Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Mad Miss Manton

Barbara Stanwyck plays wealthy heiress Miss Manton, who sees an old friend drive away from an empty house one night, and when she goes inside, finds a dead body. She rushes out to call the cops, and by the time they reaches the scene, the body's gone. 

At that point, I figured it was going to be a movie about her being caught up in a string of murders, while the killer tries to make her look nuts to discredit her. But that's not it. A very young Henry Fonda plays a newspaper editor who writes an unflattering article about Miss Manton and her friends flaunting their wealth and wasting police time, and ends up in her crosshairs.

Manton convinces her friends to help her investigate, despite the police alternating between trying to warn them off, pin the murders on them, or use Manton as a decoy to lure out the killer. Fonda keeps trying to get involved, and keeps his getting ass kicked by the society gals. 

You know, some people would pay good money to be beaten and tied up by a lot of rich, attractive young women. All he has to do is start talking.

Fonda apparently decides he likes rich women who aggravate and confound him, and tries his best to woo Stanwyck, who is mostly annoyed by his attempts to "protect" her. 

It's a fun movie. The murder mystery is fairly clever, with clues and false leads. Stanwyck and her friends are hilarious, excited to investigate the murder, until they start running into actual dead bodies. The lead cop on the investigation is played by Sam Levene, who usually plays smart-mouth, dim-witted cops. He's as out-matched in the battle of wits by Stanwyck as Fonda is, which is entertaining. Stanwyck plays Manton as determined and clever, but not brilliant or fearless. She gets scared and nervous, but she's too curious and stubborn to give up.

I don't know if I buy the romantic tension between Stanwyck and Fonda, but I've mentioned before I'm not a big fan of relationships based on two characters who fight and bicker all the time. Fonda's good at playing a guy who's besotted with a lady that also frustrates the hell out of him. It's funny watching them argue and annoy each other, at least.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Never Research the Fates of Minor Characters

In Random Back Issues #50, I mentioned I wasn't sure what Cammi had been up to since Dennis Hopeless let her go back into space at the end of Avengers Undercover, and that I was a little leery of trying to find out, because Donny Cates probably killed her during his Guardians of the Galaxy run.

Well, I did end up looking into that weekend, and well, Donny Cates didn't kill her in his Guardians of the Galaxy run. She popped up in that Drax series CM Punk wrote, and then in Asgardians of the Galaxy, a book I had blessedly forgotten existed. And then Dennis Hopeless killed her in Revenge of the Cosmic Ghost Rider, which is, when you think about it, Donny Cates' fault, because he created that stupid character.

I mean, a Ghost Rider in space? OK fine, the '90s Guardians of the Galaxy series established that was a thing, and Jason Aaron's Ghost Rider was all about how there were a bunch of Ghost Riders just on Earth. But then you write him as a) working for Thanos, and b) so nutty I thought it was supposed to be Deadpool. Which would at least make sense for a) if you figure those two characters each have a thing for Death.

But no! Cosmic Ghost Rider is actually Frank Castle. Yes, the guy who kills murders and drug dealers for killing or even just preying on people works for the guy who killed half the people in the universe. Because he decided he couldn't kill him, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Which sounds so entirely contrary to Frank Castle, I'm not sure where to start, but it makes me think Donny Cates and whoever lets him write for a living should probably be ostracized (in the Athenian sense of being exiled for 10 years.)

And from what I can tell looking online, Cammi let her soul be sent to Hell to save Frank's (wasted effort there), and then when he got her out, her soul was devoured by some other thing, and now it runs around in her body.

So, Hopeless offed her so Frank can. . . be angry about someone who got killed and want to kill the one responsible? Frank Castle's already like that, all the time. It's his entire existence, killing people because he's mad his family got killed. He doesn't need more deaths to be angry about.

Back when Avengers Arena came out, I knew I would've been one of the folks angry with it if Hopeless had offed one of the characters I really liked. Meaning either Cammi or Darkhawk. They dodged that bullet, but when you're a third-tier character or worse, it's always just a matter of time before somebody offs you for cheap dramatics.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


I'd never actually watched this, and going in, I thought the movie was about William H. Macy's character hiring two guys to kill his wife, who was the sheriff, played by Frances McDormand. Don't know how I got that idea, but that was my impression.

So actually Macy hires Steve Buscemi and Peter Stromare to kidnap his wife to hold for ransom, and they end up killing some other people along the way, and that's how Frances McDormand gets brought in, investigating these killings near her town.

And everyone other than her is as much of a fuck-up as I'd always heard. Macy's a putz trying to run a financial shell game so he can build a freaking parking lot, and he couldn't get his father-in-law to loan him the money. He loses control of the situation almost immediately, if he ever had any control to begin with. Buscemi runs his mouth constantly, but always makes things worse by doing so. He can't help himself. 

Why argue with the parking attendant guy over $4? Why argue with Stromare over paying him half the value of the car, when he knows there's a briefcase with another $920.000 waiting for him? Because he's having a bad day, due to his own stupidity, and he can't help himself. Stromare actually mostly keeps his cool, but goes to violence far too easily, which adds to the body count and just makes things.

One thing I wasn't clear on was why Buscemi's character was there at all. Shep only got Macy in contact with Stromare, and doesn't even know who Buscemi's character is. And he and Stromare don't seem to be pals or anything, so I'm not sure how he got into this.

I didn't really understand the point of the subplot about Mike Yanagita. He wants to reconnect with the sheriff, but she's faithful to her husband - them being a happy and supportive couple was very sweet - and he lies about having married one of their old school acquaintances and her dying of leukemia? I guess it's meant to mean he's another person unhappy with his lot in life and grasping desperately for what he thinks will improve it. Like Macy, who wants to be a success on his terms, feel in control, even as he's trying to both beg and bilk his father-in-law out of a lot of cash. Or Buscemi and Stromare, who want money and in Buscemi's case, probably respect or something too.

And then there's the sheriff, who sounds like a yokel, but thinks calmly and clearly. Doesn't get stressed, doesn't get flustered. She just moves forward methodically, following leads, asking questions, and then pulls everything together. I'm not sure whether these guys being complete idiots makes that easier or harder. Probably easier since they leave trails and clues everywhere, but on the other hand, can you operate your case under the assumption the criminals you're pursuing are the dumbest people on the planet?

Monday, December 28, 2020

What I Bought 12/18/2020 - Part 4

The last new comic reviews of 2020. Not the last 2020 new comics that will be reviewed, mind you, since there's still a few things I'm waiting on from these last couple weeks. You know what I mean. Fittingly enough, it's the final issue of a series.

Sera and the Royal Stars #10, by Jon Tsuei (writer), Audrey Mok (artist), Raul Angulo (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - That's it everybody, look thoughtful for your senior photo.

Everybody fights. The Draco siblings turn themselves into a big, two-headed dragon. No symbiotes, though. The Royal Stars are on "E", so the fight's not going too well. The best they can really manage is to keep the dragon from taking to the air, blind one of them in one eye. Which I actually like. They can't just find some special wellspring of extra power to fight on equal terms. What they've got is all they've got, and they have to make do. Keep the Dracos focused on them and give Sera the chance to use the big sword. So I like how the fight plays out.

And it enough for Sera to cut them back into two, and then run Rastaban through. Which turns him to stone, kills him, something. The sword vanishes, too. Nobody wants to keep it as a souvenir? Eltanin flies off swearing vengeance, but the seal on the Stars is broken, so they can go chill in their actual stars and recover. The seasons can return, and life on Earth is probably safe. For humans to wipe out themselves, I mean. Hooray!

Surprisingly, Sera, her sister, and their mother decide they can't return home, since Sera's sketchy uncle is running Parsa now. It might cause succession issue questions, which could cause a rebellion. So they'll let the guy prove he can do the job, and if not, then they'll show up and kick his ass. I mean, if they wanted a vacation they could just say so. It's perfectly understandable. 

Also it leaves them open to the possibility of more adventures as they travel, in case Tsuei and Mok decide they want to come back to this book someday, I imagine.

One thing I'm left wondering about is, Mithra took Sera's heart and replaced it with Regulus' gem thing. Now Regulus seems to be back to his old self. So did Sera get her heart back? Or does she still have the gem thing, which got cracked by Eltannin a couple of issues ago? I'm guessing the gem, because she still has the red striping under her eyes from when she sort of fully claimed Regulus' power last issue (which I feel like raises questions about him of its own). That wouldn't seem like the best thing to be relying on for keeping yourself alive.

I liked the series. I would have been fine with it going on for longer, and if we do get a sequel someday, I'd almost certainly give it a whirl, assuming the same creative team is on the books. I thought there were going to be a lot more Stars, but Tsuei kept it to four, which made it easier to give them distinct personalities, and tended to have the heroes split into smaller groups, which lets you advance the plot in multiple places and gives everyone a chance to be useful in some way. Mok's work isn't anything terribly flashy, but it's expressive and I really like the character designs. How the Royal Stars have certain similarities in their clothes, but each is different. Same with the Dracos, same with Sera and her family. It makes them look cool and distinctive.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #146

"Don't Get My Hopes Up, Norriss", in Defenders Annual #1, by Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson (artists), D. Warfield (colorist), John Costanza (letterer)

This is effectively the end of Steve Gerber's run on the Defenders. There was one more issue of the ongoing after this, but this wraps up all of what Gerber had been doing with the Headmen, with the strange "Bozo" movement, and with Jack Norriss' abrupt departure a few issues earlier.

Norriss somehow got it in his head that at a point when the Defenders had knocked unconscious by the Headmen in a previous fight, they were given subliminal commands to make them do seemingly bizarre, random acts of destruction or mischief. These would instill fear and unease in the populace, and help the Headmen conquer the world through economic and political means. So he got a bunch of money out of Nighthawk to go try and play secret agent. Complete with knockout gas cuff links. Which prove entirely ineffective against Ruby Thursday. Great hustle, Norriss, ya putz. 

Meanwhile, you've got Nebulon the Celestial Man convincing everyone they're bozos and should abandon individuality and free will to do what he says, granting him control of the world.

The Defenders end up in the middle, and mostly look like chumps, getting shrunk down and put in some tiny city under a dome. Then at the end, they manage to at least defeat the Headmen in a fight. Norriss naturally can't resist raining on the parade by pointing out it does nothing to undo all the damage the Headmen have already done. 

Nebulon gets driven off after Doc Strange does the old, "make him experience all of humanity at once" trick and Nebulon decides we're all too nuts to try and save and bails. Must be nice to be able to just jaunt off across the universe to get away from it all. I'm stuck relying on the blessed oblivion of unconsciousness.

Friday, December 25, 2020

What I Bought 12/18/2020 - Part 3

It's Christmas. I'm at my dad's, since it'll be just us and his dogs in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully you're able to be with someone you'd like to be around.

For today, we got a couple of first issues. That's good. They're both King in Black tie-ins. That's probably not good.

The Union #1, by Paul Grist (writer/penciler/inker), Andrea DeVito (penciler), Drew Geraci and Le Beau Underwood (inkers), Nolan Woodward (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - What' Union Jack doing with Atomic Robo's revolver?

I would say it's an introduction to the team issue, but it's barely that. Most of it focuses on Union Jack trying to get some regular joe soldier guys through some sort of training exercise, except the team has taken most of them down already. There's a little bit of discussion after, some tension between the costumed types and the soldiers, some tension between Britannia and some stupid tech bro guy that's sponsoring/funding them, and then a symbiote dragon shows up, and Britannia gets impaled on its tail the same time she cut its head off.

I get the impression she'll be back shortly. Probably has a life-force tied to England and can't remain dead or something. But at this point I know Kelpie has some kind of water manipulation power, The Choir has something voice-based, and Snakes talks in diamond-shaped speech balloons. That's pretty much it. Why these characters, or anything else about them really, I don't know. I think there's a Paul Grist variant cover that provides a tiny bit more information, but you should probably try and do a little more in the first issue.

DeVito gets two different inkers, which I assume is because this was originally supposed to tie-in to Empyre, and they had to take out pages of invading plant-people and replace them with pages of invading symbiotes. There's a couple of spots where DeVito's work looks more like Tom Grummett's, especially in the faces, than I'm used to. I think Geraci and Underwood were lighter inkers than what I'm used to seeing on DeVito's work. Which would mostly be Annihilation and the Abnett/Lanning Nova series, where DeVito inked his own work.

It's pretty standard superhero comic art. Nothing really flashy about layouts or designs, very straightforward in that sense. But clean, easy to follow art. Gives you all the information it's supposed to (as far as I can tell). The dragon could probably stand to look weirder. It mostly just looks like it has really wrinkly skin from being in the tub too long. You'd think a symbiote-wearing dragon would look more monstrous.

Black Cat #1, by Jed MacKay (writer), C.F. Villa (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - The Villa variant cover was the only I could find that wasn't King in Black related, and actually emphasized what I'm buying the book for, Felicia stealing stuff.

Cat was going to rip off some guys who heisted an old SHIELD laundered cash location, but the symbiotes came crashing through the ceiling and ruined that. She reluctantly jumps in to help Captain America, and is feeling pretty good about their chances until she watches Dr. Strange get captured. Cap tells her to bail and get Strange back, and so that's what she's going to do. Steal him back from Knull with the help of her crew and some scientist guy I assume was part of Venom's supporting cast recently.

I wouldn't say much more happens in this issue than in The Union, but I think MacKay does a better job at least explaining who the doctor guy is and why Felicia is bothering to recruit him. And makes sure to make a nod towards the plotline left over from the last volume about her plan to rob the Thieves' Guild vault. Plus, this is at least a sort of tie-in that makes sense. The Black Cat isn't going to be on the front lines, she's going to be working behind the lines.

Like with DeVito, Villa doesn't do anything really outside the box or wildly creative. Again, though, the art is solid, clear, easy to follow. You can understand the story, and it looks nice enough. The expressions on Felicia's guys to her mission on the last page are pretty good. Villa's dragons are possibly even less distinctive than DeVito's. Basically just dragons that are all black, except the membrane for their wings, which is red. Occasionally in a close-up, you see tendrils and threads of the symbiote flicking around the dragons' mouths, but that's about it. It makes more sense, given the symbiotes usually are presented as becoming skin-tight outer coverings, with maybe a few tendrils, but it still feels like a letdown.

But I'd just as soon be done with the tie-ins as soon as possible, so as long as they get through them on time, that's fine with me.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Prisoner (1990)

In theory, this Jackie Chan movie is about a warden who fakes the execution of his prisoners, then promises them a new identity and freedom if they perform a simple job for him. In practice, that gets almost entirely ignored after the start of the movie, when a cop gets himself arrested for assault and thrown in prison, until the last twenty minutes. 

A lot of the film gets taken up with Sammo Hung's character, who keeps making escapes to see his son briefly, and is trying to figure out some way to get away for good. On top of that, Jackie Chan ends up in prison after a truly ludicrous sequence of events that had nothing to do with the "use convicts as mercs" thing.

As an aside, I like some of the odd professions Jackie gets in his movies, when he's not being a cop or secret agent. Like how he was a TV chef in Mister Nice Guy. In this one, he's a professional pool player who dates a fashion model. 

Jackie ends up in prison, dodging assassination attempts set up by the scumbag brother of the scumbag Jackie was convicted of killing. Really, the guy fell on his own knife like a dumbass, but try telling his brother that. 

So the movie jumps back and forth between those, and takes time to introduce the cop's roommate, a geeky guy who keeps a mouse he calls Goliath, and who dies horribly in an attempt on the cop. There's also one particular inmate who looks like an accountant, but apparently is a serious hardass. Although that's undercut when the warden threatens him and he responds, 'You're the kind of guy who farts, but ain't got the shit to back it up.' Um, OK?

I wouldn't say everything comes together at the end, but they at least remember what the movie started with, and make an attempt. Of course, the attempt comes via a wild shootout at an airport, where four men with handguns hold of dozens of soldiers with machine guns through the magic of killing someone with every single shot. But it's still an attempt.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

What I Bought 12/18/2020 - Part 2

I will never understand sports fans bemoaning their team winning because it hurts their draft position. In this case, Jets' fans being angry they actually won a game. If your team is so incompetent they can't win a single game, why would you have any hope a high draft pick is going to improve anything? The idiots that built the shitty team are still there, so either they'll pick the wrong player, or coach, or fail to put good players around him. I never root for my team to lose. Take any win you can get.

Deadpool #9, by Kelly Thompson (writer), Gerardo Sandoval (penciler), Victor Nava (inker), Chris Sotomayor (color artist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - Well, it's not Wade's first relationship with someone who sucks the life out of him.

Wade's fighting the Bone creatures with the added power of the Bloodstone. But the infection in it is killing him, and it lets the Queen read his mind. You'd think that would be enough to incapacitate her right there, but no. Elsa's getting the kids and Jeff (who loves getting to carry a knife in his mouth and stab things, apparently) to safety, but can't quite bring herself to abandon Wade, who has let the Queen eat him. Then he blows himself up from the inside. And because he's dead, the Queen's infection is somehow burned out of the Bloodstone? So Elsa can put it back in her hand and fry the Queen. 

Despite being just a head, Wade is not dead, and says he still wants an apology from her. When Elsa points out her forgave her already, Wade counters she was dying at that time, of course he said that. Now that she's not, and he blew himself up to save her, he wants another apology. Instead, Elsa threatens to leave him there, but ultimately carries him in a baby bjorn. Which means he gets to rest next to her chest. I'd say getting to second base is as good an apology as he's likely to get.

And unfortunately, we don't get to see monster softball next issue because they have to do King in Black tie-ins. Or as the preview of next issue's cover describes it, 'Venom Nonsense.' Boo, boooooooooo.

So, that happened. It was OK. It makes me wonder if Elsa couldn't simply have pried the Bloodstone out of her hand and let it sit for a while to get rid of the infection. If the infection was in the stone, and using it infects the person, but taking it away removes the infection, like it did with Elsa, then that would seem like the obvious answer. I guess you could argue Elsa is too attached to it to surrender it willingly, since it's part of her legacy, and I'm not sure what Elsa's got in her life if she isn't killing monsters with the power of an ancient rock.

I'm really more interested by Deadpool trying to run a nation. Hard to see when we're going to get much of that, unless we see him rallying his people to fight symbiotes. Not that I want a lot of minutiae on bureaucracy, but just watching him try to be a leader. He's probably bad at it, but he can care deeply about people, and he'll go to the wall for them, which aren't the worst qualities to have. Certainly better than most of the elected officials here in the United States. 

(Really, could Deadpool be any worse at diplomacy than Trump? I guess if you consider killing foreign dictators bad, then yes, possibly.)

Taskmaster #2, by Jed MacKay (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist), Guru-eFX (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - It's fine, I'm sure Taskmaster has copied how to do the superhero landing if Hyperion lets go.

Taskmaster goes to Coulson's favorite comic shop to copy his kinesics, but is uncovered by his love for Alpha Flight. He tries to bail, but Hyperion shows up, and Taskmaster trying to fight him goes about as well as you'd expect. Fortunately, Fury had himself some Krypto- sorry, Argonite, and Tasky attached it to a Boomerang arrow for the win. Kind of disappointed he didn't go ahead and slit Hyperion's throat. There's like 47 of them running around. Instead of the Captain Britain Corps, the Hyperion Corps. Anyway, that's one of the three down, but Black Widow found Fury's hidey-hole, so she knows who they're after. Oh no, that'd be really concerning if I wasn't still convinced this was all a trick to get Taskmaster to do their dirty work.

Fury and Taskmaster keep calling Coulson "Cheese". Like "Phil"ly Cheese slices? I don't know. Nobody explains it, and honestly, it doesn't matter, it was just weird. I was just grateful Taskmaster is apparently the one person who doesn't like Phil Coulson, and was happy to punch him in the face a couple of times. I knew there had to be someone. (Yeah, Deadpool killed Coulson, but that wasn't personal, he just figured Captain America had good reasons.)

I still think Vitti's artwork is a little too busy, too overdone. Too many little lines, everybody's way too muscular. Like, even Coulson looks kind of jacked, and Taskmaster's practically got Thor arms, which is a little much. I guess since this is supposed to be a sneaky spy thing, so people need to look squinty and weathered, but I feel like maybe don't apply that to Hyperion, who is probably supposed to act like your stereotypical superhero. If he wasn't, he'd had just punched Tasky's head off with the first swing, instead of holding back enough he still hadn't knocked him out after multiple punches. So let him look different.

So, did I like this enough to get issue 3? I don't know. I'm kind of debating skipping Deadpool's King in Black tie-ins at the moment, let alone whether I care enough to watch Taskmaster fight the White Fox. If either book had an artist I liked better, it would be an easier decision, but they don't.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Rainmaker (1956)

Not to be confused with the movie of the same name with Matt Damon and Jon Voight, thank goodness. This one is set on a drought-riddled farm in the early 20th Century Midwest. 

Katherine Hepburn plays the plain (they use that word a lot) daughter, who has not found a guy interested in her, that she's also interested. Her father H.C. (Cameron Prudhomme) insists there's nothing wrong with her, and she's beautiful, and she'll find someone. Her younger brother Jim (Earl Holliman), a hot-tempered idiot, insists that to get a man, she's got to act the way that makes a man want to be got. Meaning act air-headed and compliment their height, or their clothes. Her other brother Noah, played as a sour-faced pragmatist by Lloyd Bridges, says she needs to accept she's just plain, and that she'll end up an old maid. But hey, he's just telling it like it is. Thanks a lot, Captain Bringdown. I see why you're also single.

Into all this comes Burt Lancaster, playing Starbuck, a huckster who insists that for just 100 dollars, he will make it rain within 24 hours. Hepburn and Bridges insist it's hokum, the father and Jim and all for it. The dreamers take it, and Starbuck sets to work. Since he's got 24 hours, he spends some time trying to get Hepburn to like him, too, and when she refuses in the face of his charm, says she's got no dreams in her and that no one will ever like her as a woman, because she doesn't see herself as a woman.

OK, lacking in tact there. No wonder he's had to run from more towns than the guy that sold the Monorail to Springfield. At one point he tells her you have to hold onto dreams, tell yourself it's black, even when your eyes say it's white. Is that what the people insisting Trump won the election are doing? Holding onto their dreams?

Lancaster gets the fun role, dispensing truth bombs and bullshit with equal charm and energy. Hepburn feels wasted, honestly. She's fully capable of being a charming, engaging character, but it's all shrill yelling and self-doubt.

Monday, December 21, 2020

What I Bought 12/18/2020 - Part 1

Pretty good haul this go-round. Out of the 8 books from the first three weeks of December, I found 7 (the last issue of Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists is the lone outlier), and just managing that many comics at all is a minor miracle considering how this year's gone. Figured today we'd look at the last issues of a couple of mini-series.

Spy Island #4, by Chelsea Cain (writer), Lia Miternique (cover/designer/supplemental art), Elise McCall (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - The rare skull-blood fern, which makes delicious tea. Or is it the rare blood-skull fern, which is a deadly poison?

So Louie, the Freud sisters' father, is digging up sunken artifacts off-shore using an army of sand fleas for back-up, and Nora has gathered most of the other secret agent types on the island to stage a scuba assault and bring him down. Quite why that required faking the stupid Brit guy's death, I'm unclear. Why it requires outfitting Brit guy's corgi with scuba gear, I'm also unclear. The mermaids, who are sick of Louie's excavations disturbing their sleep, join in to help, and Nora placates the Kraken (also woken up by all the noise and unhappy) with a bottle of wine, and there you go. Louie's still pretending to be a mime, but now he's running an ice cream stand. Truly a fate worse than death.

I don't know. Being a spy is really about daddy issues, for both women and men? Meetings with estranged parents are always ultimately unsatisfying, because they still have the same flaws that led to the estrangement in the first place? In other words, Louie's still a selfish, conniving asshole. Life is a series of things (or people) you find to do to keep from being bored off your ass?

I did grin at Nora's annoyed 'unbelievable' when Louie tells Connie she's his favorite daughter. And the panel where the mermaids and the sand fleas leave as quickly as possible as the Kraken wakes up. Actually, the panel that shows the Kraken as this enormous eye that looks like matter collapsing into a event horizon or something was pretty cool. Although how the hell did it get into that cave if its eye is as big as the entrance?

And the bits where they're using what I assume is not accurate sign language to communicate underwater. Although I gotta wonder about Connie's wetsuit having the same symbol on it as Louie's knockoff Deep-Sea Doctor Octopus (with flailing tentacles action!) diving suit. I guess it's what they had available. Brit Guy is out there in flippers, a bucket over his head, wearing his swim trunks. I would think the bottom of the ocean is pretty cold, even around Bermuda. Oh well, not like the cold would damage anything important.

Amethyst #6, by Amy Reeder (writer/artist), Marissa Louise (color artist), Gabriella Downie (letterer) - Uh-oh, she's activating Extra-Glowy Hyper Mode. Shit just got real.

Amethyst and her friends try to hold off Dark Opal and his combination throne/spider-mech. Even when Maxixe's people showing up to help, and the folks from Emerald and the Banned she offered haven to, things are going poorly. Especially because the Diamonds decided to play Switzerland (or the United States for most of World War I) and just sit back and watch. Amy is running through all this stuff in her head about the properties of different crystals, and hits on black tormaline, which banishes negative energy. If you say so

Which takes down Dark Opal, and frees all of her people, but also may have wiped out all the amethyst present. If you figure her parents' general shittiness, and the fact their entire people where imprisoned within amethyst, I guess I could see the stone being banished as a source of negative energy. 

Her newfound birth parents are not pleased, but the Diamonds, largely ineffectual Johnny-Come-Latelys they are, are hauling them off for questioning, so tough shit. So Amy's meeting with her parents went horribly. See my comment in the Spy Island review about there usually being reasons for parties being estranged. Lord and Lady Amethyst were conceited, arrogant snobs, only concerned with their status and that hasn't changed. With no amethyst, I guess that makes them kind of a joke, and that's not OK.

But there still seem to be plenty of people who want Amy to be their leader, so that's good for her.

I'd been under the impression people in Gemworld could only do magic through their own types of gems, each with their own specialties and whatnot. If Amy can channel her power through something that's not amethyst, maybe not. Or maybe she's unique. Ugh, I hope they don't turn her into a Lord of Order again. That was such a terrible decision the first time they did it. I would think that the complete dissolution of one of the Houses of Gemworld would be an issue, but as DC has upended everything now, I'm guessing we'll never know.

Most of the time in this issue, Reeder keeps the panels as square or rectangles. Flat, level, thick black borders. But when things start to get more tense, usually when Amethyst is directly confronting Opal, or Opal is gaining the upper hand, Reeder has the panels start to tilt or slant. I don't think there's a pattern to, them tilting one way when Amy gets the edge, the other when Opal does, it's just something I noticed. I did like how Amy throws the gem and there's a tiny "shiiing" sound effect, and then her magic hits and the panel itself is a massive "CHA" effect. Although I half expected the sound effect to continue on the next line down. But I think it's been well-established by my repeated gushing over Marcos Martin that I'm a sucker for those kinds of things.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #145

"How Come Valkyrie Doesn't Get a Cool Adjective?" in The Defenders (vol. 1) #50, by David Kraft (writer), Keith Giffen (artist), Don Warfield (colorist), John Costanza (letterer) 

Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema left the book after issue 41. Gerry Conway wrote the next couple of issues, then co-wrote the next two with Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft. Then Slifer and Kraft did a couple of issues together, and finally in issue #48, Kraft took sole writer duties, and remained on the book for another 20 issues, although several of the last few were co-written with Ed Hannigan. 

After Buscema's departure, Keith Giffen stepped in as penciler for the next 12 issues, his style varying pretty widely depending on if he's inking himself (like the picture above), or it's being done by Klaus Janson or someone else. Then it fell to a variety of artists. Carmine Infantino, Ed Hannigan, Jim Mooney. Buscema returned for the "Defender for a Day" storyline.

Dr. Strange leaves the book, because he feels it's distracting him from his greater duties, and the team relocates to a farmhouse/riding academy Nighthawk owns in the country. Luke Cage bows out, and the Red Guardian returns home because the KGB is threatening her mother's life. It turns out to be some mysterious genius/asshole named Sergei who wants her to be his obedient bride as he turns them into energy beings. Just get one of those anime girl pillows, dude. Or invent them if they didn't exist yet.

(It surprises me that's stuck all these years later. I mean, Busiek used Sergei/The Presence and Tanya in his Avengers run, and as far as I know, it's still the status quo that those two live alone together in the radioactive zone in Siberia Sergei created giving them their powers. Tanya's more interesting of a Red Guardian than the usual model, which is just Soviet Captain America, which is probably not all that different from Mark Millar's version of Captain America, now that I think of it. A jingoistic asswipe.)

It's not all defections, though. Hellcat shows up in the last story before the other three depart, ultimately becoming one of the characters I think of as a core Defender. Certainly more than the Surfer, who hasn't appeared in almost 60 issues by the end of Kraft's run. Namor swings back in because of the damage to the oceans Sergei's work is causing. Moon Knight pops on for one story. Claremont writes a fill-in issue, so naturally Carol Danvers guest-stars.

"Who Remembers Scorpio?" is probably the best known story from this run, as Nick Fury's older brother, stuck in a mid-life crisis and dealing with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy next to his brother, tries to create his own Zodiac of artificial beings to have someplace to belong. It doesn't work. 

After that, it's probably the aforementioned "Defender for a Day", where a college film student and would-be auteur, called Dollar Bill of all things, does a film on the Defenders and claims anyone can join. So a bunch of heroes show up to join, and decide they should capture their new teammate the Hulk (always a good idea). Meanwhile, a bunch of villains run around calling themselves Defenders and committing crimes.

Kraft makes Nighthawk team leader after Strange bows out, to mixed results. Kyle's gung-ho, but struggles to really assert any control, and with his temper, doesn't have the light touch Strange and Valkyrie can use with the Hulk. Val is encouraged to enroll in college and broaden her horizons, which is how Dollar Bill gets in the picture, and is how Kraft introduces annoying antagonist Lunatik, a guy who beats people with pipes and speaks in song lyrics. Where's that damn Elf with a Gun when you need him?

Lunatik's story gets concluded after Volume 3 of Essential Defenders ends, but I recall there's multiples Lunatiks, who are all part of some guy originally from another dimension, and they're connected somehow to the Nameless Ones from the Defenders' creation.

You can definitely feeling Kraft trying to follow in Gerber's footsteps, while maybe not emphasizing the futility of superheroics in a world of problems they can't solve quite as much.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Random Back Issues #50 - Avengers Undercover #4

Even for a guy who wears an '80s aerobics legwarmer over his head, that armband is tacky as shit.

So, for our big 50th Random Back Issue we got, the follow-up series to the much-derided Avengers Arena. Not much-derided by me, but the larger critical consensus was it was terrible. Which gets you a coffee at Starbucks, assuming you have five bucks on you.

The previous issue ended with Hazmat seemingly killing Arcade for what he put her and the rest of them through in that prior series. Even as a huge, huge fan of Arcade, I can't find fault with that act. Only problem, they attacked him in the middle of his new set-up, where people get to pay to slaughter others (or be slaughtered), while other folks pay to watch online. Meaning a whole bunch of people watched them commit murder.

Cammi's the only one thinking straight and suggests they run, but SHIELD naturally shows up and arrests them. For killing Arcade. It's no big, I'm sure they've got Logan locked up somewhere nearby for the 375 Yakuza guys he murdered earlier that week. What's that? Logan is being given a free pass for his frequent murders? Right, right, I forgot. 

Amid the rest of them having awkward greetings with anyone who bothers to visit, Cammi and her mom have a heartfelt conversation where Cammi tells her mother she should give up on her, because mum just got herself shit together, and trying to protect her daughter is only going to drag her down.

I already liked Cammi quite a lot from Annihilation, but Hopeless really cemented it. I have no idea what she's been up to since this series, and I'm a little terrified to look it up. Donny Cates probably killed her in his Guardians of the Galaxy run or something equally stupid.

The kids are magicked away to the fictional villain harboring nation of Bagalia thanks to Daimon Hellstrom, who is in full shirtless villain mode here. Hopefully Patsy Walker doesn't show up. if she sees him like this, she'll probably make another horrible decision. Then Zemo makes a sales pitch for them to join up with what he's got going. Stop worrying about using your powers altruistically, and use them for your own benefit. OK, I'm listening. He does say no one is asking them rob banks or 'man their moon base death ray.' Which implies he has a moon base death ray and if I'm going to be a villain, that's where I want to be.

Besides, less chance of being eaten by Galactus if you're stationed on the Moon.

The kids spend the next issue looking around, and decide the only way to clear themselves is do a big heroic thing. Meaning pretend to join the villains, and bring them down from within. Yeah, no possibility that will go horribly awry, but they're traumatized teens. Their judgment was going to be shit no matter what.

[2nd longbox, 102nd comic. Avengers Undercover #4, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Kev Walker (penciler), Jason Gorder (inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)]

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Big Money - John Dos Passos

The third and final book in his USA trilogy, The Big Money looks primarily at the post-World War 1 United States, as people return home and chase the almighty dollar, and the belief their happiness and success is out there, just waiting.

In practice, this means an endless series of the characters pursuing the same things, again and again, and for it to fail, again and again. They meet someone, are instantly enamored, then just as instantly disenchanted. Or they marry them, and live in misery for years. They chase jobs, money, and leave a string of broken friendships behind. Always justifying it, of course, and shocked if anyone treats them the same way.

So it's a situation where I'm reading about characters I mostly don't like, making decisions I think are stupid, for nearly 500 pages. I keep wanting one of them to figure out that what they thing is a ladder their climbing, is actually just a hamster wheel. They've all been convinced what matters is wealth and status, but they're in a system where they can't really get to it. 

Even when one of them is financially successful, like Charley Anderson, it's a house of cards that comes crashing down with almost no stress. But again, it's hard for me to feel bad for him when it does, because I think he had it coming. He got some success, and immediately began stepping on people, and claiming these folks intended to step on him.

Dos Passos also continues to look at the struggle of labor, through both the Communist movement in the U.S., and just strikes in general. As always, the era of prosperity leaves some people behind, and the people who benefited are in no hurry to address that. Unless you count discrediting the strikers as un-American in the press and giving the police free reign to beat the shit out of them. Not much has changed in a hundred years, obviously.

'And Agnes would tell about the wedding and the orangeblossoms and the cake and how Margie's mother Margery died when she was born. "She gave her life for yours, never forget that."; it made Margie feel dreadful, like she wasn't her own self, when Agnes said that.'

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Don't Let It Behind the Wheel

Reporting on Marvels and Legends starts Year 16! Just a couple of more years and I'll be yelling at it that mid-term elections are too important.

It's weird. I named this blog after the comic store I went to when it started, and now that store hasn't existed for half of this blog's existence. But as The Fortress Keeper once noted, 'at least the store wasn't named Joe's Comics.' Very true.

So what happened in Year 15? Oh right, the global pandemic. Certainly messed with reviews of single issues of comics, with the two-month stretch where there were no new comics. Things have gradually come back, although I keep expecting there to be another shutdown. More out of pessimism than any faith elected officials would do the smart thing and try to look after their citizenry's well-being. 

The tradeoff to that was a major uptick in posts reviewing trades and manga compared to past years. It helps I bought a lot more of both of those. It's been the usual mixed bag of good selections and bad ones. Although with a lot of the manga series, I didn't buy enough volumes to know which they are yet.

Also had a lot more Random Back Issues posts, but I enjoy those. Especially the older comics (which for me usually means the '90s) where there's just a ton going on to discuss in each issue, even if half of it makes no sense whatsoever.

My apartment didn't get wrecked by nature, even if the kids downstairs continue to disrupt my tranquility. But not enough to cause any blips in Sunday Splash Page, which made it from Bone to Steve Gerber's Defenders. My rough estimate at the moment is that by this time next year, I'll be most of the way through the Fs.

Otherwise, things were much the same as they have been. Book and movie posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, some sort of comic-related thing Monday, Wednesday, Friday. For whatever reason, I felt like I had more ideas for random musings or theories than I had the last few years. Not sure why. Maybe the isolation forced my mind to come up with anything it could to stay occupied. Or I've just lost my filter entirely.

Tried to do Sketchtober again this year. It took into early November to actually finish all 29, but I got through them. Some turned out well, some of them are complete garbage. Business as usual. 

Didn't really do much writing with the cast of characters this year, outside of the traditional April Fools and Blogsgiving posts. That's one thing I'm hopefully going to rectify in Year 16. I have some ideas, I just need to focus on them instead of the fanfics I've been working on since November of last year. Or I could try juggling them all at once. Not sure I have the mental energy for that.

I don't foresee ending this blog any time soon, barring either my demise or civilization's. I've been looking at some of the other blog templates, to see if there's one I could use to make the posts wider. That way the double-page splashes for Sunday Splash Page could be a little more impressive looking. I haven't seen one I really liked so far, though. So best to assume Reporting on Marvels and Legends will retain the same look until the day you show up and it's actually different.

Thank you to everyone who reads and comments. Yeah, even the spam comment bots. I delete their comments, but I'll never forget that time they left a note about great casino opportunities in my post about Emma Frost being an unpleasant person. *sniff* It was so heartwarming and sincere.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Finding Steve McQueen

In 1972, five men robbed a bank in California where Richard Nixon was supposed to be hiding $30 million in illegal campaign contributions. the movie suggests this heist occurred in no small part because the ringleader, one Enzo Rotella (William Fichtner) thought Nixon was a piece of shit and wanted to stick it to him. Fair enough. I can't criticize someone for living that spite life.

Four of the men, including Rotella, were found quickly enough by the FBI (the lead agent played by Forest Whitaker). One of them, Harry Barber (Travis Fimmel), narrowly eluded capture, and then went to ground for 7 years working in a movie theater in a small town. Where he met Molly and they fell in love, and now he's confessing all this to her. And that's how the movie is presented, moving back-and-forth between their conversation in a diner, and the events of the heist. Also what Forest Whitaker and his partner, Agent Price were up to. Not sure how Harry knows those parts.

The movie gets its name because Harry's obsessed with Steve McQueen. Tries to look like him, drive muscle cars like him, rents the house the crew stayed in while they were prepping the heist with that name. He's nicer than McQueen is in most of his roles, though. Fimmel plays him as a nervous, over-eager goober. Wants to be helpful, generally nice, tries to look after his brother Tommy, who is back from Vietnam, but seems vaguely spaced out for the entire film. 

(I know he's high part of the time, but I don't want to assume he's always high. We only see him smoking once. I would have liked for the movie to tell us what happened to him.)

Which is useful, in that it makes him likeable, and also, you can believe eventually the strain of living a lie would get to him. He's not Steve McQueen in The Getaway, unflappably cool and ready to gun down anyone that gets in his way. He's just a guy who's kinda clever, and thought crime looked cool.

I don't want to make the movie sound depressing, because it's funny in places. The other guys in the crew are a couple of Seventies stereotypes and watching them bust each other's balls and say dumb shit can be hilarious. There's a brief argument between them and some guys on a nearby golf course that cracks me up.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Working for the Man's Like Venom in Your System

Best Behind the Music voice: 'In an effort to curb his hunger for brains and get his career on track, Venom turned to pills. But what he couldn't see was that in the rollercoaster of his life, those drugs would carry him to new heights, before plunging him to the pits of Big Event despair.'

Back in March I wrote about the idea of having the Black Cat and Flash Thompson run across each other during that stretch where Flash had the Venom symbiote. Probably because of that, I picked up the first volume of his series, written by Rick Remender, with a whole mess of different artist (Tony Moore, Tom Fowler, Karl Kesel, and Sandu Florea for a grand total of one random page in the first issue).

The gist is that Flash wears the symbiote as part of some government agency, and goes on missions to serve America. He's not supposed to wear it for more than 48 hours straight, or it'll bond permanently with him. He carries sedatives to make it more compliant, which doesn't necessarily help if it can take control whenever he starts losing his temper. And there's supposed to be a bomb inside Flash that will kill him if the symbiote gets out of control. The benefit for Flash is that he gets to serve, he gets to be active, and the symbiote acts as legs for him (since he lost his serving in the Middle East during the Brand New Day era).

The first five issues establish the set-up, and put Flash up against a new Crime-Master, who seems like more of an arms trader than a would-be Kingpin. The guy figures out who's wearing the symbiote after they get separated during a clusterfuck of a mission in the Savage Land, and he gets Flash over a barrel with that. 

He's got himself a souped-up Jack O'Lantern as a henchguy, in what's a much more Halloween-themed design. Darker colors, ragged cape, ditches the Pogo Platform for a witches' broom looking thing. It's probably a better design overall than the original, but especially so for fighting gun-toting, sentient goo-wearing Spider-Man wannabe.

Flash wants to be like Spider-Man, so Remender gives him that, complete with Flash lying to his girlfriend Betty Brant about why he forgets important dates and goes silent for days at a time. Crime-Master threatens her at one point, which gets Spider-Man involved, leading to a misunderstanding battle. It is amusing afterward, when Betty is sure she was abducted because of her recent expose on organized crime, Peter's sure it has something to do with Spider-Man, while Flash knows it's about Venom.

The design for Agent Venom is essentially the symbiote making itself look like a combat outfit. It retains the color scheme and the symbol, but it makes itself look like Flash is wearing shoulder pads and boots and the whole magilla. I think that's supposed to be Flash imposing some kind of order on that, probably to help himself feel like a soldier again. Because as his control starts to slip, Moore and the others will draw it as reverting back to its classic look. The teeth start to show up, the musculature begins to swell and the symbiote forms those little tendrils (which I always associate as a Carnage thing, but whatever). The more the symbiote is running things, the more it assumes that form.

I'm not sure whether I want to hunt down the rest of the series. The issues immediately after this trade are a Spider-Island tie-in, and before too long, Remender's gonna leave and be replaced by Cullen Bunn. I have a mixed track record with Remender's work (hated his Captain America run, but Franken-Castle was fun), but I have never read anything of Bunn's that did anything for me.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #144

"This is Your Brain on Steve Gerber Comics," in Defenders (vol. 1) #36, by Steve Gerber (writer), Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson and Mary Skrenes (artists), Klaus Janson (colorists), Joe Rosen (letterer) 

After Engelhart left Defenders, Len Wein was writer for about 10 issues, most notable for adding Nighthawk to the roster, plus the story where Magneto got de-aged to an infant (which got him off when he stood trial for his crimes later, on the grounds this was a different Magneto). He was then replaced by Steve Gerber, who had a roughly 20-issue run that seems to be the one all Defenders' writers are judged against. 

The Elf with a Gun being a popular part, that Gerber apparently intended to just be random, chaotic violence, rather than some big thing. There's also the Hulk possibly murdering a couple of hunters for killing "Bambi's mom." Which ultimately leads to a sequence where Chondu the Mystic's consciousness is trapped within the deer, while Chondu's brain is in Nighthawk's body, under the control of Jack Norris' consciousness, and Nighthawk's brain is floating in a bowl, going slowly mad.

Namor and the Silver Surfer are absent throughout, so the core roster is Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Valkyrie and Nighthawk. Or put differently, Dr. Strange and three children. Nighthawk's the rich kid who's never bothered to examine anything or think past the surface. Val isn't sure exactly who she is, and the Hulk is the biggest, strongest child in the world. Placid and helpful one moment, angry and lashing out at anyone who tells him "no" the next.

Beyond that, Gerber works in Hank Pym and Daimon Hellstrom off-and-on, and Luke Cage (who already showed up late in Wein's run) and the Red Guardian (world-class surgeon Tanya Belinksy, who I feel like Doc would have courted if this were written today) are constants for the last several issues. Which gives him the opportunity to explore different responses to societal issues, given Belinsky comes from the Soviet Union, and believes in collective responsibility and effort, and Cage has seen very little to suggest society is going to help him, and does his heroing on a cash basis.

And so the Defenders encounter racists, the need for prison reform, income inequality, housing discrimination, questions of individual rights and responsibilities versus the needs of society. And they are, of course, mostly ineffectual at combating these things outside an individual case basis. They're lucky if they can keep from getting hopelessly entangled in those problems, like Valkyrie helping incite a prison riot.

The drag on the run is the presence of Jack Norris, former husband of Barbara Norris, who makes up some part of Valkyrie. Jack seems to start thinking "Valkyrie" is just some weird phase Barbara's going through, and then switches to the notion it's like amnesia and she just needs the right jolt to remember and go back to being the woman he remembers. When he's not doing that, he's hanging around ostensibly as the audience (or perhaps writer) stand-in. Meaning he yells at the Defenders about how they're screwing up this thing, or not paying enough attention to this other thing he thinks is important.

I know comics bloggers prefer to rag on Terry Long as being some unholy abomination of a character. Not having read much Wolfman/Perez Titans I can't comment, but Jack Norris is just shrill and annoying. How he got away with this Peter Gyrich, pompous windbag act without getting thrown into orbit by the Hulk, I don't know. Credit to him for not giving up easy, but one of the high points was when I thought Nighthawk had gotten rid of the guy by paying him enough to get lost.

Sal Buscema's there to make the punching that happens occasionally to break up the talking look impressive. It seems a little strange to have an artist that excels at fight scenes where everybody's throwing haymakers on a title where the writer keeps emphasizing the limited utility of that fighting, but Buscema handles it fine.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Random Back Issues #49 - The Punisher (MAX) #44

Well if they did that, then there wouldn't be any more Punisher comics, and you wouldn't like that would you? Oh, you would? Well, take your complaints to Marvel, I'm just a blogger.

Get with the good times, it's Garth Ennis' Punisher run! So consider that your obligatory violence and profanity warning. Today we're looking at the second chapter of the Widowmaker arc, where five mob widows decide that if all the men are too incompetent to kill the Punisher, they'll do it. The only progress on that front here is that they figure out one of them is dyslexic, so she's no help going through the police reports. But, she can fuck the guy that's going to give them weapons, so hey! Teamwork! Also, they conclude Frank has a bit of a white knight complex when it comes to abused women (having read up on his actions in "The Slavers" arc three storylines ago), and that's how they'll trap him.

But the story starts with Frank visiting a suburban home where the parents film porn, using their children. Frank is understandably not happy about this, and well, you see how it turned out for those two. He at least insisted they show him the set-up in the basement, while the kids stay in the living room, used a silencer, and called the police to come collect the children after. Ever the optimist, Frank thinks the daughter might be young enough to have a chance. As for her two older brothers, Frank has 'a sinking feeling. . . I'd be seeing them again in twenty years.'

I'm most surprised Frank thinks he'll still be alive in twenty years.

Part of what Ennis does in this arc is compare and contrast Frank with some other would-be vigilantes. One is a cop, Paul Budiansky, who Lan Medina clearly based on Samuel L. Jackson. It's not quite Mike Deodato using Tommy Lee Jones as the model for Norman Osborn, but it's real close. Paul ignored orders and went into a school where a student was killing other kids with machine pistols, and shot the kid. Now he has to meet with a psychiatrist, who Paul feels is just trying to use him as material for his next book, and that he's only here because his Captain is mad he bucked orders and can't find another way to fuck with him.

He also says telling people they're traumatized might keep them from dealing with their problems, one panel after insisting he will deal with this by having nightmares and drinking whiskey. That's about what I'd expect from a Garth Ennis character, and I can't tell whether we're supposed to think that's macho bullshit, or cheer Budiansky on. Probably the second, after he concludes by telling the doc she's 'just another racist bitch.'  

At least he has his wife for support and to assure him he's nothing like the Punisher. Sure hope nothing traumatic happens to her! He might not have enough whiskey to go with the nightmares.

The other vigilante is after the five widows themselves, for reasons that aren't made entirely clear for another couple of issues. The only progress on that front, is a guy tries to pick her up outside a cafe and she blows him off, telling him he seems like a nice guy, and that's why she doesn't want him anywhere near her. Also, she's listening in on the widows plan from the next table over.

As arcs in this series go, it's one of the weaker ones. It's 7 issues instead of his usual six, and there really isn't enough there to justify it. Wedged in between the "Man of Stone" arc that preceded it, and the rematch with Barracuda that comes next, it isn't nearly as strong.

[8th longbox, 230th comic. The Punisher (MAX) #44, by Garth Ennis (writer), Lan Medina (penciler), Bill Reinhold (inker), Raul Trevino (colorist), Randy Gentile (letterer)]

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ghosts of War (2020)

Five American GIs get assigned to hold a French chateau the Nazi High Command abandoned. Naturally, the Nazis committed atrocities there, so the former inhabitants are now pissed-off ghosts. As the GIs accept that's a problem, and not them hallucinating, they decide they need to try and help the dead rest. Sure, the ghosts killed the shit out of some Nazis that showed up trying to retake the chateau - always fun to see - but they don't seem particularly fond of the Americans, either.

That is a solid premise for a decent if unexceptional horror movie. The GIs are mostly broad strokes - the bookish one, the sniper that seems a little off, the fresh-faced lieutenant, the big guy - and maybe not totally stable. They blow a Nazi jeep at one point and the big guy finds the one still able to stand and demands he fistfight him. Meanwhile the sniper is taking the gold teeth out of the dead Nazis. Which he presents to a Jewish mother and son they see fleeing somewhere as part of a procession, but still. The movie also seems to almost forget about one of them for a while. So you aren't too surprised when he dies, since it doesn't seem like they had anything else for him.

There's a hint of mystery about the story, about the soldiers. Maybe it's just stress of war, what they've seen, and maybe it's something else. Some of them are acting secretive. Could be a lot of reasons why. Movie does a lot of jump scares and bits where you see something indistinctly in the background while the character isn't looking. Because you aren't sure just how the ghosts feel about the Americans, there's an uncertain element that makes it interesting. Can they figure this out before they all die?

Then in the last 20 minutes, the movie goes completely stupid, and I am going to spoil it, because it deserves it.

The soldiers are actually from our time, or something like it. They were serving in Afghanistan, meant to pick up a doctor that had been helping locate ISIS members for drone strikes because his cover's blown, when ISIS guys showed up in enough numbers the five of them stood by and let the family be killed. Except for the mother, who tried to blow the five of them up and also cursed them as she died. They were placed in some kind of virtual-reality simulation with each other to help their minds heal. 

Except, because of the curse or something, they actually carried the angry ghosts of the dead family with them into the simulation, and the ghosts are killing them in there. Somehow. The lieutenant is the only one who somehow wakes up to be info-dumped all this by the doctors, and he goes back in so he can save the others. And that's basically where the movie ends. Him waking up around the same campfire as at the start, staring at a shadowy figure smoking a cigarette and watching him. I don't know if he even remembers that he's in a simulation.

Holy shit, that completely tanked that movie for me. Like, it's actually impressive how fast it caught on fire and careened off a cliff.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

It's a Joke, but I'm Not Sure Who It's On

I think the X-Books may have finally finished their X of Swords event thing. The titles out this week and next don't say anything about it, so finger crossed.

Watching from the outside, through the few scans I see online, it just seems like such an odd duck. I'm not clear why their island nation is fighting the other one (that I think is run by Apocalypse's kids). Possibly over rites of transit? That would make at least as much sense as a cause as what usually drives these events. Or why Otherworld and Saturnyne (or however the fuck you spell it) is involved. Unless the route they want to use runs through Otherworld. Never been clear on how that lines up with regular Marvel Universe. Alternate universe? Multiversal hub? Sub-level of the same universe? 

I kind of hope she's just taking the piss on the whole thing, which seems not too far off. I mean, they make this big deal about getting the swords, and then most of the contests have nothing to do with swords. It's arm-wrestling competitions between Illyana and a giant lizard guy, or Doug Ramsey in a dance-off. Wolverine did fight some guy to the death, but when he killed him, that meant the other guy won, because he actually died.

Admittedly, Logan's 'You got to be fucking kidding me.' reaction is kind of funny.

Saturnyne told Brian Braddock she'd award the tournament to the X-Men's side if he just slept with her. Jeez lady, at least hold out for someone better. Brian refused, because he's married. I can respect that. Logan couldn't, but Logan is also extraordinarily judgmental for a man with a higher body count than several small wars. At any rate, that sort of offer doesn't suggest she's taking this all that seriously.

Which is fine, since it's hard for those of us that have been hanging around Marvel Comics' output for years to take it all that seriously. But it's an odd approach for the writers to take. The first big event since Jonathan Hickman's new direction, and it's basically dumped the X-Men into a reality TV show.

This whole thing is going to end up being Mojo's doing, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

DeepStar Six

As far as "'80s movies about weird crap at the bottom of the ocean", I assume The Abyss is at the top. A few rungs down from that is Leviathan, and several more rungs down from that, would be this thing.

A crew at the bottom of the ocean is supposed to be installing some sort of nuclear missile launch sled, but the place they planned to set it is over an enormous cavern. In a hurry to meet deadlines, the lead guy says just blow up the roof of the cavern and build on its floor. Which unleashes a 10-meter long arthropod that begins killing the crew.

The movie is at least smart enough to only show bits of the creature for most of the film. A gaping set of mandibles, or one giant claw. I'm not sure it should have been able to follow the escape sub to the surface without dying from the pressure change. Doesn't that happen to giant squids and some deep-sea fish when we haul them up?

There's one interesting subplot concerning the character Snyder (played by Miguel Ferrer), who has clearly been down there too long. He's under strain, and wants to get back to the surface, and nobody really seems to care too much. Maybe he's always a surly guy, but as people start dying, more responsibility gets placed on him, without any support, and things go badly. He cuts corners, doesn't call people to confirm decisions, because everyone is yelling at him to just get it done, and he ends up making a bad decision that makes escape near-impossible. Then he freaks out when the creature gets inside their station, which hey, understandable.

Of course, then the movie decides to have him steal the main escape pod and abandon the rest of them, only to die horrible because he didn't go through decompression first. So any credit I might have given it for showing that pressure gets to people, and it isn't fair to place all blame on one guy who wasn't helped, get promptly thrown in a barrel and sent to the bottom of the sea.

Monday, December 07, 2020

What I Bought 11/28/2020 - Part 3

Well lah dee da, look at the book that wasn't on its first issue or its penultimate issue. How fancy.

Sympathy for No Devils #2, by Brandon Thomas (writer), Lee Ferguson (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer) - This guy is like one of those cartoons about the baby that keeps wandering into danger while some poor dog gets injured trying to save it.

The issue starts with Winston chasing some crook on what passes for an elevated train in this world, while somebody else - presumably his assistant that hates him - monologues about how terrible Winston is and how much he's hurt everyone around him. We learn later that the crook was the last person to see their colossal murder victim alive. An examination of the large corpse reveals it's supposed to look like he was killed with a laser pistol to the head, like the victim 3 years ago, but his stomach contents say different.

The victim's wife, the blue lady from last issue, shows up, and she and Winston pretend not to know each other. Winston leaves to interrogate the guy he caught, the scene skips forward several hours, someone is dead, and the Mayor, who is a glowy lady, shows up with goons who kick the shit out of Winston.

There's a lot being left hinted at or unsaid. Probably to use for shocking reveals later. Maybe I shouldn't be assuming it's Winston's assistant narrating. Could end up being someone entirely different. I'm curious is the Mayor is the one who gave Winston his gifts, since it didn't seem to help when her goons started beating him.

Ferguson likes these sort of oddly-cut together panel layouts. Some of them work, some not so much. The back-and-forth panels between Win and Raleigh investigating this corpse, and doing so three years ago, yeah, that's easy enough to follow. 

But there's a page where Win gets knocked off the train and one of its legs (or giant hairs) grabs his ankle and swings him under the railway so he can grab another and swing back up. Ferguson does that as a 16-panel grid, but some of the panels at the top of the page are of a building that wouldn't be visible until Win gets back up on the train at the bottom of the page.

I think he's trying to give a sense of location, establish the building as Win awkwardly makes his way up around, but in practice, it's three panels of nothing, really. I'm left wondering at first glance what the point was. Interesting attempt, though, I guess.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sunday Splash Page #143

"The Fish, the Ghost, and the Hood Ornament," in Defenders (vol. 1) #2, by Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (penciler), John Verpoorten (inker), John Costanza (letterer)

Welcome to Defenders December (and early January)! Most of my Defenders stuff is in Essential volumes, so it's black-and-white for the next several weeks. Marvel decided they should have another team book, except all the remaining popular characters - Hulk, Namor, Doctor Strange, and the Silver Surfer - are unsociable weirdos. Hence the alleged "non-team".

Steve Englehart's workaround in the first year of the book seems to be having missions or crises that flow into one another and force those four to hang around. Namor is nearly sacrificed to the Nameless Ones in issue 1, narrowly saved by Strange and Banner. Namor claims he was ambushed by the Surfer, so they go hunting for him in issue 2. That leads to the Nameless Ones, and ultimately Strange's (and the Hulk's) attempt to help Barbara Norris, which leads to both Valkyrie's recreation, and eventually the Black Knight being cursed to become a statue. Which leads into the Avengers-Defenders War. 

Basically, there aren't many breaks for any of them to say, "Nuts to this, I'm outta here!" Namor does, eventually, take off, and Strange drags him back with magic. The sea king takes that with as much grace and good humor as you'd expect.

Englehart also tried to combat this by adding characters that really didn't have anywhere else to go. Banner, in the moments where he's in control rather than the Hulk. The Surfer, occasionally. But mostly Valkyrie, who isn't sure who or what exactly she is. Len Wein does the same with Nighthawk not long after, who nearly dies standing against Nebulon the Celestial Man and the other members of the Squadron Sinister. Hawkeye, too, for a hot minute, during one of his stints being angry at the Avengers but having no real drive.

Sal Buscema's the penciler, with a variety of inkers over the course of a run that extends beyond Englehart or Wein's tenures. And you pretty much know what you're going to get with him. The art's clean and straightforward. Big, dynamic poses and punches, combined with conventional layouts and in-panel staging. Nothing flashy, but he makes sure you have all the information you need to have as a reader, and that it's easy to follow.

Friday, December 04, 2020

What I Bought 11/28/2020 - Part 2

Wednesday was for books that were just starting. Today's for books that are almost done, but not quite. Just like how my work week is, well no, I'm off work by the time this post goes up. But you get the idea.

Spy Island #3, by Chelsea Cain (writer), Lia Miternique (designer/supplemental artist), Elise McCall (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Pretty sure my 9th grade geometry textbook looked like that. 

Most of the issue concerns why Connie and Nora's father is on that island, disguised as a mime. The answer, witness protection, and because apparently he's too recognizable in any identity other than a mime. Also, Nora tricked a mime into being her father for his death, so hopefully the mime shows up in the last issue as kills all of them as revenge.

Further muddying the waters, Nora killed the guy in the first issue and pinned it on a mermaid specifically to bring her sister here to do an autopsy where she could find a message addressed to her inside the corpse, and ask for her help killing the James Bond knockoff. Or faking his death, I don't know.

OK, so this seems stupidly, unnecessarily elaborate, and I'm unclear of the reason why. But OK, needlessly elaborate schemes shouldn't be a dealbreaker for me. But it hasn't given me a reason to care. So Nora developed a better relationship with her dad once he was pretending to be a mime who helped her with burying bodies? The book's spending so much time trying to show how clever it is - oh a page that's supposed to be the comics page of the local newspaper! - it's not doing much to make the case sufficiently fleshed out to where there's any sense of real stakes, emotionally or otherwise.

Is the whole point going to be that nothing that all these intelligence agents are doing on this island matters in the slightest? So it doesn't matter why Nora's going to such lengths to get Connie's help or kill/fake kill the British guy? It's just something to while away the time?

The last issue came out this week. I'll probably read it to see if this ends up making any sense, it probably won't, and I'll chalk this up as a learning experience. One I will not actually learn anything from, of course.

Sera and the Royal Stars #9, by Jon Tsuei (writer), Audrey Mok (artist), Raul Angulo (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - This is why you don't give your children implausibly large anime swords. Pretty soon your soul ends up trapped inside.

Sera has an ominous dream, but gets good news when her mother and sister arrive on the flying bird-dog thing. They head for a temple where Fomalhaut and Aldebaraan are waiting with the Light's End. Which they can't use, because it's power takes control of them and pushes them towards the extreme end of their natural mission and purpose. Regulus tries and doesn't do any better. Great, an ultimate weapon no one can use! Maybe they can bluff with it like Reed Richards does with the Ultimate Nullifier.

But they gotta use it, because the Draco siblings are trying a last ditch play to kill the Royal Stars now. And it has to be Sera, making the right choice about what she wants to use the power for. Protect what's left rather than avenge what's gone, I guess. See how that goes next issue.

It's always focusing on what you still have that stories say is the right play, rather than what's lost. I guess the reasoning being, if it's lost, then there's nothing to be done for it. On the other hand, if it's lost because someone took it, willfully, cheerfully, took it to hurt you or someone else, I think there's got to be a reckoning for it. "Bygones be bygones" is what the asshole who delighted in bullying you says when the shoe is on the other foot. So I wonder if she'll have to decide whether to spare the Dracos or not, and what she'll choose. Especially if her sister of mother die during the fight.

Angulo uses the same shades of red and writhing shadows when Sera first tries to grab the sword as in her dream at the start of the issue. Detailing the option the sword leans towards. Focus on the loss, the anger. Give in to the hate. Only instead of a creepy old man in robes with a face like a Dick Tracy villain, it's a big angry sword. Most of the backgrounds in the issue are soft blues and purples, so the red and black overwhelming everything makes for a nice contrast.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

To Catch a Thief

I have never watched this the whole through, strange given my enjoyment of both Hitchcock films and caper films.

Quickly, Cary Grant is a retired jewel thief, cleverly called The Cat, who is suspected of getting back in the game after a series of heists on the Riviera. So he does get back in the game, to try and capture the copycat, with the assistance of an insurance agent. He ends up following a wealthy American widow (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter (played by Grace Kelly), the latter of whom is excited once she figures out he's a burglar. You know, until she thinks he robbed her mother.

How fickle.

It's weird, because the banter between Grant and Kelly is entertaining, they play off each other well, but I did not buy the moment where she says she's in love with him. It didn't feel earned, they hadn't been around each other enough. Actually, I probably would have bought it between Grant and Landis more, since they seemed to hit it off right from the start.

It's not a long movie, but it feels like it takes a while for Grant to actually start trying to catch the true thief. Most of that is Hitchcock laying groundwork. That Grant was a thief, but he, along with several other guys, received a parole because they worked in the French Resistance during World War 2. And so those guys aren't happy, because if he's off the wagon, they all go back in. The French government, a bastion of compassion and gratitude. Maybe they're just embarrassed these guys did a better job resisting the Nazis than they did.

So there's a reason for the slow start, but it is still a slow start. I can see Cary Grant being glib in any movie.

I like the use of, I'm guessing a green filter over the camera, to make it seem dark for the nighttime scene, but not so dark you can't see what's going on. Some of those older movies, you can barely tell what you're looking at.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

What I Bought 11/28/2020 - Part 1

Had five comics left over from November that showed up over the weekend, so let's look at them as we kick off the last month before we escape this twisted hellscape of a year. Today's focus is two first issues. One is a tie-in to an event, always a dodgy proposition, while the other is already been optioned to be a TV show.

Kaiju Score #1, James Patrick (writer), Rem Broo (artist/color artist), Dave Sharpe (letterer) - Ooooh, look how he has his jacket casually slung over one shoulder. So cool. In 1957.

Marco has a plan to steal a bunch of paintings from a museum. To deal with less security, he plans to pull the heist during a giant monster attack, which he is sure is going to happen because the fish the kaiju likes are migrating earlier this year due to climate change. Well, well, look who reads Scientific American. He has a little trouble getting a crew, because while he dreams big, he tends to fuck up the small details, so his rep is shot. 

Plus, the idea of stealing things while in close proximity to a giant monster seems questionable.

So he ends up with an equipment guy that's on his own string of bad jobs, and a safecracker who is too good for this nonsense. If it was actually her, and not another woman who killed her and took her place. The loanshark bankrolling things is the bottom of the barrel, and insists on sending his shaved Wookie of a goon (who seems to hate Marco), along. So, you know, no chance things can go wrong.

Still, the concept is interesting. Caper and heists are something I'm into, and Patrick's writing has some good lines in there. Although everyone's constant attempts to one-up each other on the threats and insults could get old eventually. At least it isn't strictly about how many curses someone can throw in the sentence, fun as that can be.

Broo's characters tend to be just exaggerated enough to look a little strange, but not inhuman. Gina and Marco seem to have impossibly long, thin arms sometimes, enough I notice, but not enough it throws me out of the story entirely. Some people are just proportioned weird, you know? The loanshark has the nice suit and the cane, while having skin the color of a cadaver, and his goon has one of those stupid topknots. Because of course he does. So each character feels like a sort of archetype or stock character, with just enough emphasis to make them sort of distinctive.

Power Pack #1, by Ryan North (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I know it's not great if you don't want to be tracked, but I always like characters who leave some kind of cool trail when they fly.

The story opens with Katie showing her siblings the comic she made detailing the origin, which she intends to gift to their parents for their 25th anniversary. The others talk her out of it, although it sounds like Katie is only willing to hold until Christmas, so not much peace gained there. During dinner, the Boogeyman is reported as attacking an orphanage (because he eats children, apparently, Jesus Louise Simonson) so Katie fakes a bathroom disaster and the kids sneak out to stop him. Then their battle is interrupted by the newest ridiculous acronym in the Marvel Universe, C.R.A.D.L.E. (fucking seriously?), who are here to arrest children for interrupting a hard-working industrialist's attempts to extend his life at the expense of the younger generation. I mean, to arrest them for fighting crime while underage. 

It sounds as though the law went into effect that very evening, but this is the same universe where SHIELD agents tried to arrest Luke Cage like 30 seconds after the Registration Act went into effect. When all he was doing was sitting in his apartment, not even fighting crime. So, you know, authorities in the Marvel Universe are always doing their best to be assholes.

I'm going to assume Ryan North is not taking this "Outlawed" event seriously. Between the "Boomer Dinnertunes FM team's" 'unexpectedly thorough breaking news bulletin' detailing the Boogeyman's origin and personality defects, Katie insisting she needs all her siblings' help with a clogged toilet, and that character summary of Boogeyman, plus his demand to just be allowed to eat some dang orphans. Which is fair, because again, C.R.A.D.L.E. This thing is probably best mocked relentlessly before it even begins.

I do, however, look forward to the Power kids kicking the crap out of these jackbooted scumbags with their tasers, bullhorns, and stupid armored assault vehicles. Leon's clean, expressive style works with North's delayed punchlines and gags, and his kids look like kids. Although I guess Alex might almost be an adult. They mentioned something about him getting artificially aged-up, and I don't know if that's from his time in space with the Future Foundation, or something else, like from back when he was in the New Warriors and bogarting all the powers.