Monday, April 30, 2018

I Should Have Posted This On Valentine's Day

I really love this couple, individually or together.

Krillin's my favorite character in the Dragon Ball universe, as I've mentioned a few times befores. Tries hard, even when he's getting his guts kicked out. Clever, kind. Android (really, she's a cyborg) 18*, the first time we got to see her fight, she broke both Vegeta's arms with almost casual ease. That earns a character a lot of points with me.

I think they're a good couple. I know a lot of folks don't. Because Krillin is shorter, or because they think he's ugly. Or because he's physically weaker than she is. Or because he ended up getting a job, and she stays home and looks after their daughter, and they think she should be out fighting and kicking ass. Which I wouldn't mind if they both got to do more of that, preferably at the expense of screen time for Vegeta.

I can sort of see the argument. It does remind me of the marriages you see in a lot of sitcoms here in the U.S., with the attractive wife married to some sloppy moron. Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, The Honeymooners, about 1,000 others. Though Krillin's in much better shape than Ray Romano or Jackie Gleason, and he's a lot nicer. I'm pretty sure he doesn't forget their anniversary until the last minute.

There are a lot of fans that insist Eighteen doesn't even like Krillin, which is bizarre. Not that there aren't couples who stay together when they don't like each other, but it seems entirely against her character. Eighteen is reserved, but she's also blunt. If she thinks something's dumb, she'll say so. When her brother insisted they turn hunting down Goku into a road trip, rather than just getting it over with, she told him she thought it was dumb. When Vegeta tried talking shit, she didn't hesitate to humiliate him, mock his so-called power. When she believed Krillin had tried saving her because he thought she'd be so grateful to him she'd just swoon, she let him have it. Verbally. If she'd let him have it physically, he'd have been dead again.

Point being, if she wanted to be somewhere else, she would be. If she wanted to be sleeping with someone who looked like Captain America, she'd go find that guy. If she wanted to fight all the time, she could go do that. If all she wanted was money, she could find a wealthy person and wrap them around her finger, figuratively or literally. Or just rob banks. After the Cell Games, there are three people alive stronger than her, and none of them could sense her to figure out where she was (assuming Vegeta, Piccolo, or Gohan would try to stop bank robberies). Even if Krillin wanted to try and stop her, and that isn't his style, he couldn't.

But she stays with Krillin. Even when that meant living in Master Roshi's (a notoriously dirty old man) home, when I'm not sure if Krillin even had a job. They live in a decent two-story home later, they have a daughter, he's a cop. It pays the bills, but she's mentioned they'd like to go on a vacation as a family, only the money isn't there. They're solidly middle-class. But she doesn't leave, or go on a vacation alone. She once planned to use a wish from the Eternal Dragon, which could give her anything she wanted, specifically to get something for Krillin, because she appreciated how much he does for her and their daughter, and wanted to do something nice for him to show him. Because she was worried she hadn't done that. She got angry when someone she was fighting called him an ugly midget and said that the two of them being together was an insult to love. Eighteen kicked their ass, too.

She found someone that was simply a decent person, who even after she and her brother beat up his friends, even when they were planning to kill his best friend, still wouldn't destroy her when he could have. Because he saw there was no need (Goku was in the process of getting far stronger), and he didn't think either of the siblings were truly evil. If they were they'd have killed him and the others the first time they fought. A conclusion the Guardian of the Earth had come to as well. Yeah, Krillin had fallen for her, but it turned out he thought her brother was actually her boyfriend the whole time, he wasn't putting conditions on his help or concern, didn't really expect anything. He just thought she was a person who deserved a chance at a life. I think she was suspicious initially, suspecting an ulterior motive she hadn't figured out yet, probably curious, kept an eye on him, and things went from there.

As for Krillin, he said back when he was a kid he hoped being a martial artist would help him to meet and eventually marry a beautiful girl. Well, Eighteen loves him, has even said she finds him "cool". She appreciates his kind nature, but doesn't take advantage of it, as a previous girlfriend did. She isn't the most demonstrative in public, but she does little things to show she cares, that she appreciates him. Krillin can get down on himself, and Eighteen will support him, try to raise his spirits, but if that fails, she'll give him a verbal kick to the butt. She won't enjoy doing it, and she'll worry she's hurt him, but she'll do it.

They try to look after each other, pick one another up. She offers to go with him to face Frieza - who'd already killed him once -  when that tyrant comes back to Earth. He appreciates the offer, but points out if something goes wrong, she's better able to keep their daughter safe. She's stronger, she has no ki signature to track, Frieza wouldn't even know she exists to come looking for her. (Granting that none of that does any good if Frieza just blows the planet up out of boredom waiting for Goku to show up, but in that event, everyone is screwed either way).

I didn't have any larger point to this post. Just wanted to talk a little bit about a favorite pairing.

* Apparently her original name was Lazuli, and her brother was Lapis, but neither of them remembers that now. The first time I saw that was in a story I read online, and I thought the writer just made it up, and they'd been watching a lot of Steven Universe. But Toriyama named a lot of characters after food, so why not rocks?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alternate Favorite Marvel Character #5 - Dr. Strange

Character: Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange)

Creator: Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, mostly Ditko, I think.

First appearance: Strange Tales #110

First encounter: Dr. Strange (vol. 2) #75. Roger Stern's last issue, but it was the first part of the final storyarc of this volume, the remainder of which was written by Peter Gillis.

Definitive writer: Roger Stern is the writer for probably half the Dr. Strange solo stories I own, so I'm going to say him. I haven't mentioned this since the first of these, years ago, but this is" definitive" based on what I've read. Whose work, writer or artist, do I picture when I think of the character? I'm adding that disclaimer because I'm worried about the passionate Doc Strange fandom descending upon my head like angry seagulls after a hamburger.

Definitive artist: Steve Leialola when it comes to the astral form, basically because of that fight with Dracula. For his physical form, I'm fond of Marcos Martin. I picture Strange as a thin guy, which Martin does, and he makes the Cloak of Levitation this huge, billowing, fluttering thing. If I'd reread my Into the Dark Dimension trade more recently, Paul Smith would probably be in the running. But it's hard to go wrong with Marcos Martin.

Favorite moment or story: Dr. Strange's first showdown with Dracula, he overcame being turned into a vampire himself, and thought he'd destroyed Drac (he was hoodwinked). In the rematch Drac had used the followers of the Darkhold to increase his power and eliminate most of his weaknesses, like silver, or stakes to the heart. Strange could use the Darkhold to destroy Dracula, and all other vampires, but he'd need time. And the quartet of Wong, Blade, Hannibal King and Frank Drake bought him barely a minute.

But Strange uses himself as bait, and sucks Dracula into the astral plane, where the Doc can call on powers the King of the Vampires can barely understand. He keeps him occupied there while the others regain consciousness and initiate the ritual. By the time Dracula realizes something's wrong, it's too late. He's trapped, weakening, and Dr. Strange, in the words of Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters, he has the tools, he has the talent, to destroy Dracula.

Dr. Strange is clever, confident, and competent. He and the others got the Darkhold away from Dracula's followers, because it had that spell. Dracula knows it has that spell, and knows Strange has the chops to use it. So he has to eliminate the threat. Strange knows Dracula will have to walk into the lion's den, and he'll focus entirely on the Sorcerer Supreme, dismissing the potential threat of the others, leaving them free to close the trap, while Strange puts the battle on a ground he's expert on, but which Dracula has no experience with. For all his power, the shapeshifting, the mesmerism, Dracula is still primarily a physical being. Doc can play on levels largely divorced from that.

Even though the Darkhold can destroy those who use it, Strange has the experience, and the awareness of the risks, the patience and the confidence, to do the necessary prepwork, and resist that danger. He even uses his medical skills to save Hannibal King, who was a vampire that had never fed on anyone. It's an impressive win on all levels, even if it was a closer call than Dracula ever realized.

What I like about him: I was a latecomer to Dr. Strange. I had a few of his comics when I was a kid, but nothing that knocked my socks off. My first extended exposure was the Kurt Busiek/Erik Larsen Defenders series. Where Doc was being influenced by a death curse and steadily becoming more and more of an ass, until he and the rest of the Big Four took over the world. The overall concept of the team was intriguing enough for me to pick up some of the Essential Defenders volumes, and Strange comes off a bit better there.

He can still be overbearing at times, a bit of a know-it-all. If he asks Namor for help via astral communication, and Namor tells him to pound sand, the Doc may fly out to ask more directly, or just mystically summon Namor to where he's deemed needed.

But even though Stephen is the nominal leader of the team (when he's around), he avoids falling into the stuffy, irritating authority figure role (unlike Cyclops, for example). Part of that is the informal nature of the Defenders. The Defenders don't do training sessions, they rarely sit around conference tables or play baseball. People drift in and out as they please, mostly. Strange or one of the others may call someone back in, but there's no sense he tries to impose a formal roster or bylaws.

The series also makes it clear that even if Strange can be a little heavy-handed, he's dealing with some volatile personalities. Namor's an arrogant hothead, the Hulk is a bomb with a hair trigger. Hellcat is kind of flighty, Nighthawk has all sorts of insecurities, Valkyrie doesn't know who the hell she is. Hawkeye gets involved for a while, which always makes things interesting, plus Hank Pym and his issues, or Daimon Hellstrom. These people keep showing up on his doorstep. For help, to help, for lack of anywhere better to go.

I'd move the entire house into another dimension. Strange, for the most part, accommodates them, tries to help if he can. When Nighthawk is struggling with his grasp of reality, after time spent as a disembodied brain in a bowl, Doc is the one who tries to help him regain his grip on things. He offers Val a place she can live while she tries to figure out what she's doing. If Bruce Banner shows up exhausted and confused on his door? Sure, bring him in, get him some rest and some clothes.

Doctor Strange was, as a surgeon, a jerk. Cocky, egotistical, totally self-interested. He was brilliant and in demand, and he knew it, so he leveraged it for all he was worth. Then he spent time on the bottom, a derelict roaming wharves until he heard about the Ancient One. He knows what it's like to feel like nothing, and to know other people look at you and see that, or don't see you at all. He knows how much it helped that the Ancient One saw someone to help, and did, in his own way. Stephen seems to pay that forward now. There's still the ego, but it's more in his belief of how much he can do, rather than how much he'd charge to do it.

I appreciate that he can be as skilled as he is, have as much responsibility as he does, and not lose the ability for compassion. When he's required to do a favor for Dr. Doom, because Doom was the only other entrant to survive a mystical test, Strange understandably has misgivings. What if Doom wants help taking over the world? Fortunately, Doom just wants help rescuing his mother's soul from Mephisto. More challenging, less ethically questionable.

And Strange goes all in. He teaches Doom all manner of spellcraft, even knowing Doom may turn it against the world, or Reed Richards some day, because Doom will need it to succeed in this quest. Hell, in the past, Doom had teamed up with Dormammu to attack Strange. It's a risk, but Strange is a man of his word. If he says he'll help Dr. Doom, then he's going to do it properly (because even if this a career he never envisioned having, he takes it seriously). Surviving Mephisto is going to be hard enough as it is, trying to half-ass it would be suicide. Once it's over, Strange even tries to help Doom, who he knows must be injured. Doom brushes this off obviously, because he's Dr. Doom, but Strange could have just left. "I helped, you're welcome, I'll see myself out."

Related to this, something that comes up a lot in Dr. Strange stories is the immediate problem versus future problems. Stephen can help save one person, or stop one threat, but it may have consequences down the line. Helping Doom, at the cost of increasing Doom's mystic skill and giving him another potential weapon. Or being forced to choose between using the last drop of a panacea to save Wong, or take it to his Sanctum and create enough to cure all illness everywhere, while Wong dies. Or resorting to destroying almost all of his ancient tools to stop a ruthless, would-be Sorcerer Supreme. That last one saved himself, Wong, and Topaz (whose soul they'd been seeking), but cost Strange many of the tools that helped him do his job. In the long run, I don't know that it was the right call. Strange is resourceful, maybe he can skate by without them the next time Umar or Shuma-Gorath come calling. Or maybe he's doomed everyone by focusing on saving a few people.

Still, Strange tends to choose to deal with the person or persons in danger right now, and leave worrying about the future to the future. Part of that is probably related to his medical training; there's a sick or injured person in front of him who needs help, he can't spend too much time thinking about if another person is going to need him in 15 minutes. Some of it is his self-confidence, that he can handle most problems. And it's being aware that he has to handle those problems, ready or not. He's Sorcerer Supreme, Master of the Mystic Arts, possessor of an eyeball for a medallion and a bitchin' cloak. If Baron Mordo is working with Dormammu to conquer this dimension, it's Strange's job to stop it. Whether he's able to or not, he has to at least try, because there's no one else. It's not a job title held jointly. He knows all of that, and just like he knows that problems can arise at any time. He'll take what precautions he can, but at some point, you can't do any more of that, and there's no sense just waiting around for problems to emerge.

And Stephen uses that time to maintain connections with friends, and try to have a relationship now and then. He may not see his friends often - I feel as though every story I've seen where Stephen meets and old friend, someone remarks it's been years since they've seen each other - but those people still have warm feelings towards him. They trust him enough to ask for help, or to chat pleasantly if they just happen to interact. Which is impressive, since I wouldn't think Stephen was that much fun to be around in his Jerk Surgeon days. (Although I wonder if, after leaving the Ancient One, Stephen didn't spend some time trying to make amends to people he'd hurt, or whose friendship he felt he'd abused). It's good to see him maintain connections, not just so he remembers what he's trying to defend as Sorcerer Supreme in something other than the abstract. He doesn't let the job consume him, he tries to maintain a foot in the world. It also shows that, even with all his new experiences, that person he was before is still a part of him, for good and bad.

Beyond all that, Strange's stories offer up the chance to see some truly bizarre places. He's a character that lets writers get as weird as they want to, gives artist a chance to draw anything. Bizarre creatures, realms of abstract shapes and lights, ancient cities with towering spires, Hell itself. Whatever can be conceived. Which is nice, it allows for a lot of flexibility. Steve Ditko can think of and illustrate it one way, Gene Colan another, Marcos Martin or Mike Mignola another still, and it all can still feel like adventures that fit Dr. Strange.

All those experiences give Strange a somewhat more grounded outlook. He doesn't typically freak out, or fly off the handle at bad news or a surprising turn of event. He's been through too much. He doesn't dismiss the problems, but he maintains perspective. The entire planet has been destroyed and recreated, and he's the only one who knows it. He's fought gods, demons, saved the life of the manifestation of the universe itself. He spent we don't know how long fighting in a war on behalf of the Vishanti in some dimension who knows where. Really, if there's a character in the Marvel Universe that shouldn't have been overwhelmed being exposed to Adam Warlock's soul, as Strange was in Infinity Gauntlet, it's Strange himself. But Jim Starlin was writing it, so you know how that goes. Everyone jobs to Adam Warlock and/or Thanos. I digress.

He's been turned into a vampire, been split into three different Stephen Stranges. Screwed up badly, several times (with increasing frequency in the last 15 years), and managed to bounce back from most of them. It's a little surprising how utterly he's lost confidence in himself over the recent years. I suppose you could explain it because many of his mistakes were made of arrogance or making a hasty decision. Trick the Hulk into space, no possibility it backfires. Try to control Zom to defeat the Hulk when it backfires. Let the Empirikrul wipe out a lot of the magic on Earth. If he had thought himself ready for those threats, or the consequences of his actions, he appears to have been wrong. Stephen thought he was past those kinds of mistakes, that he'd learned better. Maybe he feels like he's back at Square One. And being back at Square One, he's repeating old mistakes. When he had his accident, when the nerves in his hands were damaged, so he could never operate again, he fell apart. He couldn't accept that he wasn't going to be the wonder he once was. That he couldn't succeed in precisely the way he wanted. Maybe that's happening again.

I don't know if I buy that explanation, though. Strange has seen a lot, not just how small one human can be in the cosmic sense, but also how that one person can still affect the lives of many others simply by not refusing to give up. That's what he told Spider-Man once, that saving a life was a gift, that Spidey had received a lot of those gifts, and and to quit would erase all that (there was time travel involved). You'd think the doctor would take his own advice. But it's a possible explanation, and someone struggling to move past their mistakes, opting to dwell and wallow in them is a familiar state to me. But he bounces back eventually, hopefully a little wiser for it, and that's encouraging.

A bit about the costume. I love the Cloak of Levitation, obviously. More so when it's drawn as a huge thing, rather than something shorter. It isn't quite like Batman's cape, where it turns him into an enormous, shadowy thing. It's bright, attention grabbing, and it twists and flutters around Strange, like he's creating some sort of wind that only it can ride on (not a fart joke). I can buy the Cloak changing size depending on Stephen's mood or desired effect, or the Cloak's own thoughts on the matter.

I like the orange gloves, especially with the odd black spots on them. The first time I noticed those was in an Acts of Vengeance tie-in (when the Enchantress was gunning for Strange), and I thought it was actually blood. I was reading a back-up story of Stephen relating the history of the Darkhold and vampires, which is probably why. Heck, maybe the spots are blood, the gloves consecrated with drops of some eldritch deity's blood, or where something a past Sorcerer Supreme killed, but it left it's mark. Either way, it's a nice touch (which not all artists and colorists bother with).

Most of the artists use to draw Strange wearing leggins, or maybe tights, and then his shirt (or is it a tunic), with the belt over the outside of said shirt/tunic. Which just looks sloppy. Even I don't wear the shirt over the top of pants, and then put a belt over the whole thing. Stephen Strange should not be worse dressed than me. I preferred Marcos Martin's approach (although he doesn't draw the spots on the gloves), where Strange's wears regular old slacks, with a belt, and then the nice shirt goes over all that. Kind of business casual. Has the clothes of his office, but can move around and kick a guy in the stomach if he needs to. Decent, practical shoes for walking in. Can't always count on floating or teleporting.

There's a lot of other little touches writers have added over the years, things I just enjoy being part of the character. Brian K. Vaughn had it that Wong taught Stephen martial arts (and it has been a fairly consistent trait of Stephen's that he can surprise foes by taking a more physical approach with them, going all the way back to Steve Dtiko's work), and that Strange can be a bit absent-minded about where he puts things or where he's going. For the latter, I'd suspect Strange enjoys wandering some, both in our world and other planes, because it's interesting and there's so much to see. He has the opportunity few others would, and the awareness of the dangers necessary to take precautions, so why not. Paul Jenkins added that Stephen watches poker on ESPN, and is terrible at poker, because he thinks watching on ESPN is a good way to learn. Mark Waid kind of ran with that, in that he had a demon state Strange is a legendarily terrible bluffer (also that's he an obnoxious baseball fan).

It seems odd Strange would be so bad at bluffing, considering how often he confronts beings far more powerful than himself. I could see it being that many of the things he faces don't have, well, faces. So they don't know how to read a person's expression, they look elsewhere. So Dr. Strange learned to mask his thoughts and soul, so his true intentions can't be discerned that way. Against a demon, one used to messing with humans and understanding them, he's a bit more exposed. Or he has to be open because deceiving others could lead to deceiving himself, and that's dangerous for one using magic. Makes them blind to the dangers within. Take your pick. Didn't seem to be a problem the Ancient One had, but he's had more time to practice.

In summation, cool powers, some cool costume elements, the potential for the story to be anywhere and let artists stretch themselves however they'd like. Doctor Strange is mostly presently as an experienced, confident character, capable, but still with room to grow. He's not flustered easily, and he's had enough time to come to grips with his flaws and mistakes to where new mistakes don't stop trip him up as easily as they used to. Maybe liking Doctor Strange more is because I'm getting older, and I want to think I'm getting my shit together as it happens.

Credits! Dr. Strange introduces Dracula to a whole new world, and Dracula doesn't like it a bit in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #62, by Roger Stern (writer), Steve Leialoha (artist), Bob Sharen (colorist), Jim Novak (letterer). Stephen Strange can't hide anything from anyone in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #58, by Stern (writer), Dan Green (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Sharen (colorist), and Novak (letterer). Reality won't let the doc maintain a fantasy in Doctor Strange: The Oath #1, by Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Marcos Martin (penciler), Alvaro Lopez (inker), Javier Rodriguez (color artist), and Willie Schubert (letterer). Inhabiting the body of a green, alien minotaur is the least stressful part of Doc's day in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #81, by Peter B. Gillis (writer), Chris Warner (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Sharen (colorist), and Many Hands (letterers). Way to kill the party vibe, Stephen, in Spectacular Spider-Man (vol. 2) #21, by Paul Jenkins (writer), Talent Caldwell (penciler), Robert Campanella (inker), Studio F (color art), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). It would almost be worth going to Hell for a front row seat to that fight in Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, by Stern (writer), Mike Mignola (penciler), Mark Badger (inker/colorist), and Jim Novak (letterer). Doc brings the pain train, whoo-whoo in Doctor Strange: The Oath #5, by Vaughn (writer), Martin (penciler), Lopez (inker), Rodriguez (colorist), and Schubert (letterer).

Friday, April 27, 2018

Throw Something A Little Crazy At The Defenders in Season 2

TNT's been showing Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance occasionally in recent weeks. It's still an interesting mess of a movie. Some parts are crazy fun, just embrace the absurdity of a demon stunt biker with a flaming skull, and other parts are just dull or a mess (most of these are the parts when Nicholas Cage's head isn't on fire).

I enjoy how odd the Rider acts. The odd swaying, the gestures, the unpredictability. Looking at it from the outside, you're left wondering (like the people around him) what the hell is going on. It plays up the idea this something not human, reacts and thinks and moves differently from us. To the extent Johnny's still an active presence in there at all, hell he's half-crazy from dealing with this thing, which doesn't help matter. Dude with a flaming skull for a head who appears unaffected by bullets is strange enough without him acting so weird. It would have to be unnerving to encounter.

With that in mind, I'd like it, assuming Marvel does a second season of Defenders, if Ghost Rider could show up. He can be a threat, an ally, first one then the other, total wild card, whatever. I'm not sure what brings him to town. I'd like it to be something specific, rather than a general "there's a lot of sinners to take vengeance on" approach. That risks veering too close to Matt's struggles with the Punisher in Season 2 of Daredevil. That can be a side angle, a swath the Rider is cutting through town as he pursues his primary goal, and what gets some members of the team involved. I could see Iron Fist jumping at investigating reports of a guy with a flaming skull. Maybe Daredevil, if he gets out of that convent. Luke and Jessica, probably not.

Mephisto might be a bit out of this group's weight class. Maybe something related to the Book of the Darkhold? Or bring the Hood in, as an initially small-timer moving up with strange powers. He's being used by some darker force in exchange for power, not that he knows he's a pawn necessarily. Not a guy who made a deal with the Devil like Johnny, but maybe not too far off. . .

I think of the Defenders as a group that deals with weird shit, even by superhero comic standards. Usually due to proximity to Dr. Strange, but even when he isn't around, they encounter some bizarre things. Luke and Jessica seemed so reluctant to believe in immortal ninjas, dragons, and people coming back from the dead, it'd be fun to watch them try to wrap their heads around this. Think about how many times Jessica can roll her eyes in aggravation about how stupid this is! Or see Danny run out in the street and try to stop the Rider with one punch (maybe if Luke's behind him helping to brace him he won't end up a smear on the road). Let good Catholic boy Matt Murdock meet an actual demon (or fallen angel, whatever).

I think they had the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD. I don't know how that played out, or how he was presented, so I don't know if that would give me what I'm looking for. If it would, sure go with Robbie. Although it's probably easier to drive a motorcycle around New York than a car, even a really awesome car with flaming tires.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Oculus

So there's an evil mirror. It feeds off the energy around it. Lights, plants, animals, people. It also can mess with the perceptions of people, twist them around, make them do things. Harm themselves, harm their families. For the Russell family, it originally ended with the parents dead, Kaylie adopted, and Tim in a mental ward for killing his father. Tim's out, having repressed everything about the evil mirror, but Kaylie's determined to exonerate him and destroy the mirror, and sets up this elaborate system of cameras, alarms, scheduled phone calls and food breaks.

It's a frustrating movie*, because there are a couple of places early where it lays out why neither character should be doing this, and then they both keep doing it. Tim's doctor reminds him that he needs to focus, first and foremost, on his own recovery. And Kaylie sees things in the mirror's reflection before she even gets it to the location she's prepared. Which should have been a tipoff it wasn't as weak as she's telling herself.

But the film does work to help you understand why they ignore those warning signs until it's too late to matter. Kaylie is all the family Tim has left, and to his eyes initially, she's nuts. So he needs to help her. For Kaylie, she probably spent years hearing adults whispering to themselves about the poor child whose brother went crazy and killed their parents, dealing with all the shit that would come with that. OK, the movie never says that part explicitly, but it seems a reasonable conclusion.

There's some decent, I wouldn't call them scares, but moments where you go, "OH" and wince. Although the mirror is playing with their perceptions of what's happening so much that I lost track of what was actually supposed to be happening, versus what they thought was happening. So you can't tell if any of it is real, which dampens the impact somewhat. It helps if you remind yourself that supposedly, every moment this thing has them running through the maze of their own minds, it's getting stronger. And the movie is constantly cutting to flashbacks of what happened the first time around to remind you why that's a bad thing.

Actually, the flashbacks overlap with the present, which started to confuse me. It seemed like present Kaylie and Tim were seeing their child selves, but sometimes it seemed as though their child selves saw them, too? I started to think the mirror could bend time itself, which I don't think was the intent.

* It's also frustrating because I don't normally like horror movies where the evil thing wins. Unless I hate all the so-called protagonists, but that wasn't the case here. I try not to watch movies where I hate all the people we're supposed to care about.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Summer Heat Shut Things Down Again

Not a lot that's new in the July solicits that caught my eye.

Marvel's restarting a bunch of their series - again - with new creative teams. Ta-Neshi Coates taking over Captain America with Leinil Yu is probably the most notable. I'm not a huge fan of Yu's artwork, and Cap rarely interests me as a solo character. Still lots of mini-series about Infinity Countdown and Desperately Looking For Logan.

There's going to be another of the Squirrel Girl/Ms. Marvel team-up books, involving both characters' normal writers, but not their artists. Although I don't know who qualifies as Ms. Marvel's regular artist. I guess it's Nico Leon, but give it five minutes and it'll probably be someone else. Speaking of shifting artists, it's time for that one issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl a year not drawn by Erica Henderson! The one Jacob Chabot did two years ago was solid. Last year, it was that issue with all the different artist, which I was not a fan of. This time it's Derek Charm, who I'm not familiar with. Hopefully this is more of the former than the latter.

DC's launching a new Catwoman series and some new Justice League books, including one that's going to send a team into space, and is going to involve Azrael. Yeah, Knightfall Batman, Azrael. Times like this, I wish Diamondrock was still updating his blog. I'd like to know what Jean-Paul Valley would have to say about this development. I said last month I'd consider that Plastic Man mini-series, but reading the solicit for issue 2, I'm thinking probably not.

Outside those two, Copperhead's continuing with the town under attack by something. Coda is going to involve an attack by a bandit fortress located on the back of a giant. That sounds pretty damn cool. I'm pretty excited for the first issue, which comes out sometime in May.

Ed's returning to the university after recovering from breaking his legs in Giant Days, which means he and Esther get to deal with his unfortunate confession. I need that gif of someone in the theater just scarfin' down popcorn while their eyes are glued to the screen.

IDW says Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood Suckers is shipping issue #5. However, we should be up to issue #2 right now, and have currently seen zero issues, so take that with a grain of salt. Speaking of books not showing up, I still haven't seen hide nor hair of The Seeds. I hope that's going to show up one of these days.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In Order of Disappearance

Two young men are abducted from an airport. One escapes, the other is given a lethal overdose of drugs. The police in Norway, apparently being lazy morons, declare the boy an addict, despite no indication of any prior drug use. The parents are left to deal with their grief.One runs away from it all, the other, Nils, begins to hunt the men responsible for his son's death, and in the process, kicks off a turf war between that gang and a Serbian gang.

The description of the movie is that it's a black comedy action movie. Looking back on it, there are certainly things I can see now that were intended to be funny. The letter Nils' wife left for him, The Count's interactions with his ex-wife. Some of the back-and-forth within each gang.

Most of it is well-done enough that, while watching the movie, I didn't pick up on the idea it was supposed to be funny. The moments don't stick out as gags, or moments where the film is pointing and saying, "OK, laugh now". It still feels as though these moments are correct for these characters. Which seems like good work by the filmmakers and the cast. They didn't break the tone of the movie too much.

Or I was too locked into the idea of this as a sad movie about an angry man struggling to deal with the death of his son to recognize that some of what's happening is ridiculous. People are running around, drawing the wrong conclusions, doing things that only make the situation worse.

It works very well whether you watch it knowing things are supposed to be funny or not, though. I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I watched it, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Cape-Con 2018 Recap

To start, the weather was much nicer than last year, and I didn't have a splitting sinus headache to deal with. It was almost worryingly easy to wake up at 5:15, and there wasn't much traffic for the drive. I got there 15 minutes after the doors opened, and there was just a short line at that point. By the time one of my friends arrived at 11, the line stretched well out into the parking lot.

They tried something different with the layout this year, as most of the comic book sellers were in the first room you came to in the building, rather than the main open area. That was where I spent the first half-hour or so, nosing through dollar boxes. I found a few things I was looking for. Half-dozen Power Man and Iron Fist issues, a Starman trade and a single issue, a couple of '90s Guardians of the Galaxy comics, a couple of Marvel Fanfare.

Compliments to the Burg Comics table, who had their dollar box stuff actually arranged alphabetically. A lot of folks just throw that stuff in their haphazardly, and I have no idea how to figure out where to look for what I'm interested in, other than just going through everything. After the 15th copy of some random crappy '90s Image book, that loses its appeal.

The Comic Kingdom, as it was labeled, was also where Mike Zeck and Steven Grant were set-up. I didn't end up getting my copy of Kraven's Last Hunt autographed by Mr. Zeck, but I bought a print of the cover to Secret Wars #10, and getting that autographed (that isn't a photo of the print, just an image of the cover). We chatted a little, mostly just about how the convention was going (I didn't buy the print until right before I left, so it had been going for several hours by then). He was a friendly guy, so that made it easy. He thought Ken might be closing in on that goal he mentioned years ago of the con getting at least 5000 people to attend, but that the Osage Center is also probably at about its limit. I guess he'd have to try using the Student Rec Center or the arena on SEMO's campus in that event.

The main auditorium area was where the other vendors, artists, and guests were stationed. With the comic folk getting their own space, the walkways were noticeably wider. There were still some choke points at times, that weird phenomenon where somehow everyone seems to be at the same place at once, while other locations are almost deserted. Overall, though, it seemed easier to get around.

My friend was scoping out some of the older video games that were on offer, although she hesitated on buying a copy of the first X-Men game for the Sega Genesis for 10 bucks, and it was gone by the time we swung by again. She did grab Luigi's Mansion for her Gamecube. A lot of people selling those Funko Pop things, which at least eliminated a lot of places I might have to waste energy scanning for things I might want.

I didn't buy nearly as much art as I have in the past, but I got a few things. Alex had told me earlier in the week he enjoyed My Neighbor Totoro, so I bought a picture based on that for him. Bought a Mad Max print from Seth Groves, and a really nice Scarlet Spider and a small book of some of his video game sketches from Brian Atkins. I was thinking hard about asking him for a commission, but I couldn't spare the cash. Didn't end up getting any commissions this year. Couldn't find the right combination of art style and price point.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #16

"Mephisto Looks On With Interest", in Amazing Spider-Man #491 (or #50 of vol. 2), by J. Michael Straczynski (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Dan Kemp (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer)

It's notable how much more common splash pages are by this point in time versus all those earlier runs. I had a lot more options for this. I considered the double-page splash of Spidey vs. all his foes from issue #500, but I liked this happy reunion.

I only own six issues of Amazing between Aunt May's death in #400, and JMS taking over as writer at issue #471 (or issue #30 as it was numbered at the time). One Onslaught tie-in, one from Howard Mackie's last few months on the book, and the Identity Crisis storyline. So I'm skipping that stretch.

JMS' run as writer was, especially in the stretch where he teamed with John Romita Jr., notable for adding more of a mystical element to Spider-Man's origin and powers. Drawing on spiders as a creature with a lot of mythology around them, and bringing in enemies that would prey on that, either the mystic aspect or the spider aspect. Some of it worked better than others. Each successive Ezekiel appearance was less effective than the one before.

JMS did reunite Peter and Mary Jane, after MJ had been "dead" for about 18 months our time, found, and then they separated. Although I've read Mackie was told to split them up after MJ was brought back, so JMS could write them back together again? Don't know if that's true or not. He made Peter a high school science teacher, although you could question how much he did with the idea. Aunt May learned Peter was Spider-Man, and there was a bit of time spent on her adjusting to that knowledge. (or re-learned, since she'd revealed she knew in Amazing Spider-Man #400). Other than Morlun, none of the villains JMS created semm to have any staying power. I thought a couple would have made interesting foils for other heroes, but oh well.

This is probably my favorite stretch of John Romita Jr's. art. He avoided that tendency he has to bulk everybody up. He got plenty of opportunities, as well as space on the page, to draw big fight scenes, with lots of rubble and smashed cars. He draws a pretty good bloody and tattered Spider-Man. The color work is also excellent, some lovely hues and shades of green and red at times. Especially during the chaos of some of the fights. There are images I can recall from those issues, I don't remember specifically what's going on, but I remember the colors of the scenes vividly.

After the two-part team-up with Loki, I only have two issues from the remainder of JMS's stint: One drawn by Mike Deodato Jr., the other by Ron Garney. The last year and a half of the book in particular, it was one long mess, going from The Other, to the seemingly endless and - thanks to Steve McNiven - frequently delayed Civil War tie-ins, to Back in Black, to One More Day. I am still extraordinarily glad I trusted my instincts and pulled the rip cord before OMD.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What I Bought 4/20/2018

I was on the road again for most of the week, and I spent Wednesday in a town with two comic stores. Neither one of them had any of the four books I wanted that came out this week. Real letdown. Fortunately, the store here in town had two of them, so let's review.

Cave Carson Has an Interstellar Eye #2, by Jon Rivera (writer), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer) - I'm sorely tempted to cut the cover to pieces to assemble the, whatever it would be once I finished folding where it says to.

Cave, Chloe, and Bartrow crash land on a planet at war. The Lazer Monks, who seem to believe in the immutability of destiny and sacrifice, versus the Nejire, who are all about the chaos. The Monks think Cave is the reincarnation of their Progenitor. Cave doesn't care, but is very rude and grabby about the Monks amplifying crystals. They show him some special Chamber, as the Nejire close in, when they aren't constantly backstabbing each other.

The conflict between the two sides, as extreme versions of order vs. chaos, or self-sacrifice vs. self-interest, could be interesting. I'm not sure yet. If this thing with the Nejire constantly assassinating their leaders to claim leadership keeps going, that could get old. Sooner or later, they'll run out of guys. There's another force at work, certainly in the Nejire, probably in the Monks as well. Its motive could add something.

Cave seems like someone who has read about how to interact with people, but doesn't comprehend it. I can appreciate his disinterest in this war, but that being the case, it's not really OK to start grabbing sacred crystals of the people he declined to help. Really, it's not OK to do that without their thumbs up whether he helps or not. He's just that much of a geology nerd.

Oeming draws a lot of panels in this issue with peculiar borders. Like they're meant to be seen as carved gems, or maybe interlocking pieces. A couple of them remind me of the tail end of a trilobite, or maybe a scarab. There are also a lot of pages with some sort of design of interconnected dots and lines. Given the outer space setting, I'd figure it's meant to be a constellation, but one so massive we only see bits and pieces of it. Usually, that part stays outside of the panels, but on a couple of pages, it overlaps the panels. I don't know what that means, though. The panels in question feature the Nejire, and one of the Monks mentions that the Nejire's absolute dedication to chaos and unpredictability makes them predictable. So it's suggesting all their actions, no matter how much they might try to be chaotic, are still part of a design? Whether that's the psionic parasite Chloe and Cave found, or something else, future issues will tell?

Ms. Marvel #29, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Ian Herring (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - The Archie look is not a favorite of mine.

Kamala is an aunt, as Tyesha gives birth to a son. Kamala is very happy, and she and Red Dagger kiss, just as Bruno comes home on vacation. He and Kamala try talking, only to be interrupted by some rude new student from Connecticut, who Zoe instantly falls for. And Mike misinterprets Kamala taking Bruno's hand to help him enter the school. Because Bruno didn't contact his actual girlfriend before coming home, apparently. If he's going to be that big a putz, it's hard to sympathize with him. Everyone is having confusing feelings, and the new girl is super-strong, and possibly crazy. Almost certainly evil. Damn, she's probably a relative to that annoying HYDRA girl. Lockup, or whatever she called herself.

This might be more teenage angst and confusion than I'm prepared to handle. Or I'd already decided Kamala and Bruno should stick to being pals and date other people. Or date nobody, whichever. I'm not sure I'm supposed to find Bruno's friend Kwezi as annoying as I do. Being called "Yankee Doodle" constantly would drive me nuts, and he's going to use Bruno as a subject for his sociology thesis? Well, Kwezi must be a true friend, because he's made it possible for me to feel sympathy for Bruno again. So I guess that stuff is OK then.

It's still the little details Leon adds to some panels I enjoy most. The pigeon looking on alongside Bruno and Kwezi as they see Ms. Marvel and the Red Dagger together. The nearly infinite number of devices plugged into that one outlet in the airport.

That said, the bit where Sheikh Abdullah seems to be freaking out a Kamala's confession, only to turn out to be joking, that was good. You could see it coming, but the way Leon goes from these close-up panels of his and Kamala's anguished faces, to one of him calmly smiling and saying he'll go make tea. Herring helps by using a lot of bright red for the freakout panels, then a very placid blue for the punchline. Plus, the panel of Kamala dropping to the ground in poleaxed surprise was funny.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wind River

A guy who works at predator control for U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Jeremy Renner) works with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a green FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the death of a young woman on an Arapaho reservation in Wyoming in the winter.

I thought this was going to be about chasing a serial killer. Someone who should be easy to pin down, simply for lack of potential suspects, but they have so much room to hide. That's not what this is. It's more about people who feel lost. They live in a place where they see no opportunities, they see no way out to find other opportunities. They've seen what that does to their parents, their children, and they feel it's going to happen to them. And what all that does.

Of course, it's a movie about life on a reservation, and the two main characters are white folks, sooo, that's not the best approach. Renner's character at least was married and part of life there, and remains so even after the marriage fell apart. And Agent Banner is repeatedly shown to not have any grasp on what things are like here. She was sent from a training in Vegas, because she was simply the closest available agent. That's she honest about this, is willing to ask for assistance from people who know the area, and tries her best mitigates that somewhat.

Still, she is extremely naive about how the legal system works for someone who presumably would have been educated in that at some point on the path to joining the FBI. That really annoyed the person I was watching it with, the primary woman in the film being someone who has to have things explained to them constantly. It's a fair complaint.

For all that I just mentioned about what the film could have done better, for what it actually did, it was solid. At times, the education of Agent Banner feels like telling the audience, rather than showing, but at other times it does well at just showing the grief, depression, and difficulty of life in general. There are some quiet moments that work well. There's an awkward sort of chemistry between Renner's character and Olsen's where I felt at first he was being more open than I would expect, but the film explains that in a way that mostly makes sense.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Han's Gotta Do Things His Way

Over the weekend I came across Return of the Jedi on TNT. I haven't watched the movie in a while, and I didn't ultimately stick around long this time either. Hey, the NBA playoffs were on.

The Rebels are sneaking around in the forests on Endor, and I noticed that while Luke and Leia are both wearing the helmets, and camo ponchos, Han Solo is walking around with no protective headgear in a camo trenchcoat.

The lack of a helmet isn't a surprise. Han doesn't strike me as a character that worries much about cranial trauma. And if I had his hair, I wouldn't want to wear that dumb helmet either. But I did find it funny the others are wearing something that seems appropriate for roughing it in a wet, wooded area, and Han's rocking a big coat instead, like he's in the middle of a Western. I suppose it would keep the rain off, although it seems like it'd weigh a ton when it got wet, and get caught on things easily. All the other rebels appear to be wearing full-body camo outfits. Either a jacket and pants combo, or camo coveralls.

I would guess Harrison Ford's height might have something to do with it. Maybe they didn't have any ponchos in Han's size. The Rebel Alliance is a cash-strapped organization, certainly compared to the Empire. Uniform budgets were probably an easy cut. The ones Luke and Leia have barely go past the waist. Han might look like he was wearing a peculiar lobster bib.

On the other hand, even if they had a poncho appropriate for his size, Han turning it down. Just doesn't work for him, he says. Maybe they'd have something a little cooler, with a few more pockets? The quartermaster looks at General Leia, she looks at Chewie to see if Han is serious. The Wookie shrugs, she rolls her eyes, and tells the guy or gal to make something happen. Han is oblivious to all this unspoken communication. Luke is somewhere in the background hiding a chuckle behind his hand.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Crisis In Costa Rica: The 1948 Revolution - John Patrick Bell

Bell doesn't focus strictly on the 1948 revolution; that's only the last chapter before the epilogue. Most of this is about the years leading up to the revolution. The politicians and groups on both sides, the issues of contention, the steady preparation of Jose Figueres Ferrer, and the disputed 1948 presidential election that ultimately leads to armed conflict.

It's about 160 pages, originally published in the '70s as part of a Latin American Monographs series at the University of Texas. Bell spends the first few chapters establishing the situation and history of Costa Rica entering the 1940s. Then he spends the next 5 chapters looking at the issues the divided the political parties, with the National Republicans and Vanguardia Popular on one sides, and the Centro and the Social Democrats the primary parties on the other side, eventually forming The Opposition, and how each side responded.

This includes several tactics which are very familiar to our current situation here in the U.S. Like one party consisting of the wealthy, who want to return things to some idealized golden age when they could do as they pleased. Or one group insisting that the only way you'll know free elections exist was if their party won. Attempts to try and block people from voting on both sides.

It's only the last chapter that actually addresses the revolution itself, since that didn't last more than a couple of months. It's what leads up to it that interests Bell. The book seems well-researched, although I'm sure there's been a wealth of new information that's come out in the nearly fifty years since it was published. Bell's a little partisan towards Calderon Guardia and the National Republicans. There are times he'll spend several pages dogging the Opposition for voter intimidation, then throw in one paragraph that notes similar activities by the National Republicans in an earlier election that was within the scope of this book.

I felt most sympathetic to Vanguardia Popular, the country's Communist Party. They gained a certain amount of leverage when the Opposition basically took their ball and went home, and they used it. But the fact they were Communists meant they were something else the Opposition could use against the National Republicans, both within Costa Rica, and internationally. It's notable the U.S. only decided to get involved in the revolution when Vanguardia Popular stations their forces in the capitol city and vow to resist the Opposition (who are rebels, and had tried to assassinate the party's leader). Because they're Communists. Credit to Jose Figueres Ferrer and The Opposition for knowing how to play the U.S. like a fiddle, I suppose.

I finished the book feeling like I had a better grasp of the conflict than I had before, but wondering if I wasn't getting only one side of the story.

'Calderon Guardia had largely replaced the Communists in the popular mind as the proponent of reform and transformation. His great following enabled him to threaten the privileges of the oligarchy far more ominously than did the minuscule and vulnerable Vanguardia Popular. His rise in popularity also threatened those segments of his opposition whose hopes of political power rested on their own programs for reform and transformation. Accion Democrata and the Centro therefore sought to discredit him, not by criticizing his reform program, but by charging him with fraud.'

Monday, April 16, 2018

What I Bought 4/16/2018

I should have titled last Friday's post "Draw What You Want To See In The World". Unfortunately, I didn't think of it until several hours after the post went up, and it feels like cheating to go back and change it. On to actual comics!

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31, by Ryan North (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I think Henderson even did the multiple reflections for the logo's shadow, which is a nice touch.

Going by the cover, it looked like this was the start of the story about Doreen and Kraven being stuck in some murder house. Instead, Doreen and Nancy are zapped into "hypertime" meaning they move so fast the rest of the world appears almost stationary to them. To the extent they will live out their entire lives in the span of a single weekend. The story follows them over the decades they live, trying to build a time machine, and generally saving people's lives, since it's easy for them to avert accidents and crimes. Although notifying everyone of that was a mistake. At the end, their escape is also a reset.

It was funny and a little sweet. New Yorkers deciding to be total jerks and take advantage of Doreen and Nancy's good nature made me laugh. So did Doreen and Nancy taking advantage of Tony Stark as a source of money and resources. I can't decide if I'm supposed to be reading the story as Nancy and Doreen became a romantic couple over the decades. Seems like it, but they could be really good friends, period. I'm sure part of it is I'm conflating this issue with the final episode of Futurama , which had Fry and Leela in a similar situation. But I don't know. It can go either way, it's just something I was left wondering about, and I don't really have a lot else to say about the issue. Other than I continue to enjoy the dialogue for Brain Drain.

It's fun to see how Henderson draws the two aging over time, and it gives her a chance to explore their changing tastes in clothes over the decades. There was a nice variety in that.

Domino #1, by Gail Simone (writer), David Baldeon (artist), Jesus Arbutov (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - As Greg Land covers go, it's not bad. Although I imagine the difference in his art style from Baldeon's could give a reader whiplash if they weren't ready for it.

Domino's in a merc group with Outlaw and Diamondback, but it seems as though someone named Topaz is gunning for her. Topaz is soooo dangerous, even Deadpool and a finally slimmed-down Agent X are wary of her. As it turns out, Topaz is working with some creepy old man who has an interest in Domino dying, and the same birthday as her. And possibly something's off with her powers.

I'll establish up front I know very little about Domino's backstory. For example, I did not realize she and Colossus had been an item at some point. Or that her powers acted in such a way that they sort of hurt her to save her. I suspect Simone may tie that to Domino's apparent anger and self-loathing/pity about the traumatic experiences that brought those powers about.

Reading this, it felt like a reading Secret Six plots. The creepy old man villain. Another villain out to get the main character, who is so dangerous that even characters like Deadpool are nervous about her. Even though we've never heard of this Topaz before now. That part reminded me of Junior, the oh-so evil and terrifying mob boss from the first arc of the Secret Six ongoing (the one they took the Get Out of Hell Free card from). It would have worked better to have her show up and trounce Domino first, then she can learn about Topaz from Wade or someone else after. Show first, then flesh the new character out by telling after.

That said, I think I'd enjoy the fun merc adventures of Domino and Her Gal Pals. So if we can get some of that while dealing with this main plot, that'd be nice. Baldeon has a loose style, very expressive. Works well for the comedy bits, mostly works for the action parts. I had a little trouble following the end result of the "Fastball Special", with all the after-images, what the order was. Also, during the initial mission, Domino makes a comment about getting mud down her cleavage, but her outfit appears to cinch tightly around her neck. Although the back is open. Maybe it's her luck powers. Saved her from a speeding truck, but somehow the mud got inside her shirt.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #15

"Don't Need A Spider Sense For That Danger," in Amazing Spider-Man #368, by David Michelinie (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist), Rick Parker (letterer)

The Michelinie/Bagley run on Amazing is unfortunately dominated by poor storylines. The long-running subplot about the return of Peter's parents. I thought it had potential once, even blogged about that, but on reflection, probably not. The Clone Saga, took up most of the last couple years of the run, although that one might have worked if they'd stuck to the original plan for it to run six months. Maximum Carnage (and way too much of the symbionts in general). That whole plot line about Mary Jane taking up smoking due to stress (it wasn't a bad idea, just handled somewhat hamfistedly).

There are some smaller stories I think work well as straightforward superhero stories. Invasion of the Spider-Slayers works as a "Spider-Man fights killer robots" story, that also gets Black Cat active in the costume business again (albeit with an even more impractical costume). The Tri-Sentinel that Spidey blew up with his Captain Universe powers at the end of Acts of Vengeance returned for a rematch against a non-cosmic powered Spider-Man (and Nova). There's a rampaging Hulk two-parter. None of them doing anything revolutionary with Spider-Man or revealing new facets of the character, they just tell quick, engaging stories while keeping other subplots going in the background. There's a lot opportunities for Bagley to draw action sequences, or portray characters being emotional, which plays to his strengths.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Havin' A Dust-Up

It's never a bad time to see Krillin punching Vegeta right in his stupid face. I actually drew this three weeks ago, so this piece wasn't done in response to Monday's post, although parts of it come from the same place, distaste for Vegeta/his fans. My posting it is at least in part related to Monday's post. Also, I didn't have a better idea in mind.

Mostly I just wanted to draw Krillin doing something cool, and I'm pleased with how it turned out. All the usual nagging inner voices are mostly silent. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bullet to the Head

A hit man (Sylvester Stallone) and a cop (Sung Kang) have to team-up to bring down the guy responsible for killing each of their partners. Well, really the hit man is responsible for killing the cop's partner, but the guy who hired him and his partner double-crossed them, so all bets are off.

There's not much to it, and the movie doesn't help itself by making Kang's character such an empty authority figure. He keeps telling Stallone that they're going to go by the book or whatever, and yet Stallone keeps killing people, with no consequences. You figure possibly, at the end, Detective Kwon will arrest him, but no, he lets him off with a "Next time you step out of line, I'm bringing you down" useless threat.

You can really tell they flubbed the end of the movie, because the last 5-10 minutes there are a series of awkward conversations where it feels like all the characters are waiting for the script to tell them to do one thing, but instead it told them to do something. The hit man's daughter (played by Sarah Shahi) is there, because she was used as leverage against him, and the two of them have some awkward "see ya later" when Stallone just kind of wanders off after shooting Kwon in the shoulder.

Plus, Stallone's character is pretty consistently racist, in what is I think meant to be taken as funny. They pull that off, once, when he commends Kwon on his "samurai warrior" shtick, and Kwon points out he's Korean, not Japanese. Then he says it would be like saying his favorite Italian food was tacos. Stallone's response: 'That's a pretty stupid analogy.'

I mean, he's wrong, but that exchange actually made me chuckle.

Christian Slater's in there as a sleazy lawyer for a former warlord with big plans, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Jason Momoa is in here as the problem-solver for Adewale's character, and the guy Stallone's character really wants to kill. Which leads to a fight with fire axes in the remains of an old building.

There's a couple of decent fights in the movie, not for anything flashy they do. More just the way the fights feel somewhat realistic (I'm not including the axe fight, obviously). Characters are going for whatever will give them the advantage at that moment. When Stallone and Momoa first tangle, Stallone buys himself some time by tripping his opponent with a mop bucket that he kicks in the guy's direction. I don't know if I buy Momoa obliterating that restroom sink with his faceplant, but he is a bug dude. But it felt like the sort of desperation, "this is all I've got handy" move someone might really use in an impromptu fight for survival.

I had some odd desire to see if this movie was any good, and overall I'd say no. At least now I know.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Maybe It's An Age Thing, Maybe It's A Me Thing

How readily do you think to check the Internet for solutions to problems?

The question occurred to me last weekend. I was hooking my original XBox up to play some Crimson Skies. The disc tray refuses to open unless there's a disc in it. I had turned it on and opened the tray to switch out games, but it closed before I could put the disc in. So it was stuck. I spent a good twenty minutes fiddling with it, pressing the button, trying to jiggle the tray to get it to respond.

It wasn't until I'd reached the point of trying to pry the tray open when a knife that it dawned on me there was almost certainly a video or article online somewhere that would explain how to deal with this. And there was.

My delay in going that route might just be my personality. I tend to try and handle things myself, with whatever I have at hand at the moment. If that fails, then I'll go retrieve more tools, but I hate to waste the effort on bringing something over I didn't end up needing. Or maybe I'm just slow on the uptake. My father says I have a tendency to lock myself into one strategy for getting things done, and then stubbornly press ahead, rather than look for easier alternatives.

But I wonder if it isn't partially an age thing. The Internet wasn't really something I used for research purposes when I was growing up until at least high school. Maybe not even until college. I had access to it prior to that, but if I needed information on something, I went and found a book. Would someone younger, if they grew up with the idea "there'll be something to help with that online", more readily turn to it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

John Wick: Chapter 2

I got this as a Christmas gift, and have been waiting to watch it until, I got through all those shitty movies on Netflix I was marginally interested in, I guess. There are probably some SPOILERS for this movie that came out over a year ago, so consider this your warning.

I figured John would have to deal with the friend or relative of Viggo's, out for revenge. The movie instead dispenses with that quickly. John's problem is still related to his re-entering his old world, but it's comes from old business. And John finds himself in a situation where his only hope of peace seems to be more killing. But each action only serves to make the bullseye on his back larger. The rules and checks that govern this peculiar world of hotels, armorers, and so on, don't have much give to them, and they don't really serve John much at all.

The action sequences are still fun, even if several of them remind me of the shootout in the night club from the first movie, with John steadily mowing through generic cannon fodder. It looks good, and there's an excellent flow to those scenes, but it might start to seem familiar after a while. The movie adapts to this by using some different settings, like catacombs, or a mirrored art exhibit. I thought they'd use the old "you can't tell from the reflections where anyone is" bit a lot, but they were fairly restrained.

It also helps that the movie adds some interesting touches with other characters. Riccardo Scamarcio as Santino D'Antonio has this delightful combination of threatening, smugness, and faux-innocence. So he'll go from making a threat, to protesting he really has no choice, to telling John he better just accept it. All in all, it makes him an imminently hateable antagonist.

Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, with his army of homeless soldiers (or people dressing up like they're homeless). Common playing the failed bodyguard out for revenge. He and Keanu get a couple of good, extended fight scenes, including one where they casually take potshots at each other with silenced pistols amidst an oblivious crowd. That was one of a couple of funny bits the movie has, actually. Ruby Rose plays Santino's top gun, who speaks only in sign language, and is pretty effective with her facial expressions and gestures.

Everybody in the movie has their own sense of style, and it all works really well.

I especially like the end of the movie, after John has made his vow that he will kill anyone who comes after him. He'll kill them all. But after that, when he was doing a limping variant of the slow badass walk, you can see it begin to sink in what "all" really entails. The threat can come from anyone, any angle, and all his traditional resources are now inaccessible. Good luck in the third film, John.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Livin' That Spite Life

No, not "Sprite" life. Spite Life. This is not a soda commercial.

Question for the day: Has there ever been something - a movie, book, food, sports team, whatever - that you were fairly neutral or indifferent to on its own, but you ended up hating it because its fans were such annoyances?

There are certain things we're gonna dislike on their own merits, or lack thereof. My distaste for the Dallas Cowboys had nothing to do with their fans, and everything to do with a) them kicking the Cardinals' asses twice a year back in the '90s, and b) the media's insistence on referring to them as America's Team. My dislike for Batman stems from him being written as a total ass for twenty years. So on and so on.

But sometimes, the thing itself is OK, but the people who really like it are what kills it. It isn't the fans' enthusiasm. I've said this before, but reading or watching people discuss something that interests them, even if it's not necessarily something I'm into, can be fun. It's when the fans decide they have to seek out people who are fans of other, related things, and badmouth those while trying to prop up what they like. Convert or die, basically. It's so aggressively obnoxious I end up despising the thing they like since it apparently produces such idiocy in them.

I don't like Cyclops, but I don't go find people talking about how much they like him so I can butt in yammering how, actually, Cyclops is garbage and Nightcrawler is so much better.

The Chicago Cubs would probably be an earlier example of this for me, but the reason it came up is I think I hit my limit last week with Vegeta fans. I don't particularly like the character. He's an asshole. He talks a lot of shit he rarely manages to back up. His arrogance makes situations worse for everyone else repeatedly. He takes time away from any number of other characters I'd rather see get some shine. But, on occasions, he will do something cool, and it's fun to watch him freak out when things don't go his way. I could do without him, but on his own, he isn't a deal-breaker.

But a lot of Vegeta fans - or perhaps just a few, very persistent ones - like to spend their time interjecting themselves into discussions that had nothing to do with him to talk him up, and put down whichever characters were actually being discussed. Usually this involves making a lot of excuses for the character, or inventing things out of thin air to explain why he's "better" than the character they're dismissing. Generally just being obnoxious.

I know, people behaving poorly on the Internet? What is the world coming to? Anyway, I've reached the point the character's own irritating behavior is now conflated with that of his fanboys, and seeing him or hearing about him is unwelcome.

That's my current target of loathing, so what's yours?

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #14

 "Hope the X-Men Are Taking Notes", in Amazing Spider-Man #327, by David Michelinie (writer), Erik Larsen (penciler), Al Gordon (inker), Rick Parker (letterer)

Hot damn, I love Acts of Vengeance. Spidey with the serious power upgrade, where suddenly it's everyone else punching out of their weight class trying to fight him. Ahem, outside of the Acts of Vengeance issues, the David Michelinie and Todd MacFarlane/Erik Larsen run isn't a favorite of mine. Too much Venom (although that problem would only grow in next week's run), and I've never really loved Todd Mac's figurework. His people always looked a little too strange.

But there's a Sinister Six story not long after the issue above I don't mind; it continues Sandman's face turn. And another shortly after that where the Black Cat has to keep bailing out a temporarily depowered Spider-Man (who can't help himself when it comes to trying to help people). Although that one ends with Felicia depowered (a status that lasts about 25 issues). This is also when she took up with Flash Thompson, initially as some revenge against Peter for choosing Mary Jane? Oh and there's an Inferno tie-in much earlier that has a few pages of Spidey fighting a possessed Macy's parade balloon of himself. I have a soft spot for that one, strictly for novelty factor.

OK, so it's a mixed bag. The last issue before Larsen departed is a pretty good one involving Doctor Doom, though.

Friday, April 06, 2018

What I Bought 4/4/2018

I'm not sure why I went with a different approach for the April Fools' Day story. I think I was expecting it would be easier to type without having to go back and bold each characters' name prior to their dialogue, or italicizing something else. I think it worked in that regard, but I'm not sure if I preferred it otherwise. Whatever, here's some reviews of some comics that came in the mail this week.

Demon: Hell is Earth #5, by Andrew Constant (writer), Brad Walker (penciller), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Chris Sotomayor (letterer) - Interesting gesture Belial's making there. Either, "Who wants a big hug?" or "Look how swole I am, bros!"

Having reached the tear between Hell and Earth, Etrigan charges in, forcing the others to follow along and fight some of the forces of Hell. They think they're winning, but Belial steps out, casually stomps everyone but Jason Blood, and seems to complete his plan to make Earth a part of Hell.

That's pretty much it. It's mostly a fight scene, and it looks nice in places, but since we're aware that Belial is toying with them, it doesn't carry much weight, and there's nothing much to be interested in as far as the fight demonstrating character traits. Unless Blood taking advantage of the demons being too stupid to realize he can't do anything to them is significant. I'm not sure how he might turn that on Belial, though, since Belial should be aware of it. The others continuing to use Blood as a distraction they don't have to worry about harming is kind of amusing.

I thought Merlin was working with Belial, and his pleas for assistance were a ruse because Etrigan was essential to Belial's scheme somehow, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Doesn't mean Merlin doesn't have his own schemes going, though he hardly looks like he has any way to carry them out.

The color work is very pretty. The point of connection between Hell and Earth is a massive wall of pink energy, which makes a nice contrasting backdrop for the hordes of Hell, who are mostly shades of red and orange, with various darker colors for their clothing. The flames continue to look very nice.

At this point, I really wonder if there's any point in bothering to buy the final issue. Is it even worth it, to see how this ends?

Mata Hari #2, by Emma Beeby (writer), Ariela Kristantina (artist), Pat Masioni (colorist), Sal Cipriano (letterer) - I can't figure out what that is in the far background, behind even the trees. Part of a fan, or a curtain? The view of something through prison bars?

Monsieur Bouchardon visits the prison, hoping to gain a confession by seeming reasonable and friendly. Meanwhile, Margaretha tries to turn him in her favor with flattery and concern, while sharing some of her life story. Neither has much success. Bouchardon is having some problems with his wife, which he is almost certainly taking out on Margareetha, while also being encouraged by his bosses to get that conviction, whether she's guilty or not. France needs it! France needed generals who were less stupid, but whatever, sure.

It's odd, reading the book after the text piece from Beeby last issue mentioned Margaretha lied constantly, because I tend to doubt everything I see. Is she genuinely reduced to tears at the thought she might be interviewed by Bouchardon in a gown with a bloodstain, or is it a play for sympathy? During the interview, as she relates her youth, we see she was raped by the headmaster at the school she worked at, which turned into a recurring affair, I guess? She seems convinced he loves her, but is she old enough to give consent? She's 15, so I'd say no, but I don't know what the rule was in Holland in 1891. I'd still say "no", though.

Regardless, everyone blames her for the headmaster not keeping it in his pants (which is a recurring theme). What's interesting is that Kristantina draws 15-year old Margaretha giving the headmaster a sort of playful or beguiling look, right before he assaults her, but four panels later, her older self is giving Bouchardon the same look. So, she learned from that unpleasant memory and turned it into something she could use to her advantage? Or she's doing it unconsciously? I'm not sure how much benefit of the doubt I'm suppose to give here.

Masioni gives the panels with Margaretha and the headmaster a strong red tint, and there's a pair of panels near the end of the issue, one of her, one of Bouchardon, when she asks if Bouchardon has a wife, where there's some in the middle of both panels, as if it's hanging in the air between the two of them. Bouchardon has this slightly dazed, vulnerable look, and he's looking up, as if she's in a position of power. Although, in the next panel, she doesn't appear to be looking down at him. Instead she's looking at him as though he's on her level. Either she missed the moment, or she knows the key is to find his weak spot without making him feel weak or inferior. The really curious thing is there's no hint of the red in the panels when she's around her future husband.

I'd think it meant a passionless nature of the marriage, that she set out to find a husband, and he was the first guy who wandered along, but maybe not. Given the circumstances of those panels with the red tint, none of which are exactly happy moments, maybe the lack of red is a sign there's none of the danger, fear, or pain she experienced many other times. It's not there even when he's got her wrist in what seems like a strong grip, which might be an unpleasant or frightening moment.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

A Mysterious Robber

The film is set in China during the war with Japan. There's a map of an old gold mine at stake, and part of it is held by a local bandit. Several parties want that map, or else revenge on the bandit, so they all converge on an inn. These include a ranking Japanese official, who is also an expert profiler. The brother of a businessman killed by the bandit. A young woman named Yue, whose father and her lover were both killed by the bandit. And a goofy guy who is an expert in knockout drugs who wants revenge for his murdered boss. Even the innkeeper hates the bandit and wants revenge.

There's supposed to be a lot of mystery about the bandit. The movie heavily foreshadows that things aren't what they appear with him, or with anyone for that matter. But, as the movie is barely 80 minutes long, it doesn't do enough to build that tension. I'd put most of the blame on the film's focus on the knockout expert. Who they play as a semi-comic figure, with scenes of him trying to sneak around, or arguing with the innkeeper's mute brother, or tying a blade to a small bird that he can call later if he needs to free himself. For the amount of time he gets, it doesn't feel like there's much payoff, so that time ends up feeling like a waste of the relatively short run time of the film.

The film ends on a Mexican standoff that has everyone shooting everyone else a bunch of times, but it feels flat. It seems like at least one of the characters should have started shooting much sooner, and that they only held off so they could explain everything to us, rather than each other.

The movie had a solid, classic set-up, and it just didn't do anything with it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Round And Round They Go

It's an overcast, chilly day as I pull into the apartment complex. Following the road as it arcs around until, in the rear corner, I reached the building I wanted. I pulled into a parking space, but don't see his car. Maybe he's not back from work yet? I hope he's not out on inspections, it'll ruin the surprise. No harm in trying, though.

I step from the car, and walk to the back to open the trunk. I remove a large case, with some difficulty, and carry it into the open lawn in front of the building, setting it down. Returning to the car, I remove a smaller box, cardboard, heavily taped together, and carry it up the stairs. At the door I knock lightly. No sounds from within. I press an ear to it, trying to hear him sneaking around inside. Is he really not here? I'm more disappointed than I thought I'd be, but I was actually anticipating this confrontation eagerly.

"He's not here."

I turn back to the top of the stairs, to see a round, furry, black-and-white shape crouched there, watching me intently. The panda, of course. Maybe this is their plan, to have the panda confront me here, draw my attention, while Calvin waits for an opening? I grin. Maybe there'll be some fun after all. I take on my most mock-innocent expression. "Oh, he's not? Well, how unfortunate I was so late arriving. Let's discuss this further insid-"

Even as I finish the sentence, the panda is smashing into me, driving me over the railing. I manage to shove it away, and twist so as to not land on my neck. Still, the ground is muddy and this jacket is probably ruined. This is why I would have rather waited until we were indoors to fight.

"You aren't getting past the front door, Pollock, not this time! I've been waiting three days! I'm cold and wet, and I'm gonna take it out on you!" Well, that's more aggressive than normal. I shouldn't have been so tardy, it sounds like.

"Wait, wait. Don't you want to see what cool science thing I brought to use this year?" That stops it for a moment. Curiosity is almost as effective against the panda as doubt.

The panda folds its arms across its chest. "I hope it's better than your lame plan from last year. Your weak threats as you ran away were more dangerous."

I would have protested I don't even make threats as I run away, but I was too indignant about the other part. "I used a phone that was also an independently operating taser! It's extremely popular among people afraid of getting mugged. And given the power demands for the taser, the battery lasts for a decade if you just use it as a phone! No recharging necessary."

I narrowly dodged a kick to the head. "I don't need to hear a sales pitch, I was here last year," the panda jibed, as I retreated for the large box in the yard. "A walking taser might help with muggers, but it won't get you past me."

I reached the crate. "Very true, the phone wasn't enough last year, and our updates this year were more concerned with network security than agility. So I brought this."

I step on a lever at the bottom of the box, and the top flies open as all four sides fall away. A mass of metal begins to expand, reconfiguring into a basic human shape, with a comfy leather seat in the center, which I hop into. I take a moment to savor the slack-jawed gape on the panda's furry mug.

"It's our new mobility enhancer for the elderly or otherwise physically limited. It's a nice perk it'll also work to pound you into the mud."

The panda scrambles up to the walkway for safety. "Oh yeah, how you gonna get me from down there?" It waggled its butt as a taunt, but coming from a panda, it's just too cute to be angered by. Besides, I had the answer, raising the right arm, and with the press of a button, it extended, capturing the panda in its grasp in an instant. "For when you need to grab something off a high shelf."

The panda gasped, "What shelves are you trying to get things from?!"

"Well, what if our customer needs a new recliner from one of those big box stores? Are they supposed to wait until an employee wanders along, get their attention, then wait for them to return with a forklift? Their time is valuable and limited, why do you want them to waste it?"

"I'm not, eh, nerts to this." The panda inhaled sharply and slipped free. Look I was trying hard to be gentle. 'May crush pandas' is a bad tagline for most any product. Other than Murder, Inc., and their Panda Juicer. Still, I'm disappointed my attempt to make the panda doubt itself didn't work better. I need to give that trick a rest, perhaps.

As the panda landed neatly on the ground, I reached for it again, only to come up empty-handed. Unless you count some mud, which seems to be clogging the joints. The fingers were sticking. The panda circled warily.

I prepared my next stroke. "Expanding arms aren't the only feature. Check out the Whippersnapper-dismissing nose flick!" The left thumb and forefinger touched ends and reached forward, only for the forefinger to suddenly snap free and turning the panda into a furry projectile that rattled the sliding door of the neighbor below Calvin. "Guaranteed to humiliate any kid into accepting the terrible hand the prior generations have dealt them! Or, pulverizing them. Either way, it gets their noses out of their phones, right?"

Sigh and shake of the head in response. "You sell smartphones! And that whole thing is divisive and stupid!"

I shrug. "I know, but you have to play to your customer base. And I can supply both sides."

"War profiteer, eh? I'll settle your hash!" Again the panda scrambled up the stairs, then to the roof and out of sight.

"Settle my hash? How many cheap detective movies are you watching with Calvin?" Further comments on his archaic statements were interrupted by a roar and the panda rising into the air with a trail of flame behind. Coming from a familiar jetpack. My old jetpack. What the hell?!

The panda projectile hurtled right at me, only to bounce off the clear bubble dome surrounding me. If luck was on my side, the bounce would have sent it into the ground. Instead it went straight up, resuming the wary circling, albeit at a higher altitude.

"Climate controlled bubble canopy," I gloated a little as the sun comes out and the canopy darkened. "And it changes its shade in response to the ambient light like those glasses you see on TV."

"Oh come on! Although that is a thoughtful touch." It roared past very low, splattering up mud across my vision and the rest of the exosuit.

"Thank you. The design team was very proud of that." As I heard the jetpack roar past again, then shoot up into the sky, I made a note that we should add a windshield wiper as the arms weren't having much luck clearing the mud. The right arm in particular, was growing increasingly unresponsive. But the top of the canopy was clear, and through it, I saw the trail of the jetpack's exhaust arcing back behind me. I tried to swivel, but the mud and the grit seems to be jamming the gears. And the sound of the jetpack was growing louder.

Sigh. One more thing to give the design team notes about. Well, at least we installed an ejection seat. The designers argued for airbags, but that would leave you right next to the explosion, so what good would that do? As I was launched into the air, the panda rolled so the jetpack was below, unhooked itself and jumped as the pack and the suit erupted into flame.

Our momentum was carrying us towards each other, so I grabbed some fur, twisted, and hurled it towards the ground. It bounced off the roof of the little structure that housed all the mail slots, and then splatted in the mud. I landed less nimbly than I would have liked at the edge of the lawn. By this point, several dogs were barking, and neighbors were starting to come out to gawk. The panda rose, undaunted, and looked at the pyre.

"I know a coyote that's always trying to catch a roadrunner. Do you guys sell him his equipment?"

I started forward, getting a little irritated now. "Pardon me for not building the mobility assist to survive an RPG!"

"You have to know people are going to buy them to do dumb things like mech fights and lifting cars." OK, got me there.

"Wait, where did you get my jetpack from?"

"The raccoons found it where you left it when it ran out of fuel. I got it for 500 pieces of pointy metal, 20 pounds of peanut brittle, and 100 wrenches."

"You gave wrenches to raccoons? Are you mad? They'll dismantle entire towns!"

"I don't think they're that destructive, not when - "

"What are you idiots doing?" stated a tired voice from above us. We both looked up, and saw Calvin, with a suitcase and sleeping bag, regarding us from in front of his door. He glanced at the fiery pile of twisted metal. "Did someone bump a Ford Pinto with a baby stroller?"

Why was I excited about this visit again? "Very topical. How do you even know about Pintos?"

"Well see, I read these things called "boooooooks", so I can learn about things that happened even if I wasn't present. Or perhaps it's witchcraft. Booga-booga. Moron."

The panda gawked. "Calvin, where have you been? I was worried!"

"I took the week off to go vacation in nowhere. Why were you worried? You think Pollock killed me?"

Does he really think I'd do that? Where's the fun? OK, there was that one time in Kentucky! And now my health insurance premiums are higher because ghost attacks are considered a pre-existing condition. Haven't I suffered enough?

The panda replied, "No, I thought maybe you slipped getting out of the shower and hit your head."

Calvin dropped his bags and threw his hands in the air. "I'm not Hal Jordan! Give me a little credit! Sheesh. I hope these chocolate-covered cherries on my doorstep will raise my spirits, or I'll have to go on another vacation."

"Calvin wait, those were left by - " Too late, Calvin popped one into his mouth and bit down, then immediately began gagging and retching. The panda tackled me and started punching. "What did you poison him with? Give me the antidote, now!"

This got out of hand. Ouch. When the panda sits on me, I can really tell how much bigger it's gotten. The punches have a lot more force behind them, too. I struggled to explain. "No poison - just mayo."

That worked. The punches stopped, and I watched the eyes fill with curiosity. Then they turned to look at Calvin, still coughing and scraping his tongue. "Calvin? Is it mayonnaise?"

"Yes," came the strangled reply. "Oh God, it's terrible! And South Park joked about doing this 15 years ago!"

The distraction was enough for me to sucker punch the panda and roll away and to my feet. "I thought you'd enjoy that aspect of it."

The panda rubbed its cheek as it watched me retreat to my car. "You went through all this for a cheap gag like that?"

"Do you know how much that exosuit cost? Nothing cheap about it. Except the protection for the joints to keep them from getting clogged up. We may have cheaped out there. But this was valuable product testing!"

The panda trundled up the stairs to get Calvin some water, as I dove into my car. I looked up at the stairway, though the two of them were out of sight at the far end. The part about product testing was true, although I had expected the exosuit to be damaged somehow. It always goes that way.

I'm sure they'll count it as a win, since I never even made it into the apartment. But the part I didn't mention was that this is like an annual vacation for me. A chance to cut loose and be silly, messing with those two. I can fight, tumble, insult, and not worry about shareholders or complaints being filed with HR. At that moment, the box came sailing through the air and hit the windshield, chocolate and mayo everywhere. I smiled. It's fine, even the parts that aren't ideal make me appreciate the things that go smoothly back at work. And unlike the suit, my car does have windshield wipers.

Although that mayo is proving difficult to clean off. . .