Friday, January 31, 2020

Random Back Issues #17 - Rom Spaceknight #4

It's been a couple of years since I read through Rom, but I don't remember Galadorians being big into Tarzan cosplay. Still, if you're about to surrender your body for an eternity in a cold metal suit, might as well enjoy flesh while you got it.

Alright, we're goin' all the way back to 1980 for today's selection, and find Rom under attack by an Earth criminal by the name of Archie Stryker. Normally no big deal, except disguised Dire Wraiths have convinced Archie Rom is a dangerous alien invader killing humans with his death ray. Rom's actually banishing them to Limbo, but Archie can't see that. The Wraiths have the armor of Rom's old pal Firefall, and put Archie in it to tangle with Rom.
Rom's on defense for most of this, trying to reason with Archie. He doesn't want to use the Neutralizer, because it might kill a human, and he swore never to take a life. Firefall sends him crashing to Earth near a Wraith base he destroyed the issue before. The Wraiths inside see an opportunity, rush out to attack and. . . get immediately blasted into Limbo. Good try, though. Maximum effort.

Of course, as far as Archie's concerned, Rom just killed a bunch more humans, so the fight's on again. Rom clips him with the Neutralizer, and Archie feels it through the armor. Rom explains that Archie is becoming linked with the armor, that it's going to become his new epidermis, but the guy's not having it. Rom is able to counter Archie's "living flame" by lowering the exterior of his body to near absolute zero. This lets him grab the flame and throw it back, then take to the skies.

While all that's happening, Rom's only friend on Earth (and future romantic interest) Brandy Clarke is a hostage of more disguised Wraiths in a car speeding down the highway. Brandy's boyfriend Steve is in pursuit. The Wraiths think Brandy's unconscious, because I guess playing opossum is unknown to them, and she pushes one out of the speeding car when he tries to blast Steve. Because Sal Buscema's drawing this, the guy isn't simply run over by Steve's car, but sent flying. Gravity is a very inconsistent presence in Buscema comics. Brandy causes the car she's in to wreck, which kills the driver, but leaves her unharmed (even though neither of them appears to be wearing seat belts). The driver reverts to his Wraith form and his body turns to dust, convincing Steve Rom's telling the truth.

In the midst of all that, Rom swatted Firefall into the highway nearby, then stops to explain how that armor used to belong to his friend Karas, who once saved Rom from drowning in a river. When the Wraiths attacked Galador, Karas charged in alone, and was never seen again. Archie thinks that's a bunch of bunk, stating he doesn't believe Rom has any feelings, so Rom starts monologuing about his feelings while beating the piss out of Archie.
Rom stops after a couple more punches, to ponder if he's still human, considering he almost killed Archie tonight. Steve and Brandy don't seem worried, telling Rom the guy was an enemy as strong as him sent by the Wraiths to kill him. Rom's not having it, citing the old "if I killed, I'd be no better than they are" line. He worries if he continues fighting this war, he'll eventually be corrupted by it. I know he does snap when he thinks Brandy's dead and just starts beating Wraiths to death with his shiny metal fists, but that's not for another few years.

Meanwhile, Archie's just realizing Rom was telling the truth all along, and he can't get out of the armor. Pretty sure Archie dies in the next issue or two, but Rom will encounter Karas when he gets banished to Limbo. Or he meets a Space Phantom pretending to be Karas. I forget which. Maybe both.

{4th longbox, 60th comic. Rom Spaceknight #4, by Bill Mantlo (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Ben Sean (colorist), Jim Novak (letterer)}

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Gunpowder Age - Tonio Andrade

So, gunpowder, and the earliest weapons utilizing it, were developed in China. It was a few centuries before we can confirm its appearance in Europe, but by the 1800s, China had fallen well behind the European powers when it came to guns and cannons. Andrade is trying to investigate why that happened, and when the gap really appeared, and whether a lot of the classic explanations hold water. Ideas like "Confucianism discouraged focus on militarism", "China was closed to ideas from other cultures", "China never had a high use of gunpowder weapons".

He starts at the earliest records he could find of gunpowder weapons, describes the different types, their usage in battle based off whatever historical records were available (apparently, most dynasties in China kept extensive records, other than the stretch where the Mongols were running things). So he can show that soldiers with early guns or fire lances might comprise up to 30% of their armed forces, centuries before an European armies could make similar claims.

It seems like China falls behind twice, during periods where there's a dynasty firmly entrenched, and it doesn't face any external threats to its independence. Meanwhile, everyone in Europe is busy fighting and killing each other over one thing or another, so everyone it trying to get an edge. During the 1600s, China faces off against first the Dutch, then the Russians, and while they acknowledge that they've been surpassed in artillery and firearms, they quickly close the gap, and manage no worse than a draw.

But when there's another long period of peace in the 18th and 19th centuries, they fall behind again. This time, even though the Opium Wars convince the Qing Dynasty it needs to close the gap, things are advancing so swiftly that proves difficult. There's a quote from a British naval historian that notes that the most advanced ship in the British Navy of 1867 could have trounced the entire British Navy of 1857. And that the same would have been true 10 years after that, and 10 years after that. When you're already behind, keeping up with that level of advancement is tricky.

It's an interesting read. Andrade takes his time and tries to address the past explanations, show why they do or do not match the evidence we have. That one reason why China may have fallen behind Europe in artillery was because the walls around cities and fortresses in China were so much thicker and resistant to artillery than those in Europe, attacking walls wasn't seen as a feasible approach. It's the difference in building a cannon to break through a 2-meter thick wall, versus a 20-meter thick wall.

'The problem for an old state isn't so much embracing the new as getting rid of the old. Qing subjects got good at manufacturing steamships and training rifle corps, but the Qing government had to spend enormous sums on armies it had established in the seventeenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, those forces, hundreds of thousands of men, were nearly useless. The court could not abolish them or even change them in any fundamental way - they were powerful interest blocs invested in the status quo. But it also couldn't afford them.'

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

What I Bought 1/27/2020

It was weirdly cold yesterday. Yeah, it was January, but for there being no wind to speak of, it felt a lot colder than the low 30 degree temperature it supposedly was. Maybe due to it being cloudy all day. That's your one day late mid-western U.S. weather forecast. In other news, two comics, both wrapping up their current stories.

Steeple #5, by John Allison (writer/artist), Sarah Stern (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - As Jimbo once noted when speaking of the Devil, there is a man who has eaten a lot of meat. I'm pretty sure that South Park episode is over 20 years old now, and I'm depressed.

The Reverend is away trying to find himself, and Mrs. Clovis is gradually concluding Billie might not be terrible. Then Billie offers to vacuum so Mrs. Clovis can have a day off, but the witches that were paid to resurrect the vacuum, really just put a hex on it to make the user doubt their calling. Meaning Billie questions what she's doing in the Church. Maggie is having similar doubts about being a Satanist, so they essentially switch places. Which is probably for the temporary best, since the mermen have decided to attack in force, and Maggie motorcycle was a more effective weapon than whatever Billie would have brought to the party.

And that's where things stand. Billie's in with the orgies and whatnot, Maggie's on the outs with Master Tom (although I wonder if Brian would still be her friend), and may form a reluctant friendship with Reverend Penrose and Mrs. Clovis. If the book ever continues. I like the idea of people feeling like they aren't supposed to be a certain way, or feeling as though what they're doing is getting them nowhere, and trying to be something else. And that it isn't always easy to maintain that change. If it's not something you really want to be, or be doing, it's hard to convince yourself to continue.
The flashback to Maggie's previous life as a protestor of most everything cracked me up. I think she needs to change up the pattern on her signs, though. Don't let it get to where people can predict the cadence, that lets their eyes and ears glaze over.

Infinity 8 #18, by Emmanuel Guibert and Lewis Trondheim (writers), Franck Biancarelli (artist) - Trees with teeth are not something to be approached. Not without a flamethrower. Yes, they're in the vacuum of space, so obviously I meant a space flamethrower.

Leila and Bert find the central console so Bert can talk to the memories of dead people. They quickly get sidetracked because the sentient fungus thing attached part of itself to their ship and is taking over the central console. They flee, they meet the aliens responsible for this whole place. The aliens state they did gather these corpses from across the universe, and construct a device to give them access to those species accumulated knowledge, but it's purely academic. Then they're destroyed while trying to stop the fungus thing. At least they gave Leila and Bert a shuttle first. So, mission complete, time to leave, right? Well, not exactly, because when Leila tried to look up Bert, he noticed there was a coffin with him inside already there. There's still a mystery afoot.

Well, I figured they were going to miss meeting the architects of all this, but that wound up not being the case. Instead, it's that the architects are lying to them. Which isn't surprising, really. If someone found you hoarding dead bodies from all over the place, I doubt you would explain exactly why you were doing so. Especially if there wasn't a compelling need to do so.
It's amazing how much less imposing the Captain of the Infinity 8 looks when he's presented as a small holographic projection, rather than his true form in his giant aquarium chamber thing. He looks kind of silly. I like that the fungus creature's look evolved from where it was last issue. Granted, that look is now more Groot-like, but it has eyes now, a more expressive face. It actually swings its arms as it walks, instead of letting them hang limp beside it as it did before.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Beak of the Finch - Jonathan Weiner

This is book is mostly about evolution, viewed primarily through the lens of the different species of finches on the Galapagos Islands that Darwin noted when he was there briefly. Although Weiner points out Darwin didn't make much of the finches, thinking they were mostly one species.

Weiner discusses Darwin, what he wrote about natural selection and how it would work, and how Darwin didn't actually have any direct evidence of it. No one had actually seen natural selection cause one species to evolve into new species. One thing this taught me I didn't realize was that by the 1920s and 1930s, there were a fair number of scientists who dismissed natural selection because of that. A nice idea, but there was no real evidence, so ultimately irrelevant.

Most of the book, though, is spent on research done on the various finches, headed by Peter and Rosemary Grant. At the time of the book was originally published, they and their various graduate students had been traveling to the islands for two decades, banding, measuring, and observing everything they could about the finches. Weiner uses the discussions of their observations, and those of other, similar studies around the world, as a way to discuss evolution and the forces involved in more detail.

So there's a year of intense drought in the late 1970s, and this seems to push two of the species towards the extremes of their beak size. The lack of seeds meant that certain sizes had the advantage. They bred, they passed on their genes. But a few years later, there was an especially intense El Nino that brought massive rainfall, which meant a bumper crop of seed production, and this pushed things the other direction. The idea being there's this push and pull on the birds (and that the birds put on their food sources) and it won't be visible at certain scales. Pull back far enough and it looks like there's no change, but zoom in, and there's an oscillation.

(Several of my professors were fond of pointing out species don't simply hit the carrying capacity of their habitat and stop. Their population fluctuates around it from year to year, or generation to generation, depending on external factors like food, disease, climate.)

It's a very interesting book, goes into studies people were coming up with to test in the lab the hypotheses they devised about what they saw in the wild. The emerging role of DNA testing, how sexual selection can sometimes exert contrary pressure to natural selection, how our constant attempts to kill all the bugs or illnesses with drugs or pesticides are themselves causing evolution in the things we try to eradicate. That part is pretty old hat by now, but it was a good inclusion as an example of how we can exert selective pressure, whether we intend to or not.

'One finch eats green leaves, which birds are not supposed to do. Another, the vampire finch, found chiefly on rough, remote, cliff-walled islands of Wolf and Darwin, perches on the backs of boobies, pecks their wings and tail, draws their blood, and drinks it. Vampires also smash boobies' eggs against rocks and drink the yolk. They even drink the blood of their own dead.'

Monday, January 27, 2020

Prospects Bloom As Spring Moves Forward

With the arrival of the solicitations for April, there's finally a decent number of comics I'm actually interested in. Why the hell all these people waited until spring, when people will want to be outside doing activities, to release these comics is beyond me. Winter is the time when we need reading material!

Anyway, Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson have a new series through Image, Adventureman, about a forgotten pulp hero type, and then a young boy and his mother remember and start getting tangled up in his old adventures. Which reminds me a bit of Fraction and Dodson's Defenders series, which I really didn't enjoy at all, but maybe it would go better with their own characters. The first issue of Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston's book Decorum actually comes out in March, but the cover for the second issue caught my eye more effectively, since it depicts and old-school Western showdown in the street. Unfortunately, the solicit for issue 2 is identical to issue 1, which by itself was too vague to get me interested. Plus, I generally don't care for Hickman's writing. Hope there aren't any other books in here that are written by him!

The only thing I saw from Dark Horse was Chelsea Cain and Elise McCall's four-issue mini-series, Spy Island. At least one of the covers is done up to look like a time-worn cheap paperback, like some Alistair MacLean or Robert Ludlum book. The concept sounds generic, but if the execution is there, that won't matter. I'll probably at least give the first issue a shot.

DC has the third issue of the Amethyst mini-series, and the third issue of Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage. So that's two right there. In other news, Bendis is going to add new characters to the Legion of Super-Heroes. I know that's traditional, I just don't know if it's a good idea for him to add even more characters to the mix, since I can't imagine the book's moving at a blazing pace as it is. And the Teen Titans Annual suggests Damian Wayne might get fired as Robin. What?! You mean Bruce might actually hold his snot-nosed, sociopath kid responsible for some of the questionable shit he's done over the years? Will wonders never cease.

Seriously though, the first time he put on a Robin outfit, he killed one of Batman's foes. And Bruce let him be Robin. Compared to the arbitrary shit he used to penalize Cass and Stephanie Brown for, that is 19 different varieties of bullshit.

Moving on, Marvel is giving the Black Widow another ongoing series. I know she's got a new movie coming, but seriously? This is like the 5th attempt in the last decade, not counting various mini-series. It's not working. Speaking of bad ideas, Ed Brisson is going to bring Barracuda, the character introduced by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's Punisher MAX run, into the regular Marvel Universe, for a mini-series where he fights the Punisher. Why?

So Marvel has this "Outlawed" thing going, but they're also doing another event called Empyre? No, I didn't make a spelling error, that's how they spelled it. Where the Kree and the Skrulls decide to work together to attack Earth. You would think these idiots would just leave well-enough alone.

In news about things I'm actually buying, the Black Cat is going to rob Tony Stark, Deadpool is visiting Krakoa uninvited, and the solicits say a new arc begins this month, so I guess I'll start buying Runaways in April instead of March. I also noticed Travel Foreman and Chris Bachalo aren't listed as artist for Black Cat or Deadpool, respectively. Not surprised about the latter, but I am about the former, a little bit. Jed MacKay's writing a Taskmaster mini-series, with Alessandro Vitti as artist. I've had good luck with Taskmaster mini-series in the past. There's a New Warriors mini-series tying in to Outlawed by Daniel Kibblemsith and Luciano Vecchio, neither of whom I'm familiar with. The concept sounds a little dodgy, but I'm weak, so what the hell. I'll at least try the first issue. There's also a Nightcrawler one-shot, with art by Alan Davis (woo!) and written by. . . Jonathan Hickman? Aw crap.

Outside that, there's a few things carrying on from previous months. Wicked Things, third issue of Canopus, Sera and the Royal Stars #8. The solicit for the second issue of the seventh volume of Infinity 8 says the ship has been destroyed, which would seem to make it impossible to cancel this timeline if it turns out to be bad. Assuming I understand how the giant alien squid captain's power works.

The only other new thing I might consider is Cullen Bunn and Andy MacDonald's Rogue Planet book. MacDonald's work was not at fault for that trainwreck of a Multiple Man mini-series two years ago. I've never found Bunn's writing all that interesting, but I'm not sure what I've read of it that wasn't Marvel stuff. Maybe he's more engaging with his personal projects.

All told, that could add up to 14 comics, which is pretty good considering I'm not sure I'll be at 20 total for January through March.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #98

"Surprise In Stereo", in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #7, by Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Georges Jeanty (penciler), Andy Owens (inker), Dave Stewart (colorist), Richard Starkings and Jimmy (letterers)

There had been other comics based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer while the TV show was still going, but they focused on stories that could fit somewhere within the margins of the episodes. This was the first series that was really a continuation of where the show left off after Season 7, with Buffy now in command of an army of 500 Slayers, attracting the enmity of all sorts of people.

I didn't give a shit about that. As far as the series went, I was always much more interested in Faith than Buffy (likewise more interested in Spike than Angel). So, when they solicited an arc focused on Faith, written by Brian K. Vaughn, whose Dr. Strange: The Oath mini-series I enjoyed, I was all in on that.

In this case, Giles tags Faith to go kill some high-born, British girl who's teamed up with a vaguely Gambit-sleazy warlock to kill Buffy. Love how the Scoobies always give her the stink-eye for her past fuck-ups, while also figuring it makes her perfect to do the work they rather not dirty their hands with. Faith has to learn to pass as aristocracy herself, but befriends the girl and tries to divert her off the path Faith's walked already. It doesn't work, because those sorts of things never do for her.

Anyway, it was an fun little 4-issue arc, which didn't convince me to continuing buying the series regularly after it concluded. I did pick up one more issue about 18 months later, a one-shot that focused on Faith and Giles and their traveling "help lost Slayers" road show, but it was written and drawn by someone else and not nearly as good. Season 8 eventually ended, and then Season 9 kicked off. That included Angel and Faith, which we already looked at in Sunday Splash Page #28.

That does it for the "Bs", other than the current Black Cat series, which I probably won't double-back to until after it's finished.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Random Back Issues #16 - Dr. Strange #81

Oh, well then that makes Stephen's back getting torn open by a spell while he's trying to fight in a minotaur's body all worthwhile.

Up today, we've got the last issue of Dr. Strange's second ongoing solo book. All his magical items - except the Eye of Agamotto and his Cloak of Levitation (just back from the tailor) - were swiped by a sorcerer from another galaxy entirely. Along with the Sanctum Sanctorum. And Wong, and Topaz. As an added bonus, Stephen's body was trashed a couple of issues ago, and isn't ready for a big-time mystical showdown. For the time being, he's piloting Rintrah's body instead. Even that caused problems, because his secretary Sara offered to let him use her, and he turned her down in favor of the minotaur he barely knew
The fight's going pretty well at first, until Urthona remembers he has hostages. He does something to Wong's face off-panel, which throws Stephen off his game enough for Urthona to bust out the Book of the Darkhold and unleash all the demons Strange banished when he destroyed all vampires in his last throwdown with Dracula.

Strange can't get his shit together until Rintrah astral projects out of his own body (meaning it's down to Stephen to protect it) and into Stephen's, so he can try and free Topaz and Wong. Topaz is more fixated on getting the remainder of her soul, which is in the jar he smashes at her feet. Which also somehow frees her? Pure soul magic, that's what it was!
Gillis had been playing up the idea of Stephen feeling torn in his role as Sorcerer Supreme. He felt distant from humanity except as an abstract concept. It kept coming down to whether to save individuals, and leave himself vulnerable, or focus on the bigger, long-term picture. Here, that manifests in what it will take to win this battle, and whether it's worth winning. Stephen chooses to focus on winning the fight and protecting the people here and now. He'll worry about the consequences of trashing his entire arsenal later.

Considering he had the Orb of Agamotto again by the time Acts of Vengeance rolled around a couple of years from now, I'm guessing he found a workaround to that problem. I haven't read much of his series that followed this, other than knowing Rintrah stuck around as his apprentice for a few years. I don't know if there was any fallout with Sara, or if this was Gillis' way of writing her out of the cast. Don't know what happened with Topaz, either, or if Urthona ever came back for a rematch.

[Longbox #3, 156th comic, Dr. Strange (vol. 2) #81, by Peter B. Gillis (writer), Chris Warner (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist), Many Hands (letterer)]

Thursday, January 23, 2020

She's Out of My League

I did not have high hopes for this when Alex queued it up on Netflix and insisted it was funny, because, well, Alex' taste in movies has often led me astray. That said, I did laugh a lot at this, definitely more than I was expecting going in.

Krysten Ritter gets to play the angry, sarcastic best girl friend, which she means she gets a lot of good lines. T.J. Miller is not an OK person, I know, but his delivery on a lot of his lines as the angry, sarcastic best guy friend is good. The movie gives those two the chance to insult the hell out of each other for 10-30 seconds every so often, and it's always a good idea. Kirk's family is a ridiculous embarrassment, but at least some of the time it's funny rather than making me cringe. The basement hockey showdown cracked me up, in part because I expected Kirk would be humiliated again, and the movie didn't go that way.

The mediocre-looking guy (played by Jay Baruchel) dating the much more attractive lady (Alice Eve) is extremely cliche, but the movie at least tries to address it by showing that Kirk is a fairly polite and helpful person, and is this way without expecting anything in return. And this is why she gives him a try, because her last boyfriend was an egotistical dick.

Also, the movie points out that Kirk, more than his friends, and much more than Molly, is the one who thinks she's too good for him. He sabotages himself, and if he becomes a better person by the end, it's at least in part for himself, rather than simply to land the girl. Which is probably a good lesson. Be a better person because you think you should or need to be, not just to impress someone else.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

They Say Running can be Beneficial to Your Health

One of the many, many things I don't understand about physics is the idea of time moving more slowly as you go faster. That whole bit about how, if you traveled to the nearest star and back at the speed of light, it would be 8 years for you, but some thousands of years for people back on Earth. Doesn't make any sense to me at all.

But, if I'm accepting that's true, and for the purposes of this post I might as well, would that mean the various Flashes should live an exceptionally long time, at least from their friends' perspectives?

There's a lot of DC heroes that seem to live a long time. Superman's living in the heart of the Sun for however long, Martian Manhunter's still alive in the 853rd Century, The Shade is still around in the 30th, at bare minimum. There's always a damn Hawkman around, and Dr. Fate's helmet.

The Flashes, though, they time travel a lot, or get lost in the Speed Force. But it feels like we're more likely to see them aging faster because of some side effect of all the super-speed, rather than slower. (Maybe I'm just thinking of Barry Allen withering away in Crisis on the Infinite Earths.) But if they spend a bunch of time moving at near-light speeds, even only for a few seconds at a time, then much more time than that should have passed for everyone else when Barry or Wally slow back down again.

This seems like it would negate the advantage of super-speed now that I think of it. You got someplace instantaneously, but somehow a whole bunch of time still passed. I'm probably thinking of it cock-eyed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs - Tristan Gooley

This book is all about the clues your surroundings can give when you're on a hike. Mostly when you're out in nature, the woods, or open fields, but also in cities. Some of it is useful for navigation, like different constellation tricks you can use to find different cardinal directions via the stars. Some of it is more neat things to note when you're out. Such as how songbird species will use different warning calls for a threat on the ground (like you) versus a hawk or other raptor they spot circling overhead.

Chapters are generally devoted to a specific type of thing, like trees, or the moon. So Gooley will talk about how what your goal is with the hike will inform what phase of the moon would best suit it. Or about what time the moon will rise relative to sunset, and how that can be determined via what phase it's in. A lot of seems obvious once he mentions it, but if it was that obvious, I'd probably have already known about it. Or I'm an idiot.

There are a few short chapters where Gooley describes walks that he's taken at some point. He'll describe what he saw, heard, or smelled, and what that told him. He's seeing sycamores, he's moving into a riparian area. The north-facing side of the trail still has snow on it, because it's not getting direct sunlight. The lack of any clouds other than a few cirrus clouds, suggests the weather's going to hold for a while. Stuff like that.

The thing I probably found most useful was the Appendices that discuss ways to best measure angles and distances, since I am really abysmal at that stuff. I hate when people ask me how far away something across a field is from us. So the rules of thumb he include are hopefully going to be helpful on that score going forward.

'A rainbow that appears bigger than a semicircle means the antisolar point is above ground, which in turn means the sun should already have set. The sun cannot be underground so something is clearly not right. The solution is rather beautiful. This effect is caused when the sun's light is bounced off a large calm body of water, giving the effect that its light has come from below ground. Such a rainbow is a clue that there is a lake or some other calm body of water nearby.'

Monday, January 20, 2020

What I Bought 1/18/2020

I couldn't find the last issue of Steeple anywhere over the weekend, but I did get the other two books from the last two weeks I was interested in. Even if that did mean grabbing that Black Cat issue with the ugly variant cover. Nothing coming out this week, though.

Black Cat #8, by Jed MacKay (writer), Dike Ruan and Annie Wu (artists), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - I mean, is the Black Widow even in any of the Earth X stuff? I assume she must be, because if she wasn't, why not just come up with a Black Cat Earth X design?

There are two threads. One is a daytime conversation between Felicia and her mother, where Felicia tries to get her to accept a cruise to Germany to get her out of the line of fire of Odessa's forces. Although Miss Hardy feels confident she won't be targeted. The other, more entertaining thread is Felicia bringing along the current Beetle to help her swipe the plans for the Randall Gate in Iron Fist's basement. Which leads to Felicia getting to play with Danny, while the Beetle gets her ass kicked by the little girl that's currently Iron Fist, I guess.

I think this is playing off that Iron Fist: the Living Weapon series Kaare Andrews did in 2014. Or maybe some GN called Immortal Iron Fists that came out two years ago, also by Andrews? Hey, let's just be impressed a writer at Marvel actually bothers to pay attention to what other writers are doing with characters.

Now I think Annie Wu drew the parts with Felicia talking with her mother. Granting I haven't seen her artwork since Fraction's Hawkeye run, but that part of the issue looks more similar to what she did back then than the part with Beetle and Iron Fist.  It works for the talking parts, Wu uses body language well. I wouldn't normally think of Felicia being as nervous as she is here, but it's her mother. Special circumstances. Felicia's on the defensive a lot, backing up or with arms crossed, while her mother is leaning in, or pointing at her, or the one initiating physical contact.
The costumed part of the book, the eyes are bigger, shading is softer, faces are rounder, so I'm guessing that's Ruan's work, which I'm not familiar with at all. I like it, the comedy parts with the little dragon are amusing, Felicia's expressions work, the fight scene is good. I like the tilted panels as it goes back-and-forth between Danny and Felicia throwing attacks at each other. Also, Danny being happy to just fight a thief villain instead of someone out to "absorb his chi or cut off his hands" makes me smile. Even if it does piss Felicia off to be called a villain.

Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2, by Jeff Lemire (writer), Denys Cowan (penciler), Bill Sienkiewicz (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Willie Schubert (letterer) - Alright, time for a Vic Sage/Jonah Hex team-up!

The issue is set in the Hub City of 1886, and follows a Charles Victor Szasz, secretive town blacksmith. He tries to protect the apparently only black family in the town when the husband is framed for a brutal murder, but fails, thanks to a preacher who spurs the townsfolk on and isn't what he appears. Szasz is found by a native woman who talks to a skeleton and throws a faceless mask on him and tells him to go kill the preacher, who is really the "creature of a thousand faces." He hesitates and fails, and the scene shifts to the early 1940s.

OK, guy with no face against creature with a thousand, sure, interesting contrast. Vic's been trying to stop this guy for multiple lifetimes, and I'm guessing next issue will demonstrate he keeps fucking it up in one way or another. Or maybe it's always the same way, He hesitates. I don't recall the O'Neill/Cowan Question being big on killing people, so maybe that's the hang-up. Although 1886 Vic's issue was he'd killed too many innocent people previously.

There's a couple of points I'm not sure the art and the writing are on the same page. Dialogue that seems like it should fit with Vic, being said by one of the guys pursuing him, judging by how much of a beard the speaker had. But most of it is really good. There's a panel of him walking through the desert with the sun shining over his shoulder where, Sienkiewicz goes heavier on the scratchy linework to put Vic's face in shadow, and there's a few circular yellow arcs that overlap his face. You can just barely make out the lines of his eyes and nose. It's a really effective way to show how the light would hide his face from where we're viewing him.
And I like this trio of panels with Vic's eye spilling into the panel of the creature, while the arrow uses that moment to find its target.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #97

"No, Quack is a Fowl Noise," in Brave and the Bold (vol. 3) #7, by Mark Waid and George Perez (storytellers), Bob Wiacek (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer)

The third volume of Brave and the Bold started up some point after 52 wrapped, with Waid and Perez as the creative team. The first year of the book had an overarching story, something about someone named Megistus who was after some MacGuffin or another. Sometimes the stories were set up so that one of the heroes from one issue carried over into the next. Like when Batman teamed up with the Blue Beetle, then was in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes the next month.

Waid knows how to play characters off each other (although he writes Power Girl as hyper-aggressive in this issue, even by her standards), and works some humor in some issues. Bruce Wayne being stunned at Hal Jordan's success gambling. Brainiac being kind of pissed when Batman uses an ordinary old smoke bomb against them, and it works. Perez' style would be considered more old-school even by 2007, I assume, but it works for me, and I think it fits the tone of the book, which is a very old-school team-up book.

Perez left after issue 10, with Jerry Ordway taking over the art chores for three issues. Waid left after issue 16, and the book rotated through a series of creative teams, each doing a story or two, until it landed in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz for the last 9 issues. The only other issue I own besides this one is the very last issue, a Legion of Substitute Heroes/Inferior Five team-up, which occurs in and around the Legion of Super-Heroes/Doom Patrol team-up the month before. 

It's actually not bad, works as a funny issue, which makes it the high point of JMS' run on the book. Low praise, considering this was when he wrote that story where Zatanna has a premonition of Barbara Gordon's fate in The Killing Joke, and when she confides in Wonder Woman, they. . . take Barbara out for a fun night on the town rather than, you know, do anything to stop it. I guess because Wonder Woman figures it's fate, and you can't interefere. Then why did Zatanna have the fucking premonition then?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Random Back Issues #15 - Giant Days #29

I believe you're supposed to save that sort of thing for graduate school. With college budgets shrinking, assistantship dollars are at a premium.

The first single issue of Giant Days I bought, the main thread is Esther's status as Queen of the English Lit department being threatened by Emilia, who transferred in after some huge dispute about whether Pentatonix is madrigals. I have no idea what that sentence means. Just looking up definitions on Google leads me to believe Esther's correct, and a pentatonix could be a madrigal. Why can't a madrigal have five tones? Don't answer that.

Esther's response, reasoned and well-thought out as always, is to try and curry favor with the chief professor, creepy lecher Ken Lord. Which leads to her getting completely wasted at some social gathering, and nearly letting Lord take her home with him. Emilia ends up saving her, and the two become fast friends for about five minutes. Then it turns out McGraw's cheating on Emilia with Susan (who had actually been advising Esther to make friends, which should have been a clear warning sign), and everything falls to hell.
Fortunately, the next time Esther runs afoul of Ken, 33 issues from now, she's on much more sure footing, and sends him down in flames, and gets to stuff herself with fancy cheeses again (her intelligence about taking advantage of free food is something I highly relate to). It's fantastic.

The other plot thread is Daisy's attempt to set Ed up with one of her friends from Archaeology, who is also interested in all sorts of science fiction things, just like Ed. Well then clearly they're a perfect match. When's the wedding? Geez, even I know more about relationships than Daisy. Not by much, by I do.
Ed didn't feel the spark, or whatever, so there was no follow-up date, which leads to Daisy screaming at him in the grocery store. Daisy is about one issue away from starting her disastrous relationship with Ingrid, so I'm just going to assume that is her penance for being Miss Nosey Matchmaker.

{5th longbox, 59th comic. Giant Days #29, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (penciler), Liz Fleming (inker), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer)}

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Us (2019)

Well, that movie was creepy as hell. I mean, I had read spoilers online back when it came out, so I knew what the deal was with the Tethered, and specifically Red and Adelaide.  I do have some questions about it, like when there stopped being any monitoring of the Tethered, how the situation with the children would work out in that case, how exactly the Tethered seem so much more nimble, strong, and athletic than everyone else. I can chalk that last one up to being crazy, I guess.

Even so, this movie still creeps me out. The Tethered are just so unnerving. How their eyes seem so wide open you'd think they'd forgotten, or forgone, the ability to blink. The mostly inarticulate noises they make, although Red's raspy voice is even worse. Talking sounds so painful for her. The big smiles, the weird aping of people's mannerisms.

Although I laughed pretty hard when Kitty reached up to take "Bad Josh's" hand, and he did that move where you pull your hand back and run it through your hair, like some evil preppy guy from an '80s teen movie.

The goal of the Tethered, and their means to achieve it, which I am trying to avoid spoiling if you haven't seen it because you should watch it, seems a little cockeyed. But then I remember the circumstances of the one who came up with the plan, and it makes a little more sense. They wouldn't know it didn't work the first time around.

Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke are both great in this in different ways. Duke's character of Gabe is just such a clueless dork - like a '90s sitcom dad - that it's kind of hilarious. The movie keeps setting up these moments where you think, "He's got it right this time, he's gonna do this and look cool," and then blows it (the scene with the flare gun). But he comes through anyway, somehow. He's kind of a dork, but he's resourceful and determined in his way.

Nyong'o moves so effectively between sheer terror and frantic, fierce determination. You can see those fight or flight battles going on in Adelaide's mind, the exact moment where fight takes control and she starts swinging. Red, conversely, is this mix of certainty and glee. She's enjoying what she's doing to Adelaide's family, but she's also so sure that what's she's created is the right thing to do, the necessary thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Who Invited the Jerk?

One of the things I hunted down in back issues last year was the Marvel Knights Fantastic Four series (unhelpfully titled "4") Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote in the mid-2000s. It's not going to dislodge the Simonson or McDuffie runs as my personal favorites, but it's mostly solid.

There's one issue in there focused on Sue's birthday, where Reed appears to have forgotten, so she goes out on the town with some lady friends, most of whom make sense. She-Hulk, Alicia Masters, Sharon Ventura (the second Ms. Marvel, later the She-Thing). All old friends and acquaintances.

Emma Frost is also there.

Who in the fuck would think inviting Emma Frost along on your birthday romp is a good idea? She's arrogant, condescending, manipulative and rude. It'd be like inviting Namor or Quicksilver, with the added minus Emma is a telepath with no apparent regard for the sanctity of other people's minds. There's at least two times in that one issue she plucks a thought from Sue's mind and says it out loud to the others in an apparent attempt to embarrass/put her on the spot, and basically dismisses the ethical concerns of what she did with "your mind was practically shouting it, Sue."

Do the X-Men even like her? Respect her, sure. She's been on their side long enough, proven herself enough for that. But I don't know how many of them would consider her a friend, compared to how many would say the same about Nightcrawler or Rogue, for example.

Maybe some of her former students? I know Firestar doesn't care for her, due to the manipulative stuff, but I don't know about the rest of the Hellions (however many are still alive), or the Gen X kids. Again, I think there'd be respect, they might consider her a good mentor or sounding board for their questions (although even that seems doubtful. I could see her doing a lot of damage to a kid with self-esteem issues.) Beyond that, I don't know.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

History Day By Day - Peter Furtado

For each day of the year, Furtado selects a quote, speech, written statement, etc., related to some particular historical event, big or small. Then he includes a paragraph or two explaining the event or its significance.

In practice, the book is extremely West-centric. The first date devoted to anything from China doesn't come until June 4th (the 1989 Tianamen Square protests). By that point, Furtado's already spent three days on the executions of various English monarchs. China, which, you know, has a pretty lengthy and important history, gets 4 days out of 366, total. Japan gets 2. He even wasted the 20th of January on Trump's inauguration speech.

The problem, is there are probably too many options for each day, and things are going to fall through the cracks, depending on whatever biases are inherent in whatever criteria Furtado's using. Sometimes he goes with big, obvious things (FDR's "day of infamy" speech for Dec. 7th), and other times it's smaller things like Enrico Caruso's description of being in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, or the mass release of toxic gas from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India in 1984. Those were the entries I was more interested in, because I didn't know much about the events. I don't need to read yet another thing about the importance of Dunkirk, especially not when Furtado is trying to cram his explanation into a half-page or less.

'Now we have them in the mousetrap.'

- Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke

'We are in the chamber pot and are about to be shat upon.'

- French General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot

(September 1, 1870, The Battle of Sedan)

Monday, January 13, 2020

What I Bought 1/9/2020

I tried to pick up last week's books while I was visiting Alex. But the first store didn't have Deadpool, and the only copy of Black Cat was the ugly variant cover version. Like I give that much of a crap about Earth X (although I'm curious to read it someday, just to see what it's like). Then the second store had Deadpool, but not Black Cat. And I wasn't going back to the first store, so here we are.

Deadpool #2, by Kelly Thompson (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Wayne Faucher, Livesay, Al Vey, Jamie Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Tim Townsend (inkers), David Curiel (color artist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - I have no idea why Elsa and the tentacle monster are panted gold.

Wade's trying to shoot a video promoting how great Monster Island is, except some of the monsters keep eating people. Elsa Bloodstone's zeroing in on him with special bullets. Steve Rogers shows up asking Wade to lead the monsters somewhere else so no people get hurt. Because he doesn't care about the monsters.

Didn't I see this argument during Avengers vs. X-Men? And since I've mentioned that, time for the Public Service Announcement: Cyclops was wrong. Thank you.

(Look, someone has to push back against the surprising amount of pro-Cyclops propaganda and misinformation out here on the Internet.)

Also, Kraven (or his son? I dunno, Wade says that, but it sure looks like Original Recipe Kraven) has killed a dozen of Wade's subjects trying to lure him into a fight, but that hasn't worked, so he just attacks him directly. Which, surprisingly, does not end with Kraven being hacked to pieces. No, it's not because Squirrel Girl shows up with an inspiring speech about friendship and second (third, twenty-seventh) chances.

The Captain America cameo felt a little perfunctory, the obligatory Disapproving Authority Figure - I don't even know what his status is these days. Doesn't Tai-Neshi Coates have him as a fugitive right now? - Wade can stand up to and look good. Always fun. It is nice to see that Wade is, to a certain extent, taking the idea of protecting his subjects seriously. He's not doing a good job of it, constantly insulting his knights, letting Kraven kill a dozen people-monsters. But the commercial touting all the good things they have going on isn't a bad idea. He's trying, he's just not succeeding. It's a step up from "trying, but just burns everything to the ground" he normally manages. It's early days, though.

I still really like Wade's crown that he wears at a jaunty angle. Now he's got a scepter, and cape he attaches with an "X" buckle. Man I hope the X-Men don't come by griping about that. They probably will, they're dicks that way. There are some panels where I wonder what Bachalo's going for. The first page has one of the Snowman guy getting ready to eat Jeff the Land Shark, and it took me a minute to realize it was drawn so we were seeing the inside of the snowman's mouth from the side as he drops Jeff in there. It was this moment of, "OK, that's the shark, that's a limb, what the hell is going on here?" Those are few and far between, and Wade looks appropriately messed up under his mask (not in the same way he is on the cover, though).

I do wonder about the amount of white space he leaves on the pages. Almost every page, there's a significant amount that Bachalo is not using at all. I assume he has a reason, but I can't figure out what. If he's wanting to focus in on something specific - and the smaller panels typically are zoomed in - he could still do that, but enlarge the panel, right? Maybe it's about guiding the eye around the page.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #96

"Element Guy? No Respect, I Tells Ya" in Brave and the Bold (vol. 1) #68, by Bob Haney (writer), Mike Sekowsky (penciler), Mike Esposito (inker), Stan Starkman (letterer), and colorist unknown 

The only four issues of the original Brave and the Bold series I have are all in the Showcase edition of Metamorpho. This one is about as representative of Bob Haney's brand of lunacy as any. Riddler, Penguin, and Joker team-up, and keeping trying to dose Batman with weird substances. The Joker pulls it off by booby-trapping the anti-booby-trapping switch in the Batmobile (seems like a design flaw by Wayne Enterprises there), and it transforms Batman into the thing seen above, temporarily.

He appraoches Metamorpho to keep him under control if he changes again until a cure can be found. Except Metamorpho fails miserably, then fails again to capture him later (by which point Bat-Hulk has press-ganged his three enemies into committing crimes with him.) He's only stopped when he grabs a TV antenna, intending to smash Rex Mason with it, and it gets struck by lightning, somehow curing him, even though electricity was not involved in the transformation at all.

Two things: One, I'm not sure Bob Haney's stories operate by any internal consistency, let alone any other kind. Unless "the universe is a weird place, man" qualifies. I know, this is not news to anyone who's spent any time on comic blogs in the last 15 years. Two, I'm a little disappointed Grant Morrison didn't bring back this version of Batman as Batsy's secret, secret identity in Batman R.I.P., instead of the patchwork Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

The other three issues are Rex Mason's first two appearances, his origin and "The Junkyard of Doom", plus what's really more of a showdown with the Metal Men as opposed to a team-up. Although that one is notable for Will Magnus somehow curing Metamorpho, but Rex having to naturally undo the change to save the Metal Men who are under outside control, plus his groovy lady Sapphire (and also her scumbag dad and his caveman lackey).

Friday, January 10, 2020

2019 Comics in Review - Part 5

I may have bought a few more new comics in 2019, but back issue purchases were way down from 2018. That year, I had these two plastic crates, plus with smaller magazine holder things that were basically full. This year, the five magazine things were full, but I was only halfway on the crates. I think I was looking for stuff I wasn't as likely to find in random shops, so I didn't have as much success. Or, the stuff I was looking for was pricier, so I bought less of it. I thought trades and manga purchases were down too, but no. It just feels like the things I want to buy stubbornly refuse to drop to a price I'm willing to spend.

As usual, the categories here may have certain minimum requirements, which will be listed. And as always, this is restricted to things I actually purchased. So after the last four days, you should know what the possible contenders are. I couldn't very well nominate something for my favorite ongoing I didn't read.

Favorite Ongoing Series (minimum 6 issues bought):

1. Giant Days
2. Black Cat
3. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

There were only two other candidates - Magnificent Ms. Marvel and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man - and seeing as how I dropped both of those mid-year, they couldn't really be in the running. I guess Infinity 8 might qualify, but it wouldn't edge out any of the three above.

Giant Days remained the most consistently enjoyable book I read, the one I most looked forward to each month, so it keeps the title. And Jed MacKay and Travel Foreman are doing pretty much exactly what I would want a Black Cat series to do - take advantage of the setting they have available to do cool "heist gone wrong" stuff. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is almost always solid, and occasionally really funny and clever, so it's a strong third place.

Favorite Mini-Series (at least half of it shipped in 2019):

1. Ghost Tree
2. Atomic Robo: Dawn of the New Era
3. Steeple

Coda only shipped 5 of 12 issues this year, so it's out of the running. Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage only shipped 1 of 4 issues this year, so no go. I dropped Dial H halfway, so that counts it out. Same with Mega Ghost and Astro Hustle. Domino: Hotshots' story was a little too muddled for me. Smooth Criminals suffered from how rushed it felt at the end. Infinity 8 is solid, but hasn't really been great so far. Gwenpool Strikes Back had some really funny moments, but just doesn't feel like it was good enough to be in the Top 3. Even if I didn't always follow what Sebela and Hickman were getting at on the first go-round (or the second), Test was still interesting. Trying to figure out what was happening, what would happen, why. It was really close to making the cut, but I enjoy Steeple too much.

Having an Atomic Robo mini almost devoid of fighting or explosions was a real change of pace, but I like the way it set up a lot of stuff that will hopefully pay off in a cool way down the line (whenever the next mini-series pops up). Ghost Tree was really effective about how comfortable it is to hide in other peoples' problems, or in the past, to avoid dealing with what's going on now, without entirely dumping on the idea of the importance of those things. There was just enough comedy in there to keep it from being a total drag.

Favorite One-Shot:

1. Black Cat Annual
2. Giant Days: As Time Go By
3. Power Pack: Grow Up!

Most of the one-shots I got this year were random Marvel ones, and most of those weren't very good. So it came down to these two. Power Pack: Grow Up! wasn't bad, but I'd put it pretty far behind both of these. The Black Cat Annual edged out the Giant Days send-off because, I guess I wanted more from the latter. I wanted to see Dean Thompson in ruin, if Ed and Nina were still together, that kind of thing. It wasn't enough, which isn't fair, but them's the breaks. The Black Cat story was its own tidy little heist thing that got Felicia and Spidey teaming up to steal for a sort of good cause from some scumbags, and I had a lot of fun reading it.

Favorite Trade Paperback/Gravel Novel (anything purchased in 2019 is eligible):

1. Rob Schrab's Scud: The Disposable Assassin - The Whole Shebang (plus a whole mess of other people)
2. Tim Truman's Scout, Volume 1 (with Tom Yeats, Steve Oliff, Sam Parsons, and Timothy Harkins)
3. Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 2 (with Alan Grant, Steve Mitchell, Adrienne Roy, and Todd Klein)

31 total options this year, up from 27 the year before. Unlike last year, there aren't a few titles that dominate. A couple of Abnett/Lanning Legion books, a couple of manga series I bought two or three volumes of, the second and third Infinity 8 volumes.

Scud is first because it has a manic energy I love, that sense that anything could pop up on the next page. The kind of thing I love about Dr. McNinja or Earthworm Jim. But the ending was something I wouldn't have expected at all, which was extremely cool. It's nice to be surprised in a good way. Scout is that story where a character has a specific thing they're trying to do, but they need to be paying more attention to what's left in their wake. It's one of the things I love about GrimJack, how stuff builds on itself. What Santana leaves in his wake doesn't come into play until after this trade, but you can see the start of it, and Truman comes up with some pretty memorable designs for monsters in here.

Most of the Norm Breyfogle collection are solid done-in-one Batman stories, which is fine. The second half gets into Tim Drake becoming Robin, which is more interesting, but I got it just for Norm Breyfogle's art, so it delivers on that count.

Favorite Writer:

1. John Allison
2. Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning
3. Tim Truman

Other than Allison, there wasn't any writer I bought more than one series from this year among the new stuff. But I did track down all of Tim Truman's Scout work, and close to two dozen Legion comics, a series and concept I have never cared about, because they were written by Abnett and Lanning. That has to count for something.

Favorite artist (min. 110 pages):

1. Max Sarin
2. Joe Quinones
3. Audrey Mok

Mok is on here because I love the character designs and how well action and movement is conveyed. Quinones did a heck of a job mimicking other artists, without his work losing its coherence or energy. It would have been easy to just ape the typical postures Akira Toriyama uses, but end up with something flat and posed, but he didn't. You could tell whose work was the influence, but it was still Quinones' art, and it still worked in service to the story.

But Sarin has such a knack for facial expressions and body posture, which is critical in a series that is so much about gags and people reacting to absurd situations, sometimes in absurd ways. She can exaggerate when she needs to, but saves it for when it's needed, so it maintains effectiveness.

That's that. Sunday we're back to the Splash Page, and the typical posting resumes Monday.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

2019 Comics in Review - Part 4

There were 12 artists that drew at least 110 pages of comics I bought this past year, which is the most since probably 2009, the first year I kept track of that kind of thing. Jen Hickman and Scott Wegener are each at 110 pages, Travel Foreman at 118 (which gets him back on the list for the first time since '09 as well, I think). John Allison, Juann Cabal, and Minkyu Jung were all at 120 pages. Audrey Mok is at 126, Joe Quinones at 128.5, and Leisha Riddel at 132.

Only 3 of the 12 broke the 154 page mark: Derek Charm (164), David Baldeon (173, he and Allison are the only two artists whose work is spread over multiple titles), and, for the second year in a row, the page leader is Giant Days' regular artist, Max Sarin, at 206 pages! Sarin joins Erica Henderson (2015, 2017), and Chris Samnee (2012, 2014) in the repeat winners category.

Sera and the Royal Stars #1-5: A princess is tasked with finding and awakening a group of, deities, elder beings, something like that, or else Bad Stuff will happen. Of course, while she's busy with that, her family's kingdom is under siege from her uncle, who dresses all in black, so you know he's a cranky dude. Jon Tsuei writing, Audrey Mok as artist, Raul Angulo as color artist.

High Points - Snark aside, I do like the conflicting pulls on Sera. The Royal Stars keep insisting she has to help them, because big picture, bad stuff will happen eventually if they aren't all awakened. But in the meantime, her loved ones are in danger right now. Her brother's already died, and her sister seems like the angry, reckless sort that needs someone there to watch her. I like the character designs and color schemes Mok and Angulo are coming up with. Lots of flowing robes and cloaks, but not in a way that looks clunky or difficult to move in. And most of them have their own, unique color combinations so things don't get too monotonous.

Low Point - I'm still unclear on what's going to happen if Sera fails. People keep alluding to time needing to resume its normal flow, so I'm guessing the season are out of wack, hence all the desert conditions, but not sure I'm right.

Smooth Criminals #3-8: Brenda and Mia plan their heist, pull of their heist, then get robbed of it by Hatch and arrested by the feds. They convince the feds Hatch is the real thief and they'll help bring him down, which they do, and everyone is happy. Except Hatch. It's most Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten Smith writing, although Amy Roy joins in late in the proceedings. Leisha Riddel handles art duties, and Brittany Peer does most of the color work, although Jamie Loughran handles issue 7.

High Points - The two pages in issue 7 where Hatch is posing with the Net of Indra in all sorts of ridiculous ways. That one panel of him trying to rap "Ice, Ice Baby" in particular. On that note, his two poor henchmen, stuck working for such a complete fucking goober. You know what, issue 7 in general. It was really funny, between the scene above, Mia picturing Brenda in prison, Brenda robbing a bank to get thrown back into prison with Mia.

Low Point - I was sure this was originally a 12-issue mini-series, and the way issue 8 ended certainly contributes to the impression. You go from Riddel using mostly 4-5 panels a page, to two 16-panel pages where Hatch jams himself full of some green stuff that makes him into Burnt Umber Hulk, which fortunately then wears off really fast. We have to figure there's some reason he's not older, but that whole bit came so far out of left field so fast.

Steeple #1-4: John Allison (words/art) and Sarah Stern (color art) on a story about a young curate who comes to the town of Tredregyn, where a lot of stuff happens. The reverend spends his nights fighting monsters from the sea, while Billie ends up befriending one of the local Satanists.

High Point - Issue 3, when the Anglicans and Satanists unite against the wind turbines. Wind turbines which may be attempting to harness the latent energy of Tredregyn to usher in the Rapture. That's bizarre enough to be great. That or the bit in issue 2 where Billie explains to Maggie how she attempted to engage the local youth - crafts, community, and enhanced self-worth - and Maggie tells her God is stuffed if that's the best they have.

Low Point - The Witchfest is issue 4? I think it set up some stuff that will pay off in issue 5, but on its own, I didn't laugh nearly as much as I did at the three issues before it.

Test #1-5: Aleph Null is looking for the town of Laurelwood, which has a curious doorway into the future. Aleph figures the future will help them become someone they don't hate being, so that's the place to go. Except the future is pretty much like everywhere else, just fancier, so, you know, tough shit. Wherever you go, there you are. Christopher Sebela as writer, Jen Hickman as artist, Harry Saxon as colorist.

High Point - Issue 3, when everything starts falling apart and Aleph decides their best option is to go deeper, see the place people are observing from, rather than run around in the test environment itself. Which leads to a maze of inky darkness with portals and doorways with bar codes on it. Strange, vaguely human shapes with big swirly eyes. It makes a distinct change from Laurelwood, which is mostly our world, but with a few things that are shiny or weird. Like maybe Aleph is actually getting to where he thinks he wants to go.

Low Point - I don't know. There wasn't really anything that was egregiously bad to me in the series. It's not a happy story, since the same mistakes keep getting repeated by people, but I think that was the point? It's useless to look to some distant future when everything will be great, because people will still be people. So make the best of what you are right now?

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #40-50: Let's see, Doreen convinced Iron Man to help hide a refugee Skrull from the Skrulls, rescued Peter Parker and Nancy from a puzzle-obsessed villain, had a team-up with her older and younger self against Kang, got dragged into a War of the Realms tie-in, then had to fend off a mass attack of villains led by Melissa Morbeck, which also exposed her secret identity. Then her book ended. Ryan North wrote it, and Rico Renzi colored it the whole way through. Derek Charm drew most issues, although Naomi Franquiz did the puzzle villain issue, and she and Erica Henderson helped on the Kang issue.

High Point - The Frost Giant in issue 46 being attacked by the whales they were going to eat. 'Food has backfired somehow!!' cracks me up. So does Ratatoskr's attempt to mimic whale speech. 'I am Whale!' Other than that, probably issue #42, the Kang issue. Kang trying to defeat Squirrel Girl by plantings traps in the past, only to be thwarted by continuously younger Squirrel Girls was a clever way of doing things. Plus, it was fun to see the different time periods drawn by different artists (Franquiz in the future, Charm in the present, Henderson in the past).

Low Point - I still think the solution to Squirrel Girl jumping on the quantum bomb Doom planted was kind of weak. There were so many other good potential solutions, besides "well, it just wasn't strong enough to kill her, even though Doom intended it to kill everyone in the vicinity, including Thors and Hulks and Fin Fang Foom".

And that does it for the rundown through all the titles. Tomorrow is the point when we pit the books and the creative talent against each other to see who lives or dies based on my entirely arbitrary rankings!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

2019 Comics in Review - Part 3

Marvel was the top company in terms of number of comics purchased, last year. Although 52 comics out of 120 is a new low for them in both total and percentage (about 43%). DC managed to do worse than last year, at just 7 comics (5.8%), finishing in 6th place.

Boom! finished in 2nd for the second year in a row, at 21 comics (17.5%), a little down from last year. IDW and Vault are tied for 3rd, with 10 comics apiece, and Lion Forge was next, at 8. Then there's 5 other companies that add up to 12 comics. It's probably the most different companies I've bought from in a given year.

Infinity 8 #10-17: This took us through two of the 8 attempts to explore the space mausoleum, and two-thirds of the way through a third. Martin Trystram drew the "Symbolic Guerrilla" story, where Patty Stardust tries to investigate without blowing her cover as a member of some weird art cult. Lorenzo de Felici drew "Apocalypse Day", where Ann Ninurta got caught in the middle of a zombie problem before she even got into the space graveyard. And Franck Biancarelli's drawing "Ultimate Knowledge", with Leila Sherad enlisted a historian to help her, but they're definitely going to get too involved in exploring something else to go where they're supposed to.

High Point - I like the colors Biancarelli uses for Sherad's space gun. The scene when Ann makes it back to her daughter's day care, but it's too late. There isn't a tearful moment where she has to shoot her daughter's zombified remains, just a silent panel where she figures out it's too late. There's a vein of cynicism in Symbolic Guerrillas towards the Captain and the other symbols of authority over the officers that I haven't seen in any of the others. It's sad how it plays out, but it made for an interesting contrast.

Low Point - I feel like the reason the mission is going to be completed in Ultimate Knowledge, is going to feel really contrived when it happens. Could be wrong.

Jungle Comics #1: I think my problem with this was it tried too hard to lampshade some of the questionable stuff about the genre, rather than just tell a good jungle adventure story without those elements. Like it was trying to be an old-school style jungle comic, but also deconstruct them at the same time? Didn't really work either way.

Locke & Key - Dog Days: Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez come back for a one-shot that's split into two stories. One of them is about three boys just hanging out together, except one of them is a little strange. The other is setting things up for a future story, and involves Tyler Locke making a giant key that's able to restore the house that was destroyed. There's really nothing to the second one, other than wondering why the hell anyone would bring that house back after the shit they went through, but the first story is funny.

Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1-8: As soon as Ms. Marvel was canceled, they started her new series, with her new creative team of Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung. They immediately gave Kamala's father a terminal illness, had her mother tell him Kamala's secret, then immediately had that knowledge taken away by a space prince. Gave her a new costume that is definitely not the Kree equivalent to a symbiont. Then she fought some corporate monster that turned his employees into zombies because it wasn't prohibited in their contracts.

High Point - Her punching Josh and the little redheaded fascist during the zombie two-parter? Vazquez had some nice creepy panels in that two-parter I liked. Jung seems to have Kamala expanding what she can do shape-changing wise. She's moved into Plastic Man/Reed Richards territory a couple times. I don't know if that's a great thing, but if you want to represent her continuing to grow and improve, it's not a bad idea.

Low Point - Granting that Wilson did absolutely nothing with Kamala's mother knowing her secret, or the fact her father didn't know, giving them that information, then doing the ol' "magic memory erase" stunt, felt kind of stupid. The new costume looks terrible. It has all these unnecessary seams and lines. It looks like something leftover from all Jim Lee's New52 redesigns.

Magnificent Ms. Marvel Annual #1: Marvel did this half-assed "Acts of Evil" thing over the summer. Like Acts of Vengeance, but without any overarching plot or coherence. Just heroes fighting villains they normally don't. In this case Magdalene Visaggio and Jon Lam have Super-Skrull attack Ms. Marvel because he bought some doohickey (off a Kree) that can ramp up her powers, then release them as some sort of field he can use to make Earth into a new Skrull homeworld. but first he's gonna pose as a super-hero for a while. Look man, I don't know.

Mega Ghost #2, 3: I figured Gabe Soria and Gideon Kendall's story about a kid who summons three ghosts and combines them into a giant robot would be up my alley. Seems like a mash-up of enough different stuff I'm sometimes interested in to work. But something didn't click with me. Probably aimed at different audience than me.

Ms. Marvel #37, 38: The last two issues of G. Willow Wilson's run on the book. The first issue, with Nico Leon and Ian Herring on art duties, is a goofy thing and Kamala and Gabe trying to look after their baby nephew when a huge section of the city floods due to lack of infrastructure spending. The final issue is a jam issue written by Wilson, Devin Grayson, Eve Ewing, Jim Zub, and Saladin Ahmed, and drawn by Leon, Takeshi Miyazawa, Joey Vazquez, Kevin Libranda, Minkyu Jung and Juan Vlasco. Kamala and her friend get drawn into some strange video game that simulates the struggles they've been having, but reaffirms their friendship or something. Issue #37 would have been a better choice to end the series with.

Power Pack - Grow Up!: I bought this out of a "what the hell" moment, but it wasn't bad. The story takes place across Alex' birthday, and the first half by Louise Simonson and June Brigman is more typical superhero stuff, with the kids trying to save their talking horse alien friend from the Brood. The second, with Gurihiru taking over art duties, is Katie feeling guilty she didn't get Alex a better present and the solution to that problem. Neither story is revolutionary, but they're solidly entertaining.

Punchline FCBD: I didn't pay money for this, so maybe it shouldn't count, but what the hell. I think it basically explains how one hero, who had been reluctant to give up her powers, gives them to a random helpful teenager she meets in the cemetery, then tries to train her to be an effective hero. It was OK, there were a few mysteries I might have been curious about if I'd started buying the book.

Questions -The Deaths of Vic Sage #1: Jeff Lemire writing, with Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor on art duties. Vic's exposing political corruption, when he finds a ring with a symbol on it that gets him started hunting. Leads him to a corpse that also has no face, and then a drug-aided trip into the past. Meanwhile, Hub City is in the middle of a riot over a cop killing an unarmed man. Priorities, Vic. Second issue is supposed to be out this month, so we'll see where that takes it.

Section Zero #1: Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett described this as "Jack Kirby meets X-Files", so I figured why not. That seems to factor prominently into some of this year's purchases. It's about some secret group that investigate weird stuff, and there might be another, rival group out there. Someone playing both sides, too? The first issue just didn't grab me enough to bring me back for a second issue. None of the characters were interesting enough I had to see what happened to them, or learn more about their backstories.

Sensational Spider-Man - Self-Improvement: This was based off a script idea someone sent to give Spidey a new costume back before he ever got the symbiote. Except, it's not really Self-Improvement when Reed Richards makes it for you, is it? Plus, this was not some of Rick Leonardi's stronger artwork. Definitely needed a heavier inker. Or more time to draw. Whichever.

That's it for Day 3. Tomorrow wraps up the remainder of the series I have to go through. A lot fewer than today. Three mini-series and two ongoings.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

2019 Comics in Review - Part 2

I bought 120 new comics this year, the most since 2016 when I also bought 120 comics. It's the first time the total actually rose from one year to the next since 2011, when it went from 134 to 136 (which is the only other time it's gone up).

It's about half-and-half between stuff that was ongoing series and stuff from mini-series, plus 7 or 8 one-shot type things. I'm iffy on how it breaks down between ongoings and minis because I still haven't decided how to classify Infinity 8. 24 issues ongoing? 8 3-issue mini-series that are interconnected?

Domino - Hotshots #1-5: This started as soon as Domino ended, with mostly the same creative team of Gail Simone and David Baldeon, although Michael Shelfer drew the majority of the last two issues. Domino and her crew, plus some wild cards, run around the world trying to find a guy infected by something the Celestials dropped off on Earth.  A bunch of other interested parties show up, and Domino can't trust half the people she's working with not to look out for themselves.

High Point - I enjoyed the partially-Celestial designs Baldeon came up with for some of the characters. Domino having the weird linework on just the black patch over her eye was cool. My theory that everyone was fighting over the Celestial equivalent of a turd, and that poor Russian scientist really just had Space Hep C, while not correct, greatly amused me.

Low Point - I feel like it rehashes certain things too much. Domino worries she can't control Black Widow and the other wild cards. She tries to get them to agree to buy in to her plan. They agree, something happens, the whole thing starts again. Then it happens again. It's like every five minutes they're all pointing guns at each other. If they're all such dangerous ladies, shouldn't they be killing each other after the first betrayal?

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1-6, 11: Tom Taylor and mostly Juann Cabal as artist trying a series focus on Spider-Man interacting with mostly his neighbors, generally being a good and helpful person, while also dealing with typical Spider-Man stuff. Which involved people from a city deep beneath New York kidnapping a mother, or Spidey helping a kid who made the bad decision to steal a car.

High Point - I thought Taylor really got Peter Parker and Spider-Man in the small moments. The little helpful things he does, like giving people he saved directions, or helping that kid not get arrested for stealing a car, by helping the kid get away. Without breaking the speed limit, which was pretty funny. Issue #5 was definitely my favorite, even if it Peter dealing with them having Aunt May diagnosed with cancer. Is that a step up or down from her frequent heart problems? I liked the idea of another city deep beneath New York, that used to have some secret agreement with the surface world, in theory.

Low Point - In practice, having subterranean city be basically just New York was kind of dull. I didn't really care much for Marine, The Rumor, whatever you want to call her. Didn't dislike her, but she hadn't grown on me by the time I dropped the book. Like I said, the little parts were good, but the larger plots didn't interest me much.

Ghost Tree #1-4: Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane have Brandt take some time off from his failing marriage to visit his grandmother, and finds he can see his grandfather's ghost. And a lot of other ghosts, including his childhood sweetheart. So he's stuck between trying to go home and make things work, or stay here and revel in pleasant memories and help these ghosts maybe find peace. It's useful work, but also a way to escape his own problems.

High Point - I love Ian Herring's color work, especially when the "demon" appears and things shift so sharply to reds, and away from soft greens and blues. The ghost who would like to talk about his melted face cracks me up. I like Gane's design for Zero, the guardian spirit. It's simple, but memorable. Ragged cloaks and hoods are design elements that work for me, apparently.

Low Point - I'm not sure I like the ending, mostly because it's a bummer but also because I'm not sure what the point of it is. Making a point about how time doesn't stand still for anyone? That Brandt and the rest of us may be pawns n fate's hands? Sometimes there's no fixing things? I don't know.

Giant Days #46-54: John Allison writing, mostly Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar on art and colors, although Allison draws an issue and a half. Daisy and Esther graduate, which means preparing for what comes after graduation. Susan tries to help McGraw cope with the loss of his father. Plus a lot of small random things in and around that. Daisy's driving test, Susan finding who keeps stealing stuff from the comic store, Esther's issue with her parents.

High Point - Look, there are 70 things in every issue of Giant Days that I love. Just looking through #47, I was reminded Esther called McGraw for help finding Dean's dog rather than call Susan or Daisy because she did not need a 'coterie of flibbetigibbets,' which is a fantastic turn of phrase. Sarin and Cogar going for the black-and-white noir/Sin City look in issue 46 when Susan takes up private investigating again. If I'm going to pick a single favorite issue, it's #50, the cricket game issue. Can't resist a good underdog sports story.

Low Point - The low point is that it ended. I am bereft, cast adrift by the comic most capable of bringing a spark of laughter into my otherwise dreary and miserab-OK that's enough of that shit. But seriously, I'm sad the book has ended.

Giant Days - As Time Goes By: Allison, Sarin, and Cogar give the girls a sendoff by checking in one year after the series finale. Which shows Esther is miserable in her job with two controlling weirdos, and Susan has just about had it up to here with both Esther and McGraw's shit. Daisy's doing great, though. I'm a little surprised Esther has less resistance to being affected by other people than me. Of course, I'm so naturally solitary it's easy for me to just avoid people I don't like, even at work.

Gwenpool Strikes Back #1-5: Leah Williams and David Baldeon give us Gwenpool's quest to prove she's important enough to keep around the Marvel Universe, rather than being written into oblivion. Which means she spends a lot of time doing random disruptive shit to prove she's a big deal. At the end, she gets sorta retconned into being a mutant, so mission accomplished, I guess.

High Point - Gwen stealing Thor's severed arm from Malekith, so she can catch Mjolnir, then hit the Hulk in the junk with it. How could any other moment possibly be better than that? Although he scaring David Baldeon so he would spill coffee allover his panels of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, so they stop chasing her wasn't bad. So was Deadpool being mad enough about her unmasking Spidey he decides to stop helping her and try to kill her instead. Aw, Wade cares!

Low Point - Shouldn't Gwen know she's not going to pick up enough radioactivity from Spider-Man to not bother trying that? She's supposed to be a big honking comics nerd! Peter is only radioactive enough to kill Aunt May if he gives her a blood transfusion. Is her becoming a mutant - until the next writer - really an improvement?

Halfway there! Tomorrow is mostly a whole bunch of stuff I only bought one or two issues of. One-shots, series I didn't return to after the first issue, a couple of other things. Should go faster.