Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #116

"You Aren't Supposed to Mention She Shaved," in Creeper #4, by Len Kaminski (writer), Shawn Martinbrough (penciler), Sal Buscema (inker), Sherri van Valkenburgh (colorist), John E. Workman Jr. (letterer) 

Another late '90s DC series, Creeper ran for 12 issues, if you count the DC One Million tie-in that also served as the last issue. Kaminski makes a number of changes from Ditko's version of Jack Ryder and the Creeper (although maybe someone else made them in the couple of decades in between Ditko's last work on the character).

Ryder is closer to a shock jock provocateur journalist, albeit one with a knack for finding interesting stories. More critically, the bizarre behavior the Creeper exhibits isn't an act any longer, as he's now some alternate personality, or some aspect of madness that lurks within Ryder the experiments he underwent gave a way to surface. One that runs in the family, since the skeletal version up there is some remnant of his deceased mother's mental illness.

Yeah, I don't know either.

While revising that aspect of the character, along with a healing factor and the idea that his laugh actually causing a reaction in the brain similar to fingernails on the chalkboard, Kamisnki revises the origin entirely while bringing Proteus back into the mix. The origin as present in Showcase, has the "by the seat of your pants" energy of the era. Where things keep happening at a fast enough clip that the momentum keeps you from contemplating things like why the scientist has expertise in two such disparate fields, or why a costume shop only has a box of scraps available. That's not acceptable in the Nineties, so now that version is an attempt by Ryder's psyche to fashion what actually happened into a more palatable memory.

Eh, I don't know. It works for this series, where Kaminski focuses a lot on the relationship between Ryder and the Creeper, their differing perceptions of things, and how each of them needs some of what the other brings. Most of the issues are done-in-ones about Ryder pursuing a story, and needing the Creeper either for fisticuffs or because his madness perceives something Ryder missed. Except the longer it goes, the more Ryder feels himself losing whatever tenuous control of the situation he has, feeling more reliant on the Creeper. Which pushes him to try and control the Creeper any way possible. Which goes about as well as you'd expect.

Shawn Martinbrough draws most of the series, with Sal Buscema. His Creeper is more wild and rabid. This angular, almost skeletal appearance, overly large smile contrasted with a hunched over posture and with scraggly hair. Ryder's almost rigid by contrast. Broader body, solid, restrained. The guy trying to hold back a tide of something and feeling the toll, going by the lines on his face and the deep shadows. The shadows make for a stark contrast between light and dark, the two halves of Ryder in opposition to each other, even when they're ostensibly working together. The Creeper is planning things, but Ryder doesn't know what until after the fact. He just has to roll with it.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Random back Issues #31 - Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #4

What time is it? Time to reset the "Days Without a Hank Pym Breakdown" counter to 0!

A comic written in the mid-2000s about comics written in the 1960s. OK, that doesn't narrow it down much, but we're looking at the second Avengers mini-series Joe Casey wrote, set at the point when the Vision joined the team. I used a page from this issue for Sunday Splash Page #52.

The first half of the issue is the the Avengers attacking an island under AIM control. While the Black Panther, Wasp, Hawkeye, and Vision try to reach Central Command, Giant Man faces a wave of Adaptoids alone. He stops them, but he went somewhere ugly in his head to do it.
Unfortunately, the Super-Adaptoid escaped, which means Nick Fury isn't happy, and neither is Agent Mirch, who is some sort of proto-Gyrich government liaison dipshit. The type who blames the Avengers for not doing a better job, blames them for the existence of threats like AIM, says the President is used to disappointment, crap like that.

In other developments, Hawkeye and Vision stop a high-tech bank robbery, but get some flack from a mouthy cop. Hawkeye quite reasonably points out that if the police are so sure they can handle guys with disruptor weapons, they're free to do so. Note that I'm not saying Hawkeye says it in a reasonable tone, only that he makes a good point. This is the exact reason I wouldn't last as a superhero. Someone would complain about how I saved them and I'd tell them to fuck off and handle their own problems next time.

On top of that the public hasn't exactly warmed up to the Vision, and neither has SHIELD, which harbors suspicions he's actually the Super-Adaptoid in disguise. Hawkeye notices their surveillance van and knocks on the side, asking if they can have a copy of the footage. Hawkeye's kind of honked off at SHIELD anyway, since he thinks they're stealing Natasha away from him. No Clint, that would be Daredevil doing that. Eventually.
This is also during the stretch where T'Challa is teaching high school under the name Luke Charles. He's worried about one of his students, a quiet kid named Delroy, who misses school a lot and gets bullied by some hotshot everyone calls Mack. Or "The Mack", whichever. Guy is twice Delroy's size and has six guys backing him up, pardon me if I'm not impressed. Anyway, Mack implies that Delroy should just kill himself, or else Mack will do it for him. Lovely.

And then Pym has the nightmare above. It's the Adaptoid in his mouth that really sells the creepiness. He heads to his lab where he thinks about Captain America and Iron Man telling him about the heavy burden of being leader, then begins smashing up his equipment in frustration. By next issue, he'll be running around as Yellowjacket, claiming he killed Hank Pym.

This is the halfway point of this mini-series, and before we're done, we have the Yellowjacket fiasco, the Super-Adaptoid shows up, a certain section of Wakandan society sends a top assassin after T'Challa for apparently abandoning his duties, and the Wasp tries marrying Yellowjacket to shock Hank out of this. . . whatever you'd call it.

[2nd longbox, 70th comic. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #4, by Joe Casey (writer), Will Rosado (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Wil Quintana (colorist), Comicraft (letterer)]

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Road to Perdition

A movie about fathers and how they mess up their sons.

Paul Newman raised an entitled brat (played by Daniel Craig) who thinks he ought to have everything he wants, and should be able to boss people around like his dad. Only for his father to humiliate him in front of people repeatedly. Craig's character, Conner, is never going to be of any use, even as a bootlegger. Too arrogant, too stupid, too hot-tempered, too oblivious to his own limitations.

Even so, his father can't bring himself to do the smart thing and let Michael (Tom Hanks) just kill the fucker for what he did. It's the same mistake Viggo in John Wick made. Sooner or later his son's going to die anyway, because of the nature of the man he wronged. All the fathers accomplished is getting a lot of other people killed or hurt in the process.

With characters like that, I wonder if they refuse to hand over their sons because they actually love them, or because they're so used to having everything their own way, the concept of someone taking something, anything, away from them is just unacceptable. With Viggo, I really think he just felt he couldn't afford to be intimidated, given his position. He had to at least try to stop John Wick. With Paul Newman's character, I don't know. I think he recognizes on some level that he fucked up raising Conner. That his son is a crappy human being, even by the low standards of the bootlegging/mobster community. And this is the best he can do for him now. Try to keep him alive.

Or maybe he's more concerned with Michael, and knows if Michael keeps going, he's going to make too many enemies. That Newman seems closer to Michael, certainly treats him with more respect, than his own son, is a wedge between them. But Michael is probably what Mr. Rooney wants in a son. Hardworking, no-nonsense, reliable, and above all, grateful for all that Rooney has bestowed on him. Because Rooney is like a lot of bigshots. It isn't enough for him to have everything, people have to kiss his ass when he deigns to spread a little of it around.

Then you have the two Michaels, father and son. The first time we see Hanks, his son is watching him from down the hall as he changes out of his suit and puts away his handgun after work. His dad doesn't know he's there - or doesn't acknowledge him if he does - and even when his son calls to him taht dinner is ready, Michael Sr. responds without even turning to look at him.

When they go on the run, his son rides in the backseat, which creates a disconnect. It reminded me of Driving Miss Daisy, making Michael less of a father and more of a chauffeur, or a bodyguard. He doesn't know how to connect with his son, and for a time, can only resort to trying to order him around the way he probably would someone who owed Mr. Rooney money. Grab him, get in his face, snarl orders.

Ultimately, Michael confesses he maintained distance because he saw too much of himself in his son, and didn't want to encourage those traits. The opposite of the Rooneys, where Conner doesn't seem to be enough like his dad to please the man. Didn't want him to end up on the path to Hell like his father, like Mr. Rooney, like Conner. Which carries right up to the climactic confrontation at the beach with Jude Law's creepy weirdo character.

(It's interesting how long that drags out compared to how perfunctory Michael's eventual killing of Conner is.)

I don't know that I buy that Young Michael killing someone would have put him on the same road as his father. Killing a man who is almost certainly going to kill you doesn't exactly scream "future enforcer" to me. But I'm not sure exactly what Old Michael did that put him on that road in the first place.

It makes me wonder if either father, Michael or Rooney, sees themselves clearly, let alone their sons, and therefore, how accurate they are in their assessments. The elder Rooney might have hid it better than his son, but there's still that sense of entitlement to him, that he's the one who gets to decide how things are. Conner may have been more like his old man than either recognized, just without the public show of false modesty and honor. Young Michael might have a penchant for violence - the scene where he gets in a fight at school after learning what his father does for Mr. Rooney is clearly supposed to suggest as much - but maybe he's just confused and frustrated because no one is providing any answers, or seems to find anything at all wrong with the situation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

August Isn't Only June's Leftovers

I wasn't expecting there to be any solicitations for new comics in August. I figured April's comics are coming out in June, May's in July, and so August will just be all the books that were originally going to come out in June. And to a certain extent, I think that's right, barring the second wave of the pandemic putting everything in lockdown mode again.

But there were a few things listed I didn't see in June's offerings. The 5th issue of Amethyst. I also noticed they solicited the 4th issue of that Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey comic Conner and Palmiotti were doing. I'm not planning on buying it, but it looked like Cass has a costume, but it's the one that one kid wears. I think he's called Signal? The Signal? That guy. Couldn't she just have her Black Bat costume from the Batman Incorporated days?

The first issue of Rogue Planet came out today, so maybe by next week I'll have some sense of how likely it is I'll buy the 4th issue in August. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are doing a two-part Locke & Key story set in World War 1 called Pale Battalions. I wasn't too impressed with that Dog Days one-shot last year but this sounds like there's more meat to it.

Source Point has the first issue of something called Broken Gargoyles, about two guys recovering from their experiences in World War 1. I think I mostly noticed it because the title's font reminded me of Atomic Robo's. The solicit also uses the term "dieselpunk", which I had never heard before. Learn something (useless) every day.

Oh, and Marvel has a Fantastic Four mini-series drawn by Neal Adams. Sadly, it's written by Mark Waid, so it won't reach the delirious insanity I remember hearing about in those Batman: Odyssey mini-series Adams wrote and drew a few years back. Based on Sallyp's descriptions, those things were nuts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lockout

Guy Pearce plays an ex-CIA agent accused of murdering his friend and stealing a suitcase full of important secrets. His only chance for a reprieve is to board a supermax prison in orbit to rescue the President's daughter, who was up there investigating claims that the prison operates in a inhumane manner. Which it does. The prisoners are kept in some kind of hibernative stasis for the duration of their sentences, which can cause dementia. So it's actually worse than the system they had in Demolition Man. Stallone's character at least came out 30 years on ice with his sanity in one piece.

It's also, while used by lots of countries, run by the United States, but possibly built and maintained by a corporation, which is definitely not ethically dodgy. It's also revealed the prison is not in a stable orbit around the Earth, and requires constant corrections by the staff to avoid falling to the planet. How difficult is it to get it in a proper orbit? The International Space Station exists in the movie, because the prison crashes into it at one point, and it orbits at a sufficient speed to avoid dropping out of orbit. But apparently it was too much trouble to do the same with the massive prison.

This is what happens when you hand over infrastructure to private industry. They cut corners and then where are you.

There's also a bit where the head of the Secret Service got the Vice-President and Congress to agree to invoke part of the 25th Amendment to temporarily strip the President of his authority so they can launch an armed assault against the prison. Somehow that guy is not fired by the end of the film when the President has re-assumed authority. Which is surprising. Kind of expected the President to get rid of someone who pulls that kind of power play, if not have them outright killed.

What, like you wouldn't have any motherfucker that crossed you assassinated if you were President. No? You wouldn't? Just me then? OK, fine, so I'm the bad guy now.

Pearce only actually agrees to go because the guy he gave the suitcase to wound up there, and he needs to know where the suitcase is to prove his innocence. So up he goes, snarking and rolling his eyes all the way. Which is the problem. Pearce is sarcastic and irreverent about everything, including his own problem, which makes it hard to care about any of it. It's very much of the Bruce Willis in Die Hard approach, except John McClane still had moments between one-liners where he paused to freak out, worry, or try to save someone. You know, imply that there are actual lives at stake that matter.

Pearce's character can't be bothered to do any of that. Even when he tries, it doesn't work. When he's supposed to look frustrated or angry at one point because someone died, it looks more like a child trying to hold their breath. It made me laugh.

There's just nothing to the movie, really. No interesting or cool action pieces. The CGI in the chase sequence at the beginning is terrible. It reminds me of something you might see on a DVD right before you get to the main menu. It's probably OK for what it's trying to be, but that's the nicest thing I can say about it.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Map of the Dead

I didn't know "effulgent" was also a synonym for "shitty".

When I picked up The Necromancer's Map, I didn't realize it was actually the second in a series of stories, following on from Songs of the Dead. I figured it was strictly its own thing, and, like some of the other books we've looked at recently, just starting from somewhere in the middle.

What you have is your general European medieval setting, with some magic and other races of beings thrown in. Well, so far I've only seen elves, but I'm assuming there's more than that. Bethany's a necromancer, wanting to decipher an old map she found to locate the Covenant of Necromancers. Which is presumably a safe place to be, since necromancers are apparently frowned upon by most people in this world. There's even a group that runs around killing necromancers in accordance with some dead king's wishes that pops up in the third part of the story.

Bethany's accompanied by Elissar, the glowing lady up above, who she apparently met in the previous story, and then got killed in a fight with an assassin. Bethany then used her magic to revive Elissar, something the woman is not exactly pleased about. I think the only reason Elissar sticks with Bethany is because a woman she knew told her the necromancer would lead her to the person she wants to find most. We learn about who that is and why in the third part as well.
And they add a third to the party in Jonas, who was studying magic at a school Bethany hoped could decipher her map. The school is both the most ridiculous and interesting part of the comic, because they are essentially training the children to be magical housestaff for rich people. Meaning, use magic to create a charming ambience for dinner, or tidy up a messy room. It doesn't exactly surprise me someone calling themselves a God King would decide having people to do such things magically was necessary, but it seems kinda pointless. Maybe magic is just that common and easily accessible for them.

Jonas gets to play the cheerful and naive member of the party, who seems mostly excited about the opportunity to be on an adventure, and reveals a few extra talents he didn't even know he had. The fourth part of the story has him teamed up with Elissar the entire time, the classic pairing of the grumpy veteran and the inexperienced newbie. It makes for a few funny moments.
The book is pretty good at the funny reaction moments. Bethany resurrects a man because his children can't find his will and are squabbling over the estate. His first response to one of his daughter's teary greeting is to wish to be dead again. I don't know the breakdown in writing responsibilities between Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron, so maybe that's a joint thing, but it was the part of the book I found the most enjoyable. The bits and pieces of world-building are kind of interesting, but I don't have much of a feel for the setting, how any of the different places we see are interconnected.

Sam Beck's artwork is a fairly realistic style. Not much exaggeration in figures or movement. Sometimes body postures or proportions are a little awkward, but it's a minor thing and doesn't detract from the story. Fight scenes are low-key, people swinging swords around a bit, nothing too flashy. Nobody chucking lightning bolts or anything. Most of the more magical elements are represented by the colors, different auras and things like that.

Overall, I think the art works for the story. Even though there's a lot of fear of necromancers going mad with power, the dead that are raised rarely look terrifying or monstrous, and neither does Bethany, even when she feels like she's losing control of her power. The scariest looking guy is the necromancer that's actively hunting Bethany, and that's by design. He's a bad guy, or a sap twisted into believing all this stuff about how it's all the other necromancers that are bad, but not him.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #115

"Weirdest Gender Reveal Party Ever," in Beware the Creeper #5, by Denny O'Neil (writer), Steve Ditko (penciler), Mike Peppe (inker), Morris Waldinger? (letterer)

So we're going backwards for one week because I thought this series was just called The Creeper, and that the notation I had for Beware the Creeper only referred to the Vertigo mini-series we looked at for Sunday Splash Page #80. But actually I'd forgotten to list that one in the big word document I have for keeping track of the collection.

That's not really a splash page, but the only one I could find in this six-issue run was from the last issue, when penciler duties were split between Ditko and Jack Sparling and the art just didn't look very Ditko-like. Maybe he did breakdowns or layouts and Sparling handled finishes. And this is a pretty good page, so what the hell. I broke the rules for Bandette (and Avengers Arena), I can break it for Steve Ditko.

After being introduced in Showcase #73, the Creeper gets his own series, which ends after 6 issues. Other than the first issue, where the Creeper tries to track down a costumed killer called the Terror who is trying to blackmail various crime syndicates, most of the series revolves around the Creeper, and his special investigator secret identity of Jack Ryder, trying to track down the mysterious Proteus, who can make himself look like anyone. Hence Ryder's fever dream up there.

It's an ongoing game of cat and mouse, with the Creeper pursuing any lead they can get on Proteus, each of which ends up dying before they can reveal much useful information, like any of Proteus' aliases. Meanwhile, Proteus keeps circling around Jack Ryder, impersonating his co-workers and bosses to get his hands on any evidence Ryder may have. They have a few skirmishes across several issues, before a final battle atop a dam in issue #6

There's a Sergius O'Shaugnessy that writes the first couple of issues, who I think is Denny O'Neil, who ends up writing the last few issues. Not sure why he couldn't use his real name initially. I do wonder how much input into the characters personalities Ditko had versus O'Neil.

The Creeper puts on this act, with the nutty laugh and calling criminals "mortals", implying he's something else, but he's still Jack Ryder, no matter how different the chemicals that get activated make his body. Ryder's role at the TV station is amorphous, since he can seek out people with info for scoops, but also gets assigned to protect their weather lady, Vera Sweet.

Proteus reveals his goal is to strike back at a world that he feels met him with scorn and mistrust, when all he wanted was friendship. Which doesn't quite jibe with the first few issues where he was working with criminals to get politicians in his pocket, and trying to frame the Creeper.

Ditko draws the Creeper as a physically normal guy, more defined musculature than Jack Ryder, who has the more typical wire-thin Ditko guy look. But all of the Creeper's movements are bizarre. Ditko draws him running in this odd hunched posture, up on the balls of his feet. Sometimes with his chest almost parallel to the ground as he runs or throws punches. His arms are all over the place. It's like an ancestor to how artists like MacFarlane and Erik Larsen would draw Spider-Man later, all the weird contortions where his knees are even with the top of his head while he's swinging around. Which is odd since it doesn't really match how I picture Ditko drawing Spidey himself moving.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Random Back Issues #30 - Hourman #23

Wow, Hourman's got the '90s saliva trail going there something fierce.

This is right near the tail end of the Peyer/Morales Hourman series. The Hourman in question, an android from the DC One Million era, has decided to use the last of the fuel in his time ship to take all his friends (and a couple of his villains) on a little vacation through time. How nice.

Having not installed a bathroom on the ship, they pull over in 1954, still in Happy Harbor, where Hourman set up while he was being "mentored" in humanity by Snapper Carr of all people. While everyone else is using the facilities, Hourman assumes his secret identity of "Matthew Tyler", who looks like a '90s slacker/geek type guy. Doesn't exactly blend in, as he and Snapper run afoul of the local police. They're briefly saved by Aubrey Lee, mother of Bethany (Snapper's ex and currently dating Hourman), when she claims to be escorting these prisoners. Only problem is, she introduces herself as chief of police of Happy Harbor. True in 2001, not in 1954, especially since she's talking to the chief of police of 1954's Happy Harbor.
Aubrey beats the crap out of him, revealing he'll eventually be caught by the feds squeezing a school for the blind for protection money, dying broke and alone. He tries to shoot her, but Matthew stops the bullet and Aubrey, well, you see how that ended.

Back in the time ship, Snapper bemoans giving the gas station attendant a gold coin worth $600 to pay for Dave buying a case of beer (that he loves that stopped being made in 1971) and some pre-Code horror comics. Beth points out the money was from his book being published, when Snapper didn't even know that happened. Hourman knows who published it, but refuses to say. He also refuses to check in on his and Beth's future together, until she argues him into it.

Still in Happy Harbor, just 20 years in the future (so about a year from now), most of them drop in on Beth, finding her married not to Hourman, or Snapper, but Gary. Aubrey's useless schulb of a deputy. No one other than Gary seems particularly happy with that reveal. Give the audience what they need, not what they want, I guess. Up on the roof, old Hourman foe Dr. Togg, a demon called Torcher, and Dave's annoying teenage son Sticky are plotting a mutiny. Togg and Torcher because they're bad guys, I guess. Sticky because he's pissed they haven't left Happy Harbor yet. He wanted to see Woodstock '94!
I didn't even know there was a Woodstock '94. I just know the original one and the late-90s one, where everyone blames Limp Bizkit for a crowd of drunk idiots deciding to break and burn shit. Speaking as someone who has (unwillingly) gone to a lot of parties involving drunk people, they don't need encouragement to break shit. Anyway, Hourman's got Amazo's skull on his time ship like a hood ornament, and they're going to reactivate it. Definitely nothing that can go wrong with that plan.

And in the 853rd Century, the original Hourman is there running Tyler ChemoRobotics (then returning to his time with his memories erased), and gets a visit from Batman 1,000,000. He tries to fight him, but gets dosed with something that cancels the effects of Miraclo, but also 'paralyzes your psychological defenses against challenging new ideas.' OK, sure. Despite the Justice Legion A agreeing to leave their Hourman be, Batman is still spying on him, and he's not happy. He's Batman, no matter the time or universe, he's never happy. He tells Rex that the android let a cop be assaulted (leaving out it was by another cop, all versions of Batman also apparently being dishonest cocks), and Rex concludes he needs to scrap him.

The book only has two issues left after this, which involve android Hourman giving Original Recipe Hourman some much-needed peace, and the android and Snapper going their separate ways as Hourman rushes off to fight Amazo one more time.

[6th longbox, 61st comic. Hourman #23, by Tom Peyer (writer), Rags Morales (penciler), Dave Meikis (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), Kurt Hathaway (letterer)]

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Water Diviner

Watching this last night, I was struck by how much of it was familiar. I must have watched it at some point - unsurprising since my dad apparently loves it - but I can't recall when.

Russell Crowe plays a grieving father and widower who travels to Turkey in the years after World War I to try and find the bodies of his three sons, who were among the many Australian or New Zealander troops who died at Gallipoli. He manages to navigate through the bureaucratic red tape thanks to stubbornness and a few people deciding they'll make an exception for him, including a Turkish major (Yilmaz Erdogan) who led the defense (who points out that yes, there are many fathers who lost sons, but Crowe is the only one who came all this way to try and find them.)

In and around that, Crowe's staying in a small hotel run by a young Turkish widow, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), and her son. Her husband also died at Gallipoli, so she's not terribly fond of Crowe to start. She's also fending off her brother-in-law's offer to become his second wife. Crowe blunders into the middle of this and causes some difficulties, although we don't see most of the fallout she experiences because Crowe leaves town pursuing another lead and the story goes with him.

So it's about grief and how people process it. Crowe's wife had one form of denial, Ayshe has another, although they're both trying to keep things as they were before, just at different levels of disconnect from reality. Crowe's trying to handle it "like a man", by focusing on doing something. "Something" in this case definitely not "dealing with his feelings." Major Hasan is helping Crowe I think as a way to deal with having a hand in all these deaths. They fought this war - which by this point has gone from the Ottoman Empire versus the British to the Turks versus the Greeks - and it's still going and it doesn't look like there was any point. People call him Hasan the Assassin, that can't be a great thing to carry around. So help this one Aussie find some closure.

There are a lot of scenes of people going underground, or shots where someone is descending and we watch them from above. Crowe finds water by sensing it out and digging, and there's ultimately going to be digging to unearth his sons' locations. But he also follows Major Hasan into an underground meeting place when he's hoping for information. It leads him to a group of people preparing to go fight the Greeks, but it also eventually gets him where he wants to go. He has to escape by diving down a cistern into an underground river at one point.

There are a lot of shots of him leaving the British War Office after being handed some bad news, and we watch from the ceiling as he makes his way down. But that usually leads him to another way forward, via either Ayshe or Hasan. He went up to try and get help from the British, who he might reasonably expect would fucking help someone from their Commonwealth, but actually has success when he goes the other direction and asks people who have no reason to want to help this man, who sent his three sons off to serve God and Country by invading their country.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Scams for Everyone!

I meant to post this last Wednesday, but things came up. Anyway, I haven't done one of these hypothetical teams in over a year, so what the hell. Got to post something. This go-round is focus on sneaky characters that like to pull cons. So figure they're going to pull some sort of heist or scheme to bamboozle and rip-off some rich scumbag.

The Leader: Stan Pines, aka Mr. Mystery (Gravity Falls) - Stan spent years traveling from state-to-state, selling cheap, fraudulent products to gullible saps, who then ran him out of town once they realized the products were garbage. He eventually wound up running a "Mystery Shack", house of oddities and cheap junk in a weird town to pay the bills while he spent 30 years figuring out how fix a busted transdimensional portal his twin brother created, then subsequently fell through. Which means he taught himself whatever science, math, and engineering skills you'd need to accomplish something like that.

Stan is your typical guy who hides his softer feelings under the gruff asshole veneer. The guy who may do something nice for another person, but acts as though he's doing it just to shut them up. He's pretty good at improvising on the fly, and he understands people well enough to get them to shell out money to look at a trout he superglued to a rabbit.  He will encourage the youngest member of the team's interest in scamming people, while also trying to protect them if things go wrong. Probably won't be necessary, but he'll do it.

He knows about the supernatural and the weird, even if he pretends not to, so the odder members of this group won't phase him too much. He's also committed a wide array of actual crimes, from stealing nuclear waste, to smuggling pugs across national borders, to tax fraud. Lots of tax fraud.

The Rogue: Darien Fawkes, aka the Invisible Man (The Invisible Man) - Darien was a cat burglar even before he got a biosynthetic gland in his brain that lets him turn invisible. Even once he had the gland, he didn't stop criminal activities entirely. Gotta scratch that itch, even if there's not much challenge to it. And he was totally on board with the Official's plan to rob Arnaud's casino by having Darien invisibly rig the games for the rest of the Agency.

Of course, Darien then proceeded to go and straight up rob the vault to scratch that itch - and flip Arnaud the bird - then wouldn't give the money to the Official when he demanded it, even if it meant Darien went into Quicksilver Madness. Which happened, because Darien wouldn't back down, either. So Darien is: sneaky, willful, stubborn, and doesn't always think things through.

Fortunately, I don't think Stan is going to dissuade Darien from stealing to his heart's content, as long as it isn't from Stan. Actually, Stan's biggest objection might be if Darien tries to help him win at a casino. Stan might take that as slander against his skills. This would probably have to take place after the end of the series, when Darien doesn't have to worry about Quicksilver Madness, since there's no one on this group that's going to be able to fix that for him. Unless he's moonlighting with this bunch while still working for the Agency, but he's not careful enough to pull that off without Hobbes or the Official figuring it out.

The Muscle: Toph Beifong, aka the Blind Bandit, aka the Runaway (Avatar: The Last Airbender) - The greatest earthbender in the entire world. Can bend metal with a little more effort. Blind since birth, mostly doesn't let it bother her, will make jokes about it when the opportunity presents itself. Ran a series of scams taking advantage of people pitying or underestimating her because she's blind. Sees by sensing vibrations through the ground. Which does leave her a little vulnerable if she's not on solid ground. Extremely stubborn and headstrong. On the other hand, her ability means Darien is never going to be invisible to her, which will be a lot of fun for her, and extremely humiliating for him. She can also use the ability like a lie detector, which ought to be fun for annoying at least a couple of the other people on the team.

When Toph gets it in her head to do something, or not do something, almost no one has any chance of changing her mind. Like Stan, kind of a gruff asshole. The kind of person who shows affection by punching you in the shoulder. it took her a while to get the hang of being a team player with Team Avatar. Which means it's either going to be a struggle in the early stages with this group as well, or she's learned from her experiences and will embrace teamwork more readily. The rest of the team is adults (more or less), and she hasn't always had the best of luck with adults. Once she demonstrates she can take care of herself, it should be fine. At some point, Stan will ask her to create and animate some stone statues he can market as "terrible rock people" for another attraction. It'll work great until Toph makes them start attacking and fake eating people.

For all that she can be sneaky when she feels like it, Toph usually likes to settle things more directly and loudly. Pick a fight, hit people with rocks, that kind of thing. She and the next member of the team ought to get along like a house on fire.

The Lady of Mystery: Fiona Glenanne, aka More Aliases Than I Care to List (Burn Notice) - Granted, Fi frequently didn't have patience for Michael's elaborate schemes to hoodwink people, preferring the direct approach of just shooting or blowing them up. That doesn't mean she wasn't any good at playing a role to get something from them. Play on their libido, play on their stupidity, their sympathy. Get them to underestimate her, or just scare the crap out of them.

But, if you can frame it as making bad people miserable by taking the things they cherish most - money - she can probably get into the spirit of it. Especially if she's allowed to incorporate explosions. Between Darien and Stan, I'm not sure which of the two is going to be better able to recognize how dangerous she is. Stan fancies himself a bit of a ladykiller, and while Darien definitely thinks he's charming, I think he's worked with enough dangerous ladies he's not going to make the mistake of underestimating her.

Like I said, though, she and Toph should get along great. Probably hit the limits of their patience for the sneaky stuff or playing nice about the same time. Then it'll be time to break stuff, since no one is going to be able to rein in the two of them at once. Although Fiona might try to rein herself in a little bit with a pre-teen involved. Maybe.

The Guy with a Boat: Jimmy James, aka Macho Business Donkey Wrestler (Newsradio) - Technically, I only know the Mr. James has a news helicopter that he uses to fly back to his mansion for lunch, but he's loaded, I'm sure he has a yacht somewhere.

He's a successful businessman, so probably not unaccustomed to questionable practices. He also kept D.B. Cooper's duffel bag full of money after the guy parachuted into his camp, and kept that secret, plus the secret of who Cooper actually was, for decades until he was hauled into court. There's also the fact that he was apparently unfazed by a guy parachuting into his camp and asking to borrow his truck in exchange for a duffel bag full of money.

Totally willing to make wagers with other wealthy men, which is the sort of thing that encourages underhanded tactics. And he's not above being sneaky himself, like when he got his radio station back from Johnny by picking Johnny as the one employee he got to take with him. Anytime you can get your opponent to say, "Well played," you know you made a slick move. Or so I've been taught by popular culture. I'm not sure I've ever gotten someone to tell me that. Perhaps one day.

I'd expect he might want to take the reins, since he might be the richest person on the team - depending on whether Toph has access to her family's fortune. And Jimmy can be intimidating at times, but he's also savvy enough to know when that's a lost cause. So he might be smart enough to realize trying to order around this bunch is a terrible idea. That lets him stay in the background, make his own plans, and he can offer some insights when he thinks it would be helpful. That can be a fun job, to be the one who helps finalize plans, rather than having to come up with them from scratch or make decisions. So much less stressful.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hamburger Hill

This is the most generic-ass Vietnam movie I've ever seen. Everything in it feels like it was cribbed from other, better movies. This is the movie I think they were going to make in Tropic Thunder, before they dumped the actors in the jungle and Steve Coogan stepped on an old French land mine.

Lots of profanity, guys talking about what they're going to do once they're back in the world (meaning they will never actually make it back to the world). New guys getting killed pointlessly in battles to retake hills that had already been taken once before. Racial tension between the black GIs and the white ones. Characters named "Motown" and "Doc".

There's also a moment during a battle where one of the GIs shoots an NVA soldier at close range in the head with one of those heavy machine guns and the guy's head explodes like we wandered into Evil Dead.

It wasn't even effective at keeping my attention when I was looking for something to occupy my attention.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Not Much of a Chase If It Never Goes Anywhere

I feel like I've seen this origin story somewhere before.This guy doesn't scream other people's names as much. Kind of strange since everyone else in this thing love to shout people's names.

So I did end up buying the Battle Chasers Anthology that came out last fall. I'm old enough to remember when Joe Madureira's original series was the "it" thing in the independent publishing circles. It didn't mean much to me, because I mostly missed his run on X-Men that made him a big name. Of course, then Madureira couldn't be arsed to actually get any issues out in a timely fashion and everyone eventually moved on.

Reading this for the first time, what strikes me is just how little progress into the story they made. Assuming the various main characters are supposed to form a team, they haven't assembled themselves. They were most of the way there, but Monika's, the thief with the ludicrous chest, storyline had just curved back in the direction of the others.
It feels like there was potential in the setting and the story, but that may just be because we didn't get into anything far enough to see what Madureira and Munier Sharrieff had planned. There's some vague stuff about the amount of magic declining. There's a swordsman, Garrison, that had sworn off violence for his wife, who is deceased, and he's become a drunk. He's forced back into action, but he's clearly dealing with some stuff. The king of a kingdom is up to something. He acts so sinister I half expect they were just messing with our expectations, and that he's actually a very caring monarch. Probably not.

You got the evil guy in the mask, August, who is up to something. Revenge, for one, but probably bigger than that. The little girl character, Gully, inherited her father's super-strength gloves, but no one knows where the guy is, and near the end of the collection, we find out the great hero may not have been such a swell guy after all. He's actually a deadbeat dad. Oh, and he sold children into slavery.
Considering what happened to his firstborn when he tried to use the gloves, I wonder if he left them behind because he couldn't use them any longer. A real "Thor's not worthy," kind of thing. But we'll never know.

I would say Madureira's style gets smoother, more refined over time, but that might just the increasing number of inkers that get hauled into service as things go along. Less cross-hatching, more thick, heavy inks and shadows. Faces are more rounded and smooth, just generally less busy in general, at least with the human characters.

It's still recognizably manga-influenced (there's one bad guy whose body type strongly reminds me of Sagat from Street Fighter, and the swirling tattoo designs are reminiscent of Dhalsim). Giant swords, big mechs, monsters with rippling musculature, improbable proportions. There's a lot of energy and motion in his work, sometimes too much. There's a big fight in a cemetery with some sort giant monster made of tar and teeth that's hard to follow, especially when they keep hinting towards something going on with Garrison's sword.

Anyway, the book's an artifact of a different era, and it was kind of interesting to see the book that was such a big deal once upon a time.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #114

"Lightin' Up the Sky", in Creature Tech, by Doug Tennapel (writer/artist), Jennifer Barker (letterer)

Creature Tech was the second of Doug Tennapel's OGNs I bought, after Iron West, and it's easily my favorite. There's just so much stuff going on in it. You have Dr. Ong running a government research institute for weird shit in Turlock. The ghost of a 19th century looney who plans to steal the Shroud of Turin to resurrect himself, then use powers he got from selling his soul to a hellcat to keep everyone busy while he puts his larger plan in motion.

Ong gets badly wounded and ends up with an alien symbiont grafted onto him, which doesn't exactly improve his standing with the Turlock locals. Not that his opinion of them is very high, either. Which is another thing he has to learn to adjust his perspective on, gain a little more appreciation for the sense of community. A couple of mechanics teach his giant mantis security guard the joys of fishing and monster truck rallies, for example. Also friendship or whatever, I guess.

There's also a whole thing about how Ong's father was a scientist who eventually became a pastor, while Ong thinks religion's a crutch or excuse people use to avoid seeking scientific explanations. This is Doug Tennapel's work, so that's not going to hold. And there's a bit of a love story between Dr. Ong and a lady named Katie. Like I said, a lot going on.

There's a variety of humorous bits. Even during the quieter moments, Tennapel finds the time to have some goofing around. Puns, wordplay, physical humor, general nonsense. You want to see a giant mantis looking at a pin-up magazine while sitting on the john? This is your comic. Jameson, the 19th Century Englishman, is a bit odd. Focused on his goal, but gleeful about the chaos he can cause, and still interested in other things he finds along the way.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Random Back Issues #29 - Power Company: Sapphire #1

Looks more like a flatworm than a serpent. Fear the overwhelming might of PLANARIA. No, I'm not coming up with some suitable acronym for that, you go to hell.

Power Company was a series Kurt Busiek and Tom Grummett did at DC Comics for about 18 issues in 2000-2001, about a superhuman investigative/security company. Before the series started, there were a bunch of one-shots introducing each member of the team, each with a different artist. Today, the youngest member of the team, with what I'm guessing is Mark Bagley's first DC work.

Candy is a teenage runaway who ends up in San Diego the same time the JLA shows up investigating some odd signals they can't pin down. Candy tries to taking advantage of everyone gawking to swipe some food, but the grocer spots her and she has to run for her life. She ends up at the docks, trapped within a forcefield where a battle breaks out between two factions of Kobra. One lead by old Naja-Naja himself, the other by Lady Eve. (We saw part of a later stage of this war in Random Back Issues #6!!)

Candy ends up inside Naja-Naja's giant ship (which does look more like a snake in a later panel where we view it submerged from the side), and learns that Kobra was here to steal a strange sapphire called the Serpent's Egg before Eve could get it. Ancient power, unlock its secrets, blah blah. Candy worries that she's going to die here, all because she stole olive loaf. That would be a hell of a thing to have on your tombstone.

Desperate, Candy sneaks in a steal the Egg, which then covers her entire body in the blue sheath. She finds herself resistant to weapons, able to fly, and able to more limbs into weapons. Kobra's got some sort of cloak the JLA can't track him through, so she trashes the machine producing the cloaking field, and the Justice League attack.

Candy uses the confusion to escape, and Kobra's goons buy him time to flee before he blows his ship up. After, Candy realizes she can't remove the Egg entirely, and worries she should have helped the JLA instead of running. Then she overhears a news report that the JLA are fine, but Kobra escaped as well. Meaning he'll be looking for the Egg, and the one who took it.
It was a desire for protection and safety that led her to join the team, the last of the main seven cast members to join. I tend to think she was less likely to be found as a lone homeless person than running around publicly fighting crime for a company that requires publicity to pay the bills, but the series was canceled before anything ever came of it one way or another.

Grummett would tend to draw the blue sheath as more of a second skin than Bagley does. Or maybe it was just that she wore a skintight uniform most of the time once she was on the actual team.

{8th longbox, 121st comic. Power Company: Sapphire #1, by Kurt Busiek (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), Mark Farmer and Keith Champagne (inkers), Carla Feeny (colorist), Comicraft (letterer)}

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Setting Their Sights on Second Place

For some reason I thought Little Big League was on Disney + and I was in the mood for '90s baseball movies, but it's not. Rookie of the Year is, but like hell I'm gonna watch a movie about the fucking Chicago Cubs not being hapless stumblebums.

Anyway, I was thinking about '90s baseball movies, and it occurred to me that almost none of them end with the team winning the World Series. Major League ends with Cleveland beating New York in a one-game playoff to decide who wins the AL East. Then we find out in the sequel they were swept in the ALCS by the White Sox.

Pour one out for the days when the White Sox were considered a credible enough championship contender to be the bullies in a typical sports movie.

And Major League II ends with Cleveland beating Chicago in the ALCS rematch, which gets them to the World Series. We don't know what happened next, but given their track record over the last 25 years (being the only team the Atlanta Braves actually beat in the World Series, losing to the garbage-ass Florida Marlins, letting the Cubs break their curse), they probably lost to the Padres or someone like that.

Rookie of the Year I'm pretty sure has the Cubs beating the Mets to win the NL East, which just gets them in the playoffs. In Little Big League the Twins lose the one-game playoff against Seattle, because Ken Griffey Jr.'s body hadn't completely broken down in the mid-90s. I'm pretty sure Angels in the Outfield ended with the Angels just getting in the playoffs. At best, they might have won the ALCS.

Oh man, I went to see that movie in theaters with my grandmother. To be fair, she was a very religious lady, so the range of movies she would agree to attend with me was pretty limited. But it was still my idea, because it probably sounded like a cool movie concept. Because I was an idiot.

The only '90s baseball movie I can remember where the team does win the World Series is The Scout, which I recall being widely panned by everyone. Understandably, since whoever made the movie thought it would be a great idea to have Brendan Fraser's character play for the Yankees. No one wants to watch a movie that ends with the goddamn New York Yankees winning the World Series. That is the complete antithesis of the point of sports movies.  You don't need a movie about that, because it already happened 20-some odd times by that point.

I mean, I hate the Mets and wish nothing but ill upon the Pond Scum, but at least they could be a credible underdog franchise, since they'd gone back in the toilet where they belong by the mid-90s.

It's kind of strange that all these movies stop short of the ultimate goal. And not just one step short, usually a couple of steps. I don't know if the writers/directors thought winning the whole thing was too farfetched, or they were holding it back in hopes of a sequel, or what.

The only other conclusion I could come to was, an underdog sports movie usually requires a final boss to be overcome. The team that trounces them repeatedly. Because there wasn't interleague play in the early '90s, that team couldn't be one they'd face in the World Series. And with no wild card, teams have to win their division, and the other teams in their division are the ones they play most. So a divisional opponent made for the most natural rival. Doesn't really explain the ones where they lose, but I guess it's a "life goes on", "there's always next year" lesson.

That lesson never made much of an impression on me, I guess.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Big Kill

Jake and Travis are a couple of saddlebums who roam the West, getting themselves run out of various town, or sometimes entire territories. Jake gambles (and loses) a lot. Travis, for reasons that escape me, has a remarkable knack with the ladies, but isn't always the smartest about picking them.

After being chased out of Mexico by an irate Danny Trejo, they agree to escort this accountant, Jim, to a town in Arizona called Big Kill, which Jim's brother assured him is booming.

It is not booming, except when cowboys bring in cows they found. . . somewhere, and quickly get them slaughtered and shipped out. There's a "preacher" who controls the town with a small group of gunmen, in cahoots with the mayor, Jim's brother. Things proceed as they usually do. The mayor has a change of heart, the preacher's unreceptive, Jim decides to make a stand, Travis and Jake decide to help.

So the plot is fairly by the numbers. The movie can be funny at times. I can't tell if it's trying to be, or if they're trying so hard to do a conventional Western it occasionally slips into parody. Probably the former, but some of the dialogue and the musical cues make me wonder. Lou Diamond Phillips is in here as the preacher's top gun, and when he introduces himself to Jake and Travis - as Johnny Kane - they do the little guitar strum (which the captions describe as a 'musical stinger'). Then Jake and Travis respond that they've never heard of him.

Travis sets his eyes on another of the preacher's killers and also a lady of the evening, who's named Felicia Stilleto. He first sees her literally stabbing a customer, who I assume was being rude, like fifteen times, then dumping him over the railing. Travis sees that, and decides he's got to climb into her room through the window. Which somehow doesn't get him stabbed forty times. Maybe she appreciates stupidly bold men.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Seven Worlds Is Not Enough

A giant glowing fish skeleton. Wow. The Springfield Mystery Spot was better.

Like last week's The Secret Voice, The Ring of the Seven Worlds drops us in the middle of a world with a lot of history already past. But the writers, Giovanni Gualdoni and Gabriele Clima, put even more in here.

There's a multidimensional gate that connects 7 worlds, except for Nemo, which has been sealed off for centuries because it invaded the other worlds once before. The forces of Nemo emerge again, and are seemingly unstoppable.
Most of the story focuses on Timo, the son of the head of the Merchants' Guild, and Luce, an acrobat in a traveling circus, in one of those circumstances where each step takes them to someone who can either help, or help get them to someone who can help.

But there's also a thread involving the a group of people calling themselves the Primogens, who insist humanity is a result of de-evolution from them and think this is their chance to retake the world. One member of their race puts a plan in motion, while dragging along these three sentries who were the only survivors of Nemo's attack at the start of the book.

There's another race called the Entombed who live below ground, that seem to be having some kind of generational divide in how to best preserve themselves. Except all the power is concentrated in the hands of the old folks, so tough shit for the kids, I guess.

There's another thread about the ongoing control of the city of Borea by Nemo's forces, from the perspective of Timo's friend (who organizes a resistance among the other adolescents), and the Captain of Nemo's forces given the governorship over the city, who grows increasingly brutal in his reprisals.

There's another thread about the governor of Mose trying to get an organized resistance going. Their successes and failures, their response when they figure out Nemo's ultimate goal in this battle. There's something in there about how easily people will discard whatever morals and rules they claim to fight by once they can find some excuse to do so. Usually something the other side did first.
Timo and Luce end up on some pirate haven (seen above), right as the guy who ruled the brotherhood died and there's a brief, but violent struggle for the leadership spot. Honestly, that part felt out of place because it feels so unrelated to the larger battle with Nemo. Maybe that's a good point, people are not just going to drop all their old beefs because there's some new problem. But when there's so much going on already, it feels like wasted pages. Especially because the book then skips over this whole point where Timo somehow applies all his schooling about merchant principles to unite disparate factions into a unified resistance.

There's more even beyond that, some of which is only hinted at, backstory or aspects of the government and culture. For the most part, Clima and Gualdoni thread the needle of giving enough for things to feel like they happen for logical reasons, without letting the story get too bogged down in details. We learn enough about Timo to know he would have been receiving lessons on how to run an entire guild, so it isn't entirely impossible he'd be able to bring people together.
 On the other hand, one of the younger members of the Entombed, Lulene (seen above trying to give Luce the old short haircut), kind of loses her mind and I don't think they really establish what's going on in that society enough to explain her desperation or need to blame her troubles on Timo and Luce. Also, she drops out of the story entirely halfway through, so there's no resolution on that front.

Matteo Piana is the artist, with Davide Turoti handling colorist duties. Most of the human adult characters are vaguely pear-shaped. Spindly legs, with large torsos and steeply sloped shoulders. Everyone seems to wear big coats and clothes that generally obscure their bodies, no matter what the climate of their world is like. The Entombed are wiry with long limbs and extremely pale faces. Because they're underground all the time and they make their way through narrow passages a lot. Or maybe they're skinny because their society is dying.

Most transportation is via airships, dirigibles, stuff like that. Some of them look about like blimps we might have. Other, presumably more high-dollar models are colored and shaped in ways that resemble the prow of a sea vessel. Nemo's vessels don't look aerodynamic at all, a big metal box, but I guess their higher level of technology means they don't have to worry about that.

There aren't many fight scenes. That one between Luce and Lulene is one of the only ones in the book. There are a lot of chase sequences, though, and they follow a roughly similar pattern. Where each panel is another step in the characters' flight from whatever they're running from this time. Let's you see the work, so to speak, of how they get from A to B.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #113

"{Awkward Silence}", in Copperhead #4, by Jay Faerber (writer), Scott Godlewski (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), Thomas Maurer (letterer)

A space Western, which seemed to be a really popular genre in comics a few years ago. Still might be for all I know. This is the only one I really got into, though.

Clara Bronson shows up on the mining planet Jasper with her son Zeke, looking for a fresh start as the new sheriff of Copperhead. Which is a town with a lot of the typical problems of mining towns in Westerns. The guy who owns the mining company thinks the town is his to do with as he sees fit. Bronson's deputy is a member of an alien species that lost a war to Earthlings, and he's not real happy he didn't get the job. Clara doesn't particularly like the androids Earthlings used to help win that war, and there are several of them that live and work at the mine, as well as one who lives in the wild by himself. Plus the usual spate of murders, robberies and family squabbles.

Faerber's good about hinting at mysteries and then gradually revealing them. Here, it's the question of why Clara, who seems to be a very good cop, ended up in a craphole like Copperhead. There's also hints about the androids. It's mostly in terms of what they're made for, what they don't believe in, but eventually it turns to what they do believe in.

Unfortunately, while we do eventually learn why the sheriff's there, we may never learn what the androids are after if the book doesn't come off hiatus. The final story arc started in mid-2018, the first issue shipped, and then. . . nothing. Maybe it'll come back, maybe not.

Scott Godlewski was the artist for the first 10 issues, established the look of the series. The mixture of dingy, ramshackle structures with nicer, more futuristic interiors. The different alien species and the hints of the cultures and styles in their homes. (Deputy Budroxificus' place looks very different from Clara and Zeke's, or the android schoolteacher's). The way androids skin changes to color to match their surroundings (which took me forever to catch on to. I thought it was just supposed to be weird shadow effect). Drew Moss drew the next two storyarcs, covering 8 issues. Seemed to struggle with maintaining consistent human proportions. Sheriff Bronson had some tiny hands in certain panels. Godlewski came back for the last arc, but he'd been doing work for DC recently, and so I wonder if that was taking up his time, or if Faerber just lost interest or what.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Random Back Issues #28 - Daredevil #23

Come on Foggy, Stilt-Man was last month's villain. Except not really, since that issue involved a team-up with Octavius running around in Spider-Man's body. I cannot believe they let that status quo exist for two years.

The early part of the issue is spent with someone trying to recreate the circumstances that created Daredevil. Right down to making people push a blind man out of the way of a truck hauling toxic waste. And Murdock can say what he wants about that company's poor environmental safety protocols, but we got four heroes in a half-shell out of that accident.
Meanwhile, DD is showing Foggy around town via the rooftop route. Foggy might have cancer, and is trying to learn how to confront such terrible news with courage from his friend who routinely throws himself into danger. They pause for a bit to discuss recent developments, how DD thinks all the random foes he's faced since Mark Waid took over as writer might not be so random. Especially since the last one, a guy calling himself Coyote and using the Spot's powers, pretty much told him he's in the crosshairs. Which is when Foggy jokingly suggests Stilt-Man.

Everyone enjoys a good laugh, until Matt hears trouble and runs to investigate. He finds a bunch of odd people trashing a fancy party and behaving erratically. These would be all the attempts to recreate him that actually survived exposure. But as they're new to their heightened senses, they're basically out of their minds from sensory overload.

Daredevil spends hours hunting them across town and subduing them. It's hard in some ways, since they have the same senses as him - there's a point he tries to punch a guy in the back of the head while the guy's snacking on some melon, and the dude just ducks while Matt crashes into the produce stand - but pretty easy in others since they aren't used to dealing with these senses and knowing how to block things out. He stops a bunch of them by just hitting them on the wrists and shins with his billy club, although I imagine I wouldn't want to move if Daredevil cracked me in the leg with that thing, either. Love the echo effect being centered on the guy's ear.
Matt does make it to the hospital in time to be there with Foggy when he gets his results. He picks up a rapid heartbeat, which he initially mistakes for Foggy's, but is actually the doctor. Sorry, Foggy. I was sure it would be heart disease that got you (the previous issue Matt buys him a Limburger and bacon cheesecake as a peace offering, which clogs my arteries to even contemplate).

Two issues from now, Daredevil will confront the pinnacle of the mystery bad guy's plan to strike at him. It's a really fun fight-filled issue. Foggy survives cancer, but they fake his death eventually when Matt drops any pretense of maintaining that he isn't Daredevil. Which I think gets him disbarred, and results in his moving to San Francisco when this volume is canceled, then immediately restarted the very next month with a new first issue, but the same creative team, and costing a dollar more. Marvel Comics, everyone!

{3rd longbox, 171st comic. Daredevil (vol. 3) #23, by Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (artist), Javier Rodriguez (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)}

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Extraction

Alex recommended I watch this, describing it as a "John Wick, but for the military". I joked that meant it was America that died of cancer instead of a wife, and he responded, "Yeah, kinda."

It's not actually like that at all. Chris Hemsworth plays a burnt-out soldier living in India and very depressed over the death of his child from lymphoma. He accepts a job recovering the biggest drug lord in India's son from the biggest drug lord in Bangladesh. There's a double-cross - gotta love ludicrously wealthy drug kingpins who are also cheap as shit - and it's an increasingly beat to hell Hemsworth trying to get this kid out of Dhaka through a legion of soldiers, crooked cops, and various assorted criminal scumbags.

I'm a little surprised the boy accepts Hemsworth's word so quickly and sticks with him as things go wrong. Yes, he rescued him initially, but eventually they run into a guy who works for the kid's dad, and the kid decides to trust Hemsworth and keep running. It's not like he looks trustworthy. He looks like a derelict in combat gear.

Hemsworth kills a lot of cops and soldiers in this. We're meant to assume they are all on the take from the evil drug lord, but I gotta wonder if that's true. I mean, they're chasing a crazed looking guy in tactical gear dragging a teenager along behind him, and then the crazed guy starts killing them in large numbers.

Some of the fight scenes are fun. There's one in an alleyway at night against mostly a bunch of teens and children. It starts with two of them trying a drive-by on a motorcycle only to have Hemsworth jam a metal rod in their spokes. From there, he just beats these kids like a drum. Grabs one by the leg and swings him into the side of a van.

But other than a few of the fight scenes, I wouldn't recommend it. At the climax of the film, I found myself thinking, "Man, are they still trying to fight their way across this bridge?"

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Drive

I was reluctant to watch this, because I remember it getting a lot of hype when it came out. That's always dangerous, raise the expectations ahead of time. But I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't realize Ryan Gosling's character had anything going other than being wheelman for crimes. But he works as a stunt driver, as a mechanic, is possibly going to enter the pro racing circuit with his boss (played by Bryan Cranston).

Granted, all those things revolve around cars and driving, and there doesn't seem to be much else in his life. His apartment is barely furnished, but he doesn't seem to even like staying there. When he's there, he can't wait to get back out and in a car again. Is that because there's nothing else he cares about but cars, or does he drive so much because there's nothing else in his life? I don't know.

But I wonder, watching the film, how much he even enjoys driving. He does it with the same calm he does almost everything in the film (or than hurting people). He doesn't tap the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio, or bob his head. I guess the mark of him enjoying it is in the level of focus and preparation he puts in it. There are a lot of shots of him while driving checking something that's out of the shot in the upper right side. I'm not sure if he's checking the stoplight, to be able to move as soon as it turns green, or checking his rearview mirror to make certain no one's after him.

Gosling's performance feels understated in that way where you can pin any motivation or reading you want onto it, for better or worse. He doesn't say a lot. He mostly stands quietly. If he responds to a question at all, it's after a pause long enough you wonder if he is going to say anything, and it's usually a short response. I don't know what that means, either. He's self-censoring? Choosing his words carefully? Maybe he's trying to decide if he even does want to respond.

The story, the way that everything that wrecks it all happens because of some faceless east coast mob guys we never meet, I kind of like that. The way people you'll never know can entirely foul up your life. It's not a happy message, but it's undoubtedly true. They treated Ron Perlman like shit, to the point he decided to rob them, then double-cross the guys who were supposed to do it, and everything goes downhill from there.

Or you could look at it as all these characters made a bad choice once, put their trust in the wrong person, and it's ruined their lives. Fucked a guy at a party, had a kid, he ends up in jail, she's left holding the bag. Totaled a car and his hip and driving career are toast. Committed crimes, went to prison, end up in debt to people he doesn't want to be in debt to. The past dogs them.

Monday, May 04, 2020

The Voices Inside Are Unkind

I don't know, looks more fibrous to me.

Volume 1 of Zack Soto's The Secret Voice starts with a great war already in progress. Wux Heng's forces are making their way across the continent, conquering and enslaving all in their path, depleting their holdings of all its resources. Dr. Issac Galapagos is trying to convince the Troll King to join the battle, but suffers a brief mental lapse and cuts the king's hand off. Whoops.
We eventually learn some of what's happened to Issac, but not necessarily how or why it's manifesting like it is. I have the impression most people in Issac's situation would already be dead or entirely lost mentally. Presumably some of why it's different for him will be revealed down the line.

That's the approach Soto takes frequently in this story. Wux Heng's ultimate goal isn't entirely laid out. He's conquering and enslaving with little regard for life, but why? What's the end goal? What's the witch he's working with getting out of it? We hear bits and pieces about past battles, but the story doesn't go in-depth. Which is fine. Mysteries are fun, and it allows Soto to maintain momentum by not stopping to do flashbacks or expository dialogue. Jump right in and get the reader's attention.
Soto's art style reminds me of Adventure Time. It's deceptive because it looks simplified sometimes, but that keeps the character designs from being cluttered or messy. It's easy to keep all the major players separate. But it's also capable of giving the sense of scale necessary to depict a besieged kingdom as an establishing shot. Or of drawing some bizarre horror.

When Issac confronts the thing lurking in his mind, Soto actually simplifies his style even further. The presence is a vague colored splotch that begins to form the outline of a body over the course of the discussion. Before it takes a full form, Soto switches from a perspective behind Issac's shoulder to viewing it from the other direction, with the presence dominating the panels and closing in on Issac's skull.

The color scheme is dominated by light purples and golds. Not just in Issac's design, but also most of the surroundings. The Red College's walls are often golden, as are some of the forests Issac travels through. The trolls' subterranean kingdom has a tint that is a mixture of both tones. It's an unusual combination, and creates an unearthly feel to the beginning of the book. That things are off, something is odd. It feels a little like looking at a picture meant to be viewed through 3-D glasses, except they aren't. 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #112

"Good Advice is Always Ignored," in Coda #2, by Simon Spurrier (writer), Matias Bergara (illustrator), Michael Doig (assistant colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer)

This 12-issue mini-series was one of my favorite comics of the last couple of years. I think in my review of one of Coda's earliest issues, I referred to it as "Mad Max meets Tolkein," which I generally stand by. There's probably someone who writes fantasy in that vein I could have cited, but it's not really an area I'm familiar with.

The idea behind Coda is basically "what happens if one of those great evils that are always after the magic MacGuffin actually succeeds?" In this case the word, is wrecked, but doesn't actually end. There are still people left, or all species and inclinations. They survived Armageddon, so what now? The answer, according to Hum, the grumpy, cynical bard the story follows, is basically the same stuff they were doing before. People scrabbling for power or security. The ones with power rewriting the histories to make themselves look better. Everyone falling into the old patterns of building walls, arguing, and deferring to the person who shouts loudest.

(There's one part near the end where the coalition of groups that are trying to work together are all shouting at each other. Eventually the yelling dies out, and when the leader asks why they stopped, one of them admits they were expecting her to yell at them to all shut up. Because that's what their bosses always did before.)

Hum is your typical antihero, mostly focused on his own goal, but can't quite convince himself to be entirely selfish and self-serving, so he ends up being helpful occasionally. He's almost entirely selfish and self-serving, to the point it almost costs him the thing he holds most dear, but not quite. He's deluding himself just as much as everyone else, just in a different way.

Bergara's artwork is great. There's a looseness and simplicity to the pencils that helps make the artwork expressive without getting stiff. The characters can react in outsized, comical ways, or quieter, more reserved fashion, and they both work, even in smaller panels. Hum does a lot of both, since sometimes he's pleading or gobsmacked, and other times he's trying very hard not to show anything at all. Bergara and Doig save the brightest, strongest colors for magic and magical creatures, since all that is supposed to be increasingly rare. So it's a big deal, something that everyone is after. They can shift to a very different palette for the Urkens' flashbacks, or the scenes were Serka unleashes her full rage. But even when they aren't doing that, the landscapes have this nice variety of colors. Sometimes the peaceful pastels, or gloom-soaked woods.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Random Back Issues #27 - Amazing Spider-Man #58/499

I don't know what to focus on there. That Reed expects us to believe he says, 'In for a penny, in for a pounding,' or that Cyclops showed up in business casual. To be fair, it's not his worst uniform by a long shot. That blue one from his early X-Factor days, with the yellow X that went from the shoulders all the way down his body? Hideous.

It's Peter Parker's birthday, so of course New York is under attack by the Mindless Ones. A bunch of heroes tried to devise a science solution, but only succeeded in allowing Dormammu to reach their universe. Whoops. Dr. Strange shows up, outright tells them they got played, and declares he must face Dormammu alone. If he doesn't want the science heroes to mess things up, maybe he should try getting there on time. You'd think he'd be more alert to incursions by Mindless Ones.

Spidey is mostly trying to civilians clear of danger, but can't leave Doc to face it alone, especially when Dormammu's guys try to run interference. Unfortunately, this leads to the webslinger landing smack in the middle of whatever spell Strange was building up, and the two of them end up outside space and time. Double whoops.
Strange is a little snippy here, written with a kind or exasperated arrogance that makes me think JMS was watching a lot of House at the time. Strange is more polite than Hugh Laurie, but only slightly. He gets them back inside the universe, but the time side of things is still fluid, as they're moving between moments before Dormammu arrived, and after he's killed all resistance. Strange says they have to stay together, but Peter hears Mary Jane calling for help and rushes off.

He's unable to keep her from getting her neck snapped by a Mindless One - what is it with Parker's loves and spinal trauma? Felicia better watch out - and when he lunges forward, finds himself in a different time. Or times. He's both in the past, watching his high school self about to get bitten by the spider, and sometime in the future, watching an older version of himself await some special law enforcement team that's going to take him down for killing someone.
The next issue is the one where Peter has to fight his way back to the present through his entire life as Spider-Man, which leads to the double-page splash of him fighting a whole mess of his enemies over the years. The last few pages of that issue are drawn by John Romita Sr. In a couple of issues, he meets a guy who does tailoring for the costumed set who shows him a possible redesign that just so happens to be what his future self was wearing. John Romita Jr. has about 10 more issues to go before he moves to, actually, I'm not sure what he moved on to. World War Hulk eventually, but that's three years away. There was something else in there I'm sure. Mike Deodato is going to take over as artist from JRJR, and his first story will be Sins Past. Yikes. Nowhere to go but up from there, I guess.

[1st longbox, 108th comic. Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #58/499, by J. Michael Straczynski (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Dan Kemp (colorist), Randy Gentile (letterer)]