that was just Colorado and Washington. Eh, whatever), but him trying to run her over certainly does. Good work, Kate. And she got the orchid. Somehow. Maybe she broke into his house again after he was arrested. Or the cops confiscated it when they arrested him. Not sure why they would do that. Well, Marcus and Finch have their orchid, that's the important thing. Oh, but Ward works for Madame Masque, who has her lackeys dress up as bell boys? That's a. . . curious uniform choice.

OK, was I supposed to recognize the guy Kate kept meeting in the cat food aisle, that may have been a hallucination? Was that supposed to be Columbo? I pictured Peter Falk being shorter, unless Kate is much shorter than I thought. Also, didn't Peter Falk have a wider face? It couldn't have been Rockford. . . and with that, I'm officially out of TV private eyes Kate could have imagined. Unless. . .

Oh my gosh, the ghost of Peter Parker has returned! To help Kate recover missing flowers for some reason. I think his time would be better spent telling Steve Rogers to go punch Octavius out of his damn body, but fine, maybe he has to do this first. Wait, that's it! It was a Quantum Leap thing! Scott Bakula! OK, fine, I have no idea what I'm talking about, I can't parse Kate's mind. Seriously, what does 'Play it cool, Kate-Silver-of-the-five-thirty-Kate-blog' mean? Play it cool, I get, but the rest? Matt Fraction's too much of a hep cat for me, dig?

All that confusion aside, it was a pretty good issue. I think Fraction's playing the relationship between Kate and the cop with too much of a knowing wink. If he does it right, the reader will be OK with the two of them building a gradual friendship, even if it is cliche. It isn't necessary to devote panel space to basically, "yeah, this is cliche, I know *rolls eyes*, but just go with it, because it's funny, right?" Don't be embarrassed, just go for it. Crap, that was more complaining. But seriously, Kate got off her butt and did something to solve her problem (no money), and she did it her way. Kate sometimes bugs me, because she carries herself like she's the greatest thing ever, in everything, not just archery, which is where I think she differs from Clint, who at least seems to recognize how often he screws up non-arrow related things. But boundless, irrational confidence can be a lot of fun to read about, especially when it's racing neck and neck with a total lack of common sense.

I like the background coloring Hollingsworth uses. That light pink for Marcus and Finch's wedding, the sickly orange coming from inside Ward's house, the sickly turquoise inside the police station (the wheels of justice grind slowly and nauseatingly). It's nice for setting the mood. My utter confusion about Trenchcoat Man aside, Annie Wu did a nice job as artist. I prefer Aja, but as he can't even stay on schedule doing every other issue (witness Hawkeye's failure to ship again this month, by the time this story finishes, we'll be on Marvel NOW! 3.0), Wu will be just fine. The fractured panels showing Flynt running down Kate, or the three panels on page 19 of Flynt on the phone, with the view zooming in on his furious mouth more with each panel. It's impressive, because Ward already looks pissed in the first of them, but somehow focusing just on his gritted teeth by the last panel makes him seem even angrier. The page before that, she gave the cashier a great curious look as she watched Kate leave the store. Though I'd think cashier's would be blase about crazy people after awhile. They must see so many.

Daredevil #33, by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (storytellers), Jason Copland (art), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Joe Caramanga (letterer) - For the record, Hawkeye was the occasionally frustrating book, in case you hadn't guessed.

With a little magic from Satana and Jack Russell, Matt is saved from death by bullet wound. There's a little tense discussion after Matt mentions he's looking into the Darkhold, but learns some grand serpent wizard guy has some missing pages of it in a cabin just above him. There's even a passage that will take Matt right to him, except that it's said anyone who attempts the journey will be driven mad. Matt tries it anyway, and very nearly is driven crazy-mad. Mostly though, he's just angry-mad, when he realizes everything he was subjected to was actually a test. Then he burns the cabin down, tells Russell that it's no biggie because the pages he was worried about are gone, but what's that? Matt has some pages tucked away in the holster for his billy club as he heads back to New York.

I feel like Matt didn't play fair with Russell and the rest. Beyond the fact he kept some of the pages for himself (and given Matt's complete lack of experience with magic, how does he know there's nothing in there dangerous to Jack or the others?), there's threatening to incinerate the Living Mummy, after they saved his bacon. Surely Matt was bluffing, you say. Well, I'd like to think so, but we have to question whether Matt would consider N'Kantu to be alive. Given that Marvel heroes seem to draw some ridiculous distinction between obviously living beings of alien races (like Skrulls), and incredibly evil humans (Like Norman Osborn), I'm not sure Matt would worry too much about torching a walking corpse.

The idea that Matt still sees things like we do in his dreams is an interesting one. I hadn't really thought much about it, but I guess I assumed he would see things in radar sense outlines in his dreams as well. Or they'd consist solely of scents and sounds. That would be difficult to represent in a comic book, I imagine. The scents would, anyway.

When Matt's being healed, the "SHLRRP" effect sounds both disgusting and somehow exactly what I would expect from a hasty spell repairing massive damage to one's body. A wet meat sack sealing itself up again.

In some places, Jason Copland's art is a bit rough for my tastes, too heavy on the inks, but he did very well with the double page spread of Matt walking through the awful test, and Matt's grin as he utters "The Devil you say" was excellent. It's a perfect smile for Daredevil. Kind of cocky, maybe even a little mean, but mostly excited at the prospect of something intensely dangerous. This issue felt a bit sparse, like Waid could have condensed the trip to Kentucky into one issue, rather than two, but other than that, it's a good story.

I do have one book left, but it's split into two stories, one of which doesn't conclude until the next issue, which will hopefully arrive with the next shipment, which is hopefully in the mail as I type this. So I'm going to try and hold off until then. Once I get done with all the basic reviews for the last new comics of the year, then I'll get into the year in review stuff. So we may be waiting until the end of January again this year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Spring Of Life Fed By A Rain of Death

There's a point midway through Welcome to Hard Times where Henry Fonda tries to assure a stagecoach driver that Hard Times is still worth being a stop on his route. He says the town is fed by 'a spring of life'.

He says this among the burned out remains of the half-dozen or so structures that make up the town. Some crazed drunk cowboy came in one night, killed about half of the town (so, 4 people), and burned most of it to the ground. For no apparent reason other than he could. Fonda, as Will Blue, is the mayor, and at one point attempts to deal with the guy. He does this by hoping the remaining dancing girl, Molly (Janice Rule), can distract the guy so Blue can get the drop on him. But the ruse fails, as does Blue's nerve. He runs out of the saloon, and even after the lunatic fires the last of his shots in the air, Blue keeps running. I yelled at him to turn around and shoot the guy, but to no avail.

In the aftermath, Blue stays, believing the town can rebuild. It's pretty much him, Molly, and Jimmy, a young boy whose father was the undertaker (who was also killed). And the silent Indian who serves as town doctor. Blue, Molly, and Jesse form this odd little family, and the town does gradually come back. There's a mine nearby in the hills, and it's those miners that keep the place going, since Hard Times is the only place to spend their pay. And it just so happens Keenan Wynn shows up with a covered wagon full of ladies and booze, just in time for the miners to show up, looking for liquor and companionship.

There is this undercurrent of hope through the whole thing, people working together to survive winter in homes mostly made of canvas, the life of the town surviving on the shoestring that is the miners receiving their pay on time. Blue's quite the pitchman, I'd like to have seen what he could have done in Buffy's Sunnydale. Probably insist it was a real buyer's market for homes, and that the rapid turnover was a sign of businesses that encouraged upward mobility (leaving out the part where you moved on up to Heaven, rather than the East Side).

At the same time, there's the ugly undercurrent of Blue and Molly's little family. Molly was raped after Blue fled, and burned badly on her back in the rampage, and she has a lot of understandable bitterness, a large part of it towards Blue. Who did tell her to go in and distract the cowboy, and who did utterly fail to actually stop said cowboy. She sort of seems to care about Blue, but it's overwhelmed with her disgust at how he fails to measure up to her idea of manliness, meaning, kill anyone who gives you any trouble. To that end, she's encouraging Jimmy to become just that sort of man, while Blue tries his best to encourage Jimmy to get a job, be a productive member of society, telling him there's no future in becoming the kind of man Molly wants him to be. At one point he even calls Jimmy a mama's boy, which is not usually applied to someone being taught to shoot people at the slightest provocation. it's also pretty hypocritical of Blue, considering he's trying to just as hard to make Jimmy into what he wants him to be.

Neither one really seems to care what Jimmy wants.

There are also these humorous moments, such as the storekeeper leaving in the aftermath, only to have his twin brother (played by the same actor, John Anderson) arrive, and with no leads to his brother's new location, take over the store. There's the man from the governor's office, riding up on horseback to charter the town, with his own little table and chair strapped to the horse's back. He writes down the town's name, appoints a sheriff, tells him to take a collection to build a jail, hands Blue the papers on elections and such (because the sheriff can't read), gets back on his horse, and rides away. It fits with a lot of the movie after the initial visit by the stranger, but it's kind of odd viewed against that, or against Molly's burning hatred.

The stranger does return, with no more rhyme or reason to his actions than the first time, and Molly gets what she wanted out of Blue, not that she's in any position to enjoy it. But I guess Blue will get to mold Jimmy as he wants, so that's the important thing, right? Yeah, sure. I don't know. The movie ends on this hopeful note, with a young guy getting married to one of the dancing girls, and the stage driver telling Blue he was right about the spring of life. This as Blue and Jimmy leave Molly's grave, so I don't know. The people who can't let go of their awful pasts have to be removed for the wheels of progress to move? People have a remarkable capacity to ignore horrible things that happen to people that aren't them? There's no point in getting bothered by maniacs who want to watch the world burn, because they're always be another one? I can understand the idea that you can't become obsessed with trying to stop every maniac, because you won't have time to build anything, but Blue seems perfectly willing to let the guy do what he pleases, figuring they'll just rebuild after. But if he keeps killing and burning everything, what's the point in rebuilding? At some point you have to try and actively stop the guy, not just hope he'll go away.

So it's a muddled mess of a movie.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Burn Notice 7.1 - New Deal

Plot: It's a new season and Michael Westen is . . . bare knuckle fighting in dive bars in the Dominican Republic? Drinking to an extent that would put Sam to shame? Quite the contrast from the fellow in the nice suit we saw at the end of Season 6.

As we learn in a flashback, Michael's plan to save his friends didn't work out quite as well for him as Fiona imagined. In the classic government/corporate mindset of "kill the messenger", everyone in the intelligence community is pissed at Michael for exposing Tom Card's corrupt activities, and the fact that Olivia Riley went off the deep end. Because that's what you want out of your government: for the guy who actually shows a little conscience to be the pariah. Swell. However, there is a jerk, last name Strong, who has a proposition for Michael. He's trying to bring down some terrorist group, run by an old partner of Michael's. Don't get your hopes up, Dead Larry did not somehow survive Fi's attempt to blow him to smithereens. It's some guy named Burke. Strong wants Mike to play a down on his luck outcast, so that Burke might view him as a safe, but valuable piece to approach and add to his organization.

And it works, except Burke's right-hand man Pablo, doesn't trust Michael at all. To the extent he sent a friend of his to Miami, and said friend went to all of Michael's friends, posing as different people, trying to dredge up information on Mike. Sam and Jesse didn't know anything, and Fi was too busy running down bounties with her new boyfriend, Carlos, but Madeline unfortunately does talk, because he poses as someone who can put the kibosh on her attempt to adopt her grandson (Ruth's in rehab).

While that's going on, Mike and Pablo sneak into some building and blow up a server for Burke, and Mike saves Pablo's bacon when he gets hit. Which doesn't stop Pablo from trying to kill Mike as soon as he hears back from his friend. But he tried it as they drove through a checkpoint, which wasn't the best idea, and he winds up dead having failed to kill Mike, and also having failed to tell Burke what he learned. So Mike's cover isn't blown yet, but he's gonna have to head back to Miami, find this guy, and take him out before the guy contacts Burke on his own. I'm nut sure why Strong assumes the guy will contact Burke, or that he even knows how. How will the guy know Pablo failed to kill Mike, or that Pablo is dead?

The Players: They didn't give us any nifty titles, so I'mma make my own. Ahem: Strong (Desperate CIA Jackass), Burke (Old Friend/Terrorist), Pablo (Burke's Right Hand), Carlos (Bounty Hunter/Fiona's Boyfriend)

Quote of the Episode: Burke - 'I'm not just offering you a new job. I'm offering you a new life.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (1 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (0 overall). I debated it, but I decided the near miss with the claymore didn't count.

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (0 overall).

Other: I questioned the wisdom of sending a guy who doesn't speak Spanish to the Dominican, but lo and behold, Michael has actually learned Spanish.

Sam and Elsa were reunited, how lovely. And Jesse managed to retain his job! That's pretty impressive. I mean, he must have missed a ton of days.

I'm not excited at the idea of Maddy adopting Nate's kid. The potential is there for some stupid plotlines involving the kid as a hostage, or potential lever against Michael, so the kid's basically a prop. Or being too precocious to the point he's annoying. There's so many ways it can go wrong, and so few it could land right.

I don't like Strong. Even beyond his perspective of Michael as having stabbed the agency in the back, which is a pretty idiotic perspective. What exactly, has the Agency done for Michael? They threw him out on the street without a second glance when he was burned, treated him like something they'd scrape off their shoe. It was one of their guys - Card - who got Nate killed, and Riley, of her own accord made deals with drug lords to try and bring Mike down. Michael made mistakes - I've mentioned before the list of lives that were ruined by coming into contact with him is mighty long - but Strong does not get to call Mike on that. He hasn't earned the right. Especially because, when you add it all up, he still needs Michael to save his ass. Even Card, scumbag that he was, expressed the occasional bit of gratitude for Michael's work on his behalf. OK, fine, he was manipulating Michael because he believed Michael has a deep-seeded need for the approval of male authority figures, but he still complimented him.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Living Shadow - Maxwell Grant

My dad had all these paperback stories starring the Shadow, so I figured I'd borrow the first one, see how it went before I grabbed the lot of them. The Living Shadow was not quite what I expected.

Admittedly, my idea of the Shadow is formed almost entirely by the Alec Baldwin movie, plus whatever I picked up by glancing at the covers to various comics. So I was expecting more of a focus on the Shadow, for one, and at least a few occasions where he surprises some criminals and starts blasting away with a pair of .45s. There's none of that. He uses a firearm once or twice, but they're guns he lifted off guys he was fighting with. That's not a big deal; there's plenty of fisticuffs and one chase sequence, so the book doesn't lack for action. What was more unexpected was how little time the book actually spends with the Shadow.

At the very beginning of the story, the Shadow saves a fellow named Harry Vincent, who was about to throw himself from a bridge. From that point forward, Harry is in the Shadow's employ - literally, since all his financial needs are met - and the book follows Harry through the various tasks given to him by his mysterious savior/benefactor/employer. So the book is written with Harry as the main character, and the Shadow as this wraith that appears every so often to rescue Harry, or when we need to learn something that Harry couldn't have figured out on his own. We don't learn much of anything about the Shadow, not who he is, not how he does what he does, or why. We know he can merge with shadows - or appear as no more than a shadow, one of the two - and that he has an army of people who help him. But none of them that we meet know anything more about him than Harry does.

It's clear the Shadow's keeping busy while Harry's snooping, but I was expecting to follow him more closely, not Harry. Harry's a fine enough fellow, though he seems to take to this whole business surprisingly well. Some weird guy stops him from killing himself, then tells him to check into a hotel a spy on the guy next door, and Harry leaps right to it. Maybe the implication is this is what Harry had been looking for in life, he just didn't know it. I'll have to see if Grant is going to start paying more attention to the Shadow in future books before I decide to go any further in the series.

I should mention the story was originally written in 1931, so there's some casual racism. All lot of use of the word "chink", and the one black character in the story speaks in the exaggerated "yah suh" style. That might be something to consider before you try and read it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 5

Another day, another pair of comics. Today it's a first issue (zero issue, actually), and the other title is starting a new story. Too bad I've already decided to drop it in a few months.

X-Men #7, by Brian Wood (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Jason Keith (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Rogue's not in the book right now, which I've heard is because Remender killed her in Uncanny Avengers. What the hell Remender? Is this because I dropped Captain America? I told you, it wasn't what I was hoping for! Don't take it out on Rogue, jeez!

So there's this young woman, Ana Cortes. her father was some big-shot, self-made tycoon, except now he's dead, and Ana's running the empire. She doesn't care about it, though. She's interested in turning herself into some ultimate techno-organic weapon, starting with inserting Lady Deathstrike's consciousness into her own brain. But that isn't enough, no, she'd like to get ahold of the Omega Sentinel as well, which means a visit to the Jean Grey School is in order. Except she finds out the former Omega Sentinel is back to being Karima Shapandar, prospective police officer, and baseline human. That's a setback, and so is the fact she ran into Monet (who's come to the school to unwind after whatever happened to her near the end of X-Factor), who saw into her mind and knows Deathstrike's in there. That's not too much worry for Ana/Yuriko, though. She has her sights set on a new prize: Arkea, and she's even brought in Typhoid Mary to help. A woman with two minds in one body, teamed up with a woman whose mind is split into multiple parts (unless all the other aspects are gone now), chasing after something I don't think they fully comprehend. That'll end well.

The Dodsons have stepped in to handle art duties, so you pretty much know what to expect. They combine for a very clean style, not a lot of excess lines, but it's hard to ignore in a book with so many female characters, how almost all of them have the same body. Jubilee and Bling would appear to be exceptions, maybe also Rachel (it's hard to tell, no more panel time than she got). Also, I have no idea what Monet did to all those Humvees. Does she have telekinesis, or is she strong enough she can flap her hands rapidly and create a shockwave? Also not sure how I feel about the new Deathstrike's claws. It's a more elegant look, to be sure, fitting with the progress the technology has made, and likely Ana's personal aesthetic. But those elongated fingernails don't look all that sharp. More like butter knives.

Wood's adding Monet to the roster for at least this story. I've never been able to really get into Monet. I can appreciate the self-confidence, but like with Emma Frost, it manifests itself in a smirking condescension I find off-putting. When villains act that way, it's fine, the arrogance is their undoing, and we aren't supposed to root for them anyway. Little trickier when it's a hero. Occasionally, you'd like to see them knocked off their pins, but they're the good guy, so that might be kind of costly. Monet seems to go out of her way to be irritating. Maybe she's the Guy Gardner/Hawkeye for this bunch. How she and Storm play off each other could be interesting. They both have this almost aristocratic air to them, but Storm's is more like she carries herself above all the petty stuff, while Monet almost revels in getting saying or doing things which demonstrate her belief she's better than other folks.

Harley Quinn #0, by Amanda Conner (writer/artist), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), you're crazier than harley if you think I'm listing all those artists. What do you mean, I did it for Dial E? I did not! *checks review* Crap. Becky Cloonan, Tony S. Daniel & Sandu Florea, Stephane Roux, Dan Panosian, Walt Simonson, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Bruce Timm, Charlie Adlard, Adam Hughes, Art Baltazar, Tradd Moore, Dave Johnson, Jeremy Roberts, Sam Kieth, Darwyn Cooke, Chard Hardin (artists, the lot of them!), Paul Mounts, Tomeu Morey, John Kalisz, Lovern Kindzierski, Alex Sinclair, Lee Loughridge, Dave Stewart, Alex Sollazzo (colorists), John J. Hill (letterer) - This is Harley's quest to find an artist for the comic she imagines she could star in. And is actually getting, but I'm not sure if she realizes that. By the end of the issue, she thinks she got rid of her writers, whose voices were in her head throughout the proceedings. So Harley can break the 4th wall, but only when she's daydreaming?

I'm almost certainly overthinking this. The comic is a series of largely unconnected vignettes of Harley being drawn doing various things by various artists, while she bickers with Conner and Palmiotti. I enjoyed it more than that description suggests. Some of the gags fall flat, but I laughed out loud at least three or four times. Some of it was Harley's dialogue, some of it was what the artists drew. Darwyn Cooke's depiction of Jimmy Palmiotti, for example. He looks like Fat Elvis. The bit on the Jim Lee page about the sand bags being full of Lee's royalty payments, so they'll hurt Batman a lot more got a chuckle.

I could see this getting tiring if it went on every issue, but my guess is that issue 1 had an actual plot, probably related to either the roller derby stuff depicted on the cover, or to Harley being left some real estate by a patient she once treated. So maybe it's better to treat this as a one-shot, standalone sort of thing, in which case it was fine. I do have some reservations about how Conner and Palmiotti will write Harley. There are more than a few folks on the Internet who suspect she's being positioned as the nu52's Deadpool, which if true, is sad news for Ambush Bug. Now he'll never get out of those stupid "Channel 52" things at the back of the comics. Anyway, maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. If it's done in a way that plays to some of Harley's strengths, and ways she's different from Wade Wilson, it could work. I'll have to reserve judgment for now.

I thought Dan Panosian did a good job on his page. Felt like something out of a MAD Magazine feature (intentional, I'm sure). And doing a spoof involving Harley is the only way you'd ever get me interested in Mad Men. Beyond that, I liked Walt Simonson putting her in a modified version of his Paul Kirk Manhunter outfit. Although now I'm curious who the robot guy was that she killed along with all the earlier artists. What's his story? How did he get there? Was it Geoff Johns-Bot, the organism designed only to kill characters in graphic and emotionally unsatisfying ways on pointless double-page spreads?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 4

I tried watching the NBA quintuple-header yesterday, but ESPN's signal kept fritzing out during the first game. I first thought it was the TV, but that was the only channel having problems. My theory is ESPN was warned by some federal regulatory agency they would be criminally liable if their viewers contracted eye cancer from watching Bulls/Nets, and the Worldwide Leader decided not to take chances.

Katana #9 and 10, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Chriscross (penciler/inker, #9), Cliff Richards (penciler/inker, #9 & 10), Alex Sanchez (penciler, #10), Wayne Faucher (inker, #9), Keith Champagne & Prentiss Rollins (inkers, #10), Matt Yackey (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer, #9), Dezi Sienty (letterer, #10) - Look at that mess of credits. Yeesh. And on that cover, that seems an odd angle for Katana's arm to be bent at. I'd expect it to be flung out to the side. I guess it does convey the awkwardness that would come with being surprised.

Since the book was abruptly canceled, there's a lot that has to be crammed into this. Katana has to go after Mona Shard, the ghost of a vicious killer running around in the body of a little girl. Which is a problem, since Katana isn't going to kill a kid, no matter how much Sickle and Coil insist she must. Shun has decided to strike back against the poeple who covered her body with tattoos and scars, leading ultimately to that smug scumbag Coil. I greatly enjoyed watching him get kneecapped. The Mad Samurai that possessed the sumo has to make his move (to take Soultaker for himself), Tatsu has another conversation with the Falconer, learns the truth about Junko (not what I expected), and has a reconciliation of sorts with Maseo, her husband. Which would have been a lot more touching if it hadn't been done in one page.

This book wasn't nearly as good as Dial H, but I'm still frustrated by the abrupt ending, as I was with Mieville and Ponticelli's book. This was worse in some ways, because Mieville at least got to start some things, then had to rush them. Here, Nocenti hadn't even gotten to really get going. Like, she introduced the idea that the Daggers are mostly lower income class crooks, while the Sword Clans are more high roller types, who enjoy keeping the Daggers under their boot. So there's a class aspect to it, with Katana in the midst of it as an apparent lady of privilege in the middle. It's something Nocenti's touched on before, the idea that running around punching bad guys only does so much to address problems, but Tatsu's situation is different from Matt Murdock or Oliver Queen's, and I would have liked to see where it went. No such luck now. The storyline with the Mad Samurai had barely gotten started, Katana was going to have to go after the Creeper at some point, not to mention that dragon, Shun's arc might have been better if given more time to slowly boil over.

Cliff Richards is still the best artist this book had, and he handles the last few pages of each issue, Those are, incidentally, the best looking pages. He's really fond of slanted panels, plus he has his own inking style. Heavy on shadows around characters, but not in a way that it clouds everything. Used instead just for nice effect, to allow for contrast, and he's good at maintaining the continuity from panel-to-panel. Maybe a small thing, but there are a lot of artists that don't seem to manage that. Anyway, the shift to slanted panels was how I could tell where Chriscross' art ended in issue 9, and Richards' began. Chriscross was sticking to grids. Sometimes only three panels, sometimes up to 7, but nice, straight squares and rectangles, all neat and level. I wasn't so fond of his faces. There's a 3-panel sequence where we see Tatsu from the side and she looks pretty different in all 3 panels, especially her nose.

Alex Sanchez draws most of issue 10, with two inkers (I'm guessing Richards just inked his own work, but I could be wrong) - so the style shifts a lot from one page to another. Not a fan. On page 5, I can't tell quite what the point of the two panels of the toys floating in the air is. Katana trying to reconstruct the fight? Her freaking out because of the weight of everything she's done and where she's found herself?  I'm really not sure.

The book never got far enough along to be more than potential, but I believed in that potential. Too bad for me, I guess.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Double Barrel - Nicolas Freeling

Double Barrel is a mystery, but not much of one. Inspector Van der Valk himself reflects that he's bored by the case, doesn't care about the anonymous letters being sent out which have driven two women in the small Dutch town to commit suicide, and drove another into an insane asylum. Which is a pretty shitty attitude to take, but Van der Valk is full of those.

He's an oddly frustrating main character because every time I start to get on his side, he says, thinks, or does something I find unpleasant. Yes, it's silly of me not to like him because he considers Hemingway an overrated writer. But there's an elderly man, Mr. Besancon, survivor of many years of unpleasant experiences, first with the Nazis, then the Soviets. Van der Valk considers him the only interesting man in town, and keeps coming by to visit and chat. He reflects on how this is an intrusion, but decides he doesn't care if Besancon doesn't like it. Van der Valk figures he's a cop, he can intrude where he likes. Which again, I consider a shitty attitude, that he can simply barge in and disrupt your day because he has a badge.

It isn't much of a mystery. Basically as soon as he reaches the town, you can figure out who the culprit is. Freeling makes it pretty clear what the letter writer would need, and drops copious hints as to who has that thing. If I can figure out your mystery immediately, it's not very tricky. But Freeling's not really interested in the mystery. I think it took the better part of 30 or 40 pages just to get him to tell us what, exactly, Van der Valk was supposed to be investigating.

I think Freeling's more interested in the nature of the Dutch. He portrays them as a very open people, among those they consider fellow travelers. There's little expectation of privacy, and everyone knows what everyone else is up to. It's a curious circumstance, because it doesn't sound like that sort of typical storybook small town, USA, where everyone knows each other and is cordial and friendly. There seems to be plenty of gossip and peering into people's windows, yet no one bothers to draw the curtains. They simply accept it, or maybe they figure closing themselves off would only heighten the scrutiny.

It all sounds appalling to me, but I'm the sort who prefers to pick and choose who I interact with. That's part of why Besancon is considered so curious, he chooses to live behind a high wall, rather than with an open yard, and large, uncovered windows. It's not the only thing that's curious about him, and that bit at the end felt rather out of place. But maybe Freeling was as bored with his main plot as his protagonist.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Is The Perfect Time To Discuss March Comics

You know me, trundling along largely oblivious to holidays. But Christmas Eve has all that anticipation about what the next morning may bring, and this is all about the anticipation of what comics three months from now may bring. It totally fits.

There's still not much going on for me outside Marvel. Dark Horse does have another Empowered Special, and since I enjoyed the last one, I'm going to try this one as well. They're also starting Buffy Season 10, with Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs as the creative team. As much as I enjoyed their work on Angel & Faith, I'm still not buying that. It's a book starring Buffy, which would be the equivalent of me buying a book starring Cyclops. The real question is still whether I'll pick up Gischler and Conrad's Angel & Faith when it starts in April.

So, Marvel. Daredevil starts back up with a new first issue, a new setting for Matt, and, of course, a higher price. But I'm still going to buy it, because at least with Waid and Samnee there's a previously established level of performance there, that I'm willing to pay 4 bucks and issue for.

But that's a rare exception, which highlights my personal issue with all these $4 launches. By my count, Marvel will start up at least 5 new titles in the first 3 months of 2014 that I was interested in, but will not purchase, because of the price tag. Black Widow, X-Factor, New Warriors, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight. I simply don't have the track record with those creative teams (or the characters involved) to make it worth the expenditure. At $3 an issue, I would almost certainly have taken a chance on them. Maybe not all, but I'd say three of the five, minimum. So instead of 6 ongoings from Marvel, I could be at 9, or 11.

I assume Marvel did the calculations and decided the extra money they'd get from greater sales at the lower price, did not exceed what they'll get with lower sales at the higher price point. That may be giving them too much credit. They may just be feeling their oats and figured what the hell, let's try it.

Besides all that, Superior Foes of Spider-Man has also become a $4 book, which means it's about to get canceled. They did the same thing with Fearless Defenders and X-Factor near the end of those books as well. Deadpool is double shipping, and naturally the did one of those stupid #25.NOW numbered issues. I don't know, does that mean it's extraneous, or is it just the 25th issue with a pointless accessory?

There's also Captain Marvel, but I noticed something. In the solicitations, it's listed as Captain Marvel #1 (at $3.99, naturally). On the order form it's Captain Marvel #1 (of 6). So it's just a mini-series? Well, that's the assumption I went by, which is why I was willing to pick it up, despite the price. I've generally liked DeConnick's work with Carol Danvers (if not all the crossover nonsense), and David Lopez is a big step up artistically from the folks who did most of the work on the previous volume, so, like Daredevil, I'm prepared to bet on it being worth the money.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 3

I forgot to mention yesterday, I don't have Burn Notice Season 7 yet, thus no review. I expect to get back to it this Sunday.

Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe #1-3, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Jacopo Camagni (artist), Victor Calderon-Zurita (penciler, #3), Terry Pallot (inker #3), Matt Milla (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I picked this up because I kind of like Longshot. He's not a favorite character, per se, but he's one I'm glad exists to show up from time to time. Plus, the post-Mutant Massacre/Australian era X-Men are my favorite X-team, so he gets points for being part of that. And I've heard good things about Dr. McNinja, also written by Christopher Hastings, and here we are.

 What we have is Longshot going along, living his life, trying not to use his luck powers for selfish means (because that makes things go wrong), except the In-Betweener (looking much more dapper in a suit, rather than his typical bathrobe) is trying to remove some powerful source of luck that is making things unbalanced. Guess who he settles on as being the problem? Fortunately for Longshot, Reed Richards and Tony Stark are trying to covertly move a Cosmic Cube through town as Longshot's fighting for his life, and as it turns out, Longshot winds up with the Cube in his hands, and uses it to save his neck.

Except it seems to alter all reality, splitting the In-Betweener into Order and Chaos, Order having commandeered SHIELD and using it to wage a war on magic, Chaos having possessed the Hulk, but not able to escape the Hulk being imprisoned by Order. Longshot teams up with Dr. Strange and some magic users to free Chaos, and that works, but at the cost of all of them except Longshot falling under Order's control. Now Chaos is loose, and he and Order are steadily destroying reality in a battle against each other, when Chaos is doing so in an attempt to see just how far Longshot's powers can go in producing random occurrences that will counter Chaos' attacks. For example, Chaos produces a cyber-Dracula from the future, and a Lord of the Vampires Wolverine. Longshot's luck causes Blade to abruptly pop out of the trunk of a taxi. While that's all going on, the *sigh* Superior Spider-Man has shown up, and teams up with a Dr. Dipson, who Longshot met right about the time the In-Betweener first attacked him, to try and figure what's happening and how to stop it.

So the story details are all a little chaotic, as Hastings just keeps throwing more things into the pile. There's a teddy bear possessed by a demon that's almost certainly going to be important, but I can't figure out how exactly. Unless it's a callback to the original Nocenti/Adams Longshot mini-series? I don't remember a Mr. Dapples, but it's been a few years.

This could make the book feel overstuffed, but it doesn't. It contributes to the idea in the story that things are spiraling out of control. Also, that despite their opposing goals, Order and Chaos aren't terribly different, in that they're willing to risk almost anything to gain an advantage over the other.  There's also the curious nature of "luck". What's good luck for one, is bad for another. Good luck doesn't always occur so immediately as one might expect, or in the way one expects. And sometimes, two lucky occurrences may overlap to create misfortune. The consequences can be far-reaching and difficult to predict. Which makes me wonder if Longshot's the worst sort of person to have luck powers, or the best?

Camagni's artwork is pretty good. He has a nice exaggerated style that works well. It's very expressive. I don't know if he does subtle emotions well, but this isn't necessarily a story for that, so no big deal. I like how he lays out pages, though. Lots of variety, changing panel sizes, using small vertical panel for reaction shots sometimes, using them for, hm, abrupt shifts in others. There's a bit where Longshot leaps off a Helicarrier, and there's a large panel of him falling towards the Earth, and following the line of his arms lead to this small vertical panel of Thor catching Longshot, viewed from a distance. And the direction of Thor's flight carries the eye back across the page to the next panel, a closer zoom-in on the two of them. So it's very nice. Camagni has the clean lines I like, reminds me of Salva Espin a little bit.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Passage of Arms - Eric Amber

Girija Krishnan is an Indian clerk working on Mr. Wright's rubber-estate in Malaya. But what Girija really wants to do is run a passenger bus company. Well, we all have our dreams. But dreams like that require capital, and that Girija doesn't have, until he finds a guerrilla arms camp in the jungle nearby the village. There are people who will pay quite a lot for crates of guns, mortars, and bullets. Girija's going to need help finding a buyer, completing a sale, shipping the arms, all the basic details. Which leads him to a trio of Chinese brothers, now scattered across Southeast Asia in various narrowly legal trades. And that leads to Hong Kong cab drivers, British Intelligence agents stationed in Singapore, former British army officers, Indonesian rebels, Communist army officials, and in the middle of it, the Nilsens, an American husband and wife on a vacation.

I've spent some time trying to decide what sort of book Passage of Arms is. I wouldn't describe it as a thriller, or a mystery. What it reminds me of is something a bit like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Where you have the numerous characters, on several different plotlines, that all gradually weave together. Or collide head on. Even that isn't an entirely accurate comparison. Passage at Arms is much more tightly tied together from the start, but it has that same sense of how the wake of our passing can produce much wider, and greater effects than we imagine. It's also not trying to be funny. Or if it is, the humor is too dry for me to pick up on much of it.

It's still an interesting read. Nilsen seems meant to be a sort of archetypal American. He's generally cordial, but doesn't like having his judgment questioned. Likes to think of himself as being helpful, but wants to feel appreciated for it (both with praise and cold hard cash). Is not anywhere near as astute or wise in the ways of other cultures as he thinks he is. He's not unlikable by any means, he's just blundered in over his head, but he's eventually smart enough to realize and follow the lead of those who know.

"That Indian clerk was insufferable. He treated me as if I were a crook."

His brother nodded calmly. "I warned you he was no fool."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Radiation + Magic = It Came From Murderworld!

So in the last issue of Avengers Arena, Reptil kept Hazmat from blowing everyone up (not intentionally, she was bleeding radiation) by turning into a giant crocodile, scooping her up in his mouth, and diving into the water. At first glance, I thought that killed him, while Hazmat eventually made her way back to the shore, but there's a panel at the end of some SHIELD guys hauling a large reptilian body out of the water, so I'll assume Reptil survived.

Normally Reptil's powers are the ability to change into all sorts of prehistoric creatures because of some magic thing in his chest. I thought it might be interesting if the radiation changes things so that now he transforms into radiation-enhanced types of those creatures. By which I mean Godzilla and his ilk. Just have him constantly turning into '50s style sci-fi horror monsters, all those critters that played on the fears the populace had about atomic warfare.

I know, we're past that now. It's all about genetic engineering and tampering gone wild. But if the writer was really concerned that readers would object to it being too silly*, there's an easy out. The magic amulet thing. It's magic, it might cause him to react differently than otherwise expected. Christos Gage already did that bit where Reptil was aged into a future version of himself, than managed to resist being aged back afterward. Some of that was his own desires, but the magic could be part of it. Or say the radiation made him think of those old films, and that's what prompts the shift.

* I don't know if that would be a problem. Radiation is still at the core of a lot of the '60s Marvel heroes' origins, but judging by the movies, people are trying to move away from that to things that sound more, plausible, I guess.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 2

Yesterday it was in the 50s. Today we'll be lucky to break 30. Winter on the Plains. Also, I trained the hell out of some ligament in my knee earlier this week, and it's really hard for me to let it rest like I know it needs to. I like to walk, you know?

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #3, by Brian Clevinger (words), Scott Wegener (art), Nick Filardi (colors), Jeff Powell (letters) - I like a lot of things about Wegener's art, but dynamic covers do not seem to be his strong point. Hardly the only artist that's true for, though.

Robo and his action scientists are still trapped deep underground. Robo gets separated from them trying to distract that giant rock-thing on the cover. A subterranean equivalent of a bear, perhaps. Meanwhile, the scientists try to make their way back to Dr. Dinosaur to find a way to get those nukes away from him. Considering Dr. D has already torn the whole "time bomb" apart trying to figure out what Robo stole from it, they've got time. Which is good, seeing as they were captured by some of the Rock People and encouraged - at glowing spearpoint - to ingest glowing crystals. Which has kicked off a hallucinatory episode. And probably cancer. But definitely hallucinations.  Back in the world, the smear campaign against Robo has succeeded masterfully, and Majestic-12 is using an alleged visit to Tesladyne by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as cover to attack loot everything valuable, and destroy the rest. Including the employees.

There's still no indication of whether Dr. Dinosaur is being used by Majestic-12, if it's the other way around, or if these are simply a pair of unfortunately timed, but unrelated, problems. The fact that the news keeps mentioning six missing nukes, only one of which is at Tesladyne, and Dr. D just so happens to have 5 nukes for his time bomb, makes me figure these aren't unrelated problems, but there's been no indication so far. If you're thinking I broached a similar topic when I reviewed the last issue, you're probably right (it's been so long I can't remember, and I'm too lazy to go back and check). There wasn't much to discuss in this issue. It's all set-up, no dialogue stood out as particularly clever, just not a lot for me to say. I like Filardi's coloring for the different places underground. Especially the red for when they're near the magma river.

Rocketeer and the Spirit: Pulp Friction #3, by Mark Waid (writer), J Bone (art), Rom Fajardo (colors), Tom B. Long (letters) - Cliff, perhaps you should be less concerned with feeling watched, and more concerned with being a foot tall.

All the players have returned to Central City, Betty separately from the others, brought by this Trask fellow. Turns out whatever scientists Trask and the Octopus have in their employ have devised a way to transmit matter through TV broadcast waves, rather than just images. And Trask plans for Betty to play the guinea pig who shows it's safe to use. While all that's going on, Cliff's being freaked out by the Spirit's mausoleum hideout. You'd think a guy who worked for the Shadow would have a higher tolerance for weird stuff than that. Cliff gets away from the Spirit as soon as possible, and tries visiting Betty in her hotel room, only to be brushed off by your typical snooty hotel employee. By the time he straps on the rocket pack and reaches her room, Trask has already beamed her back to Octopus' secret hideout, surprising the Spirit who was attempting a quiet infiltration. Cliff's having some trouble chasing Trask, and it seems as though the experience of being teleported has left Betty's mind blank and pliable. So she's going to kill the Spirit for the gratification of some more investors. I'd be more interested in the teleportation than the mind control, but that's me.

Sooo, J Bone. Quite the shift artistically from Paul Smith or Loston Wallace. Having Fajardo handling colors, rather than J Bone himself, seems to have muddied the artwork up a bit. It doesn't lack for clarity or anything, but the lines don't seem as crisp as I remember from Hollywood Horror. Maybe that's a time crunch thing, though. I like the green Fajardo used in the panel of them examining Betty's skull. It's that unearthly, eerie, sci-fi/horror sort of green.

Pretty sure I know how this thing with Betty played out, but we'll see. I was right about the matter transport thing, so maybe I'm on a roll. Or maybe that was my one correct prediction for the year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Watcher in the Shadows - Geoffrey Household

Watcher in the Shadows begins with Charles Dennim receiving a bomb in the mail. Fortunately for him, he was a little slow answering the door. Not so fortunate for the postman, who got tired of waiting and tried to force it through the slot. Dennim initially dismisses it as a mistake, but soon enough receives a note in the mail convincing him he was the intended target.

See, during World War 2, Charles worked at Buchenwald for the Gestapo, then moved to England after the war, where he settled into a quiet life studying squirrels while sharing a home with his aunt. And there is someone none too happy about that. If it seems odd that the book might be written from the perspective of someone the reader might reasonably want to see killed, I should mention that Charles was actually in the employ of British Intelligence during the war, and helped more than one resistance member escape imprisonment. Not that his killer knows that.

Which leads to an interesting circumstance where Charles is determined to confront his pursuer, and try to explain himself, in the hopes that will quell the murderous rage. He would really rather not kill someone for a perfectly honest mistake. At the same time, he would also prefer not to fall into the hands of a man who has already killed three others who served at Buchenwald (and weren't British spies), and who kept the last one dying for three days.

Even though Charles is in peril for essentially the entire book, I wouldn't call it tense. Part of that is the story is presented as Charles writing about it after the fact. But the book is very deliberate in its pace. Household made a point of making Charles a naturalist, someone accustomed to patience, careful observation, and careful planning, and that's reflected in the pace of the book. There's a lot of cat and mouse, with Charles trying draw out his hunter so he can recognize him, then trying to bait him out into ground Charles has chosen. But when things don't go as planned, he stops and tries to determine what went wrong, why he failed, and then pick up the trail again. There aren't any tense chases down narrow alleys in the dead of night. Instead there are a lot of seemingly leisurely strolls through the English countryside in broad daylight.

There's a romantic subplot added in around the two-thirds stage of the book. I can see the point Household was trying to make (that Charles, in trying to ignore his past, is trapped by it), but it still didn't feel like it fit. It either needed to be excised entirely, or expanded. As it is, it has the appearance of Household feeling he needs to have some romance angle, and just tossing that in there perfunctorily. If he'd built it up some more, I think it would have been fine; he's a pretty good writer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I Bought 12/16/2013 - Part 1

As I alluded to in Monday's post, my comics did arrive sometime while I was away. Not quite everything, but enough to keep busy for awhile. Especially considering I grabbed a bunch of books while I was at my dad's, so expect lots of reviews of espionage thrillers and the like worked in there. Ought to be able to carry me through to at least January.

Avengers Arena #17, 18, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Kev Walker (penciler, inker), Jason Gorder (inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - It's nice Walker was able to draw each of the last two issues. It'd be nicer if they'd slow the pace on the next series so they wouldn't have to use fill-in artists. No hope of that, though.

So everything on the surface has gone to hell. X-23's nearly finished gutting Hazmat in a berserker fury, only to get attacked by a seriously angry Anachronism, who then gets attacked by Reptil. Nico's trying to kill Bloodstone (and he's encouraging her), and Chase isn't going to do anything to stop it. So Cammi does, after she kicks Chase's ass, which he makes very easy by dint of being a moron. During all this, Arcade has made his escape from Katy/Tim, Deathlocket, and Chris Powell, only to contact Katy and make her an offer. If she kills the others, he'll help her spin it so she's just a tragic lone survivor. If not, everyone will see her for the unrepentant murderer she is. I guess the assumption was she kept Tim locked up in her head for years, she can do it again. So she goes for it, getting control of Deathlocket again (who immediately shoots Chris, nooo!), and unleashing everything Arcade had stored up but hadn't used yet. The side effect of that - along with Reptil maybe dying to keep everyone else safe when Hazmat goes nuclear - is it gets everyone back on the same side again. Not that it's much use, except Tim exerts enough control to free Deathlocket, and she ends Katy. And Tim. Which leaves the survivors to decide what they're going to tell everyone. Which may be moot, because Arcade's still on the loose, and he has all the footage. Which probably explains the next series, if everyone knows what the kids did.

Let's talk about Kev Walker, because he's done a really good job on this book. For these two issues, all the calm panels are done with nice neat straight line borders, and all the fighting panels are these jagged, sketched-looking borders. The calm panels are usually neat rectangles or squares, the action ones are uneven, sometimes coming to a point, or a jagged end, like the end of the panel was broken off. It gives the action this erratic, urgent feel to it. Like the time is jumping a bit. It contrasts nicely with those clean, panels in the run up to the action, the ones that feel calm. The action panels are wild, overlapping in places, leaning in others. Everything's gone crazy, out of control. It drives my eyes ahead, to the next panel, but the thicker borders also help to make me focus, especially in the case of overlapping panels. My eyes are panning across, I hit that black border, and it's like it freezes me for a second, and I just take the panel in. It really impresses the whole thing on my mind. Bealieu's colors help, too, since the calm panels (mostly underground) and in cool blues, but the sky up above has turned red and angry.

I understand why a lot of people were against this series from the start. Nobody likes to see favorite characters killed off, especially if they get a cheap send-off (though it's worth noting I think Juston and Mettle were the only two pre-existing characters that died, unless that Red Raven was already around. No consolation for fans of those two/three, but it's more restrained than I think a lot of people were expecting). For some reason, it didn't bug me. I guess, like I said last year, I figured if anyone I cared about died, they'll just come back the next time some other writer wants to use them. I'm glad Darkhawk and Cammi didn't die, because now there doesn't have to be the hassle of devising a way to bring them back, but if Hopeless and Walker did it right, I could have worked with it. I wasn't annoyed Abnett and Lanning killed of Richard Rider at the end of Thanos Imperative, so much as I was annoyed by some of the other stuff they did in the run up to it, which seemed nonsensical and pointless.

That was something key here. Even if I didn't like a decision a character made, I understood it. Hopeless wrote in such a way that I could see why they would reach that conclusion. It was important I didn't spend a lot of time going, "Why would you do that? That's just stupid." There were a few things that came close (I thought Katy tipped her hand using Deathlocket against Nara too quickly), but even there, I could see what led to the mistake. I thought there was a good momentum to the series, a nice rise and fall of hopes, a few twists, but not too many, and some solid character work. I enjoyed Avengers Arena a lot, and I'm going to try the follow-up series (the fact Marvel actually priced it at $2.99 instead of $3.99 doesn't hurt).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Have Enough Burdens Without Command, Thank You

The Heroes of Telemark was one of those war movies that makes me distinctly aware of how unsuited I'd be for that sort of thing. All the more so since it's pretty historically accurate, as far as I know.

In Norway, the Nazis have a facility they're using to produce "heavy water" the substance they believe will help to stabilize the fission of an atomic bomb. The Resistance movement in Norway gets wind of something going on their, and manage to smuggle some photographs out, which Knut (Richard Harris), brings to a playboy scientist known as Rolf (Kirk Douglas). Rolf initially wants no part of it. Every time the resistance does something, the Nazis kill a dozen innocent people in reprisal. But once he sees what the photos are of, he understands the situation, and they make their way to England (hijacking a ferry to do so). The British send them back to work with their fellow Resistance members to prepare things for a commando landing that will destroy the installation. While in the middle of making a landing strip (the commandos are coming in by glider, rather than parachute), they're observed by Jensen, a Norwegian not associated with the Resistance. Which presents a question of what to do with him.

The commandos die in their landing, putting Rolf, Knut, and the rest in a bind, and the remainder of the film is a real back-and-forth. The resistance tries to stop the Nazis, the Nazis bounce back and keep going. There's a lot of talk about what's acceptable risks, and who gets to decide who takes those risks, and that's the kind of thing I find interesting. Knut doesn't know what the significance of heavy water is, only that the doctor working there felt it was important enough to risk his life getting those photos to Knut. Rolf knows, but won't tell Knut, because it's classified. Knut is good enough to risk his life trying to destroy it, but not good enough to know what it is he's risking his life to destroy. This is the sort of thing that always bothers me: sending somebody off to die when, for all he knows, it's a completely pointless mission. This unwillingness to even explain why it's necessary just emphasizes the fact that he's considered expendable, and ultimately irrelevant. In this particular case, Rolf's attitude when dealing with Knut probably didn't help, since Rolf is a real condescending dick when he isn't hitting on everyone that doesn't have a Y chromosome. Rolf certainly makes it clear he has no problem with Knut walking off into the meat grinder in ignorance.

Then there's the whole sequence with Jensen. From the moment he explained why he wasn't working with the Germans, you could see how things were going to end. Which is maybe why Rolf wanted to shoot him. But Knut and the other Resistance members outvote him. They keep Knut tied up at their hideout, but they don't harm him otherwise, and it comes back to bite them. But I understand their decision. It's hard for me to see how killing a man just because he might not be your ally is the right road to liberating your country. It's that question of how much like the enemy are you prepared to become.

When the Resistance's initial sabotage proves less successful than hoped, and the British aerial bombardment fails utterly (because "precision high altitude bombing" was an oxymoron in those days), Rolf and Knut are left with one path open to them. The Germans are loading railcars full of heavy water on a ferry. Sink the ferry, all that hard work by the Nazis is undone. But the ferry is full of people, Norwegians*. How many of them are they prepared to kill to stop this? What's an acceptable number? I don't know, myself.

* One thing I was curious about, but neglected to ask my dad: Did the Nazis put it on the ferry as camouflage, figuring the Allies wouldn't suspect such a vital cargo would be shipped that way? Or was it to dissuade any attacks, using unwitting civilians as human shields?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Back Around To The Start Again


Future Deadpool: What vast hall? This place is the size of a broom closet?

Cornelius Potfiller: I must concur. These accommodations are quite insufficient for a lively party. Where are the servants? Where are the candelabras?

UnCalvin: *very drunk* Isssh, a, a, a Super Friendsh reference. *belches* I think.

Clever Adolescent Panda: How would you know?

UnCalvin: *sleepy grin* When I get really drunk, my brain sinks to his level.

Cornelius: I say, you've drank the last of my Napoleon brandy!

UnCalvin: BURP!

CAP: Why are you drunk?

UnCalvin: Adversh reaction to Calvin being around lotsh of people drinking? Or maybe I'm depressed because I'm a genius, but I never accomplish the simple goal of destroying an imbecile's blog?

Future Deadpool: I'm pretty sure it's the second one. Otherwise, we'd have seen you drunk during all those other times you showed up when Calvin was off visiting his boozy friends.

UnCalvin: Thass right! *points emphatically with empty wine glass*

CAP: This is the worst celebration of the start of another year here at Reporting on Marvels and Legends ever.


Calvin: *falls over clutching ears* Agh! What the hell was that?

Future Deadpool: It's the Booming Narrator Voice. I'm telling you because you can't see the stage direction-like form this event is written in.

Calvin: Of course. Now what are all of you doing here?

CAP: We came to celebrate the end of Year 8 here at the blog. But you didn't show up, so we went ahead and ate all the snacks, and drank all the wine.

Calvin: You drank wine? Are you old enough for that?

CAP: I can sip to be polite!

Calvin: If you say so.

CAP: Anyway, we figured you wouldn't miss this, so we waited. It's the start of year 9 now, but that's OK.

Calvin: Well that was nice of yo - oh. You brought Cornelius again?

Future Deadpool: He had the best food.

UnCalvin: And liquor! *passes out*

Calvin: What's UnCalvin's problem?

CAP: UnCalvin isn't satisfied with how life is going.

UnCalvin: *bolts upright* I'd be fine if you'd just die! *devours entire ham*

Cornelius: I expect to be reimbursed for those provisions, you ruffians.

Calvin: Don't hold you breath. *sees Future Deadpool eyeing can of baked beans* On second thought. . .

Cornelius: Bodily emanation humor?

Calvin: No fruit too low-hanging, that's the motto of this blog.

CAP: No it isn't!

Calvin: You're right, but sometimes I want to make crass jokes. It really has been another year, hasn't it? Well, I didn't get to those entries on my favorite Marvel and DC characters. And for the 7th consecutive year, I didn't start Spider-Man: Giant Slayer. UnCalvin might have some room on that failure train.

UnCalvin: *sing-song from corner of the room where UnCalvin sits sprawled* Too baaad! I bought up all the tickets!

CAP: Well, yeah, but you gave the readers more stories with me! And UnCalvin! And maybe Deadpool will start showing up next year.

Future Deadpool: And you felt like you posted less rushed, slapdash crap this year because you stopped being so worried about posting every day.

Calvin: That's true, but how do you know?

Future Deadpool: You tell me in a few weeks, whenever you get around to reviewing this month's issues of Deadpool.

Calvin: Speaking of which, my comics arrived. *opens box* Aw, damn it, he left out the Deadpool issues!

Future Deadpool: That's why I said a few weeks. Doesn't it fill you with murderous rage?

Calvin: Huh?

Future Deadpool: You know, it makes you angry, and you still have to Christmas shop, and then you could pay me to simplify that.

Calvin: Future Deadpool, I'm not paying you to kill the other people doing holiday shopping. I don't care what your timeline says I did.

Future Deadpool: I was just trying to help, while having fun killing people. It's the most fun we're allowed to have in the future.

UnCalvin: *drapes arm over Future Deadpool, slurs* You could help me with something. . .

Calvin: UnCalvin, I'm going to suggest you stop before you doing something you'll seriously regret when you wake up.

UnCalvin: *confused* What are you talking about? Oh. Oh, no, not that. I wanted him to beat you up. To raise my spirits.

Future Deadpool: I won't say I'm not hurt by how quickly you dismissed that, but sure!

UnCalvin: Really? Oh, this holiday is looking up.

CAP: Forget about it, Future 'Pool! I'll never let you - *cut off by a pie striking Future Deadpool in the face*

Calvin: *looks around, sees no one* Oh, is the Ghost of the Forest here? Awesome! Ghost, I haven't seen you in, well, ever, because you're invisible. We need to throw the frisbee around some! *Turns to CAP* You didn't tell me the Ghost was here.

CAP: *shrugs* I thought it left with Cassanee. She got bored after a few hours.

Future Deadpool: *scoops remains of pie off face, shovels them into mouth* I forgot how good pie was. Cyclops outlawed it in 2032, at the same time as dancing with your arms over your head.

Calvin: Truly, Cyclops is history's greatest monster.

Future Deadpool: Only when he's distracted by a redhead.

UnCalvin: I'm never going to see Calvin get beat up, am I?

Calvin: Hopefully not.


*everyone falls over*

Calvin: We need to find that guy and shut him up.

CAP: Agreed.

And maybe that'll be the next big story arc: Search for the Annoying Omniscient Narrator. Or maybe not. Probably not. Anyway, thanks for reading, and commenting, if you comment. As always, I'm a little surprised the blog's kept going this long, but I guess it's going to keep going for a while longer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Burn Notice 6.18 - Game Change

Plot: Picking up immediately where the last episode left off, Fi crashes the party of her doctor acquaintance, Jed. He's not real interested in helping Sam, until Michael uses a little firearm persuasion. So Sam lives, narrowly, as our crew hole up in Jed's place for the night. Where they are attacked by members of a drug cartel. Based on the high quality satellite photos they brought with them, Mike concludes these are members of a cartel they tangled with previously, set on them by Riley. This is apparently a bridge too far, but it gives Michael something to use to get Bly on board with him.

All that's needed is to draw Riley out, then push her to contact the cartel, so they can catch her with him. Fortunately, this can be accomplished by getting Sam some real medical attention at a hospital. He rattles Riley's cage a little, after she replaces his morphine drip with a stimulant. So he'll hurt worse. Swell. Fi bugs Riley's car, they hear her set up a meeting, and Mike and Bly head over there to get the scoop. Which is that Riley's promising to help the cartel elude the DEA, if they eliminate Westen. This is big news. Pity Bly won't survive to tell anyone about it, as a cartel guy poses as a marina security guard and drops a grenade in Bly's lap.

Great. It's a bad scene, because all the evidence they'd collected went up with Bly and his Crown Vic. Which makes Mike a little desperate. More than he's been lately. He boards the ship (while Jesse and Fi engage all the cartel guys), and sets out for open waters, attracting the attention of the Coast Guard. Then he threatens Riley with destruction if she doesn't call in and not only confess what she's done, but also provide all the evidence she created to pin the work with the cartel on Michael. I'm not sure how it works, since she doesn't make the call until after Michael stops the boat, to avoid death. Once he stopped, wasn't she out of danger?

Well, anyway, it's initially unclear whether it worked, because we see Fi, Sam, Jesse, and Maddy in some detention facility. But they're brought out into a really fake looking set, and see Michael in a nice suit, giving people orders. He tries to explain to Fi that he had to make deals to save them from the various criminal actions they took, but she's not having it. She sees it as Michael once again taking advantage of the situation to get what he always really wanted - to be back fully in the intelligence fold. And that's where it ends, Fi crying, Mike looking, I'm not sure what that face was. That sort of befuddled, squinty look he gets, when he has no idea what to say.

The Players: Olivia Riley (CIA Heavy Hitter), Jason Bly (CSS Agent), Dr. Jed (Cokehead Plastic Surgeon/Sam's Only Chance), Alejandro Lopez (Cartel Kingpin)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'We can't stay here and we can't leave.' Madeline - 'Now you know what life with your father was like.' Michael - 'How did you deal with it?' Madeline - 'I made a choice, and I lived with the consequences.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Well, there were some Molotovs. I guess that could count.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (26 overall). No booze with meds, obviously.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall).

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall).

Overall: It was pretty cold of Mike to mention the evidence was destroyed before mentioning that Bly died. I know they weren't friends, but he was helping you, Mike. Anyway, we have another name to add to the list of people who suffer for their association with Michael Westen. That list is getting really long.

At least now I understand why Michael never wears his seat belt. If you do, then you can't bail out of the car quickly if someone chucks grenades in the car.

Those backgrounds did look really bad. Like something out of an early episode of Power Rangers. I guess they didn't want to pick and move the filming to an area that actually had mountains.

I wonder if Michael escaping on a dirtbike was a callback to the pilot. If you remember, when Michael's first burned, he's in Nigeria, and it causes a deal to fall through. So he escapes angry guys in luxury cars by driving a dirt bike through a black market area. The other thing I noted from that escape sequence was that Riley could really move. Those shoes had some decent heels, and she was running on linoleum, but she was making tracks after him.

I'm still very disappointed in how Riley turned out. This whole thing about her losing it, being willing to do anything to catch Michael, was a real letdown. Why would she even think cartel guys could take Michael? Ooh, guys with guns, how scary. She already had guys with guns, and it wasn't doing her any good. If she knew he was at Dr. Jed's (and how could she find him there, but never found Schmidt's place), why not call in all the cops, feds, army, whoever, surround the house, then just go in? Mike isn't going to kill cops, so if you present him with so much force there's no other choice, you've got him.

So that's two seasons in a row where the big plot of the last third of the season was not to my liking. I will say I liked this better than the Anson arc. This was disappointing, Anson was just supremely irritating.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I'm Tired

Last night was filled with snow, music, and drunken idiocy. Lots of drunken idiocy. People getting tackled by cops, people nearly getting run down by irate cab drivers, people spilling beer on thousands of dollars worth of DJ equipment. Some of it was pretty funny, but a lot of it was just exasperating.

Better to discuss something else, briefly. I bought Alex the Hellsing Ultimate collections for Christmas. He loved the first Hellsing anime, and I've been telling him for years, the manga storyline was so much better. But I know even if I loan him all 10 volumes, he'll never read it. He's had my copies of all the Dark Tower books for 5 years, and hasn't made a dent in them. As in, he hasn't even finished The Gunslinger. The only way he's going to see it, is to get to watch it as a series of short movies.

It looks pretty good. I certainly like how they worked the sillier aspects in, the times where Hirano goes to his simplified look for comedic effect. Some of the computer-generated stuff looks kind of cheap, but maybe it looked good for 2006? The two musical montage sequences during the Last Battalion invasion of England didn't work very well. The music needed to be more metal for Nazi vampires wiping out everyone in London. It was too poppy, too light for the situation.

The main issue is the pacing. The movies, especially 5 and 6, which I got to see last night, really seem to drag. Maybe because I know what's coming, or because I read fast, but the manga got to the good stuff a lot faster. But that's me. I'd ask Alex, but we keep trying to watch these at 4 in the morning, and he keep falling asleep. Maybe he'll watch them by the time I come back, and I can see what he thinks then.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seven Men From Now

I only caught the latter half of this one. Dad stopped flipping through the channels when he came across it, because that's what you do for a Randolph Scott movie.

Seven men pull of a robbery, and Scott - playing a former sheriff named Ben Stride - pursues them. Except he finds a wagon with a young couple, Annie and John Greer, in trouble and winds up escorting them as well. And while he's in the midst of doing that, he's joined by a couple of bounty hunters, I guess, one of them (Bill Masters) played by Lee Marvin. Annie is kind of attracted to Stride, but he plays it cold, because he carries a lot of guilt over his wife's death. He was a good sheriff, but not much for campaigning, so he lost the most recent election. I have never understood why sheriff was an electable position, for precisely that reason. You just wind up with the guy who makes the most sweet-sounding promises. So the electorate gets the sheriff they deserve.

Anyway, Stride was offered a deputy position, but wouldn't take it. Nor could he find any other work he deemed worthy of himself. So his wife took a job, and wound up killed during the robbery. Whoops.

Pride is a real theme through the movie. Pride cost Scott's character his wife (or that's how he sees it). John Greer has mostly swallowed his pride. He's not a gunfighter, or much of a fighter period, and Bill Masters ridicules him for it repeatedly, calling him 'half a man'. But John, unlike Stride, was willing to take a job he didn't care for, because he felt he had to provide for Annie. But ultimately, the cost is too high. And even Masters has a little pride. He's generally a cutthroat, greedy, always with that air of a predator waiting for the moment to strike. But he's impressed by John, and admires Stride enough he didn't want to have to kill him for the money. His pride keeps him from throwing in with men he considers even worse than him, but also keeps him from maybe recognizing when it's better to call it a day. Or at least not approach his opponent directly.

The end gunfight is a surprising anticlimax. Stride's bleeding from some head injury, using his rifle as a cane. Yet he's still able to draw his pistol so quickly Masters can't even get either of his guns out of their holsters. Usually the bad at least draws his pistol and gets to fire the token shot into the ground as he clutches his belly. I commented that seemed ridiculous considering Stride's injuries and the fact he's probably concussed, and my dad generally agreed. He did chide Masters, because Masters wore his gun belt up high, but wore his pistols backwards, the grips pointing out in front of him, rather than behind. Combined with the fact he wasn't using a cross draw (pull the gun on the right hip with the left hand, and vice versa), it's just a very awkward set-up.

It makes sense when he explains it, though the next problem is, I can't figure how Masters survived that long handicapping himself that way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Outriders

I'm on the road, visiting friends and family. I was at my dad's last night, so surprise! You get a review of a Western. So, The Outriders. Three Confederates escape a prison chain gang, after simultaneously stabbing their guard repeatedly with a bayonet and drowning him in a swamp. Maybe that was the Russians' mistake with Rasputin; they only tried killing him one way at a time.

They join up with a band of raiders who know of a wagon train coming from Santa Fe with a load of gold, which they will hijack to help the war effort. So these three will join in as outriders for the convoy to make sure they make it safely to the place where they will be ambushed, robbed, and slaughtered. Except that Will (Joel McCrea) gets sweet on Jen (Arlene Dahl), and starts to have second thoughts. Not about the ambush, but he would surely like for Jen not to die. Problem is, one of the other two, Jesse (Barry Sullivan), has no such compunctions, even though he is also sweet on Jen. As they near the destination, the tension between the two increases, with Clint (James Whitmore) mostly keeping his own counsel in between. Then they learn the war has ended, which is good, but the raiders are still going to attack. Because it's about the gold for them, not the Confederacy.

Whitmore's character was actually the one I was most interested in. He's the calm center between Wil's conflicted soul and Jesse's pure avarice. He's quiet, but there are multiple occasions where he staves off disaster without drawing attention to it. When the other riders are getting angry at Wil's leadership, he hands out the liquor. Soon they're drunk and on the verge of fighting, until Clint steps in and gets them dancing. When Wil has doubts, Clint offers quiet understanding. He doesn't second guess, he doesn't even really offer advice. It's more that he backs up what Wil's instincts are telling him to do already, so Wil keeps moving forward, rather than backtracking. And there's never much doubt which guy he's siding with the whole time. I like quiet, helpful supporting characters.

The Outriders isn't a blockbuster Western, just a solidly average one, but it does have some interesting scenes. Before Wil hands out the booze, he tells Jen to stay in the carriage with the curtains drawn all night. But sometime after the dancing has started, she steps out. This seemed certain to end badly - only attractive woman, lots of drunk roughnecks - but the guys are oddly respectful. They get most aggressive with each other, tossing each other out of the way so they can dance with her. But then Wil gets pushy, and she complains her shoes are worn out. So she retrieves another pair, and then Wil puts them on. While everyone else stands around watching. In complete silence. There's no dialogue, no ambient noise, no background music even. It's damned creepy. I don't know what it was all about.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Burn Notice 6.17 - You Can Run

Plot: The person who left the note and flowers at Nate's grave was. . . Jason Bly! I was going to say he hadn't appeared since midway through Season 2. Then I remembered he was the one who tried to convince Fi to implicate Michael to save herself at the start of this season. I was more focused on the Anson-punching in that episode. Bly explains there's been enough nosing around since Card's death to reveal he was up to something, and if Michael turns himself into Bly, they might just be able to expose it. Also, Michael being in custody might get the others off the hook, which sorely tempts Michael. Fiona is having none of it, naturally. Which means they're stuck relying on those passports and hoping for the best as they try to get hired on as crew on a cargo ship. Problem: Riley thought of that, and all the ports in the area are on the lookout, so they aren't escaping that way. Given Riley's tactical team, Mike and Sam are lucky to escape at all.

Too bad Jesse had gone with them, and now he's Riley's prisoner. And too bad Sam's gut shot. But Michael captured the guy who did it, so they have a prisoner. Hooray?

The middle of the episode is a series of races. Michael tries to get the location where Riley has Jesse out of his prisoner, Dean. At the same time, Riley's trying to get Michael's location out of Jesse, first with beatings, then by offering him what she thinks he desires most - a look at the closed police file to his mother's murder. The third race is Campbell and Maddy working to keep Sam from bleeding to death. The Mike beats Riley in their race, and Campbell stalled the Reaper, for now. Off Mike and Fi go to rescue Jesse, gassing everyone in the safe house with some medical sedative Campbell gave them. he didn't do so happily, but Fi basically told him that if they couldn't knock everyone out to rescue Jesse, they'd have to use explosives and firearms, which would mean dead people. Poor Campbell. But they rescued Jesse without anyone dying, though Bly was not pleased to hear Michael attacked a CIA safe house.

It's the least of his problems, because Sam needs a real doctor, if it isn't already too late.

The Players: Olivia Riley (CIA Heavy Hitter), Jason Bly (CSS Agent/Not A Friend), John Campbell (Fiona's Ex-Boyfriend)

Quote of the Episode: Sam - 'You've got good reasons for things, but you do enough bad things. . . you become the bad guy.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No. She gassed a building full of people, though.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (26 overall). Don't think liquor is the best thing when you're gut shot. Though I suppose it might help with infection, if it's high enough proof.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 1 (8 overall). I think being shot counts as a hit.

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall).

Other: It's funny that Fiona is now the one insisting nobody goes to jail to save everyone else. It's the same as last season, only she and Michael have switched sides on the debate. Oh, and Fiona didn't actually kill the people she was accused of killing, while Michael absolutely did shoot Tom Card. But it's more about the sentiments than the details. When you boil it down, Michael is contemplating throwing himself on the pyre before his friends die or do something they shouldn't have to while trying to help him. Which is why Fi turned herself in, to keep Michael from going too far helping Anson.

Does this mean people would prefer to sacrifice themselves, than see their loved ones suffer? That isn't exactly a surprise, but the flipside to it is that said loved ones still suffer, because they lose you. Michael was clearly not in a good frame of mind that whole time he was trying to get Fi out of prison. He was right on the line, stepping over sometimes, managing to pull himself back other times. Being a martyr sounds wonderfully self-sacrificing, but I wonder if it isn't also to protect themselves a little. This way, they don't have to deal with being hurt by losing that loved one, because they make the sacrifice. The loved one is left to pick up the pieces and deal with the loss, seeing as they were not given a say in the matter. Is it a matter of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons?

I feel really bad for Campbell. He's a genuinely nice guy, wants to help people, still cares about Fiona. He's just not meant to be in the middle of stuff like this. Like Nate, but in a different way. Nate had a shitty life at times, and the problem was that (combined with his super-cool big brother) made him either indifferent to danger, or just really bad at assessing how much danger there was. I think Campbell has a pretty good life, pretty clear cut. See person sick or injured, help that person as much as possible until you can get them to a hospital. Be nice, treat people well. He's not cut out for all this stuff with guns and threats, and "We can't involve the police". And I really didn't like Fi basically saying that if he didn't get them the sedatives, lots of people would die. It's true, but it's a shitty guilt trip, precisely because I know Campbell can't withstand it. Of course he's going to help, even though I imagine there will be inquiries into why he needed that much of those drugs.

Kudos to Jesse, holding as he did. It doesn't always come up, but that undercurrent of Jesse wanting resolution on his mother's murder, is always there. For Riley to dangle that carrot in front of him, I wondered if he would talk. And if he had, I wouldn't have blamed him. He's never been quite as deep in the group as Sam, Fi, and Mike. It's inevitable, they've known each other a lot longer, even if FI and Sam hated each other at the start. Jesse's always going to be a little bit outside (though he's more in than Maddy in some ways). He's not a fool, he probably senses it. And this is a chance to find his mother's killer, something that means a lot to him. I would have understood his decision, but he held out. I actually think Riley made the mistake, when she presumed to speak for his mother. She tried a little too hard, and I think it triggered the alarms in his head. The reminder of what exactly Riley wanted in exchange for this offering. If she let the promise of the file speak for itself, it might have been too much for him to resist.

I want to get on Riley's case about some of her recent tactics - having Jesse beaten, arresting Sugar, lying to Jesse about the file - but she's using the same playbook Michael has since the beginning of the show. Michael lies to people so they'll do what he wants, gets them to betray people. He abducts people and interrogates them. The difference is Riley's using it against the protagonists, rather than for them. I am a little disappointed. I had hoped Riley would be this straight-shooter, honestly determined to bring Michael in, but not willing to do anything to do it. Michael is guilty of killing Tom Card. There are extenuating circumstances we know about, sure, but at the end of the day, Michael shot a man who had holstered his weapon. Riley isn't wrong about that, but I think it weakens her position to use these kinds of tactics. Kind of damages her moral credibility.

I guess one key difference between her and Michael is, when Michael uses these techniques to help a client, he's usually operating from a position of weakness. He has no official standing, limited firepower and manpower. The people he's dealing with often have lots of all of those things. Weapons, money, political connections, police protection, etc. Michael uses the tricks he does to compensate for the stacked deck. Riley has the entire government on her side. She has immense resources, is not the underdog by any stretch of the imagination. So it feels cheap, like she has to cheat to win, even though the deck is stacked for her. But she's a spy, she's used to fighting dirty, and old habits are hard to break. Just ask Michael. But that line Sam delivered to Mike, the one I used above? That could easily apply to Riley as well.

And it's only going to get worse in the season finale.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ratfist - Doug Tennapel

I bought Ratfist back in the spring, and I've debated whether to review it since then. I was rereading it this week (to decide whether it's going to find a more permanent spot in the collection), and here we are.

Tennapel did Ratfist originally as an online comic, updated daily or weekly. It stars Ricky, who works as sort of mid-level computer tech for a highly successful company run by a crotchety Mr. Black. Ricky is also the costumed hero known as Ratfist, working to uncover the secret behind his employers' success. Then he gets bitten by a rat, develops rat powers, meets a Space Tiki being held captive by his boss, they escape by stepping out of reality, only Ricky winds up in a ruined future. Ruined by him and his friends' beliefs that the government should take control of businesses to make certain they are "fair". This naturally causes businesses to fail horribly, because governments are incompetent, as the people in charge are too busy enjoying the benefits to accomplish anything. So Ratfist has to try and see if he can fix what his apparently foolhardy naivete brought about.

Most of Ratfist feels like Tennapel taking shots at pretty much everything he doesn't like. People who want government to take control of private businesses, obviously. People who argue things should be more "fair". People who assume some moral superiority for not believing in God. Grown-ups who are too into Earthworm Jim (that one hurt).

Religion plays a large role in Tennapel's work, and I guess is important to his personal life as well. I'm not religious myself, but I normally don't have any problem with it in his work. It's usually a positive portrayal of people drawing strength from their faith, or using it to guide them to help others. Black Cherry had the Church trying their best to teach an alien scout the value of God, so he'd convince his people not to conquer Earth. He highlights the positives of his beliefs. The difference is, this feels more like showing why everyone else is wrong, or hypocritical, or just full of shit. Which sure, a lot of people portray Religion (and Big Business) as bad guys in fiction, in overly-simplified ways. They're both responsible for some awful things, but both concepts have their good sides, so maybe he just wanted to redress the balance. Except this feels less like demonstrating why those are good things to have, and more why the things he places in opposition to them (atheism and government) are stupid and bad. Question is, do I dislike it because I disagree with his opinions, or because I think it creates a really unpleasant tone for the entire book? I'm not sure, probably both, but I feel like he creates such ludicrous strawmen to represent the things he doesn't like, they don't have any weight. There's no strength to the critique, which reduces it to a string of weak jokes. Tennapel can be very funny, but the mean-spirited edge to everything here works against the humor. It makes me tired, angry, on the lookout for who he's going to take shots at next, with continually fraying patience.

I know by the point where he established that cancer was the creation of the Space Tiki, trying to bring about a particular turn of events, I was pretty well done giving him any slack, and that finished the process. He'd already established there was a Heaven and Hell in this fictional universe, and thus presumably a God and Devil (though Tennapel himself appears in the book, as Ratfist's "creator", so perhaps he's both). It seemed rather convenient to make certain there was a Christian theology in the universe, but then dump the blame for cancer off on a being who looks like a figure out of a Polynesian religion. Frankly, if Tennapel is "the creator", then the creation of cancer in that universe is his fault, not Space Tiki's, because he created said fictional universe, including Space Tiki and the events that put him on his path. Yet Space Tiki's the one taken into custody by angels and going to be tossed into the pits of Hell.

When Ratfist loses his rat powers a few pages later, and can no longer speak to his little buddy Milt (the rat), Milt promptly runs off, leaving Ricky to cry out, 'My best friend never even existed!' Now I'm in such a bad mood over the "cancer is the fault of the non-Christian deity" thing, I read that as a shot at those who prefer pets to people (which you could possibly label my father as), and I'm even more irritated. Now that reaction is me taking stuff personally, but Tennapel's the one who has spent the entire book attacking people, and unless the reader goes along with his perspective, that might put said reader in a defensive mindset. So Tennapel did it to himself. Act like an ass, people are going to respond accordingly, and eventually it may become the default response. The ending is supposed to be uplifting, a man rising above his petty desires and jealousies, his childish thoughts, and doing something truly selfless. Touching that decent core that hopefully exists in all of us, even if we rarely heed it. Sounds lovely, doesn't it. But as I read it, I'm in such a foul mood from everything that precedes it that the ending does nothing. Intellectually, I can see what he's going for. Emotionally, I don't care, it doesn't work. And now I'm not sure I'm interested in picking up his future work, because it might be another book like this.

It did look very good, though. I hated his writing on this book (obviously), but I still enjoy how well he draws everything. The art is the only thing making me consider keeping the book at all.