Monday, September 30, 2019

A Dark Trail - Chapter 10

By the time Deadpool and Rhodez turned away from the window, the gnome was gone. Neither of them heard anything.

"Do you think he ran off?" Rhodez asked hopefully.

Deadpool continued scanning the area. "He shrugged off three bullets to the chest and knocked us both on our asses. Unless he's the love child of Domino and Puck and his luck powers ran out, probably not."

The two moved carefully down a row of cubicles, searching everywhere. As they reached another intersection, Rhodez glimpsed something at the far end of the lane to her right. She raised her rifle and fired.

The round tore a sizable hole in one cube, but the shadow she'd seen darted to safety, for the moment.

"Office Surfin'!"

Only for the moment because Deadpool was headed that way the moment he noticed Rhodez had seen something. He made a flying leap onto a mail cart and hurtled down the aisle, crouched low, arms out to either side. The Gnome with a Syringe could have easily escaped down another aisle, but didn't see the point. Instead he leapt into the air, ready to kick this jittery idiot's head off.

The mercenary met the jump with one of his own, drawing a sword as he did and shouting, "Special Deadpool Sword Technique!"

The two sailed past each other, whatever Deadpool's attack was, it let him twist out of the path of the kick. They landed facing away from each other, both in a crouch. Still back at the intersection, Rhodez watched intently, waiting for something to happen. Deadpool sheathed his blade with a click that echoed in the empty workspace. The gnome straightened up, and Rhodez raised her rifle again as his eyes locked with hers.

"Deadpool?" she called uncertainly.

"Wait for it," he replied, still in his landing pose.

A single cut in the gnome's tunic appeared. He scratched idly at the unbroken skin under it.

"It itched. That's about it."

He took one step towards Rhodez, and the lower half of his beard fell to the floor. He froze, staring at his shorn facial hair.

"Beard Trimmer!" Wade exclaimed proudly as he finally stood up and turned to face the other two. Before he could say more, a tiny fist connected with his chin. His lower jaw was driven back sharply, nearly severing his windpipe. The rest of him flew back into the wall, only his lower legs and hand sticking out of the hole.

The gnome advanced until a shot hit him in the shoulder and sent him stumbling forward a step. He whirled and glared at Rhodez, who looked on in dismay.

"Oh come on!" she groaned as the gnome marched forward and sent the cart screaming down the aisle towards her with one kick. There was no time to dodge, so she held out the rifle, hoping to blunt the impact at least a little. She felt a sharp pain shiver up both arms at first contact, but that was all.

Rhodez winced as she opened her eyes to find she hadn't been run over. The cart had stopped on contact. Her arms stung and her rifle was dented. She probably couldn't risk firing it again.

Which was a problem, because the gnome was watching her with a dangerous glint in his eyes. She hadn't retrieved her hatchet after he kicked her in the head, and if the .30-30 rounds weren't stopping him, she doubted using the rifle as a club would work.

"Microverse ZZ Top." The gnome turned, fed up with the insults. Of course, compared to the syringe full of acid Deadpool sprayed into his face, the insults weren't so bad. Rhodez approached slowly, not really wanting a closer look at the damage, but Deadpool seemed unperturbed. He was talking to himself about whether a "Melt with You" reference would have been better.

The tiny terror lurched in their direction, and Rhodez backed up quickly, going into a ready crouch, one hand on the ground steadying her to defend or roll away. The gnome crouched as well, preparing to jump. Gaining high ground for an attack, or trying to escape? It was never clear because as he went to spring off the ground, his feet slid from under him and he simply fell on his face.

His mostly melted, extremely injured face.

"I guess your luck powers really did run out," Deadpool observed over the screams. "You aren't hurt enough you can't feel pain, but the acid did make you uglier than me." He tried to walk over to the gnome, but his feet slid uselessly on the carpeted floor.

The gnome glared hatefully through the eye that's lid hadn't melted over it as he scrabbled uselessly at the carpet, trying to drag himself away. "You could run me over for an hour and I'd still look better than you, crapbag."

"As much as I'd love doing donuts on your face in the parking lot, I don't think my trainee would approve." Deadpool found he still couldn't move. "Hey Padawan, throw me your rifle, I'm on a treadmill here, and not just the constant cycle of making friends then pissing them off my creative teams have me on."

"I'm not sure it'll help, Wa - Deadpool. See for yourself." She rose to her feet and tossed it to him. As she did, both Deadpool and the gnome abruptly stumbled forward. Deadpool turned it into a lunge, ignoring the rifle, knife drawn trying to pin his enemy to the ground like a bug on display. The Gnome launched himself up and away, snatching the rifle in midair. Knowing it would be useless against the regenerating merc, he aimed at Rhodez instead, who had fallen backwards and was scrambling away on all fours.

Deadpool found he couldn't get up, limbs sliding uselessly. "Thanks for pointing out the obvious, useless narrator. How about you explain who entered a cheat code to turn this into an ice level from Mario 3?"

Listen here you, this is not a visual narrative. I have to describe what's happening for the audience.

"Blah, blah, while the useless narrator defended his obsolete job, Deadpool threw his knife at the stupid, smelly, ugly gnome!"

Knock that off! Ahem, Deadpool threw his knife at the gnome, but the rifle had already exploded in the Gnome's face, what was left of it. He fell backwards, landing on the mail cart. It spun slightly and rolled more than would be expected from the impact. Taking a chance, Rhodez rushed the cart and shoved it. The cart sailed down the aisle like a runaway train, and almost as devoid of passengers, the disarmed and maimed gnome writhing on top of it. The cart went through a window at the end of the aisle, with a loud crash and fell out of sight.

Rhodez walked over and Wade found he could get up again. "Thank goodness, those little blue pills are expensive." Turning to Rhodez, he said, "I think you need X-Men training more than assassin training Padawan. I guess we could enroll you in the X-Force after-school program and split the difference."

Rhodez sighed. "Wade, I can't afford more education. I already have enough student debt I seriously considered letting you train me to be a contract killer. I can't even replace that rifle," she gestured glumly.

"That's why you take hits on the side, when you aren't going on paramiltary, morally ambiguous missions with a bunch of people in all black and grey outfits! They'll even give you guns, you just have to "lose" them along the way," the mercenary gestured enthusiastically.

"Are you two OK?" They turned to see a damp panda and bedraggled Pollock, who was wringing her cape out furiously.

Deadpool arched one eye. "Not as OK as you two if you had time for pool sex. You're supposed to invite me to that."

Hard to say which of the other three people in the room was more disgusted by that comment. "That's not what we were doing!" snapped Pollock. "We were attacked by an idiot with grenades and intangibility powers!"

"That still doesn't explain looking like you've just run through the city desperately in a thunderstorm to catch the train your lover is leaving town forever on," Deadpool observed, before turning to Clever Adolescent Panda. "So what had you bothered in there, big chum?"

"There were a lot of researchers and lab technicians, and they were all dead. It looks like the Amilgars did it. What happened up here?"

"We got attacked by a creepy gnome," Rhodez explained.

"Is that all?" Pollock asked incredulously. "From all the damage up here, I'd think you fought a team of highly trained super soldiers."

"I've heard gnomes have eight times the strength of an ordinary human," the panda observed, "but I've never met one, so I don't know if it's true."

"Pretty sure it's true," Rhodez said wearily.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #81

"More Rigged Than a Duke Home Game", in Beyond! #4, by Dwayne McDuffie (writer), Scott Kolins (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), Dave Lanphear (letterer)

Beyond! came out in late 2006, probably during the stretch where Steve McNiven fell way the fuck behind on Civil War. I don't think that has anything to do with this, just a bit of temporal context. It has to have wrapped up before McDuffie took over for JMS as writer of Fantastic Four, since McDuffie pulls a plot element from this for one of his stories there. 

A disparate group of characters - Medusa, Spider-Man, the Wasp, Hank Pym, Firebird, the Hood, Gravity, the Mac Gargan Venom, and one of Kraven's kids - are lured to a mysterious spacecraft landing in Central Park. Which then carries them to a distant planet where a mysterious voice tells them they'll receive their heart's desires if they triumph over their enemies.

Sounds familiar, right? But things aren't what they seem, as they aren't the first, or even the second bunch to be brought here. Plus, one of them is an imposter, and no I don't mean the Hood impersonating a badass.

McDuffie's able to give every character a chance to show how they can be cool or even just human. He draws some good stuff out of the old history some of the characters have (Kraven and Spider-Man for one, Pym and Firebird for another). The reveal of the true mastermind seemed clever and in keeping with the character, at least based on my understanding of him. 

Kolins' art has a kind of roughness to it that I don't exactly love, but it's effective. He can handle the scenes of people talking, the parts where tensions are running high and people are starting to snap at each other, and he can handle the fight scenes. He knows when to pull back for a sense of scale or scope, and when to zoom in on someone under strain. I don't think I've ever seen the outfit he gave Medusa before or since, but it was pretty cool.

You can probably find Beyond! pretty cheaply in trade or single issues, and I'd say it's worth a look if you enjoy Dwayne McDuffie's work or stories about random collections of characters having to work together somehow.

Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Bought 9/18/2019 - Part 2

Fall is this typically slow time at work, at least in the office. Which is good motivation to get out in the field and do inspections. Plus, if it actually decides to act like fall, the weather is delightful. I love fall so much more than summer or winter.

Anyway, we were bored enough Monday to read through an appeal filed on a decision our director made and there's a paragraph where they discuss "hoe-ramming" as a method of dropping pillars holding up the ceiling of an old underground mine. In the next paragraph they spelled it "ho-ramming" and we've been making jokes about that all week.

Steeple #1, by John Allison (writer/artist), Sarah Stern (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - Can hardly blame her for not picking up two hitchhikers on her motorcycle, especially when one is a giant man with a cow skull for a head. And his cloak would certainly get caught in her wheels.

Billie (the brunette on the cover) is a trainee priest sent to assist Reverend Penrose in the town of Tredregyn, which has reputation for being a land of horrors and boogedies. Her car bursts into flames as she reaches town limits, but the other lady on the cover, Maggie does give her a ride into town. Maggie also works at a local pub, and according to Billie's new boss, is a servant of the devil. Which, considering the reverend spends every evening fighting supernatural horrors is more literal than is typical. Unless that eyeball creature he was trying to cast into the sea was just some dude in a spooky mask. In which case the Reverend and Billie may be murderers. That's probably not the case, though.

'Stop ambushing the bereaved! That's not the Church of England way!' cracked me up. I wonder at how accurate that is, though.

So this could go a lot of ways. Penrose looks like he's running on fumes, but doesn't believe Billie is cut out for this work, her handy use of vacuums as a weapon aside. But I'm unclear how much of what I'd consider more typical church work Penrose does, which is what Billie seems eager to do. Meet the community, help them with the love of God or whatever. So does Billie prove she's more able to fight than the reverend suspects? Or does she befriend Maggie and bring down the devil worshipers from within? Or maybe she rallies the community to the reverend's aid and they help him fend off eldritch horrors? Or does Maggie convince Billie Penrose is off his nut and turns her around? It's the first issue, possibilities abound.
It's interesting that everyone except Billie and Maggie are drawn with shadows under their eyes. Granting Billie is younger than everyone else, and I'm unclear on whether Maggie is an older woman, has gone grey early, or dyes her hair, but most of the locals are frazzled, or worn, or just aged. Not exactly an easy life up in North Cornwall I guess. Penrose reminds me a little of Old Man Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond. Probably the scowling and black clothing that does, but especially in the scene where he first meets Billie he has that tired, slumped shoulder look. He's trying to stand straight up, but the energy isn't there anymore. Also, I'm curious to see Allison draw more strange beasties, just to see what designs he comes up with.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Deadline - U.S.A.

Humphrey Bogart plays the editor of a well-respected newspaper, but as the movie begins, he learns the paper has been sold to a rival paper, which intends to shutter them. He gets drunk and despondent for a night, but by the morning he learns one of his reporters was found badly beaten. The reporter was trying to follow a lead on a local Mista Big, Tomas Rienzi.

In the few days left before the paper is closed for good, Bogart directs the full force of it at Tomas Rienzi. Rienzi already managed to flummox a state senate committee's investigation into his finances and the likelihood he influenced recent election, but he's no match for the power of the press, although he gives it a good shot. Well, not really, he's kind of incompetent. Or the men he hires are.

There's also a subplot about Bogart and the widow (Ethel Barrymore) of the paper's founder trying their best to block the sale and shuttering of the paper, after Bogart inspired her with a speech about how important the press is. Plus another subplot about Bogart still not being over his wife (played by Kim Hunter) having divorced him and getting ready to remarry.

It's mostly a movie about the critical function good reporting serves in a society. Pity we don't have more of it today, or more people that will actually read it. Take your pick. So Bogart makes a lot of speeches, including one during the final hearing to determine if the sale will go through. Which requires the judge to let him to continue, even though it has no bearing on things. I guess there was always a chance one of Ethel Barrymore's daughters would change their minds and throw in with her to nix the deal.

The enjoyable part is just watching all the different aspects of the paper that get brought to bear against Rienzi, and watching Rienzi get flustered and stupid because of it. The research department, the cartoonist, Bogart's editorials. One person of interest is involved in boxing, because Rienzi has interests there as well, so one of the sportswriters is able to call in favors to track the guy down.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

What I Bought 9/18/2019 - Part 1

While I was on the road last week, I managed to pick up three of the four books that were out I wanted, which was better than I thought I'd do. That was a nice development in the midst of all the heat and my allergies going haywire again. Really hope I'm nearing the end of that difficulty for the year.

Magnificent Ms. Marvel #7, by Saladin Ahmed (writer), Joez Vazquez (artist), Ian Herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Nakia strikes me as someone who drives aggressively without realizing it. She gets on a tirade about something and all the while she's crossing three lanes at a time without signaling.

Kamala's in one of those stretches where the personal life aspects are suffering. Grades are down, father sick, late for school, needs to join an extracurricular, unresolved romantic tension with Bruno, all that jazz. So Zoe and Nakia take her on a road trip to the place with the best gyros in New Jersey. But the place is only full of wage zombies from a nearby company, who quickly surround them, and then Josh and that annoying redheaded fascist girl show up.

As far as recurring enemies of Kamala's go, they aren't the Inventor, but they're better than the sentient computer program. Because she can punch them. Although first we'll have to listen to them whine about how all their misfortune is Kamala's fault.  At least Josh already got his in this issue. No we'll just have to sit through Lockdown's next month.

Vazquez' style reminds me of Sara Pichelli's from when she was drawing Ultimate Spider-Man. Crisp look to the characters, not a lot of excess lines. Everything and everyone looks fairly clean and not necessarily a lot of background detail, It works. I like the liquid (tears?) running from all the zombies eyes, if you figure they're victims being abused by their bosses. Nakia says Rubicon "bought the whole town", and you wonder how accurate that is. Of course, all the zombies also have the liquid running from their mouths, which is gross rather than sad, but oh well.
The color work from the diner until the end was really nice. A lot of purples and oranges on the horizon, as we move towards dusk. The way the town or the trees are just shadowy outlines all around, with no hint of what's there. It's capturing that horror movie feel of being in dangerous, unknown territory as it's about to get very dark.

Test #4, by Christopher Sebela (writer), Jen Hickman (artist), Harry Saxon (colorist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer) - I'd say Aleph has stuck their neck in out, but it might be they need to push the rest of themselves through, too.

The person who asked Aleph to lead them last time may actually be Aleph, but a future version. Or someone who can look like them. That doesn't exactly reassure, so Aleph runs from place to place, through mirror after mirror, through some of their memories, and eventually they meet a personification of the town of Laurelwood itself. The town was able to access the future, but bringing pieces of it here only excited people as to the commercial possibilities, instead of scaring them. At the moment, all the different forces are burning the city to the ground in a struggle for dominance, but that doesn't seem relevant, as Laurel and Aleph are planning to do something, but it requires Aleph to die. Again, because this isn't the first time Laurel's tried this.

So everything that's happened with Aleph has been an attempt by Laurel to make him ready for whatever it is the city plans to do with their access to the future? Like, going all the way back to childhood, or just since Aleph started trying to modify themselves? And it's been attempt after attempt after attempt? Or is that all those times Aleph thinks they should have died, they actually did, but Laurel's winding it back somehow? Laurel said the future isn't a place you can go, but I don't know that means the same is true of the past.

Yes, I'm fumbling here. I really don't grasp what Sebela's going for here, beyond Aleph trying to figure out what they really want and why, and how difficult that can be for someone else to understand. Laurel admits they never know what to say to help Aleph understand, and that they can't grasp why Aleph wants to not exist so badly. I feel like Aleph's line about "sapes" barely being able to exist now is and that being off the board entirely is the only way to be is just another cover. It's easier to pretend not to care, speaking as someone with experience in that viewpoint.
The weird in-between space is kind of nifty. A whole lot darkness, except there's something that reminds me of lungs sitting in the middle of a field of weird mushroom things. Everything has a soft blue tint, like the mushroom things are giving off the light. You could see it being almost soothing in spite of how weird it is. At least no one is chasing after Aleph or trying to attack him there, right? But it's still off to Aleph, enough they feel they have to run, even if there's no place to run to exactly. And hiding seems futile from something that can see you anywhere, since you're within it, sort of.

As a man once said, Red, I do believe you're talking out of your ass. True enough. Maybe I'll be able to make sense of it after next month. But probably not.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The 7th Dawn

This movie is set in Malaysia after World War II, and focuses primarily on three characters who all worked together in the resistance against the Japanese occupation. Ferris (William Holden), who has gone on to be a big time landowner/industrialist in Malaysia. Dhana (Capucine), who has gone on to a career in teaching, and is frequently involved in non-violent demonstrations against actions taken by the British provincial government. Ng (Tetsuro Tanba), who went to Moscow after the war, and is the leader (or one of the major players) in the Malaysian Communists rebellion against the British provincial government.

The British government insists it is going to withdraw, once things are in place for a peaceful transition to a democracy. For Ng, that either isn't happening fast enough, or won't ensure the Communists are running things, depending on how you want to read it. My guess is the film thinks the latter, but I'm unconvinced. My dad would say that's my anti-British stance; I'd say it's understanding people might not be willing to take the word of the country that treated them as a colony that it will let go.

There's a whole love triangle where Ng loves Dhana, but Dhana loves Ferris, and Ferris, I guess likes Dhana, but not enough not to fool around with other women when he gets the chance (and then get snippy when Dhana gives him shit for it). I was more interested in the deep loyalty the three appear to have for each other, where neither Dhana or Ferris will turn against Ng, despite repeated pressure from the government, and Ferris is the one big landowner that doesn't get attacked by Ng's forces. Dhana's the only one who holds to that until the very end, though, as Ferris and Ng both have something they value more.

Really have to question some of the tactics the British use. Not just the bit where after a man throws a grenade into a fancy party, they decide to burn his entire village to the ground as a demonstration. But they're moving everyone to a new village, just 15 miles away. Except they also insist that they are moving them to where the Communists can't reach them. 15 miles away is out of reach? But it's not like they can tell who is a Communist and who isn't.

That was dumb, but the real head-scratcher is at the end, after Ng has abducted the provincial government head's daughter, Candace, to force the government to concede. The SAS locate Ng's base, and jet bombers proceed to bomb it, then a bunch of soldiers parachute in and start shooting basically everything that moves. So we're not even attempting to rescue her? Because if you are, that is the stupidest way of going about it I've ever seen.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Dark Trail - Chapter 9

Down on the first floor, Pollock and the Clever Adolescent Panda were still in trouble. Pollock had managed a second barrier against the last grenade, but only barely. She'd have been blown across the room by the shockwave if CAP hadn't been behind her, acting as a brace.

Out of explosives, the Immaterial Man seemed content to try rushing forward and diving at them. Pollock rolled left, CAP right, and he slid smoothly out of sight through the floor. The two each jumped onto one of the few remaining objects in the room, Pollock an equipment cart, CAP one of the holding tubes, trying to stay out of reach of surprise attacks from below. Four eyes scanned the room for any sign of that unsettling smile or green suit, to no avail.

Pollock whispered, trusting the panda's ears to pick it up. "I might have something to stop him, but we need a way to hold him in place for it to work."

"I have something, but you'll have to stay back or it'll get you, too." The panda dropped to the floor more heavily than necessary, all senses on alert for their opponent to appear, an object hidden in one massive paw. At a loud cracking near the blocked doorway, both sets of eyes swiveled that direction. The floor gave way under the remains of the collapsed ceiling, the concrete and plaster splashing into the water one floor down. Even after the rubble had fallen through, cracks continued to spiderweb outwards from the hole. From her higher vantage point, Pollock could tell the floor was unusually thin, like it was made of a single sheet of graham crackers.

"He's been pulling away the floor this whole time!," she shouted as the floor gave way entirely. Her perch shifted backwards as it fell, and she was unable to leap clear. Clever Adolescent Panda lunged towards a wall, just managing to grab hold of a pipe running from ceiling to floor with one paw. But this left them unable to do anything for Pollock as she fell into the dark water below.

It also left them vulnerable, trapped on a single narrow handhold. It wouldn't be difficult for their ghostly enemy to reach out of the wall and take the panda's heart. Unless he was focused on Pollock while she was in the water.

As CAP scanned the murky surface below, hoping for a familiar head to break the surface, a hand shot out of the wall, although it was aimed at their face rather than their heart. Our furry hero had been warned somehow. An instinct maybe, or the rustle of fabric as it passed through air, and they flung themselves backwards into the open space where there used to be a floor.

"Time flies, but you just fall." The Immaterial Man began to fully emerge from the wall, intending to attack while the panda was helpless in mid-air. Before he could launch himself from the wall, CAP hurled the item in their paw. The Aura Lock grenade released a flare of light, and the spectral enemy spasmed, tumbling gracelessly for an instant before their suit caught on a bracket holding the pipe on the wall. The panda's momentary triumph didn't convince gravity to release her grip, and CAP plunged into the frigid water.

They bobbed to the surface a moment later. The few functioning lights in the room above didn't illuminate much down here. It looked as though they were in a long hallway or tunnel, rather than an office or lab. There was no sign of Pollock. Perhaps her cape had weighed her down? Before CAP could start a search, a low groan rolled from above. The Immaterial Man glared down, smile gone, as he phased one hand into the wall to lever himself up and free his suit from where it was caught.

He held a lighter in his other hand, and it was then the panda noticed a sticker on the pipe indicating it was a gas line. If there was still any inside, phasing a lighter in there would be bad for everyone. Except, presumably, the guy who could turn intangible and let the explosion pass through him.

"You can't buy time, but time can say bye."

From behind CAP a canister flew up and exploded in a cloud of yellow smoke around the Immaterial Man. "Would you shut up, you nattering lunatic?!" a wet and extremely angry-looking Pollock snarled.

The lunatic in question tried to close his eyes and mouth, then retreat into the wall, but his concentration faltered, and he couldn't pull himself in. He fell, not out of the wall, but down through it, towards them, towards the water. There was no splash when he reached it, not even a ripple. His passage through it caused as little disturbance as starlight.

"He must be stuck in his intangible state!" CAP realized as they submerged and kicked swiftly to the floor. "He'll just keep sinking if I don't stop him!" Underwater, most of the panda's senses were muted, if not entirely useless. From what little they could make out, there was no sign of that shiny green suit. The Immaterial Man was gone without a trace.

By the time Clever Adolescent Panda resurfaced, Pollock had reached the staircase to floors above and was watching the water warily from the dry landing. She offered a hand as the panda reached the staircase.

"No sign?"

The panda shook their head, water droplets flying in all directions. "I don't know how far down he could be by now. If he regains consciousness in time, maybe. . . "

"I designed that stuff to keep a regular person unconscious for hours. Even Wade would probably be out for an hour."

The panda's dark eyes locked on Pollock's green ones. "What would you need something like that for?"

Pollock folded her arms across her chest, exasperated. "For all the very annoying, very strong people who keep showing up at my business and causing problems. It's a nonlethal response. In my defense, I wasn't expecting the person I used it on to fall to the floor and then through it."

"Great, but now we've got nothing."

"I'm sorry, perhaps you'd prefer to be back in the freezing water faced with an opponent who probably wouldn't be hampered by it at all?"

The panda raised their front paws in a placating gesture. "You're right. This just isn't going how I hoped."

"Does it ever?" Pollock scoffed. "There are still the computers in the lab. Or perhaps one of the others found something."

Both of them snapped their heads towards the ceiling above them as the sound of gunfire reached them. They both dashed up the stairs as CAP said, "I don't think Wade is just bored."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #80

"Because Everyone's On a Lot of Drugs," in Beware the Creeper #1, by Jason Hall (writer), Cliff Chiang (artist), Dave Stewart, (colorist), John Workman (letterer)

An early 2000s Vertigo mini-series I grabbed on a back issue hunt last year. The story doesn't have any relation to the Jack Ryder Creeper we usually see, as it's set in 1920s Paris, and focused on two sisters. Judith is an artist, the wild child, vocal, doing whatever or whoever catches her fancy, while Maddy is the quiet, responsible one, who pays the bills, and writes screenplays when she can. After Judith is attacked by a psychotic rich boy, the Creeper arrives on the scene, striking at that family in various ways.

There's a whole thing where the Creeper is initially embraced by the Surrealist Movement, given her seemingly random actions that poke at and humiliate the various institutions and people that had historically been granted respect. Whether those things had ever deserved that respect is another matter. But you know how it goes with popularity; first they raise you up, then they tear you down.

Cliff Chiang and Dave Stewart make a good art team. The Creeper outfit retains the green-red-yellow color scheme, although with a lot more green. The red boa or stole is replaced with more of a crest or ponytail on top of the head. In the streetlights the getup looks bizarre, but in the shadows it can look quite threatening and unsettling.

Friday, September 20, 2019

What I Bought 9/13/2019 - Part 2

It's been 90 degrees here all week. Guess I should get used to that state of affairs, but I would rather complain futilely about it. Where's my autumn? At least the temperature is supposed to moderate this weekend. it's Alex' birthday, so it'd be nice to not feel trapped inside.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #48, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist/trading card artist), Michael Cho and Doc Shanher (trading card artists), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Doom is unimpressed by Squirrel Girl's ability to cradle Iron Man's unconscious body.

The villains all agree to work together until Squirrel Girl is defeated, then it's everyone for themselves. Totally sure none of them will try to jump the gun on that! Doreen advises the villains attacking her at school that this is a bad idea, and they give up. Traveling to what's left of Doreen and Nancy's apartment, they find Mew did not get blown up. Hooray! Then they track Melissa to the park, where she spends the rest of the issue monologuing about how she hired someone to tamper with Iron Man's armor so she can hijack it, and how she let Brain Drain send off that message and blah, blah.

OK, "Iron Ring" is not a great name, but not even Melissa can bat 1.000. It is impressive how much time she's spent maneuvering and preparing for this moment, although I'm not sure we needed roughly 6 pages of her talking about it. Less chat, more splat, lady.
During the scene where the cast is rushing to Doreen and Nancy's apartment, there's one panel where they leap from what I assume is a building that is just below the border of the panel, but between the way that's laid out, and the next panel where they're off in the distance above seemingly empty space, it looks like they jumped off air. Or an invisible building. Maybe it's Melissa's secret lair! I hope they remember to go back and check that out later!

I did enjoy the three panels of Doreen and Nancy gawking at the assembled villains, and then Doreen hands Nancy their respective trading cards so she (and the audience) can all get familiar with these bad guys. Also the fact that on the final page, it looks like Tony is trying to fight Taskmaster by throwing rocks at him. Not a boulder, mind you, just ordinary rocks. While fighting in his Iron Man boxer shorts, which I call bullshit on. Everyone knows Tony Stark would have special-made boxers with his own face on them. Iron Man boxers are for everyone else.

Giant Days #54, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (color artist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - I don't remember if I threw my cap in the air at my high school graduation. I didn't attend the ceremony when I got either of my degrees. The fact I didn't have to was something I was very pleased about when my mom told me. Pay a bunch of money for a stupid gown and sit there sweating for hours to get a piece of paper that tells me something I already know? Hell with that.

Esther and Daisy bunk with Susan for the 6 weeks between the end of their classes and receiving their degrees. Esther didn't clear this plan with her parents before having them haul her stuff home, so that's awkward. When they notice the back tattoo she got first year they didn't know about either, that makes things worse. Also, her influence has got Susan thinking about stealing all the diplomas for herself. So many useless degrees! Ed got himself a haircut, and a job at a bank. Poor Ed, bad luck right to the end. Daisy got a job working on historic sites for the city council, but must avoid the tomb of Derek Dooley. Well now I have to know what's in it! There are tearful farewells and that's it, until next month's "One Year Later" one-off

Daisy's whole hypothesis about what could potentially end their friendship came from left field, but I've had some notions like that during conversations before, so I can't talk. I like that Allison touched on the recent passing of McGraw's father (part of the reason there was room for Esther and Daisy was he went home to help his mother for a while). That's not the sort of thing that just resolves itself quickly and neatly, not in the legal sense or the emotional one. Dean Thompson got a one-panel send off from Esther that was all he deserved, but not all that I wanted him to get.
Susan's video-game version of herself is hilarious, and the bizarre, mini-Susan Daisy envisions as a product of an affair between McGraw and Esther is adorable. If you set aside the part where she pictures them giving the child cigarettes. There's no way McGraw would be so irresponsible! There's one panel of Esther's mum freaking out about the tattoo where I love the postures. her mouth is wide open (as are her eyes), and her hands are in her hair, while Esther scrambles to put her dress on, and you can only see one big, embarrassed eyes peering out. It captures the moment so well. I am going to miss Max Sarin's artwork so much.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Robots and Empire - Isaac Asimov

The last book in the Robots series, so far as I know anyway, set 200 years after The Robots of Dawn. Elijah Baley is dead, but the man who's ambition he stymied in the previous story isn't (Spacers being extremely long-lived), and that guy is still determined to be rid of Earth, and eventually all the Settler Worlds that have been populated from it.

(The Spacer worlds were also originally populated by Earthmen, but the Spacers prefer to ignore that, or think of it as an unpleasant first step on the journey to their currently more evolved states.)

With Elijah not around, it falls to Baley's old partner Daneel, and Giskard, the empathic robot, to put a stop to the plot. If they can figure there is a plot, and if they can figure out what it is, and if they can somehow get around the First Law of Robotics prohibition against harming a human.

One thing that tripped me up on Robots of Dawn was that while I remembered Giskard had the ability to read and alter emotions and to a certain extent, memories, I associated it with this book, and didn't remember it factoring in to the earlier story. One thing I didn't remember about this book is how, to someone within the story, it would probably seem as though it was about Gladia, the Solarian woman Elijah helped twice, who gets dragged into investigating strange happenings on Solaria, and from there, sets her mind to trying to bridge the gap between Settlers and Spacers, to ensure a future for both groups. She's the one everyone believes saved the Settlers she was with on Solaria, she's making all these speeches, a Spacer willingly mingling with Settlers and Earthmen and whatnot.

And she is doing all those things (although having read the later Foundation books, I kind of know it doesn't come to much). But the real show is Daneel and Giskard, seemingly just tagging along in the background. When really, they're trying to piece things together and find a way to stop what's coming. Which unfortunately leads to a lot of pages of the two of them standing there talking to each other about what they think could be going on while Gladia isn't around. There's a lot of that, from a lot of characters. Mandamus explaining his whole plan and how he came to think of it, Vasalia going through this whole spiel about how she could have given Giskard mental powers as a child. Granting that Asimov's books tend to have a lot of people talking about process, in this book he kind tips the scale too far. There's too much explaining, and not enough happening.

I think the key with Baley was, Asimov was able to convey a sense of peril for Baley while he was trying to pull things together. Even if it was just in terms of being befuddled by Auroran bathrooms, or being worried about his career, there was some tension about if he was going to be able to hold it together long enough to put things together. And his thought processes were nonlinear enough that he didn't lay things out step-by-step. In some cases, we didn't even know what he'd figured out until he reveals it at the very end. Whereas Daneel and Giskard are discussing everything at leisure while Gladia sleeps, and laying it out, one step at a time. That might be a necessary approach to illustrate the differences in how they think from Baley, since they theoretically lack intuition, but it makes for a reading experience of having your hand held the whole way.

It also might not help that Asimov is trying more deliberately to tie what happens here to what eventually happens in the Foundation books. He's been dropping hints about a social science that predicts the actions of humans since at least The Naked Sun, but the idea of Psychohistory comes much more to the forefront here than in the previous books. So it feels as though there are winks and nods towards what we know happens in those later books, but they don't serve much purpose other than winks and nods.

Basically, not the strongest entry in the Robots series.

"The cars are thoroughly computerized," said D.G. "I take it that Spacer cars are not?"

"We have robots to drive them."

D.G. continued waving and Gladia followed his lead automatically. "We don't," he said.

"But the computer is essentially the same as a robot."

"A computer is not humanoid and it does not obtrude itself on one's notice. Whatever the technological similarities must be, they are worlds apart psychologically."

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What I Bought 9/13/2019 - Part 1

Last Friday, after I picked up some comics, and while I was waiting for my dad (who was very late, naturally) to get back from running errands, I had the random urge to see how fast I could run. So without stretching first, I sprinted, and then I felt a pop in my hamstring and I ate it on the pavement. This is why I should stick to distance running.

Anyway, here's two comics from last week.

Gwenpool Strikes Back #2, by Leah Williams (writer), David Baldeon (artist), Jesus Arbutov (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - I still don't think I've adjusted to Reed Richards with a beard. It looks strange.

Gwen enlists Deadpool's help to, I'm not sure actually. Her powers get her into the Fantastic Four's basement, and Wade is either trying to convince her that her idea to seduce a member of the FF for a cover image is a bad idea, or giving her the go-ahead to try it. I'm a little unsure which. Either way, she ends up in Reed's arms and Sue's wedding dress right as Sue walks in. Attempts to escape and/or fight don't go well, as Wade is being unusually stupid and/or random today, and they end up trapped inside a big bubble of Reed Richards. Where Gwen makes the mistake of mentioning she kind of unmasked Spider-Man last issue, and Wade decides to kill her.

Williams writes Wade as being a bit too silly all the time here. Like, if he's going to try to use fruit snacks against the Thing, it would be by offering them as a distraction or peace offering, not literally hitting in the chest with them. Unless it was a giant novelty weapon filled with them, I guess. He asks Gwen at one point whether she wants him to be the voice of reason or the agent of chaos here, and she says the former, but that doesn't seem like what he's doing. Unless he's trying to make a larger point about the viability of her getting an increased role in the Marvel Universe as someone who just shows up to cause mayhem with hijinks. Which is more Mr. Mxyspltz than Deadpool, but people do use Wade that way.
I do like that the FF seem more annoyed and perplexed by this than anything. Well, Sue gets a little angry when Gwen mentions Sue did make out or cuddle or something with Dr. Doom at some point. I don't understand the thing she does with her hands, which Wade did earlier when he thought she let slip she has a boyfriend. But otherwise, they're really just kind of confused by this. Although why they think the police can handle Deadpool I don't know. So Baldeon conveys that well, because none of the FF seem to be fighting particularly hard or intensely. Ben refuses to even get involved, which is a great reaction scene, even if the whole fruit snack thing is dumb. Once they capture them, they sit there and wait for the police to arrive while Gwen and Wade chat with each other in the big flesh cocoon Reed's got them in.

Black Cat #4, by Jed MacKay (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - Wow, Johnny looks like such a tool there in the upper right. What a doofus.

So Black Fox' big plan is to steal all the accumulated wealth the New York Thieves' Guild take as a cut of everyone's jobs. But they store it in some pocket dimension, and to get in, they needed that deed to Manhattan and a book that Reed Richards has. And she's going to do this by contacting Johnny and flirting her way in, basically. I assume the Mad Thinker and the Wizard are kicking themselves for not coming up with this plan themselves. The idea is Felicia's guys pretend to be dilvering food she ordered, and she hands off the book while paying. Except someone posted a picture of her visiting Johnny on social media, and that security guy Sonny shows up and barges in. Felicia's guys chase him in to subdue him, Johnny shows up confused, and then Blastaar forces his way in through the Negative Zone portal. Felicia's bad luck powers are working on overdrive today.

I know I said this either last issue or the issue before, but this is what I want from a Black Cat book. Her stealing stuff, but taking advantage of the fact she's in the Marvel Universe, so the stuff she steals can be bizarre, and the problems she faces even more so. And MacKay is bringing in stuff from Immortal Iron Fist here, which is A-OK with me.
Plus there are a lot of little bits in here that liven things up. Johnny insisting on showing off the Fantasticar, which he designed and built, thank you. Korpse being a Jim Hammond fanboy and insisting Johnny has no right to call himself the Human Torch. Korpse gives Foreman the chance to draw some great demented expressions. That dude is intense. And it looks like the Black Fox is probably in some trouble with Dracula for ripping him off that one time. Which is a problem you face when you rip off someone who is theoretically immortal.

I like family photo on the wall of Reed playing the saxophone badly, based on Franklin's reaction. I knew Reed couldn't carry a tune. Also, I want to know which foe of the FF they confiscated the "Acme Mine Detector" from. Probably the Impossible Man. Felicia keeping the book hidden behind her back all through the last few pages of the issue, because Johnny's standing right there. I'm curious if she'll have to maintain that all through next issue, or if she'll be able to pass it to her associates. And if we'll get to see that when it happens, or if it'll happen between panels and we just hear about it after the fact.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Zev (Christopher Plummer) is trying to track down the blockfuehrer he and his friend Max (Martin Landau) hold responsible for the deaths of their families at Auschwitz. Max has figured out Otto Wallisch stole the identity of a person killed at the concentration camp, and has been hiding in North America for decades. He's narrowed him down to 4 people, all living under the name Rudy Kurlander.

Problem being, Max is on oxygen and confined to a wheelchair, and while Zev can get up and move alright, he has dementia. Reading that, it sounds like it could be a questionable comedy (I could see Adam Sandler making that movie, unfortunately), but it's not at all. Zev has a letter, written by Max, explaining everything. Including the fact that Zev is doing this now because his wife recently passed away and he promised he would. Max has also made all the plans as far as train tickets, hotels, cabs, everything, so Zev's inability to remember isn't an issue.

You know Zev isn't going to find the right person, if he finds them at all, until the last name on the list, but how things turn out at each other stop add to the film. Each one difficult or harrowing, especially the third stop where it looks as though Zev found him, but too late.

What sticks with me is the times Zev wakes up and doesn't have any idea where he is, or where Ruth is, or what's going on. My paternal grandmother had that same problem her last several years. The fact he has to keep learning over and over that Ruth has passed is gut-wrenching, because it doesn't seem as though he reads the letter and remembers, so much as he almost learns it for the first time again. So the emotional impact on him isn't lessened. I remember that from my dad having to explain to my grandmother that his brother had passed away (except it was about every half-hour for awhile.)

You can tell there's going to be a twist or surprise reveal at the end, just based on certain details at the beginning. I didn't guess correctly what it was, and the surprise we did get felt cheap. Unnecessary.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Dark Trail - Chapter 8

Calvin followed the fiddle out the window, but where it fell to the parking lot below, he hopped onto a narrow ledge and off to the side. He was angry about getting shocked, not suicidal.

His adrenaline and desire to get clear caused him to almost overshoot and sail into empty space like the instrument, but he was able to regain his balance as electricity sparked and snapped out the window on his left and into the air. He made his way along the narrow path to the next hallway down, where he found the window was entirely intact. Looking over his shoulder, he saw his new best friend's head sticking out the window he escaped through, scowling.

"Aw, crap."

Then the elderly-looking man went flying out the window, the fat end of the bat Calvin brought having taken his place, one slim hand holding it tightly. For a moment the Electric Man seemed to cartwheel helplessly into space, until the electricity surged forth from his hands again. It reached back to the building, seeming to almost grasp the metal framework that ran along the exterior, then arcing back to its master. His descent slowed, then stopped, and he began to steadily rise back to their level.

Having forgotten his own very exposed position, Calvin watched as the bat withdrew from his sight into the hall. Before the walking skeleton could surge after it, Cassanee leapt out to meet him. She kicked him squarely in the face, and used the force to push her up, and she floated backwards enough to grab the edge of the roof with one hand. As the Electric Man halted his fall again, Cass easily pulled herself up. He glared up at her, while the Lady in Orange looked down at him impassively, no emotion showing.

For a few seconds, they held this position, and then he sent a little more power out and was launched up into the air above her, Cass darting back smoothly while he rained bolts of sheer power down on her as he descended. Calvin continued down the ledge, trying to find some way to access the roof and help.

Up on the roof, Cassanee felt steadier. There was less cover, just a few AC units, but the open roof gave her far more room to maneuver than the close quarters of those halls and offices. Not that she would say she was winning, exactly. Getting close enough to strike him was tricky. She couldn't tell that he had a recharge time between attacks, and didn't plan to take another direct hit to find out. She stayed to one side of him or the other, so it was more difficult for him to use both hands, since using both seemed to allow for stronger attacks and a wider range.

At least he hadn't been able to stay airborne. She'd have been in real trouble if he could claim the high ground, she reflected as she ducked behind an AC unit. A moment later, she darted back out in the direction she'd come from, heading for more cover. She saw his right hand rise out of the corner of her eye, but she'd already slowed her pace by the time he'd decided where to aim, so he led her by too much. She immediately turned 90 degrees, heading directly for him as his attack crackled past ineffectually wide left.

He raised his left arm in response, and she adjusted smoothly to her right just a bit. Just enough that it missed doing any harm (other than her cloak getting singed), but not enough to divert her. She held the bat in one hand by the end of the handle, letting it trail behind her just above the roof. She could bring it to bear in a full swing on any number of places on his emaciated body. She saw his eyes widen, and then the right hand was there, crossed over his left bicep, palm out towards her. She was able to glide sideways again as a wall of current erupted between them. The barrier unfortunately redirected her long enough he could bring his left arm back into the fray and she had to retreat quickly.

Cassanee felt her teeth grind in frustration. She was faster than him, but he could cover such a wide range with little movement or effort. And he was staying on a section of roof with no cover nearby. Drawing him into an ambush was impossible. She started to wonder if she'd been better off in the maze of halls and offices after all. This was slightly outside her range of expertise.

"Hey! Heeeeey! Old Man! You gonna do your version of Fiddler on the Roof? Oh that's right, you ca - awk!" Calvin dropped back onto the fire escape out of sight of the roof. The metal fire escape. Crap. Well he couldn't be picky. He'd been lucky to even find this rickety fire escape around the corner of the building. Especially since he hadn't seen a way to access from inside. Maybe they renovated the building and left it behind?

At any rate, he'd reached the roof and tried to give Cass an opening the best way he could: being a smart ass. Well he got the guy's attention, but when Cass tried to capitalize, the Electric Man flung one hand to his side. His energy arced out and wrapped around an AC unit, pulling him that way. Cass' swing grazed his left side, but nothing more. To her credit, she didn't break stride, flowing smoothly in a gentle arc that tracked his movement, and kept her between him and Calvin.

Calvin popped back up into view and flung the metal platter like a Frisbee. Focused on Cass as she looked for an opening, the Electric Man didn't notice that the platter ricocheted off the AC unit he was being drawn towards, and it collided solidly with his jaw. The current coming from his hand abruptly cut off, the upraised arm straightened out and jerked higher on some invisible puppet string.

The tray spun off in the direction of Cass, who let it drift over her shoulder as she darted in and struck the stunned man once in the face with the end of the bat. He flew backwards before he hit the roof and rolled another few feet.

Calvin walked up, holding the tray in one hand and shaking the other. "Captain America always makes catching it look so much easier. You have any rubber coils or insulation or anything?"

Cassanee's eyes stayed on their downed opponent. "Usually wears gloves, doesn't he? And, rubber coils?"

"Yes, and he takes performance enhancers. And I mean something to absorb any electricity he tries to discharge."

She shook her head. "Nothing like that."

"Me neither. Should we try getting the others and leaving while the getting is good?"

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #79

"Goin' Cosmic", in Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #2, by Kieron Gillen (writer), Kano (penciler), Alvaro Lopez (inker), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer)

Godhunter came out in 2009, and pulls together several developments from other stories and events. The Korbinites (Beta Ray Bill's people), lost their new homeworld (after Surtur's forces destroyed the first back in Simonson's run) to Galactus in Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill. I don't know exactly what all Bill got up to in Secret Invasion, though I know Gillen wrote it, but I suspect encountering a bunch of Skrulls who had come to Earth because they believed it was a prophesied new homeworld after Galactus ate two of their previous ones, and a third was destroyed by the Harvester of Sorrows in Annihilation, convinced Bill it was time to do something about the Devourer of Worlds. And because of what happened in Annihilation, Galactus is at a low ebb, powerwise, which makes him vulnerable, even with two heralds. 

And Bill's determined enough to get desperate. Added to this mix is an alien race that had embraced pacifism, but in the face of being on the menu, has embraced war again, and is more formidable than anyone expected.

There is, of course, the usual issue you have in stories about killing Galactus, where there has to be a reason for us not to want Galactus to die. I never really buy into that crap about how he's of 'cosmic consonance', and the universe needs him. If he dies, the universe will devise something else to fill his role. it doesn't help that for all he bemoans his fate (no wonder he and the Surfer get along so well), Galactus lets Stardust run around like a deranged lunatic. It isn't enough for Stardust to seek out worlds for Big G, they will hunt down and kill even inhabitants who having accepted Galactus is going to eat it, decide to flee. You can't tell me Galactus isn't aware of this, but he does nothing. Neither does the Surfer. So naturally there is a contrivance so that Bill has to end up defending the being he was trying to starve to death.

(I don't understand how Galactus can be so exhausted the I'thans' fleet poses a threat to him, yet when he dies he'll take out everything for 42 light-years around him. That is a huge fucking amount of space! Maybe the Surfer was lying to trick Bill. No doubt the overgrown hood ornament will angst about that later.)

That said, it is an interesting study about balancing what you think has to be done, with what you're willing to do to achieve it. Or maybe it's what you're willing to sacrifice. Gillen writes a good Beta Ray Bill, noble and determined, enough so that his ego isn't off-putting. He mentions a couple of times how only someone truly worthy could wield Stormbreaker as he does, but it isn't (solely) him bragging on himself. It carries the sense that he truly feels a weight of responsibility that comes with that. If he was found worthy of this power, then doesn't he have to use it to stop someone who destroys entire worlds of innocent people? He wants to protect people, and he's willing to fight dirty to make it happen. Ends justifying means.

Kano's pencils are loose enough at times, that characters are almost vague shapes. But when detail is needed, he and Lopez are more than able to provide it. Beta Ray Bill is incredibly broad across the chest, trying to stand up against forces even more powerful than he is. Galactus towers (I almost used a single-page splash from the first issue where he looms as Bill's busy fighting Stardust), a massive figure even on the brink of collapse. He dominates every panel he's in, until the I'thans' final assault, when their fleet starts to loom over him. Rodriguez' color work helps the I'thans go from adorable, fluffy little creatures, to sneering and aggressive, faces partially shrouded in shadow.

Friday, September 13, 2019

What I Bought 8/31/2019 - Part 3

It's been in the 90s here basically all week. I hope this is summer's last gasp, I would like to actual have autumn this year. OK, let's wrap up the stuff from August with the second and third issues of Test.

Test #2 and 3, by Christopher Sebela (writer), Jen Hickman (artist), Harry Saxon (colorist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer) - Lost in the weeds, which is about how I felt after reading these two issues.

Aleph is in over their head, because everybody wants something from them. The Resistance wants him to help them undo the future that's infiltrated their town, because they want things back the way they used to be. But they can't or won't disguise their underlying contempt for Aleph (and Aleph's generation in general), and so Aleph escapes them. Only to cross paths with the Repo guys, who are actually waiting for Aleph and all the various implants to give out under the stress. 'Damage is how we get our best data.' The local gendarmes are bit more than the Repo guys were counting on, though.

Which brings Aleph to Bob and his mother, Lenore, who run the town. They want Aleph on board, and they're externally a lot nicer about it, while trying to put a higher spin on the whole thing. Yes, there's buttloads of cash to be made, but this about preparing humanity for the future. What kind of future, and whether it's one better off averted isn't addressed. And after all that, with the Repos still after them, and the suits or whatever they are watching from behind the mirrors, Aleph falls down a rabbit hole and meets a bunch of other people who got lost in the shuffle somewhere. And all they want, is for him to tell them what to do.
Yeah, the bit at the end lost me entirely. Part of me thinks the one making speeches at Aleph is some future version of Aleph, waiting impatiently for their past self to get a clue. But I don't think Sebela's going for something that trite. There's a whole thing about Aleph having spent a lot of time being observed by people behind mirrors, but those people are in turn being observed by someone else behind another mirror, and those people are being observed, ad infinitum. Except eventually you have to find someone far enough up the chain there's no one looking over their shoulder, right?

The part where Aleph's wandering the world behind mirrors, even if I don't understand half of what everyone's going on about, it looked interesting. A void that gradually resolves itself into a maze. Doors with bar codes on them that open to allow vaguely shaped lumps with luminous empty eyes to emerge. I don't know if those are supposed to be Aleph's memories, or some residual trace of some other test subjects who didn't survive as long as Aleph, but it makes for a nice visual. It's the place where Aleph drops this act about how they've always been in control, always been manipulating these people who thought Aleph was only a lab rat, how Aleph just watches everything dispassionately to find the loopholes and the weak points to exploit. There aren't any of those to exploit in that maze, though, so Aleph can't keep telling themselves that.
Hickman provides a lot of different visuals, for all the different pieces. The Resistance operate out of a rundown, ramshackle place, but it probably doesn't have anything that could spy on them. But they also think Aleph's blood is a weapon, like he was crossbred with something out of Alien. Bob and Lenore live in what's outwardly an ordinary 2-story house, until the walls start shifting and coming to life, reaching out to touch someone, or threaten them if they won't sign the contract. The Repo guys brandish contracts above their heads like a badge or club.

There's a lot of pieces, and I don't think I'm at all close to figuring them out, but we'll see. I really want to see if this comes together and pays off at the end.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Robots of Dawn - Isaac Asimov

The third book in the Robots series finds Elijah Baley sent to Aurora, to solve the murder (or roboticide) of a robot. No one else calls it a murder (or roboticide), because almost no one is terribly concerned about the fate of R. Jander. Because despite the Auroran insistence they've dropped many distinctions when it comes to robots, they aren't yet ready to consider them living beings. What everyone is very concerned about is what Jander represented, and what the solution to the mystery could spell for the future of humanity.

Jander was one of two humaniform robots in existence (Daneel being the other), both created by the same man, Han Fastolfe, who is now accused of causing the mental freeze-out that has, in essence, killed Jander. Fastolfe refuses to create any more humaniform robots, and is the leader of one of side in a political struggle over future human expansion. The opposition felt humaniform robots were the key to their plans for colonization of more worlds, and that Fastolfe destroyed Jander to stymie them, since they haven't managed to create any on their own. Fastolfe isn't helping his case by stating he is the only person who could have led Jander down a path of contradictions and paradoxes that would cause freeze-out, although he also insists he didn't.

Baley is dumped into the middle of this, Earth's future also at stake, not to mention his career. Again on a world where he doesn't know the rules or customs, and people don't explain them because to them, it's obvious. The customs around bathrooms being one such problem, Aurora's strict laws on slander being another.

It's interesting that, for as much as I think Asimov enjoys writing mysteries, the whodunit and why are largely irrelevant. The identity of Jander's destroyer, like Baley's career, or Fastolfe's, are not that important. Because Baley does solve the crime, sort of, but the person he exposes is not the one who destroyed Jander. He confronts that person later, but they suffer no consequences. It was more important that Fastolfe's chief opposition was dealt a setback, because that's a better outcome for humanity, as the perpetrator viewed it.

It's a noir outcome. The real killer walks free, because nobody really cares. The victim didn't matter, only the opportunity the victim presented as leverage. The bigwigs got an answer that satisfied them, it produced a political outcome that suits them, and they don't need to look any further. Baley doesn't have any power or authority to do anything, even if he wants to.

"Have you tried to explain this to Gladia? She might understand."

"Never. I'd distress her. I'd embarrass her. You don't talk about such things. I should see a mentologist."

"Have you?"


"Why not?"

Gremionis frowned. "You have a way of asking the rudest questions, Earthman."

"Perhaps because I'm an Earthman. I know no better."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What I Bought 8/31/2019 - Part 2

I originally intended to go to Freestatecon last weekend, but my allergies screwed up my sleep so badly Friday night I didn't feel like driving three hours one way for anything. Oh well. Dropping back to comics from a couple weeks ago, looking at two stories both on their second issue.

Infinity 8 #14, by Lewis Trondheim and Davy Mourier (writers), Lorenzo de Felici (artist) - That doesn't seem an effective strategy.

The Major's going to die of that bite, but in a few hours the timeline will get rebooted anyway, so no big, right? At least, that's her bosses perspective, as they want her to get back to exploring the space mausoleum. She tries, but her ship can't make it through the horde of zombies swarming the ship from said mausoleum. She needs a better ship and help to get it, so she calls up the guy she met briefly last issue, and he and his crew of misfits manage to link up with her and start fighting through the typical mess o' the undead.

Considering they haven't even gotten to the larger ship they're going to try and use by the end of this issue, this timeline attempt certainly seems like it'll be a bust. Although all the previous attempts have been as well, unless you count eliminating possibilities as success, which I guess you could.

The reboot takes a bit of the sting out of Ann discovering what's happened to her daughter at the preschool. It's still an effective scene on its own, with the little girl for some reason standing off by herself, while all the other changed kids are trying to swarm Ann. The panels focus on Syb, standing in an circle of light facing the wall, and the swarms of kids are just at the bottom of the panel, silent but clawing and biting. Ann doesn't even have to see Syb's face to know what's happened, although we get to see it once, when Ann's distracted by the zombie of her ex. At least she got to shoot him with no repercussions.
De Felici's good at drawing the undead with a relentless drive. They don't necessarily look excited when they see the living, but almost desperate sometimes. They have to get them, even if they don't know why. Contrasts nicely with Ann's grim determination to push through them. Despite control's suggestion to let loose a little, I think she's still holding back. Impending death hasn't really loosened her up any.

Sera and the Royal Stars #2, by Jon Tsuei (writer), Audrey Mok (artist), Raul Angulo (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - That's just a very pretty cover. Love the colors on it.

Sera and Aldebaran, the Old Bull, drive off the lizard guys, the return to Sera's kingdom to see if they can get a bead on where the other Royal Stars are. When they arrive, they find Sera's uncle's forces have taken over, and he's king now. Oh, and her brother died in battle. On the plus side, she was able to awaken (summon?) the Scorpion, Antares, and her uncle believes in her where her father did not. The fact there are two of the Royal Stars standing right there might have a lot to do with that. And now the three of them plan to travel north, but the mysterious hooded folks are going to make their move, since the lizard guys failed.

I wonder how many of these Royal Stars there are. They mention three others besides the Bull, so maybe it's just four. If so, that would be good for Sera, she'd already be halfway there. Although I'm unclear what finding these four is going to accomplish exactly. Aldebaran made crops grow, I can see that being helpful, but I don't know what Antares can do yet, other than threaten to kill people. Which is helpful, but not a skill exclusive to her.
I really like Angulo's colors on this book, the combinations in particular. Aldebaran has purple skin, but a green robe with gold borders, and sometimes he glows orange-white, and it's just this variety of colors that makes him pop off the page. The colors aren't muddy or toned down, it helps sell Mok's artwork rather than obscuring it. I might have given them a bit more space to work for the part where Aldebaran makes the crops grow, to play up the size and extent of his feat more. The panels are fairly small, and focused more on character's reactions to it. I guess to prove that he's not the type to pull a fast one and make poisoned fruit to eliminate enemies. He actually is a helpful sort.

It feels like there's an unpleasant surprise reveal coming, but I have no idea what it's going to be.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Little Switzerland

The film revolves around a town called Telleria, which is considered part of Castile, but is located in the Basque portion of Spain. The mayor has been trying for years to get the town recognized as Basque and accepted, but has repeatedly failed, to the annoyance of several citizens. Not to mention the citizens who just want some basic public services to be funded (I'm guessing they're far enough from Castile that they don't get much support from that end).

On the same day they are rejected by the Basque again, the mayor's son Gorka arrives in town, investigating the history of the church, and by chance, the grave of William Tell's son, Walter, is found. Tell is a Swiss national hero, so naturally, the mayor decides they should apply to become part of Switzerland. Despite being located 1400 kilometers away.

The whole thing gets increasingly absurd as the Spanish government sends an agent there to monitor the situation. He happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the lady Gorka works with. Gorka's ex-girlfriend works for the mayor, and is pushing for this whole Swiss annexation thing, because it'll be financially lucrative to be a tax shelter. Two grumpy older guys, who normally hate each other for reasons I'm not entirely clear on - I think one wants Telleria to remain Castillian, the other is pro-Basque - decide to join forces because they think this whole Swiss thing is nuts. The mayor has spent 30 years trying to get people in town to speak Basque, now he wants them to speak Swiss German.

The idea behind it is kind of funny, but it didn't make laugh. All the various relationship stuff doesn't work, because it starts in before we have a chance to care about any of them. So Gorka's mother doesn't like Yolanda and thinks he should have stayed with Nathalie. We care why, exactly?

There's also a whole subplot about the town priest have a cache of guns and explosives stashed in the church that I don't know what that was supposed to be about. He gives an explanation at some point, but I wasn't clear on whether I was supposed to believe him. He seemed like an extremely hostile guy so I didn't, but that might have been the wrong conclusion to draw.

Monday, September 09, 2019

A Dark Trail - Chapter 7

Rhodez dove back around the corner and watched Deadpool go tumbling ass over teakettle above her. The force of the blast pushed the cube wall on top of her. There must have been a file cabinet on top of it, considering how heavily it pressed down on her. Besides that, and a familiar ringing in her ears, she was OK.

Deadpool landed awkwardly in a cubicle across the aisle, body sprawled across a partition. Rhodez dragged herself free and pulled him down to the floor.

"Are you OK?"

The merc seemed cheerful, given circumstances. "My heart started again a minute ago, that's usually encouraging."

Rhodez looked over her shoulder in the direction of the explosion. Peering through the smoke and fire, she spied a red hat moving towards them. "I don't think you got the little bastard."

"Hey now, now disparaging him on basis of his height or parentage," the merc objected as he concentrated on getting his feet to respond again.

Having no success, he raised his head and shouted in the direction of the explosion. "Not when we can make fun of his stupid Christmas variant dunce cap! Or how he has his shirt untucked, but his belt on over it!"

Rhodez immediately began dragging Deadpool down the row, and around the corner at the far end. Pausing to catch her breath - the merc was heavier than he looked - she hissed at her luggage. "Wade, shut the hell up! He already kicked your ass once!"

"Pfft. If I didn't shittalk people who kicked my ass, I'd never get to talk."

"Then at least wait until you can move something besides your mouth!"

"No promises. You see Johnny the Homicidal Fairyland Creature?"

Swiftly peering down the rows on either side of her, "No, he's not in either aisle."

"Rule #4: Remember to look up." Startled, Rhodez swung her gaze up, and found the gnome perched on the cube wall right above them. He pounced.

At close range, Rhodez opted to try swinging her hatchet at him. The gnome kicked in mid-air and bounded over the weapon, then stomped on the top of her head as he came down. She fell to the floor stunned.

Deadpool had regained control of one arm, and unloaded with his pistol as the gnome neared the ground. It simply kicked off the air again and double-jumped over the gunfire, launching towards the wall. He kicked off the wall in Deadpool's direction, but went through the ceiling panels and vanished.

"It's like trying to kill Samus while she's doing the worst Mario cosplay ever. Must be a hack," Deadpool grumbled as he scanned the panels for any sign of movement. Still 6 shots left, and he doubted he'd get a chance to reload right now. He shifted the pistol to his right hand, and picked up Rhodez' hatchet with the left.

The corner of one panel behind him and to the right lifted just slightly. The mercenary threw the hatchet at the opposite corner, and the panel split apart, the gnome falling into view. Wade fired twice, and his target again air-jumped out of the way.

"You aren't getting away from this troll, David," Deadpool taunted and he sighted and fired. But the gnome pushed off the ceiling with both hands and plummeted at Wade like a meteor. A tiny, bearded meteor. Shots 3 and 4 missed, but 5 and 6 struck the gnome in the chest. He grunted, but kept falling, stomping on Wade's chest with both feet.

The occasional X-man felt most of his ribs break, and one lung collapse. "Not collapse, more burst like a melon, helpful narrator. It isn't the first time, but I usually have to piss off the Hulk. Or at least Spidey. You know, when he's in one of his "edgy" moods. . . Say, why aren't you dead?"

The gnome opened his tunic slightly. The bullet impacts were visible, but had barely broken the skin.

"I'm very dense."

"You said it, not me."

Annoyed, the gnome produced another syringe. "Through the eye this time."

He was sent flying as he finished the sentence. Rhodez had regained consciousness and lifted her rifle enough to shoot him in the back. He crashed into a cube wall. It rocked back from the impact, but the other partitions it was connected to kept it from toppling.

Groaning, then cursing, the gnome began to rise. Rhodez immediately chambered another round, and the gnome turned and hurled the acid-filled syringe at her. It was snatched out of the air by a red-gloved hand. The mercenary also rose, twirling the syringe around one finger.

It was at that moment an old man fell past the window to their left, only to reappear an instant later, lightning arcing from his fingers as he rose steadily towards the floor above them.

The two stood silently before Rhodez turned to Wade. "The hell was that?"

"Old Man Electro's demanding his own 12-issue mini-series now."

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #78

"Hope He Didn't Expect You to Monologue," in Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #5, by Peter David (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), John Dell (inker), Jason Keith (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)

This series spun out of the Clone Conspiracy storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, where Ben Reilly was the 28th Ben Reilly the Jackal cloned, and he'd watched the other 27 be killed by the Jackal. So he killed him and became the Jackal and cloned a bunch of dead characters, and some other stuff happened and I don't know.

That's not a promising start, but I've always liked Ben Reilly as this character who resented having a particular morality - Peter Parker's - imposed on him by virtue of being a clone, and struggling against it. This Ben is much more amoral than '90s Ben was, willing to lie or make all sorts of absurd promises if it saves his neck, willing to demand money from people he saves. But he will save people, sometimes.

So there was potential there, and Mark Bagley was the artist, so I was on board. Bagley always is able to sell the emotion of a situation, and he can draw a solid fight scene (although he seems to skimp on backgrounds more during the fights than I remember from the past). It's not so much page layouts, just that the way things are laid out, you can easily tell how each action flows into the next. The hits have force behind them.

Unfortunately, after 5 issues, Bagley got switched to a Venom title, I think, and Wil Sliney took over art chores. It took one issue for me to decide that was a no-go. The flow of action wasn't there, and there were too many panels where the expressions on character's faces looked odd. Where it didn't convey what the scene was calling for, or like the art fell into the uncanny valley, where it's trying to realistic, but not pulling it off.

Friday, September 06, 2019

What I Bought 8/31/2019 - Part 1

The last week of August was the biggest of the month for me in terms of comics. Which, granted, means 4 books, but combined with 2 comics from earlier in the month, equals a decent haul. So let's get to business.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11, by Tom Taylor (writer), Juann Cabal (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - So is that one of Peter's regular costumes, or did MJ have one specially made? I feel like one Peter's been wearing wouldn't fit her that well.

While Peter sleeps off fighting a damn troll, Mary Jane goes about her business of helping people out. Which means taking May shopping for wigs, I'm assuming her hair fell out from chemotherapy. Then the subway train she's riding crashes into another troll. One dressed like a refugee from an '80s aerobics video. OK, sure. One of the backup dancer, er, aerobics people in Volstagg's Sweatin' to the Oldies, no doubt.

That is not a pleasant image. Frickin' brain.

MJ remains calm, helps people evacuate, keeps the troll occupied until Miles Morales Spider-Man shows up, distracts it long enough he can deck it, and then brings Peter some pizza for when he wakes up. A simple done-in-one, which is why I picked it up, since that was what I enjoyed most in the first six issues. And I liked this. I like Mary Jane being calm under fire, because she's had to deal with a lot of crap, and that she encourages May to buy lots of wigs, rather than just one. Although I agree with peter, why does someone need more than one hairstyle? At this point, I'd be content having enough hair to consider having more than one.
Cabal gives MJ some interesting expressions, in a good way. Really good at capturing that way people will hold their mouth in an odd position while they're concentrating on something. I feel like he overplays her cheekbones about half the time. Like you could scrape cheese on those things. Still not a huge fan of his fight scenes, not that he has much of a chance to do anything for this one. It's really more about what she's doing while Miles is dodging around the troll, but I find the action kind of flat until the knockout punch. That was a decent full-page splash.

Dial H for Hero #6, by Sam Humphries (writer), Joe Quinones (artist), Scott Hanna (inker), Jordan Gibson (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer) - I've never received a "new phone, who dis?" text message.

Lots of people in Metropolis dialed "H" for hero and now there are tons of people with superpowers just running around like headless chickens. Summer transformed into LoLo Kick You again - looking more Mike Allred-ish most of the time - trying to keep things under control, but is hopelessly outnumbered. Also, there's a plane full of superpeople about to crash. There's always a plane about to crash in Metropolis.

Meanwhile, in the Heroverse, Miguel won't dial H on a damn blue - sorry cyan - dial to become an inspirational hero who can show those others how it's done. Because he thinks he can't inspire. But he can and does, and the plane is saved. But Mr. Thunderbolt's still on the loose with the red (magenta?) H-dial, and there are three more in total he needs to do something to the multiverse. Goddamnit, this is the fucking power ring emotional spectrum rainbow all over again.

Yes, I know, yellow, cyan, and magenta are the three real primary colors used in printing, but man, I did not need this story getting even more meta.

Miguel's arc gets a bit of resolution here, in that he stops worrying so much about whether the dial or other people think he can be a hero, or if it's even worth trying, and just does it. Of course, there's still the part where Mr. Thunderbolt tricked him and got the dial, but he's hopefully begun to address the underlying problem Thunderbolt exploited in the first place. Summer, I'm less sure about. She seems to be looking for a place where she can figure out what she wants, instead of carrying the weight of other's failures and disappointments. Not sure that's been resolved, other than Miguel doesn't seem to do that.
Quinones is playing at a lot of different styles, as basically every hero is done in a different one. I can't even begin to recognize them all, or even most. It works so that the characters feel like they're sharing the same space and interacting, rather than feeling posed around each other. And the part where the pages of Miguel's internal struggle are overlaid on what Summer's dealing with, so that we only get hints of the insanity she's facing, was a nice touch. Even if watching Miguel angst is not the most fascinating experience.