Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ty Cobb - Charles C. Alexander

I can’t imagine what possessed my dad to think I was itching to read a biography about Ty Cobb, but here we are. Not being an expert on the man, I can’t tell you how thorough the book is, but it seems to cover most of his life, from his early years in Georgia, to his last, cancer-filled days.

Cobb is in many ways pretty much what I’d heard about in other books or stories about baseball of that era. He’s intensely competitive, one of those athletes who feeds on the scorn or distaste of opposing players and fans, whether it’s real or merely perceived. And if there isn’t enough of that to go around, sticking it to the teammates he thinks have it in for him will do just as well. As a result, there are multiple occasions every season where Cobb is in trouble for arguing with an umpire, or getting into it with an opposing catcher or infielder who objected to Cobb’s slide (although Alexander contends Cobb did not sharpen his spikes to try and injure players, that was merely a rumor started by two other guys on the team to psych out their opponent). If that isn’t enough, he’ll get into an altercation with a fan every few years, meaning he’ll literally run into the stands and fight the guy. He shows up late to spring training every year (it must be said, always in shape when he arrived), and has contract disputes regularly. Though I won’t fault Cobb for disliking and speaking out against the reserve clause system that was in effect until the 1970s, where a team had control of a player’s rights for as long as they liked, and could pay as much or little as they chose, with the player’s only option to sit out if they didn’t like it.

And of course, the racism. Cobb would probably contend he had no particular problem with black people – he probably wouldn’t employ the, “I have black friends!” excuse, though – as long as they, you know, didn’t get insolent. That was a favorite word he apparently liked to use to explain why he had to thrash some elevator operator, or a clerk in a butcher store (after Cobb barged in with a gun and threatened the guy’s boss for mischarging Cobb’s wife on an order). They were “insolent” with him, and he couldn’t tolerate that, fine Southern gent that he was. Alexander lets Cobb off the hook for those actions, describing him as someone who would today be called a racist, but otherwise kind of lumps it in with “those were the common views of the time”. Well, just because a large proportion of white people in the early 20th Century were really obviously racist (as opposed to more subtly racist), doesn’t make Ty Cobb not also a racist.

Also, he waits until Cobb’s first wife, Charlie, files for divorce after Cobb retires to mention that, oh yeah, Cobb could be a really tough guy to live with, what with the sarcasm and angry outbursts and such (no physical abuse, apparently, that’s something). Up to that point, Alexander gives no impression there’s any real issue with the marriage, except perhaps that Cobb is away from his family a lot because of baseball. Could just be a matter of it being a different era, when whatever marital unrest there was, actually stayed out of public knowledge, but it came as a bit of a surprise. Up to then, Cobb seemed like a loving father and husband, loyal to his wife, undoubtedly demanding of his sons, but mostly wanting to be there. Then his playing career is over, and that’s apparently not been the case. Or not entirely the case, anyway.

I didn’t expect to learn Cobb has been involved in funding a modern hospital for his hometown, or a scholarship program for kids in need after his playing days were over. Or that he would push hard to get his old teammate Sam Crawford elected to the Hall of Fame, given they never exactly got along. But Cobb does seem to get slightly better at making friends, or mending fences, after he’s done playing. There are some acts he wouldn’t forgive, but with people he’d feuded with simply because they were on other teams, there was a chance. He strongly disliked what Babe Ruth’s success did to the game, but they eventually became friends. Cobb mused near the end that he ought to have done things differently, not pushed so hard all the time, not always had to be right, and maybe there’d have been more people there for him at the end. It sounds good, but I’m not sure Cobb could have been anyone other than who he was, even given the chance to see how things turned out, I think he wouldn’t be able to help himself. When he was player-manager of the Tigers, he initially promised not to meddle too much, make too many changes, go easier on the players (who claimed didn’t respond well to abuse like the guys in the game when he started). It wasn’t long before he couldn’t stop trying to do something, anything, that might help the team’s chance to win a little, and wearing everyone out by yelling about every mistake. That’s who he was.

The story that surprised me the most was when Cobb charged into the stands to fight a fan. Not because he did that. He and the fan had been going back and forth for innings, he said something about the guy’s mother, the guy called him half-black (using the pejorative term that starts with an “n”), and Crawford asked Cobb if he was going to let that slide. What surprised me is, after Cobb is indefinitely suspended by the league, his teammates all say they’ll go on strike if the suspension isn’t lifted. Then they go through with it. Reading the story initially, and knowing his teammates’ antipathy for him, I had figured Crawford baited him into it specifically to get him off the team for awhile, but no. I wasn’t surprised all the major sports pages roundly condemned the players for going on strike. Always bet on the media outlets to back management, since they’re the ones who decide if the press hacks get access to the players.

‘Juggling, finagling, exhorting, encouraging, railing, and fuming at his ball club, Cobb kept it in contention nearly all season. His men had to respect his past and continuing achievements as a ballplayer. Some of them may even have feared him. But apart from Haney and maybe one or two others, they did not find him likeable. The simple fact was that neither age, wealth, fame, nor parenthood had mellowed Cobb. As a manger, he was what he had always been as a player – smart, ingenious, hard-driving, ruthless, and overbearing. Long accustomed to his celebrity status, he was charming and graceful on public occasions, as when, at a reception in mid-May in Washington attended by Michigan’s two U.S. Senators and thirteen Representatives, he received a set of twenty historical biographies to commemorate his twenty seasons in the American League. A few days later in Philadelphia, however, he was “back in old form,” as the Sporting News put it, punching a black groundskeeper after an argument over the use of a Shibe Park telephone. And a few days after that he was at Yankee Stadium hurling ugly epithets at Ruth, jumping around to distract the New York pitchers, and egging on Blue and Haney into fights with Yankees Mike McNally and Wally Pipp.’

Monday, June 29, 2015

What I Bought 6/12/2015 - Part 5

Let’s look at the other two Secret Wars mini-series I decided to try. I can tell you right now, I was pretty happy with both. This is not going to convince me to try more of the ones currently coming out, mind you, but it’s still a nice turn of events.

Marvel Zombies #1, by Simon Spurrier (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank D’Armata (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) – Is Elsa grabbing the scalp of Zombie Volstagg? Volstagg is a zombie? Noooooo! Next you’ll be telling me he ate his kids or something. Don’t tell me he ate his kids.

Here, the Shield is a giant wall staffed with people who keep the ravenous zombie hordes in their little piece of land. Why the hell did Doom include a piece of Marvel Zombies Earth in his planet? Poor planning, Victor. Elsa Bloodstone is a commander there, and after killing one of her new recruits after he got bitten – because I guess Kev Walker was disappointed he didn’t get to draw Striker dying in agony in the pages of Avengers Arena? – Elsa gets teleported way the hell out into Zombie Wasteland by Zombie Nightcrawler’s Dad, I think. Where she wakes up to find some bald, amnesiac, non-zombie kid, and they try to make the trek back to safe territory. The kid spends a lot of time telling her he thinks they should go the other way, and Elsa spends a lot of time being verbally abusive, because that’s how her father raised her. I have to admit, as much time as the kid spends sniveling and crying, I’d probably tell him to shut up a lot, too. Anyway, after narrowly surviving Zombie Juggernaut thanks to some unexpected reaction from the Bloodstone amulet, Elsa sees just how many zombies are between her and home, and decides to go with the kid’s idea, while some creature, probably Zombie Nightcrawler’s Pop, watches them from a distance and plots to use her own knife on her.

I bought this for the promise of Kev Walker drawing Elsa bloodstone killing lots of monsters, and I’m getting just that so far. Spurrier’s taken the backstory Ellis gave Elsa in NextWave, about her father putting her through all this crazy training as a baby, and approached it from a more serious direction. That would be traumatic for a kid, it would certainly affect how she relates to other people she regards as soft, or unprepared, and would give her a mindset very focused on doing her job. It works, though I’m not sure that backstory was ever meant to be taken seriously. Also, I had figured Ellis was the only writer Marvel let use “toerag” in his books (considering Pete Wisdom couldn’t go 5 pages without saying it during Ellis’ Excalibur), but Spurrier gets to as well.

I don’t know if it means anything that most of the people on the Shield with Elsa had glowing red eyes. That seems like an ominous sign. Also have no idea what the kid’s deal is. No memory, vague sense of wanting to go south, no apparent skills, but somehow still alive in a land where anything alive is food for everything undead. Actually an android? An attempt at a Trojan Horse, zombies eat him, he infects them with some virus that kills them once and for all, but they can sense it and avoid him? Juggernaut went right for Elsa, even though she had the gun, instead of the kid. Paid the kid no mind whatsoever.

Particularly liked the panels Walker did of one of the zombies with rats crawling around inside its flesh while it lay dormant. Reinforces the idea the zombie is dead, rotting meat, also adds the idea they can remain still and silent for a long time, until something catches their interest. I also like how the panel borders get thicker and more ragged, the panels themselves slight tilted or angled, during tense moments, like the Juggernaut fight. Then the borders gradually smooth out, and the panels revert to a nice, even, rectangular shape. It helps zoom in on the action when that’s what needs the focus, and after is when you can pull back and get the sense of how desolate and alone the place they occupy appears to be.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos #1, by Gerry Duggan (writer), Salva Espin (artist), Val Staples (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) – I don’t feel like those guys really qualify as commandos, but it’s been several years since the last time Marvel used that to describe a team of monster creatures, so what the hell, right?

So there was the Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet mini-series, where Wade fought and defeated Dracula, and then married Shiklah, to much rejoicing. In this version, Wade lost, because Dracula cheated, so Shiklah is still married to Drac. And it’s the crappy, “updated”, Final Fantasy villain Dracula, instead of cool, dark cape and beard, Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman Dracula. The Howling Commandos work for him, and Shiklah can’t stand them any more than she can Drac. But as the last living member of her family, she’s kind of up the creek. Until she finds part of the Scepter of the Manticore on one of her brothers’ corpses, and the other has a map leading to the other part. So she comes up with some excuse about ferrying their remains to Hell personally, and sets off in her best Lara Croft/Indiana Jones outfit. But Drac insists the Commandos accompany her, and tells Werewolf by Night to make sure she doesn’t survive the trip. Deadpool’s only present as a ghost narrator, telling people to get over making jokes about Man-Thing, then promptly making a Man-Thing joke a few pages later. Also, he grouses about dying in books in back-to-back months. I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s going to team-up with Thanos this fall, so he’ll probably be dying every page when that happens.

It says the one Commando is Marcus the Minotaur (also combined with a symbiont), but he looks more like a centaur to me. He has four horse legs, plus arms. Maybe Dracula’s just trying to confuse his foes, unless “minotaur” is the name for centaurs with diabetes, since Marcus has that. I also don’t know why one of Shiklah’s brothers is wearing an outfit that’s a cross between one of Jamie Madrox’ shirts and Rachel Summers’ old Hound outfit (the red one with spikes all over it), while the other stole that horrible outfit Frank Castle wore when he was Captain America for 5 seconds. Remember that, after Civil War, Fraction had him fight Hate-Monger and Frank decided he needed to stand up like Cap would have, and he wore some incredibly stupid garb? I do not appreciate this series making me remember that happened.

It’s nothing spectacular, pretty much an exposition issue, but I’ll trust the creative team to make it work. They used a Die Hard quote, that buys them some leeway, and I’m curious whether Shiklah will turn all these guys around to her side of things, or kill a few first to make a point.

Espin's art seems well suited for this. He draws monsters well, but since the book is far from serious in tone, the art needs to be able to do silly or comical, and he's up to the task. It's all kind of bright and exaggerrated. When the Commandos are temporarily turned to stone, it's done in one quick panel showing them looking surprised. No drawn out thing where they tried to flee, or close-ups on their terror. It's essentially so Shiklah can later tell Drac when he asks what she did, 'I made them hard.'  Jokes, but with monsters.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Zorro 1.21 - Zorro Springs A Trap

Plot: The lancers have captured Zorro! They’ve placed him in a cage on the back of a cart, and set it in the square for all to see, and the peons are not happy about it! But there’s Diego coming into town with Bernardo, so something’s up, especially when Diego learns Sergeant Garcia has no idea how Zorro was captured. When it is announced that Zorro will be unmasked, then hung immediately after the next day, Diego sends Bernardo back home for his other outfit, and waits.

In Ortega’s office, the Magistrado demands to see results, and tells Ortega he’s received messages from the Eagle suggesting he isn’t pleased with Ortega’s work. But the false Comandante is sure the peons will try to rescue this Zorro, and when they do, he will capture some of them and they will tell him how to find the real Zorro. While Ortega inspects the gallows with Garcia, several peons arrive outside the cuartel with suspicious carts. Diego advises them to go home, but each group reiterates the same message: Zorro is a hero to them, their only protection from the cruelty of those in power who abuse the law. Soon, they try to block the gates of the cuartel with the carts to give themselves time to free Zorro, only to have him call for the lancers. By this time, Bernardo had returned, and the true Zorro rides out and tells them to flee, and the fake’s mask is removed, showing him to be one of the lancers. As Zorro also beats a hasty retreat, Tornado stumbles and Zorro is thrown from his horse. This gives Ortega time to lasso him, but his triumph is shortlived. Zorro’s able to brace himself against a well, and Ortega is pulled off his horse, saddle and all.

Zorro may have escaped, but the lancers captured Tornado, and Ortega announces an auction. Again, he plans to arrest any “suspicious” people who bid on the horse, then force them to tell him who Zorro is. He also specifically orders his lackey Roberto not to explain this to Garcia, who will be conducting the auction, so Garcia doesn’t get confused. Unfortunately, this means Garcia thinks he can buy the horse, and Diego is nice enough to loan him the money, which he gives to Corporal Reyes to bid for him. Unfortunately, Reyes doesn’t understand bidding, and so even though he’s the only one making bids, the price keeps going up, because he keeps raising his bid each time Garcia announces the current bid. Still, he gets a really nice horse for just 205 pesos, but also gets chewed out by Ortega.

That night, Bernardo tries to sneak out and feed Tornado, only to be observed by Roberto, who starts whipping him, while demanding answers. To Bernardo’s credit, he keeps up the disguise of being deaf, not that it stops the whipping. Crawling into the corral does, because Tornado is more than willing to protect him, and Roberto is more than willing to whip a horse. Because he’s an asshole. In the process, he knocks over one of the torches ringing the corral, starting a fire. Things get worse for him, because Tornado’s a little more than he can handle, and he winds up stomped (though probably not dead). By then, Bernardo has alerted Diego, who goes back upstairs, changes to Zorro, swings down, frees his horse, and rides away, much to Garcia’s relief.

Quote of the Episode: Juan – ‘I’m sorry, patron, but this man, Zorro, may be a bandit and outlaw in the eyes of the law, but he is the only one standing between us and the whipping post!’

Times Zorro marks a “Z”: 0 (10 overall).

Other: Garcia finally called Reyes a “baboso”. We haven’t had one of those since episode 10, when Garcia was supposed to keep that judge occupied.

I’m not sure, but I wonder if the lancer posing as Zorro was Leon, the one I thought died from the knife in the back last week. He and Roberto seemed to be Ortega’s loyal, personal goons, and Roberto was busy outside the cell. Although, I think it was Roberto who shoved an old woman at the start of this episode for not being happy they captured Zorro. She replied that Zorro wasn’t an outlaw to the poor, and that he protected them from the likes of the soldier. Then he proved her point. At first, though, I thought he was the same lancer who was so quick to believe Garcia had stolen the soldiers’ pay back in episode 15. There was one lancer in particular who was ready to basically hang him right off.

Ortega’s plans, both of them, were. . . not good. Really stupid, in fact. I guess the first one stems from a reasonable place. Neither he, nor the Magistrado, nor Monastario for that matter, could accept that this one guy can constantly elude them and thwart their plans so easily. They’re smart, resourceful fellows, with the full weight of a garrison at their disposal. Zorro must likewise have an army supporting him. But it doesn’t take into account the peons might still try to rescue Zorro, even if they don’t know who he is. But the end result of that would mean Ortega orders the interrogation and likely, the whipping, of some innocent fellow who can’t tell him anything, and Ortega’s not the sort to lose sleep over that. The auction plan was just idiotic. The Magistrado already told him last week the peons don’t have much money, yet they’re the ones he suspects of working with Zorro. How the hell are they going to buy his horse? So who was the suspicious person going to be?

I like that when Diego saw Roberto lashing at Tornado, he nearly broke his cover and charged in there. Bernardo barely held him back. We see that from Diego occasionally, when he can’t play the unconcerned popinjay, and has to at least make a cutting remark or observation. And sometimes you can even see him straighten up a little, like he wants to hit the person. This is one of the few times so far where the identity he’s made for himself slips almost entirely. It’s just fortunate everyone was too preoccupied with putting out the fire to notice.

Garcia tried to use Reyes as a proxy to buy Tornado for him, but since it was really Diego’s money, I guess Diego used Garcia instead. Oh well, Sergeant, better luck next time. Maybe you can still catch Zorro, even if he does have his better horse back, in addition to be being a better rider than you. And braver, too, I suppose.

One thing I want to keep an eye on is whether this is when Garcia and Reyes become a more frequent comedy duo. It’s been an off-an-on thing so far, it hasn’t come up much for a few weeks, so this may be the point the writers realize they have something there. Or it may have been they knew the story was kind of thin, and they used Garcia and Reyes to pad things out.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What I Bought 6/12/2015 - Part 4

Last week, my boss complimented me on my positive thinking, which is not a phrase that tends to be associated with me. Not sure what it says if I'm the optimistic member of the crew, though it's probably more relevant I seem to be the most heat and uimidity resistant of us. I’ve delayed it as long as I can, so let’s venture into the exciting world of Secret Wars cash-in, I mean, tie-in books.

Master of Kung-Fu #1 and 2, by Haden Blackman (writer), Dalibor Talijac (penciler), Goran Sudzuka (inker), Miroslav Mrva (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) – Must be hard to concentrate on kicks with that giant leering face behind you.

It’s K’un Lun, but in this version, the city is ruled by whichever Master wins the 13 Chambers tournament. For 100 years, it’s been Zheng Zu, Master of the Ten Rings. His son, Shang-Chi, is a drunk who ran away years ago because of a task he carried out on his father’s orders. So his father wants him dead, for defiance, and Rand-Kai, current Master of the Iron Fist, wants him dead because the act he committed was to kill Rand’s master. Presumably Rand doesn’t know it was on Zheng’s orders. Yet. Shang had been out of the city for some time (or was so complete in his descent into dereliction no one noticed him in the city), but he has to defend himself from some of Zheng’s students, which brings him to the notice of a group of kids who were cast out of their schools for various transgressions, and now live underground as outcasts. They want Shang to teach them as he was taught. Shang points out if he did so, they’d probably all die, and goes off to drink by himself. His attitude pisses off Callisto, so she informs on him to his father, which brings Rand, plus two of Zheng’s servants down on the lot of them. Shang survives, but one of the kids doesn’t, which is the kick in the pants he needs to agree to be their Master, which will enable him to enter the tournament and defeat his father

It’s good, I enjoy it. I like the take on the characters, how what would be their mutant abilities in the conventional Marvel U., are turned into something that fits the setting. Though I’m not clear on who the other student of Zheng’s was Shang beat up in the first issue. Razorfist, obviously, and Typhus was Typhoid Mary. The other one appeared to wield shadow stuff, so Black Mamba, from the Serpent Society? I like these opening scenes talking about how the Tournament came about, because so far, they sort of agree, and they maybe don’t. The Red Sai’s version of things seems to have opened a different avenue Shang’s didn’t, which makes me wonder what the real story is, if there even is one.

I haven’t read anything Talijac has drawn since, I think that issue of Deadpool Team-Up with Hercules and Arcade, but I do enjoy his work. He has those clean lines I prefer, and he’s good at drawing action. When Shang fights, you can tell from his position in one panel, how he got to the next one. The movements make sense, and seem possible. It’s not a lot of ludicrous contortions, which makes sense with a character who doesn’t have inhuman stretching powers or anything, and doesn’t really want to be fighting anyway. He’s not going to expend any more effort than he needs, which isn’t very much, apparently. I like that Kitty is apparently so used to being intangible she does even walk around things or people on instinct anymore. She walks through a piece of rubble after their narrow escape, and she puts her arm through Shang’s chest to point when Cy tries to rescue Rahne. It’s a nice touch, implying how long she’s been this way, and how resigned she is to it.

I especially like the scene where Kitty explains how they all wound up as they are, to convince Shang to really train them, and so we get these panels of her moving among them, always smiling, upbeat about it. Right as she explains her own mistake, we get this large panel of Shang denying he can help them, refusing to make eye contact, clutching a bottle in those hands with the bloody wraps around them. Then he starts in on what the training they desire would really be like, and again we get the close-ups on each student, but Shang’s not in the panels at first. Just his harsh words, and their scared and disappointed faces, until he suddenly pops up right in Callisto’s face, talking a bunch of shit, and then follows that up by casually moving his hand through Kitty, just to demonstrate how helpless she is. Then he strides off with them set against a white backdrop, but his face is obscured by shadows. It’s just a nice encapsulation of how he’s tried to reject everything since he started running, and since he can’t hide in an alley from these kids, he tries driving them off.

This is the sort of thing I can go for with Secret Wars. It has its own story to tell, and it doesn’t give a toss what Hickman’s up to, and doesn’t expect the reader to, either. It’s just a fun What If/Elseworlds thing, essentially.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cruise of the Lanikai - Kemp Tolley

Kemp Tolley was a young naval officer who was given command of the Lanikai in early December 1941, almost immediately after it was chartered by the Navy from a private owner and made an official “warship”, as much of one as a 25 year old schooner that topped out around 8 knots could be. They slapped a 3-pound cannon and a couple of machine guns on it, attached a few naval personnel, as well as some Filipino crewhands, and called it good. His mission was said to be, take the Lanikai to a position off the Indo-China coast and observe and report on Japanese ship movements. Never mind Admiral Hart already had all his seaplanes doing just that. Quite how he was supposed to report on anything, given they had no radio with transmitting capability (and barely any receiving capability), is largely beside the point. Tolley’s working theory, and it’s one he’s found a fair amount of corroboration for in various radio communications, and the records people kept of conversations in the White House, is the Lanikai (and two other ships) were essentially to be sacrificial lambs to draw the U.S. into World War 2. Since nothing else had worked (including a few American warships having run-ins with the Nazis), FDR was hoping the loss of a few, expendable “warships” to Japanese attack would be sufficient to get Congress to declare war. Fortunately for Tolley and his crew, the Japanese went ahead and attacked Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, where the Lanikai would be departing from, rendering the point moot.

The book discusses - in much greater detail than I expected – what information the government would have had about Japanese disposition to attack, and why certain people didn’t have it (there’s a lot of interservice rivalry and jockeying among various cryptographic units, for one thing); FDR’s various discussions with Churchill and his major advisors on how to get the U.S. into the war, and the unfortunate fate of the Asiatic Fleet, of which the Lanikai was a minor part, and Tolley’s theory about his ship. None of that was something I counted on, and though it was interesting, the main draw was the Lanikai’s story. How Tolley and his crew of Americans, Filipinos, at least one Dutch Naval officer (who was really a cavalryman) got this little boat down the Philippine coast, with little to no instrumentation - their compass was salvaged from a P-40 that landed on the beach, out of gas, in a cove where they were holed up for the day – charts that are either incomplete or have no information at all, the Japanese Navy all around them, behind, ahead.

But they pulled it off, and then managed to get out of the Dutch Indies, again about a half-step of the Japanese, right about the time the Langley and Pecos (along with most of the rest of the Asiatic Fleet in other places) were being systematically wiped out, and make it all the way to Australia. They had near misses with Dutch patrol planes, some distantly-sighted Japanese naval vessels, typhoons, malaria, an alarmed local constabulary. Tolley had gotten in contact with various higher-ups, including Admiral Hart, which helped him piece together some of the facts he didn’t have about his ship at the time, and also provides a different perspective. Since the Lanikai was essentially cut off from the world when it was at sea, they had no idea what was going on all around them except when they hit a major port. In some ways, it’s a bit of a travelogue, Tolley describing the various places they hid their ship during the day, the near misses with reefs, the locals who were friendly, but also a bit of a reminisce. Tolley knows Russian, and it wasn’t too long after reaching Australia he was reassigned to a diplomatic group in the Soviet Union. He doesn’t speak about that, and you get the feeling he really enjoyed that time on the little schooner, in spite of the challenges, and the high probability they could have been killed a dozen different ways during the trip.

There were also these brief spots in the book, usually when there’d be a holiday during the voyage, where Tolley would describe a date he had in Shanghai with someone, a young woman presumably, who he missed dearly. Those were kind of sweet – the wistful affection is clear – but never quite seemed to fit. I expected there to be some result from it, he returned there after the war, and found her again. But I guess his point was that on the ship, moving slowly at night through a seemingly empty ocean, there was time to reflect.

It’s a well-written book, Tolley takes a fairly conversational tone in his recounting, and clearly gets a kick talking about how they acquired some of their gear, or obtained “permission” to leave this port or that before it was too late. There’s also a whole section about their stay in Bali, and how appreciative the crew was of the Balinese practice of women not wearing shirts or any other sort of covering for their upper bodies. Which at least plays into the odd nature of the voyage. It’s the start of a war, but these guys are stopping to fish every day, trading with any locals they meet, using a modified oil drum as a cook stove. It makes sense, because it would have been crazy for them to travel in the day, and they needed more provisions than they could carry, but it still gives the whole thing the feel of a bunch of friends on a cross-country road trip, albeit one with the possibility of violent death around every corner.

‘Actually, the Far East chit system had so wholly supplanted ready cash in pocket that money took on another character. The question was not how much money you had but how good your credit was. One signed for every conceivable thing, including the collection in church, settling at the end of the month. Thus, it was no great financial wrench when war came along. Then even chits were forgotten. If something was not too tightly screwed down, or too heavy, take it and welcome! Tomorrow it may be bombed. Grab it. Drink it. Eat it. Jump in and drive off in it. Pay? Forget it!’

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

31 Days of Scans - Day 16

I’ve been thinking about this one (Favorite LGBTQ Character), and mostly drawing a blank. It seems like most of my favorite characters are established as being heterosexual. I know there’s a strong fan contingent that thinks Tim Drake could be gay and/or bisexual (mostly with regard to him and Superboy), but I don’t think DC’s ever officially gone that route with him. I like Shadowcat fairly well, and I’m pretty sure Claremont established that Kitty is at least bi at some point, but I’ve never read the story, and I don’t know if anyone else has ever paid it any mind. Harley Quinn is pretty clearly bisexual these days, between whatever is going on with her and Ivy, plus her interest in her tenant’s son who escaped from prison, plus her trying to cajole Power Girl into fooling around with her (although that may have just been teasing. Hard to say with Harley). Mystique is an interesting character, but hardly one I’d describe as a favorite. Cable/Deadpool had a lot of references to Wade having an interest in guys, but I’m not sure how seriously we were supposed to take his fantasies about him and Cable on a beach with suntan lotion. Also, I don’t think it’s been followed up on by anyone else.

I settled, such as it is, on Felicia Hardy, but even that’s perhaps shaky. Kevin Smith made one reference to Felicia being interested in women as well as men in his Spider-Man/Black Cat mini-series, but a) it was one caption in one panel, and b) that mini-series is generally better left forgotten. However, Tom DeFalco did establish very clearly in Spider-Girl that Felicia was bisexual. She’d been married to Flash Thompson, and they’d had two kids together. But at some point, they got divorced, and Felicia met Diana, and the two of them were together. I’ll confess, I’m pretty sure the implications of what Felicia was saying didn’t sink the first time I read that comic. You’d think them holding hands would have tipped me off, but I’m a little slow sometimes, and I think this was an interlude during some big fight scene at the Fantastic Five’s headquarters, so I was probably rushing through it.

I don’t think it got a lot of play. Felicia wasn’t in the book a whole lot, mostly during the stretch when her daughter, Felicity, was trying hard to convince Mayday they should be a crimefighting duo (with Felicity dressing as the Scarlet Spider), much to Felicia’s consternation. Mayday wasn’t terribly thrilled with it either. We did find out Felicity wasn’t entirely happy with her mother’s decisions, though I think DeFalco meant it as Felicity blamed Diana for breaking up her parents’ marriage, or blocking any chance of them getting back together, rather than Felicity being homophobic. We didn’t ever get to see mother and daughter sit down and clear the air the way Mayday did with both of her parents so often, and Felicia never showed up during the stretch when Mayday was dating Gene Thompson. I’d have been interested to learn what she thought of that pairing. Would she have seen enough of Peter’s sense of responsibility in Mayday to obliquely advise Gene to stay away?

Anyway, it never struck me as an out-of-character development for Felicia Hardy. It wasn’t difficult to see her and Flash drifting apart, or to see her meeting Diana, feeling a connection, and pursuing a relationship with her. She’s spent most of her life making her own choices, saying how she felt, doing what she liked, and dealing with the consequences as best she can. I can’t see her letting other people’s expectations of what they think is right deter her from being with someone she decides means something to her.

Both pages are from Spider-Girl. The first is probably issue 47, so DeFalco (script and co-plotting), Frenz (co-plotting and pencils), John Livesay (inks), Heroic Age and Christie Scheele (colors), and John Workman (lettering). The other would have been shortly after that, probably 48 or 49. So it's probably Defalco (script and co-plot), Pat Olliffe (co-plot and pencils), Al Williamson (inker), Angelo Tsang and Calvin Lo (colors), and Randy Gentile (lettering).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Embrace of Unreason - Frederick Brown

My father sent this along because he thought it might provide an alternate viewpoint on the French Third Republic from Shirer’s book on the same subject, which was written by someone there at the time, while this one has the possible benefit of more distance. I’m not certain it worked out that way. I do feel as though I have a better grasp on how relevant France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War became. The sense that France would have won with a single, strong ruler, like Germany had with the Kaiser. The desire to find scapegoats, which naturally leads to blaming immigrants and Jews for not being true French, and thus lacking the national spirit to give all for the country.

This later extends to indict Enlightenment ideals, and anything that promotes the individual, as the more totalitarian elements argue that worrying about the individual detracts from serving the state. It finds expression once during the Dreyfus Affair, where those elements argue that even if Dreyfus were innocent – a possibility they don’t actually entertain, as the Jew is clearly a traitor to them, though if he isn’t a true Frenchman, how can he be a traitor – it is worth upholding the honor of the Army to sentence him to prison (and French prisons were pretty horrible). In the early ‘30s, when the left-leaning Popular Front wins the general election with the support of the working class, and institutes a 40-hour work week, this is yet another warning sign to those elements. Worrying about offering the workers opportunities for leisure, chances to spend time with their family, only once again serves to weaken France, because those workers should be in the factories, helping produce things to keep France safe from the Germans (or the Communists, depending on which boogeyman they were using that week).

What’s curious is Brown describes these years through the lens of few people, mostly of totalitarian bent, but also mostly writers. Maurice Barres was in the Chamber of Deputies for a time, but mostly was a incendiary writer. The same with Maurras, who never met a problem he didn’t think could be solved by expelling foreigners or beating up people with opposing viewpoints. The most unusual choice was Pierre La Rochelle Drieu, who spends much of the book doing very little, other than following his friends to various causes, then spending much of the ‘30s trying to decide whether to be Communist or Fascist, ultimately choosing the latter. I guess he works as a microcosm for France in general, drifting, directionless, essentially waiting for someone else to make the decision for them. Still, I might have preferred the book spend more time on someone who actually, you know, did something, rather than sit around twiddling his thumbs.

Brown spends a chapter each on the lives of Barres and Maurras, another chapter on the way every political faction tried to use Joan of Arc to promote their views in the late 19th Century (much the same way Americans on both sides try to support their arguments by invoking the Founding Fathers). There’s a chapter that looks at the emergence of Dadaism and Surrealism in post-WWI. Some of the information is interesting, but a lot of it felt non-essential. I guess I was looking for more of an explanation of why France wound up where it did, and this is more of a description of the path it took to wind up where it did.

There is a lot in there that reminds me of the current U.S. climate. Blaming immigrants, claiming the country is being undermined by people who aren’t “real” Americans/French. Lots of hypocrisy. You know the type, wants the government to butt in and dictate (other) people’s lives with laws they agree with, but doesn’t want the government doing the same to them. Is perfectly OK with inciting violence towards people opposed to them, but are utterly appalled when the tables are turned (see quote below. L’Action Francaise and its brethren were perfectly OK with calling for violence against Jean Jaures, even when it led to Raoul Villain killing Jaures, the strongest anti-war voice in the lead up to World War 1, but it’s deplorable when it goes against them). It’s all very exhausting after awhile. Everyone who pushes for dictators always assumes the dictator will be someone who agrees with them on everything.

‘The jury deliberated for only thirty-five minutes before reaching its verdict. Like Henriette Caillaux and Raoul Villain before her, she was acquitted of murder. L’Action Francaise declared the next morning, in its Christmas Day issue, that Plateau had been assassinated a second time, by eight bourgeois warped by anarchists who scorned all the values the bourgeoisie held dear. Political murder had been legitimized. L’Action Francaise predicted that in due course the state would go further and bestow official honors upon sluts who killed heroes. Defenders of public order were therefore justified in administering justice as they saw fit. “While revolutionaries say the same thing,” wrote the editors, “they neither do nor mean the same thing, for their violence is in the service of disorder rather than order, in the service of theft rather than property, in the service of anarchy rather than authority, of the foe rather than the fatherland.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

What I bought 6/12/2015 - Part 3

I still haven’t found the first issue of Descender around anywhere, or the first issue of the new Roche Limit mini-series (or the last issue of Deadpool for that matter), but let’s go forward with what we have.

Descender #4, by Jeff Lemire (writer), Dustin Nguyen (illustrator), Steve Wands (letterer and designer) – Looking at Driller’s hand, I wonder if his fingers can split into smaller fingers. That’s what the furrows suggest, and it could always serve as a way to do things requiring a fine touch. What that would be I can’t say.

Dr. Quon patches TIM up while Telsa asks him about what he knows, and tries to get his help by promising to find Andy (the boy TIM was a companion/brother for). Of course, Quon and Telsa both know no shuttles are recorded as having actually escaped the mining colony, but Telsa has a personal grudge against the Harvesters, and a dad that’s way up in the UGC hierarchy, so she’s in one of those “by whatever means necessary” mindsets. But her willingness to lie to a robot that looks like a little kid will have to wait to bite her on the ass, because the ship is attacked by some unsavory types who quickly incapacitate all three robots and plan to take them to Gnish, where they’ll apparently be thrown into a giant vat of boiling, molten metal. Actually, I was wrong. I went back and looked up that description of Gnish from the backmatter in issue 2, and it says the Melting Pots are gladiatorial combat arenas for robots. So TIM’s going to be torn apart by some other big robot. Unless this turns out to be where all those “Harvested” he saw in his dream are.

It seems strange to me that if this were such an important mission, that the UGC sent one small ship with only two soldiers and one scientist (who will be useless in a firefight). Telsa mentioned the UGC must have a rat pretty high up for the Scrappers to have beat them to TIM, maybe it just has people who don’t want the truth about the Harvesters found? Either because it would lead back to them, or because there’s more to gain in keeping the populace scared of a boogeyman they don’t understand or know anything about.

I liked that page of Telsa remembering what happened to her mother. The way the robot (and also the buildings) are these vague shapes, little more than light or dark outlines, but her mother is in sharp detail. Also how the robot’s head is at the top of the page, with these white spaces for eyes that draw my eyes down to the ray beam, which naturally leads to Telsa and her mother. The white eyes for the robot contrast with Telsa’s dark eyes, and also give it this impassive, emotionless look. Which is interesting, because if we take it as Telsa’s memory, it means she doesn’t imply any personal motive in the robot’s act. She doesn’t see it as breathing fire or laughing as it kills her mom. It’s this barely defined shape acting from motives she doesn’t know. All that matters is what it did, which is kill someone she cared about.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #2, by Michael Moreci (story), Kyle Charles (art and cover), Matt Battaglia (colors), Ryan Ferrier (letters), Sarah Delaine (flora and fauna?), Tim Daniel (design) – It would help if they would put the credits on a page where the illustrated background doesn’t make it so damn difficult to read some of these people’s names. Cripes, go to the trouble of starting to try and give credit where it’s due, and they want to make a game of it. It’s like one of those activity book pages where you find the 5 apples hiding in the barnyard.

OK, no first issue at this time, but based on what I read online, this is set 75 years after the pervious mini-series, and we’re following an expedition of sorts to the colony to determine what’s happened. And things have basically gone Aliens on said expedition. The odd shadowy creatures that were probably what we saw crawling out of the Anomaly near the tail end of that last mini-series are loose and killing people, and there’s an odd forest where people see what they want, which as the android left over from some prior attempt at this same thing observes, is very dangerous. I’m sure it will be, now that one fellow overheard this and went there straight off, and a lady named Kim has suffered a head injury and doesn’t remember why she would be here, or why she would have left her son, which we saw in flashback she promised not to do. So obviously the kid is dead, she just doesn’t remember it right now. That’ll end spectacularly badly, I suspect.

I’m cautiously optimistic. At least this doesn’t look like it’s going to be a bog-standard detective story like the last one. That just felt like a waste of a perfectly good setting. Of course, now it’s more survival horror, and the setting is somewhat different, more wild and bizarre, but that’s fine. I think that better suits my interests at the moment. At the moment I can’t say I care about any of the characters yet, outside of perhaps the android Danny, and that’s just a reflexive response to a) his tale of woe about why he’s there, and b) how rudely Elbus (the tough sergeant type) treated him after he saved Elbus’ butt in the city. Of course, it could turn out he’s still alive because he’s working with the creatures. They might be very interested in an artificial life form, and how it fits into their whole “nothingness” idea. Assuming there is some sort of intelligent mind at work somewhere in that world.

I enjoy Battaglia’s colors, especially the purple/magenta he uses at different spots, usually when there’s confusion, or when things aren’t going as the expedition planned or hoped. Elbus tries to make this big threatening speech to Danny, and Danny casually breaks the handcuffs immediately after. The other half of the crew uses ammonium carbonate to wake Kim up, and she flips out and pulls a gun on them, asking about her son. Stockton ventures into the forest to get what he wants, and I’m guessing finds his (deceased?) brother, with both of them getting panels in that color. It’s an eerie, unnatural color, a sign of something being wrong, or off, and it works well as an attention-getter among all the panels with grey or black backgrounds of dark forests and ruined cities.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Zorro 1.20 - Agent of the Eagle

Plot: Sergeant Garcia rides out to meet the new Comandante, Don Juan Ortega. He explains they decided to forgo a big ceremony, considering the last Comandante didn’t survive it. He also apologizes for not meeting Ortega when he got off the ship, but he gets very seasick even looking at the ocean, a fact that greatly amuses Ortega and the two soldiers with him, Leon and Roberto.

Anyway, on to Los Angeles, where Diego has come into town, and meets an old friend, Rosarita Cortez, back from Monterrey to visit her uncle. Diego is surprised to learn she isn’t married, and perhaps more surprised to learn she hasn’t forgotten the vows they made to each other when they were children. She invites him to a reception at her uncle’s that night, and Diego accepts, to the glee of his father, who is already thinking of marriage. You’d think by now Alejandro would have learned not to press Diego on these things, but no. Alejandro is actually in town to meet the new Comandante, because he has a letter from an old friend of his claiming Ortega is kind and fair. Naturally, Ortega rides in at the moment, and when his horse is startled by a peasant with a cart(?), Ortega hits said peasant with his riding crop. Hardly an auspicious beginning, and it only gets worse once Ortega meets the Magistrado, who finally has a name, Carlos Galindo. They are both agents of the Eagle, though neither knows their boss’ true identity. The real Ortega went overboard on the way, and the captain covered it up, since he also works for the Eagle. The boss isn’t happy with the amount of money coming out of Los Angeles, and “Ortega” has been sent to figure out who has the money, and get it from them. I’m not sure how hard it can be to figure out who has the money. It’s the guys who own an immense amount of land and cattle, obviously. And that is why good will always triumph, because evil is dumb. Really dumb.

That night at the party, Rosarita and Diego are having a fine time, until Rosarita notices an old friend of her family, Franco Barbaroza and his daughter, aren’t dancing. They feel they don’t fit in, because they aren’t Dons exactly, a sentiment the Magistrado shares, and makes no secret of, to Franco’s embarrassment, and Diego and Rosarita’s anger. Then Diego lets slip that Franco started with a small hut he leased on the King’s land, and built it into a ranch the rival of Alejandro’s. The next day, Franco finds himself dragged before the Magistrado and told everything he owns belongs to the King, since it is on the King’s land, and he must pay 5,000 pesos. Franco, recognizing a shakedown when he sees one, refuses, and is sentenced to six months hard labor. Thanks, Diego. Rosarita rushes to get Diego, but his attempts to reason with Galindo fall on deaf ears (though he is apparently planning to round up all the other rancheros for the same reason), and the fact he seems unwilling to do anything more doesn’t make Rosarita happy, as she unleashes some cutting words and storms off. In the tavern, Garcia is told no more credit, and thus must find someone to mooch off. With Diego not around, he sits with leon and Roberto, and promises to pay the next time, as he expects to be quite wealthy soon. He knows Zorro will come to rescue Barbaroza (who is being put to work at the grist mill, and whipped frequently), and will capture him when he does. The two soldiers are intrigued, and try to dissuade Garcia by suggesting Zorro might kill him. Garcia’s response? ‘I do not think so. He has never done it before.’ Fair enough. So they play on his seasickness by moving their glasses and talking about the ocean until he gets nauseous. Then they escort him outside, lock him in a storeroom, go to the grist mill, send the other lancers away, and wait. Zorro arrives almost immediately, and Roberto would have got the drop on him if not for Franco’s warning. But a shot is gotten off, which alerts Ortega. In the meantime, Roberto accidentally kills Leon with a thrown knife, then flees. Zorro frees Barbaroza just as Ortega arrives. The Comandante isn’t much of a swordsman, and calls for Garcia and his lancers. By the time Garcia breaks out and rounds up his men, Zorro’s already delivered a warning and left.

Quote of the Episode: Diego – ‘Real pride comes to those who can make something of themselves.’

Times Zorro marks a “Z”: 1 (10 overall). Right on Ortega’s coat.

Other: I can’t believe the Magistrado didn’t know who had the money, and is surprised the peons don’t have much. They’re peons, peons typically do not have much money. That’s why they are peons, and not merchants or rancheros. There isn’t a lot of money in doing hired work when there are no minimum wage laws, or struggling to get by on a small plot of land.

Besides, you just had that phony tax collector here. Wouldn’t he have taken the real tax collector’s books, so you could easily have seen who had how much cash? Although, again, it should have been plainly obvious the guys who own thousands of acres and hundreds of cattle have money. I think Jack Elam’s character might have been the smartest agent of the Eagle we’ve met so far. These other guys are knuckleheads.

The actor (Vinton Hayworth) playing the Magistrado is really good at being a condescending dick. I think there were at least three times this week I made that note. The way he wouldn’t even look at Barbaroza when introduced to him, only state that in his occupation, he must interact with all sorts of people. Like Franco and his daughter aren’t even there, because to him, they may as well not be. Or the way he tends to spit out his insults through gritted teeth, when he isn’t adopting that patronizing manner with Diego or Rosarita. When Diego makes the quote I used above, Carlos responds, ‘Is that what you read in your books?’ and he makes this sort of exaggerated sigh and eye roll, like he can’t believe he has to deal with such na├»ve children. It’s very impressive.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What I Bought 6/12/2015 - Part 2

Poison ivy is an awful thing. Not the worst thing - I still hate ticks quite a bit more - but an awful thing, nonetheless. One more offering from the revamped(?) DC, plus a book from Marvel I already know I like.

Starfire #1, by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Emanuela Lupacchino (pencils), Ray McCarthy (inks), Hi-Fi (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters) – Seems as good a place as any to mention that I’m not sure how, but Kori’s new outfit seems to cover more when Conner draws it than Lupacchino. But when I look back and forth between the two, it seems to end at roughly the same places. I’ve decided either the perspective we’re seeing Kori from on the cover is giving the appearance of shortening her, or Lupacchino gives her a longer torso.

I haven’t loved Conner and Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn, but it’s had its moments, and I do like Starfire, so what the heck. Kori’s settled in Key West, for some reason, and sought the advice of the sheriff, Stella Gomez, in finding a home and employment, for some reason. The Sheriff helps her get some money (by selling some gems Kori found when she was escaping her captors out in space), and finds her a trailer, just as a hurricane comes along to destroy everything.

Palmiotti and Conner seem to be keeping it deliberately vague as to how much of Kori’s history in the new 52 is in play. She didn’t mention the Titans, or her time working with Jason Todd and Roy Harper, but alluded to having many other adventures, so I guess they wanted to leave those doors open. Fair enough. In personality, she’s reminiscent of her portrayal on the Teen Titans’ cartoons. Unfamiliar with Earth customs and colloquialisms, very literal, very eager to make friends and empathize with others, open with her emotions. She hasn’t demonstrated a temper yet, but we’ll see if that emerges in time. I definitely approve of the effort to establish a supporting cast of characters in the various townspeople (something they’ve made a solid effort with in Harley’s book as well).  The Sheriff, for one, but also Boone and his grandmother (who owns the trailer), Benji who owns a jewelry store (which I’m sure will be robbed, the sheriff’s brother Sol (who’s with the Coast Guard and nursing a broken heart). We’ll what the creative team does with them, but I’m never going to criticize the attempt to build a supporting cast.

Lupacchino’s art is good, though I honestly expected something a little more exaggerated for this book, given the writers. Of course, I thought the same thing about Harley Quinn, and Chad Hardin seems to have loosened his lines up over time, so we’ll see. There are already the thought balloons for Kori, where we see how she interprets various Earth phrases Those aren’t more exaggerated, just kind of silly, which is OK . Kori certainly looks attractive (Lupacchino’s art reminds me of the Dodsons, at least in the faces and hair), and I like the fact her hair is always trailing energy. It’s a nice visual, implies her free-spirited nature, and also how much power she has at her disposal.

I can’t decide how gratuitous the panel of her in the shower was. It was just the one panel, but yeah, it was probably pretty gratuitous. At least the way she was standing seemed anatomically possible, and the whole scene was sort of in keeping with the “not from around here theme”. Unrelated to that, I did laugh at her introduction to Boone, and his explaining to his grandma that Kori can learn languages through kissing. When the Sheriff points out Kori already knows English, she promptly replies she hoped to learn more English. I thought that was a good response. After all, Boone probably has an accent and all sorts of phrases Kori wouldn’t know. How does that power work anyway? Never mind.

It wasn’t a spectacular first issue, but I’m willing to give it some time, see where things go.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #6, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Eloise Narrington (trading card artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) – Before I saw it was Koi Boi, I thought Invincible had wandered over from the Imageverse again, like when he teamed up with Spider-Man, and that made me scared. The last thing this book needs is a visit from Robert Kirkman’s hyper-violent superheroverse. On the other hand, she should definitely add Niels and the Invisible Woman to her team, Niels because Nancy would like him, and he’d be a friend for Mew, the Invisible Woman, just because. And just say no to Joe Quesada, Niels might attack him on pure reflex, anyway. Then he’d get put down as a vicious animal, and Speedball would turn into Penance again.

Squirrel Girl’s reward for stopping that bank robbery is to have to guard it for a week while they repair the hole she made in the wall. Then Hippo the Hippo (an ordinary hippo hit by strange energies and turned into a hippo-humanoid) comes along to rob the bank, and S.G.’s attempt to stop him is interrupted by Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi, the former making many terrible jokes and puns, the latter uttering some truly cheesy superhero dialogue. ‘Who would think the only thing I couldn’t punch. . . was his heart?’ I would have thought that, because you are a small human being, and he is an angry hippo. I bet you can’t punch his small intestine, either.

Anyway, Squirrel Girl deflects Hippo’s attempt at carrying off an entire bank to pay his food bills by helping him to find employment, and it turns out all the heroes know each other, as Chipmunk Hunk is actually Tomas, who Doreen met on her first day. This is all very well and good, but Nancy feels left out as the only one who can’t speak to animals. So Doreen takes her to the zoo, on the theory Nancy simply hasn’t met the animal she can speak to yet. This doesn’t work, and then a group of lions escape their enclosure only to be stopped by Girl Squirrel. A squirrel dressed like a girl, who is an instant hit online (and steals Doreen’s catch phrase about eating nuts and kicking butts). Doreen is suspicious of this squirrel, and with good reason, as that night it sneaks into apartments all over New York, whispering in people’s ears, and causing them to go on violent rampages when the awake. Including some of the super-heroes. All right, hero versus hero fight! Beat up Cyclops first, Doreen! And last! And all the times in between those! Except for when you’re punching Tony Stark!

I really liked this issue, from Doreen not knowing whether to introduce herself when a bunch of heroes get together, to Nancy’s theory about the ineffectiveness of the Squirrel suit for people without super-strength, to Erica drawing Chipmunk Hun with the Tuxedo Mask-style background full of roses. The part I laughed at the hardest was Hippo’s card in the Deadpool Guide to Super-Villains. Not because of any of the text, just for how grumpy he looks on the card. “Rrrrr, yeah, I’m wearing a plain white tank top. You know why? Because you can buy them cheap in bulk, and I don’t have any money! THAT’S WHY I’M ROBBING THIS BANK!” Large, grumpy animals amuse me, apparently. As long as they aren’t trampling me. Good work on that trading card, Eloise Narrington! I’m still laughing out loud picturing his grumpy face as I type. My brain may have been more cooked by the sun than I initially suspected.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fool Moon - Jim Butcher

There appears to be a werewolf, or a pack of them, running loose in Chicago, murdering people. The FBI is butting in, and Harry Dresden’s friend on the Chicago PD, is under investigation because she hires a wizard with apparent ties to the top mob boss in the city as a consultant. Harry doesn’t really have ties to Johnny Marcone, other than he killed a murderous dark wizard in the previous book who just happened to be muscling in on Marcone, but the appearance is trouble enough.

As it turns out, there are several different types of werewolves, and there’s at least one of each type involved in all this, which means a lot of problems – and suspects – for a wizard. Overall, it was a somewhat stronger mystery than the first book. There are still some rather obvious false leads, and some of the villains late in the book are telegraphed early on, but in general, things aren’t nearly as straightforward as the first go-round. The more interesting parts are the ones where Butcher’s clearly building up to something down the line. He goes into a little more detail about Harry’s past, as well as dropping some hints that Harry’s memories and impressions of his parents aren’t necessarily correct. There’s a strong sense that things are approaching a crisis point, though it isn’t clear what form that will take.

There’s one sequence midway through the book where Harry has a conversation with something calling itself his subconscious while he’s unconscious. That part of him insists he ought to trust its instincts more often, but it also questioned why he was trusting one of the other characters, and as it turned out, said character played things very straight with Harry. Which means his instincts on that one were wrong, which happens to everyone, but it’s a curious outcome after having his subconscious specifically tell Harry he ought to trust it more often. It makes me wonder if that was actually a part of his mind, or someone else messing with his head. It also makes me wonder if his decision to tell his cop friend Murphy more about the supernatural is a wise idea. He’s been holding back, because the council of wizards doesn’t approve of “norms” knowing much about them, but he’s reconsidered, because he figures Murphy will put herself in harm’s way whether she knows what she’s dealing with or not, and he might not always be there. But he’s also pretty sure the wizards won’t balk at killing her if they think it’s necessary, and they had a guy on him in the first book, sort of a parole officer, that Harry didn’t take lightly. That being the case, I’m not sure the possibility she runs into something she can’t handle is worth the seemingly near certainty of a threat she definitely can’t handle coming after her because of what he tells her.

‘The solid old matron of a sergeant sat at the front desk, thumbing through a glossy magazine, a portrait done in colorless hues. She glanced up at me for a second, and tinges of color returned to her uniform, her cheeks, and her eyes. She looked me over causally, sniffed, and lowered her face to her magazine again. As her attention faded, so did the color from her clothing and skin. My perceptions of her changed as she paid attention to me or did not.

I felt my face stretch in a victorious smile. The potion had worked. I was inside. I had to suppress an urge to break into a soft-shoe routine. Sometimes being able to use magic was so cool. I almost stopped hurting for a few seconds, from sheer enjoyment of the special effects. I would have to remember to tell Bob how much I liked the way this potion worked.’

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

31 Days of Scans - Day 15

I still think my Black Widow idea from last fall is a solid one, but let’s try a new one. Hmm, Suicide Squad is already going to be a movie, GrimJack and X-Factor (the detective agency version) would really be better as TV series. Well, when in doubt, go for a caper flick starring the Black Cat. First things first. I have no idea if that agreement with Sony that lets Marvel use Spider-Man in their movies too in any way extends to related characters (like Felicia). For the purposes of this exercise, I'm pretending none of that is a factor. Any character is fair game for this movie, OK? Because it'll never happen outside my imagination.

That said, there are a lot of different ways to go with it. Play up her following in her dad’s footsteps, and have her either set out to steal something he never could (or perhaps the object of his final heist, if we want to go with the idea he died in the attempt), or to try and destroy someone she holds responsible for her father’s death/incarceration. Have her steal some rare artifact, maybe not an Infinity Stone, but maybe the plans for Sentinels, Osborn’s Goblin serum, Nick Fury’s eyepatch collection, and this gets some people after her.  If we can’t have Black Widow vs. Taskmaster, maybe Black Cat can fight Mister Photographic Reflexes. Or have her steal the doohickus, realize it’s dangerous and she stole it for the wrong person, and have to steal it back. Maybe she got the Wand of Watoomb for Baron Mordo because she figured it was just a fancy-looking swizzle stick. Despite the bad luck powers, the Cat’s a fairly street level character, a highly skilled, highly stylized cat burglar, so the film could do a lot with the idea there’s a ton of stuff in the world she’s not going to be prepared for.

The nice thing about the Marvel Universe is there’s no shortage of organized crime bosses, super-villains, and evil companies. If Hammer Industries, the Kingpin, or the Hand are already claimed, there’s still Roxxon Industries, there’s still Hammerhead or Silvermane. Here's one, I have no idea why it came to me, use Count Nefaria early in the film, a crimelord wanting to live forever, and give himself an edge against all these costumed types showing up. Maybe getting ready for the treatment that’s going to give him super-powers, right as Felicia is trying to lift some tapestry from his abode. She makes a wrong turn, ends up in the lab, her powers trigger a malfunction that enables her escape, but seems to kill the Count and scars (or not) his daughter. The new Madame Masque takes her father’s position, and she’s angry and out for revenge. Or she’s just after the Cat because she can’t allow someone to steal from her and kill her family without being punished, and maintain her authority among other crime bosses.

I know Masque and Felicia don’t tend to run in the same circles, but I think she’d make a good choice if you wanted to pit the lone thief (and possibly her small band of assistants, if we incorporate her crew from the Jen van Meter mini-series, which would be fine with me) against a vast criminal empire with advanced weaponry and an army of goons. Have Nefaria turn up alive and super-powered, and Masque unhappy about it. It turns out the “accident” was her doing and not Felicia’s, the Cat is merely a convenient patsy, something Felicia is none too happy about. But Nefaria’s gone around the bend far (either aftereffects from the treatment/explosion or just so full of himself from being super-powered) enough they have to team up to stop him (obviously he’s not at the “stomp Thor” levels he frequently demonstrates in the comics). Although I’m seriously starting to rip off Kurt Busiek’s Nefaria story in Avengers by that point I think (as opposed to whatever I was ripping off up to then).

Or keep it more grounded, if this is perhaps Felicia early in her career, still making her rep, not quite a world-renowned, globe-trotting thief yet. Stick to lots of guys in black suits and sunglasses or tactical gear and firearms, maybe one technologically amped up bad guy. Here we go. Use the Shocker, either as hired muscle or a rival thief. He was a safecracker, built the suit to help him out. He could be trying to protect his turf, either as a solo thief, or as the guy organizations hire when they need a job done. Or they could cross paths trying to steal the same thing. Either Felicia gets it, and he comes after her and her friends for revenge, or he gets it, but she needs it, maybe to protect her father (if he's in jail, certain people might still be able to harm him there). Or the Shocker's being reckless, hurting people, and Felicia's a good enough person she can't tolerate that (or she finds it a distasteful, low class way to steal), and sets out to stop him.

I would like to have the bad luck powers in there, as a real thing, not her setting things up beforehand to make it look like she has bad luck. They can explain it however they like. Mutant power, scientific experiment she underwent, maybe the Wand of Watoomb isn't the first magic doodad she stole. Take your pick, I just thing it could lead to some either very cool, or very funny scenes depending.

OK, I didn't decide on this one until really close to when it's posting, so I don't have all the credits handy. The Shocker panel is definitely from Superior Foes, so Nick Spencer writing and Steve Lieber drawing it. The Madama Masque panel is from that Avengers story I mentioned, so Busiek and George Perez. The page of Felicia stopping the other burglar is from the first issue of the van Meter mini-series, so I think that's Javier Pulido's art, with Matt Hollingsworth on colors. I'm not sure where the first panel is from. An early '80s issue of Amazing Spider-Man most likely. Maybe Keith Pollard's art?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pawns of War - Dwight R. Messimer

Pawns of War details the loss of the USS Langley and the USS Pecos in the early months of the Pacific War in 1942. The Langley was the United States’ first aircraft carrier, but by the start of World War 2, it was a seaplane tender stuck in the same doomed ABDA group as the USS Houston. The Dutch were demanding P-40s to try and defend their holdings in what is now Indonesia, and the Langley was stuck with the task of transporting 32 of these fighter craft and their crews. They could have been diverted to India along with a different convoy, but Admiral Glassford, the ranking American naval officer in the area felt it was worthwhile, if only to maintain positive relations with the Dutch. Never mind it was a complete waste of time, because 30 planes in the hands of pilots so green you don’t trust them to fly their own damn planes to the place they’re going to use them, are not going to make a bit of difference against everything Japan would throw at them.

As it turns out, it’s a moot point, because the Langley never made it, sunk by dive bombers, because the ship received so many conflicting (and stupid) orders it wasn’t able to come into port at night, when darkness might have provided cover, since there wasn’t any fighter cover. This is what I mean. They were on their way to meet their escort, two American destroyers, when they’re told said escort is already almost on them. Turns out to be a minesweeper, which is so slow, the Langley decided they were better on their own, so they steamed on alone. Then they were told to turn back. Then they were told to turn around again, and go meet the two destroyers. It’s a clusterfuck, though Messimer says Admiral Ernest King was so unhappy about it, he took steps to ensure no U.S. ship wound up under another nation’s command.

That’s when the Pecos enters the picture, an oiler trying to get the hell out of Tjilatjap before it gets invaded, ordered to take on the survivors of the Langley from the destroyers. The ship did its level best to get out of range of the Japanese Army air fleet, but there was still the matter of the 4 carriers in the area, and the Pecos was just not built to survive that kind of barrage. Which doesn’t mean they didn’t make a good effort. It took all four carriers sending out a squadron of bombers to do enough damage where the order to abandon ship was given, which is a testament to the skill of the crew on the ship, fighting fires, patching leaks, keeping the engines going (also perhaps a statement on the somewhat lackadaisical approach the pilots took, as they apparently treated it like a training exercise).

My dad said he sent this one along not just because of the stuff about the Asiatic Fleet, but because there would be a lot of things that would rile me up. He wasn’t wrong about that. After the ordeal is over, and the survivors have made it to Australia, Glassford tried to question whether Commander McConnell, the captain of the Langley, made a reasonable effort to save his ship before abandoning, which made me want to scream. The ship was dead in the water, in broad daylight, and hadn’t a prayer of defending itself if another wave of bombers appeared. The fighter planes were either wrecked, on fire, or had been dumped into the ocean in an attempt to reduce the list the ship was suffering from , meaning the point of the mission was gone.

‘After the patrol plane had disappeared, the three ships plowed across the deep blue water under fair tropical skies, every available eye searching the horizon for the bombers each man knew was coming. Standing on the navigation bridge, Commander McConnell had feelings of anger and defeat. From the start he and his officers had known that the mission had little practical hope of success. After the Japanese reconnaissance plane found the Langley, what faint hope existed had been erased. McConnell, an exceptionally practical man, knew that only a miracle could save his ship and their mission. But in February 1942, Allied miracles were on back order.’

Monday, June 15, 2015

What I Bought 6/12/2015 - Part 1

I found everything I wanted that’s come out in the last 4 weeks. It’s pretty depressing that 4 weeks adds up to only 10 comics. We’ll get to Secret Wars tie-in stuff in due course, but for now, let’s do some vaguely Bat-related books. Can the DC You win me over?

Batman Beyond #1, by Dan Jurgens (writer), Bernard Chang (artist), Marcelo Maiolo (colors), Dave Sharpe (letters) – On the left side of the cover, who is the guy below Batsy’s fist? With the spit curl? I’m not up on my “DC Apocalyptic Future” characters.

Something I didn’t realize going into this, it’s following up on stuff from Future’s End. It’s Tim Drake in the suit, not Terry McGinnis, and Brother Eye is still a big problem. I wish they’d let Brother Eye drop for awhile.

Drake’s in the Terry’s time, more or less, trying to be Batman. We learn that Gotham has some sort of program that shield it from Brother Eye, so it’s still a relatively OK place to live, by Gotham standards. The rest of the world is presumed to be an apocalyptic hellhole, and Tim goes out to see, only to be attacked by a Superman who’s been turned into one of Eye’s dupes. He fends off the less-than-Superman, but shorts out the suit, leaving his as just Tim. Then he finds some sort of camp where people are being herded in, including Barbara Gordon and Terry’s old friend, Max.

The book isn’t, based on the first issue, quite what I was hoping for. It might turn out to be, but not as this point. I could have done without any connection to Future’s End, and with no Brother Eye, at least not the current version. Kind of sick of that guy. I don’t have a feel for this Tim Drake, either. A lot older, I guess he’d been jaded and given up until recently. Curious if Jurgens will play up the man out of time aspect. Tim mentioned he promised Terry he’d stop Brother Eye, and he feels like he failed, so maybe he’s going to be fixated on that, taking foolish risks.

Bernard Chang’s work is solid, his Batman has an angularity that reminds me of the cartoon, which is never a bad thing. He – or Marcelo Maiolo –does this one thing where, in certain panels, the background vanishes, replaced with a solid color. Something very bright, orange or red. Any figures are uncolored, white, but outlined in red. Except for Tim, when he’s in the suit, and he becomes solid black. They use it three times during the opening scuffle with the Jokerz, then a couple more times after that. Once when Tim talks to Nora and Matt, the other when Techno-Superman first attacks him. It’s a real attention-getter, but I’m not sure what it signifies, other than Tim being exposed to something new. He learned about the Jokerz, about the Veil program, about New York being annihilated, Superman being an enemy, and Nora told him he’s their only hope (something Tim isn’t comfortable with). Be curious to see if the art team keeps that up in subsequent issues.

All-Star Section Eight #1, by Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist), John Kalisz (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letterer) – I can only assume Six-Pack thinks he’s having a team up with Comet, the Super-Horse. At least, that’s what I hope he thinks is happening.

DC has come calling, and in truest tradition of serialized fiction, the hero’s happy ending must be undone so he can resume publication. So it is that Sixpack, having become a renowned art critic after saving the earth from other-dimensional horrors, accidentally drinks a rye and coke, and reverts back to his alcoholic alter ego, convinced he must put his team back together to save the world from some huge threat (or something to that effect, the whole art critic thing may have been a hallucination). Except the whole team died against the aforementioned other-worldly horrors. After dismissing every other hero that came out of Bloodlines (the same event that gave us Tommy Monaghan, and as a result, Six-Pack), he manages to pull together some other schlubs, plus Baytor. Which gives him seven guys, and look there’s Batman. But he’s too busy arguing with a cop over a parking ticket he got while he was trying to hit up an ATM. I get what he’s saying about those fees for using a different bank’s machine, though. Whatever is threatening the world is clearly already affecting Batman, because he keeps looking like he’s being drawn in other styles, like Neal Adams or Kelley Jones. Gasp, what can it mean? Then Batman drives off, pissed about the ticket, and with no time for Six-Pack.

Not quite what I was expecting, which is both good and bad. I was worried this would be one of Ennis’ more ugly, mean-spirited jaunts into the cape comic stuff, but it doesn’t seem like it. It also doesn’t appear he’s going to be sweating too much on this one, if the “You people” joke is any indication. So OK, this probably won’t be a classic like Hitman, or his Punisher run. Assuming we actually get to see Section Eight try to do something in subsequent issues, it should still be funny, at least (simply making a new Dogwelder, seemingly just like the old one, but African-American, was a cute joke, if also a little depressing). That would be just fine. I’m actually really excited to see Baytor fight crime, given he’s the lord of criminal insanity, that should be an impressive disaster.

McCrea’s work has more of a sketchy, rough look to it than it did in the original Hitman stuff. Which is fine, because it makes Sixpack look like a real train wreck, with the stubble, the snot, the persist piss on his trousers, the red-rimmed eyes. I had food poisoning once, and looked in the bathroom mirror right after I pulled my head out of the toilet at 5 a.m. I still didn’t look half as bad as Sixpack does. And Bueno Excellente looks even more creepy and disturbing, which I didn’t really need, but what the hell. I’m in for at least another month. Place your bets now as to whether Baytor is going to accidentally dissolve Hal Jordan’s hand next month, so Hal can have lots of angst and turn back into Parallax (only until the end of the issue, naturally)!