Friday, July 31, 2020

What I Bought 7/27/2020 - Part 2

Today we're looking at the last two issues of a mini-series. I'm writing this while I'm supposed to be paying attention to a division meeting, but it's all either stuff I already know, or stuff that's at least two levels above my head. This is more productive.

Canopus #3 and 4, by Dave Chisholm (writer/artist/colorist/letterer) - That does not look like it's going to end well for her, does it? Perhaps she'll be found in a field by some kindly farmers.

We learn why Helen came to this planet in the first place, that she found signs of a substance here that could be enormously beneficial to the Earth. If, you know, Earth was still a going thing. Helen has her own problems, though she'd rather not deal with them. Or, she has very different ideas about what her problems are. External versus internal.

Her suit computer leads her to what she thinks is the material to help fix her ship's engine, but surprise! It's a corpse. A human corpse. Things go downhill on a rocket-propelled rollercoaster car for her from there. She has to choose whether she can let go of her bitterness towards all the people who left her behind or betrayed her. Focus on what she can do by going forward, rather than constantly trying to go back to settle old grudges. Actions motivated by love or by spite. I think it undersells the value of spite, myself, but I'm probably not a good judge.
I don't want to describe too much of what happens, because I think this is definitely a series worth tracking down when you have a chance. I found Helen a relatable character. Arther brings a more light-hearted aspect to things, which could seem out of place in a story about someone being forced to confront their psychological trauma, but it keeps things from being too miserable. And his tone has a therapeutic effect. Helen gets to vent her anger and frustration safely, to someone who can remain mostly unfazed in the face of it. Plus, he's the one who actually knows what's going on, so a valuable source of exposition.

The further into the story we get, the more Chisholm subtly shifts the planet. It started as a sort of dull, greyish-purple in issue 1, and by the middle of the fourth issue, it's this deep, reddish-purple. The planet initially seems like a rocky, desertlike surface, mesas, crags, and canyons. A washed out version of New Mexico. The longer it goes, as the color shifts, so does the apparent texture. In is subterranean tunnel in issue 3, it starts to look like flesh, or some kind of viscous fluid. Whatever lava lamps were made of. After that, it turns to a sort of soft sandy substance. It looks solid on the outside, just like the rocky surface when she first arrived, but she can pull up a handful easily, sift it through her fingers.
The planet responds to her, obviously. Appearing dead and dull when all she sees it as is a place to get this substance she's after. Which is itself, just something she thinks will give her life meaning. Let her save the world, prove herself to all the people who didn't think she was worth sticking around for. The longer she's there, the more of her seeps into the world, the more alive, more vivid it becomes The more fluid and unstable it becomes, fault lines in her causing things to fail in the place around it. It's kind of weird, because I think she wants others to hurt like she does - part of why she lashes out at Arther from time to time, his cheerful attitude - but she mostly wants to do it by succeeding. Accomplishing great things so they'll feel bad they left, or that they doubted her. Motivation via spite can take you pretty far.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey

I read one of Edward Abbey's books (The Journey Home, I think) years ago, for a History of the American West class in grad school. I enjoyed it well enough, but never got around to reading any of his other books until now.

Desert Solitaire is generally focused around a six-month stint Abbey spent working at the Arches National Monument in southern Utah as a park ranger. The actual work is only briefly touched on. Abbey is much more interested in describing the natural beauty of the desert, it's virtues and value to man, as well as his state of mind while he lives out there.

He spends several chapters describing various trips he takes on his days off. A week-long float trip down Glen Canyon with a friend, this in the days before they dammed it up and created Lake Powell. Another trip with a different friend to explore a series of canyons called The Maze. Those are the most easily enjoyable parts of the book, as Abbey's love and appreciation for the land he's exploring shines through. I don't know if the images I see in my head are at all accurate to what he's describing, but it looks good. It makes me want to just go, away from everything, although I'd head for the prairies rather than the desert.

A good portion of the rest of the book is Abbey grousing about urban expansion, the engineers and their desire to "improve" the wilderness, and what he calls industrial tourism. Those parts are enjoyable in the way watching a person wind themselves up into a good rant can be. Abbey doesn't hate humanity, just certain parts of it. The endless drive to assert control, to expand, to remove all the unusual or unique places, create homogeneity. Maybe it's simply that he sees value in what he considers truly experiencing the outdoors, rather than just viewing it through the window of your car as you drive a paved loop through a park.

'Fear betrays the rabbit to the great horned owl. Fear does the hard work, making the owl's job easy. After a lifetime of dread it is more than likely that the rabbit yields to the owl during that last moment with a sense of gratitude, as pleased to be eaten - finally! - as the owl is to eat. For the one a consummation, for the other fulfillment. How can we speak of natural enemies in such a well-organized system of operations and procedures? All the time, everywhere, someone or something is dying to please.'

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What I Bought 7/27/2020 - Part 1

It started raining a bit ago, which means we might finally break out of this miserable heat wave for a bit. Was like living in an armpit every time I walked outside.

In more cheerful news, two comics I wanted came out this month, plus one from last month I'd been waiting on showed up. Something to discuss!

Wicked Things #3, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - A picture of misery. Or possibly of someone plotting a murder. Which, considering the police already suspect her of murder, is not good.

Lotte gets to see what her life is like for the near future. Put simply, it sucks. The detectives won't let her help them solve their cases, insisting she instead make them hot beverages. When she sneaks a glance at their cases and pieces together a pattern that suggests someone is going to heist the hot not smartphones that are hitting the stores, she is summarily dismissed because, 'Police work isn't Sherlock Holmes and conspiracies.' Which is true. Police work is being peaceful protestors with nightsticks. Or maybe that's just here in the States. Hopefully British police are more civilized.

She also gets to meet the people sharing the government housing with her, including two people who look like they fell out of The Great Gatsby (probably serial killers), and one large fellow who may make his own jam and does not want you touching it. Understandable. I also have a thing about people touching my stuff without asking. It's mine, keep your grubby mitts off it!

The more we get away from all those other, incredibly annoying teen detectives, the more I like this. The cops are, if anything, more obnoxious (other than Geoff, which makes me think he's actually crooked). Most of them won't deign to even look at ehr when they address her, and when they do, it's with contempt or disinterest. Like they're so great at their jobs. I'm pretty sure Lotte will get to make them all look like morons in short order, so it's OK. Your shipment of comeuppance will arrive in 5-7 business days. And in these trying times, isn't that what we all really want? To see assholes get what's coming to them?
The other, whatever you'd call the people she's living with, are interesting from the brief bits of them we see. I'm vaguely terrified to learn what's up with Monica and Somerset (the Gatsby pair), but Bulldog seems like a fellow who might be helpful for sneaking out without setting off the alarms. Hey, every crime you solve or prevent cancels out one crime you committed. And if you haven't committed any, it gets saved away for when you commit crimes in the future. That's math.

I'm waiting to see if Lotte gets to wear clothes other than the grey sweats. They must let her have other clothes eventually, right? Even just some of her own sent from home by her mother? Maybe not. I'm not sure if that room has actually closet space. It reminds me of some of the housing I used for wildlife biology temp jobs. The one in Iowa, where the mattress sat flat on the floor. Or the one in Knoxville, with the air mattress and one chair in the entire house.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Visions of the Future

While I was reading Caves of Steel, I started to think about the different versions of where society will go we see in Asimov's Robots series.

On the one hand, you have the Earth. Everyone has moved into enormous domes that keep them sealed off from the outside. Not because humanity has foolishly rendered the planet uninhabitable to themselves. More because the different urban sprawls started to run into each other, so why not lump them together? Stack buildings on top of buildings, interconnect everything, tunnel beneath the surface to increase the area available. It does have the benefit of creating more space to grow food or generate power to sustain all these people, but all that is handled by robots. No Earthman wants to venture outside and actually experience direct sunlight or air.

Everything is very communal. Large cafeterias for people to gather for daily meals. Community washrooms, or Personals, for showering and so on*. Most people get from one place to another on moving walkways that you just hop on and off of as needed. You don't necessarily have to use these amenities. If your Class is high enough you can cook your own food, have your own washroom. There are roadways to use if you have a vehicle. But those are sparsely utilized. Even though Baley's apartment has a personal washroom, he still uses the community one.

There doesn't seem to be any homelessness or starvation. Everyone is getting at least the bare minimum, although there's still a stigma about being declassified, jobless I think, and existing at that level. Or perhaps that's just Baley, but his feelings are as result of his childhood experience, so I doubt fear of declassification, of being dropped in status, in resources, is something unique to him.

There are robots, but they're crude things, easily identifiable, and mostly doing the work Earthmen don't want to do, meaning the stuff that takes places outside. All in all, it makes me think of Metropolis, which is weird since I've never watched that. But the idea of this great mass of metal with people scurrying around within the bowels of it, like mice in the gears of an enormous clock, feels appropriate.

In contrast, there's the 50 Spacer worlds. Combined, their population is less than that of Earth's. Solaria is an entire world with perhaps 20,000 people on it. That's the extreme, where each person lives on hundreds or perhaps thousands of acres, alone except for the robots that do everything. All contact with other humans is through three-dimensional holograms. The other worlds aren't as extreme, they have actual cities, but there's still a certain distance maintained between individuals. The notion of two people sharing a washroom simultaneously is almost horrifying. The outside world is actually incorporated into their living spaces, rather than being kept, well, outside. Parks and lawns and places to hike.

The robots are more numerous, more sophisticated. They perform most major functions short of whatever administrative or higher thinking jobs are required. People can have jobs, but they're more like hobbies. At least on Solaria, people seem to each pick an interest and then pursue it as far as they care to. Whether that's an art style based on melding sound and color into sculpture, or mathematics. But there's no urgency to it. Baley speaks to a man that studies math and thinks there might be a way to predict future events with it. When Baley suggests comparing notes with someone else, the guy is flabbergasted. Why bother?

Of the two, I know which sounds better to me, and it's the one where people wouldn't be constantly crowding in on me. But from Asimov's perspective for humanity as a whole, neither is any good. You could argue about whether humanity continuing to expand across an ever greater expanse is actually a good thing, but let's go with it for the moment.

The Spacers have the capability to settle new worlds. Their ancestors already did it once, and they have the robots to do all the prep work. They just don't have the drive for it, or the ability to work together, which is vital for such an undertaking. Because in their society, there's no need. There's plenty to go around on their worlds, the robots handle all the work nobody really enjoys doing. People can pursue their interests as far as they care to for their own curiosity, but the idea of collaboration to produce something great, is increasingly foreign. Not entirely, you see it on Aurora in the people working to try and recreate a positronic brain the equal of Daneel's, but there's not much pushback against Falstolfe refusing to share his work with them. It's his work, he can keep it secret if he likes, regardless of whatever arguments might be made about the greater good.

The Earth has the need, because the planet's capabilities are becoming increasingly taxed with the growing population. They have the collaborative spirit. There's no choice, on a world where they're all packed together like sardines. You have to be used to being around other people, working with and around them. They might even have the drive, as the push to climb the ladder, get the little extras they might not even want, to have something to do and accomplish, is still there. But they're too locked into their domes. If Earthlings can't even venture out onto the surface of their own, perfectly safe world, how are they going to travel to an entirely new, inhospitable world, and make it someplace livable?

I've seen some writing from the early to mid-20th Century where the feeling seemed to be that the assembly line and increasing automation of industrial work would free up the working man to have more time to pursue their own interests. The idea being they'd still live comfortably, needs met, without having to work as much at a repetitive job. The idea that mechanization makes things better for everyone.

Obviously, that hasn't exactly worked out. But the Spacer worlds seem like the ultimate progression of this notion. Maybe that's inaccurate. Maybe Baley didn't meet the people who suffer in that system, but there's never a sense that the people he does meet are trying to produce results because they'll go hungry otherwise. They're trying to produce whatever they're pursuing because it's what moves them. Whether that's more advanced robotics, or art, or greater understanding between Earth and the Spacers.

Even in circumstances that Asimov posits as untenable for one reason or another (Earth being too confined, the Spacers have grown too complacent and stagnant) he still expects the basic needs of the people will be met. I don't think we really see the notion of poverty in Asimov's books until the Galactic Empire starts to crumble in the Foundation series. Some of the worlds we see there that are abandoned to some petty local warlord have drifted back to a technological state less advanced than where we are presently. Nobody is looking after the elderly or infirm. They do the best they can on their own, or by the good will of their friends and loved ones. In other words, where a lot of people are right now.

But on Terminus, even in the days shortly after its settlement, when the Empire is still going on inertia, when Terminus is a rinky-dink, no-account world whose greatest export is potatoes, there's not a sense people are in dire straits. They might not be in the lap of luxury, but their lives are stable enough to be concerned about losing what they have if the Anacreons, who are closer to those indifferent warlord types, take control.

By the last of the Robots series, Earthlings have begun settling new worlds, to the discomfort of several of the Spacer worlds. But they're still tied to Earth, still looking back towards it constantly. Much of their resources are sent back to the mother planet to sustain the massive population there. All the larger because it has other worlds to supply it now, where before it was forced into self-reliance. So R. Giskard chooses to let the weapon meant to destroy the planet, instead render it uninhabitable, radioactive. Force humanity to leave it behind once and for all.

And then, eventually, they repeat the mistake with Trantor. It's the center of the Galactic Empire. It's covered entirely with people and buildings. You can't see a bit of the original planetary surface, can barely figure out where to go to see the sky, even with domes like Earth had. Everything is just too grown over. Which means the planet is entirely reliant on all the other worlds to keep it running, while all it produces is proclamations and general bureaucratic bullshit. It's important because it says it is, not because of anything it actually does.

Once the Empire starts to collapse, once the supplies stop arriving, Trantor crumbles back to an agrarian world within a century or two. All the resources that went into building it up are strip-mined and taken back to the worlds they came from. Which makes me think all Giskard did on Earth was move up the timetable a bit.

I have no idea what to do with the notion of a great collective consciousness that Asimov puts forth as the real, best end state in the last couple of Foundation books. I guess that humanity needs the cooperative spirit to really thrive, that we can't all just be individuals doing or own thing. But that requires empathy, actually giving a shit about other people, seeing them as part of yourself, rather than a separate entity competing with you for resources. And so the best way to achieve that would be for everyone to be part of a sort of collective mind. If you can actually feel what that other person is feeling, maybe you aren't so quick to dismiss it.

Honestly, that level of interconnection with other people sounds horrifying to me, and reading Foundation's Edge, I always wondered what was going to happen to the people who didn't want to buy in. I think there's an assurance that each person can still be an individual, just they can also connect to this greater, whatever. But you're hearing that from the people already inside the thing. How trustworthy is that account? Would they have to go find some empty pocket of the galaxy for themselves? Would they be forced in (seems like introducing a toxic element into your mixture)?

Maybe I'd just watched the Borg episodes of Next Generation too often by the time I started reading Asimov.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Things Still Aren't Settled in October

The October solicitations were not what I'd call promising. DC pushed the last issue of Amethyst back, which makes sense considering issue #4 did not ship this month. They're canceling Batgirl, Rorschach mini-series, Grifter's showing up in one of the Bat-books, blah blah blah blah bl-fucking-ah.

Marvel had. . . absolutely jack shit I was interested in. No Black Cat, no Deadpool, no Runaways, no Taskmaster mini-series. Just a bunch of X-Men crap. Not even resolicits of issues that were originally going to appear in late spring. Did they just stealth cancel all of them?

OK, so those two are busts, and Boom! doesn't have an issue of Wicked Things listed, what's everyone else got? Jesse Lonergan has a one-shot called Hedra about an astronaut leaving a doomed world in search of a new one, and finding something strange. I could have sworn I saw this listed as coming out last week, but maybe not.

Dark Horse has the second issue of Spy Island (again), and bizarrely, a trade paperback for Ann Nocenti and David Aja's The Seeds, although it doesn't actually come out until December. Which released two of its four issues in 2018 and then vanished without a trace. So hopefully this has the other two issues, and I'll buy it eventually, because I'm kind of irritated about having to buy part of it twice.

Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson are publishing Sympathy for No Devils through Aftershock, about the last human in the world investigating the death of a Colossal (looks like giant baby, frankly), and the human has some secret that keeps him alive in a world of demons and monsters and whatnot. Eric Palicki and Wendell Cavalcanti are up to issue 2 of Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists. The solicit for the first issue (which is supposed to be out in August, guess we'll see) described it as Leone meets Lovecraft. I'm not even sure how you do that in a comic book, given how much of Leone was about marrying music and cinematic techniques, but what the hell. Clearly I'm not overburdened with options here.

The only other two things of interest to me were that Vertical has the 7th volume of Kino's Journey - The Beautiful World, although not actually available until December. Maybe I'll have caught up by then! And Seven Seas has volume 5 of Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General, although not actually available until November. Not that the release date matters that much, since it's usually months before I actually buy manga or trades.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #124

"Wait, I've Seen This What If? Before", in Daredevil #297, by D.G. Chichester (writer), Lee Weeks (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Max Scheele (colorist), Jack Morelli (letterer)

D.G. Chichester took over as writer on Daredevil after Ann Nocenti's run concluded. He joined Lee Weeks, who had taken over as penciler on Nocenti's last story arc after John Romita Jr. left the book, and Al Williamson, who had been the main inker on the book for maybe the last 50 or so issues. Chichester wrote the book for about 40 issues, although Weeks and Williamson both left at the conclusion of the Last Rites story that ended in #300.

Last Rites is the only part of Chichester's run I still own. His time on the book might be better known for being the part where Matt fakes his own death and assumes the alias Jack Batlin, while Daredevil sports a new armored costume that's mostly black. Because it was the Nineties, and that's what you did.

As for Last Rites, it's basically Matt putting the Kingpin through his own Born Again, stripping away everything he can from Fisk. Fisk has his own TV station by this point (established right at the end of Nocenti's run, when Fisk concludes the media is important enough he should have his own company to massage the message to suit his purposes), which is financed at least partially by HYDRA. SHIELD tries to use Matt against them, Matt instead pits Fisk and HYDRA against each other. Which ends as badly as you'd expect for a crime boss going up against a decades-old, international terrorist organization with all kinds of crazy super-science. Fisk is basically pushed until he breaks, and makes a public spectacle of himself in a brawl/chase with Daredevil that covers several blocks.

Fisk ends up on the bottom, Matt gets his license to practice law back for the first time in 70 issues. of course, in less than two years, Matt's "dead", and Fisk is clawing his way back up before this story is even done. So neither of them is any good at destroying the other.I don't know what it's supposed to say that the only way Matt could "win" against Fisk is to use Fisk's own tactics against him. I kind of preferred his way of winning at the end of Born Again, which was to pick up the pieces he could and go forward from there. That still lets Fisk take away Matt's ability to (openly) practice law and help people that way, though. So maybe it was necessary to undo that to take away the last vestige of that win.

The part of the story that always sticks with me is from the issue above, when Matt removes Typhoid Mary from the picture. By responding positively to her flirtations, which throws her enough Mary reemerges. At which point, Matt gets her committed. And yes, Typhoid is a murderer, and Mary needs psychiatric help, but I'm really leery of Matt forging judge's and doctors' signatures on the paperwork to expedite the process of getting someone put in an insane asylum. Or whatever you want to call it.

There's a page at the end where Mary is confused and freaking out, and the guy from social services says if she doesn't calm down, they're gonna use the straitjacket. Then in the next panel, they're putting the straitjacket on her already.

But hey, Matt threw up in Foggy's toilet the next morning, so he feels really bad about it, guys. Look, I have this whole thing about someone else declaring you nuts, and then you're basically screwed. Because who's going to listen to you if you complain about your treatment? You're crazy, after all.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Random Back Issues #38 - Green Lantern #145

I don't know what Sallyp's up to these days, but this page of Kyle Rayner in his underwear, fighting a crazy person in an endless void, is for her. Not quite sure why Kyle wanted to fight this guy wearing only tighty-whities, but it has been well established elsewhere in the comics blogosphere that Kyle is not the dumbest Earth Green Lantern only because Hal Jordan exists.

What we've got here is a big fight issue between Kyle and this Nero guy. Kyle's been unconsciously drawing from all the Green Lantern energy Hal left in the Sun when he reignited during Final Night, and apparently so has Nero, who has yellow power ring energy going like Sinestro. Except maybe it's internalized? I don't know. They're fighting out in space to see who gets the godlike power all to himself.
It seems to pretty much be a stalemate, as they're fighting each other while their energy constructs wage war all around them. Nero tries to get a jump on Kyle, but can't quite escape. Then a bunch of Qwardians show up and interfere. They claim they're here to kill Nero, who they gave this power in the first place, but Kyle figures out they really want to be killed by the weapon they created. I really had no idea the Qwardians were so into death. I suppose it explains them helping the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on the Infinite Earths, though. Well, that and both of them being "Anti-Matter Universe 4 Life".

I was going to type it as "lyfe", and then felt physically dirty for doing so. I'm typing this right after I typed that Murder Princess post on Monday, meaning 4 a.m., so who the hell knows where my mind is at this point.

The Qwardians die as they want, and one manages to stick some doohickey on Nero's back, so that he'll be teleported to safety if he doesn't win. We never actually see if that happens or not, but Kyle also doesn't really try to kill Nero. Given how powerful he ends up being, I don't think the attempt to hide Nero would work anyway.
Kyle catches up again, they fight some more, Nero seems to have the edge, Kyle really reaches out and grabs the power, then decides they should settle things man-to-man, leading to underwear fighting up there. That really seems like more of a Hal move, personally. Kyle wins and then finds two doors. One leads to the Sun, and all that power. The other leads back to the alley where Kyle first got his ring. Hal, as the Spectre, is giving him a choice. Kyle thinks it's because Hal feels he did a bad job and shouldn't have all that power. Hal insists he just wants Kyle to know there are options, something no one told him.

I'm pretty sure people told Hal killing all the other Lanterns and stealing their power was a bad idea. Probably those very same Lanterns, while he was killing them. But OK, sure Hal, keep playing the victim. Next you'll be telling me a giant yellow fear bug made you do it.

Kyle chooses Door Number Sun, takes the power, and the codename Ion. I thought for a minute his new costume is the one people describe as looking like a sneaker, but I think that's actually the costume he takes after he surrenders most of the power back into the Central Battery 5 issues from now.

[5th longbox, 20th comic. Green Lantern (vol. 2) #145, by Judd Winick (writer), Dale Eaglesham (penciler), Rodney Ramos (inker), Moose Baumann (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)]

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Modest Heroes

A compilation of three short films. Maybe it's just because it was the one I enjoyed the least, but Kanino and Kanini, about two kids who are some sort of amphibious little people trying to find their father after he was carried downstream in a storm, felt longer than the other two. Not by a lot - like it was 20 minutes and the others were closer to 13-14 a piece, but it definitely dragged. Maybe because none of the characters say anything except each other's name. Like we're in bizarro Pokemon or something.

The other two, The World's Not Gonna Lose and Invisible were both more interesting to me. The first one is about a boy who is allergic to eggs, and the problems that causes him and his mother. Lot of scenes of her having to rush off from work because he got exposed at a friend's birthday party or whatever. And the kid seriously hates eggs in general. At one point he refused to do a math problem because it involved eggs. Just scribbled all over it instead. I guess I can see that response, given how prevalent eggs are as an ingredient in things.

The animation style is very standard for Studio Ghibli most of the time, but whenever he has an allergic reaction, the colors get thicker, more smeared. Everything looks fragile and jittery somehow. Like things are reverting to a sketch, but with color rather than pencil linework. It's a nifty approach, draws the audience's attention because it's a shift.

Invisible is about a guy who is, you know, invisible. Even though he wears clothes and can speak, no one seems to notice or react to him. Even if he hands them a pen, the person's eyes just pass them over. He's practically immaterial actually. He has to keep a metal extinguisher slung over his shoulder or he'll float into the sky. There's a part where that almost happens and I thought he was going to eventually stop struggling and just let himself float away, and then find something wherever he ends up. That's not how it went. Film seemed to be saying more that he'd allowed himself to be a ghost, hadn't tried to do anything to really live or be noticed. I don't know about that.

It's definitely got the bleakest color scheme of the three, all overcast skies and dull modern settings. His moped is this dull almost primer grey-blue. Clothes are dull, buildings are dull. Not a bright, hopeful world. The World's Not Gonna Lose is set in modern urban setting too, but even with all the problems Shun faces, the colors for his surroundings stay bright and sunny.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Likely the First and Last Time I Discuss Red Sonja

I came across a discussion about Red Sonja and her varying backstory in the comics somewhere over the weekend. There was some back-and-forth about how, during a stint where Gail Simone was writing the comic a few years back, she wrote Sonja as much more open to having sex, when she was interested and there was someone available. 

(In the particular comic in question it was some horned stag-god of a forest she rescued.)

Which would be fairly similar to Conan's approach, far as I can tell. If there's an attractive lady and she's interested, Conan's always up for a roll in the hay. Might as well, never know when some damn wizard is going to show up and dump Conan in the future, where he has to be in a team book with Venom.

There was some pushback that there was nothing wrong with having a character be uninterested in sex, which is definitely true. I think that came into question because of her rule about not having sex any guy that couldn't beat her in a fight, which developed out of her apparently having been raped when she was younger. It was debated whether that's really a better approach, is the Sonja in comics really anything like Robert E. Howard's version where there's any point in gesturing towards his work as the ur-text.

Which, I'm not sure I explicitly knew was part of her backstory? I wasn't surprised when I read that, which suggests I encountered it at some point. I can't recall any specific piece of fiction that laid it out for me. The lack of surprise may simply have been I've read a lot of comics. Writers seem to love giving female characters' traumatic, sexual assault history.

It would be fine to just have her be a character that isn't interested in sex. She likes adventures with friends, or killing, or gold, or getting drunk in random taverns and singing songs with whoever's there. She could still have the rule that there's no way it's happening consensually. Although that doesn't make the rape a necessary piece of history. It's possible for people to be uninterested in sex without past trauma.

But the writers - or maybe it's a certain subset of the fanbase - think that's boring, or unrealistic. I think it would only feel unrealistic if the story spent a lot of time treating it as such. If Sonja just goes about her business of kicking ass for money or fun, and the fact she's not sleeping with anyone goes unremarked upon, is anyone going to notice? Especially if the story and art are engaging on their own terms?

I don't know if the whole "guy has to beat me in a fight first" thing is a rule she keeps to herself, for herself, or if it's something she advertises, as a warning. Some idiot in a tavern is getting ideas, and has to stop and think whether he really thinks he can win a fight against this lady to have his way. She has to have a reputation. They don't call you "She-Devil with a Sword" for nothing. It'd be like seeing Wolverine in a bar and deciding you want to pick a fight with him. Pause, then reconsider your life decisions before you make your last one.

To the extent I thought about the character - which is to say, not much before all this - I interpreted her rule as being as matter of taste. Like some guys won't date women taller than them, or some people won't date guys with bad facial hair, or women who do yoga. Some people want partners who like pina coladas, and walks in the rain. For Sonja it was people who can kick ass. Like there was one of those signs at the roller coasters that say you have to be a certain height to ride? The sign is a picture of Sonja, pointing both thumbs at herself, and reads, "you must be this badass to spend an evening with me." Or, "you must be this badass to be ridden." I dunno, I'm not in advertising.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Trumbo

Bryan Cranston plays Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who got blacklisted during the witch hunts for Communists in Hollywood during the late 1940s, early 1950s. The movie follows him mostly, along with a couple of other screenwriters, including Arlen Hird played by Louis C.K. The financial hardships, people writing shit on the walls of his home or throwing a soda in his face.

He finds work by writing and revising screenplays for some third-rate movie studio (run by John Goodman and Stephen Root), but word gets around. Then once people are approaching you to fix the scripts for their big budget, Academy-pleasing epics, you have a little leverage.

With movies like this, which focus on an actual person and period of time, I always wonder how accurate the picture we get is. Like when they say it's "based on true events", then how much did they change to make it more exciting? The scene where some lawyer from the Motion Picture Association for Upholding American Idiocy, I mean Ideals tries to pressure John Goodman into not using blacklisted writers is pretty enjoyable, but I have to wonder if it actually happened.

Was Hedda Hooper (played by Helen Mirren) really such a miserable, red-baiting, anti-Semitic sack of crap? Or does she just make for a convenient foil? Not that I have much (read: any) respect for someone that makes their career as a muck-raker, spreading a bunch of stupid rumors around for idiots, but it doesn't necessarily mean she's the Devil set loose on Earth.

There's a couple of scenes where Trumbo's fixation on fixing all these garbage scripts for John Goodman impacts his family life. Dismisses his oldest daughter's 16th birthday party as not worth stopping writing for some birthday cake. Those issues kind of get dealt with perfunctorily, if at all. He admits mistakes once, and everything is better the next time we see them. Diane Lane is kind of wasted as his wife, Cleo. Don't really see much of what she was doing to hold the family together while he's in prison, for example.

The whole stretch of him being in prison felt kind of weak, like it was there because they felt they needed to show it did happen, but otherwise, not much to it. Other than maybe that even convicts can get swept up in red-baiting nonsense. "This country put me in jail for 20 years, it's the greatest country on Earth!" OK, sure thing. I believe that's called Stockholm Syndrome, but maybe that didn't exist in 1951.

It's kind of odd, because Trumbo and Hird have a kind of philosophical difference where I think Hird is much more of a full Communist (not a Soviet, just a Communist), and Trumbo is more of a general workers' rights person. Like, one of them wants to tear down the system, and the other just wants to make sure labor gets a fair share. So there's a principles versus pragmatism thing there, where Hird at one point insists he wants to keep fighting in court, even though they'll lose, and Trumbo wants to win. Which I think is defined by continuing to work and showing the blacklist for the joke it is, but otherwise not fighting the unAmerican aspect of the whole House of Un-American Activities?

Yet Trumbo is just as easily locked in on doing things in his particular way, even if it's not pragmatic. When Buddy Ross offers them work, claiming that he'll just claim ignorance if called before Congress, Trumbo's the one who dumps cold water on it, rather than jump at the chance to make some dough. Maybe he's being pragmatic in knowing it'll fall apart before he makes any money, but it feels more like he can't trust Ross not to name names, and doesn't want to associate with him. Which feels very principled to me.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Soul Transference Goes "Bonk"

See, right there, like the title says.

So, since I somehow managed to entirely bork my sleep cycles in the span of one weekend, I'm wide awake at 3 a.m. and typing this post as I try to stay awake until Monday night and sleep at a proper time. It's going to be a spectacular day for work today!

Anyway, I bought both volumes of Sekihiko Inui's Murder Princess manga because I bought the anime last year, and it left me with a lot of unanswered questions. So I figured hey, maybe the source material would fill in the gaps.

It does not.
Volume 1 finds the kingdom of Forland being under siege from one of its chief scientists, Professor Akamashi. As the panels above explain, he didn't get funding for his Deathpuke Madness, and so rather than pay lobbyists to bribe congressmen for preferential legislation, created two android children and some chimeras to kill the royal family and take over the country. At least his artificial humans seem completely loyal, puts him one up on Dr. Gero from DragonBall Z.

The princess, last available member of the royal family, escapes, but while running through the forest, trips and falls off a cliff. She collides head first with a bounty hunter named Falis, and it's Freaky Friday all o' the sudden. Or the Prince and the Pauper, but with more giant mutated wasps getting chopped in half.
Since the concept of any form of government besides monarchy is beyond these schmucks, Falis has to act as princess, while Anita pretends to be a servant and the daughter of the chief butler. Who also seems to be the only form of counsel to the royal family. Unless you count the Fortune Teller Google. Yes, that is the character's name. Inui gets a little humor out of the straightforward, mannerless bounty hunter posing as royalty. Personally, I thought her coronation speech was excellent. She kept it short and promised security and prosperity so people could start celebrating. What the hell more do you want?

The volume ends with Anita's brother returning is ominous looking armor with vague intentions revolving around a key of some sort, and beating Falis in a fight. So, that's the main problem established for the second, and final, volume.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #123

"Who Needs Avengers?" in Daredevil #276, by Ann Nocenti (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Max Scheele (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)

The end of Ann Nocenti's first year on Daredevil saw John Romita Jr. take over as regular penciler for the next 30+ issues, and the series moved into a longer story of Matt falling to pieces. You could say heck, Born Again was only 20 issues ago, do we need to see that again? I think the difference is we watch the fall slowly but steadily happen, rather than an almost immediate crash, and this time, it's partially of Matt's own doing. He knows he's digging his own grave, and keeps going.

This was the first lengthy stretch of Daredevil comics I really encountered, but doing so in dribs and drabs, the scattered issue here and there, makes for an odd experience. Matt goes from "ghost lawyering" a case against a chemical company that illegally dumped waste and blinded a child, to fighting Ultron. From trying to convince a group of kids not to idolize the two criminals running around robbing and beating people up on Christmas, to being trapped in Hell.

The Kingpin makes his move, deciding if taking tangible things from Murdock - his money, his home, his license to practice law - didn't destroy him, maybe taking intangible things - love, his faith in the legal system - will. There's also an element of jealousy, where Fisk doesn't have Vanessa any longer, but Murdock and Karen Page are back together.

Ultimately, Fisk is only 1-for-2. Kelco loses their case in court, despite all Fisk's attempts to use money and influence to destroy evidence or sway jurors. But using Typhoid Mary to destroy Murdock personally works perfectly. Matt falls for sweet, innocent Mary (and vice versa, which creates its own kind of frustrating trap for Typhoid), making out with her when Karen's not around. Daredevil is equal parts repelled and attracted by Typhoid, who loves to play the aggressor, taunt and confuse the vigilante. Matt wins the case, but is too trapped in self-loathing over how badly he's fucked everything up, how he's let down people who believed in him, to enjoy it.

He spends a couple of issues of Inferno tie-ins either nearly being strangled by a possessed vacuum cleaner, or walking around beating up demons like an automaton. Even if he's not giving in to his worst impulses like many others, he's too wrapped up in his own shit to see he's not really helping anything. Because he doesn't care.

Then Nocenti sends him scurrying out of New York, rather than sticking it out and trying to fix things. Granted, this isn't a new approach. Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen as "hard-traveling heroes", Superman walking across America, Steve Rogers traveling around as The Captain. It's a thing writers do, putting the hero in new settings to explore the character. But usually the character is trying to rediscover themselves, or connect to people. Matt Murdock just wants to run away from all his failures. Romita Jr. draws Matt stubbled and dirty, withdrawn and sour. The broad shoulders he gives everyone bow under the weight of just how badly Murdock's screwed the pooch.

Despite Matt saying he's not looking to help he anyone, he keeps coming across people who need it. A young telekinetic being hunted by the Blob and Pyro, both of them drunk off the free hand working for the authorities gives them. A young woman railing angrily at her father and the world, without really grasping what she's trying to accomplish. (Her name's Brandy, so for some reason when I first read some of the issues were her in them, I thought Nocenti brought in Rom's old love interest Brandy Clark. Wouldn't have been the strangest thing that happened.)

Brandy's father has scientists trying to create the "perfect" woman for him, who is, of course, an absurd combination of traits meant solely to please him, regardless of whether it makes any sense, or suits what she wants. The Inhumans show up, looking for Medusa and Black Bolt's kid. Dr. Doom sends the craziest Ultron (he builds himself a mountain out of the heads of previous Ultrons) ever after Daredevil to try and show up the Kingpin. Mephisto creates his own son, who then drags Daredevil and his little bunch to Hell, only to decide his father is stupid and wrong and that there's no point to what he wants to accomplish. That Mephisto is crying for attention, rather than actively trying to corrupt. Matt has to stop simply reacting to only what's in front of him, stop letting himself be sucked into the madness around him, and start actually thinking about what he's doing and why.

Romita Jr. draws Mephisto in a way I've never seen anyone else do, making him just vaguely human-shaped. Long fingers, no nose, a huge mouth with no teeth, hair more like giant quills. His son, Blackheart is, again, vaguely human-shaped, but just black all over with spines jutting in all directions. Most of the time Daredevil's in Hell, it's a snowy void until he actually reaches Mephisto, at which point it becomes the more conventional caves full of pits of fire and towering rock cliffs.

It's just an intensely strange run, and I love it. Matt fights weird stuff outside his typical wheelhouse. He's not grim and angry exactly, as he would get in so many later runs. He breaks, but rather than turn evil, he becomes more indifferent and cynical. He's exhausted mentally, to the point he seems to tune out conversations and just linger in his own world. Other times, all he can do is laugh, but it's not carefree, but the laughter of someone who gave up on doing anything. He doesn't figure it's worth trying.

The run feels very of its time, with a lot stories focused on environmentalism, whether that's pollution or confined animal feeding operations, and there's a fair amount of post-Cold War concern about nukes and humanity destroying itself that way. In Romita Jr.'s first issue, Nocenti introduces a government agent/freelance hitman named Bullet, who has a son named Lance who becomes a doomsday prepper after learning about the aftermath of using atomic weapons. Lance and Bullet are recurring characters throughout, the boy only going deeper into his attempts to cope with his fears, while Bullet can't find the words to help Lance conquer them.

Nocenti's not exactly a subtle writer much of the time, like the issue where Typhoid sics a bunch of other crooks on Daredevil, and he gets the shit kicked out of him in the middle of an anti-war protest march. Which then naturally devolves into a fight between opposing sides before scaling into a full-blown riot. Matt wanted to march for peace, and instead he's fighting and swinging at anyone who comes in range. Characters make speeches about how heroes may be like nukes themselves, or how they can't be acting for peace if they're always using violence. Extremely on-the-nose kind of stuff, which I imagine could be off-putting depending on the style of writing you like.

But there's an earnestness to it that speaks to me, and stilted dialogue doesn't necessarily bother me as long as I can tell what they're talking about, and it actually interests me. Some of it's probably nostalgia, but it really feels like these are things Nocenti's really interested in and trying to sort out her own thoughts about, and that makes it fascinating to me.

JRJR's art has continued to move in that more blocky, Kirbyesque direction it started in his time with Claremont on Uncanny X-Men. The characters are probably pretty by our standards, but they don't feel superhero comic pretty, if that makes sense. And that fits. Daredevil's dealing with a lot of people who are having hard times. Drug addicts, kids from broken homes, people living in poverty. Most of his enemies aren't gods or anything, they're angry people who grabbed whatever was at hand and turned it on others. Even Bullet, for all that he may work for the rich and powerful, is just a leg breaker at the end of the day.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Random Back Issues #37 - Supergirl #74

Would reverse psychology for Bizarros just be honesty?

We looked at one of the issues of this volume of Supergirl for Random Back Issues #4. That was in the brief epilogue of the series, after Ed Benes took over as artist and the Silver Age Supergirl showed up. Today, we're at the culmination of what Peter David had been doing since the book started. Which means there's a lot of stuff to explain about this issue that's taking place in the Garden of Eden.

The Earth Angel aspect of Supergirl vanished after a big fight with The Carnivore in issue #50, leaving Linda Danvers with Golden Age Superman-level powers as she traveled the world trying to locate Supergirl, with the help of Buzz, a pest of a demon. Buzz acts and talks like he wandered over from one of Warren Ellis' more phoned-in works. All British sarcasm, cynicism, smoking and drinking.

Mary Marvel joined them about 8 issues earlier, leaving Linda increasingly frustrated with how much better and more competent of a person and hero Mary. To the point she ignored Mary and charged into the fight immediately, and Mary got stabbed in the heart with a Hell Lord's dagger. Buzz spends the first three pages of the issue yelling at Linda about what a fuckup she is. Then the Earth Angel Supergirl (being controlled by a Bizarro version of Linda-Supergirl, created by a scientist at the best of a Joker-gas infected Two-Face during a Last Laugh tie-in) pulls from the Man-Thing playbook and starts burning Linda for her hatred and doubt and whatever.
Bizarro S-Girl is herself being manipulated by Lilith, God's first attempt to create a woman (who was not down with hanging out with Adam or serving him as God told her to), and the Carnivore's mother. She's gonna use Angel Supergirl's powers to open a portal to rescue her son. Linda, looking more like Deadpool trying to cosplay as Supergirl after falling in a fire pit, tries to take her down, but is outclassed. She manages to convince the Bizarro to help, but as Bizarro is more plant than flesh(?), the Hell Lord Hurmizah unleashes a plague of locusts that devour her.

As if there aren't enough balls in the air already, a lady named Twilight steps in to help. She has shadow powers, and the ability to bring people back from the dead, but lost faith in God after her power couldn't save her sister back in the Middle Ages. Lilith's forced her compliance by keeping the reincarnated sister as a hostage, but the Queen of the Fairies frees her, and little sis convinced her to throw in with Linda. That wouldn't be enough, but with Bizarro dead, Angel Supergirl is free and able to step in as the Carnivore begins to emerge.

I thought trying to explain all the shit in that issue of Amazing Spider-Man last month was making my head hurt, but we have a new champion. I can actually feel my headache growing in intensity as I type.
Things aren't looking great, but Buzz hits Lilith in the heart with Hurmizah's knife, which throws the villains off enough they can be forced back through the portal to, wherever. Buzz crows about how this was what he wanted all along, because Lilith's husband is Baalzebub, who tricked Buzz centuries ago and cost him his wife (who was eventually reincarnated as Linda, yeesh), and this is Buzz getting payback. The money quote is, "And all that business about vengeance being a hollow pursuit? Pure bull. Vengeance is great. I highly recommend it."

Day is saved, minus the part where Mary, Linda, and Twilight are all dying or dead. Angel Supergirl prepares to fuse with Linda again, who tells her to fuse with Twilight instead, since she's a better, more deserving person. A better, more deserving person with the ability to revive the dead, so Linda and Mary are alive again, and Linda's powers are a little closer to what they were before. She can fly again, which is nice.

Buzz vanished, Twilight and Angel Supergirl are the combined being now, Twilight has her sister back, Linda and Mary leave the Garden and out in space, there's a rocketship with a blonde girl with an "S" on her chest. This was the last issue for the Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs art duo, after Kirk had been artist on the book since about issue 13, and Riggs had been on the team since #24.

{11th longbox, 50th comic. Supergirl #74, by Peter David (writer), Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs (artists), Gene D'Angelo (colorist), Digital Chameleon (letterer)}

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Killing Gunther

One hitman, named Blake, plans to kill the world's current greatest hitman, a mysterious killer named Gunther, who is responsible for numerous audacious kills. Also, Gunther convinced Blake's girlfriend (played by Colbie Smothers) to break up with him and date Gunther for a time. So there's some resentment there.

Blake assembles a team of whatever professionals are willing to take a run at Gunther, and also a documentary camera crew, because when he kills Gunther, he wants there to be proof. Except, of course, things go wrong from the start. Their every attempt at ambush backfires. Gunther is always prepared, and keeps whittling their numbers down as Blake grows increasingly desperate and despondent.

It's supposed to be funny, and there are a couple of parts where that happened. The killer whose father was a famous killer, and is now her #1 superfan. Watching him come running on-screen yelling about what a great shot she just made got a laugh out of me. There's a recurring bit with Blake's mentor that's sort of funny. But the film seems to be trying to mine out laughs out of how badly their attempts to kill Gunther are going - in a kind of Wil E. Coyote hunting the Roadrunner way - and it might have been better to play up their differences in personality and style instead. The film does that occasionally, let's a couple of them just stand and talk for 30 seconds, but it's rare.

Also, I don't know if Gunther's true identity was supposed to be a surprise, but if so, Netflix kind of ruined it when they listed the actor's name in the description, and showed him as the background image. On the plus side, the actor in question has always been willing to lean into humor that plays off his normal on-screen characters, and the movie uses that to some limited effect near the very end.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Devil's Critic

After Mark Waid and Chris Samnee wrapped up their run on Daredevil, Charles Soule and Ron Garney took over. They promptly moved Murdock back to New York, put the secret identity genie back in the bottle (somehow), and most relevantly to this post, made Matt Murdock an assistant District Attorney.

Not having read much of the run beyond what I've seen online, I don't know Soule's purpose behind that move, other than it hadn't been done with Murdock before. But it always struck me as a bad decision, in the same way I'm not a fan of the trend of superheroes working officially as agents of the government or SHIELD or whatever. If the state already has power, which it will deploy violently and unevenly against its people, why the hell should I want to see the state have more power at its disposal? Whether that's the Vision being part of SHIELD, with all the shady shit it does, or Matt Murdock using his legal skills to put people in jail for having weed on them or whatever.

Whatever people might say about Justice being blind, and how that's a good thing, it doesn't take much looking around our world to see Justice is blind to how often it's swayed by a great many things. Money. Influence. The color of your skin. Gender. If you happen to be wearing a badge on your chest when you shoot people. If you're lacking in some of these things, or are the "wrong" one of the others, the scales are tipped against you whether you're up against another citizen, a corporation, or the state.

Superheroes are accurately criticized as protectors of the status quo, since we don't see the super-scientist solving world hunger or curbing climate change. And for all that he isn't upending the entire legal system, one thing pretty consistent about Matt Murdock is he defends people who don't have those things in their favor, who are not benefiting from the status quo. Even if he can't act directly. During the Nocenti run, he and Karen open a clinic that, among other things, allows a disbarred Matt to "ghost lawyer", so people who can't afford an attorney of his caliber can advocate for themselves and have a fighting chance. In the Waid run, he and Foggy went back to that approach. He wasn't disbarred, but everyone thinking he was Daredevil made it difficult to try a case without it getting bogged down in a lot of talk about him being a costumed vigilante.

Point being, he worked to protect people the system wasn't serving fairly, trying to give them an advantage to even the odds. You could argue that his enhanced senses, with all the clues he can gain from them, are an extra thumb on the scale to help balance things out even a little more. That was where superheroes started at, Superman using his powers to save innocent men about to die by electrocution, or busting up slumlords the law wasn't touching for one reason or another. The system is imperfect, has flaws, has gaps. People fall through, or are otherwise ill-served by it, and here's someone with the ability to address that in at least some small way, to help this person in their time of need..

I'm guessing Soule wanted to show Murdock trying to address those gaps from within, rather than without, but maybe I'm too cynical to think he would have much luck reforming things from within. he became Daredevil in part because the system wasn't working the way he thought it was meant to, while at the same time acting as a defense attorney to protect people caught up in it. Now he's working for that system? Maybe he can argue the District Attorney's office should decline to prosecute people arrested on bogus charges, or suspect searches, or push for lighter sentences for smaller crimes, but I'm not sure he can actually make those things happen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Logan Lucky

I ended up watching this with Alex and his fiance's family over the 4th of July, since it was something we could all roughly agree on watching.

West Virginia white trash brothers Channing Tatum and Adam Driver decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway to get themselves some life-changing money. However, this requires them to get explosives expert Joe Bang (played by Daniel Craig, giving him the chance for more fun with Southern accents) out of prison to help, then back in prison without anyone knowing it. That requires them to add Joe's two brothers to the mix, who despite their proficiency with computers don't seem entirely reliable.

Which is the point, that all these guys look like dumbshit rednecks but actually mostly know what the hell they're doing. They aren't dressed as classy as George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but they're professional. But we're supposed to assume, when things go wrong, that they're fucking it up.

Or maybe that's just me. I have a hard time not judging a couple of people passed out on couches with a bunch of empty beer bottles piled on their coffee table. But maybe those are left over from a party they hosted, and they haven't had time to clean. I shouldn't make assumptions. I mean, there are people who do  things that work in their favor that seem highly improbable to me, but could just be them understanding how these other people think because they've lived around them that long.

There are some funny parts. The prisoners' demands for the latest books in the Game of Thrones series cracked me up. Daniel Craig's indignation at the concept of low-sodium salt. Seth MacFarlane is in the movie, but manages not to ruin everything. He wears a stupid fake mustache, uses a lousy accent, and gets his ass kicked. It's about the best possible use of him, under the circumstances.

Monday, July 13, 2020

If I Call Them "Lovely Angels" Maybe My Blog Won't Get Destroyed

Yeah, I can see how being hit on by a bunch of rejects from Miami Vice would be unpleasant. These guys did not read the convention guide about appropriate behavior towards cosplayers. And when Kei talks about "hitting", well. . .
If the guy on the right didn't bite off his own tongue from that knee strike, it's because all his teeth shattered under the impact first. Ouch.

The Dirty Pair Omnibus collects three stories by the writer/artist team of Haruka Takachiho and Hisao Tamaki. I'm not familiar with Takachiho's work, and I only know Tamaki from the Star Wars manga adaptation I remember seeing ads for in Wizard back in the day. Two of the stories are, as far as I know, pretty standard fare for Dirty Pair, in that Kei and Yuri get assigned a case to investigate, and in the process of solving it, do something that causes immense property damage and loss of life.

Although I'm not sure how much you can really blame them. At one point they stopped a device that would have wiped out all of space for 8 light-years, but the way they did it created a micro-black hole which descended into the planet's core and is eating it from the inside out. At least the 7 billion people are able to relocate to another world eventually.

The middle story of the three is a much shorter one about them being hired to retrieve a probe from a black hole, and due to time distortion, they accidentally kill their future selves, and then have to figure out some way to avert that before they reach that point in their own timeline. Since they're stuck inside their ship for the entire story with the scientist who hired them, there's a lot more exposition than anything else. Interesting if you're into theories about how time and space react near intense gravitational fields, I guess.
Tamaki's art works very well for numerous fight scenes. It's a little weird how the book isn't always consistent about how violent things are getting. There's a point Yuri briefly loses her memories and free will, and is operating almost on autopilot based on Kei's command to fight, and shoots a guy in the head repeatedly with a machine gun. Which freaks Kei the hell out, but Yuri was cutting through guys' necks earlier in the book with her razor sharp throwing cards. Although in the shooting scene, the blood is colored black, and in the card scene, it's white. I don't know what I'm supposed to take from that difference, though.

But, I'd say the key is the art mostly works for both the serious scenes, and the more comic ones (usually involving the two of them freaking out at some misfortune they're going to be blamed for). The cyborg henchmen guy from the third story looks fairly intimidating, for all that he stole Tom Hardy's Bane mask. I said "mostly", because even when we're supposed to be unnerved by what's happening, Kei and Yuri are still drawn in a way to play up their sexiness, attractiveness, whatever you want to call it.

That's not even getting into cyborg guy's boss, who has a chest size Jim Balent would say was excessive. Takachiho tries to provide a sad backstory for the boss lady to explain why she'd get implants like that. The backstory is sad, but I'm not sure it works as an explanation. I could say it's about her having been repeatedly told by men her only value is in her body, and that she'll be cast aside for anyone more voluptuous at the first chance. So she tried to make herself #1 in that regard, so she could pick and discard as she pleases, so she'd have the access and power she wanted. I don't know if that really holds water.

I read something online, last month maybe, that argued "fan service" has gotten overused to the point it lost all meaning. The argument was it was meant to refer to things that are in the series that don't really serve any point, other than pleasing a certain segment of the audience. Probably dudes. In which case, it might not be the right term in this case. Because I'm pretty sure drawing two ladies kicking the shit out of bad guys while looking hot is pretty much the point of this book. In which case, mission accomplished.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #122

"Do You Know Who Your Children Are Racing?", in Daredevil #248, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Rick Leonardi (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Petra Scotese (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)

So we hit the first major run of Daredevil for me. Ann Nocenti wrote the book for about 50 issues (#236-291, with a few fill-ins here and there). The part that gets talked about most is the ~30 issue stretch in the middle with John Romita Jr. as penciler, and we'll get to that next week. But I did want to touch on the first year this week, because of how it winds things around to where they are and where they go for that later part.

It picks up where Born Again left the character: Matt is disbarred, but living in Hell's Kitchen with Karen Page. Matt's working as a cook for a local diner, and since most of the people he encounters have no idea who Matt Murdock is, he's dispensed with playing the blind man. So as far as helping people goes, there's only Daredevil and what he can do, and none of what Matt Murdock, lawyer extraordinaire brought to the table. There's also Karen feeling torn between her love and admiration for Matt and the good he does in costume, with her discomfort at how often he's doing good by beating the shit out of people. Matt struggles with trying to talk people down, or convince them to do good, but this is superhero comics so that tends to fall through. And sometimes people don't want to be helped, or push back at Daredevil's notion he has the right to interfere in their lives at all.

Most of the stories during this stretch are one or two parters, mostly dealing with one-off threats or minor villains. A young man raised with a massive phobia of disease and toxins by an overprotective mother, who decides to try and poison everyone in his apartment building because they're so unclean. A union leader who grows so frustrated with the greed and disinterested cruelty of the wealthy, he starts killing them (which also turns into a whole argument about where the line is between reporting violent news and glorifying it for sales, as a Daily Bugle reporter tries to use this to make his name.) Bushwacker, a hitman with an arm he change into firearms, running around killing gifted people who are suspected to be mutants. Daredevil's trying to save him (mostly from Wolverine who is out to end the guy) for Bushwacker's fiance, but also stop him from killing anyone else. As with all compromises, nobody goes home happy from that one.

The book shifts through a series of artists, the title's shift in look going along with Murdock trying to find his footing, his path forward. Louis Williams draws four issues (the two with Rotgut, the man freaked out about disease, and two with a voodoo drug-running operation), and nobody else handles more than two, mostly just one. You have what I'd call more traditional superhero style artists, in the Gil Kane/Neal Adams mold like Chuck Patton and Keith Pollack, as well as fairly early Todd MacFarlane for an issue. Sal Buscema draws the second issue Nocenti writes, a Mutant Massacre tie-in, while Rick Leonardi handles the last two issues before Romita Jr.

But the first issue Nocenti writes is drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, and involves a version of the Black Widow that's nearly unrecognizable after the last two decades of her being this entirely professional, always cool under fire, greatest secret agent ever type. When Nocenti loops back around to follow-up on that story, with Natasha struggling with the psychological toll of killing someone who had been made into a weapon, Keith Giffen steps on art chores.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Random Back Issues #36 - Darkwing Duck #2

In his defense, there haven't been that many found footage superhero movies. Chronicle I guess, but yeah. And now they're four years further out of date as a reference than they were when this comic was published!

Negaduck's pulled the old bit where he gets all the villains out their cells and takes over the prison, with their archfore locked inside with a bunch of people who want to kill him. Meaning Darkwing spends the issue working his way through one enemy after another.

Liquidator falls by getting a bunch of dish soap mixed in with himself. Darkwing goes from the laundry room to the garbage chute and runs into Muckduck, who I don't recall at all. He doesn't actually stop the giant, sentient pile of trash, but does use him to defeat at least one other enemy, the evil cleaning lady Ammonia Pine.
Three of the Beagle Boys get captured off-panel, and we learn you get 5 to 10 years in the pen in St. Canard for stealing candy from children. Darkwing beats the shapeshifter Camille Chameleon with a bunch of medicated heating pads (and an impressive amount of alliteration), but gets captured by a bunch of mind-controlled prison guards.
While Darkwing's busy fighting mostly small-time, one-off villains, Negaduck's trying to get Megavolt access to the power lines as part of his plan, but gets distracted by two kids. One is Mortimer, a cat who had a brief stint as a villain in a giant powered armor suit in the previous Darkwing Duck series, and claims he wants to learn to be bad. The other is Gosalyn, who is sneaking around, taking out any villains she can quietly. Not quietly enough to avoid being caught on camera, and Negaduck might miss his universe's version of his daughter, so why not take the one readily available?

I'm pretty sure Negaduck does end up successfully escaping by the end of this story, but we never see his larger plan, because the book got canceled at 8 issues.

{3rd longbox, 220th comic. Darkwing Duck #2, by Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani (storytellers), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist), Andworld Design (lettering)}

Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

 Lije Baley, Earthman detective, is called upon to investigate the death of a prominent Spacer in the settlement the people from the Outer Worlds have established on Earth. He gets an extremely human-looking robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, in the process.

In some ways, the book is very much what I expected. Baley is significantly less accepting of Daneel's quirks as a robot, although he ultimately accepts his presence. Baley makes some wrong steps because he doesn't really understand Spacers or robots well enough (such as concluding Daneel was constructed without the First Law, and is therefore capable of harming a human). Baley is resistant to the idea of an Earthman going outside the Cities (meaning, under the open sky).

But there's much more focus on Baley's wife, Jesse, than in the other books in the series combined. Including a whole anecdote about how Jesse's actual name is Jezebel, and what she thought that meant versus what Baley does. Asimov gives Baley a whole backstory about his father, that his father was "declassified" because of a screw-up, and it knocked them to the bottom of society. They're provided for - nobody starves of goes homeless - but it's subsistence level, no more. Baley has clawed his way up from there, and while there's the possibility of promotion if he cracks the case, there's also the danger of declassification if he fucks things up too much between Earth and the Spacers.

I think it's meant to act as this dire fate that drives Baley on to solve the case, but the story doesn't carry it. Maybe that's because I've read the subsequent books and I know how things turn out. I don't think that, even as he keeps getting handed Spacer related murders by higher-ups who aren't always friendly, Baley worries about declassification ever again after this book. So it feels like a surprise here to see his father's fate presented as this looming specter. Baley strikes me as someone who wants to solve cases because he believes in his work, and because he hates looking foolish. Even if he makes missteps along the way, as long as he figures it out at the end, that'll work.

'Reasons for anti-robot rioting certainly existed, Men who found themselves faced with the prospect of the desperate minimum involved in declassification, after half a lifetime of effort, could not decide cold-bloodedly that individual robots were not to blame. Individual robots could at least be struck at.

One could not strike at something called 'governmental policy' or at a slogan like 'Higher production with robot labour.'

The government called it growing pains. It shook its collective head sorrowfully and assured everyone that after a necessary period of adjustment, a new and better life would exist for all.'

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Not That Warner Bros. Will Notice Either Way

One of the temporary big hullabaloos in the comic world in the last couple months was DC announcing they weren't going to use Diamond as the distributor for their comics any longer. They'd turned to other avenues when Diamond shut down in the spring due to COVID, and apparently liked their new circumstances so much, they'd just stick with them.

From my end of things, it's not a big difference. Makes it a little harder to find the solicitations, and to see what comics DC has coming out in a given week, but that's about it. And no more new DC comics than I buy in a year these days, they're on track for 10 this year, which would be better than either of the last two years, that's a minor inconvenience.

But when I was in one of the comic stores the next town over last month, the owner mentioned that they were about to stop stocking new DC single issues. They can still stock trade paperbacks, because they get those through different channels, but individual issues of Batman or Amethyst, no.

The new distributor has different discount rates, and when the store ran the numbers, they were only going to break even for their DC sales on the best weeks, and lose money the rest of the time. Granting I only took one economics class - which was over 15 years ago, and I recall essentially nothing from it - trying to sell stuff that ultimately loses you money is not a sound business practice. So the decision to walk away from a particular publisher makes sense. Especially since DC really comes in third behind Marvel and Image for that store, and they tend to focus more towards "indie" stuff anyway.

Their other reason was that the new distributor is a comic store as well. In essence, they'd be buying their product from a competitor. The owner didn't really like the idea of simply handing over sales data to a competitor. I don't know if they would have bit the bullet on that if DC comics were a bigger piece of the financial pie for them or not, but under the circumstances, I suppose it acted as one more thing.

I wonder if that store is going to be an exception, or if there are going to be more. If there are other stores, is it enough that it makes a difference, saleswise? On the latter point, probably not. The people who would have bought DC comics from that store will probably go to a different store, or get them from somewhere online. There's another comic store in that town that is going to continue to stock DC single issues. So the sales may not change much, instead being concentrated into fewer stores. Having your product available in fewer places seems like the wrong move, but the horse has probably already fled the barn, broken its leg in the middle of a freeway, and been run over by an 18-wheeler on that one.

On the stores, I assume most are operating too close to the margins, or are too dependent on superhero comic sales, to say bye to DC entirely, but maybe not. I can think of a few stores I've been in that seemed oriented more towards tpbs/GNs or independent publishers that might be able to do the same. That doesn't mean they necessarily will if they don't have to.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway Vol. 4

Volume 3 was not available at a reasonable price last year, so my dad just skipped it and grabbed Volume 4, which runs from 1929 through 1931. During most of this period Hemingway is working on Death in the Afternoon, his non-fiction book about bullfighting, which is one of my favorite things he wrote (and I don't even give a shit about bullfighting). Most of his letters claim he's making good progress until he's in a car wreck in Wyoming that ends with a badly injured right upper arm that takes months to heal to where he can resume writing.

Some of the letters during that stretch are him dictating to his second wife Pauline, and I imagine that was not a lot of fun for her, given how often his letters (regardless of who's writing them) go on bizarre tangents. In general the family seems to be spending much more time in the United States, either Key West or Wyoming, as Ernest is growing increasingly dissatisfied with Europe. Or more specifically, France. He'd already basically sworn off Italy when Mussolini rose to power, and still seems to enjoy traveling to Spain for the bullfights in summer. But there are a lot of letters to people encouraging them to come out west to hunt elk, or travel by boat to the Dry Tortugas and fish with him. The big hunting trip to Africa keeps getting delayed for various reasons, some economic, others health related.

The early part of this volume also involves a lot of letters to his mother about her financial situation, where more of the strain between the two of them shows through. Ernest is clearly expected (or feels he is expected) to support not only Grace Hemingway, but also his various siblings, many of whom he feels aren't showing the industriousness he did when he was their age. There are quite a few comments about how he's sorry he can't provide a larger monthly stipend, but his family does require at least a little money to live on, and that his mother shouldn't have listened to his uncle and bought a house in Florida that isn't doing her any good whatsoever in the midst of a depression. You can also tell he hasn't forgotten comments she made expressing disapproval over his choice of career, or perhaps just his writing style and subject matter.

I know, Ernest Hemingway holding a grudge? Inconceivable.

'To Maxwell Perkins [c. late August 1929]

. . . But am going to write - I think that's Scott's trouble with his novel - among other things of course more complicated - But he thought he had to write a masterpiece to follow The Gatsby - as good as Seldes etc. said he was - and to consciously write such a thing that had to be great just constipated him -

Then too you have to use up your material - you never use Anything you save - I thought I'd used up everything in In Our Time - Should always write as though you were going to die at the end of the book - (This doesn't seem to go with what's before but it's a good idea too!) Never for gods sake use or turn over to the advt. dept. anything I say in a letter -). . .'

Monday, July 06, 2020

I'm Half-Brain Dead, So You Get This

Hopefully all of you had good weekends, whether you're Americans celebrating by blowing shit up or not. I spent Friday afternoon helping Alex pack and move some stuff to his new place two hours away. I don't really feel like it's substantially bigger than his old apartment, but he and his fiance seem pleased. And they have a cat now, who has a perpetual skeptically raised eyebrow look going.

After we unpacked what we brought - not as much as Alex planned, since all his records took up more space than he anticipated - we tried to going to a nearby comic store, because he needed another longbox. They were already closed for the day. Which kicked off an hour+ odyssey of several repeated, then aborted attempts to return to his apartment. First we turned back to purchase alcohol. Then we turned back because everybody wanted pizza, so we had to go pick up the order. The high schoolers at the Little Ceasar's were not up to the challenge of the amount of business they had going, so that took a while. Plus, they forgot one of the pizzas, so then we had to wait longer.

Eventually we made it back, food was consumed, I watched them try to put together IKEA furniture, we watched Attack the Block again, because that movie rules. More John Boyega and less Adam Driver would have made those recent Star Wars movies 1000 times better, I can confidently say despite not bothering to watch any of them.

Spent a few hours at the pool Saturday, while it was overcast and surprisingly cool. We got the heck out when we could see the rain moving down the street towards us, so just in the nick of time. Wouldn't have wanted to get wet, after all. I felt vaguely dizzy and disoriented the rest of the day, not sure what that was about. Also got more sun than I expected, judging by the state of my shoulders.

Bought some food for the cookout that night. Most of the people in the store were wearing masks, though not all, naturally. Alex wanted to make some three-cheese mac & cheese, but the last cheese they tried was a provolone that was universally panned by everyone in the house as smelling like ass and have an awful aftertaste. Two-cheese max & cheese, then.

Watched Hotel Artemis again (still really enjoy that movie). Although Alex went and took a nap a half-hour into it. Some things never change. We went back to the comic store, but it was just about to close, so there was only enough time for Alex to grab the longbox, rather than scout the back issues or trades.

We didn't end up shooting off any fireworks ourselves. The fiance's parents have two small dogs who were freaking out enough from all the other people in the neighborhood shooting fireworks, it wouldn't have been wise to add to the stress. So we watched a movie I hadn't seen previously, that I'll get around to reviewing next week.

Had a quiet drive home Sunday morning, and spent the rest of the day trying to catch up on things I'd missed the previous day-and-a-half. Like sleep. Air mattresses are not the best.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #121

"What's Red, White, Blue and Bleeding All Over?", in Daredevil (vol. 1) #233, by Frank Miller (writer), David Mazzucchelli (artist), Max Scheele (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)

Starting from Frank Miller's initial run on the book, through Born Again, with Denny O'Neill's run in the middle, I have about six issues. Which is probably not enough to merit touching on, except that so much of what came after was following the same gameplan, or could be seen as a reaction to the trends established during this stretch. The ninjas, the Catholic guilt, the misery.

Oh, the misery. If Matt's not sad over Bullseye killing Elektra, he's miserable over Heather killing herself, or Karen Page has wound up addicted to heroin. Or the Kingpin is destroying his entire life. Taking his money, his legal practice, his home, his friendship, his reputation, and briefly, his sanity. Fun times.

I think Born Again does work pretty well as a single story. It's not Miller or Mazzucchelli's fault writers can't stop going to the same well, in more or less the same fashion again and again. Wilson Fisk trying to destroy a good man, while also trying to buy his own way into the rarefied air of high society. He hasn't stopped being the same criminal he was before, he just wants people to forget about that, or ignore it. it's a long where from where he started, and he wants in.

I don't know if Miller had an opinion about Matt and Karen Page as a couple, but I find the fact she's the one who ultimately sold Matt's secret identity away, interesting, given how the Kingpin's own marriage went. Fisk had to send Vanessa to Europe just to protect her from his shit, his life was poisonous to her. Karen went away, comes back feeling about as low as possible, when Matt's in about as bad a way as possible, and the two of them end up picking themselves back up together.

Mazzucchelli's art has this real focus on both Fisk and Murdock as people, outside their costumes. Matt spends a lot of time in plainclothes, and Fisk seems to spend a lot of time working out or in steam rooms. Lot of panels of him sweating. There's a fair amount of him staring at the city from his hi-rise office in a fancy suit, but even then, he's either a shadowed outline, or it's an extreme close-up of his face. Which is imposing, but also reminds that this is meant to be a human, glaring out at the world, full of spite. Maybe Fisk would have gotten the acclaim and acceptance he wanted if he just focused on that, instead of relentlessly trying to finish off Murdock every time the blind man tries to pick himself up.

As for Matt, I mentioned last week one of the first Daredevil comics I owned was issue #228. Matt spends the entire issue in regular clothes, being slightly unhinged. Mazzucchelli draws him as what I'd call "movie star scruffy" - he's got stubble, but it's even and his hair is still relatively neat, and the clothes he's wearing aren't anything special, but they're clean and whole - rather than "near-destitute and dangerously paranoid scruffy" like Matt apparently is by then.

(Honestly, Matt in that issue reminds me a little of Stallone in Cobra. Maybe it's just the big, reflective sunglasses.)

That said, the way the violence is portrayed tells the story quite nicely. That when Matt punches a guy during a fight in the subway, the guy's head cracks the glass in the subway door on impact from the first punch, to say nothing of the second. Mazzucchelli (who handles the color duties himself in that issue) uses this extremely vivid red for the blood that is startlingly bright against every surface in the issue. Including Fisk's nose when Matt hits him across the face with a nightstick.

It's not like I hadn't seen comics where a character gets punched through a building before this, but characters tend to get up from that. Even if they don't, you don't see them mangled, and I can't really process what having a building fall on you feels like. My head hitting glass hard enough to crack it is more relatable, which makes it more impactful. Same way I was more squeamish watching Evil Dead when someone got stabbed in the ankle with a pencil than I was about Ash losing an entire hand. Point being, the story makes them feel less like these larger-than-life characters, and more like just a couple of dudes who really hate each other.