Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #151

"No, No, It's Hitman, Not Human," in The Demon Annual #2, by Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist), Gene D'Angelo (colorist), Steve Haynie (letterer)

Tommy Monaghan's first appearance, and the first comic in the Hitman: A Rage in Arkham trade my lone issue of Batman Chronicles came from.

Monaghan had the misfortune to be created in the Bloodlines event, which Steve Dillon describes in the introduction to this trade as a crossover designed to create a swarm of heroes and villains to run up the flagpole, and see who got saluted. Most of the characters were lucky if they could get a one-finger salute. 

The conceit, as I understand it, was aliens (like the large fellow up there) showed up wanting to feast on human spinal fluid. And sometimes when they did this, the person got superpowers. Glonth there feasted on a mob boss, Bob Dublez, Tommy was supposed to kill, then took a bite out of Tommy. Tommy got x-ray vision and telepathy out of it, plus a bounty on his head from the mob boss' conjoined twin sons.

I mean, he didn't even kill the guy, and a bullet to the head probably would have been better than a giant alien bending you over a table and jamming a Xenomorph-like extendable inner mouth into your spine.

Jason Blood, as you can imagine, wants no part of this bullshit, but too bad. Glonth showed up at a wine tasting Jason attended, and he and Etrigan are soon sword-fighting in the street, using police cars for swords. Etrigan shows a measure of precognition I didn't know he had, hinting to Blood about Hitman's role before Tommy's even been bitten.

Jason attends the funeral for the boss, knowing there'll be trouble. Etrigan just wants a fight, and some chaos. Glonth shows up, declaring Dublez had the best tasting spinal fluid ever, and he wants to see if the sons, with a super-sized conjoined spine, will taste even better. I am completely serious about that. Tommy shows up planning to kill Moe and Joe Dublez and get the price off his head.

Visually, McCrea pretty much has Tommy's design set from the word go. He does rock a red scarf or neckerchief during all his appearances in The Demon, I assume for a splash of color. That's gone by the time he shows up on Batman Chronicles and his own ongoing, but everything else is there. Sean Noonan is pretty much set, although Pat looks much more like a strung out junkie here. 

In terms of Hitman's personality, there's farther to go. Tommy's smartass tendencies don't really appear until he shows up in Etrigan's ongoing, and his whole code about not killing "good" people isn't apparent. Not that there's anyone in this comic he would feel qualified.

Friday, January 29, 2021

April's an Unusually Promising Month

I haven't bothered to go back and check, but April 2021's solicits felt like the best for me since at least early last year. It's a kind of an unusual distribution, though. Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Boom were all busts. DC, too, although I noticed they've added a couple more ongoings. Damian Wayne got a Robin ongoing, so I guess they're just ignoring that whole bit where Damian tore the "R" off his uniform. What a shame.

Instead, it's split between Marvel and several of the less-prolific publishers. Marvel, we've got Black Cat getting closer to the big heist, and the second issue of the Black Knight mini-series. Power Pack is wrapping up, and Iron Fist will be up to issue 4. Runaways is supposed to ship for a second consecutive month, or perhaps third since issue 32 didn't show up this month. I will believe it when I see it. Any time now, Marvel. No sign of Deadpool, other than a trade collecting issue 7-10. So maybe they canceled that book already. I also didn't see what should be the last issue of The Union listed.

There are a couple of new things I'm cautiously interested in. Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn are doing an X-book called Way of X, starring Nightcrawler. Does my trust in Spurrier, and affection for Nightcrawler, outweigh my unease in the whole "Krakoa" thing? It almost certainly shouldn't, but yeah, it probably will. There's also a Darkhawk one-shot with three stories by different creative teams from different parts of his history. Again, probably a bad idea, but yeah, I'll get it. It's a one-shot, what the hell. I saw a solicit one place about another Marvels series by Kurt Busiek and Yildray Cinar that as one person put it, could be "Kurt Busiek writes whatever he wants." It isn't listed under Marvel's solicits on the Previews' website, though, so I don't know. If it shows up, I will probably get it.

So that's up to 8 books, potentially, even without Deadpool or The Union. But it didn't end there. Red 5 has the third issue of White Lily. Behemoth Comics has Damian Connelly's You Promised Me Darkness. It's about two brothers, who were among those given powers by the most recent passage of Halley's Comet, who are running from some creature that wants to feast on those powers. It could go a lot of ways, but the fact that Halley's Comet returns on a predictable schedule theoretically within a normal person's lifespan seems to offer some possibilities. The other single issue thing was Locust, by Massimo Rossi and Alex Nieto. A plague turned most people into giant locusts, and this uninfected fisherman tries to get his mother out of New York City. That's a pretty solid hook, so I'm in.

Then there were a few collections I was sort of considering. Aftershock has a complete collection of Garth Ennis and Keith Burns' Out of the Blue, about World War 2 air combat. I don't typically get war comics, the ones I've inherited from my father's collection aside, and I know Ennis phones that stuff in some times, but eh, I might consider it. There's a GN through Black Panel Press called Corsair, by Tarek Ben Yakhlef and Vincent Pompetti. A crew of French privateers find a genie who promises them three wishes, and this results in them pursuing a treasure across the southern seas. The color on the cover looks like watercolors. I'm leaning more to that one than the Ennis/Burns book.

And then there were two manga volumes. Vertical has Volume 8 of Kino's Journey. I'm only up through issue 4. Then Seven Seas has the second volume of something called Berserk of Gluttony, about someone with "Gluttony" as a magical skill, who finds out if he kills someone he eats their skills and grows stronger. It's unclear if he has to actually eat the person, or if killing them is enough. I don't know if it's supposed to be a horror manga, or something else. Again, not sure if I would try that, but it's something that caught the eye.

So hey, maybe the long fallow period is coming to a close.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Gifts of the Crow - John Marzluff and Tony Angell

Corvids are exceptionally intelligent birds, and what Marzluff and Angell do in this book is look at the different sorts of behaviors and attitudes different corvids display, the ability to make tools or adapt, and discuss how their brains develop those reactions or insights.

Most chapters begin with an example of the type of behavior they want to discuss, then spend some time talking about which portions of the brain and nervous system would be involved. If there's been any field experiments or laboratory testing done, they'll discuss that. Then the chapter usually swings back around to a few more examples to use to drive the point home. 

Like ravens learning a short stick can be used to retrieve a longer stick, then using this skill to get the proper tool to get some food. How does that work, what seem to be the limitations?

The authors did a study where they wore one type of mask while they captured and banded crows, and another type when they brought them food. Then they'd anesthetize them and do an imaging sequence to see which parts of the brain were showing recent activity. But once the crows were released back on campus, they or their students would occasionally walk around campus wearing one of the masks to see how the birds react. Apparently the captured crows regale their buddies will tales of their imprisonment, so even crows who weren't captured know to be on the lookout for that particular face.

The most interesting part of that was even in the mask was worn upside-down, the crows could still recognize it as the same face. Sometimes they would even turn their heads upside-down to make certain of it, then begin scolding.

The anecdotes and the field study parts interest me more than the neurological side, but they do provide an appendix with several cross-section diagrams of corvid brains to help illustrate what they're describing, which helps a little. Mostly it's fun to read about all these things crows, ravens, and jays do to thwart dangers, get food, or seemingly just to amuse themselves.

'Try calling a dog without moving your tongue or lips. Unless you are a ventriloquist, the dog is likely to look at you with a confused, pitiful expression. Yet talking crows mimic precisely the nuances of our speech simply by adjusting the muscles within their throats.'

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What I Bought 1/20/2021 - Part 2

When I went to bed last night, the forecast was we might get half an inch of snow this morning. By the time I got up, they were saying it could be 3 inches. Wonderful, although this is easily the most snow we've had this winter, so I shouldn't complain. But I did anyway.

Black Cat #2, by Jed MacKay (writer), C.F. Villa (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - It's pretty impressive if she can control her hair so it doesn't set off any of the tripbeams.

Eager to get back to her regularly scheduled stealing, Felicia's gonna go rescue Dr. Strange from a big ball of symbiotes acting as his prison. Which involves her wearing a version of the Anti-Venom outfit to protect her long enough to follow Strange's ghost dog into the ball, slap another of the suits on Stephen and get him out. Then it's time for an escape in the old Spider-mobile across the rooftops while being pursued by dragons. 

Sadly, the Spider-mobile does not survive, and it's looks like they're caught. Felicia brought along something the dog assured her would give Strange enough oomph to end this, but the doctor is out. As in, cold. Unconscious, and Dr. Korpse isn't having any luck waking him up, as he is a, 'blowing-things-up doctor!' So Felicia decides to use it, "it" being a piece of wood from something magical from Asgard. We've seen Felicia's luck powers bail her out against a sorcerer, now we get to see her on the other side of things.

For being a tie-in to a thing I don't care about, MacKay, Villa, and Reber are doing about as well with it as I could hope. Keep the heist focused approach. Make it wild and take advantage of the fictional setting. Give Felicia opportunities to think about how much she hates symbiotes generally, and Eddie Brock specifically, based on her long history with both. I mean, I've enjoyed the first two issues of this, which I wouldn't have bet on going in.

The page where Felicia gets herself and Strange out of the prison, the first panel is a circular one in the upper left where they're still outside. The eye gets drawn right to the panel of them breaking clear, and then the panels just go down the page along the curve of the circular panel as Felicia and Strange fall. Like they're descending past the gooball prison. It's too bad her Anti-Venom look wasn't more interesting, but the precedent's set on those being basically palette-swapped versions of a character's normal look. Not too much you can do there. Villa added a little cat face in the center of the chest, but somehow the way it's shaped reminds of one of those creepy hairless cats.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


Jason Statham plays a veteran who escaped before he could be court-martialed and took to living on the streets back in England. While running from some goons who extort the homeless for rent one February night, he falls into the apartment of a photographer who is out of the country until October 1st. He takes advantage of the situation to get his life together for 9 months so he can look for a friend of his who also ran from the goons, and when she's found murdered, seek vengeance. He also sorta courts a nun who helps the homeless in the area, and tries to help his estranged wife and daughter.

It's not a happy movie. You find out late in the film what he did to be facing a court martial, it's not a case of someone being railroaded for taking a principled stand. He has bouts of PTSD, although I don't know how accurate a portrayal his hallucinations are. The money he uses to buy pizzas and takeout for the homeless guys, that he sends to his wife, that he uses to buy the nun a nice dress? Is pay for being an enforcer for a bunch of drug runners and human traffickers. He only knows how to deal with things with violence, can only hope using money he earned doing evil to help others will make up for it. Not a great long-term strategy, and he knows it.

As he puts it at one point, "they" sent him up a mountain and told him to kill, what did they think would come back down the mountain? I think that perspective informs his approach. The idea that anyone might be able to help him, or might want to, is foreign to him. He knows he's a lousy person, and dangerous, so he tries to make himself not dangerous the only way he can think of. Maybe he's right. I imagine the court martial probably sends him to prison, rather than some place equipped to help him process trauma. They either didn't think he'd come back down from the mountain at all, or they expected he'd be quietly broken, only harming himself, easily ignored.

I was left wondering at the end whether, overall, he did more harm than good during the nine months he put himself back together. Maybe on a micro level, for a couple of individuals, he helped. But on the macro level, with everything he did for that crime syndicate, probably not.

Monday, January 25, 2021

What I Bought 1/20/2021 - Part 1

Only three comics so far this month, but I did manage to find all of them last week. I was even able to find the specific covers I wanted for the two where I had a preference. Take the small victories. Gonna look at the two mini-series today, save the one ongoing for Wednesday.

The Union #2, by Paul Grist (writer), Andrea Di Vito (penciler), Le Beau Underwood (inker), Nolan Woodward (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - If you're gonna kneel over someone's defeated body, you could at least look at them.

The remainder of the team's fight against the possessed guards ends quickly, and badly. The Choir gets possessed - because apparently sound isn't a problem for symbiotes anymore - and Union Jack gets decked. By the time he wakes up, the bad guys are off to the nearest town, wreaking havoc in an amusement park. The symbiotes are destroyed by Jack jamming a sword hooked to a generator into a bunch of water - because apparently symbiotes are vulnerable to electricity now, fantastic - recovering Choir and saving that particular, limited day.

Then the rest of the team tells Jack they're leaving, because they were only in it for Britannia, and they're not stoked about taking order from "Union Jack". To make matters worse, Jack learns that if he can't produce a team to lead, he's in violation of some contract he signed with the government, and he's going to jail. At least according to some shitbag PM that acts as liaison. I'd question how likely that is to happen - you just lost several more heroes, you want to throw one of the few you got left in the pokey - but given the whole Brexit thing, I'd say Britain's government doesn't deserve any more benefit of the doubt than the United States'.

Well, we got to see a little of what the new characters could do, which is something. And I do like the tension between Jack and the rest of the team. I'm curious though, if you took him out of the picture, would the other three get along, or are they only united in the face of the symbol of England? I don't have any idea how well Scotland, Ireland, or Wales work together when left to their devices.

I like The Choir's design, with the scarf across the lower half of her face, although I thought it was a little funny the symbiote even covered the scarf where it hangs off her. I guess that means you can't just grab it to try and swing her into a wall, but it seemed like overkill. Overkill, in a Marvel Event tie-in about symbiotes overtaking the world? The hell I say! I wish Kelpie had a look that suggested "water demon" more than generic spandex. I know she's supposed to look like a superhero, and something streamlined is probably smart for a water manipulator, but it's a little underwhelming compared to Choir and Snakes.

Iron Fist: Heart of Dragon #1, by Larry Hama (writer), David Wachter (artist), Neeraj Menon (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Aja can't keep a monthly schedule to save his life, but I like the guy's work.

Danny's Randall Gate has been modified by a guy named Fooh to be able to travel to the other Heavenly Cities, so they do a test run to the Under City and finding under attack from undead ninjas on horseback. Danny's asked to protect the dragon, and finds Taskmaster has killed it an stolen its heart. Now I like Taskmaster, but that seems. . . improbable. Him beating Danny and escaping, not nearly as improbable. Back in New York, Luke is babysitting the future Iron Fist, Pei, and a baby dragon (the one that so liked Felicia in that issue of Black Cat). Then Lady Bullseye shows up with more undead ninjas, but Iron Fist and Fooh's return makes her run. In the meantime, though, someone killed Tiger's Beautiful Daughter and her city's dragon, too. 

Why does Tiger's Beautiful Daughter seem to draw the short straw on this stuff? She was the one that Davos beat down, and now she's the one that gets killed. Let Dog Brother or Bride of Nine Spiders take turn. Or John Aman.

I'm not sure it isn't just Hama's writing, but Taskmaster seems off, in terms of dialogue. Oddly formal, even when he's boasting or talking trash. 'Might I remind you that I am fighting you to a standstill without the use of my left hand?' It makes me wonder about possession, but Luke also uses the word "obstreperous", which is not one I'd see him using casually with friends. More like something he'd use with someone who was talking down to him. But I'm not up on Luke Cage's current status, so who knows. It's fine, just odd. 

At any rate, I definitely appreciate that Hama just dives right in. Danny's gonna visit a city, oh crap, it's under attack! Dead dragon! Luke Cage punching undead ninjas! Shit's going down! Screw decompression and lots of build-up via talking! Larry Hama and David Wachter know you want to see action!

Wachter goes a little heavy with the extra lines on characters' faces and the shading, but overall, I like his work. There's a good flow in the action sequences, where you can read how one action leads into another, and it leads the eye across the page naturally. He took an intermediate approach on Danny's costume between the classic with the really high collar and the shirt open to the navel, and Aja's more streamlined version. It leans towards the classic look to be sure, but the v-neck isn't as deep, the collar's more restrained. 

I wish Menon would brighten the colors up a bit. Maybe in the Under City, which I'm guessing doesn't get much sun, it makes sense for things to be drab, even for a "heavenly" city. But back in New York, I feel like the colors could pop a little more.

Minor quibbles aside, I have a good feeling about this mini-series. Getting excited to see the rest of it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #150

"The Logical End Point for Televangelists" in The Demon (vol. 3) #42, by Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist), Stu Chaifetz (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)

Etrigan's third go at an ongoing lasted almost 60 issues, the first 40 of which were done by Alan Grant and, for the first couple years, Val Semekis as artist. I don't own any of those, and from what I've seen there's far more Lobo in those issues than anyone should be exposed to. What I do have is 8 issues of Garth Ennis and John McCrea's run. All of which, not coincidentally, are part of storylines that involve Tommy Monagahan, aka Hitman. 

We'll look at his first appearance next week, but focusing on this stretch, it feels like Ennis really ramped up the animosity between Etrigan and Jason Blood. Not that either of them was ever happy with their arrangement, but here it's really played up that Etrigan has amused himself by torturing Jason Blood at every opportunity. That he has more than once, over the centuries they've been bonded, done things so awful it broke Blood's mind for decades. Meaning Etrigan had free reign to do whatever he wanted, because Jason couldn't summon the will to tell him no.

That continues here, as Blood's hopes of having some semblance of a happy life with his lady friend Glenda are dashed by Etrigan accepting an offer to be "Hell's hitman", which will send him all over the world killing demons. When it turns out Glenda's pregnant, that too is part of Etrigan's plan to destroy Blood once and for all. It backfires on him spectacularly, and gives Jason the upper hand. 

That leads to Blood, who is enjoying the hell out of his moment, letting Etrigan out with the oath, 'Gone o little man so tame, arise the demon whathisname.'

(Blood will eventually lose that upper hand due to Tommy's desperation, but in Tommy's defense, Blood also stiffed him on his $2 million for shooting Merlin in the head first.)

Ennis' Etrigan is gleefully cruel and violent, but it's overlaid over a lot of anger and hurt that comes out if anyone crosses him. He's like a particularly moody teenager, yelling about how no one knows hate and pain like him.

McCrea goes an entirely different direction with Etrigan from basically any other artist I've seen. Most of them default to Jack Kirby's bulky, muscular Demon. Sort of the conventional superhero build. McCrea makes him this jagged, almost emaciated looking creature. He has muscles, but his wrists and joints are all thin and bony, his ribs are visible, his shoulder blades jut out, his neck can be unsettlingly long. His clothes fit on him in a way that reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character somehow. It's a very unique look to be sure.

If I remember right, the run ends with some particularly angry archangel taking control of Heaven and deciding to try and destroy Hell once and for all, and Etrigan pulling himself out of a funk to lead a defense of Hell. I assume it succeeded, but I don't remember for sure.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Random Back Issues #51 - Daredevil #263

Matt, you're going to get so much self-flagellation material out of this fuck-up.

It's a new year. Last year's purchases have been added to the boxes, some stuff has been culled, and things got redistributed a little bit, so let's see what we get randomly this year. First up, part of Daredevil's tie-in to Inferno!

We just missed the issue where Daredevil is nearly strangled to death by a demonically possessed vacuum cleaner, after Typhoid Mary had a bunch of people he'd fought recently kick the shit out of him. Then she took him to the hospital so she could twist the knife (figuratively) on Karen Page. Twisting the knife (literally) will be left to Mysterio. Karen flees and seems to embrace the demons' offer to fall back into her heroin addiction.

Matt gets up and running again on some instinct, after his possessed life-support equipment was either trying to save his life, or eat his heart. Maybe both. He's wrapped up like a mummy, down to his boots, part of his mask, and his costume is basically a pair of Daisy Dukes. But that's not gonna stop him, as he heads below the streets, where a subway train is possessed and ready to take a bunch of people to their next stop. No, not Shea Stadium, someplace even worse.

Elsewhere, Typhoid is rocking a nice new helmet and cape as she informs Fisk that Daredevil isn't dead. Kingpin's not too pleased, but Typhoid is, since she can kill him again. And, you know, she's sort of in love with him. Fisk insists she stay with him, and Typhoid just laughs. I appreciated the way that Fisk wanted Typhoid to turn Matt/Daredevil inside out, attack his heart, and while she did that, she also did it to Fisk, too. Now he wants Typhoid, the way Matt wants Mary. And Typhoid enjoys getting the reactions out of both of them.
She lets in a demon I don't think is Mephisto, who she describes as Wilson's boss. Fisk denies this, claiming that he's the boss. The demon counters that Fisk sold them his soul years ago. 'A small thing. A tiny soul - an intangible worthless thing - worthless to you, that is.'

Daredevil's attempt to use the controls to stop the Hell-locomotive predictably fails, so he climbs outside and tries to steer it via its horns. It works, and they reemerge on the surface, all the passengers carried gently back to Earth while the demon, a thing of 'A thousand eyes a thousand teeth a thousand horns and spikes a thousand horrors' grabs hold of Daredevil as they crash roughly in the street.

It spits hellfire at Matt, designed to burn the soul, little realizing the power of Catholicism means guilt only makes Matt stronger. As long as he can avoid confronting what he's guilty about, that is. DD takes it head on, his billy club growing as he does, until he hits the creature between a couple of its thousand eyes and sends it packing back below. Laying bleeding in the street, he's approached by one of the local kids, Butch, who tells him the legal clinic was closed by the cops, and that Karen's gone, her and Matt's flat burned. Butch is sure Matt betrayed her (true), and then vanished somewhere (not yet).

The next issue is unconnected to Inferno, about the Owl using a bunch of punks who think he's passe to rip off a bunch of cocaine shipments so he can get real wings, and a baby a bum found a few issues earlier getting caught up in. Drawn by Steve Ditko. I'm not doing the tonal whiplash justice, especially when they go back to Daredevil wandering New York in a haze, beating the crap out of demons in the issue after that. A couple of issue later, he does flee NYC for over a year. During which he fights the Blob and Pyro, kills the craziest Ultron ever, and fights Mephisto in Hell, among other things.

[3rd longbox, 54th comic. Daredevil #263, by Ann Nocenti (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Al Williamson (inker), Max Scheele (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer)]

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Lost Islands - Henry Stommel

One of a few books I got at Christmas after reading The Undiscovered Islands last spring, this one is more grounded in facts. Rather than including islands from antiquity that were rumored to house strange beasts, Stommel focuses on islands that were described since the Age of Imperialism kicked off, that were eventually removed from major nautical charts.

It's a drier read, as Stommel talks quite a bit about the difficulties in determining longitude, and how those errors cause a lot of confusion and mislabeling of the same island multiple times. So, you know, not exactly gripping reading at times. On the other hand, he also discusses some of the reasons people thought they found islands when they didn't. Only a few of them are related to people trying to make a name for themselves and banking on their fraudulent claims!

But sometimes icebergs can appear very different at a distance, depending on the light. Some of the theorized islands were based on some reporting they saw "discolored water", which I'm assuming means water with sediment in it, which would have to come from land. There's reefs and shoals that can produce unusual water patterns. Most interesting was one Stommel heard from a friend of his, where he was convinced one night they were headed right for an island, and it turned out to be a nighttime rain squall. The clouds and the rain in extremely dim light looked like cliffs apparently. That was pretty cool.

There's several general maps, some just showing where islands supposedly were in relation to other, actual islands. Some of them are old ship's logs showing the courses a captain believed his crew to be taking while they searched. You can tell he really did his research, although it's still a short book, about 150 pages.

'In the spring of the year 1783 a volcanic island was thrown up from the sea in the neighborhood of Iceland, and according to the Danish Captain Von Loewenorn, the crew that witnessed its birth thought at first that it was the end of the world, but since they heard no trumpet and the sun continued to shine, they decided Iceland itself had exploded.'

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Grow Up and Set Aside Ninja-ish Things

There's an entire channel on Pluto TV devoted to just Ninja Turtle cartoons. Which is right up there with the channel for just American Gladiators on the good ideas list. Especially if you just want something playing in the background*. 

Anyway, so ninja turtles. There's been several cartoons and I don't know how many different comics over the years. And I was thinking, have any of the turtles ever decided to just, stop doing the ninja thing? 

Most of the origins I remember say Splinter (whether he was a rat that became humanlike after exposure to mutagen, or a human who became ratlike after exposure to mutagen) found the four little turtles, and raised them and trained them in martial arts. 

(I assume there is some Discourse out there about how Splinter is the real villain because he raised these four turtles from babies and turned them into soldiers and assassins, and Shredder is actually the good guy who takes in troubled people and gives them a clan to belong to. Because this world is a hellscape, and other people are the greatest source of suffering on it.)

Next thing you know, they're fighting ninjas, guys with a disturbing amount of metal accessories, squishy brain aliens in exo-suits, giant talking alligators, all kinds of shit. Time travel, space travel, fearful and violent humans.

At some point, one of them had to say "Enough," right? I'd assume either Donatello or Michelangelo, if only because they're the two usually depicted as having the most other interests outside martial arts. Donnie could probably cheerfully go into engineering or computer programming, and Mikey would pursue an X Games career or become a professional gamer. Raphael and Leonardo strike me as enjoying fighting too much, and being too devoted, respectively, to ever abandon it.

I don't know of it ever happening, though. I vaguely remember Mikey being captured by the government and experimented on in the '90s Archie Comics series (which is the only one I really bought), and he might have been blind for a while because of that, but I'm not sure he stopped entirely. I mean, if you figure the Turtles were originally playing off Miller's Daredevil run, they can't very well let being blind stop them.

But I figure there have certainly been deaths, brainwashings, severe injuries that may have taken one of them off the board for a time. But in terms of simply looking at the life they're living, seeing it's not the life they want, and doing something about it? Not that I know of.

I don't know if they all just love it too much, or if they feel too much loyalty. That walking away would feel like turning their back on their brothers and their father/teacher.

* Although that's been less necessary the last week since the neighbors downstairs and their extraordinarily loud kid moved out. It is 200% quieter in this building now just from that kid not slamming their door 70 times a day, no exaggeration.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2020 Comics in Review - Part 5

So this is the point where I compare and rank the different series and titles against each other. As always, the "best" stuff is restricted to things I actually bought. So if you don't see something you love, well, you knew what was up for consideration after the first four posts.

Favorite Ongoing Series (minimum 5 issues bought):

1. Black Cat

2. Sera and the Royal Stars

Honestly, I'm not even sure what qualifies. Like, is there going to be more Wicked Things, or were those six issues it? Allison is doing more Steeple online, but I haven't read it, and I don't know how to count it. They didn't ship enough issues, but what are Kaiju Score and Sympathy for No Devils?

The only other series I'm certain would count is Deadpool, but. . . yeah. That's not in the running. So it's Black Cat, which had five issues I loved dearly.

Favorite Mini-Series (at least half the issues shipped in 2020):

1. Canopus

2. Wicked Things

2. Amethyst

So I'm counting Wicked Things as a mini-series, because that's what I know it is until I see different. I gave Canopus the nod, despite loving Allison and Sarin's work because I found the story much interesting. Allison's a smoother writer for dialogue and humor, but the plot for Canopus was a lot more gripping, and Chisholm's art worked for his story. Amethyst would be a distant third, narrowly ahead of Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists on the strength of Amy Reeder's artwork.

Other than those, there were again very few options. Spy Island and Broken Gargoyles were both disappointments. Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage kind of laid a dud at the end, which killed it for me. Taskmaster and The Union didn't ship enough issues. Not that either would break in based on what I've seen so far. Ditto for Sea of Sorrows, and I'm not sure about Kaiju Score and Sympathy for No Devils.

Favorite One-Shot:

1. Hedra

2. Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir

These are the two options, other than Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler, which is not in the running, seeing as it was yet another regrettable mistake on my part. I wouldn't say either of those two books were great, but Hedra was more interesting to look at, so that gets it the nod.

Favorite Trade Paperback/Graphic Novel (anything purchased in 2020 is fair game):

1. Raule and Gabor's Isabellae volume 1

2. Koren Shadmi's Highwayman

3. Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad: Collected Stories

I decided to split manga out from everything else, just to narrow down the choices. Isabellae had a nifty story about family and duty, wrapped up in some cool supernatural stuff and beautiful swordfights. Highwayman was about a guy wandering around, trying to determine what his purpose was, which is usually going to get my attention. And Blacksad is just really good noir stories.

Other than that, it'd probably have been either Star Power volume 2, or maybe one of the All-New Wolverine volumes I bought. Probably the Civil War 2 one, on the strength of that Squirrel Girl team-up issue.

Favorite Manga (anything purchased in 2020 is fair game):

1. Kino's Journey volume 3 (Iruka Shiomiya, Keiichi Sigsawa, Kouhaku Kuroboshi)

2. SandLand (Akira Toriyama)

3. Dirty Pair Omnibus (Haruka Takachiho and Hisao Tamaki)

When you boil it down, sometimes I just want comics where people beat the crap out of each other in either creative ways, or where it's at least drawn in a creative way. Volume 3 of Kino is the title character getting sucked into a tournament for a country where it grants you the right to make a law if you win. SandLand is more adventure than fighting, but you know Toriyama can draw a fight scene when he wants to, and he can do comedy too. All Dirty Pair comics are just stuff getting blown up and people dying, and this omnibus is no different.

Favorite Writer:

1. John Allison

2. Dave Chisholm

3. Jed MacKay

I know I put Canopus ahead of Wicked Things, but I figure Allison wrote two different things I really liked, and Chisholm only wrote one. I liked Black Cat a lot, but Taskmaster has not been entirely working for me, so he lands behind the both of them.

Favorite Artist (minimum 110 pages):

1. Max Sarin

2. Dave Chisholm

3. Audrey Mok

I love Sarin's artwork. It's lively and funny and expressive, and she can exaggerate if you need it for comedy, but it's not an all the time thing. She can do somber if you need that. I'd be curious to see Chisholm's work on another book, but he had a knack for memorable visuals, which was critical for his story, since it's supposed to be about a character being confronted by all their repressed trauma. With Mok, I just really like the sense of design for characters and outfits.

Monday, January 18, 2021

2020 Comics in Review - Part 4

With so few comics, there were fewer artist than usual that hit the unofficial 110 page cutoff I keep track of for the hell of it. Dave Chisholm made it 110 with Canopus, Audrey Mok got to 122 with Sera and the Royal Stars, and Denys Cowan ended up at 130 pages for Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage. Ultimately, first place was a tie between Amy Reeder (Amethyst) and Max Sarin (Wicked Things) at 132 pages each.

Other than that, the only person who made it within 20 pages was Elise McCall with Spy Island. Wendell Cavalcanti got to 88 with Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists, and that's pretty much it. There's usually at least one artist that pops up on more than one book, but that didn't really happen here. C.F. Villa drew issues on both volumes of the Black Cat, but the second volume is basically just a continuation of the first, so that probably shouldn't count.

Spy Island #1-4: It's a spy story, obviously. Set on an island, obviously. Where a lot of spies hang out. And there's stuff going on, and mermaids are involved, or being implicated, and that has to get sorted out. Chelsea Cain was the writer, and Elise McCall did most of the art with Rachelle Rosenberg handling color work, although Lia Miternique handled some of the other pages, like the drink menu and the undersea map.

High Point: The part where they use a sort of sign language underwater, and the translations that go with it in issue 4 was kind of funny. There's a few gags like that in there that are worth a chuckle. I liked the covers, especially the one that looks like my geometry textbook. Even though I hate geometry.

Low Point: I really don't get what the creative team was going for here. It doesn't feel quite like a parody, but sometimes it does. The parts that seem like they're supposed to have emotional heft, don't have the necessary groundwork to pull them off.

Steeple #5: Geez, it feels like this came out 100 years ago, not 1. The final issue of John Allison's mini-series (with Sarah Stern as colorist and Jim Campbell as letterer) about a curate coming to join a parish. In the final issue, Billie decides to embrace Satan instead, right as Maggie decides it's time to go back to being good. Look ladies, this ain't a hopscotch court, this is the ultimate war between good and evil. No hopping back-and-forth! I read somewhere last week that the story is still going online, so I probably need to check that out.

Sympathy for No Devils #1-3: The last human alive gets called in by his old partner to investigate the murder of a giant in the exact same place a different giant was murdered three years ago. And of course, there are people of influence who want the investigation dropped. Brandon Thomas writes, Lee Ferguson draws, Jose Villarrubia colors, and Simon Bowland letters.

High Point: Luck powers are always cool, and Ferguson has some fun showing how they help Winston out of a few jams. I'm curious about the actual murder mystery. What's the percentage in killing these giant dudes? There's clearly a lot of backstory we gets hints of that's intriguing.

Low Point: The actual murder mystery feels like it's continually being forgotten to focus on relationship drama, or how much Winston's secretary wants to kill him. It seems like the killer will just be revealed near the end of the last issue, and there won't have been any build-up or actual detective work. Wouldn't mind some of the main cast being a little less human looking, more bizarre body types. They're also in that "Star Trek alien" category, but it doesn't feel as though it fits in a world that's supposed to be so much stranger than Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists.

Taskmaster #1 and 2: Taskmaster is framed for Maria Hill's murder, and Nick Fury's gonna help him not get killed by the Black Widow, if Tasky helps him unlock some special box thing. I'm still convinced Hill's faking (first clue being the notion anyone would give a shit she got killed), and I don't love Alessandro Vitti's artwork, so at present, this is running a solid third place among Taskmaster mini-series (behind the Udon Studios one and the van Lente/Jefte Palo one). Oh well, Jed MacKay gave me Black Cat, he's still running ahead for the year.

The Union #1: Originally, it was supposed to be an Empyre tie-in mini-series. With all the delays, it turned into a King in Black tie-in mini-series. But hell, I'm buying it because I was curious to see Paul Grist write a Marvel comic. And while Andrea DiVito's artwork almost certainly better fits Marvel's Big Event aesthetic, I'd have been really amped if Grist drew the thing, too.

We Only Find Them When They're Dead #1: I tried this on a whim, but the first issue was too much set-up and not enough forward progress on anything actually interesting. Plus, I don't really like the neon color scheme they had going.

Wicked Things #1-6: The other John Allison written thing I bought this year, with the Giant Days' art team of Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar there as well. Charlotte Grote gets framed for murder at the Teen Detectives Annual awards show, and until the police can either clear or convict, they put her to work for them, while keeping her in some sort of parole house with an ankle bracelet. Charlotte doesn't find the real killers, or even get started on it, but she at least gets her name cleared.

High Point: Allison and Sarin make a really good team. Allison has a knack for these great one-liners or observations, and Sarin excels at drawing facial expressions and body language to go with them. Charlotte describing the duck-face selfie as 'getting ready to say prunes, but don't think about anything while you do it,' cracked me up.

Low Point: I would have liked more progress on the actual murder, but I assumed that's being saved for if Allison turns it into an ongoing series at some point. I didn't really like any of the cops in the supporting cast.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #149

"Skies Over Istanbul (Now Constantinople)" in Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, by Tony Cliff

Delilah Dirk is a series of, so far, three stories taking place in the early 19th Century, focusing on a young woman who runs about having adventures, stealing, occasionally helping people for a good cause (and a little coin). The first GN, from which the above is taken, tells the story of her meeting and eventual partnership with Erdemoglu Selim, the Turkish lieutenant in question. Selim is mostly quiet and studious, and enjoys tea, but finds he enjoys the near-constant travel and madcap excitement that occurs wherever Delilah Dirk goes. 
Delilah has a lot of enjoyment at his discomfort with the two-fisted heroics, and Selim enjoys tweaking her a bit when she goes off half-cocked. She has a tendency to get caught up in her own ego, and he has to rein that in occasionally. Cliff introduces enough different variables as he goes along to keep the interactions interesting.
The subsequent two books, The King's Shilling and The Pillars of Hercules, make a little more use of the historical context of the time period (other than her ship being able to fly, things are generally historically accurate, near as I can tell). The tensions caused by the Napoleonic Wars and increasing struggles for dominance between the major European powers begin to factor more heavily into the stories. Not overwhelmingly so; Delilah is largely unconcerned with politics. Even when she's falsely accused of aiding the French, she's less concerned what her accuser (the real traitor) is doing, and more that he besmirched her good name. It's a personal issue for her.

The books were released over a five-year span, so you can track the changes in Cliff's art over time. Delilah's face gets rounder, the nose a bit less prominent. There's fewer sketch lines, just in general the art looks more confident in itself. Cliff allows himself more opportunities to draw some interesting locales and landscapes on a full page. The progression of action in the fight scenes gets clearer, and he gets a bit more creative with how the eye is drawn around the page. It's fun to see if you read the books in rapid succession.

The third book came out in 2018, so I'm kind of hoping we'll get a new volume this year. Maybe they'll travel to the Far East, or the Americas.

Friday, January 15, 2021

2020 Comics in Review - Part 3

I was looking back all the way to when I started keeping track of new comic purchases, meaning 2006, and this year combined third-party publishers finally passed DC, 376 to 347 (Marvel's at 1257). None of the individual publishers are close to DC, obviously, with Boom holding a narrow 76-71 lead over IDW. Then Dark Horse at 59 comics, and Image at 47. I haven't bought anything from Red 5 since 2014 and it's still in 5th place at 30.

Hedra: Jesse Lonergan wrote and drew this one-shot about an astronaut who sets out in search of life that can be transplanted on Earth to help revive it. Unlike in Canopus, the astronaut ends up helping rescue a cosmic entity who gives her the power necessary to help Earth. It's interesting most for the design approach, with Lonergan working mostly in a 5x7 panel grid that he modifies as necessary. A lot of empty panels, or panels with a single line arcing through them to show the trajectory of a spaceship or some other movement. It's a minimalist story, no dialogue, but it's fun to see how he guides the eye around the page and plays with the grids.

Infinity 8 #18: This was the third and final chapter of the sixth storyarc, with Franck Biancarelli as artist this time. They send a customs officer out with an archaeologist/smuggler to investigate the space mausoleum, and while it seems like they get the answers they need as to its purpose, there's the disturbing fact they find the corpse of the archaeologist floating out there, while he's still very much alive. On to the 7th iteration then, although after this, the publishing switched from Lion's Forge (which merged with Oni Press) to Magnetic Press, and they skipped directly to hardcover collections.

Kaiju Score #1, 2: Using a kaiju landfall as cover for stealing some nice paintings. Except the crew is a bunch of screw-ups that don't trust each other, and the guy that planned it always misses one key detail. James Patrick's dialogue is snappy enough for some good lines, and Rem Broo's art is lively, if maybe a little exaggerated to the point the characters look like they're mugging for the camera sometimes.

Locke and Key - In Pale Battalions Go #1, 2: Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez went back to World War 1 for this, as one of Locke sons decides to take the keys and sneak off to Europe to fight in the war. Gotta get those Huns, dontcha know. This, of course, ended horribly for his family and though I didn't buy the third and final issue, it didn't end well for the kid, either. Surprise, surprise. It was just so obvious the kid was being a moron and it was going to bite him in the ass it was hard to care.

Power Pack #1, 2: Part of Marvel's sort-of forgotten event Outlawed, where the authorities decide to only act in a totalitarian manner towards teenage vigilantes. It feels more like Ryan North just wanted an excuse to tell a fun story with the Power Pack. So he pretty much acknowledged the event as much as he had to in issue 2, and my hunch is he'll ignore it from here on out. Which is absolutely fine with me. I'm not sure his tendency for repeat gags necessarily plays to Nico Leon's strength as an artist. Leon's stint on Ms. Marvel showed a real knack for fun background details, and all these little panels don't lend themselves to that. But he's got a good grasp of kid expressions, so it's working.

Question - The Deaths of Vic Sage #2-4: Jeff Lemire's story with Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Sotomayor, of Vic Sage learning that he's been fighting a losing battle against some sort of shape-shifting demonic thing for Hub City's soul across multiple lifetimes. But now he thinks he's got a chance to end it and save the city once and for all. He's wrong.

High Point - Cowan and Sienkiewicz' art is always a plus. Sotomayor keeps the color scheme atmospheric, but not so dark and gloomy you can't see anything, which seems like it could have been a real problem with Sienkiewicz' inks.

Low Point - I didn't love the ending. I get that it's no good to show that all the systemic ills can be cured by just punching out one bad guy. That wouldn't address all the underlying issues that feed into the problems. But if that one bad guy has been working to make things worse, to crank up the pressure because it benefits him, then stopping that guy does mean something. But Lemire treats it as Vic's just been wasting time when he should have been doing more as a reporter. Right, because the press is doing such a great job these days. Lemire's never written anything that's really worked for me, and this didn't break the streak.

Rogue Planet #1: Speaking of writers whose work never does anything for me, here's a mini-series written by Cullen Bunn, with Andy MacDonald and Nick Filardi on art and color duties, about a salvage crew landing on a planet that simply drifts through interstellar space. They aren't the first to visit, and won't be the last to die there I imagine. But, as usual, Bunn's writing just leaves me cold. The dialogue and the characters never pop for me, and MacDonald's not an interesting enough artist to make me stay.

Runaways #32: The first issue of a new storyarc, after the kids' attempt to be conventional superheroes fell apart from their mentor being an awful creep. So they're just trying to figure out what to do next. Rainbow Rowell does have much happen in this issue, but she kind of summarizes where the characters are at the moment, and I like the combo of Natacha Bustos and Dee Cunniffe on art. If only the book would come out more than once every other month.

Sea of Sorrows #1, 2: What is with all the first and second issues only? Horror story about a bunch of disreputable folks trying to get a bunch of gold out of a German submarine on the bottom of the ocean. Except some of them are carrying their own demons, and there's a siren lurking that's starting to get hungry. Alex Cormack's art on the undersea parts is nicely dark and terrifying, but I don't know if I care about Rich Douek's story enough.

Sera and the Royal Stars #6-10: The second half of Jon Tsuei, Audrey Mok, and Raul Angulo's story. All the Royal Stars are together, but they're having trouble getting on the same page as Sera, and they needed to figure it out while they still had enough strength to do anything.

High Point - I really like issue 7, where the Demon Star Algol tells how she was able to kill the First Light when it was running around wiping out worlds. I mean, you kill a star by building a giant sword made of metal for a star's core and stab it with it, creating a black hole? That's pretty fucking metal. I liked Mok's designs and artwork for all the characters, how each group of stars had their own motif. And I like how Tsuei writes Sera as not always able to set aside her emotional impulses, like wanting to go help her family.

Low Point - Given how slim the pickings are these days, I wouldn't mind this book still being around so I had something good to read every month. And maybe I'm still not clear on how the Dracos managed to mess with the Royal Stars power so much, if the Royals are such hot shit.

One more day of looking at the different series to go, but not until Monday. Basically a bunch of mini-series. Some good, some disappointing, some still too early to tell.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

2020 Comics in Review - Part 2

As you'd expect, comic purchases were down significantly this year for me. 73 new single issues. I think trades and manga were up slightly, but not by a huge amount from some previous years. Marvel was, as usual, number one in purchases, at 22 comics, or just over 30%. A new low on both counts. DC was at 10 comics, or 13.7%. That total is its highest since 2017, and it's highest percentage since 2015, when it was 25 out of 124. All other publishers combined for 41 comics, or 56.16% of the total. It's the highest percentage, but both 2018 and 2019 beat it for total.

Broken Gargoyles #1-3: A "dieselpunk" story in 1925, it revolves around a disfigured World War 1 veteran who hijacks a sort of mech thing, and one of his former infantry mates who offers to try and hunt him down in exchange for a reward. But like Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists, it really seems to be the first chapter of a story. Unlike that comic, it doesn't feel like it offers any sort of conclusion to anything. Bob Salley wrote it, with Stan Yak handling most of the penciling and inking, and colors mostly by Mike Nugent.

Canopus #1-4: Dave Chisholm did the writing, art, coloring, and lettering on this mini-series about an astronaut who seems to be the only survivor of a crash landing on an alien world that had a valuable element the Earth needed. She needs to fix her ship, get some of what she needs and go, but the planet is insistent on dredging up a lifetime's worth of emotional trauma and abandonment issues.

High Point - Some of the visuals and forms that Helen's memories take on the planet are really creative. Some are heartbreaking, and a few are just freaky. The bit with her father, even before it goes really wrong, is presented in a way that makes it obviously bad news, but you can still understand why Helen doesn't figure that out. The way Helen would rather focus on anything but the weird shit felt extremely real. And I like the shift in the color scheme of the world. How the longer she's there, it becomes more vibrant and less realistic for what appeared to be a dead world.

Low Point - I guess you can kind of see how it's going to end from a long way off. That's not terrible, Chisholm makes it work. And I don't think the story was about giving us some big twist, as much as it was about Helen getting what she needed, and that being very different from what she thought. But it's as close to a complaint as I can muster.

Deadpool #2-8: Kelly Thompson made Wade king of Monster Island. Chris Bachalo (and a shitload of inkers) drew the opening arc where Kraven shows up hunting monsters. Kevin Libranda draws issue #6, when Deadpool decides the mutants are hoarding the cure for cancer and forces his way onto Krakoa. Gerardo Sandoval seems like the new regular artist, having drawn a one-shot issue where Deadpool tries to corral an unruly adolescent kaiju, and a three-parter where Elsa Bloodstone suckers Wade into a dimension of bone-eating creatures to save her own neck. David Curiel colored the Bachalo issues, Chris Sotomayor handled that for Libranda and Sandoval.

High Point - Wade sneaking his way into Krakoa and causing all sorts of problems, mostly just because he's mad he didn't get an invite. I still contend there's no way having Deadpool on your island nation is more disastrous than having Mr. Sinister. Or Mystique. Apocalypse. Magneto. Sabretooth. I could go on for days. But hey, Deadpool threw a tiny shark at Storm's face, which was pretty hilarious. Having Elsa Bloodstone in the supporting cast definitely seemed like an appropriate choice.

Low Point - I'm not sure what Bachalo was going for, but the panel layouts with so much unused space, and strange, difficult to interpret close-ups, did not work for me. At all. Which I knew was a risk, since Bachalo is always hit or miss with me. He's one of those artists that just gets too far into his style sometimes, and it loses coherence (Daimon Scott's like that for me, too.) I'm not sure Elsa's actually working as a supporting cast member.

Fantastic Four - Grimm Noir: Gerry Duggan, Ron Garney, and Matt Milla did this one-shot where Ben investigates the disappearance of a singer who lives across the street, and ends up in D'Spayre's realm, put through a host of nightmares. I don't know why exactly this exists, but it's fine as a done-in-one story about Ben accepting he's got a lot more crap bugging him than just being a rock monster. Garney and Milla give it a grainy, steeped in shadows look so that Ben's terrified blue eyes really jump out at you.

Giant-Size X-Men - Nightcrawler: Nightcrawler takes a small team of X-Men to investigate some weird stuff in the remains of the old X-Mansion, and finds an infestation of some alien bugs that must be from an outer space adventure I don't remember. This thing would really be more accurately titled Giant-Size X-Men - Cypher, since Kurt really doesn't do much of anything. I figured Alan Davis drawing Nightcrawler was worth putting up with Jonathan Hickman's writing, and I was wrong. Oops.

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey #1: This was part of the "Black Label" imprint which I'm betting DC has since abandoned in their desperate flailings. It's got Amanda Conner art with Paul Mounts on colors, which is usually a winner. Unfortunately, Palmiotti and Conner's version of Harley when it comes to their writing hasn't grown on me any more than when I bought their ongoing back in 2015ish. She's just too. . . much, even for someone used to Deadpool. Probably because nobody is actually telling Harley to shut the hell up, which people do to Deadpool all the time.

Two days down. Tomorrow is a whole bunch of things I only bought one or two issues. Some of them were only that long, or have only gotten that far, but there's a few duds in there, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

2020 Comics In Review - Part 1

We're into the new year, which means it's time for me to look back at comics from last year. Comics, the one meager ray of light in an otherwise unrelentingly bleak year. Like a penlight at the bottom of the ocean. As usual, I'm stretching this out over five days. The first four are for going over each title I bought. Who worked on it, general plot notes, maybe things I liked and disliked if I bought enough issues to figure it's worth it. With the pandemic shutting down comics for about two months, and disrupting the business for months after, there aren't as many books, so there won't be as many titles to get through.

The After Realm #1: Michael Avon Oeming writes and draws this quarterly series, with Taki Soma on colors and Shawn Lee on letters. He set it after Ragnarok, and the elves retreated to some sanctuary within the Earth, where they also imprisoned Loki. Except one young elf wants to go back up and find her friend, and in her impatience, wrecks everything. This is a quarterly series, and I think after the first issue it was probably going to focus on Oona running around a post-apocalyptic Earth trying to fix her mistakes. It seems like something I'd like, despite my general indifference to most swords & sorcery stuff, but it didn't land somehow.

Amethyst #1-6: I think this mini-series was playing off Bendis' Young Justice, but not having read that I'm not sure. I learned my lesson when it came to Bendis and team books, New Avengers made sure of that. Amy Reeder writes, draws, and colors Amethyst's return to a Gemworld that's nothing like what she remembers. Her kingdom is in ruins, her people frozen, and all the friends she thought she could count on turn up their nose at her.

High Point - I like the effort Reeder made to make each kingdom look distinct. Not just color schemes, but architecture. I don't know enough about gems to know if it corresponds to their qualities, but it was an attention to detail I appreciated. Also, Dark Opal being this melodramatic, practically loony villain. The guy was always evil and prone to dramatic gestures, but he's really over-the-top here. If they decide to make an Amethyst movie, some actor is gonna have a lot of fun chewing scenery as that guy. Make Ewan McGregor in Harley Quinn look like he was in a coma.

Low Point - I do think that, as a result of not having read that Young Justice storyline, I was at a loss for why things in Gemworld were in the state they were. Granting that the main character is in the same boat, but it never really gets cleared up, and I think that's because Reeder assumed we already knew what happened.

Atlantis Wasn't Built for Tourists #1-4: A stranger enters a peaceful little town, and finds out it holds a dark secret. But the stranger has a secret of his own. That's pretty much the plot Eric Palicki is working with, but that's fine, it's what you do with it. Wendell Cavalcanti handled art chores, with Mark Dale as colorist and Shawn Lee as letterer. It's a little frustrating in that they left certain questions unanswered for another story, so it isn't the entirely contained story I thought it would be.

High Point - I like how Lucas' apparent personality evolves over the course of the story, mostly seen in his refusal to just leave the town to its fate. First it seems like stubbornness, and maybe curiosity. Then it's almost like arrogance. Any trouble that arises, he can handle. Finally it shifts to him just not really giving a damn. If he's confident or arrogant, it's because the worst that can happen is he dies, and that doesn't bother him.

Also, I like the design of Lucas' monster side. It's maybe a little "Star Trek alien", just bumpy face, but he is half-human, so he probably shouldn't look too bizarre. And there's nothing that says he can't continue to evolve as he ages, if there are further stories.

Low Point - The one deputy being possessed by Cthulu, or a child of Cthulu or whatever, kind of came out of left field. It's another attempt to world build for a possible follow-up, I assume. I would have been fine with him just being half-yeti. I couldn't figure out why Cavalcanti did some of the close-up panels that he did.

Black Cat #8-12: The year started with Felicia and the Beetle stealing the plans for Iron Fist's Randall Gate, while Felicia tries to convince her mother to leave town for a while in an issue drawn by Dike Ruan and Annie Wu. Then Felicia went to Madripoor after a painting and had a two-issue team-up with Wolverine drawn by Kris Anka. Then she broke into Stark's place to use his equipment to build a dimensional resonator, aka a key, and to escape, built a remote-piloted suit of armor, too. C.F. Villa drew those two issues. Jed MacKay was the writer throughout, and Brian Reber and Ferran Delgado handled color and lettering duties.

Naturally, Marvel canceled the book. My luck runs true to form.

High Point - God, I love this book. Every one of those stories was fun for me. MacKay taking advantage of the wild settings of the Marvel universe to let Felicia pull cool heists on all sorts of people. Of the three, as tempting as it is to pick the story that makes Stark look like a chump as my favorite, I enjoyed Iron Fist just being giddy he gets to fight a thief for once, instead of someone trying to cut off his hands. Plus, Beetle getting knocked around by some chi-wielding martial arts kid cracked me up. 

Also, I liked Ruan's version of the Black Cat best. Anka's a stronger artist, but he draws her costume kind of oddly, and some of the expressions Logan made, while hilarious, are not ones I ever expected or needed to see on that guy.

Low Point - It'd be nice if the book could hold onto an artist for more than five minutes. Four artists in five issues, man.

Black Cat #1: Then Marvel brought it back. At least they let Jed MacKay keep his last artist (for now) in C.F. Villa, plus Reber and Delgado, but the book's starting with three issues of King in Black tie-ins. Blech. At least MacKay and Villa are trying to make it fit their book, by having Felicia focus on stealing Dr. Strange back from Knull.

That's it for Part 1. Tomorrow we move all the way into the H's. We've got one disappointing mini-series, one excellent one, one middling ongoing, and a couple of one-shots.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Ghosts of Mars

What's supposed to be a routine pick-up of a suspected murderer turns into a huge mess when it seems that everyone in the mining town where he was arrested has gone insane, running around cutting people's heads off and talking in weird languages. Oh, and it takes place on a Mars we've almost terraformed. Ten more years to a breathable atmosphere! Great, that's how many years until Earth's is entirely ruined!

I don't know why John Carpenter decided to take the approach of presenting the whole thing as a flashback. Having Natasha Hentridge's character tell as her making a report where she's the only survivor kinda takes all the suspense out of it. I mean, Ice Cube and Pam Grier are both in the cast (plus a Jason Statham who still had hair), if you show us without giving any clue as to the final outcome, I'd have watched the movie giving either of them a decent chance to survive.

(Ice Cube did survive, but again, there was nothing about the story that demanded it be told in this way. If you just start from the beginning and go forward, it's still has a chance to be surprising.)

Although it feels more like an action movie trying to wear the clothes of a horror movie. You're up against something left over by the original inhabitants of Mars. Some genetic memory that infects and takes over people, that moves as a giant cloud. If you kill a host, they just find another. So they can drive the invaders off their world. Which is bad, obviously. I guess because the Martians no longer have corporeal bodies of their own, so they don't get property rights any more. Or maybe Carpenter's trying to be clever when Hentridge says, "It's about dominion. It's not their planet any more."

But nothing about this movie screams "clever". The last scene is Hentridge and Ice Cube exchanging witty banter while holding MAC-10s made of seemingly solid chrome, even though they've literally tried using an exploding nuclear plant to stop this thing and failed. Oh, but Bad Boys' style gunplay will save the day. Maybe you can slide down a railing while shooting like Chow Yun Fat for good measure. 

I really think there's a good horror movie in there, but it lost under all the shooting. I wonder if John Carpenter had been playing a lot of Doom when he got the idea to make this or something.

Monday, January 11, 2021

What I Bought 1/4/2021 - Part 3

Speaking as a resident of Missouri, Josh Hawley's a fucking embarrassment. If he had any integrity, he'd resign his position. Obviously he doesn't, since he's acting like the First Amendment guarantees him the right to a book deal, so I'd like to see him jailed for sedition. Not gonna happen, and the fucking dumbasses in this state likely won't vote him out in four years, but I can have hopes.

Saved the one book that was wrapping up for the last post. Was that a good idea? Probably not any worse than saving any of the other comics for this spot.

Atlantis Wasn't for Tourists #4, by Eric Palicki (writer), Wendell Cavalcanti (artist), Mark Dale (colorist), Shawn Lee (letterer) - It's not actually a nighttime/daytime-related transformation, FYI.

While Lucas confronts the sheriff and keeps him talking, Lauren finds her dad, or the vampire running around in his body on the nearby roof and deals with him. Lucas uses the sheriff as a bullet shield against the lady deputy who likes to snipe people, and she decides to beat feet. The really big deputy is. . . possessed by Cthulu I think? One of Cthulu's offspring? I don't know Lovecraft, I'm not sure how it works. He gets a knife in the throat, I assume he's dead.

Which leaves one cop in town and no vampires, and Lucas says Ed can either shoot him, or arrest him, because Lucas surrenders. Ed opts for the more lawful approach, and then Lucas breaks out anyway. But I guess it was important for Ed to show he was going to uphold the laws. On his way out of town, Lucas is abducted by the lady deputy, who had some deal with the sheriff which was never completed. She says if Lucas doesn't help, she'll kill him and then everyone in town. I didn't see anything out of her that makes me think she could pull the latter off, but Lucas isn't much of a gambler I guess.

So they left it open for another story. Palicki hinted at the wider array of supernatural things that are out there. Lucas still hasn't made it to Seattle to confront his father, and we never found out who that message he gave the soda distributor was intended for. So there's some open-ended potential there, I guess. They kind of have to change the name of the book though, since it seems like they're done with Atlantis. I guess there could be more than one city with that name, like how there's a bunch of Columbias or Charlestons in the world. Next time Lucas travels to Atlantis, Arizona and fights scorpion people!

I'm trying to figure out the strategy behind the coloring choices. Mostly the backgrounds are muted greys and browns for a boring downtown area at night. But there are certain panels where the backgrounds are just a yellow or orange backdrop. Starting with the panel where Lauren opens her dad's head up with the shovel. The last few are when Billy is beating up Lucas, although the color has shifted towards more of an orange by then. But in between, most of the panels on a page where Lucas is tricking the sheriff into revealing the sniper's location are like that. I could see using it for the panels that are her looking through the scope, but Dale also uses it for two panels in between, one that's a close-in on Lucas, the other a close-up of her finger on the trigger.

I did finally figure out that when the solicit said "Lovecraft meets Leone", it meant Leone in the sense of a lone stranger arriving in town and turning things upside-down. Which is not really a Leone thing so much as a Western or samurai flick thing, but OK.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #148

"The Vortex of Imminent Cancellation," in Defenders: From the Marvel Vault, by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Niceiza (writers), Mark Bagley (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer)

So in late 2011, Marvel released a few different books as being "from the Marvel vault". Which mostly meant comics that were most of the way done, but never saw the light of day, for one reason or another. The only one I picked up was this one, and that was as much for the interesting history behind it. During the Busiek/Larsen Defenders run, there was a point when it looked like they might not be able to get an issue out on time. So the editors asked Nicieza if he could write something up real quick, and then asked Bagley if he could draw it up real quick.

As it turned out, the issue wasn't needed, so it went in a drawer somewhere until this whole "vault" thing. Nicieza was working for DC in 2011 I think, so he couldn't script it, so they asked Busiek if he'd do it. Except Nicieza didn't have his story notes, so he couldn't tell him what it was supposed to be about. Bagley didn't remember, either. So Busiek basically looked at the art and reverse-engineered a story from it.

It ends up being some sort of alien thing that gives you an opportunity for a dream world, except the Defenders' minds get swapped/merged with some average teenagers. So we get Hulk being surprised and happy Abomination wants to build sand castles with him, and the Surfer asking Dr. Strange if he knows what 'wrecked on Red Bull' means. There's also a bit where Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to understand what's going on, and once he sees the creature's history, is completely confused.

Anyway, it's an interesting little artifact of an unusual creative process.

Friday, January 08, 2021

What I Bought 1/4/2021 - Part 2

Well, work Wednesday was about as terrible as I expected. Worse actually, since driving for hours in the rain at night has given me a pain over my left eye that still hasn't gone away. On the other hand, work kept me so occupied I didn't realize a bunch of terrorists were busy occupying the Capitol while the cops just. . . sat around on their asses. Remarkable how easily they can keep from injuring people when they want to, isn't it?

Sympathy for No Devils #3, Brandon Thomas (writer), Lee Ferguson (artist), Joe Villarrubia (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer) - Seems more like Sympathy from No Devils.

So the Mayor hauled Winston back to her place, because she can't get enough apparently. Also so she can threaten to kill him if he doesn't drop this case. Winston replies that, on any given day, he wouldn't mind if she did kill him, and he never asked for this "gift" she gave him. She doesn't seem happy to hear that, but orders her goons to chain Winston up and throw him over a bridge. Fortunate the dame who hired him sees it happen and jumps in to save him. Unless she's actually planning to make sure he drowns. Anything is possible.

Inspector Crae pays a visit to a lilac-colored rhino that tells him what to do. Lilac has him beat up and possibly drowned for bringing Winston in on this case Lilac and the Mayor are both somehow tangled up in. Of course, he orders the possible drowning just before a messenger from the Mayor arrives telling him to stay away from Crae, so Winston can't figure out there's a connection. Those crime bosses just can't help throwing their weight around needlessly.

I wish Winston's little backstabbing assistant would shit or get off the pot already. All this whining about how awful Winston is and how he's gonna get him - really, any minute now! - is getting old. Come on, ratbag, let's see your brilliant scheme to get around his weird luck power. Impress me.

I'm not sure if the thing that's about to eat Winston at the end of the issue is another of these colossals, and it actually wants his help before it becomes the next victim. Or if it's just some giant undersea creature that's hungry. It's kind of cool looking, regardless.

Power Pack #2, by Ryan North (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Just wave a Confederate flag around and the cops will leave you be, kids.

Alex is actually old enough to act as mentor to his siblings, but Generic Jackbooted Facist Lady argues there's relativistic hinkiness there and so he's not old enough. Julie argues that's a dangerous slope that could lead to the entire stupid law being thrown out (good), and the GJFL graciously relents and gives them 24 hours to find a mentor. Julie shoots down Spider-Man (bad call), in favor of Captain Marvel (worse call, ask Kamala about Civil War 2 sometime). They can't find Frog Thor or Hulk (good), briefly consider Deadpool (?!?!?!?), and Tony Stark (actually a worse idea than Deadpool). So they end up accepting the offer of some goober named Agent Aether, who encourages them to be heroic by using their powers to help him generate cheap electricity for people.

I mean, I guess that's pretty helpful. Kind of boring. And, oh wait, he's actually the Wizard in disguise, and the Boogeyman was just a hologram over an android to draw the Power kids out as part of some nefarious plan. Guess that explains all the whirly, hypnosis emblems on the costume. Evil!

I'd like to think that losing to the Power kids would be the sort of humiliating defeat Wizard would never recover from, but they made Sabretooth look like a putz in Mutant Massacre and that (sadly) didn't stop him.

I think North is just using the event as an excuse to write a Power Pack story, which is fine with me. The less time it actually spends on the massive idiocy of the Outlawed event's premise, the better, since the whole thing is so stupid it makes my headache worse. You're old enough to drink, vote, and serve in the military, but not do costumed superheroics without a mentor. 

(My main issue is still having no confidence that Marvel's writers won't fuck this up and conclude that actually, a police state exerting total control over civic-minded adolescents is good, actually.)

Anyway, the part where they run around trying to find a mentor was the funniest part. Each of them arguing in favor of a different hero based on something different. Although they passed up both Gorilla Man and Sif during their search. Either of those two would be awesome mentors, and Ken Hale deserves better than playing butler to Jason Aaron's Avengers, or whatever the hell Aaron is using (read: wasting) him for.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

The Mexican

Brad Pitt gets sent to Mexico to retrieve a legendary (and supposedly cursed) handgun, as a final menial task to get himself off the hook with a mysterious Mr. Margoles (whose identity is revealed late in the movie and was a complete surprise to me), who is in prison because Pitt's an inattentive driver. He's already in dutch with his girlfriend (Julia Roberts), because the last job was supposed to be the last job, so she moves to Vegas without him.

Except they sent a guy who doesn't speak Spanish to a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, and he keeps losing the pistol and getting back. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts is saved from one gunman taking hostage by another gunman who takes her hostage, played by James Gandolfini. And they end up talking a lot about relationships while Pitt's running around Mexico in a beat to shit pick-up with a very surly dog in the back, trying to get this gun and get home.

I'd been meaning to watch this for a while, and unlike Stranger Than Fiction, it didn't let me down. I had a good feeling a couple of minutes in, when Roberts and Pitt are having an argument as she throws his stuff at him from the balcony and he points if he doesn't go on this job, he gets killed, so really, if anyone is being selfish. . . She fires back, 'Blame-shifting?! You're blame-shifting?!'

It's weird, because Roberts' character has this strong vibe I'd describe as "Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2." Where she gets ramped up and goes on these impassioned spiels that remind me of Pesci screaming about how 'they fuck you with the drive-thru.' (Which is probably my favorite line in all the Lethal Weapon movies.)

It feels a little like a Coen Brothers movie at times, except Pitt's character is more unlucky than stupid or incompetent. Plus it gradually becomes clear there are forces farther up the organizational ladder working at cross-purposes, and that's left him caught in the middle. 

The end is a little strange, not so much for itself, but the fact the movie feels like it reaches the climax 30 minutes earlier, but then you get some more exposition and then the movie tries to ramp up for one more climax, which doesn't really work because no one is going to take the character in question seriously as a threat. I mean, it wraps things up in a little neater bow than was really required, but I also wasn't as interested in the tortured, multiple choice origin of the gun, which factors in.

The shaky ending doesn't ruin the film by any means, though.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

What I Bought 1/4/2021 - Part 1

Work is gonna suck today. Nothing like getting yelled at by hysterical morons for two hours over shit that is beyond your control. The last 2020 comics to review have arrived. Current plan is to start Year in Review posts next Wednesday, and go from there. But we gotta get through these first. Two second issues to look at today.

Sea of Sorrows #2, by Rich Douek (writer), Alex Cormack (artist/colorist), Justin Birch (letterer) - Would the flesh even decay, trapped inside a sealed container like that? Especially with it being so cold deep in the ocean?

They found the sub, the found the gold. Problem being, the sub is on the precipice of a deep undersea trench, and it won't take much shift in weight for it to go over. And it's too damaged to haul up with a crane. So no taking gold until they address those problems. Which they're gonna do through the making of big balloons they'll inflate inside the sub. I feel like this was the strategy they employed in Raise the Titanic! Or maybe that was a superlight foam they pumped in.

Other problems: The main dive guy, Nick, probably has a death wish. Scratch that, definitely has a death wish. Not really who you want leading the show in such a hostile environment. The different parties on the ship are definitely not getting along. The siren is starting to pick people off, above and below the waves.

I'm not quite sure why there are so many sharks around the sub. Feels like Cormack draws three or four in every panel set underwater. Unless the siren can command sharks, too. Seems like they'd just be competition for food. This issue seems more focused on establishing mood. The rapidly decaying mental state of several people. Get people on edge (or more on edge in Nick's case), then turn them loose on each other. But it doesn't make for a very exciting issue.

The art on the undersea parts is nice, though. The way their lights don't illuminate much, but what they do is almost washed out in the glare. Like how I'd assume those lights would play havoc with night vision. The constant bubbles, the sometimes vague outlines you can barely make out. There's one that is probably a shark, but maybe it's the siren. The graininess of the work gives the blood kind of a peculiar texture, like its trying to partially solidify under the cold and pressure. Just a different way of depicting blood than I've seen in other comics set underwater.

Is that enough to make me want to keep buying it? *waggles hand indecisively*

Kaiju Score #2, by James Patrick (writer), Rem Broo (artist), Dave Sharpe (letterer) - I see she has her Rubik's Cube. Little known fact that kaiju are fascinated by those. Also easily infuriated by them, though.

They get an opportunity to pull the heist. The kaiju's even sleeping right near the museum. But Marco's figured out his ace safecracker isn't who she says she is. Rather, she's a small-timer trying to save the lives of her crew by sneaking into this job on behalf of the Romanian mob. However, he doesn't any choice but to roll with it. Unfortunately, Pierson decided to audible and just kill the security guards, including their inside guy, which I'm sure won't come back to bite them. And the one thing Marco always overlooks rears its gigantic head.

Of the two, I like this second issue a little better. There's more going on, it's not relying so heavily on my investment in the mood to carry it. It spends a little time on the other characters, their motivations. Pierson isn't being a dick strictly because he's convinced Marco's going to botch this. I mean, he is a dick, that's clear, but he's also just unhappy with this situation. He's supposed to be on vacation, and he just wants to get it done as quickly as possible. So he's going to cut corners anywhere he can, because he doesn't give a shit about whatever beautiful design Marco had in mind. It's not about that for him, or protecting a family, or rebuilding his rep. It's just shit work. I been there.

While Rem Broo does an excellent job making it look completely disgusting, I could have gone the rest of my life without the concept of "ticks, but for giant monsters" in my mind. Yikes. I guess next issue we might get to see how Broo handles drawing a giant monster fight. Or at least part of it, since I assume that'll be in the background while Marco and the others try to make this work.