Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Play's The Thing, To Provide Cover For Covert Ops

I said in December I intended to keep doing these hypothetical 5-character teams every other month. Then I didn't do one in December, when it was scheduled. Now I almost missed January. Almost.

For this team, I went with the idea of assembling a team to put on a play, based on my extremely vague and probably incorrect understanding of what a theater group might consist of, if you pared it down to a core five people. I figured I should explain that up front. Also, the characters are from some different time periods, and I am not going to vaguely handwave how they are all together.

The Director: Albert Eberts (Michael McCafferty, The Invisible Man) - The person behind this theater group, because it is naturally not just a theater group, is Eberts' boss, The Official. But he's not going to waste time directing a play. Not when he can assign it to his loyal subordinate, who will make certain the project does not go over what is certain to be an extremely tight budget.

Eberts is an expert on bureaucracy, which means he should be able to navigate whatever permits are required, and find ways to get by with some wiring and effects that are not exactly up to code (more on that further down). He's practical-minded, conscious of deadlines, and worst comes to worst, he at least sort of knows how to use firearms.

Beyond that, I figure Eberts has a creative side that he mostly suppresses. Maybe he didn't receive encouragement at a young age, maybe he lacked confidence, maybe his knack for organization got him fast-tracked in other directions. The opportunity to actually be creative as part of his job might be quite appealing. The Official is no doubt going to have notes, and Eberts is going to have to struggle through his loyalty to his boss, and sudden desire to spread his artistic wings, no matter how much Fawkes and Hobbes mock him for it (and they will, especially Hobbes, who is probably miffed he was asked to be involved).

The Effects Guy: Joe Garelli (Joe Rogan, Newsradio) - I have no idea what play, exactly, this group is putting on, other than it has to involve singing, based on the people I chose as leads. Again, because I know nothing about theater. Whatever it is, rest assured Joe is going to give it some bang-up effects, emphasis on "bang". In the explosions sense, not the intercourse sense, you perverts.

Joe is always tinkering, always messing with things, but he is extremely skilled when it comes to most things electrical or technical, whether he's trying to recover Dave's crashed hard drive, or repair a radio transmitter. Whether anyone asked him to do those things, and how dangerous his repairs are to himself and everyone around him is another matter. Eberts and the Official will no doubt appreciate Joe's ability to cobble together workable equipment from whatever he can scrounge or steal, assuming they can get him to use the parts for what they tell him to do. He's an avid conspiracy truther, and given some of the weirdos that are going to be hanging around this group, he may get a lot of evidence to corroborate his beliefs in alien autopsy videos or whatever.

I had originally pegged Joe as The Muscle in the old categories, since he fancied himself a physical specimen (and Joe Rogan is an announcer for UFC still, I think). But he'd also be an effective Rogue. At the moment the purpose of all this becomes clear, I'm not sure which way he'll go. I can't imagine he'd be excited to work with the government, but they're going to be doing something not entirely legal, so that might interest him. It's going to involve weird stuff, which will definitely interest him, if for no other reason than to make money telling everyone about the government trying to hide stuff. Still, he should be able to create some really impressive lighting and smoke effects. Until things inevitably catch on fire.

The Lead Actress: Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford, Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) - I'm not sure how Dixie got from the late 1890s to the late 20th-early 21st Century. Because I don't know. The Orb, did it maybe.

Dixie was a traveling singer in the West, of a fair amount of renown. People in towns all through the country knew of her and looked forward to her shows. Some of which may have been down to her costuming, but she seemed like a solid singer to my untrained ear, and she knew how to work an audience. So if there's singing and dancing involved, and there almost certainly will be, she should be more than capable on those fronts.

As for acting, Dixie has assumed disguises and identities at times, has played at being interested in a man to get information from him, which suggests some acting ability. However, the disguises weren't great (when she went into hiding, she just dyed her hair and continued singing in clubs and saloons), and she always seems to drop her act at a bad moment. Admittedly, that's usually because Brisco County Jr. showed up, but if the Orb sent Dixie a century into the future, it's a sure bet Brisco is trying to find some way to reach her. Which means, in typical fashion, he'll appear at the most inconvenient time. Still, until then, I think she can handle it. Singing, dancing, romance, intrigue, she's good at all that stuff.

The Lead Actor: Diego de la Vega (Guy Williams, Zorro) - Will the Orb work as an explanation a second time? It will? You're cool with that? Awesome. Diego's going to want to find a way back home, and he's doing the acting thing as a way to stay in southern California in the meantime.

Diego was quite the skilled musician, with both guitar and piano. He had a good baritone singing voice (or his IMdb bio says it was a baritone, I couldn't tell you). There certainly were no complaints on that score from the ladies he sang to, whether as Diego or Zorro. Not to mention he'll be a natural when it comes to stunts. Since he's been propelled into the future, and nobody would know him here, he doesn't have to worry about maintaining the pretense of Diego being a clumsy scholar, which was proving more of a strain as time went on. If he's playing at being an actor, his skill in tumbling and flashy swordfighting would only be considered an asset. Plus, someone with his reflexes could come in handy if people on stage are endangered by Joe's pyrotechnics.

When things start to go off-script, Diego is naturally going to involve himself. Maybe he'll throw on the costume, maybe not. I'd vote for acting as Zorro, simply because the costume is very cool, but there might not be time. I could see him trying to protect Dixie first, regardless, which she might appreciate. Depends on whether she feels she had things under control at the moment. Either way, I'd expect she and Diego to have some natural chemistry. I'd also expect Diego and Joe to butt heads regularly, since Joe is certain to make remarks, probably about Dixie, that Diego finds out of line. His Old World sense of propriety, or chauvinism, or whatever you want to call it. But if he kicks Joe's butt cleanly, Joe would probably respect him for it, which might make it the best way for things to go.

The Costumer/Designer: Jane Lane (voiced by Wendy Hoopes, Daria) - I wasn't sure how to define Jane's job. Maybe creative consultant? She's an artist, mostly paints, but also pencil work, sculpture, pretty much whatever medium she feels like working in. I figured scenery and backdrops at a minimum, costuming designs maybe. I imagine she'd have some ideas about appropriate or cool lighting, which may or may not agree with what Eberts or Joe have in mind (for that matter, I see Eberts and Joe having a lot of disagreements about stuff like that).

I expect Jane to be the least interested in what's actually going on. She'll be suspicious and curious, but if she's left to create, and Eberts is willing and able to incorporate what she comes up with into the show (and pay her), I'm not sure she's going to worry too much otherwise. Jane, like me, enjoys making smartass remarks and asking uncomfortable questions to mess with people, but I don't see her trying to throw a spanner in the works.

It occurred to me halfway through typing this there needs to be music. I had Jane in mind as The Lady with a Boat, in this case her brother Trent's van. So maybe Trent's band can be the music. Or Diego could play some pieces Joe can record and play back during the performance. Or Bernardo, Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes got pulled through time as well, and Diego gets them to play. If that's the case, Garcia is absolutely going to end up on stage at some point during the show, and wow the crowd with his impressive singing voice. Because the applause will bring a big smile to the sergeant's face, and a happy Sergeant Garcia makes me smile, too.

As for the goal of all this, I figure the Agency is using this play as a smokescreen to get at Arnaud de Ferhn's vaults. He's gotten his hands on some extremely early prototype of the Orb. I mean, really early, since that thing isn't supposed to be created for a few centuries yet. This one probably isn't capable of time travel on its own, yet. But as a potential power source, maybe. It might be the quantum computer introduced in episode 1.8 of The Invisible Man, in a new and improved (evolved?) version.

It seems more likely to be the sort of thing the Chrysalis Group would have stored somewhere, but I can't see the theater troupe scam working on them. Arnaud on the other hand, owns a casino, and is both pretentious enough to want to have a theater putting on plays there, and cheap enough to hire some half-assed, shoestring budget group. He's probably paying them in free, leftover buffet shrimp.

Figure Darien and Hobbes are lurking somewhere among the stagehands, pretending to just be regular workers. But Darien takes such a half-assed approach to playing any sort of a role that he's far too casual and friendly with Eberts for the others on the troupe not to notice. Plus, he and Hobbes are probably trying to wander around surreptitiously and figure out where Arnaud is hiding the MacGuffin, something Diego would almost certainly notice and investigate, and likely Dixie, Joe, and Jane, either separately or as a group.

Arnaud is either eventually going to notice them, or has known all along what was going on, and this was all part of another of his overly complicated plans to get Darien. Expect Diego (or Zorro) to make a key last-minute save, possibly alongside Brisco if he does show up. Jane could be an effective distraction, especially if her brother is there providing the music for the show. I don't know if that would involve some kind of demonstration or crazy public performance, or if they'd just light something on fire. Either one is good. Dixie and Joe are the ones who actually get the MacGuffin, forming an effective, if uneasy duo. They're both naturally curious, they both like to bluff, they'll both hit people if they feel like it, what more do you need?

I expect poor Eberts is going to be crestfallen if all this happens on Opening Night. Maybe they'll get to do a couple of actual shows first, to help sell their cover to Arnaud? Because I think Eberts will get into it, and I actually don't think this crew will give him much trouble. He may have to rein in some of Jane and Joe's excesses, and Diego will tease him a bit, because that's what Diego does, but Eberts is going to be taking this seriously, and try to do his best. And I think everyone else on the team takes enough pride in their work they will, too. Dixie and Diego have too much pride to turn in a poor performance, and Joe and Jane would have too high an opinion of their work to half-ass it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The People's Tycoon - Steven Watts

Made one offhand remark about being surprised at Henry Ford's pacifism, and here we are. The People's Tycoon is a biography of Henry Ford that attempts to place his life in context of American culture and its shifts through his lifetime, and how he helped bring about many of those shifts.

Watts' approach is to move gradually forward through Ford's life, but with each chapter focusing not so much on a specific period of time, but on a specific aspect of Ford during that time. So one chapter might look at Ford's attempts to increase productivity, his ideas behind doing so, the public response, and his own concerns at the end result of his goal. Two chapters later, Watts is looking at the point when Henry Ford raised his workers' wages to $5 a day, his reasoning, the public response (both positive and negative). From there he might segue into Ford's attempts to try and impose his moral vision upon others, especially his employees. Turns out you could only get that pay boost by following a fairly narrow set of ideas about how to live your life, among other hoops.

The catch for Ford is that he helps create a society which he doesn't end up liking very much. Part of the idea between the wage hike was that it would boost the economy if workers had more money to spend. Ford was, at the time, a big believer in the idea that people should buy things they want or need, that leisure time and pursuits shouldn't be strictly the domain of the wealthy. But he doesn't want people spending money on booze or smokes, and he thinks people subsequently become too invested in the idea of buying things. He thinks there's a lot of value in hard work, but his desire to achieve his vision of a cheap, reliable car helps push him towards the assembly line. Then he worries that he's trapped his workers in a very narrow, repetitive role, which won't be fulfilling. His solution initially was that it would be made up for by those workers buying stuff. Find fulfillment in the leisure, since the work could no longer provide it.

One of Ford's biggest problems - besides his raging anti-Semitism - is that after a decade or so of everyone lining up to sing his praises, he buys into his own hype. Like the comedian that becomes convinced he really does have Important Thoughts about the issues of the day. Because Ford has been so successful at creating an affordable car people like, he must be an expert on whatever he cares to share his opinion on. That can be diets, the Depression, education, World War I. Ford may be entirely ignorant about the topic, but he will remain convinced he has the answer, and people should listen.

This extends to his own company, where, even as he becomes increasingly out of touch with the market, he will try to insist of having things his way. That the consumers will eventually realize he's correct about what they want. What's especially ugly about it is Ford will let others within the company make a decision, simply so he can come in and overrule them, as some cheap way to show off. He does this constantly to his son Edsel, in the belief it will toughen him up, and it contributes to Edsel's declining health.

There is a lot in the book, that I didn't know about Henry Ford, especially his growing interest in the 1930s in areas outside automobiles, like education and science. Ford invested a lot of money into research on possible uses of the soybean, including making fabrics and plastics from it. Or his belief in reincarnation. There's an entire chapter devoted to Ford's foray into politics during the Great War. Not just his failed Peace Ship idea (which was more of a debacle than I'd imagined), but how he almost won a Senate seat in Michigan without really campaigning at all, and while being generally unqualified for political office. But he was well-known, and had lots of money, and lots of everyday folks identified with him, especially when the "elites" mocked him for his perceived ignorance. That read as depressingly familiar, given our current situation.

'First of all, Ford's worldview as a modern industrialist led him to view warfare as a wasteful folly. Everything he valued in terms of economic and social endeavor - an ethic of work and productivity, keen standards of efficiency, consumption and abundance among the mass of people - was violated by the wartime destruction of human beings and material resources. In a long string of pronouncements, Ford made it clear that he viewed war as an economic disaster.'

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Calm Set of Spring Solicits

April's solicitations suggest a quiet month for me.

There's still no sign of the Nocenti/Aja series, The Seeds, although Dark Horse's website still insists it's coming out March 28th. C'mon guys, there are so few comics these days I get genuinely excited for. In the meantime, there is still the Mata Hari min-series and the Empowered and Sistah Spooky series. Carla Speed McNeil's cover pokes fun at artists contorting female characters into ridiculous postures. The covers have all been really good for that series.

DC is going to have a big showdown between Batman and Deathstroke over which of them is Damian's father. Given the number of kids Bruce Wayne's adopted, it shouldn't matter to him though, right? He wouldn't simply hand Damian over to Slade Wilson with a pat on the head simply because the kid doesn't share his genetics, any more than he would foist Cass Cain off on Shiva or David Cain. Because they're not good parents, and neither is Slade.

Action Comics is shipping issue 1000, if that's something that interests you. The Demon mini-series is wrapping up, we'll see how that goes.

So maybe I misinterpreted what was going on in Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood Suckers, because the solicit for issue 2 is talking about Bubba teaming up with John Henry, boarding something called the Nocturne. But I could have sworn the first issue's solicit mentioned Nixon. Unless this is all taking place in the land of the dead, while I was just assuming it was the '70s? An understandable mistake, but still.

Giant Days #37 is finally going to have Daisy talk with her grandmother about the fact she likes girls, which I've been curious to see play out for a while now. It was #2 on the plot threads I wanted to see play out, behind Ed telling Esther how he felt. So the book is 2-for-2 already in 2018. Making a strong argument for Favorite Ongoing of 2018. Screw all that, "Give the audience what they need," nonsense, the audience wants what it demands! It's been a question hanging over things since Daisy realized she liked girls, which was back in the first four issues, there just wasn't any pressing need until she met Ingrid.

As for Marvel, things are slow. It's doubtful I'm going to still be buying Rogue & Gambit by April, and I've basically decided I'm dropping Deadpool again after this current story. I don't need to see a bunch of villains trying to kill Deadpool (who I'm almost guessing put the $20 million bounty on himself). I think that book is going to end with his "death" in May with issue #300, so they can reboot with a new #1 that month (because of course they'll double-ship), and provide a Deadpool in the comics more similar to the one in the hopefully hit movie that comes out that month.

Gee Calvin, that's kind of cynical. No shit, voice in my head.

Anyway, that would leave Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel, the latter of which is bringing Bruno back - hooray - apparently so he can be sad over Kamala and the Red Dagger. Boo? Shouldn't he be more eager to see Mike, who was, you know, his actual girlfriend before he went to Wakanda?

I might give Domino a try. Gail Simone is hit or miss with me, even on series she's written I liked, it would vary from arc to arc. David Baldeon isn't one of my favorite artists, but I've seen him draw issues here and there of various titles over the years - Blue Beetle, Young Allies, X-Men Legacy - and I don't recall having any complaints. Although it makes me wonder about the tone of the book. His style doesn't seemed suited to something that's going to be really violent, but maybe it'll be more crazy in a fun way. Hopefully.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #6

"The Eighties Are Out In Force" in The Aladdin Effect, by David Michelinie (writer), Jim Shooter (plot), Greg LaRocque (artist), Vince Colleta (inker), colorist and letterer unknown?

I picked up The Aladdin Effect GN last year on the cheap, on a whim. It was one in a series of graphic novels Marvel released back in the '80s, part of the same series as The Death of Captain Marvel (which is listed as the first one, Aladdin Effect is the 16th).

Set in a small town in Wyoming that's been entirely cut off from the world by AIM, which is searching for a strange power they've detected. A power within the mind of Holly-Ann, who dreams of some of her favorite superheroes teaming up with her, and they appear in town the next day.

Given Holly's position at the center of everything as a fan of superheroes whose dream of meeting them comes true, I'd have thought this was aimed towards younger readers. Maybe even young fans who are girls? I could have seen this being published 10 years ago and drawn by the Guruhiru team, like all those Power Pack mini-series. But there's a bit where the Wasp, confused as to who she is, is almost sexually assaulted by some random gang of thugs that finds her. Probably not aimed at younger readers, then.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What I Bought 1/25/2018

I was out of town for work most of the week, but during my travels I did stumble across a comic store. I found about a dozen back issues I was looking for on the cheap, and one book from this week. Better than none.

The Demon: Hell is Earth #3, by Andrew Constant (writer), Brad Walker (penciller), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Tom Napolitano (letterer) - That's how most of the bonfires I've attended end, with some drunk idiot falling in the fire.

As it turns out, Etrigan didn't burn a small child to death, because the small child was already dead, and her corpse was being used as a hidey-hole by Etrigan's half-brother Merlin. Merlin had been press-ganged into helping their father with this plan for Hell to overtake Earth, and has used the wild scene after the nuke went off to escape and try hiding.

Ah, the old, "Run away and used a child's corpse as a shell while you try to find someone to save your miserable butt" plan. Anyway, he didn't think he'd find any help, and considering how everyone present hates him, he still may not have. But Etrigan's uncle finds them, and starts talking shit to Etrigan, which ticks him off and makes him determined to screw up his father's plans. Spite is the grease the keeps the wheels of the world turning.

Constant has Etrigan choosing to rhyme or not, rather than the rhyming being a mark of his station in Hell's hierarchy, as it has been at other times. He seems to rhyme when he's excited or fired up about something, which makes sense if we assume it takes some effort, rather than occurring naturally. He'd have to have the energy and interest to do it. That said, I don't think rhymes are a strength of Constant's. Most of them seem pretty basic, or else forced. Do "through" and "coup" really work as a rhyme?

I'm not sure it's a great sign it took half of the six issues allotted just to get the "team" together, and I'm not sure at this point what use Blood is at all. As a source of commentary on Etrigan or Merlin, he can be entertaining, but I assume eventually he might be useful to the plot?

Walker, Hennessy, and Sotomayor get a chance for a messy fight scene, as Etrigan starts dismembering demons, decapitating demon horses, and punching his fists clean through enemies. It's a brief fight, but effective for showing off his destructive power, and giving the audience reason to think these four might have some chance at fighting Hell's armies, even if Etrigan's going to do most of the heavy lifting. And I may not be sure about the rhyme, but that's a pretty good panel of Etrigan there, just for looking cool in his glee about what he's going to do.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

While visiting my friend two weekends ago, we also ended up watching the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. Apparently she's taken it upon herself to be the person who makes me watch those films, although I'd have gotten around to it eventually. I don't know when, precisely, but it was on my to-do list, after several other movies on Netflix I've been meaning to watch.

The movie's approach seems to be "more". Audiences loved dancing Groot? Let's have the entire opening sequence be a gag about dancing Groot. Let's have more of Drax being blunt and obliviously mean, with Mantis slotted into his role as the one who doesn't understand what's being said about and around her. I guess that's typical for sequels. Just do the same thing you did last time, but more of it. Wasn't that a line in that 22 Jump Street movie, that was itself an extended joke about the repetitive nature of sequels*?

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy parts of it. The part where Rocket wages a guerilla campaign against the Ravagers. Quill getting excited about all the stupid things he could potentially create with this Celestial power. Or the part where Quill is able to fight Ego successfully because he actually embraces his emotions instead of playing Cool Guy who is just out to flirt with hot women or whatever. He's been trying to resist that development, stay in adolescence, so that was a step forward at least.

There are a lot of character threads, some work better than others. They all suffer a little from there being so many of them competing for time. There are two with Yondu, the ideas are good, but the movie is a bit heavy-handed with them, especially the parallel between him and Rocket. And I do like the scene at the end, where Star-Lord realizes Rocket sees similarities between himself and Yondu, and fears his odd family will abandon him. I don't think the movie ever wants us to think that's a real possibility, but I thought maybe it would do more to play up Rocket's growing fear about it. Things he was misinterpreting but we could understand why he was doing that.

Nebula's story did not go at all where I expected, but it was interesting. Nebula's directing anger at Gamora that should probably be going at Thanos (along with all the anger she's already directing at him), but you can at least see why she's doing that. And it plays into the film's larger deal with people dealing with old relationships, and how that goes. Gamora and Nebula's plays out one way, Yondu's with the other Ravager factions plays out another, and Ego trying to build something with Quill goes a third way. I suppose that last one isn't dealing with an old relationship so much as trying to create a new one, but Ego's his father, he was supposed to be there to form a relationship.

The idea of Yondu's group as outcasts among their own was fine, but the Stallone cameo, *shrug*. I think I was supposed to be more excited than I was, and I had actually forgotten that he was in there prior to watching the movie. The Sovereign were just ineffectual enough that I think the movie avoids the Too Many Villains Problem. It keeps brushing up against it as problems crop up, but then a threat is either revealed to be a joke, or they switch sides, or they all get killed. So there's usually not more than two immediate problems at a time.

There are so many different pieces in this movie, and my problem was that several of them either didn't interest me at all, or only interested me occasionally. I think I was only really invested in the parts that involved either Rocket or Nebula, and the rest was, not what I was there for. Also, I don't think Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana have any romantic chemistry whatsoever, so the will-they/won't-they stuff about Quill and Gamora doesn't really work. I'm sure they're trying, but it doesn't work. Gamora has to spend too much time being Team Mom, or the Responsible One. Rocket's smart, but just does whatever he wants, and the other three act like varying degrees of morons. So, Drax was right.

* This is a definite concern I have as the release date for Deadpool 2 approaches. Too much of certain elements from the first film in the sequel could make it unbearable. Great, now I'm talking myself out of being excited for the one movie coming out this year I was excited about.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Better Revenge Through Blackmail

Stryfe expects Deadpool to kill four people for him. One was Cable, and Wade found a loophole of sorts by killing a Cable who was at the end of the line anyway, rather than the younger, shoulder pads and big firearms Cable we all know and, well, not love, but, tolerate? Politely ignore?

The second target was Irene Merryweather, a reporter who was Cable's Chief of Staff during the time he had a floating island operating as an open nation. Wade stabbed her in the heart. The third target is Evan Sabahnur, who might become Apocalypse. Wade thinks he has a workaround for that one. We'll see.

Considering that Irene is someone Wade would probably consider a friend (it's questionable if she'd agree), and Evan is someone Wade cares about a lot, I've been thinking Stryfe is picking these targets to fuck with Wade. Not Cable, mind you. He wanted Cable dead because Cable always gets in his way, plus the usual existential bullcrap that goes down between a clone and the original he's cloned from*.

Wade fulfilled the letter of that request, if not the spirit, and Stryfe, somewhat surprisingly let it go at that. Well, he threw Wade out of his zeppelin HQ, but he didn't immediately go try and kill Wade's daughter, which is a restrained response by Stryfe's standards.

But maybe Cable was the only one he ever really wanted dead. Once he has the heart, and once he's seemingly accepted Deadpool won't kill the Cable he actually wanted dead, did he have any other goals in mind? If Wade succeeds, that's it, Cable's dead. What's accomplished at that point by killing an old acquaintance or a possible future for? If the answer is "nothing," why not make Deadpool, who did try to betray Stryfe, suffer by killing people he cares about? Their deaths wouldn't mean anything to Stryfe other than they hurt Wade (and killing Irene would also probably hurt Cable).

Because I'm not sure of the end goal otherwise. Irene did work closely with Cable for a time, but I don't think she's shown up in any of his other various attempts at ongoing series since he left Cable/Deadpool. Unless Cable goes back to trying to change the future by showing people how to make the present better, their lives are on different trajectories now. He seems to be back to running around with guns shooting people in the face, which she may report on, but they aren't likely to be hanging out much.

Killing Evan would prevent him from becoming Apocalypse, which would stop him from standing between Stryfe and any world-conquering goals he has, but eliminates someone who might, if you're lucky, kill Cable. If Evan's gone, would there be another kid down the line who might become Apocalypse? Although if that was the case, maybe Stryfe wants Evan gone because Wade and the X-Men have actually succeeded, and the kid was never going to become Apocalypse. Stryfe wants that bastard around, so Evan has to go.

Gerry Duggan's been gradually isolating Wade. His team of mercs are gone. He's off the Avengers. His daughter and her foster family hate his guts. His wife ran off with friggin' Dracula. The public hates him, SHIELD's after him, he and Rogue are about to have an ugly falling out, so that probably blows any credit he had with the X-Men.

But one of the things about Deadpool, with his constant cycle of putting together some kind of life for himself, then blowing it to hell, is he's accumulated a surprisingly large circle of friends who seem to stick by him. They may not show up for years, but they're around, going back to Weasel and Blind Al. Bob's one. Sandi, Outlaw, and Agent X, to varying degrees. Taskmaster on a good day. Duggan added several as well, but has been peeling them off a little at a time. Ben Franklin moved on to the next plane, Mike the Necromancer died. Wade shut Preston's brain down, and has her stuffed in a crate in his crappy hideout. And now Duggan's going after characters from those earlier runs. Rick Remender brought in Evan during his time on Uncanny X-Force. Cable and Irene Merryweather became friends with Wade during Nicieza's Cable/Deadpool.

I'm not citing that as a complaint. Sure, I'm not a fan of how he wrote Cable and Deadpool, but Duggan at least seems to have a plan here. There's a goal beyond simply wrecking toys other writers put in there (I think/hope). If the idea is Stryfe is feeling a little pissy and bitter, and wants to accelerate Deadpool's freefall as payback, he might try and make Wade take a torch to those relationships which have somehow held up through all of Deadpool's many, many past, missteps.

Right now, I figure these moves are part of some plan  and I just don't know my Cable backstory well enough to see it. But if the fourth target turns out to be Weasel, then I'd say I was right.

* Also, he needs Cable's heart to make more clones? I don't quite get why Stryfe would want more of himself around, or why he needs Cable's entire heart for that, but that was Cable's theory.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bring An Inner Tube For This Adventure

While visiting a friend two weekends ago, we played a card game she'd gotten for Christmas called Forbidden Island. The goal is for the players, working cooperatively, to recover four treasures from an island before the island sinks.

The island is made up of tiles that you shuffle and then lay out in a particular pattern. So where locations are in relation to each other will change each time (The art on the tiles is nice. The locations make me think of Myst, a little*). For each artifact, there are two locations where it could be collected. Each player draws a card that determines what role they are. There are six, I think. There were only two of us; I pulled the Pilot, my friend got the Diver. Each player gets up to three actions, which can involve moving to adjacent tiles, sharing cards with your teammates, or shoring up flooded portions of the island.

Because at the end of each player's turn, after their actions and after they draw from the treasure card deck, they have to draw two cards from the Flood Deck, and those two tiles become flooded. You can still navigate through them, or collect treasures from them, but if their card is drawn again, before you shore that tile up, it sinks below the waves and is lost. If that was the last place you could collect the Chalice of Waters, well, you lose. If it was the last tile that connected you to a place you could collect a treasure from, you lose. Within the same deck as the treasure cards are Waters Rise! cards. These make you put all the locations you'd already drawn from the Flood Deck back on top of the pile (so you're certain to grab them soon), and makes you increase the water level one notch (which may increase the number of cards you have to draw from the Flood Deck).

So within your turn, you have to keep in mind what tiles you have to keep above water, and how likely they are to be in danger. And who has the best chance at grabbing a particular treasure (which requires having four cards from the treasure deck of that treasure). So you have to use your actions wisely. We ended up lucking out because the Diver can deal with flooded sections easily enough, and the Pilot is able to fly anywhere on the island he wants for an action, rather than move one adjacent tile at a time. And the game wants you to work together, and encourages other players to offer suggestions to whoever's turn it is on what would be best. I expected it was an every man for himself thing going in, so that was a pleasant surprise.

It's also a game that claims to be relatively quick that actually was. There are so many games that say it'll take an hour to play, but that first time through you have to keep checking the rules, trying to decipher the order of things, and it takes three times as long. This one is supposed to take less than an hour, and I think we ran pretty close to that.

I'd be curious to see how it goes with more players. It would give you more people to go for treasures, but it also means more tiles are getting flooded in each round, and the treasure cards probably ended up more dispersed, which makes it harder to get four of the same one to a single player.

* I mentioned that to my friend, then admitted I had only played the game once, at a different friend's house, and he got me trapped in a book on purpose.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What I Bought 1/10/2018 - Part 3

Last week, while out on work-related stuff, I had to run out to my truck to get something for a guy I was trying to help. I grab it, rush back to his office, and as I round the corner, I walk right into one of his employees standing outside spitting his chewing tobacco. Hit me dead-center in the chest. Couldn't have timed it better if it were a Three Stooges bit. Sigh.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #28, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I'm entirely on board with Squirrel Girl punching Loki right in his face.

Loki is able to deceive Dormammu long enough for them to call on the ghosts of squirrels killed by humans to use to bother Dormammu enough he leaves the dimension for now. I'm not totally sure that should work, but OK. Time to rescue Nancy and Tippy, and rather than magic them across space, Loki hijacks the Guardians of the Galaxy's ship, with an irate Drax inside. Squirrel Girl unfortunately talks him into helping and out of stabbing Loki (for now). They arrive on the squirrel planet, everyone figures out the "Silver Surfer" is a phony trying to trick the squirrels. Unfortunately, the real Surfer shows up, and Doreen, thinking he's another phony, punches him in the face.

That panel of Doreen smacking the Silver Surfer was pretty sweet. His awkward hand gesture because he was off-guard, and I think Henderson drew a few lines to make it appear his face sort of caved in from the impact. Well, haven't we all wanted to punch the Silver Surfer in the face at one point? He's so melodramatic. "OH, am I doomed to soar the spaceways alone forever?" Ugh. Also, Loki's face when he tries his "I never agreed to do no harm," line is excellent. You can tell he's so impressed, and just certain he's going to turn the fight around right there, annnnnnnd no. Her Dormammu was looking a little puffy, though. Devouring too many angry souls for their power, perhaps.

Loki really enjoys turning his head into different things. Squirrel Head, Space Lincoln Head. I think someone is happy with the me he sees in the mirror. I enjoy Drax and Doreen debating if a beanbag is really a chair. Much better than those "is a hot dog a sandwich?" arguments. It's meat between two pieces of bread, how is this a debate? Actually, I like how North works Drax into this comic. I haven't necessarily been a huge fan of movie Drax taking everything literally, but it works well here. North manages to use it to give Drax some decent one-liners where he's being witty, possibly unintentionally, but while still being literal. His, "I have already deduced that from context," response to Loki mentioning how much he likes Nancy. He might be entirely serious, or he might just be feeling clever. He seems to enjoy giving Loki grief, so I can go either way with it.

Anyway, this book continues to be entertaining, and I enjoy it a lot. Surprise!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #5

"Context won't help," from Agent X #7, by Gail Simone (writer), the Udon team (artists), and Cory Petit (letterer)

Deadpool's first ongoing series was canceled at 69 issues. Nice. Have to think he'd approve of that. Wade appeared to have been blown up in a fight with the telepath assassin Black Swan. The same month, Agent X #1 appeared, featuring a slighty wacky amnesiac with a healing factor.

Grant Morrison and Joe Casey had taken over the writing duties on New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, respectively, the previous year, as part of an attempt to take the X-books in a different direction, and revive flagging interest. Cable became Soldier X, there was that Brotherhood book, written by "X" (did they ever reveal who that was?), some other revamps I couldn't tell you about..

I don't know if the switch from Deadpool to Agent X was specifically part of that. I assume so, although Deadpool occupies a peculiar adjacent space to the X-books. He loops in when it's beneficial to him. Gail Simone and the Udon art team handled the last 5 issues of Wade's book, then carried over to the new title for the first 7. Which dealt with the title character, Alex Hayden, trying to establish himself as a mercenary through mostly low-grade and embarrassing jobs, while most people are convinced he's Deadpool.

After Simone and Udon left, the book went through three creative teams in 5 issues, including two by Evan Dorkin involving his character Fight-Man, before Simone and the Udon guys came back for the final three issues to explain who Hayden is, and bring Deadpool back onto the field. The book ended, and six months after that, Cable/Deadpool was going. Hayden and a couple members of the supporting cast survived as occasional parts of Deadpool's supporting cast, but others vanished.

The Simone/Udon issues are the high point, as they took it as an opportunity to do stories about the kind of demeaning and dangerous work a merc would have to take in the Marvel Universe when they have no established rep. Like recovering zoo animals, or trying to kill the Punisher.

Friday, January 19, 2018

What I Bought 1/10/2018 - Part 2

A friend gave me a TV their parents didn't need back at Christmas, and last night I hooked my N64 up to it. In the 20+ years I've had that console, I've never played it on a screen bigger than about ~21 inches. Between being a broke-ass college kid to a broke-ass wildlife biology guy who bounced from temp job to temp job, there was no point in getting a bigger TV. Also, I'm cheap on non-essentials.

Anyway, point being, it was wonderful to play Starfox 64 on a big-screen. This must be why people buy big televisions!

Ms. Marvel #26, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Giant monster needs a name. Chameleio? Chamero, The Thing That Should Not Exist? Extemporo? Skreechy? I'm bad at this.

The Red Dagger, with some help from Zoe, destroys the giant robo-monster. Afterward, Zoe starts to put things together, and returns to the seniors' home to talk to Harold. The two investigate the secret basement, where several of the other seniors are in chairs hooked up to some sort of machine, but are discovered by the Inventor, or someone dressing up like him. And since Zoe didn't tell anyone ahead of time, Red Dagger, Nakia, Mike, and Gabe will have to track her down the hard way. There's also the continuing adventures of Naftali trying to find Kamala, and I still don't remember this guy, and I'm getting more suspicious by the minute.

I got a good laugh from Zoe's attempt to use her crossfit to fight a, well she calls it a dinosaur but that's incorrect. The whole page is laid out well. A big panel across the top of her charging forward boldly, fist cocked, and then the next panel goes vertically down the page and she's this tiny figure ineffectually punching the creature's tail while it stares at her. The tiny "POOMF!" sound effect is a nice touch, Caramagna's work or Nico Leon's? Although she had the right fist cocked and threw the left. No wonder it had no effect. Then it contrasts with the next page, which starts with Red Dagger and his determined look pulling some wires, and then a big explosion takes up the rest of the page and he's flung into the sky, Team Rocket style.

I'm sure I should be more concerned about the elderly folks, but the humor in this storyline has been a welcome respite from the whole "HYDRA takes over the city" story. Leon seems to have a knack for funny stuff, or maybe it's Wilson's writing. Or both. She did the "Loki spoils prom" story when Leon was the artist, maybe she's working to his strengths, and writing something a little goofier.

Unbelievable Gwenpool #24, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Gurihiru (artists), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - I really hope there's a roof somewhere below them or that's going to be an awful mess on the pavement.

Gwen attempts to stave off cancelation by embracing villainy. Cool villainy, which means pulling a heist with Batroc. The heist goes mostly well, as Batroc uses Gwen's powers to good effect, and they escape. It's afterward Batroc reveals it wasn't really a villainous act, because the casino they robbed was run by the old Spider-Man antagonist Chance. Batroc was trying to be supportive of Gwen's attempt to be a hero, and set up a "rob the bad guy" gig to help her pay bills. Aw. Which means Gwen is out of options, or is she?

I like that if, even if Batroc doesn't buy that his life is a comic book, he accepts that Gwen has powers that operate that way, and uses them to pull off the heist. And while, as Gwen notes, Batroc probably won't act like this in any upcoming appearances outside this book, I do like this version of Batroc. He's kind of cheesy and arrogant, but also classy and witty and not a horrible guy.

Also, credit to Hastings for using Chance, even if I'd liked to see him in action a little more. I have a soft spot for that guy.

The coloring on this book for the shots of the city skyline is outstanding. Especially the lighting effects around the skyscraper. Just gorgeous. The page after they complete their escape had so much I enjoyed. Gwen's version of a tuck and roll landing, plus her various startled and stressed expressions, and the punchline to her method of escaping with the loot. A bunch of different silly things I liked. I hope the Gurihiru team work on another book I want to read in the future.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Darkest Hour

My dad wanted to see this, and since we didn't go to any of the movies he suggested last year, I offered to go to this one with him.

My dad ended up enjoying it. There were some historical inaccuracies, things added for dramatic effect, and certain things excluded. The evacuation of the British Army (and parts of the French and Belgian armies) is prominent, but there's no mention of the 30,000 French troops who tried to hold off the Nazis to buy time. Or of the fact the Nazis halted 50 miles from Dunkirk for a period of time. Given the movie takes the time to mention the evacuation is delayed because they have to clear all the wrecked boats from the harbor before rescue boats can go in, my dad felt that was a curious detail to omit.

From my perspective, given there's so much focus on Halifax and Chamberlain trying to maneuver Churchill into either opening negotiations with the Nazis, or getting him to say he absolutely won't do that, so they can give him the boot, it seems like they could have played up the delay as one more thing Churchill has to weigh. Does he seize it as an opportunity, does Halifax use it as another lever to show Hitler being reasonable to get Churchill to agree with negotiations?

The movie shows his struggle with how much sacrifice he's prepared to demand. If they choose to keep fighting, lots of British citizens are going to die, and there's no guarantee at that moment, with the Nazis non-aggression pact with the USSR, and the U.S. wanting to stay out of it, that the British can win. Does he want to risk all that death and struggle, when they could still lose? Maybe it'd be easier to just negotiate, Hitler might be reasonable. . . But Churchill does understand Hitler, in a way Hitler seemingly never understood Churchill, enough to know any treaty with the Nazis might as well be used to wipe your butt.

All that aside, as I said, my dad enjoyed it. He thought Oldman did a pretty good job, although he mentioned something about Winston's sibilant "s" being missing from his speech. He thought Kristin Scott Thomas as Clemmie, Winston's wife, was giving an excellent performance, and that the film in general handled their relationship well in relatively limited screentime. I'm never sure how to assess a performance when someone is playing a historical figure. Am I seeing the actual person, or some caricature, or idealized version? But it seems like a good performance.

I really liked the lighting work. Lots of use of shadows to create mood, lighting to isolate particular characters. Especially when they would shoot Winston as being in these small rooms (or an elevator), alone, and the shot is set up so most of the screen is total darkness beyond the confines of the space Winston is in. As though it had been cut out of the world and dumped in some void. The sense of isolation and being trapped, the claustrophobia of it, was tremendously effective.

I enjoyed the scenes between the King and Churchill. The King struggling to understand this man he has to trust, and Churchill knowing he has to bow and scrape and all that, but not being particularly good at it. The mismatched pair.

I ended enjoying it more than I thought I would. It helped they let Churchill get in some quips. He was pretty good with the one-liners and comebacks, so it's at least appropriate to the man.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What I Bought 1/6/2018 and 1/10/2018

I hate driving in snow. I can do it, but I hate it. In other news, here's a couple of books from the last two weeks. This week, people have awkward conversations, and I only wanted that in one of these books.

Giant Days #34, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (penciler), Liz Fleming (inker), Whtney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Assembling a jigsaw puzzle to reveal your own face feels like something you'd see on the Twilight Zone. Once he's finished, Ed will realize he no longer has a face of his own! And he's Hitler! Or dead. Or both.

Esther takes Ed on a pub run as a way to say thank you for helping her find a place to live. She eventually gets Ed to detail his life story for her. This involves being a bullied kid at school, and joining the drama club to be close to an older girl he was infatuated with. They dated until she left for university, when the relationship eventually fell apart. And as the two drunkenly stagger on, and Esther asks Ed what happened next, Ed accidentally lets slip his feelings for her. Gah. And then tries to divert it by climbing things, only to fall off and possibly injure himself.

Well, I was waiting for Ed to tell her, just to have it out in the air and dealt with. I have no idea how this is going to play out, other than badly. I have to figure out there are going to be freakouts on all sides of this thing. Or they could surprise me and handle this thing calmly, but I expect it'll take five or so issues before everyone calms down enough to try that.

I don't really understand Twin Peaks references (my entire knowledge of that show is this clip from The Simpsons), but I got a lot of laughs out of this issue anyway. Esther's poor listening skills, and her story about her torment of her teacher, Mrs. Pugh. The panel of Mrs. Pugh's meltdown. That Sarin, as our heroes get increasingly wasted, not only starts drawing the buildings with wobbly, wavy lines, but the panels they're in as well. Best of all, they used that Churchill quote about being drunk versus being ugly. I love that quote, even if it was mean of him, and they really shouldn't tease an elephant bartender. Also, randomly, there's one page of Susan and Daisy relaxing with a Black-Eyed Peas coloring book (the band, not the food stuff).

Cogar colors Ed's flashback panels in a slightly faded tones. Not sepia exactly, this didn't happen decades ago or anything, just a couple of years. But enough that it starts to take on that feel. Although it's interesting she didn't take the same approach on Esther's flashback. But in that case, the yellow-and-white color scheme of the classroom walls makes its own distinct feel (a combination of glaring and nauseating, for me anyway). But Esther also clearly regrets her actions, so the shame probably keeps the memory fresher than Ed's where he's trying to forget. And that panel where Ed realizes he slipped up, and we can see Esther was not so drunk she didn't hear it. Oof. The looks on their faces. This is why people don't want to talk about their feelings!

Despicable Deadpool #292, by Gerry Duggan (writer), Matteo Lolli (artist), Ruth Redmond (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Do you think it would add something to the cover if Hawthorne had included a sound effect as Wade falls, or would that have needlessly cluttered it? I'm leaning towards cluttered, with the book's title already there, plus Wade's bucket list.

Stryfe's next target is Irene Merryweather, who Wade stabs to death in the Daily Bugle newsroom (while wearing a homemade Stryfe costume). What does Gerry Duggan have against Cable/Deadpool? First he poops on the Wade/Cable relationship, now this? Booooo. The next target is Evan, the young man Wade has worked very hard to help not become Apocalypse. He is not ready or willing to do that, so he visits Nazi Captain America in prison instead. He doesn't kill him, but vows to take something from him each time he visits, starting with his. . . toilet.

Wade Wilson: Finding new ways to let us all down every day.

The visit is perceived as an attempt to help Evil Steve breakout, which gets Rogue's attention, so Wade is going to have more relationship issues to deal with next issue. Will he have time to put his plan to save Evan in motion first?

Wade attaching a little light to his Stryfe helmet to try and fake the glowing eye cracks me up. But it's a good attempt at attention to detail. Better than all those knives he had sticking out through the armor. For Stryfe's armor, you have to go with full-on swords.

The conversation with Nazi Cap, while ultimately unsatisfying, was interesting for how Lolli and Redmond handle Cap. Cap stays on the bed throughout, what with the venomous snake on his chest. But even when he tried moving, he looks bored. Half-lidded eyes, not a hair out of place. The shades used are darker than in the rest of the issue, and gives Rogers this grey pallor. It makes him feel cold, and frightening, even as he's in prison.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

War on Everyone

Note: There's a brief mention of child rape in this movie review, because there's a brief mention of it in the film. Figured I'd state that up front, just in case.

I think War on Everyone is meant to be a comedic buddy cop movie. You have the two cops, Bob (Michael Pena) a family man, Terry (Alexander Skarsgard)  the reckless, tortured loner with a rough past, and they're trying to bring down some "untouchable" bigshot crook. But they're after him because they want the million dollars he had stolen from a racetrack, rather than any desire to bring him to justice or whatever.

I said I think it's meant to be a comedic buddy cop movie. I'm not sure for a few reasons. One, most of the attempts at jokes weren't very funny. There are a couple of winners, but overall, not a great success rate. Two, there are some abrupt shifts into being really serious. There's a kid involved in this mess, and it's revealed near the end that his father was mixed up with this crimelord, and let said crimelord use the boy in adult films. That gets dropped in there with a big thud, I presume to explain the shift in the Terry's motivations at the end, given what we learned about his past earlier.

But both cops have been so indifferent to everyone else's suffering up to this point it's hard to buy. They find a woman sobbing over a dying man, they calmly eat their burgers and complain she won't stop screaming. The SWAT teams kill a couple of suspects in a "questionable" shooting, and they make a joke about how often that happens. They beat suspects, then extort them in exchange for not being arrested. It's kind of hard to buy these guys suddenly not being assholes. Adding it to the kid's story feels like a lazy attempt at adding some weight to the story, or trying to be edgy. Ooh, we mentioned child molestation for about three seconds! We went there! We watched the crimelord decapitate a guy five minutes earlier, and he's been firmly established as a sadistic, elitist rich boy. I don't think the audience was going to be too bothered if he got killed.

The film doesn't earn the weight it's trying for, and most of the jokes don't land, so it doesn't work on that level either.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What I Bought 1/6/2018

I went running this morning, fortunately before the front moved in and the wind chill went below zero. I had to hop off the road because of an approaching vehicle and as my stride was bringing my left leg forward, my right leg slipped in the snow and slid right in front of the left. So my left knee has bruised the hell out of the right calf. Fun and games.

Let's jump into some comics from 2018. I have all the books I wanted from the last two weeks, so we'll work through those over this week and early next week. Going to start with a couple of mini-series.

Atomic Robo: The Spectre of Tomorrow #3, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer and design) - I'm sure they'll prove useful, but those little robots creep me out. Make me think of ticks, bleh.

People are continuing to barf out robotic guts and collapse, and CERES is not getting anywhere figuring out the cause. Maybe if they spent less time taking down footage of the events from the Internet they'd get somewhere. Robo is continuing to receive the data secretly and recognizes the same signal ALAN, the sentient computer that was going to leave Earth (and eradicate all life in the process) used, and heads to Hashima Island to investigate. He encounters some strange creature, and what's worse, Helsingard in an even stranger body. Yes, stranger than his usual brain in a jar mounted on a robot body.

I still feel this is someone trying to cause a panic, and Helsingard would seem a likely choice, except causing fear isn't really his style. He tends to conquer or kill. Dr. Fischer got accidentally taken along. We'll see if he drags himself from the depths of depression to make a contribution (or if Robo actually notices and tries and address that). Robo's really been a lousy boss this entire mini-series, or maybe he's always been bad at being a boss.

 Wegener has a tendency to simply his style when the characters in the panel are in the middle or far distance, because he uses a thick line, and to attempt to add too much detail would turn everything into a muddle. But there are a few panels in here where things are almost vague shapes more than characters (the panel after the creature tears through the plane, for one). Also, whether it's Wegener's job or Clark's, they need to add a pupil to characters' eyes in those panels as well. Sometimes they get away with it, and others it like my eyes are drawn immediately to the empty white spaces that are their eyeballs. There's one of Lang and Vik in particular that bothers me. I can't concentrate on anything else in the panel.

That said, I like the design on the robot, and the fight between it and Robo is good (although I still wonder how Robo's not better at fighting after all these years). It's brief, but there's a flow to it. Let Robo and the creature fight it out for a couple pages, establish what they're up against. Then Foley gets involved with the grenade launcher, which adds another element (and they break up the fight by cutting to a panel of her doing something or reacting every three panels or so). Then throw in the surprise, last-page arrival of possibly the villain. Things go bad, things get better, things go bad ahead, things get better, or possibly worse. It's well done.

The best part was Robo stealing Richard Branson's plane to get to Hashima, and referring to himself in third person when Branson does the same while asking why he's stealing the plane. I like that as a little bit of revenge for all the grief Branson's giving them. Even better, the plane was wrecked five seconds into their arrival on the island.

And I'd love to see Robo outfit himself with a rocket punch. Why not? Oooh, and some of those gravity boots like Samus Aran has, so he can double-jump! I'm being entirely serious.

Rogue and Gambit #1, by Kelly Thompson (writer), Pere Perez (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - It seems like bad tactics for Rogue to be arriving at the thing she's going to punch at the same time Gambit's exploding playing cards get there. Let one set up the other, right?

There's a couples' therapy island where mutants are vanishing, so Kitty (who looks strange with short hair) sends Rogue and Gambit, since it would be better if the duo actually have relationship issues. Now let's face it, you could pick any of about 50 X-Men, and find at least 10 others they'd have relationship issues with, but yeah, those two have a mess of them, and Gambit is in theory good at sneaking, so sure, why not? He keeps trying to rekindle things, Rogue keeps trying to maintain distance. Because she's a reasonably intelligent woman. The last page looks bad, but is probably a misdirection.

Basically a set-up issue. Get the pieces where they need to be, explain why they're there, establish current dynamic between them. The book does that reasonably well, although I can't disagree with people who say this relationship needs to be left in the past. I think Rogue's experienced enough that she can tell Gambit is never going to be someone she can count on in a relationship. He insists that they could try just being friends, but can't stop flirting and hinting that she must still be into him. Then he gets indignant about her kissing Deadpool, and Rogue points out she's had to hear about his escapades from other X-Men plenty of times. Gambit is always going to be that kind of person.

(To be fair to Gambit, not a phrase I expected to type, he brought up Deadpool because Rogue is back to using her powers as an excuse to maintain distance, and he pointed out she had her powers during her little session with Deadpool. Although perhaps Gambit should take the hint.)

But even if this mini-series tries to draw a line under that relationship, and there's no guarantee it will, we know someone else will come along eventually and try to start it up again. The same way writers have kept drifting back around to Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, even when that is a terrible idea (although thankfully that one has been mostly left alone the last 10 years, since one or the other of them has been dead or Ultron most of that time). So is there a point to this whole exercise then? I guess hope it can be entertaining.

And there were some parts I liked. Rogue deciding, if Gambit is going to bring up Deadpool, to use Wade to hit Gambit in his ego, where it'll hurt the most. The Danger Room session, where apparently Rogue/Gambit is a topic of much discussion among the students.

Pere Perez does a double-page splash of the Rogue and Gambit seemingly at each others' throats that is foreshadowing something. The background is one of those fragmented mirrors, where the shards are showing different moments from their shared history. There was one panel I thought Perez was trying to mimic one of the Kubert brother's '90s art (if you flip through the issue, it's the one in the lower right, with Gambit being carried by Rogue, and he's wearing a high-collared jacket), and maybe a couple of the others, but I can't be sure. Since most of the issue is talking, there's a lot of panels or people just sitting and talking, but Perez does a good job of making the body language clear and work together with the expressions and the dialogue. His work looks smoother than I remember the last time I saw it, which was either the Bryan Q. Miller Batgirl series, or that Power Man and Iron Fist mini-series from 5 or 6 years ago. But D'Armata's colors work also seems more varied and with greater depth than what I remember the colorists of those books doing, so maybe that's what's different.

Overall, I don't think there's anything wrong with the writing or art. Everyone involved is doing solid work. I'm mostly unsure about the point of it, I guess, and whether I care enough at this point to pick up the second issue.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Alternate Favorite Marvel Characters #10 - Taskmaster

Character: Taskmaster (Tony Masters)

Creators: David Michelinie and George Perez

First appearance: Avengers #195

First encounter: Amazing Spider-Man #367. I think he appears on the last page and cover of the issue before, but that didn't tell me anything about him, so let's pick this issue, where Spider-Man and Solo run up against some guys trained by Taskmaster while pursuing leads on ULTIMATUM and the Red Skull.

Definitive writer: Gail Simone used him as a regular member of the cast in her Deadpool and Agent X runs, and that's probably the version I think of. A gun-for-hire to be sure, ruthless when he feels like it, cocky to the point of being almost insufferable. Not really trustworthy at any time, but when he found a few people he cared about he did try to help them, in his own way.

Definitive artist: I've only seen him draw one comic with Taskmaster, but I think I'll go with Stuart Immonen. There's a fluidness to his style that fits how I picture Taskmaster moving, he makes the pirate boots and cape look good, and he makes sure the skull mask is partially in shadow, which helps it look more like a mask and less like it's his actual face (which it isn't supposed to be).

Favorite moment or story: In the final issue of his first mini-series, Taskmaster #4, Taskmaster is trying to take revenge on Sunset Bain, who had used him and then tried to betray him and leave him for dead, as vicious criminal industrialists often do. He's made his way through her security guards and most of her defenses, but she has one guy left. An enhanced human, fast and strong enough to catch bullets.

Taskmaster knew he'd have to deal with that guy, so he watched footage of himself on fast-forward, and for a few moments, he's able to make his own body move with that kind of swiftness, which is enough to get past the goon's defenses and drop him.

It's a clever move, while still keeping in mind that Taskmaster does have limits to what he can manage, regardless of his powers. He would like to kill Bain, but the cops are coming. Normally they wouldn't be any problem, but between a bullet he took earlier, and his own exhaustion after that stunt, he has to bail. Mostly though, I just think it's a cool trick.

What I like about him: Not every villain has to be someone's arch-nemesis. Not every battle has to be a titanic struggle for the fate of the hero's loved one, or the fate of the world. Sometimes you just need a fun villain to give the hero someone to fight for an issue or two. Much like Arcade, who holds the #6 spot on the favorite characters list, Taskmaster is great for that role.

His superpower is cool, for one thing. The ability to learn almost any skill, instantly? I would be all over that. Cuts out all that time lost practicing. As an antagonist it gives him a wide array of abilities to draw from to challenge the hero with. But since he still has to be able to physically do whatever the skill is, there are limits to keep him from being too overwhelming. He isn't the Super-Adaptoid. It isn't as though he can watch Charles Xavier put his fingers to his temple while muttering, "To me, my X-Men," and the next thing you know, he can seize control of your mind.


There's a story in Kurt Busiek's Avengers' run, issue 26, where Taskmaster is hired to impersonate Captain America and trick a group of heroes into attacking a building controlled by a religious group the Avengers are having issues with. It's a quartet of heroes - Carol Danvers, Genis-Vell, Silverclaw, and Scott Lang - who haven't worked with Cap much, or at all with each other, so it takes them a while to figure out something's off. Once they do, Taskmaster drops the disguise and sics some of his students on them. When that fails, he fights all four of them by himself, and because he's been watching and studying their moves, for a time he's mopping the floor with them.

That issue includes most of what I like about Taskmaster. It's not a big revenge scheme on his part, just a job. But he enjoys the opportunity to jerk the Avengers around a bit, and when the disguise fails, he owns it and openly challenges them. Then he uses it as a chance to test some of his students, while using that as a chance to figure out these Avengers' moves. He's able to use what he's picked up (and their relative inexperience working together) to more than hold his own. But he loses when Genis charges him, then switches places with Rick Jones at the last second.

There's a lot of pieces there. The fact none of it is personal, just a paycheck. The occasional villain who despises the hero is fun - there'll be one of those later on in this series - but sometimes you want the guy who is simply doin' a job. It means you can use him against just about any hero, and depending on what the job is, he has a chance. Sure, Taskmaster probably can't defeat Iron Man in a one-on-one battle, but if all he needs to do is keep him off-balance long enough to finish stealing something and escape? Yeah, he can manage that.

So he can present a challenge, but not one so overwhelming that it seems impossible the hero can win. Taskmaster is ultimately mostly human in his abilities. He has limits, and he can be particularly vulnerable to surprise, precisely because he's so sure of himself. If he thinks he's seen everything you've got already, then he's sure he has some trick he copied from someone to counter it. If you can bust out something new, you can catch him entirely flat-footed. Case in point: That hodgepodge Avengers quartet wins when Genis charges at Taskmaster only to switch places at the last second with his counterpart Rick Jones, who kicks a gobsmacked Taskmaster right in chops.

At different times Taskmaster has fended off the Avengers, eluded Spider-Man, brought down Cassie Lang and Eric O'Grady while they were 50-feet tall and fighting each other. At other times he gets clocked by an RJO (Rick Jones Onslaught) From Outta Nowhere, or loses to Deadpool when Wade is fighting with his wrists and ankles cuffed. If he doesn't have time to adjust, or the opponent is just too unpredictable, he can lose really badly. And sometimes he loses to Moon Knight because Moonie is just too fuckin' crazy to stop coming at him, and Taskmaster is just here for a paycheck. He's not looking to die fighting some nutjob that talks to the moon.

He used that job with the Avengers as a chance to test some of his students, and the schools he sets up are a nifty variation on his shtick. Most of the mercenary types in comics don't like to hand out trade secrets. Maybe they take a student every so often, but why create potential competition? Taskmaster, maybe because of how many skills he has, maybe because it's so easy for him to pick things up, he shrugs and says, "Let me make some extra bucks off this."

Why not? There are all kinds of organizations that need cannon fodder, and that cannon fodder needs to be marginally useful. Taskmaster knows all sorts of things that can help with that. He's not going to train these guys up to the point they could take some of his more high-paying gigs, so it's an easy way to make some more money, and one that greatly reduces his chances of getting punched in the face by superheroes. And it keeps more avenues open to him for future work.

Also, I think it shows something about his attitude towards all the skills he has. He's pretty cocky about it, how quickly he can learn someone's moves, how many he's got. He's taken jobs for the government to get access to the World War 2 film archives, so he could study footage of heroes who are dead. He's the person who wants to know everything he can pick up about fighting, killing, infiltration, foreign languages, any skill that could possibly be helpful.

At the same time, because he can pick everything up so effortlessly, it doesn't mean as much. He copies Iron Fist's Flying Eagle Strike, so what? Just another skill. Throw it on the pile next that triple flip he picked up from Nightcrawler. I think he figures, what's the point of being able to do all this stuff if you can't show it off? Almost every fight he has, he has to namedrop who he stole each move from. Blah blah blah, drinking buddies with Bullseye, blah blah blah Daredevil's billy club block, blah blah blah. Training people and setting them up with HYDRA or AIM (or SHIELD) is just one more way to show off. "See how much stuff I taught these guys? I can do that, because I know all this stuff. Aren't I cool?"

Scott Lang gave Taskmaster some grief over his costume. He's a pirate, but also a skeleton, plus he threw in a cloak, pick a theme. It's part of that need to show off. Be garish, get attention, have some showmanship. It's not as though he can't dress down, wear a disguise. He can easily mimic another person's movements and speech patterns after all. If that's what the job requires, he'll go that route. If he wanted, he could be one of those legendary assassins spoken of in whispers. The one whose true face and voice no one has ever seen and lived to tell about it. But that's not how he plays it. Sometimes you need to be flashy, you need people to notice you, and his outfit certainly accomplishes that.

For the record, I don't mind the "track suit" look the Udon art team gave him; it has a pleasant simplicity to it, wouldn't restrict his movements, and the skull helmet is very cool. But it lacks that flashy element that seems key to Taskmaster.

Taskmaster has had two mini-series so far, and they took opposite approaches towards his memory. The first one, by the Udon Studios crew, which said he'd had the powers since he was a child at least, stated he remembered every moment of his life with perfect clarity. The second one, by Fred van Lente and Jefte Palo, said that he gained the power because he was a SHIELD agent who injected an experimental formula he found in a HYDRA base into his head, and that he could barely remember anything about himself because he had learned so many skills they were taking up all the space in his brain.

The van Lente/Palo mini-series went for the notion that Masters had cost himself dearly by using the serum, and while I thought the whole "forgotten wife" reveal was a bit much, the idea that his memory for people and events is almost non-existent did seem to work with his willingness to work with anyone. Taskmaster really doesn't seem to hold grudges, and will work with anybody just about, even if they parted on bad terms the last time. He's fought the Avengers multiple times, but was willing to take over training the new recruits at their Initiative camp. Deadpool has humiliated him more than once, but he and Wade might almost be considered friends. Taskmaster has been willing to help Deadpool in the past, and while I'm sure he's getting paid, Deadpool doesn't usually have that much money. Tasky could get more on another job elsewhere easily, but he still works with this crazy guy who has busted his jaw multiple times.

But if he only vaguely, or occasionally, remembers who anyone is, it could make sense. He approaches each meeting fresh, and judges the person based off what they say and do that time. If we go with the idea the second mini-series put forth, that Taskmaster on some level remembers he abandoned his wife by taking this serum and forgetting her, even if it's only a vague sense that he's a bad person, he might see a kindred spirit in Deadpool. When Taskmaster has helped Wade, Wade is usually in trouble for one reason or another, rather than it being a random "Kill this person for lots of cash" job. The attempt to do the right thing, or fix a past mistake could resonate with Taskmaster.

Because there's really no reason for him to willingly pose for a photo where it looks as though one of the washout Initiative recruits has defeated him, except just to be nice. The kid tried hard, but the nature of his power didn't seem to allow for things to work out for him as a superhero. If Masters supposedly always wanted to be the best, and took the serum to achieve that, he could feel empathy. Or maybe he remembers everything about his own life, knows he was never like that kid, but still figured there was no harm in giving the kid a good memory to go home with. He met Sandi and fell for her, and while that ended with her in the hospital, he did stay in the vicinity and try to sort of look out for her. He didn't always do this in healthy ways - killing the abusive boyfriend she told Deadpool just to beat up, trying to kill Alex Hayden (Agent X) because he thought he was bad news - but it's out of a genuine concern and desire to make up for his own mistakes, so the intent is good, at least.

Taskmaster has a lot of versatility, which comes in handy. Play him as a bad guy, play him as a surprise ally, or even a friend. Use his skills to make him a surprisingly difficult opponent for people in a higher weight class, or the limitations to bring about his defeat. Heck, you can make some gags out of him possessing some unusual or unexpected skill he picked up randomly.He's learned how to cheat at cards, but he also knows how to make a little flower out of a radish, because he picked up the technique from a restaurant. Give him a surprisingly good singing voice, or adept at carving marionettes. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Taskmaster picks up the pace, because he's got places to be, people to kill in Taskmaster (vol. 1) #4, by Ken Siu-Chong (writer), Jon Babcock (letterer), and the art team of Arnold Tsang, Drew Hou, Omar Dogan, Robb Ross, and Shane Law. Taskmaster makes some Avengers look like chumps, then is defeated by Scott Lang's favorite musician in Avengers (vol. 3) #26, by Kurt Busiek (writer), Stuart Immonen (penciler), Wade von Grawbadger (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), Richard Starkings and Albert Duchesne (letterers). Scott Lang has another bad day in Ant-Man #3, by Nick Spencer (writer), Ramon Rosanas (artist), Jordan Boyd (color artist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). For every $10,000 you donate to PBS, Taskmaster will kick Hawkeye in the face once in Avengers (vol. 1) #223, by David Michelinie (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Brett Breeding and crew (inkers), Christie Scheele (colorist), and Rick Parker (letterer). Tasky prefers the drums, but still saves the day in Taskmaster (vol. 2) #2, by Fred van Lente (writer), Jefte Palo (penciler), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (color artist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer).

Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 Comics in Review - Part 5

I need to come up with a less clunky way to work the names of the creators on the books into those summarizing paragraphs. Anyway, lists! Most of these were actually pretty tough this year. Of course, in some cases that was due less to lots of high quality candidates, and more because there were almost no candidates.

As always, if I didn't buy it, it isn't in the running. So yeah, it's a limited field, but you don't want me ranking books I've only vaguely heard of.

Favorite Ongoing Series (min. 6 issues purchased this year):

1. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
2. Unbelievable Gwenpool

Giant Days came up one issue short of qualifying, which is too bad. It would have been a strong contender for #1. Can it maintain that momentum in 2018?! Of the actual qualifiers, Scarlet Spider and Deadpool were both out of the running since they got dropped. Can't very well be my favorite if I was fed up enough to stop buying it, right? The art on Copperhead couldn't keep up with the other four contenders, and Squirrel Girl and Gwenpool were far ahead on the entertainment scale, so the last spot came down to Ms. Marvel or Cave Carson. But then I couldn't decide between them. I like the Oeming/Filardi art team more than Ian Herring and some of the artists he teamed with, but not all of them. Cave Carson lagged in the last three issues, but I wasn't that excited about Ms. Marvel's fight with the computer program, either.

So ultimately, I punted on the whole decision. Whee! As for Numbers 1 and 2, Squirrel Girl won out narrowly because I think it was more consistent. Gwenpool's artists varied quite a bit in skill, so the quality of the art did as well, while Squirrel Girl has the Erica Henderson/Rico Renzi team there gettin' it done each month. I probably prefer Chris Hastings as a writer to Ryan North, but it's more variable. At it's best, I probably enjoy Gwenpool more, but it wasn't at that level enough to edge Squirrel Girl.

Favorite Mini-Series:

1. Empowered: Soldier of Love
2. Avengers: Four

It was a limited field this year. I require the mini-series to have shipped at least half its issues in the year in question. Which ruled out Atomic Robo, Demon, and Deadman. Wynonna Earp and Real Science Adventures each got dropped part way through, which would seem to disqualify them. I have more fondness for the Kooky Quartet than Empowered, and I was probably more invested in the story in Avengers: Four. But all that variability in the art really hurts Avengers. Being able to maintain the consistent look the story wants is kind of important. So Karla Diaz producing quality work for the entirety of the series tips it in Soldier of Love's favor.

Favorite One-Shot:

1. Master of Kung-Fu
2. Justice League of America: The Ray
3. Darkhawk

Master of Kung-Fu was the easy winner. It does provide a set-up for future stories if that opportunity occurs, but it focuses primarily on just telling a story. Even abnormally muddied art from Talijac is solid. The battle for #2 was close. I'm more interested in the potential of what Darkhawk put out there, which is probably irrelevant since I doubt it'll be followed up. I prefer Kev Walker's art. I don't like either of the books' costume redesigns. I think Steve Orlando probably did a better job telling a story, without feeling so exposition-heavy.

Favorite Trade Paperback/Graphic Novel (anything I bought is fair game):

1. Collen Coover and Paul Tobin's Bandette Vol. 3: The House of the Green Mask
2. Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Val Mayerik, and a bunch of other people's Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection Vol. 2
3. John Allison and Max Sarin's Giant Days Vol. 3
4. Steve Ditko and Denny O'Neil's The Creeper by Steve Ditko

It isn't quite written into this blog's constitution that Bandette wins favorite GN any year I buy a volume, but it's pretty close. Note that doesn't guarantee a win in the future. The blog constitution was made to be broken. It was written 200, er 10 years ago! Times have changed! (Yes the blog is over 10 years old, but I had to destroy the first constitution because there were too many clauses about hitting Chuck Austen with pipe wrenches left over from a previous adm - this gag has gone too long).

I know it seems strange to list O'Neil on a book that's title literally says it was by Steve Ditko, full stop. But O'Neil does get most of the writing or dialogue credits on the earlier stories, which were the ones I liked, so I figured his name deserved to be there. I haven't read through either of the Howard the Duck collections in a few months, but my recollection is that I enjoyed the second volume more than the first. Maybe because it had moved beyond the early stage where Gerber was still getting things into place. I don't give a flip about Man-Thing and his touch that burns your fear. Get some ointment and move on.

Favorite Writers:

1. Christopher Hastings
2. John Allison
3. Ryan North

I opted not to factor in back issues or trade paperbacks this year, for two reasons. One, if I did I felt I needed to do the same for the artists, and that wasn't something I was prepared to do. Two, before I decided that, when I was trying to factor them in, it wasn't clarifying things as much as I wanted. Even among my old stand-bys, the stuff of theirs I bought was not their best.

Anyway, I picked Hastings first because, as I said in Favorite Ongoing, at his best I really like his work. I like his sense of humor, and I like the things he comes up with to put in his stories. And he can write something that works emotionally when he wants to.

Favorite Artists (min. 110 pages):

1. Guruhiru
2. Max Sarin
3. Michael Avon Oeming

So I didn't want to have to factor in the artists for all those trades and such. It was going to be even harder because Steve Ditko's '60s Creeper was pretty awesome, but that trade included his work from the late 1970s, which was not nearly so awesome. So how do I account for that? To hell with it.

Of the artists, the Guruhiru team edged out Sarin because I haven't seen Max Sarin draw a fight scene yet. There were a couple of close calls, but they always get cut off. And I loves me some entertaining fight scenes. Oeming had some fight scenes to draw, and they weren't bad, but I like Sarin's figurework better. His work suits the humor that crops up most of the time in Giant Days.

And that's it. Year in Review posts are done until such time as we have another year to review. Sunday is going to be an Alternate Favorite Character post, if I get off my ass and get it done, and then Monday we'll look at some books that have come out this year.