Friday, May 31, 2019

Not A Hot August, More Lukewarm

Marvel actually has a few things that interest me in the August solicits, which is more than they can usually say. No, I don't mean Absolute Carnage. Why in the hell would you do an event to deliberately evoke memories of Maximum Carnage?

Granted that Magnificent Ms. Marvel will be up to its 6th issue, meaning it's sink or swim time for the book (having read issue 3 yesterday, I'm currently undecided). There's a Gwenpool mini-series, but it's being written by Leah Williams, not Chris Hastings. And it seems like Gwen's trying semi-villainous stuff like unmasking Spider-Man to remain relevant. Which was a story Hastings did already.

There's a Power Pack Grow Up one-shot by Louise Simonson and June Brigman, catching up with the kids now that they're older. Might be worth looking at. There's a She-Hulk Annual where Bullseye tries to pin one of his murders on her? Not sure how that works, or how Bullseye is going to avoid horrific injury in the first two panels. There's an Agents of Atlas mini-series that promises to address where the heck the previous team is, in a back-up story. Not tricking me into buying the whole thing just for that.

I chose to ignore the Spider-Man: Symbiote mini-series, since it's being drawn by Greg Land, but PAD is doing a one-shot with Rick Leonardi based on a fan submitted idea from before Secret Wars for Spidey in a black costume. Might be worth a look, although the $4.99 tag is daunting.

As for DC, Dial H for Hero is wrapping up, the only two new things I felt worth noting were; 1) August's issue of Green Lantern is going to involve a multiversal Lantern Corps, and 2) they're bringing back WildCATS with Warren Ellis and Ramon Villalobos as the creative team. I haven't been paying attention to The Wild Storm book Ellis has been writing, so I'm sure I'd have no idea what was going on in here, if I were inclined to buy it.

There wasn't much else out there that caught my eye. Giant Days is having the cast say their farewells to Sheffield as finals approach. I can't shake my impending worry the series is ending. Then what will Calvin read and laugh at? The world is so joyless and bleak! Speaking of which, Smooth Criminals is MIA for the third month in a row. There's Test, if I'm still buying it after 3 issues. Having not seen the first issue yet, who knows. The fifth volume of Infinity 8 is up to its second issue, of course I haven't seen the last two-thirds of volume 4 yet. But each is its own story, so that probably doesn't matter.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dying on the Vine - Aaron Elkins

The patriarch of an Italian winery and his wife are found dead almost a year after they disappeared. The carabinieri declare it a murder-suicide, because the husband had suspicions his wife was cheating on him.

Gideon Oliver is a professor of forensic anthropology giving a seminar to law enforcement, and is given the chance to examine the body of the wife for an example. He concludes the police probably got it wrong, and things go from there.

Oliver does emphasize that much of what he points out isn't ironclad evidence. Unconscious people usually land on their feet when they fall from great heights, but not always. So a lot of the book is Gideon explaining things to his friends and to the carabinieri that got him the chance to inspect the deceased. The investigation is still officially closed for most of the book, but each thread teased unravels a few more.

Elkins spends a fair amount of time on different places Gideon and his friends go to eat, and what they eat. There's a whole paragraph at one point about how there's a particular dish made from lamb that Gideon hates because it reminds him of some lamb roast his Polish aunt made when he was a kid. I guess Gideon is there for vacation as well as teaching the seminar, so it makes sense to focus on the touristy stuff he does, but it lends a very casual air to the mystery. Something Gideon's doing between stuffing his face and visiting a museum of science.

The book is an easy read, moves along at a good clip, so you can get through it fast if you want to. No selection of the writing, because one of my dad's dogs pulled the book out of my suitcase and tore it to shreds over the weekend. If she was going to trash anything in there, that was the best option.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Don't Entrust Your Child to Tony Stark

Maybe it's the corners of the Internet I wander through, but there's a definite segment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fanbase that would canonize Tony Stark if they could. That he's such a selfless guy, so unfairly maligned by the rest of the fanbase and the other characters. I'll grant Movie Tony Stark isn't as much of a pain in the ass as Comic Book Stark, but that isn't saying much.

I saw a post recently gushing about what a wonderful, protective mentor Movie Tony Stark is for Movie Spider-Man. How he checks in with him, pep talks him, gives him suits with cool features to protect him. I'm generally of the opinion that giving Spider-Man a sugar daddy to do all this for him, rather than him cobbling his own solutions together on a budget, entirely misses the point of Spider-Man. Also, the idea of Tony Stark, the man who piloted his armor while drunk at his birthday party, lecturing Peter Parker about responsibility is a bad joke.

(Iron Man 2 may have been a garbage movie, but it still counts.)

Allowing the ship has probably sailed on the "Stark as Peter's mentor figure" thing, there was one thing I couldn't abide. The statement that Tony brought Peter with him to the big airport fight in Captain America: Civil War hoping they wouldn't have to fight at all, but that Cap wouldn't fight a teenager if they did fight.

I say if you don't want the teenager to fight Captain America, you don't drag him off to an airport in Germany where you plan to confront frickin' Captain America. A Captain America hellbent on protecting the last person he has left from before he went into the ice, a person whose fate he feels responsible for. But sure, he'll definitely surrender and hand over said friend to a bunch of guys who already tried to execute Bucky on sight, rather than arrest him. No way Tony could have anticipated Steve would opt to fight.

It's definitely questionable to assume Cap won't fight back if the person doing the attacking is a teenager. I'm sure Steve fought people in World War II who weren't that much older than Peter. But it isn't a new development that Tony doesn't understand Steve.

The whole recruitment scene with Tony and Peter in CA: Civil War has always bugged me. Tony spends much of their initial conversation ridiculing Peter. The computer he rescued from a dumpster, the costume he's cobbled together. Because Tony can't fathom someone doing this without having millions of dollars at their disposal. Admittedly, everyone else he knows has powers or weapons that came from crap loads of money, either private enterprise or military bucks*. Sam's wings, the Super-Soldier serum, Banner becoming Hulk, Stark and his 700 variant armors. Natasha and Clint less so, but I'm sure their respective governments invested a lot of funds in training them.

Still, the mockery is irritating, especially considering Stark is supposed to be asking for help. You could argue that's Tony's way, always shit-talking people. Fair enough, but most of the people he does that to are other adults. He can jab at Clint or Rhodey, and they give it right back. Peter is awestruck, there's no chance of that. This is "Mr. Stark" he's talking to, not "Tony". They don't know each other well enough to banter, or have an equal relationship. Tony has every upper hand, and he leverages them to his advantage.

Except he has no idea how Peter's powers work. Impressed with the webbing, but not realizing Peter made it. Doesn't realize the wall-crawling is an actual ability rather than some device Peter came up with. He mocks the goggles Peter wears because he doesn't understand they help Peter deal with information overload from his enhanced senses. It seems like a bad idea to bring an untrained person whose powers you don't understand, and throw them into a fight against a guy you know is dangerous, and his friend who you think is a brainwashed assassin. Alongside a bunch of other people who don't know what Peter's powers are either**.

The whole thing sums up Movie Tony pretty well. He thought it was a good idea to bring Peter along on this fight, until the moment Peter actually gets hurt, never mind, sending him home. The same way he was entirely in favor of the Avengers following the Sokovia Accords and having oversight. . . until he decided to run off solo to track down Steve and Bucky in Siberia. Any idea he has is a good one, even if it runs contrary to the idea he was so sure was good five minutes ago. You think he'd start to take more time for deliberation, but I'm not sure that happens.

* Except Thor, I guess. Unless we consider Mjolnir as technology, in which case he probably got it because Daddy Odin had big bucks.

**  Granted that Captain America could be said to have done the same getting Scott Lang involved, since I'm not sure how much anyone understood about Pym Particles. But I got the impression Scott helped because he wanted to, rather than because Clint and Wanda threatened him with something. Ant-Man and the Wasp certainly didn't give any indication Scott was coerced. And Scott had at least gotten some combat training from Hope in the first movie.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Predator (2018)

I missed the beginning of the movie. By the time I started watching, the rogue Predator was already running amok in some facility full of crap the government or whoever it was had scavenged from past hunting trips.

I didn't think it was a very good movie. It feels like the kind of movie that does a lot of callbacks to the earlier films, but figures it's clever by twisting them. The third Terminator movie was really bad about that, too. The example that comes to mind is Boyd Holbrook's character asking the Predator "What the hell are you?" but then shooting it in the head before it can say anything. Probably a smart decision, but it felt like trying to be too clever. Why bother to ask if you're going to shoot it?

Like Tuco said, if you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't talk about it.

As far as the main character goes, I didn't think much of Holbrook. Any of the guys in his impromptu squad would have been more interesting. Maybe the parts of the film I missed would have changed my opinion, but McKenna's ability to get some of these guys to work with him and follow orders didn't seem earned.

The movie was interrupted by a severe weather warning right in the middle of the big fight scene. That was confusing. It was night, and Keegan-Michael Key was about to die, then when the movie comes back on, it's after sunrise and now there's a damn spaceship involved. I thought the whole bit with the spaceship, its forcefields and whatnot was overly complicated. That said, the very end of the fight, once they're back on the ground, wasn't bad. Nice demonstration of teamwork. Everyone getting to chip in and whittle the big guy down.

Most of the "Loonies" that end up helping McKenna have various forms of mental trauma from their past experiences. I wouldn't imagine the movie has a particularly nuanced take on PTSD, but I could be wrong. I'm no expert. I thought the friendship between Key and Thomas Jane was solid, the little bit I saw of it. The two of them trying to watch each others' backs, reassure each other when the strain would increase. Mostly through bullshitting and busting each others' chops, but everyone has their own approach.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #67

"The Direct Approach, Indirectly," in Bandette: The House of the Green Mask, Chapter 1, by Paul Tobin (writer), Colleen Coover (artist)

You will notice this is not a full-page splash. There are no full-page splashes in Bandette. But like hell I was going to skip it.

Besides, it is perfectly in keeping with the title character for her entry into a series of posts about splash pages, to be a 9-panel grid. It is, by nature of the page's rigid structure, contrary to the the way all the other books will do things.

Yes, I'm talking out of my ass, but I'm not wrong.

Friday, May 24, 2019

An Update On Recent Developments

Posting may be erratic in the weeks ahead. My apartment complex was hit by a tornado this week. I was out of town for work, so I found out via texts from several people wanting to make sure I wasn't dead. I was not, except on the inside. But that isn't a new condition.

The apartment is still standing, but is no longer livable. As in, everything is covered in glass and fiberglass. The roof is still there, more than the people in the apartment next to me can say, but you can tell it got lifted off the building briefly. Besides the gaps that weren't there before, I had a scroll hanging on a wall that is now pinned between the top of the wall and ceiling.

(Remarkably, my laptop was sitting exactly where I left it. Everything else that had been on the table was somewhere else, but not the computer.)

Point is, I'll be staying with other people until I find a new place, living out of suitcases and whatnot, dealing with increased commute times, grabbing the rest of my stuff, looking for new apartments. So I'm not sure if posting will remain on schedule. This weekend's Sunday Splash Page was already good to go, but after that, it's on hiatus until I can get the scanner and the comics set up some place.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Get Carter (1971)

The version with Michael Caine, obviously, not Stallone. I've only seen a little bit of the latter, though I assume the plot is roughly the same. Carter (Caine) returns to Newcastle for his brother's funeral and quickly comes to the conclusion his brother did not drunk drive into the oceans. He then proceeds to ruffle some feathers while trying to get to the truth.

Although I was surprised that the local mobs don't really do much directly. One time, they do the bit where he's presented with a ticket for the train out of town and advised to use it. He declines, obviously, and there's a brief scuffle. After that, they have Carter's boss send some guys from London to try and bring him back. But no scenes of them kicking the crap out of him and telling him to heal up elsewhere.

The other thing that surprised me is the police only got involved at the very end, because Carter brought them in. Apparently British mobsters don't have cops on their payrolls. Or don't use them for things like this. The end effect is the mob guys come off as kind of ineffectual. It doesn't feel like Carter survives because he's especially good at being a tough guy, so much as they just kind of let him run around doing whatever. When someone does decide to step in, they take care of him fairly quickly, so maybe Britain takes a more low-key, realistic approach to these kinds of stories.

Caine has this air of being apart from everyone else. Even in crowds he's shot in a way where it's like there's an invisible buffer around him. As though everyone subconsciously senses he's one to keep a distance from. He spends most of the movie standing almost perfectly straight. Doesn't slouch, doesn't lean away from people, rarely leans towards them. Maintains that distance, and it lets him tower over everyone. Lot of shots taken looking up towards him, or shot so we can see him looking down at whoever he's talking.

He's also a complete shit, leaning heavily on the "anti" in "anti-hero". He doesn't care if people who help him get hurt for their trouble, not really. He'll throw a little money at them and call it good. I don't believe he actually cares about his brother. He doesn't share any fond memories of their childhood, or anything that suggests they were close. It feels more territorial. Someone hurt his brother, and they need to learn not to touch his stuff.

Not that you'd expect mob muscle to be a swell guy, but he doesn't bother to pretend. You still mostly want him to succeed in taking down the main bad guys, but he basically kills anyone tangentially related, and it seems excessive. I don't think a guy who's a fist-for-hire has the moral high ground a woman who sells her body for money. Yeah, they helped kill he's brother. And he's probably killed a lot of other people's brothers. I'm sure Caine could put enough charisma into his performance I wouldn't care, but he doesn't here, by design I'm assuming.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Squirrels, Samurais, and Shapeshifters

Looking at Ratatoskr in the most recent issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I commented he looked more goofy than menacing, that his weird, bulging eyes reminded me of early Daffy Duck. I can easily picture him going "whoo hoo hoo hoo" and running around crazily.
But there's another character that Ratatoskr's design reminded me of, at least a little. One more sinister than Daffy Duck.
It's probably the flame patterns around the eyes. Aku, the main villain of Samurai Jack. His color scheme is mostly black, with some red and green (plus the whites of his eyes). Ratatoskr has more orange because of that mane, but otherwise, mostly black, with green and orange.

They're both shapeshifters. Aku's never become a squirrel to my knowledge - he usually prefers larger, more dangerous creatures - but he's become gnawing mammals before. Usually when Jack has hacked him down to almost nothing. After this most recent issue of Squirrel Girl, they've both disguised themselves as women to team-up with the hero*.

 I was initially thinking they'd make an interesting villain team-up, but thinking about it, you'd run into the same set of problems that have led to Ratatoskr teaming up with Squirrel Girl. Ratatoskr loves chaos. Aku wants the entire world subservient to him. Not a whole lot different from what Malekith is trying.

But there is a difference. Aku wants everyone to remember who is in charge, to bring him tribute, kiss his butt and so on. But he's not omnipotent, and he's not meddling everywhere. Jack had plenty of adventures that did not involve Aku at all. Demons, aggressive gorilla clans, mechanical cannibals, on and on. There is still a lot of chaos, still struggle, strife, and mayhem all over the world that Aku has no apparent involvement with. Because Aku doesn't perceive it as impacting him from his perch as King of the World.

If Ratatoskr could be convinced that the world would become boring if "the Samurai" succeeds in returning to his own time and destroying Aku, I could see the Squirrel Chaos God getting involved. If nothing else, Ratatoskr might really enjoy messing with Jack. More likely to trick innocent people into attacking Jack, recognizing Jack won't strike back at them. Or maybe just follow Jack around like his version of the Cheshire Cat. Act annoying, place obstacles in his path, but do things that lead Jack to people in danger, or help him to achieve a goal every once in a while. Just enough to confuse him as to what is going on with this strange, giant squirrel (that will not shut the hell up). It's too powerful and clever for him to kill it, maybe he shouldn't even try to kill it. It did help him that one time with *insert particular instance of help*.

Doreen and her friends could eventually arrive to help and/or confuse Jack even more. A relentlessly upbeat girl who talks to squirrels, a talking brain in a jar on a robot body, Koi Boi and his relentless awful fish puns. Although Jack's seen stranger things than a brain in a robot body. Actually, I doubt Jack would react all that much to any of them. He's seen so much since being thrown to the future, this crew wouldn't rank in the top 100 weird things he's encountered. But there could still be problems if they show up and try to fight Ratatoskr when he's in the middle of helping Jack. Things would probably calm down pretty quickly, though. Shortest misunderstanding fight ever.

* Although Aku only did that so Jack would lead him to yet another possible way home for the samurai, so Aku could keep it away from Jack. Doreen should probably watch her back.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Prophesied One's Work is Never Done. Says so In the Prophecy.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3 popped up on Netflix in the last month, so I made a point to watch that. The season came out a year ago, but SPOILERS, I guess.

The addition of the previously unknown teenage daughter, Brandy (played by Arielle Carver-O'Neill) was an interesting choice. I guess by that point Kelly and Pablo are used to Ash's lazy, immature, disgusting ways, so you need someone else to react with fresh eyes. And it made a counterpoint to the awestruck Knights of Sumeria, with all their kneeling and pledging allegiance to the Prophesied One.

I feel like that one Knight, Dalton, was supposed to be a mockery of those brothers from Supernatural. He has the same haircut as one of them. The more scowly one, as opposed to the blonde with the "Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4" Memorial Dumb Haircut. I don't watch the show, and I'm not wasting time looking up their names.

Given how much of the season seemed to be spent undoing the rehabilitation to Ash's rep in Elk Grove that the conclusion to Season 2 brought, I wonder if they regretted that move. It makes sense not everyone would just automatically forget about all the years they thought Ash was some deranged serial killer, and it probably made it easier to show Brandy as having a lot of doubts about him. Still, it reminded me of all the times we see the regular citizens in the Marvel Universe turn on the Avengers or Spider-Man at the drop of a hat.

I was mostly just annoyed by the mind games Ruby was using and how that was playing out. Ash would try to do something to prove to Brandy her counselor was actually evil, and it would naturally just push her closer to "Mrs. Prevett". It's all supposed to build to the big moment when Brandy has to decide whether to kill Ash or not, and I was actually surprised at how that played out, but all the build-up felt like annoying filler.

One thing that I was curious about was, Ruby had her weird demon kid with the idea that if she could kill Brandy, then Ash, her son would inherit his power as Prophesied One and protect her from the Dark Ones. The son ended up dying before either of the other two, but they did die. So what happened with the powers? If Ash and his kid were both dead at the same time, did he get the powers back when he came back to life? Brandy technically returned first, so should they have gone to her instead?

Plus, it didn't seem like being Prophesied One did Ash much good when the Dark Ones made the scene. They tossed his ass aside and took the Necronomicon like he was as much trouble as a loose candy bar wrapper.

I liked them going back to Pablo's past with his uncle the brujo, even if in practice it mostly meant Pablo had whatever weird mystical powers were necessary to advance the plot. Although I can't shake the thought Pablo chose the wrong bowl during the test, and he isn't El Brujo Especial. His uncle certainly didn't seem invisible to Deadites.

On the other hand, it felt like they weren't sure what to do with Kelly. She was off somewhere else to start the season, showed up with Dalton, then got killed trying a revenge thing on Ruby, and spent most of the remainder of the season dead. I could see there being some point in there about Kelly needing to get past the reflexive anger and hatred still lingering from her parents' deaths, that drove her to try something stupid like kill Ruby, but then fuck around and talk a lot instead of just doing it. But that never materialized. My favorite exchange of the season came near the end of that fight.

Ruby: Charging in here like this, it wasn't a bad plan.
Kelly: You handing out gold stars now, teach?
Ruby: It was a terrible plan.

The end of the season was oddly paced. They go to the trouble of seemingly getting Pablo and Kelly together. Ash faces down some Kandarian demon with the help of a tank, and then he gets cryogenically preserved for some indeterminate amount of time. I admit I was curious about the alternate end to Army of Darkness (where he sleeps too long and wakes in the future), but it seemed like a strange move to spring here, at the very last moment in the season. Why would the Knights expect Ash to do any better X number of years in the future?

Then again, the Knights didn't have a great track record of knowing what they were up against. Or being able to handle even relatively minor tasks successfully, for that matter. Them putting a bad plan in motion and thinking it's a good plan would not be a surprise.

Monday, May 20, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 6

It was almost 90 degrees on Thursday and Friday last week. Total bullcrap. Stupid weather, trying to make me turn on my air conditioning before June. Nice try.

We've reached the end of the line for this round of books. Pity there was only one comic out last week I wanted, and I didn't see it anywhere. Oh well. Saved the favorites for last, at any rate.

Atomic Robo: Dawn of the New Era #5, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Shannon Murphy (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer) - The smiles vanished quickly once the vampires attacked.

The students prepare for ALAN to join them in their studies, and accept him quickly. Lang is still pissed at Robo about hiding ALAN from them. Jenkins is still worried about the looming invasion from the Vampire Dimension, but at least seems willing to hold off on killing ALAN for now. Progress! Because he thinks he might be useful against the invasion. Less progress? Foley agrees with Robo ALAN deserves a chance, but is probably worried the other students will be a bad influence. And Bernard is starting to unlock the powers of the Phasewalker. Barely, as his teacher reminds him, repeatedly.

The Hollow Earthians are clearly not believers in positive reinforcement.

And that's pretty much it. I wouldn't say there's any sort of conclusion to the arc. The ALAN situation is still up in the air, tensions are high. The Vampire invasion looms. I barely know what is going on with Bernard. That's unusual. Not bad, just unusual. But Clevinger and Wegener have been doing this for over 10 years, they've earned the right to change things up a little.
The issue is all talking, so there isn't much action for Wegener to draw, but he makes it work. I think the conversation between Lang and Robo is interesting. Robo feels like he's on the defensive the entire time, because one of what Lang is saying is wrong, necessarily. And so in the panels that have both of them, Lang seems to be in control. Robo is positioned near the edge of the panels, oftentimes partially out of the panel, so Lang dominates the majority. Robo seems to take up less space in panels he has to himself (or the panel itself is smaller). Even though they look like they're roughly the same height, in the first two panels, Lang is drawn so the top of her head is just a little above Robo's. Maybe that's not meant to suggest she has the high ground so much as that she has assumed she has it, whether it's true or not.

I mean, I get her argument, but I also understand Robo wanting to give this ALAN a chance.

Giant Days #50, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - I would think Susan would be barred from carrying potentially lethal instruments. Actually, Esther probably should be as well.

Most of McGraw's pub league cricket team comes down with food poisoning, forcing him to rely on Susan to recruit replacements. This does not go very well, I think? Susan's one-page explanation of the rules of cricket was fairly clear, but not entirely correct, I suspect. Lacking in certain details.

The opponents have brought in a ringer to pitch/throw/chuck circles, and Daisy is smitten with her. Damn, she has absolutely terrible taste in women. But good does triumph, and all is well. Until McGraw sees all the messages he missed and checks in with his mom. Oh dear.

The plot is your bog-standard sports underdog story, which is fine. I like sports underdog stories. Major League is awesome. Really, it's all about what you hang on that framework. Susan's primer on the rules. Paul's attempt to regain his confidence, and Esther's bizarre inspirational speech. I like the speech, incidentally. I need to visualize myself as a robot with huge wings who must succeed to protect the sun sometime. Daisy's fixation on the opposition's ringer. although it took me the second readthrough to see where Sarin had drawn her earlier in the issue to hint she was more than she appeared.
As for Sarin, he gets to draw a variety of different silly things. Poor Rex' wild hallucinations (I particularly liked him on rubbery legs rushing forward to throw with fish swimming around him). Esther's. . . I think she was trying to do some magical girl anime maneuver, forgetting she's in a sports manga. The ringer getting increasingly furious with what she sees as Daisy not taking her seriously. Daisy being so smitten her hearts are shoving her teammates out of the panel. Just a lot of fun gags.

So yes, this issue was a real hoot. Until the last page. That was a downer.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #66

"Balder Wants You to Get the Point", in Balder the Brave #4, by Walter Simonson (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Paul Becton (colorist), John Workman (letterer)

The name got me so close to a joke about a Warriors Three/Daughters or the Dragon team-up (which sounds pretty awesome), but the guy's name was Angar the Screamer, not Agnar. Damn.

I don't know why they decided to do a Balder the Brave mini-series during Simonson's Thor run. Maybe because Simonson needed for certain developments to take place, but couldn't spare the pages in the main title.

The series starts after the big battle against Surtur, as Thor prepares to storm the gates of Hel to retrieve mortal souls. Balder's been to Hel and escaped, though badly traumatized, so they'd like him to come along. Balder had been living with Karnilla the Norn Queen, who has had a thing for him for at least the previous 200 issues. He's been trying to smooth down her sharp edges, with limited success.

By the time Balder returns, Karnilla's been captured by the Frost Giants (as the opening move in an assault on Asgard), and Balder sets off to rescue her. By the time they return to her kingdom, Thor's refused to take the throne of Asgard, and Balder's been nominated. He starts out having seemingly abandoned any responsibilities, content to just hang out with Karnilla, and now he's taking on jobs that aren't even his.

Balder, who started Simonson's run depressed and possibly suicidal after being confronted with all the people he'd killed and thus consigned to Hel, regains some of his warrior's drive, but tempers it with mercy, such as not finishing the Frost Giants when he has the chance. Not that I'd ever understood Balder to be particularly bloodthirsty, but I guess the legions of dead say otherwise.

Of course, that mercy came back to bite him in the ass once Loki helped the Frost Giants regain their size, and they attacked while almost all of Asgard was stricken with a plague.

For Karnilla, she's always been very possessive. She wants Balder all to herself, and expects him to just ignore anything else. Which isn't going to happen, but she's been slow to grasp that. She hinders his chances in Hel, and gives the Frost Giants a dangerous weapon, by not giving him a legendary sword she has. Because she's too pissed he's leaving her to help dumb ol' Thor save some mortals. By the end, she's figured out she can't hold Balder that way, and doesn't try to stop him. She also doesn't go with him, choosing to stay and try to learn how to undo the curse the Frost Giants placed on her kingdom. Which is itself a change, since she previously regarded them as little more than her property, to dispose of as she saw fit. Now she feels a responsibility to them that supersedes her feelings for Balder.

Sal Buscema handles the art chores, so you know what you're going to get. Although there aren't as many of his typical haymaker punches as you'd expect in a story set in Asgard. Balder spends the first few issues either absent or training, and the third issue trying to infiltrate the Frost Giants' keep. It's only in the last issue he really starts throwing punches.

Friday, May 17, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 5

We're back with more comics, both from Boom, both 12-issue mini-series. One of them is almost to the end, while there other is almost to the midpoint. So they're both putting the pieces in place for a big moment.

Coda #11, by Simon Spurrier (writer), Matias Bergara (artist), Michael Doig (colorist assist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - That's a placid, yet ominous scene.

The Murkrone is prepared to make her move, with a magic-powered airship. Oh, those never end well. There's no place to go but down. Serka and the assorted remains of Ridgetown, Thundervale, and the Urken are trying to devise some sort of strategy, but don't seem to be getting very far. Hum agrees to be the chronicler who will preserve the Murkrone's version of history to save the little kid, but actually frees said child and sends her away on Nag. He forced to drink the same potion the Murkrone made for Serka. Which is not a poison so much as a mind-control drug. I guess that explains he being able to talk with Serka through the war-gibbon last issue. I assumed that was some unrelated magical long-range communication thing.

In a lot of ways, it feels like the preparation for the big showdown next issue. But I think it's also Hum's big moment. When he chose to get off his butt and act to try and do some good for others. To save the kid (and Nag). To at least try and keep his promise to that poor, tormented ylf by killing it and ending its suffering. The kind of thing he would have sneered at, or done only as it brought him closer to his goal of "helping" Serka, previously.

I'm not expecting him to play much of a role in what comes next, which seems fitting. Things are settling into familiar patterns of someone trying to bring the world to heel, and a few brave, desperate, or angry souls trying to stop them. It's not the sort of thing he would be involved in, and as it stands, it's unlikely he will be now. A bystander, or a meat shield the Murkrone tries to use to slow Serka down at best. After all, he always asserted it was Serka who could truly help make the world a better place, not him. He did a little bit of good, and maybe that's what he should have been trying all along.
A few random things I enjoyed on the art side this issue. The kid's confused look when she learns the magic words that will let her ride Nag. How, when Hum speaks the word that causes the combustion charm to ignite, it's not written as a word, but as a symbol in his mouth in the same green shade as the acker that powers his magic. The contrast between the Murkrone, sparkly and smiling, making her pitch, while right next to her is a grumpy looking Urken carving bloody pieces off an emaciated ylf to throw into a squat, ugly furnace. The way her speech balloon about how said ylf is not simply a 'tawdry treasure', carries the eye to the line of blood from the entrails, and then down to the screaming victim. The casual dismissal of him as anything other than a resource, because as she's said, all that matters is the story people believe, not what actually happened.

I do hope she dies painfully next issue.

Smooth Criminals #5, by Kurt Lustgarten, Kirsten Smith, Amy Roy (writers), Leisha Riddel (artist), Raven Warner (inker), Brittany Peer (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer) - I hope Mia warned Brenda about landing properly. Otherwise you end up with a superhero landing, and that's hell on your knees.

Brenda and Mia take a break at an arcade, where we learn Brenda has a crush on someone she plays against online. Because Brenda can't focus, Mia drags her to an open mic night T-Bird is playing at so they can meet in person. This does not go well, and leads to an argument between them, but they want to make the heist work, so they put that aside. Problem(s): the feds were checking out the net of Indra exhibit, and catch a glimpse of Mia. And Mia's old rival found her training area and has designed his own to copy it. Which at least gives us a funny scene of him being thwarted by the Talky Bears, and chastised by his henchmen for referring to Mia and Brenda as "girls", rather than "women". It's disrespectful, you see.

Kind of a sad thing when your stoic henchmen are more well-mannered than you are. What kind of classy thief is he?
Raven Warner handles some of the inking this issue. The only thing I really noticed was that sometimes Mia and her rivals' faces got much rounder looking for one or two panels. Also that there would be a lot more shading around the nose. There was one page where it looked like Mia had stuck her snoot in a coal bucket, for no apparent reason. Weird.

I like Mia demonstrating that they do have a plan for the heist by jumping around all over the arcade, as a way to both show off a bit, but also to put Brenda at ease and not let her use it as an excuse to avoid meeting her crush. It doesn't really work, but it seems like the kind of approach Mia would take, as someone who gives the appearance of being self-assured and confident. Or maybe she's just one of those people who talks with her hands, a highly acrobatic thief version.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Bryan Cranston plays a husband and father who experiences an existential crisis one night on his way home from work, and decides the best response is to hide in the attic above the garage. For months. Without telling anyone. Spy on his wife (Jennifer Garner) and their two daughters. Rummage through garbage cans. Again, for months.

I think he might be a psychopath, because everything revolves around him and what he feels, without seemingly any awareness of the fact he did this to himself. He complains to himself about their going on their annual vacation to the Cape, while he is impoverished. But he's the one who decided to live in a damn attic and shit in a bucket!

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to feel for this guy. Am I supposed to feel contempt for a man so selfish who tries to cloak it in some nobility? Pity, for a guy who was so dissatisfied with the life he had he decided to step off-stage? There's a point he seems to have an epiphany about how much of the unhappiness in his life was self-inflicted by his own weaknesses. But in no time at all, he's right back to the same self-aggrandizing internal narration. Framing his decision to stay away - which is really because he's afraid of the response he'll receive and resuming his old responsibilities - as self great sacrifice on his part for the sake of his family.

The movie is a hair under and 1 hour and 50 minutes. I'd say it's 20 minutes too long, because that was the point where I officially hit my limit with his bullshit. At that point I wanted the farce to end in any fashion that took away his agency. His wife catches him rooting through the trash. Those scrap-hunting Russians run him over in their truck. He gets West Nile while being devoured alive by mosquitoes when he sleeps near the lake. Whatever. Catch him in the act, like those scenes with someone trying to escape prison and getting frozen in the spotlight, and then watch him try to squirm his way out.

I don't know if I would recommend it. Probably not.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 4

Onward and upward, hopefully. Today we have two different books I took a chance on. One of them is promising, the other didn't work for me.

Ghost Tree #1, by Bobby Curnow (writer), Simon Gane (artist), Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie (colorists), Chris Mowry (letterer) - You got a little something on your face. Or maybe not.

When Brandt was a kid, his grandfather made him promise to come back and visit him under a particular tree, 10 years after his grandfather died. Brandt is back in Japan, mostly to get away from a failing marriage, but he's still right on time, even if he didn't remember the promise he made. His grandfather is there, along with a lot of other ghosts. His grandfather regrets telling him to come back here, but Brandt feels comfortable. The mysterious figure on the cover is watching over all this, has some connection with a woman Brandt knew when they were kids.

The comic is peaceful, which may sound odd for being about ghosts, but the figure on the cover hasn't taken any threatening actions yet, and neither has anyone else. Brandt is running from his troubled relationship, returning to place he has fond childhood memories. Gane draws him with somewhat messy clothes, and he avoids eye contact with most people. Talking to his grandmother next to him while they both look ahead. Looking at the car window while talking to his cousin. He seems like an awkward, uncertain, weary guy.
Also, when Brandt wakes up in the middle of the night, Gane draws him with some of his hair sticking straight up, and it stays that way for the remainder of the scene. Because people's hair gets weird when they sleep, and Brandt's not thinking about it to where he'd smooth it back down. Which was a little detail I appreciated.

But when he interacts with his grandfather's ghost, he stands up straighter, he looks at him while talking, and there's a genuine smile. Not a smirk, or watery weak smile, but a real one. His grandfather told him to hold onto childhood memories because they would be the happiest, and even if he didn't remember that conversation, he seems to have taken it to heart. The question is whether he's holding onto the memories or retreating into them, and how that is going to contrast with all these spirits. I guess we'll see.

I don't think the book is even entirely finished with set-up yet, but as far as first issues go, this one did well to get my interest.

Jungle Comics #1, by Chuck Dixon (writer), Kelsey Shannon (artist), Brian Denham (letterer) - For some reason I was thinking constrictor snakes wouldn't necessarily have teeth. Don't know why I'd think that, they have to have something in their mouth to help keep a grip on the prey while they gradually swallow it.

The basic story is about one those white jungle guys that rules over a village because he's the strongest guy around. A nearby village is attacked by what turn out to be dinosaurs, and he naturally goes to meet the challenge. The catch is that Dixon writes it in a way that acknowledges some of the problematic aspects of these kinds of stories. Not exactly a parody, although there are some jokes, and not exactly a deconstruction, either.

Members of the tribe questioning why exactly they let this arrogant white dude be their king. His wife complaining she wants to visit Leopoldville, because at least there's running water there. The great hero's resolve and will not ultimately being enough to win the day. Ka'a'anga doesn't see the problems with how things are going, but he's king of the mountain, so why would he? Everyone else recognizes this is not a great system, but no one seems willing to do anything, other than grumble. Eventually the problem is resolved for them, so I'm not sure what to take from that.
There are certain parts of Shannon's art style that reminds me of Joe Kubert, probably because Kubert drew Tarzan comics for a time. Mostly in the panels where Ka'a'anga is fighting something, the musculature, some of the hatch lines and shading on the body. Like the legs and rubs in the panel above. The resemblance fades in the panels that are mocking Ka'a'anga for being an arrogant blockhead, or the other characters questioning how things are going. It's a softer look, the coloring makes the linework a bit less distinct, inks a heavier too, more shadows.

I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly. That the stories would try to address or adapt the genre to eliminate some of the problematic aspects, but otherwise play it straight. Just do a crazy jungle adventure while avoiding the stuff about a white savior that naturally is the best suit to lead the black tribes. Ka'a'anga as a friend and ally to those in need, but the M'ukundas run their own village. This does the first half, but not really the second half.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Friday Night at the Ballpark

My dad and I went to the Cardinals' game against the Pirates on Friday. The Cardinals were honoring Yadier Molina for winning the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year award, so it seemed like a good night. There was a question of whether we'd make it, since I was unable to buy a printable copy of our tickets off Stubhub. Meaning my dad had to decipher how to download their app onto his smartphone. We managed it with minimal fuss.

I was concerned how the game would go, because the Cardinals scored 17 runs in Thursday night's game. It feels like when there's an offensive explosion, they follow it up by scoring basically nothing the next night.

The Cardinals put Adam Wainwright on the mound, which made my dad happy. Waino is firmly in the last gasps of his career. It's an open question from one start to another whether he'll have his stuff or not. "Stuff" being a relative term; he can hit 92 on a good day, but works around 88-90 a lot. He went from 76 mph on one pitch to 69 mph the next. My dad laughed about 'going from slower to slowest'. I said keep going, which got my dad started in about Jim Kaat using the eephus pitch effectively.

Wainwright gave up a home run to the first batter of the game, Adam Frazier, but otherwise mostly cruised. The Pirates got first-and-third with two outs in the 4th, and Wainwright slowed his pace down significantly during that stretch, but otherwise they didn't threaten him again.

I was still leery when they let him come back out for the 6th, facing the lineup the third time. Most pitchers fare much worse the third time through, and with his limited stuff, it can get ugly real fast. But he retired the side in the 6th and 7th innings, no problem.

It helps the Pirates only have 3 guys actually hitting so far this year.

The Pirates used Trevor Williams on the mound, who seems like he's been solid this year, if not overpowering. And that was pretty much how things went. The Cardinals would get on base, and Williams would find a way out of trouble.

In the first, the Cards had the bases loaded with 2 outs, and Molina struck out. In the second, they got Kolten Wong to second with 2 outs, and Matt Carpenter hit one hard down the first base line, only for Josh Bell to make a nice grab and throw him out. They got runners on first and second in the third, but Jose Martinez hit into a double play. They got runners on first and third in the fourth with two outs, then Carpenter struck out. They left 7 men on base on the first 4 innings.

The Cardinals finally broke through in the 7th, probably because Clint Hurdle left Williams in to face the lineup a fourth time. Or maybe the Cards just got good bounces. Yairo Munoz pinch-hit for Wainwright, and hit a little dribbler the infielder misplayed, but the scorer gave him an infield single anyway. Paul Goldschmidt got his third single of the game, moving Munoz to third, and Paul DeJong followed with another single to score Munoz and tie the game, 1-1.

Andrew Miller came in to pitch the 8th. He was the Cards' big free-agent acquisition this offseason (Goldschimdt was acquired in a trade). Like all relief pitchers the Cardinals sign to fix their bullpen, he has immediately turned to shit. See also; Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Brett Cecil. Miller gave up a single, another single, struck a guy out, then allowed a third single that drove in Cole Tucker. 2-1 Pittsburgh.

The Pirates brought in Kyle Crick to pitch the 8th. Jose Martinez walked, then the Cards did a hit-and-run with Molina and it actually worked. Jose Martinez advanced to third. First and third, no outs! Molina's probably the best Cardinal to use for that, because he swings a lot and never strikes out. If you need a guy to make contact, he's your best bet. Then Dexter Fowler struck out, and Kolten Wong hit into a double play. *sad trombone*

The Cards used Jordan Hicks in the 9th, and the game slowed to a crawl. Hicks took a long time between each pitch, and couldn't find the plate with a road map. But he got through the inning without surrendering any more runs, somehow. Took about 30 pitches, though. The Cards went down 1-2-3 in the 9th and that was it.

Other notes:

- The ump really liked low strikes, but was at least consistent with it to my eye. My dad felt Williams was getting more benefit than Wainwright, which might be true, but Williams also might have been working at that level more consistently.

- The Wave started in the 8th, and actually took hold, unfortunately. It was funny the fans in front of us were in the middle of standing and going "Whooo" or whatever right as Miller was giving up the hit the let the winning run score. So all these Cardinals' fans look like they're celebrating falling behind again. Excellent work. Dumbasses.

- The Pirates looked like the worst defensive team in the league. Besides Munoz' "single" in the 7th, Marcell Ozuna hit a single into left-center the outfielder bobbled, so Ozuna went for second. I was horrified, sure he'd be thrown out, but he made it safely. Although he might have pulled his hamstring (he stayed in the game).

- Trevor Williams forgot how to catch the ball in the 4th. His catcher threw the ball back after a pitch, and it fell out of Williams' glove. Then Dexter Fowler hit a single to right. The rightfielder threw it in to an infielder, who then threw it back to Williams. Who missed the ball entirely, letting it roll past him to the dugout, and Fowler advanced to second.

- Immediately after that Fowler mishap, Cole Tucker misplayed a groundball, which is how Kolten Wong got on base. None of it ended up mattering, but it was funny.

- Molina still gets by far the loudest applause when he comes to the plate.

- Baseball-Reference says Adam Frazier is 5-10. I call bullshit. When he stands at the plate, he looks barely taller than Molina does while Yadi is crouched behind home plate (Molina's 5-11).

- They ran a text poll after the 3rd inning about who your favorite Pirate is: Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver, or Chris Archer (Pirates' pitcher). Sparrow won easily, which got my dad on a 3-minute rant about how no one today remembers anything more than 5 months old, and most kids probably don't even know who Captain Hook or Peter Pan are. OK dad, just yell at the clouds until you feel better.

- We were discussing people who were getting to throw out first pitches before the game started. One middle-aged guy had to two-hop the ball and dad said he hoped he could at least get it across the plate. I said of course he could; all that time throwing the stick for his dog in the yard has to count for something. I suggested he throw softball style or sidearm like he used to do when he pitched to me in the backyard. He said the ball would probably end up in the dugout. As long as it's the Pirates' dugout no issue, says I. He agrees, stating it might get Clint Hurdle to charge the mound. Then he wondered if his back would hold up long enough to run away until Hurdle's knees give out.

- I'm not clear on what precisely my dad has against Clint Hurdle.

- They have the radio broadcast of the game in the bathroom. I was in there in the top of the 8th. The announce team were touting that Miller had been pitching well over his last three appearances or innings, and that this meant he was finding his command. Mike Shannon opined that if Miller got going, then the opposition was out of luck as far as the 8th inning goes. Miller then immediately gave up a leadoff single on what they described as a 'hanging slider', and the announcers hustled to mention that Miller hadn't actually pitched in a few games, so he might be rusty. Good damage control there, fellas.

Monday, May 13, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 3

We'll discuss the baseball outing with dad tomorrow. Spoiler alert: the lost. Booo. For now, two Marvel comics. One book's time is up with me, and it is not the one in the middle of a Big Event crossover, remarkably.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - The store didn't have any with the regular cover, so I wound up with the variant. Which is OK, but I liked the Erica Henderson cover a lot more.

Squirrel Girl and Ratatoskr defeat the two frost giants while Ratatoskr explains why she's willing to work together. Answer being, because Malekith is going to enforce a singular vision - his - over everything, and that's boring to a being that thrives on chaos. Better to help those fighting him. In an attempt to figure out where the main Frost Giant base is, the two visit the town they just saved to try and question the locals. Ratatoskr's attempt to pretend to be a regular human is even worse than Doreen's attempts to protect her secret identity, so things go downhill quickly.

I got a few laughs out of this issue, which is the most you can hope for with event tie-ins. Doreen's cover i.d. being a dowager when she had no idea what that meant, or the backstory "Rachel" made for herself, which Doreen nixed, but I think Rachel used it anyway. Plus, Rachel being confused about various aspects of English. It is a confusing muddle of a language. I didn't realize that Squirrel Girl makes the "Chrrrtt" sound when she whistles. I thought it was a vocalization she used to call squirrels.

I still really like the Arctic Gear alternate costume for Doreen. It's pretty nifty. I need to go back and compare, but I feel like Charm's version of Ratatoskr looks a little more goofy than Henderson's did. Having the big, bulging eyes looking in entirely different directions reminds me of early Daffy Duck, when he was more crazy than angry. Like I'd expect Ratatoskr to plant a wet one on someone then, laughing crazily before running off. Probably necessary softening of the edges so the two can have a team-up. Like when the Punisher agrees to use rubber bullets or whatever.
It took two readthroughs to realize that the first panel on page six is an Action Comics #1 homage, only with Jane Thor hefting Mangog's foot instead of a car, and the Freaking Out Guy commenting on how Mangog won't stop talking about how he has the power of a billion billion beings. Which is true. I think I own two comics that guy is in, and he never shuts up about that.

Still, our heroes are not making much progress towards repelling the invaders. Maybe next issue.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6, by Tom Taylor (writer), Juann Cabal (artist), Nolan Woodward and Federico Blee (color artists), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Not sure why there's Kirby Crackle floating around on the cover, unless Spider-Bite is an imp from the 6th Dimension.

OK, Spider-Bite is not actually a new kid sidekick, or an imp from another dimension that just wants to be pals. Spidey is trying to do a nice thing for a sick kid, and so they set up a kind of play thing where they fight a bunch of Spidey's foes and protect the city from Spider-Man's greatest adversary. I recognized most of the members of the "Sinister Sixty", although there were a couple I have no clue about. There's a guy to the right of the Green Goblin's leg, in some kind of suit with a big emblem on it. The guy with their face in shadow of a purple cloak to the upper left, and the colorless guy to his right. Wait, the guy in the purple is The Swarm. Still no clue who the other two are. Eh, doesn't matter.

It's a nice issue, decent little one-off. The little bits and pieces are still my favorite stuff. Spidey's commentary on the mastermind, or how has one of his action figures, but won't take it out of the box. I agree with that kid, that's a waste. Play with the damn thing, or at least put it someplace you can look at it happily.
The fight scene doesn't look terribly dynamic, but that makes perfect sense once you understand exactly what's happening. There's a bit where the boy doesn't want to take a nap, which he shouts. The next panel is silent, and Cabal draws Spidey in the same position he was in two panels earlier, with his arms crossed over his chest and having a relaxed conversation. Except now the fingers of one hand have come up off the opposite arm. A little thing that suggests he was startled, and everyone is on edge now, because they aren't sure what to do.

It's the issue I enjoyed most so far, but I still don't think I'm sticking with it. We're going back to longer plotlines next month, and those haven't worked so well so far.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #65

"Spider-Man: World's Greatest Detective", in Arana #4, by Fiona Kai Avery (writer), Roger Cruz (penciler), Victor Olazaba (inker), Udon's Jeannie Lee and her awesome team (colorists), Russ Wooton (letterer)

Another title I picked up in back issues last month. I don't think I'd read any of her solo adventures prior to this. My first encounter with her seems like it was Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel series, when she wound up as a trainee/sidekick under Carol Danvers (and got badly injured in a fight with the Doomsday Man if I remember). Then Tom DeFalco brought her into the Amazing Spider-Girl cast as a sort of veteran hero with suspicious motives, or something like that. Marvel eventually had her lose her powers the same time they brought Kraven the Hunter back from the dead, and then she started calling herself Spider-Girl.

The book seems to be playing off some of what JMS had introduced in Amazing Spider-Man. Arana's connected to an Order of the Spider, which is connected to a "Great Weaver" Spidey met briefly while tooling around the Astral Plane. The Order opposes the Order of the Wasps, which means they're probably tied to that Shathra thing that came after Spider-Man because he didn't listen to Dr. Strange's instructions about what not to do in the Astral Plane. You don't really need to know all that beyond her being caught up in some long-standing struggle between two groups. 

So the classic teen hero formula. Trying to figure out the hero thing, the school thing, the "not worrying your lone parent" thing. At this moment, she's preparing to give up on heroing because the Wasps have sent some teen assassin after her, and he figured out her secret identity in about three seconds. So it's the, "stop opposing us or I target your family" thing. The assassin is a mixed bag. Supposed to be incredibly competent and dangerous, but doesn't really live up to the billing.

Cruz' art style is at least a little manga-inspired. Reminds me a lot of Mark Brooks' earlier work, back when he was drawing Cable/Deadpool. A little rougher, and not as good in the fight scenes, but close.

Hey, guess what? That's the last title in the A's! It only took me a year and a half but we're moving on to the Bs next week.

Friday, May 10, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 2

For today's selection, the second issue of a mini-series, and a Free Comic Book Day version of the first issue of another book. Both of them dealing with young people getting superpowers in unconventional ways.

Punchline FCBD, by Bill Williams (writer), Matthew Weldon (artist), Neeraj Menon and Tiago Barsa (colorists), Thom Zahler (letterer) - I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a person wear a pen around their neck on a string, other than in fiction.

Mel was a hero, given power by some person or group. They wanted her to pick a successor, she refused, they tried to kill her. She's bleeding out on a bench in a cemetery and meets Jessie, who offers to be a successor, since that might somehow take care of Mel bleeding to death. It does, and the remainder of the issue is Mel starting to teach Jessie the ropes of being a hero. Teaching equating to "you can fly, so go fly around and find a crime to stop." Little vague on instructions, but I guess she follows the philosophy of learn by doing.

The series is already four issues in now, so I'm guessing there's still elements of the mentor/trainee relationship, which Jessie being extremely eager but having little clue what she's doing, and Mel being the veteran that can be a little gruff, but is mostly nice. Which is fine, it gives the book a good starting point to play them off each other. There are a few mysteries, things hinted at for both Mel and Jessie, that can be expanded on as they go.
Weldon's art is kind of interesting because it's mostly what I'd call a more realistic style, but he'll occasionally do something like give Jessie stars for eyes when she's excited, or simply empty circles when she's stunned. It's an exaggerated touch that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of his style. It still works, you understand what he's going for, just surprising. He does seem to have a bit of trouble with eyes, one being smaller than the other, or one being too high or low on the face compared to the other. Since so much of the issue is talking and reliant on expression work to carry it off, it ends up being noticeable. I'm also not sure about asymmetrical costumes. One leg of the costume runs all the way to the boot, the other stops where a swimsuit would. Not sure why someone would go with that.

I don't know if this issue was enough to convince me to start picking up the series.

Dial H for Hero #2, by Sam Humphries (writer), Joe Quinones (artist), Jordan Gibson (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer) - The answer to who will catch them first is Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Nobody drives a lady across state lines in a stolen mayo truck on his watch!

Miguel keeps refusing to answer the phone. And to eat eggs for breakfast. He feels out of his depth and throws the phone in the river, where it is found and used by someone working for Mr. Thunder. Which gives Quinones a chance to do an Akira Toriyama homage. Which is certainly more pleasant to look at than the '90s pastiche last issue. There's also a cop working for Mr. Thunder who gets involved, giving Miguel a chance to use the phone after all, turning into some '80s mech anime thing. Then there's a fight, Miguel wins, decides they should take the phone to Metropolis, but the cop is taking it to Central City.
I enjoyed the hero bits a lot more this issue, since they went with source material I feel more fondness towards. The other characters around the heroes ended up being drawn and colored in the same style as said hero. I would have liked it for the contrast if they'd remained as they had been, but you could probably make a theory about it being a result of how the dial works.

That and Miguel actually acted to save lives, rather than just destroying a used car lot. Miguel's internal monologue being completely confused by what his transformed body is doing was funny. I'm concerned Mr. Thunder is going to end up being the kid from the '60s Dial H series, since he makes people say "Sockamagee" as a way of swearing to do something. The "actually this child character from a simpler age is a horrible lunatic" bit is fucking tired.

One thing I do want to see next issue, is we learn Miguel and Summer went back to the diner, ordered the omelette, and Miguel was right to be wary of eggs. Sometimes a bad food experience is just bad luck, and sometimes it means you really shouldn't eat that thing. Alex told me he's only eaten shrimp twice, and he got really sick both times. So now he doesn't eat shrimp. Why take the risk? There's a million other things in the world you can eat, you know?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Ghost Story - Peter Straub

I don't know that I've ever read anything Peter Straub wrote by himself. I read a couple of books he co-wrote with Stephen King, 15-20 years ago. So I can't say if this is typical for Straub's style. 

But it feels a lot like a Stephen King book. It, especially, although this book is a few years older. The small town menaced by something ancient, something that can attack you physically or mentally, take different forms to do it. Most of the characters involved have encountered it before, survived it without even really grasping how much danger they were in.

In this case, you have a group of older gents who formed their own little social club, gradually being picked off, the nephew of the first of their members to die, and one teenager that seems to have survived his own encounter mostly by luck and will. Honestly, the kids in It seemed like they had a much better grasp of what they were up against than these folks did. Maybe because they were kids, and their brains were more malleable.

In this book, I really figured the creature was going to win, because the ones fighting it seemed to be mostly flying blind. By the time they had pieced together what they were dealing with, it looked to be too late in the game. So credit for that, I guess, although it isn't too difficult to get me to believe the heroes are all going to die in a horror story.

The book moves back and forth between time periods as we get flashbacks to earlier encounters the main characters had with the creature. Some of those get tedious because it doesn't feel like we're learning much that's new about the threat, so I want them to return to the main timeframe so things can advance. On the plus side, Straub writes some extremely tense scenes very well. The kind where they're creeping through the creature's lair, and you know something is going to happen, but you don't knew when, or what form it's going to take.

'But eight years of living in Milburn had changed Freddy Robinson. He no longer took pride in his ability to sell, since he had learned it was based on an ability to exploit fear and greed; and he had learned half-consciously to despise most of his fellow salesmen - in the company's phrase, the "Humdingers".'

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

What I Bought 5/8/2019 - Part 1

The books I ordered from last month showed up yesterday. I had the day off today - let's hear it for state holidays - and while running other errands grabbed almost every book I wanted from the first two weeks of this month. Oddly, the only one I couldn't find was the third issue of Domino: Hotshots. Strange.

There was one series that I managed to get the first two issues of between all this, so let's start with it.

Bronze Age Boogie #1 and 2, by Stuart Moore and Tyrone Finch (writers), Alberto Ponticelli and Mauricet (artists), Giulia Brusco and Lee Loughridge (colorists), Rob Steen (letterer) - Somehow I feel you're going to need a better approach than stabbing to deal with Martian war machines.

There are two different primary stories in these issues. Finch, Mauricet, and Loughridge are working on one about a bear that gets sent into space in an imaginary rocket, and gains super-intelligence from cosmic rays. But the U.S. military guy keeps treating him like he's just a dumb test animal, which frustrates "Elvis", considering that he's designed an all new spacecraft. It seems like some country music singer would be more appropriate to use as inspiration for a bear's name, but oh well.

The concept feels like something out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon - super-smart astronaut bear frustrates uptight military guy - but it's played with the bear as the guy in the disaster movie who seems the catastrophe coming, but gets ignored by the higher-ups. Mauricet's art and Loughridge's colors help with this, because it gives a style which is cartoonish enough that a talking bear in a USAF tank top doesn't look out of place, but not so exaggerated that it can work for the more menacing aspects.
I didn't know this back-up story was even going to be in this comic, but I'm enjoying it more than I would have expected if you'd just described the outline of it to me.

The main story is the Moore/Ponticelli/Brusco one, where Martians are somehow attacking Earth simultaneously in 1975 B.C. and 1975 A.D. Brita is a barbarian princess who has a friend who is a talking chimp timelost from the 1970s (A.D.), and she somehow gets transported to that time, where she teams up with Lynda Darrk and Jackson Li (checking the "Blaxploitation heroine" and "martial arts guy" boxes). There's also some sort of time travel group run by a chimp lady in a wheelchair, but they haven't actually done anything useful so far.

This one is not clicking with me as well as I would like. Probably should not surprise me - none of the genres it's using are ones I'm a huge fan of - but I don't think that's the problem. The first issue spent almost all of its time on Brita, her world, her life, the fact she was having visions of a mysterious woman. That worked pretty well for me once I understood why a barbarian girl was using phrases like "Zoinks!", and "Don't squeeze the Charmin."

The second issue feels like it goes too fast. We're barely introduced to Lynda Darrk and see her and Brita begin to interact, before they've crashed into Jackson Li's home and then we're introduced to them. And then it's on to trying to confront the Martian leader. I'd just like a little more time for each thing to get to have an impact before we move on to the next thing. I know that's a tricky act to balance, and it's going to vary between readers, but that's the best I can figure for why the second issue didn't land as well as the first.
Ponticelli's characters are mostly your typical muscly barbarian types in the distant past, and then everyone in the '70s is more wiry, lean muscle, if that. It also feels like he simplified his style a bit between the first and second issues, or went lighter on the extra lines. Even Brita looks younger and less intense in the second issue than the first. Not sure why that would be, she didn't fall into a vat of moisturizer when she was somehow brought to the future by a miniature disco ball. I like the design for the Martians' war machines. Reminds me a bit of the things that would prowl around in the real world in The Matrix, with all the tentacles and mechanical eyes.

There's also one or two text stories sprinkled in each issue. One about some bizarre collection of animals that keep getting Animal Control called on them, another about how to fight writer's block through such tactics as drugs and plagiarism. They're kind of funny. It may just be that this stuff is too before my time for me to get it, exactly.

So at this point, I don't know whether I'll get issue 3. Probably, not like the list of stuff I'm buying is overflowing, but it may just come down to whether I find it or not.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Highwaymen

The movie takes the approach of staying at distance from Bonnie and Clyde. Until the moment of their deaths (spoiler alert for an 85-year old nationwide manhunt!), we only see them from behind or at a distance. Mostly them sitting in a car, waiting for cops to drive up so they can kill them, or them actively shooting cops.

There's a fair amount about how people perceive them. Regard them as heroes, as someone to emulate or imitate. When they're noticed in one town, everyone flocks to their car like they're rock stars (even then we don't see the killers reactions to all this, except that they're willing to drive carefully as they leave, rather than peel and crush bystanders). It's a little bizarre to see, but I guess in the Great Depression one finds their amusement where they can.

The story isn't about them, but about Gault (Woody Harrelson) and Hamer (Kevin Costner), the two former Texas Rangers tasked with trying to bring them in, since all the cops, G-Men, and Ma Ferguson agents aren't getting anywhere. Their jurisdiction is not meant to extend outside Texas, but Gault doesn't really give a crap about that, and is usually able to enlist the aid of local law enforcement. I'm guessing because Hoover's guys are being high-handed jerks towards them. Jurisdictional pissing matches and whatnot.

The movie feels like it meanders in places. The second trip to Dallas, didn't really seem necessary. The only point is a conversation between Hamer and Clyde's father about how what people become isn't what they always were, or something to that effect. It felt unnecessary.

Gault is more interesting to me, because Harrelson plays him as a man more obviously tormented by his years as a Ranger, the lives he took. He gives him this air of fragility, his eyes are always red, like he's about to burst in tears or just got finished crying. Hamer is your sort of stock character who buries all of that under stoicism or anger. The guy who does what he thinks he has to at the time, and he'll deal with it after.

I have no idea how accurate either of the representations are of the two men in real life. The film says when the Rangers were reinstated a year or two later, Gault went back to them until his death 12 years later, but Hamer stayed retired.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Tonight They Race In Outer Space. Or Fight. Whichever.

I normally don't bother with Marvel or DC when it comes to these hypothetical teams because there's a chance whatever five characters I pick from either universe, they're probably going to have worked together at some point. But what the hell, the post office has bounced my comics shipment all over the damn state for the last three days.

So for this one, I tried to pick characters I like or at least find interesting, but aren't what I'd necessarily classify as favorites. I may pick the character from a particular point in their history, but that's probably just a sign of what status quo I'm most familiar with.

The Leader: Monica Rambeau (Photon) - I'm not sure what codename Monica's rolling with these days, but "Photon" isn't bad, and I always thought it was nuts she gave back the "Captain Marvel" name to Mar-Vell's stupid, whiny son, then the kid changes his codename to Photon after she'd already taken that.

Anyway, bare minimum this is Monica from some point post-NextWave. Monica's done good work as a leader prior to that, but it felt like she was reluctant to take command. This group, in its own way, could be as difficult to handle as Machine Man, Boom-Boom, and The Captain were. It would help to have a Monica that has already managed to deal with that trio's nonsense. She needs to be able to project confidence, both in herself and their mission, despite any challenges.

Although hopefully we're far enough past NextWave she's eased back off the throttle a bit, because she was pretty angry and bloodthirsty at times in that book. I'm not sure that's going to play well with some members of this team.

Monica is actually also the real powerhouse of the team in a broad sense. The others have specialties where they might exceed her, but overall, she's the one most likely to be able to fight an entire alien army. If, you know, that's a thing that they need to do at some point.

The Rogue: Hank Pym - If we're picking a specific era, I'm going with West Coast Avengers cargo suit Hank Pym. The "scientist adventurer." I've always felt that's really the identity that suits him best, because it focuses more on him using his intelligence and aptitude for making thing. As opposed to growing 40 feet tall and punching people. Honestly, the growing thing always feels like him trying to compensate in the most obvious way possible. And there's never been any indication Hank's a particularly gifted hand-to-hand fighter, so he probably ought to shy away from a powerset that encourages it.

Still, it's Hank Pym, he's always walking a knife edge. He was moments away from killing himself before Firebird stopped him and helped devise the "scientist adventurer" approach. I'm not going to pretend all that doubt, guilt, and insecurity just vanished because he decided to take a different approach to being a hero. Even if this is the type of hero I think suits him best, he's still going to want to prove himself. I think he'll be a team player, but there aren't any other scientists on this crew. Is he going to put a lot of pressure on himself to figure out the solutions to all their problems? Even if it's an area outside his expertise?

Something goes wrong, he makes a miscalculation, there comes a point where it looks like maybe they could have used a giant guy, is he going to fall apart? Is the rest of the team going to wake up the next morning and here's Yellowjacket, talking shit and challenging Monica's decisions? Which might be the most important reason for Monica to be more mellow than she was in NextWave. NextWave Monica will probably just cook Yellowjacket if he doesn't shut his trap.

The Muscle: Mantis - Mantis circa Abnett/Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy might not be her at her most powerful. In Engelhart's Silver Surfer run she could literally travel across interstellar distances, as long as there was plant life on the next world for her to use to basically regrow a body. Still, DnA Mantis had telepathy, limited precognition, pyrokinesis, and still had some ability to stimulate plant growth. Plus, you know, kickass martial arts skills. Maybe she can teach Hank Pym how to throw a punch. Or maybe not. Don't want to encourage him to start thinking with his fists again.

Mantis is, most of the time, a fairly placid character. Probably because she has at least a vague sense of how things are going to turn out (or because she's spent time seeing things from a more cosmic level). She rarely shares that information with her teammates, and may not even tell them she has that ability. From their perspective she can look like a bit of a "space case." Looking at things they can't see. Monica's going to have to find some way to get Mantis to communicate important information without having to be pressed for it.

At the same time, she can be very empathetic and caring. She was able to put up with the Silver Surfer and his whinging, even managed to tease him out of it at times. She could put up with Star-Lord's self-pity, Drax and Gamora's less-than-pleasant personalities, Bug's constant inappropriate comments. With the latter three, she tended to let any of it directed towards her just wash over her with no outward reaction. A blade of grass swaying in the wind. With Quill, she gave him a kick in the pants from time to time as needed.  Still, her capacity to just listen and let people get stuff out could come in very handy.

If that's all she does, because she also gave members of the Guardians a slight mental nudge to get them to join, at Quill's request, which is a little troubling. If she tries to "nudge" Pym, there's no telling what that'll do to either of them, and there's at least one character on this team that will probably kill her if she tries it on them. OK, one character beside Monica.

The Lady of Mystery: Longshot - With Longshot the mystery may be how recently his mind has been wiped. If it has been, who wiped it (it can't always be Mojo and Spiral)? And was anything really important lost in the process? Depending on how Mantis has been acting, and how oddly she behaves around the others, this could be a source of tension if suspicion falls on her. If Pym has doubts about her, or hears someone else on the team voice doubts, then makes a screw-up, does he try to pin the blame on her? That's she undermining him for some purpose?

That said, Longshot is (usually) a cheery ray of sunshine, even when his memories are missing. So excited and curious about every new thing he's getting to experience. His innocence is going to provide a distinct counterpoint to the next team member, but it could also be an issue. His luck power requires pure motives to work properly, and I wonder if that's going to limit him if he doesn't entirely grasp what's going on around him, due to memory loss. If he has to take the others' word for it on what they're doing and why, or if he acts out of trust in them, but that turns out to be a mistake. Their motives aren't considered "pure" even if his desire to help them is. Longshot's definition of what's OK might be (almost certainly is) very different from the rest of the team. Does that cause a backfire?

I don't think Longshot ever got to go on any of the X-Men's outer space adventures (and this would have to be in outer space, at least part of the time). It's time for adorable mullet baby's first outer space trip! Given his luck and agility, he ought to be a natural at zero-gravity fighting, which will come in handy at some point. Also, he kind of has a reputation for being very attractive, and I have absolutely no idea which member of this team would fall for him. Honestly, I can't see it being any of them, but maybe someone would surprise me.

The Guy with a Boat: Ghost Rider - The image is of Johnny Blaze, but it can be Robbie Reyes or Dan Ketch, or that one lady who was Ghost Rider for 5 seconds 10 years ago. Johnny and Robbie probably have the most experience on teams at this point, depending on whether you want them to be used to working with others, or not.

Look, it's most likely that Pym is going to provide a spacecraft (unless they steal or commandeer one from somebody), but you can't pass up the opportunity to put Johnny/Robbie at the controls so the ship bursts into flames and takes on a demonic visage. I figured that was 90% of the point behind Cosmic Ghost Rider, but he just rides some spacebike with one of those spheres you touch that makes your hair stand on end for a front tire.

The Rider gives them at least some mystical aspect, even if they're not much in terms of spellcasting. Some potential defense or offense of a supernatural nature is better than none, right? They might even meet some other planet's Spirit of Vengeance. Depending on circumstances, could be friend, could be foe. Say they're dealing with the Kree, and it's Kree-Lar's Ghost Rider trying to avenge its people (even though the Kree probably started it). The Rider's actually the physically strongest member of the team, assuming Pym doesn't do the Giant-Man thing at some point. That should come in handy.

The question is how well he's going to work with the rest of the team. Not just in the sense Johnny or Robbie might go tearing off after some soul they sense needs to be punished, even if it involves tearing through the side of their spaceship. But will the Rider be able to control himself from taking vengeance on his teammates if he's stuck in close proximity to them for a long period of time? Pym's got a lot of dirty laundry in his closet (how much responsibility does he bear for Ultron's actions?) If Mantis does start acting in a questionable manner, well, plants have a tendency to burn, and I'm not sure how susceptible the Rider is to mental attacks.

Which makes Ghost Rider sound like he should have been the Rogue, and I did consider it, but I feel like you know what you're dealing with when it comes to him. You just have to be on your toes, and careful about what you do. Whereas with Hank Pym, he may make it through A-OK. He does go long stretches where he functions perfectly well. But when/if he does fall apart, you don't know which direction he's going to go. If he's going to go the Giant-Man route, or become a real abrasive force on the team in Yellowjacket, or just fall apart entirely. The potential outcomes are more varied.