Wednesday, July 31, 2019

October's Bringing Bad News

There were two particularly depressing things in the October solicits. And I don't mean that Marvel is doing Marvel Zombies again, while also releasing a mini-series called Contagion about some bizarre plague that afflicts everyone, which sure as hell sounds like a zombie thing.

So, depressing thing #1: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #49 is described as the penultimate issue. Which means it's ending at #50. We can't rule out that the book will simply start over again at issue #1 in December, because Marvel, but I'm doubtful.

Depressing thing #2: Giant Days - As Time Goes By is the series finale of Giant Days. Well, shit. I feared this day was coming, but still. That's the two best books I'm buying ending in back-to-back months.

OK, let's see if we can find some good news. DC is bringing back Birds of Prey, but they handed writing chores to Brian Azzarello, with Emanuella Lupacchino as artist. I don't feel like most of Azzarello's superhero stuff is very good, so that's not encouraging, but maybe it'll work out. There's going to be a Metal Men 12-issue mini-series, but Dan Didio's writing that, so *fart noise*. Dial H for Hero has Paulina Ganucheau listed as artist, which is better than last month's "Various", but still not sure about the book minus Joe Quinones. Other than that, DC's a lot of Year of the Villain nonsense and some books written by Joe Hill.

Speaking of Joe Hill, IDW has a new Locke & Key one-shot by he and Gabriel Rodriguez. It's 6 bucks, but it's supposed to be two stories in one issue, so that's not so bad. Assuming we aren't talking two 10-page stories. Dark Horse has the second issue of John Allison's new series, Steeple. Michael Fiffe is doing an ongoing series version of his book Copra, which various Internet folks have been raving about for years. I mean, it's Suicide Squad with the numbers (barely) filed off, but I could just go read my Suicide Squad back issues. So, I don't know.

Marvel's releasing some new X-books, but whatever. Their Excalibur title is going to star Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, Rictor, and Apocalypse. I think Psylocke is Captain Britain now, back in her original body? Sure, whatever. Let's see, zombie crap, zombie crap, Absolute Carnage crap, Mary Jane mini-series. Dr. Doom's getting an ongoing where he's framed for some terrorist attack and everyone is after him? Like Doom was such a saint before? There's also a new Ghost Rider ongoing, but I was very impressed by Ed Brisson's Iron Fist book two years ago, so no thanks.

Oh, way at the bottom of the solicits is one for a collection called Trial of the Juggernaut, of stories where he tried to be a hero? But most of it is from Chuck Austen's Uncanny X-Men run, plus some Exiles stuff. Shouldn't that have to be shipped in a Biohazard bag?

Outside that, it's pretty quiet. No sign of a new issue of Smooth Criminals. Test will be up to issue 5, Sera and the Royal Stars up to issue 4. Red 5 says its releasing a collection of both volumes of Bonnie Lass, even though I've never seen any sign the second one ever came out as single issues. I don't really want to buy a trade that is 50% stuff I already own.

IDW and Top Shelf are releasing a graphic novel by a Frederick Peeters called Lupus, about a guy wandering the cosmos but tied down by memories of a lady. The solicitation text makes it sound a lot better than I do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bullitt County

Keaton and Robin take their friend Gideon on a Bourbon Trail pub crawl for his bachelor party. Gideon's other acquaintance, Wayne, is along too, but they don't pay him much attention. Gideon isn't really enjoying himself, because he's in Alcoholics Anonymous, and suggests they look for some famous bootlegger's buried treasure instead. One that is supposedly jealously guarded by the descendants of said bootleggers.

It's not a movie about some idiots from the city being hunted through the woods by dangerous country people. It's mostly about something that's been fermenting inside Gideon for 10 years, a mixture of insecurity, guilt, self-pity, entitlement, anger. The movie plays coy about it for a while, that there's some tension between he and Robin, that Gideon is a "Nice Guy" type. But he also mentions he was drafted during Vietnam, so you wonder if that's it for a while.

By the end of the movie I was disappointed that one of the three main characters survived. I didn't think any of them really deserved to. I had kept hoping Gideon would pull out of his tailspin, but at a certain point, had to abandon that hope. Keaton and Robin are terrible friends. It's obvious this thing has been eating at Gideon for 10 years, and equally obvious that when he's tried to bring it up, they basically said, "Let's talk about that later." Spoiler alert: later never arrived.

Of course these are also the same two idiots who brought an alcoholic on a drinking tour of distilleries for his bachelor party, so it's pretty clear the friendship with Gideon is conditional on not interfering with their fun.

It's not a bad movie, though it isn't really tense because I'm not too invested in whether anyone survives. It's mostly just depressing, in a variety of ways.

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Dark Trail - Chapter 1

It's a muggy June afternoon as two vehicles pulled to a stop in a deserted parking lot. One is a nondescript SUV, while the other is a black van with a mural stenciled on the side of a man in a red-and-black suit riding a dragon. Clever Adolescent Panda, Calvin, Pollock, and Cassanee exit the SUV and survey a decaying office building as the parking lot simmered in the sun.

"Why, exactly, did you park so far from the building?" Pollock grumbled. "It's miserable."

"Habit, I guess," Calvin replied. "Plus, no one can see our cars from the road if they're parked here. I don't want trouble with the local police. Or any police, for that matter."

Deadpool and Rhodez (formerly Makes-Brakes-Fail-Lass) emerge from the van, the mercenary quickly circling around to clap the other on the back encouragingly. "The brakes only failed on you once the entire drive over here! And you mostly avoided that lady on the scooter in the crosswalk!"

"That's not helping, Wade."

"Well, maybe you should focus on improving your reflexes instead of your control over your powers. I can shoot at you randomly if that'll help. And it's Deadpool when I'm on the clock."

The other four members of the party ignore this conversation to size up the building. Three stories high, constructed of some sort of weathered stone, with parts of the metal frame deliberately exposed to break up the basic cube shape. Most of the windows on the upper two floors are shattered, but those on the ground level are covered by heavy metal shutters. The front entrance and the loading bay doors looked sealed shut.

Cassanee tilted her head to one side as she looked at it. "This is the place? It looks abandoned for years."

"Those metal shutters are high quality," Pollock replied confidently. "Too pricey to leave behind on a building that's been entirely abandoned. Someone wants to make sure no one can snoop."

"And yet, we're going inside," Calvin remarked, spinning the bat he was holding nervously. "How did you figure out this was the place?"

"One of my cousins found a particular isotope of vanadium in the coats of those Amilgars," CAP explained. This is one of the places in the world you'd process it, and Pollock found a record her company owned this place three years ago."

"Only for a brief time, then they sold it to someone whose existence I couldn't confirm," Pollock finished, checking the pockets in the interior of her coat. "Sounds suspicious, yes?"

Deadpool bounded in front of everyone and into the conversation. "Definitely. Also boring. I'm not getting paid by the hour folks! (Why am I not getting paid by the hour? I need a better contract negotiator.) Let's go, folks!"

Rhodez whispered to the panda. "Is he getting paid? I don't want to get stuck with a bill. I'm already worried what he's going to charge me for these "lessons" he says I'm getting."

"Not unless Pollock is."

Pollock overheard and answered. "I said I would if he doesn't vanish before we're done here."

Cassanee ignored all the talk to cross the parking lot and approach the front door, Calvin ambling along next to her. The others quickly followed closely behind.

The front door was indeed sealed shut, possibly welded. "Never fear, I have nature's hide-a-key!" Deadpool produced some plastique from a belt pouch, but Pollock and CAP each grabbed one shoulder to stop him.

"Wade, I mean Deadpool, let's not blow up the building before we get a chance to investigate."

"Yeah," Calvin interjected, "save that for our dramatic escape. I want to do the 'run away and then get tossed through the air by the shockwave' move."

"No way," Rhodez disagreed, "slow badass walk all the way."

BOOM

All heads swiveled to see Cassanee had kicked the door, leaving a sizeable dent. The second kick bowed the center of the door in even more, but the edges held.

"These doors can be tricky, you got to hold your mouth just right," Deadpool stepped up, drew his sword and in a smooth arc swept it straight down through the door, an inch or two in from the weld. He stepped aside and the next kick bent the door into the building. Cassanee stepped in without a word, while Deadpool bowed and gestured for everyone else to follow her.

The light from outside didn't extend far into the lobby, but everyone had brought flashlights or headlamps. Except Deadpool, who had a Pool-Signal built into his belt buckle. To the left were doors to the loading dock. Cassanee and Deadpool looked in, but a quick glance revealed it was empty, and heavy dust sat on all surfaces. There were some faint traces of footprints and wheel tracks, but that was it.

Directly ahead were stairs, heading both up and down. It was impossible to tell how far down, because three steps below the landing they stood on, everything was underwater. The water was murky and green, bits of office detritus floating on the surface. Paper clips and clipboards, rubber bands and an overturned coffee mug. Rhodez peered into the water intently, Calvin watching from over her shoulder. "See something?"

"Maybe. Can't tell how far down it goes." She passed her hand along the surface. "Water's cold, though."

Pollock's voice called from behind them. "Let's hope we don't have to go for a swim then. I didn't pack any breathing equipment or thermal gear." She had opened the door to the right of the lobby a hair and was scanning it carefully. CAP was all on fours below her, nose pressed into the opening. "This looks like a research lab of some type. Probably the best place to start. You can go look at whatever you want," she added as a dismissive afterthought.

"I'll look with you, just in case you miss something," the panda said, in a tone that was more tense than usual. They glanced back at everyone else. "Maybe you guys can find something on the upper floors?" The pair stepped into the room and let the door close behind them.

Deadpool looked at the other three, hands on his hips. "That was rude. Like working with Logan, except less shedding."

The four of them climbed the stairs. The second floor landing opened to a single large room that was divided into a large number of cubicles. Some of the cubicle partitions were gone, but others remained.

Calvin's eyes flicked between the room ahead of them and the stairs that continued above them. "Start here and work up, or at the top and work down?"

"Why waste time? Let's just split up."

"'Split up?'" Calvin echoed. "In an abandoned industrial facility that may have been used to create monsters?"

"Deadpool, that's a terrible idea," Rhodez agreed. "This place is a horror movie set."

"Exactly," the mercenary said brightly. "The sooner we split up, the sooner anything lurking will attack, the sooner I kill it."

"What if the thing attacks us on the floor you aren't on?"

Deadpool poked the ceiling with his sword experimentally. Some plaster fell. "I'm pretty sure I can shoot through this."

"Do not fire blindly. I don't need any more friendly fire injuries from you," Calvin jiggled his foot a little as he said this.

"Fine, I'll use these X-ray specs." He put on a pair of googly-eye glasses.

Noticing Cassanee's impatient expression, Calvin sighed. "Fine. You and Rhodez check this floor. Cass and I will head upstairs. Come investigate if you hear screaming, I guess."

"You're leaving me with Wade?!" Rhodez couldn't suppress her concern.

"You're less likely to get accidentally shot if you're where he can see you," Calvin said matter-of-factly as he followed Cassanee upstairs.

"Don't worry, Padawan," Deadpool threw his arm around her shoulder, "this is the perfect opportunity for training. There could be all sorts of enemies lurking behind all this cover! Or tripwires! And lasers!"

"Uch, fine."

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #72

"Alas, Poor Mustache Pete," in Batman #475, by Alan Grant (writer), Norm Breyfogle (artist), Adrienne Roy (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)

I own about a half-dozen issues of Batman. One is issue #500, when Jean-Paul Valley builds his own Bat-suit (you know the one) and takes down Bane. Everything else is in the Legends of the Dark Knight - Norm Breyfogle collection, except for this issue. Which is also drawn by Norm Breyfogle. 

This will be a bit of a recurring pattern over the next six weeks, just telling you now. I don't give much of a damn about Batman, but the late Norm Breyfogle? That's another matter entirely.

For this issue, Scarface gets shot up by a new gang taking over his territory, and the Ventriloquist declares himself retired. That lasts less than one issue, so it's surprising Batman actually took the Ventriloquist at his word when he told him that.

The more relevant thing in this issue is it's the first comic I recall seeing Renee Montoya, who would go on to be one of Gotham's more prominent cops over the next 15 years, then take over as the Question. She's bringing Gordon some files when Bats comes to visit and pulls a gun on him. Breyfogle draws Bats as visibly human from the six-pack down, but all cape and strangely elongated shadows from there up. Points to Montoya for not being fazed when Batsy pulls his usual mid-conversation disappearing trick.

There's also a scene where Batman is about to swoop in to save Vicki Vale from some drug dealers, but the photographer she's with does it first. Then they kiss, while Batman swings off insisting to himself it doesn't matter. He didn't like Vicki anyway, he has The Night. Sure, Batsy, sure.

During the day, Breyfogle draws most of the buildings standing straight up and down, fairly clean. Maybe not classy, but solid, presentable. At night, he and Roy give them this look that could either be shadows, or just grime. Everything looks dingy and rundown. The buildings all seem to tower up out of these narrow panels into the sky. It's a little claustrophobic, and the buildings are drawn at angle, so they're almost reaching for something, or about to topple over. It's more menacing.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Random Back Issues #2 - The Spectre #33

Nice to know DC's God at least requires his Spirit of Vengeance to pass a basic literacy test. Given some of the Ghost Riders we've seen over the years, I'd have my doubts about Marvel's version.

This is from the John Ostrander/Tom Mandrake volume, but it's one of the periodic done-in-ones the series had. To give Mandrake a breather, I assume. This issue has Hugh Haynes and Tim Roddick as the penciler and inker, respectively, and the book loses a fair bit of its atmosphere minus Mandrake's heavy shadows and blurred, almost Expressionistic figures. Here, the Spectre's form looks a bit more like a grown up Casper, with the wispy smoke trail in place of legs at times.
There's a shuffling corpse-like creature stalking some university, attacking people and reducing them to charred husks. Inspector Kane - whose most notable character trait is he says "Balzac!" 10 times an issue - is assigned the case, and at this time, the Spectre is acting as his partner, in his Jim Corrigan disguise. Corrigan's style is to threaten to beat people if they don't give him answers he likes, which Kane seems willing to tolerate if it gets him what he wants.

The university was doing some legally questionable experiments in cloning using fetal tissue, and there just happens to be some missing. The creature attacks the professor who was doing the research, and when the Spectre comes in contact with it, part of his soul is absorbed. But the creature doesn't do so well against bullets and runs. The trail leads to a graduate student, who is trying to perfect the cloning technique so he can make a new body for himself, then just keep doing that so he can live forever.

(When she says she's absorbing souls, he responds she's actually using the metagene he picked for the cloning to dump toxins in her body into the victims, and that there is no soul. Yet he expects whatever makes him who he is to be absorbed by his next attempt. What is it going to absorb? Memories I guess, because she seems to do that, but he doesn't mention that in his explanation.)
The creature shuffling around campus was just his first attempt, and is of no importance to him beyond what she can do for him. When she asks why he created her, he first states the creator doesn't have to explain himself to his creation, and then gives her the same answer the one scientist gave the Michael Fassbender-bot in Prometheus: Essentially, to see if he could. Spectre and Kane show up, Kane shoots her, and she releases all the souls she absorbed, asking forgiveness of them. Spectre electrocutes the clone, then draws the souls and the grad student into his cloak to let the souls take their revenge on the one truly responsible. As Kane notes, not sure how he's going to explain this one, since there isn't even a corpse of the student to try and say he was destroyed by his own creation. Just gonna be one of those unsolved cases I guess.

The idea of a capricious, uncaring creator comes up a lot more in the last year of Ostrander and Mandrake's run, as I recall, as the Spectre tries to seek answers, but can't even find God anywhere. When he does, he's distinctly underwhelmed, although if I remember, the story suggests God is acting the way he is because that's how the Spectre and/or Corrigan feel about Him at that point. Their perception informs the reality, creations shaping the creator.

I think Dan Slott did something similar with Hank Pym in his Mighty Avengers run, when Pym meets Eternity, and the first thing Eternity does is punch Hank, then keeps doing it. Because Pym has a victim complex about how the universe has it in for him.

[Longbox #10, 63rd issue, The Spectre #33 John Ostrander (writer), Hugh Haynes (penciler), Tim Roddick (inker), Carla Feeny (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)]

Thursday, July 25, 2019

No Country for Old Men

I've never actually sat down and watched this the whole way through. Never got past the point when Josh Brolin crosses the border into Mexico. Always wonder if it's going to feel underwhelming watching a movie after it's gotten so much hype.

That wasn't really an issue here. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is creepy and unnerving, which I assume is how Chigurh wants to be seen. He seems to enjoy messing with people, asking them questions as they panic. Even before he's really done anything to them, people just seem to recognize something in him that frightens them. There were times I really wanted someone to turn his questions back around on him. If he's going to kill you anyway - and he probably is - you might as well.

Carla Jean is the only one who really comes close, when she refuses to play his coin flip game, and that's probably because she's the only one who accepts she's going to die. He mocks her when she says he doesn't have to do this, but she's right. He doesn't, but he's going to anyway. I'm not sure why he bothers with the coin. He doesn't strike me as a person who would care to say it wasn't up to him whether someone lives or dies, but that's kind of how he plays it. Abdicating responsibility. All the others - the lucky gas station attendant, Woody Harrelson, probably everyone else he killed along the way - either didn't believe this was happening, or thought they could talk their way out of it.

Brolin plays Llewlyen as someone who isn't stupid exactly, or weak, but just isn't quite up to the level he needs to be for this. He can figure things out, make his move, but he's always about one step slower than the people on his tail, whether that's Chigurh, or the guys working for the cartel. And he's not willing to just entirely abandon his wife, and that's a mistake. It's not an awful flaw, but for his own survival, his best bet would have been to never contact her again. While the cartel tails her, or Chigurh takes out his frustration on her, Llewlyen could have just run. Taken the money and hauled ass as far as he could get. He might have won, in that sense, but he wouldn't put his soul at hazard, as Tommy Lee Jones says in that opening bit.

I think my favorite part was Llewlyen's second narrow escape at a hotel, after he found the tracking device in the money. Because it's too late to help, Chigurh is already there, and despite Llewlyen trying to be ready, he's not. Not for how Chigurh breaks the lock, opens fire too soon at the door. I think he tries to escape out the back thinking its clever, doesn't exactly work. Waits too long on his ambush, and isn't prepared to try and hunt a wounded killer to finish things.

When he's trying to drive the pickup to escape, Chigurh is just peppering the windshield with bullets, but all we see from Llewlyen's perspective is the bullet holes. We can tell from where they strike when he drives past Chigurh, but we can't see him anywhere. It might as well be a ghost, or God himself striking the truck for all Llewlyen can do about it. Even if he was thinking about trying to shoot back, he can't see anything to shoot at. That whole scene, I don't think he ever gets a clean view of Chigurh. He's a shadow barely revealed by a shot, or a blurry reflection in a store window. He's diving behind a car by the time Llewlyen tries popping up to kill him, so I don't know what he saw then. Would he have recognized Chigurh if they approached each other on a street?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What I Bought 7/19/2019 - Part 2

The other two books from last week. One is a mini-series moving into its second half, and the other is the first issue of what I assume is an ongoing series.

Smooth Criminals #7, by Kurt Lustgarten, Kirsten Smith and Amy Roy (writers), Leisha Riddel (artist), Jamie Loughran, Adam LaFuente and Goncarlo Lopes (colorists), Ed Dukeshire (letterer) - Freezing Mia didn't work, so now they've shrunk her, I see.

The feds try to get Brenda to talk, to no avail. Mia confesses, or agrees to confess, to protect her, and for the chance to speak to her mother. Brenda isn't happy Mia portrayed her as an innocent dupe, but realizes this means they're friends and. . . tries to rob a bank to be thrown back in jail with Mia. That is one way to go about things. Then they make a deal with the feds to help them catch the guy who stole the Net of Indra from them, and that's where the issue ends.

There's also a two-page sequence in there of Hatch acting like a complete dumbass while celebrating having the Net of Indra. He sings part of "Ice, Ice, Baby" to it (incorrectly) for God's sake. Thank goodness his fiance comes in and points out he didn't actually steal it, Mia and Brenda did all the work. It's getting harder and harder to take Hatch seriously, although I feel worse and worse for his two goons. I hope one of them was taking photos to blackmail him with later.
That part, and the bit where Mia is picturing Brenda in prison are the two high points. Although that second one is a little odd. The feds are trying to scare Mia by talking about how badly it'll go for Brenda, but Mia is picturing her working out, making friends, exploring prison fashion and tattooing. Seems like Mia thinks Brenda will do pretty well in prison. Still nice of her to try and take the fall solo. Helps these two feds are dumber than a sack of hammers.

Sera and the Royal Stars #1, by Jon Tsuei (writer), Adurey Mok (artist), Raul Angelo (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Hey, I think I found a crystal just like that in a pile of stuff left over from an old smelting operation last week! Where's my magical quest?

Sera is a princess, working with her siblings to lead their father's armies and try to defend their kingdom from their uncle's forces. There's also a mysterious third group who wear hoods with goat horns on them watching and waiting. Unfortunately, a being named Mitra has tagged Sera to free some "royal stars" to get things back on the right path. Sera tells her to pound sand, but Mitra removes her heart, puts that crystal in its place and tells her all her loved ones will die if she doesn't do this. Apparently this world doesn't have lots of stories about what happens when you strongarm someone into doing stuff for you. Movies tell me it tends to backfire. By the end of the issue, she's found one, but they're in the process of being attacked by lizard men, so hopefully he's of some use.

There's some stuff here, a lot of it about Sera's family. Their uncle is the one waging war on them. Her mother was the last one Mitra tapped for this quest, but she apparently failed. Mitra's response was only that 'we chose incorrectly before you.' Oh, well, that's great, but you didn't do her family any favors, so maybe show a little contrition?  Her younger sister is pretty ticked she's taking off, and her brother's a little worried, since Sera's apparently their best tactician. So you wonder if there'll be anything left of her home by the time she gets home, if she does. Mitra didn't guarantee her family wouldn't be killed if she did go on this quest after all, and seems like the kind of deity to omit that.
I like Mok's artwork. There's a light touch to the linework, not a lot of excess pencil lines. Even with the old man Sera finds in the temple, Mok uses just a few wrinkles lines here and there to suggest the rest. Keeps things clean and easy to read. I like the designs for their uniforms as well, though I'm not sure what the influence is. My brain keeps saying Indian subcontinent, but I'm not sure of that. "Hormuzd" is Middle Eastern, or at least the first result on Google is for Hormuzd Rassam, an Assyrian archaeologist that found clay tablets with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The village in the vast open plain Sera passed through on the way to the temple made me think Mongolia (I remember reading something about the Eternal Blue Sky as a religion in that Weatherford book about Genghis Khan), but again, I'm guessing. At any rate, it's a good design, not too complicated, but distinct, Angelo makes it colorful, it works. The variety of landscapes offers a lot of possibilities, especially since I suspect Sera's going to venture into places most people have forgotten about.

I'm going to buy issue 2, and that's the goal of a first issue, so mission accomplished.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches - Tyler Kepner

Each chapter in the book is devoted to a different pitch. Kepner will usually discuss the earliest recorded example of the pitch, the inventor of it, if you can determine that. The curveball, for example, has been credited to several different people, as different people claim to have thrown it at one time or the other, or learned it from this person or that. It's very cool to realize there are times where you can trace a lineage of people learning a pitch from the early 1900s up to now. Just a string of one player teaching another, who becomes a coach, who teaches other players, who teach others, and so on. Just like any craft.

Kepner interviewed a lot of players and coaches for the book, went through old game summaries and other books and writing on the topics. It feels like a book with a lot of research and affection put into it, but doesn't bog down in the details. He'll discuss how you grip different pitches, and the different ways different pitchers throw the same thing, differences in what they do with their wrists or finger placement, as well as what impact that has on the ball's movement.

Kepner doesn't try to pull everything together in some final chapter, but each chapter does discuss the shifting popularity of the pitches over time, and the reasons for it. The knuckleball is always a niche pitch. The sinker is declining in popularity (or sinking) because all hitters are trying to loft the ball now, so the pitch drops right into their swing plane. The slider and splitter were both extremely popular at one time, but they, along with the screwball, have fallen out of favor because they're believed to be too hard on the arm. Except Steve Carlton threw a damn slider for 4,000 innings and says his arm never hurt (while Bob Gibson admitted he sometimes took frickin' horse tranquilizers to deal with the pain his slider caused his elbow).

Maybe pitching is just something a person's arm isn't built to do that much. This does get brought up, although there are people who insist it's just because everyone is throwing the wrong way. Mike Marshall really seems to think he's the only smart man in all of baseball.

'Finley is indeed one of the few left-handers associated with the splitter, an oddity that makes it a little like the knuckleball, which is also thrown almost exclusively by right-handers. Because lefties are harder to find, they tend to get more chances to stick, and rarely must resort to a last-chance trick like the knuckler or splitter.'

Monday, July 22, 2019

What I Bought 7/19/2019 - Part 1

Hopefully the heat wave is over by the time this post goes up. It's 9 am Saturday as I type, and my AC is trying to keep it at 80 right now. Summer is easily my least favorite of the seasons. Considering how much I hate driving in ice and snow, that's saying something.

Of the four books from last week I actually found, two of them were mini-series on their final issues. So let's start with those.

Ghost Tree #4, by Bobby Curnow (writer), Simon Gane (artist), Ian Herring and Becka Kinzie (colorists), Chris Mowry (letterer) - "Get off my poorly landscaped lawn," says old man.

Through Brandt, Arami, and Brandt's grandfather's efforts, the demon is put at rest. Which just leaves picking up the pieces. Brandt delivers a message to his grandmother, says goodbye to Arami, and goes home to save his marriage! Yeah, about that. . .

It's not the ending I expected, but it makes a sense. Brandt ran from his present into his past. The place he enjoyed as a kid, when he didn't have responsibilities. Even met his teenage girlfriend, the first love and all. It wasn't forever, like his grandfather, who preferred to stay at the tree rather than participate in his marriage. Maybe a week. But as Alice notes when Brandt comes home, her life didn't just stop while he was gone.

I'm not clear if she's saying she met someone else while he was gone or just did some thinking. I'm also curious that she says they've done this so many times before when Brandt starts to say he knows they can make it works. Brandt said they never talked about things, because she'd make a cutting remark, and he'd just leave. Apparently Alice saw it differently.
The interior walls of their house are colored this bluish-grey, just a little darker than their fridge, and it makes everything colder. The tones are washed out a bit, I think, everything is less lively than it was back around the tree and the old house. Brandt tried to come back to his life, but it isn't there any longer. In most of the other conversations in the issue, Gane will draw both characters in the same panel, and usually at least parts of both faces are visible. Here, there are a lot more panels of just one character, and even when both are in the panel, we're usually viewing things from behind someone's shoulder, so we can't see their reaction. The positioning plays up the distance between them.

Well, shit, now I'm depressed. Thanks a lot, Ghost Tree.

Domino: Hotshots #5, by Gail Simone (writer), David Baldeon and Michael Shelfer (artists), Jim Charalampidis (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Later that day, the Celestials were charged with third-degree creepy peeping by the Living Tribunal. They were sentenced to have their teapcup head designs repainted by an over-caffeinated class of second graders. The other Cosmic Bigwigs laughed at them for the next 3 billion years.

The attempt to fight the lady with Celestial power directly goes badly, but the White Fox shows up having somehow acquired the cosmic doohicky Stark was supposed to dispose of. Guess if you want something shot into the Sun, you have to do it yourself. Or ask the Sentry. On second thought, do it yourself. Never contact the Sentry.

Domino gets a boost from the doohicky, briefly considers what she could do with it, but refrains from trying to act like a god because all mutants know about the Dark Phoenix. I guess she's hung around the X-Men enough to have heard about that. Always hard to tell how the rumor mill works with the X-folks. The actual conflict boils down to punching, just punching with glowier fists than normal. I guess the important part was deciding to only use the power to stop Geun, rather than start judging humanity. Deal with the immediate problem, not by killing her, just stopping her long enough she'll calm down, then giving up the power.

One thing I notice is that other characters have to keep asserting that Domino's worthwhile. Sometimes to us, but a lot of times to her. Black Widow pointing out this is why she came to Domino with this, rather than the Avengers. White Fox insisting Domino's the one who should use the Constellation's power. I had never pegged Domino as one with self-esteem issues, but maybe that's because most of the time, she's either working alone, or as part of a group where she's not in charge. Cable's the boss, Domino is the one that reins him in as needed. Being the one in the big chair is different, and having people actually trust your decision-making when it comes to them is weird.

Alex told me a few weeks back he expects me to plan his bachelor party, and while I pointed out expecting me to plan any party is a terrible idea, he seemed entirely confident I'd figure out something good.
Shelfer draws the last two-thirds of the issue, so things look more ragged than on the pages Baldeon draws. Which isn't bad, for the parts of the fight on the boat, where the Hotshots are getting stomped. Domino's Celestial design is fairly cool. The way it's drawn and colored reminds me of Daimon Scott's work a bit in the angle of the eyes and the shading on the skin, where it has this almost plastic texture to it. That said, Shelfer has this particular face he draws, when characters are supposed to be smiling at one another, where it comes off as a vacant look. Diamondback makes that face at Outlaw right before they dive in after Domino and it's like no one is home.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #71

"Steph vs. Gravity: The Eternal Battle," in Batgirl (vol. 2) #16, by Bryan Q. Miller (writer), Dustin Nguyen (penciler), Derek Fridolfs (inker), Guy Major (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer)

The second half of Steph Batgirl is the stronger half. Having mostly settled establishing Steph's bonafides, Miller focuses on more one or two-part stories, plus some simmering background threads that eventually come to the surface. A fair number of the one-shots involve bizarre plots and team-ups, which gives Stephanie plenty of opportunity to make snarky comments or jokes. Working with Supergirl against a bunch of movie Draculas brought to life. The team-up with Squire in London to preserve the Greenwich Mean. The Valentine's Day issue where she and Klarion try and get Teekl laid.

I really wanted to use a splash page from that last one, but there weren't any. *sad face*

Miller incorporates a few new villains, nobody that's really top shelf, mostly hired muscle for a mysterious mastermind. But it's better than just throwing her up against Two-Face or whatever. It occurs to me, I don't think she ever got to deal out any payback to Black Mask for the whole "nearly torturing her to death" thing. Although maybe that was because Catwoman shot him? I vaguely remember that. Thumbs up, Selina.

Dustin Nguyen handles art chores on 4-5 issues, and Pere Perez handles most of the others. Both their styles are a bit simpler than Garbett's, a bit looser with their pencils (Nguyen much more so than Perez, though). It works well though, since Steph's adventures are not more light-hearted necessarily, but "kooky" might be the right word. Or odd, and Nguyen's art captures that somehow. You can have odd villains, or a bunch of guys in stupids hoods and masks trying to act like a death cult, and it can look intimidating, but not so much that it's whiplash when the guys in hoods turn out to be a bunch of goobers. It can work for dark and mysterious, or for comedy.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Random Back Issues #1 - Nova #24

I have all these back issues, and I hardly ever discuss them. So, via the magic of die of varying numbers of sides, we're going to randomly grab a comic and see what we get. First up, Nova (vol. 5) #24! The cover, by Daniel Acuna, is Gladiator plowing through a bunch of Novas. Two issues later, he'd do a mirror of it, only with Richard doing the same to the Imperial Guard.

This was the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run, which reached 36 issues, the best Nova's ever managed (whether it's Richard or Sam Alexander wearing the bucket). Today we're smack in the middle of a War of Kings tie-in, where the Shi'ar (led by Cyclops' lunatic brother Vulcan) are attacking the Kree (recently conquered by the Inhumans). War of Kings was my least favorite of the four cosmic events Marvel did during this span, precisely because it focused on the Inhumans and the Imperial Guard, both of which are terrible, but the Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy tie-ins weren't bad.
This issue's mostly table-setting, though. Rich has been stripped of the Nova Force, because he disagreed with the Worldmind mass-conscripting a bunch of people, then throwing them into the middle of an intergalactic war. Rich contends they won't be properly trained, so it's just adding to the body count. Having already seen the Corps wiped out except for him during Annihilation, he's not eager for a repeat. Worldmind (now having set up shop inside Ego, the Living Planet) says Rich has grown addicted to having all the Nova Force, and doesn't want to share. So it left him behind on Earth. Oh, and his body had adapted to housing the Nova Force, and he's dying without it.

DiVito's work is maybe too pretty for what's apparently such an ugly war, but it does kind of capture the chaos of people zipping around all over the place with little clue what they're doing or why. Most of the Novas fighting are Earthlings with no clue what this war is about or who's on either side, or why it matters. As it turns out, the biggest development of this issue is the Imperial Guard curb-stomping a bunch of the rookie Novas, then the "Praetorian Guard" kills them after they've surrendered, and Gladiator's bunch flew off. (Strontian there is from the same race as Gladiator, so basically Supergirl. Or maybe that angry clone of Supergirl they had in Justice League Unlimited.)

This is a good reminder Gladiator is a complete tool. Vulcan's a genocidal lunatic, but he sits in the big chair, so Gladiator is just following orders. Of course, he switches sides halfway through the event because Lilandra makes puppy dog eyes at him. Again, complete tool.

There's a brief bit between him and the guy who replaced Rich as Nova Prime, who is Shi'ar and can't believe they've let Vulcan drag them into this war. I'm not sure if he objects to the war or who's leading it, since he describes Vulcan as a usurper and madman, a human masquerading as Shi'ar. He's not incorrect about any of that, but D'Ken was nuts, too. So is Deathbird. Crazy leaders are not a new thing for the Shi'ar.
While all that's going on, and Richard's brother Robbie is gearing up to do something stupidly heroic, Rich is preparing to storm Ego with the help of the Quantum Bands Wendell Vaughn's loaned him. Phylla-Vell did have them, but lost them because of a trip to the Realm of Oblivion and some other developments that would ultimately prove depressing. (Rich comments the Bands aren't something you hand to just anyone, but a lot of people have worn those things. Maelstrom had them for a hot minute before Drax cut his hands off.

Rich actually seems to have a pretty good handle on the basics of using them, which surprises me a little. The Bands usually seem like the equivalent of a Green Lantern ring, while the Nova Force seems more like a suit of powered armor. At least, Rich mostly used it for flying fast and blasting people with energy beams

Wendell's quantum energy at this point, but he'll be back to physical form soon, and Richard would sort of return the favor during Thanos Imperative by giving Wendell some Nova Force to use in addition to the Bands.

[Longbox #7, 48th issue. Nova (vol. 5) #24, by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (writers), Andrea DiVito (artist), Bruno Hang (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer)]

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth is a movie very much in the vein of Armageddon, in that it is a sci-fi movie with an utterly ludicrous premise you can either roll with, or you can't.

The premise is that the Sun's core has destabilized, and Earth will be uninhabitable in 100 years unless they build 10,000 fusion engines on the surface of the Earth and launch the entire planet to Alpha Centauri, a journey of 2,500 years. They try to use Jupiter's gravity for a slingshot maneuver, but a gravitational spike causes lots of engines to shut down and the Earth begins to spiral in towards Jupiter. The movie follows a ragtag group of mismatched people trying to get one of the engines running, and running into all sorts of complications.

There's a whole thing where Liu Qi, is this teen genius/delinquent, who has a lot of anger at his father who works on the space station that precedes and monitors Earth, and that's how he, his adopted sister, and their grandpa wound up in this mess in the first place. Meanwhile, his dad is up on the space station, figuring out what the people on Earth are being told doesn't match the measures the station's AI (which is basically 2001's HAL, right down to killing crew members that interfere with its hidden directives) is taking.

The problem is, the stuff that goes on in this movie is so ridiculous I'm watching to see what stupid-ass thing they come up with next. But the movies keeps stopping to try and make me care about the characters, and I'm not having it. Here's Space Station Dad, trying to convince the United Earth Government to let him do some crazy shit, and I'm thinking, either do the crazy thing, or go back to the people on Earth trying to ignite Jupiter's atmosphere to create a shockwave to push Earth away from it.

I'm really not sure how Earth is even going to exist by the time they reach Alpha Centauri. There are hundreds or thousands of these huge trucks for hauling rock to the fusion engines constantly. The engines are supposed to run for the first 500 years, until they reach half the speed of light, then coast 1300, then spend 700 years slowing down to achieve stable orbit. That's a lot of material to burn. I'm really not sure how Earth is going to be left at all. And wouldn't the atmosphere freeze and fall to the surface once they get far enough out? Or are the engines producing that much heat?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Local Man Continues to Not Learn His Lesson

I haven't done this in a couple of years, but let's look at titles I eventually stopped buying, and when I should have really stopped buying them. Last time, I left off at the end of 2013, after I'd jumped ship on Rick Remender's Captain America run in less than a year. There were actually no ongoing titles I dropped in 2014 (although a few got canceled), so we're picking up right at the start of 2015.

Captain Marvel: This was the second Kelly Sue DeConnick-written ongoing for Carol Danvers. What did we end up with, three or four of those all told?  They paired DeConnick with David Lopez as the artist - who was a major step-up from the mishmash of wildly different artists they used on the previous series - and sent Carol into space. This is where the idea of Carol's cat being an alien called a Flerken comes from.

I dropped the book after issue 11, which was a Christmas-themed issue. Mostly because the book was about to be dragged into some crossover between Guardians of the Galaxy and the time-traveling teen X-Men called Black Vortex. That ringing any bells for anyone else? No? Me neither.

I thought the first 6 issues, which involved Carol trying to help a planet full of refugees who were dying slowly of a mysterious ailment, could have been an issue or two shorter. So that didn't help the book's initial momentum. The next few issues were various shorter stories that worked better. There was a Lila Cheney team-up in there somewhere, since it turned out Carol was a huge fan of hers. Which makes it tricky on when I should have abandoned ship. Either I should have skipped it entirely, or I hung on the right amount. Overall, Carol Danvers just doesn't seem to click for me as a solo character, no matter how many different creative teams I've tried, but I don't regret trying again.

How many issues too many: 0

Nightcrawler: Claremont and Todd Nauck's attempt at a solo series for Kurt Wagner. I dropped it the same month as Captain Marvel, although this book would only last another 2 issues anyway. But Claremont had dragged out the Shadow King again, because he can't help himself, and I didn't want to deal with that.

There were parts of the book I enjoyed. The color work by Rachelle Rosenberg was very good. This is probably the most I've ever liked Nauck's artwork, which has always seemed like a style I should enjoy, but never quite clicks. Claremont tried to deal with Kurt dealing with the fallout from leaving Heaven to return to the living world, but didn't write a mopey, depressed, or angry Nightcrawler. Kurt struggled at times, but still liked being alive.

On the other hand, Shadow King.

How many issues too many: 2

Harley Quinn: I gave up on this at issue 16. I was gradually getting used to Chad Hardin's art, even while I would have liked Amanda Conner to be drawing the book. It helped I thought Hardin was loosening up his style the longer he was on the book.

But it felt as though Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti just kept throwing ideas and situations into the book, only to ditch them in favor of something else almost immediately. Which made it difficult to care about any of it, since you weren't sure there'd ever be any follow-up. Also, Conner and Palmiotti's sense of humor doesn't seem to quite mesh with mine. The success rate of their jokes and gags wasn't terribly high as I recall.

That said, issue 9 had Harley actually using her psychiatrist training to help a guy who was obsessed with her, which I thought was a solid issue. And issues 11-13 were the team-up with an amnesiac Power Girl (which spun-off into an entire mini-series involving Vartox that took place between a couple of panels). So I didn't mind sticking with it that long.

How many issues too many: 3

Ant-Man/Astonishing Ant-Man: They were by the same creative team (Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas), and the second one picked up where the first left off after it was canceled at issue 5 because of Secret Wars.

Scott trying to run his own business and be a good dad for Cassie was encouraging. Spencer deciding to take away Cassie's powers because. . . reasons, was not so good. Scott deciding to have a bunch of villains who might reform as his employees? Had potential. Spencer writing Scott as a loser who everyone calls a loser and an idiot, because that's how the movie portrays him I guess? Not so good.

There was definitely the kernel of something in there for me to give a crap about, but Spencer dumped too much other crap on top of it. I gave up on Astonishing after the first issue, and that's what I should have done with the first series.

How many issues too many: 5

Starfire: This was part of one of DC's various attempts at rebranding, after they finally got the hint that the New 52 wasn't working. Having apparently learned nothing from my experiences with their writing on Harley Quinn, I tried Conner and Palmiotti's take on Starfire for 6 issues. There were parts of it I liked. The attempt to give her a large supporting cast of non-superhero types, trying to make the town she lived in feel like an actual community. I don't think it actually worked for me, but I appreciated the effort.

But like I said before, their writing just doesn't click with me. I mentioned in the Year in Review post at the time that it didn't feel like the supporting cast really had their own lives when Starfire wasn't around. Like everything was just on pause until she and the audience's attention moved back in their direction. But it was worth a shot.

How many issues too many: 0

Man, 2015 was not a good year for me, and 2016 wasn't much better.

Descender: I gave this 11 issues, despite misgivings about Jeff Lemire's writing. I had the impression he was very decompressed, or maybe deliberate is a nicer word, in his pacing, and that was pretty much my feeling after reading this.

That and I wanted him to focus on some of the central mysteries more, and he was more interested in other stuff. Like how the boy TIM acted as companion for became a bounty hunter/scrounger in the time TIM was out of commission. The book wasn't getting where I wanted it to go fast enough - and I wasn't sure it would ever get where I wanted it to, period - so I jumped ship. Despite Dustin Nguyen's very pretty, water-colored artwork.

How many issues too many: 3. The reintroduction of Andy was probably the point things veered off-course for me.

Black Widow: This was the Mark Waid/Chris Samnee book that started up once Secret Wars was supposed to be finished. It wasn't, but Marvel figured out it was stupid to keep their entire publishing line on hold because Jonathan Hickman can't properly pace a book to save his life.

Natasha is one of those characters I feel like I should like, but every story about her seems to revolve around some aspect of her past coming back to strike at her, and making all her friends and allies question whether they can actually trust her. And we got more of that here, so I left after 6 issues. Samnee and Matt Wilson made them a very pretty six issues, but still.

How many issues too many: There were some good action sequences and fights in the first few issues, so let's say 3. I'd say this was a sign I was getting smarter, but these books get canceled so fast anyway it hardly matters.

Illuminati: This started up in fall of 2015, like the previous book, but died in 7 issues. I dropped it after 6, so it was going away either way. I didn't enjoy Bendis' attempts to make the Hood some big-deal, hotshot villain, but this felt like Joshua Williamson was going to keep him on a smaller-scale. Small group of villains, loosely united by common goals to get paid, and none of them terribly impressed by Hood or his bullcrap. Plus, Shawn Crystal drew most issues, and I'd enjoyed his work on various Deadpool books previously. And the whole thing blew up in the Hood's face spectacularly, which was fun.

How many issues too many: 0. Looking back, I don't really regret giving this a try. Maybe it didn't make a strong enough impression for the negative aspects to linger.

Blue Beetle: And now we're up to DC Rebirth, when they tried to go back to more popular versions of certain characters. They handed Jaime and his cast to Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins and Giffen promptly made everyone unlikable and hostile towards each other. I wondered why Jaime, Paco, and Brenda were even friends for as much as they squabbled and sniped at each other.

Even counting the 0 issue, I gave up after just 5 issues. I vaguely remember wondering what was going to be the mystery of the scarab this time, since I vaguely recall Dr. Fate showing up to speak of dire portents. Oh, and Ted Kord was acting as a mentor trying to help figure out the scarab for Jaime. That was nice. Bit of a horror vibe to the book, but don't you usually want the audience to want the characters to survive?

How many issues too many: 5. When you want to see characters acting like friends, and instead they act like they can barely tolerate each other, that's not much fun.

Not much to go on for 2017 and 2018, but I've hardly been buying any ongoing to begin with, so that's no surprise.

Nova: I don't have anything against Sam as a Nova, but I was buying this because they brought back Richard Rider after he was killed off in Thanos Imperative. Considering Thanos and Star-Lord were brought back almost immediately, it wasn't really fair Rich had to wait 6 years for his turn.

But Rich did still have to share the book with Sam, and I didn't really care about Sam or his family too much, so it just didn't work and I dropped it after 4 issues. Then it was canceled after issue 6.

How many issues too many: Issue 3 had Cosmo and Death's Head in it, so I enjoyed that issue. let's say 1.

Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider: This spun out of some Spider-Clone nonsense Dan Slott did, and focused on Ben Reilly trying to keep himself alive, and decide what kind of person he was going to be. There was some stuff in there about morality and mortality I thought had real potential. But Mark Bagley got shifted off the book onto some Venom series, and they replaced him with Wil Sliney. You might recall Sliney's art didn't do anything to keep me on Fearless Defenders 4 years earlier. if anything, it looked more computer generated than before, so action was stiff, facial expressions were weird, and one issue of that was enough for me.

They had Khary Randolph doing cover worked, and if Randolph had handled interiors, I probably would have stuck around.

How many issues too many: 1. I said it at the time, if I'd paid closer attention to the credits on the cover, I wouldn't have bought issue 6 at all. My bad.

Deadpool: I dropped Deadpool for good in 2018, but I'd skipped his book for most of 2017 as well. A combination of a crossover between three titles he was in, which then flowed directly into Secret Empire tie-ins will do that for you.

By the time I came back, everyone hated Deadpool again, and Duggan had him trying to kill Cable for Stryfe. Then he pissed off most of his remaining friends, and I gave up on the book.

I don't know. I enjoyed a bit of Wade dealing with the fallout from the complete catastrophe his life had become. All his friends dead or pissed at him (again). The bit where he kept making Captain America look bad was pretty funny. His attempt to at least protect Evan from Stryfe was touching.

On the other hand, the story where he "kills" Cable fell extremely flat. Having him kill a Cable who hates his guts and says they were never friends is a complete waste. At that point, I don't care that he's killing Cable. I only care about that guy because he's Wade's friend who sees something good in him. If you take that away he's just another judgmental asshole with a body count that should prevent him from throwing stones, but apparently does not.

How many issues too many: 9. The issue right after I picked it up again was fine, but avoiding the Cable storyline clearly would have been the smart play.

The main thing I notice is most of these books just didn't last long, on my pull list or in general. I think Deadpool, Descender, and Harley Quinn are the only ones that went past 2 years. And Deadpool is the only one of those three I bought for that long. Generally, if a book lasts that long, I've stuck with it (not that there have been many recently). Which may mean I haven't learned anything at all, just like the title suggests.

Also, I feel like my reasons for not sticking with something were either not as clearly defined these last few years, or I just don't remember as clearly. Maybe that's because I gave up on so many of these books so fast. If I only buy it for 4 issues, how much of an impression can it make? Or I was being more discerning about not continuing to buy books that I thought were only OK, just out of inertia. Which might suggest I learned something after all.

Unless the books didn't have enough time to build any inertia. If they were always just, "Well, I'll try this," then I probably always had one foot out the door. I think the increased prices do encourage that in me. To not keep buying the book and wasting money.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who is dissatisfied with his life and therefore feels unfit to try to help his patients find happiness. So he sets out to travel the world and try to figure out what makes people happy. Which involves traveling to China, Africa (where in Africa, who the fuck knows), and then Los Angeles. The last two stops involve checking in on two of his oldest friends, including the fabled "one who got away." Through all this, his girlfriend Clara, who did not come on the trip, is growing increasingly frustrated and distant.

There are times the movie feels like it thinks it's making some very profound statement about the human condition. And then sometimes it feels like the movie knows there isn't a simple obvious answer. Hector has a journal Clara gave him, and he fills it with various notes about happiness. Like, "comparison may inhibit happiness," or "people afraid of death are afraid of living." Those could be trite and cutesy, or simply the best way to describe what that particular character has figured out.

I can never quite ditch the annoyance at the superficial air of the thing long enough to get fully invested. Very nice for Hector that he can just stop working for awhile to go travel the world and whatever to try and figure his shit out. Oh, he had homemade sweet potato stew and danced around in "Africa", how wonderful.

I'm guessing the movie didn't the work for me.

Monday, July 15, 2019

What I Bought 7/13/2019

It's a cool, rainy day, which is nice, because from Wednesday on it's going to be an inferno. And I'm going to be running from one side of the state to another during it. Wheeeee.

Black Cat #2, by Jed MacKay (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - Just smashing the cases open is a little sloppy for Felicia.

Felicia and her crew enlist the aid of Xander the Merciless, former foe of Dr. Strange, to infiltrate Strange's Sanctum and steal the original deed to Manhattan. Xander isn't exactly in the clearest mental state at the start, but gets better the deeper they go. He's really feeling good when he finds his Star-Stone, so Felicia and her crew are probably in trouble. In other developments, Ms. Drake, the head of the Thieves Guild, has hired the security guy from the first issue to hunt Felicia down. Lacking job prospects as an ex-con who just got fired, Sonny accepts. Which I'm sure will totally not backfire on him at all.

Apparently Bruno and Boris are pre-existing characters. There's actual an editor's note that they tangled with Spider-Man in Amazing #196. Go figure. Xander is the same way, he has tangled with Strange before. Which is fine. The Marvel Universe is already full of strange stuff one person has that someone else might want (I'm not clear on why Dr. Strange would have the original land deed to the island of Manhattan, but sure, why not.) That's why you need a thief. In that regard, at least, this is pretty much what I hoped for out of this book.

Foreman's work continues to mostly impress. The facial expressions are good. The whole conversation about Spider-Man is a good example. The disgusted looks Bruno and Boris make when Felicia refers to her relationship (I'm glad she and Spidey are on good terms again). Felicia actually got offended when they suggest he has a 'spider-face.' Maybe she's just insulted they think she would make out with a guy with a 'spider-face.'
(I'm curious what the Black Fox was going to say about Spider-Man before they interrupted them. They fought a couple times, worked together a couple times, Spidey saved his butt from Dr. Doom. That has to count for something.)

And there's a spot in the double-page spread of them in the room of stairs where he gives Xander much larger pupils than up to that point, right as Felicia's internal narration is starting to get concerned about him. It gives Xander this much more intense look than he's had up to that point, which has mostly been gentle, eyes only part open or shadowed.

That said, I have no idea if I'm reading the "Stairs" pages in the proper sequence. I can't tell if you just read one page first, then the next, or if I'm supposed to be following the stairs. If it's the latter, there's a couple of places where I'm not sure which panel comes next. The good news is that the dialogue isn't set-up so that you really need to read them in particular order. It's most giving the impression they've been on the stairs for a long time, and are just discussing random shit to pass the time as they do.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #70

"That's Why You Don't Flush Pet Bats Down the Toilet", in Batgirl (vol. 2) #11, by Bryan Q. Miller (writer), Lee Garbett (penciler), Pere Perez (penciler/inker), Walden Wong (inker), Guy Major (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer)

After some stuff involving Batman dying (in either Final Crisis of Batman R.I.P., I can't remember which), Cassandra abruptly stopped being Batgirl, and Stephanie (no longer dead) took up the title.

The first year of the book is Steph (and Miller) trying to address the doubters and critics. Oracle tries to stop Stephanie from running around in Cass' gear, before relenting and giving her a new costume. 

(The costume does have an entirely unnecessary pouch thing around one leg, but otherwise I didn't mind it. It maintains at least a bit of the eggplant color from her Spoiler outfit, and is distinct from Cass or Barbara's costumes.)

There's a team-up with a skeptical Dick Grayson Batman and Damian Wayne Robin. Damian in particular is a little shit, because that's the only setting he has. Then the Calculator pops up, wanting revenge on Oracle because she took away his daughter (keeping in mind he was somehow responsible for the giant mutated dog that killed his son in Teen Titans, but sure, Oracle's to blame). Which gave Steph the chance to prove herself fighting mind-controlled versions of a bunch of the other vigilantes in Gotham. That old saw.

The second year of the the book (which we'll get to next week) is a lot stronger because Miller seems past the point of trying to justify the situation, and is just telling largely amusing stories.

Friday, July 12, 2019

They Grow Up So Quickly - Eventually

I mentioned this Wednesday, but I appreciated that Giant Days #52 gives us a chance to see Esther interact with Ken Lord again, because it serves as an opportunity to see how she's progressed as a person.
In Giant Days #28, she goes to a professor's soiree determined to show off. To prove that she's the star of the English Romantic Literature program, reclaiming that position from Emilia (who doesn't give a crap about such things anyway). Only to be stymied when Emilia starts playing some tune on a lute. Esther opts to sulk, first gorging on fancy cheeses, and then drinks way too much wine with Professor Lord while trying to impress him. She ends up tipsy to the point she's going to let him take her home with him, and it's only Emilia whisking her away that saves her.

Then she throws up repeatedly in the bushes outside.

Flash forward to now, she accepts Ken's invitation to one of his parties, to get Shelly into contact with people in the publishing industry. Esther knows full well now what Ken's hoping for. So even when her attempt to sneak off somewhere quiet to again gorge on fancy cheeses* brings her into contact with him, he hasn't got a chance. When the masculine bravado gets shot down immediately, he tries the pitiful, "I'm so lonely," approach, and that doesn't get him anywhere, either.
I really love the extremely skeptical look in panel 3 there, followed by the cold dismissal in panel 4. Old Ken is gonna need a lot of wine after that brushoff. Or perhaps counseling would be better.

It isn't as though Esther's matured entirely in the last 24 issues. She applied for a job in the financial sector because she figured she'd make money like Shelly. Because she a) had no idea what she'd actually be doing, and b) doesn't have any solid idea what Shelly does for a living. That's a bit foolish, although it worked out in the end. She asked her interviewer how one gets a good job in the place, as opposed to the job the interviewer has. Which doesn't seem like a good thing to ask, but I can appreciate the honesty**.

There are still things she doesn't know, or doesn't bother to think about before she acts, but she's gotten wiser in some ways, at least. The rate of romantic debacles has slowed considerably, for one thing. There's just been that one guy that was sure he could improve on the Hyperloop that I can think of since Ed Gemmell drunkenly confessed his feelings (then broke himself into 50 pieces climbing a wall).

She did still give herself massive carpal tunnel trying to win an essay contest typing it out entirely on her phone. But she won the contest. She's still the one out of her, Daisy, and Susan that's most likely to get them mixed up in something crazy, but I think there's more good intentions behind it now.

I think Daisy's trial by fire is up next, since she'll no doubt have to confront the rude girl after she does whatever it is she's planning. But she handled Ingrid once, and there was past romantic tension there, so this should be a relative breeze. She just has to summon that energy she gets when she's completely fed up with everyone else's nonsense.

*Until I reread issue 28, I didn't remember she actually started with cheeses before Ken got her plastered. I'm not much of a fancy cheese guy, but I understand completely taking advantage of free food when it's available.

** The closest I've gotten to that was one of the last jobs I interviewed for prior to getting my current job. When they reached the end, and asked if I had questions, I admitted I had no idea why they had opted to interview me for the position, as I had no relevant experience in the specific area the position involved.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What If the Moon Didn't Exist? - Neil F. Comins

The book is a series of what-ifs related to changing one aspect of the cosmos around the earth, then discussing its impacts on the planet and life on earth. So Chapter 1 is about there not being a Moon, Chapter 6 is about a star (other than the sun) exploding near enough to Earth to have some noticeable effect.

A lot of the interest for me is in Comins' discussion of aspects of cosmology I didn't really understand. When he talks about what might happen if the Sun were more massive than it is, he goes into a discussion of how stellar fusion works, and how the energy emitted by the said fusion in the core loses energy as it makes its way to the surface. Or how when iron fuses it absorbs photons rather than releasing them. Some of the information is stuff I remember reading when I was really into astronomy at a much younger age, but fleshed out more fully.

The parts of each chapter discussing how the evolution of life on earth might be affected are a little less interesting because Comins limits himself somewhat to discussing mostly how living organisms we have might be impacted or selected against. He acknowledges that you could potentially have practically anything evolve, but wanted to keep things from getting too far afield. But I can't shake the notion that an Earth without a Moon would have life on it after 4.5 billion years that looks very little like anything we'd recognize. I might be entirely wrong about that, but it's a notion I couldn't shake.

Comins does have a verbose writing style. Everything feels like he could get to the point faster than he does. He's trying to make sure there's no mistake about what point he's making, by trying to be very precise in his terminology. The end effect is his sentences are overstuffed and awkward. In the paragraph below, does he really need either of the uses of "intrinsically" in that sentence for you to understand it?

'Two effects from the passing star would be particularly important to consider: its radiation and its gravitation. As with the supernova in Chapter 6, too much radiation from the interloper could sterilize the earth's surface. Too much gravitational force from the star would pull the earth out of the region around the sun where life could be sustained. Both of these disasters would occur if an intrinsically low-mass star passed close to the earth of if an intrinsically massive star passed at an even greater distance. What we want for this chapter is a star that will take us through the gates of hell but that won't close them behind us.'

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What I Bought 7/6/2019 - Part 2

The sad thing of getting the last of my stuff into the apartment was figuring out a few other things got swiped along with the N64. I couldn't remember where I'd packed everything, so I was holding out hope some of it was in the last few boxes. Nothing I'm crushed by the loss of, although it's interesting to add up what they took. Very likely they were kids, since I can't imagine many adults stealing that Two-Face print I bought at Cape-Con a few years back. I mean, I liked it enough to frame it and hang it on my wall, but I'm weird.

Giant Days #52, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Is that something special only people from the UK are allowed to do? Sit on the hands of Big Ben?

Esther is off to London for an interview at a bank. Which is a horrible place for her to work. Would you entrust your money to her? No you would not. But she figured her friend Shelly lives the good life working in a large building in London, so this was the way to go. Except Shelly isn't in the financial industry, and she hates her work and wants to write children's books. All of which she confesses after they attend a Norwegian death metal concert.

Life in the big city is just fascinating. Or terrifying.

Good friend that she is, Esther tries to help by getting them invited to a party by Ken Lord, the creepy professor I thought looked a bit like Jack Kirby that tried to get her wasted in the first issue of Giant Days I ever bought. He's also an author and publicist, and Esther is willing to venture into that creepy den to introduce Shelly to people she is sure will be interested in her ideas. Which they are, even though her idea for a children's character is deeply disturbing. Or perhaps it's just her art skills that make it seem so.
Esther wisely avoids hitting the wine this time, and is thus able to give Ken the brush-off. Thank Christ. What's more, her ability to do so, and apparent eye for talent in bringing Shelly here, impresses some older woman who works in publishing, and offers her a job. As the panel says when she and Shelly skip merrily out of the party, VICTORY.

Meanwhile, Daisy and Susan had a lovely day at a spa, but that inconsiderate girl on Daisy's floor has something big and probably annoying planned.

I loved this issue. Big surprise. The death metal concert scene had some good lines, Esther definitively giving Ken Lord the brush off was fantastic. The expression Sarin gives Esther as Shelly has a freakout before the enter the party was great. There's a bit as Esther waits for her interview, where she sees three employees, one that looks very much like her, discussing the previous night's "money and cocaine" party, which makes me wonder if 2010s London in 1980s New York. But Esther's increasingly concerned face in contrast to people saying, 'I grabbed a load more though, because money is bloody lovely,' cracked me up.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

It (2017)

I don't think I ever watched the original movie version of It. I read the book back in junior high, and maybe a second time since then. Thank goodness they left that creepy sewer sex scene out of the movie (so far).

(I told some friends of mine a few years back about that scene when they were getting excited for this movie and they both looked at me like I sprouted a second head. Like I would just make up that Stephen King put that in the book.)

Anyway, the movie. It's alright. I think Pennywise, a creature designed to become what you fear, is better left to a book, because even if King describes him in text, your imagination still puts that together in what is probably the most effective form. If he says Pennywise becomes a werewolf, I picture that in my way, you picture it in yours, and so on.

The movie is still effectively creepy at times. Bill seeing Georgie in the basement. The bit where Ben is flipping through the book in the library and it's the same picture on each page. The bit with the slide projector. It's the parts where the movie focuses on something being wrong or strange that work best for me. I'm not worried he's going to manage to kill any of the Losers. The bit with the slide projector was a lot less unnerving the moment he bursts into physical form in the garage and acts like he's actually going to do something. At that point, he's just a big clown mugging for the camera. I don't mean that as an insult against Bill Skarsgard's performance, he's pretty creepy. But a big thing you can theoretically hit is not quite as creepy as something that can insert itself into pictures and TV shows whenever it pleases.

Although considering how Henry Bowers ended up, maybe I should have been more concerned about a curveball and one of the kids buying the farm.

Most of the kids do a good job, although I don't remember Richie irritating me as much when I read the book. I thought Stan Uris kind of got the short end of the stick in terms of focus. With that many people in the group, somebody is bound to end up that way. Unlike Mike, Beverly and Ben, Stan was already part of the Losers, so the movie didn't have to spend time explaining how he wound up with the group. Bill's the leader and lost his brother, so he drives them forward. Eddie has the whole thing with his domineering, hypochondriac mother. Richie invites focus because he won't shut the hell up. Stan kind of falls through the cracks as the one who is understandably terrified and reluctant.

Monday, July 08, 2019

What I Bought 7/6/2019 - Part 1

As you might have guessed from the resumption of Sunday Splash Page, I retrieved the remainder of my stuff from my dad's over the weekend. One less thing to take care of off my mind. Otherwise, it was a mostly quiet weekend. Spent the 4th with Alex, per tradition. Helped my dads run errands Saturday before grabbing my stuff. Relaxed the rest of the time.

Magnificent Ms. Marvel Annual #1, by Magdalene Visaggio (writer), Jon Lam (artist), Msassyk (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I'd recommend dodging, Kamala. It's not just the most important "D" in dodgeball, it's also a good way to avoid dying.

Super Skrull is approached by some Kree guy with a device that can draw the shapeshifting energy out of a person, and if they're strong enough, use it to reshape an entire world. Like make Earth into a replica of the old Skrull homeworld. And Kamala just so happens to have enough of that energy.

Rather than fight her directly, Super-Skrull assumes the "Captain Hero" identity from the end of the original Power Man and Iron Fist (although I think Byrne retconned it to being Super-Skrull, it was just some kid originally), and tries to goad her into a fight by. . . fighting crime in Jersey City? But being kind of brutal about it, supposedly? Kamala ignores it, so he eventually busts in on her fighting a criminal, and tries to kill the criminal to get the fight going, then drops his disguise. The device almost kills them both (accidentally), and Kamala convinces Super-Skrull to stop worrying about revenge and focus on moving his people forward.

Wow, that plan makes absolutely no sense. I get the part about not wanting to attract the Fantastic Four's attention by just showing up in his full glory throwing flame blasts around. But if he wants to goad her in, why try to antagonize by taking a contrary approach to crimefighting? Be the sort of hero she'd want to team-up with, then she'll drop her guard. Also, the news report says people are calling him the "new Punisher", but he's not killing anyone, just punching them a little harder than most heroes do. Not that I wanted him to kill Arcade, Batroc, or the White Rabbit, but the action/reaction don't line up.
Lam's art is loose, a little scratchy, but closer to the look of the previous volume of Ms. Marvel, which is fine. Kamala's a gangly teen with expressive eyes. Lam really sells the impact of Super-Skrull's punches because Kamala's body will go flying and her limbs may be stretched out as the lag behind. Captain Hero is closer to the conventional superhero look, though you'd expect a more Nineties design for such an "extreme" hero. But maybe when Kamala talks about that not being how things are done any more, she's referring back to Golden Age comics, when even Batman and Superman killed people?

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #46, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Thor does not appear in this issue. Loki does, at the very end, if you care.

Squirrel Girl's plan to defeat the Frost Giants is to find their food supply and cut it off. After some thinking, they realize the Frost Giants are eating whales, and set about freeing the captive beluga whales. This requires assistance from beluga whales that haven't been captured, which requires Ratatoskr to use that one semester of Whale she took in college to communicate. The whales are freed! Hooray! Now we humans are free to hunt them down and kill them again!

Of course, the Frost Giants are still around, now both hungry and angry, so our duo defeat them with the power of political rhetoric. Works for me, because invading Earth really wasn't a great idea for Frost Giants. Afterward, Loki tries to show up and drag Ratatoskr back to Asgard jail, on the grounds that she tricked him once, so she can't be trusted. I think, by that logic, no person should ever trust Loki, and we should all punch him and throw him in Asgard jail. Anyway, Doreen vouches for "Rachel", and Nancy vouches for Doreen, and that's that.

It was a nice tie-in story. I didn't care about War of the Realms, but this works fine as a Squirrel Girl story where she has to stop a random Frost Giant invasion of her native Canada. The main gist of the story is Doreen first trying to get Ratatoskr to not be so chaotic, and be helpful instead. Then realizing Rachel can use her being a trickster god for good. She doesn't have to change who she is entirely, just use her natural talents in a different direction. Doreen is willing to trust her to do that, and it works.
My two favorite bits in this issue are the Frost Giant that was appointed "ship's captain" in his striped blue-and-white shirt and little cap, and Rachel's attempt to speak whale. Both are shown above for your convenience, along with the wonderful line, "Food has backfired somehow!" Clearly that Frost Giant has never eaten anything really spicy or that he's allergic to.

Although Charm draws Rachel as a narwhal (an adorable narwhal with pointy incisors), not a beluga. Granting the two are fairly closely related as whales go, and the horn(tusk?) was integral to Rachel's plan, are North and Charm implying all whales speak the same language? I find that extremely unrealistic. In this story about a girl with squirrel powers teaming up with a trickster squirrel god to fight Frost Giants for the fate of Canada.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #69

"Well, Who Expects to See a Blockbuster These Days?" in Batgirl (vol. 1) #58, by Andersen Gabrych (writer), Ale Garza (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Wildstorm FX (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer)

Andersen Gabrych took over as writer from Dylan Horrocks (whose run I only own a few issues of, and it's notable mostly for Batman's attempts to keep boys away from Cass) around the time of the abysmal War Games storyline. I didn't start buying Batgirl until immediately after that, when it crossed over with Robin. Both characters were moving to Bludhaven to take over protecting it for the injured Nightwing. That was my first introduction to the character, and I liked her, liked Garza' art well enough (especially compared to Scott's work on Robin, which had gotten exaggerated to the point it was difficult to follow at times), so I kept buying it post-crossover. Right up through its cancelation at issue 73.

I think the initial idea for this run was pretty solid. Put Cass in an unfamiliar territory, with no consistent back-up. Tim's got his own shit going on, Batsy is Gotham, Cass and Oracle had a falling out over a few different things. She's really on her own, trying to figure out how to be more of a crimefighter and less of someone who patrols randomly and busts the skulls of any crook she happens across. She gets herself a snitch, has to tangle with supervillains, tries to process some of her grief over Spoiler's death, tries to take an interest in the neighborhood she lives in. She rarely showed much interest in things like that before, but she's growing as a person, and she sees it as important to trying to be more like Batman.

Garza handles the art chores for most of the issues. His art is less expressive than Daimon Scott's was, not nearly as exaggerated. Cass seems to spend a lot of time scowling or looking intense. She's really trying to be like Batman. He keeps her as this sort of slim, wiry figure she was when Scott drew her. There's also a lot of times he'll draw her and this small shadow, lurking and flitting about during fights. Really playing up how she can use her quickness to frighten and unnerve criminals in a different way from Batman. Instead of a dark presence looming, she's the indistinct bit of movement you only catch a glimpse of in the corner of your eye.

Eventually, the build to Infinite Crisis intervened and things went to shit. Deathstroke shows up, wanting to use Cass as a test for his daughter Rose. Cass comes to the (ultimately correct) conclusion Lady Shiva is her mother, which sends her on a road trip. She gets briefly tangled up with an OMAC, and then with the League of Assassins, who are using Mr. Freeze for something, by promising he can give Nora a dip in the Lazarus Pit. That didn't exactly end well. Once Infinite Crisis ended, Geoff Johns and Adam Beechen gave us crazy, murdering, possibly-hot-for-Tim Drake Cassandra Cain, running the League of Assassins and just generally doing the "I make the world better by killing evil people" shtick. 

It took a couple of years to fix that mess, and Cass never did regain her spot in the Bat-family hierarchy. They gave her a mini-series to try address things, but let Beechen, the last person anyCass fan wanted anywhere near the character, write it. It was a mess, but at least it got her back in circulation on the good guys' side. Still, it wasn't long before Steph took over as Batgirl, and Grant Morrison had already introduced Damian Wayne as another character raised to be a killer, and he had the advantage of being Batsy's biological kid. It seemed to buy him a lot more wiggle room than Steph or Cass ever got for their mistakes, considering he was an unrepentant killer. Nepotism strikes again!

It could have been worse. They could have left Cass in Bludhaven for when Deathstroke dropped Chemo on the city like a bomb. Wouldn't have put that past Dan Didio or Geoff Johns.

But for the first 6-8 months of Gabrych's run I read, I was really enjoying it, and it got me to track the earlier stuff down, so that's something.