Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How Many Toppings on Your Team Pizza?

When it comes to superhero teams, do you have an ideal number of characters? Is the number irrelevant, so long as the creative team can make it work (which I would define as giving all the characters a chance to do something useful, and preferably have some sort of character driven subplot)?

Or does it depend on which team we're talking about? Like, the Legion of Super-heroes is one matter, the Fantastic Four or the Justice League are another?

I know I don't like the "massive army" approach that Jonathan Hickman took with the Avengers. Where there's like 30 characters on the team. Maybe it's possible to do that and have them all get a regular chance to shine and get some character development - I have to assume Legion writers have managed it - but Hickman didn't seem capable of it. And it just doesn't feel like a "team" to me at that point. I know American football teams have more players than that, but they aren't all on the field at once, you know?

Abnett and Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy got around that - I think they had over a dozen characters in the cast a couple of times - by constantly splitting them up into different threads, or shuffling a couple characters out at a time. Maybe Adam Warlock and Gamora are off doing one thing, Drax and Phyla-Vel are somewhere else, Star-Lord's in his own shit, and Rocket's leading a small team of Mantis, Bug, Groot, and Major Victory. They only brought the whole group together twice, and one of those was to fight Adam Warlock when he turned into the Magus.

Generally though, I like having a distinct, consistent roster. I feel like 7 is considered the classic number, I'm guessing dating back to the Silver Age Justice League (plus all the stuff about 7 being a lucky number, or a number of power. Although 6 is considered a "Perfect" number if I remember right, based on its divisors adding up to it). 

That's a little much for the Fantastic Four, whose suggested team size is right in the name. Although I didn't mind when Gail Simone had more than six people on the Secret Six. But a) they were kind of villains, not supposed to play by the rules, and b) they didn't seem terribly "secret" either, so it was false advertising all around. Simone also used the same tactic as Abnett and Lanning, splitting the roster up frequently. Like having most of the team chase after Catman when he went on a revenge kick, but Jeanette and Bane form a different team that actually does paying jobs. 

Most of my favorite Avengers' rosters are smaller - the Kooky Quartet, the original 5-person West Coast Avengers roster, the core 5-man group Bendis had in New Avengers. I know Bendis' work fails my "let every character be useful and give them some subplots" criteria, but that's on his shit pacing. I still think Captain America/Iron Man/Spider-Woman/Luke Cage/Spider-Man was an interesting team with some varied skill sets and personalities that would have played off each other well.

But my favorite X-Men rosters run slightly larger. The group from prior to the Mutant Massacre is 6 to 8, depending on if Rachel Summers and/or Magneto are there. The Australian era is 8 (9 if you count Maddie Pryor), although I really like the brief stretch just before Storm and Colossus return where Logan's trying to lead Rogue/Psylocke/Havok/Dazzler/Longshot. The Joe Casey Uncanny X-Men roster's only about six. Same with the New Warriors. I really dig that initial six-person team, but I also like once they add Silhouette, Rage, and Darkhawk. Even if they were all on the team for just one story in the Nicieza/Bagley run, that's still 9 team members.

Which is a little weird when you figure the Avengers are the ones that are supposed to fight world-endangering threats. Not that the other teams don't occasionally, but the X-Men and New Warriors have other niches that don't necessarily involve that level of problem, while that's theoretically all the Avengers do. You'd figure bigger, more powerful roster for bigger, more powerful threats. I guess I like putting them at a disadvantage. Root for the underdog. None of my favorite Defenders' rosters have more than 2 of the Big Four (usually Hulk and/or Dr. Strange), either. I actually really do like that Nighthawk/Hulk/Hellcat/Valyrie/Moon Knight group from "Who Remembers Scorpio?"

But to the extent I care about the Justice League, my favorite rosters for them are probably at least 7 characters, if not more. They definitely do nothing but fight world-endangering threats.

So I don't know what conclusions to draw from all that. Keep the roster in single digits. Reduce the number in inverse proportion to the level of threat they typically encounter?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Hospital (2020)

Took a long time to find the right movie titled "Hospital" on IMDb. This one is about a father-son priest duo who agree to take two women on a tour of an abandoned hospital with an ugly history of people killing themselves. I am a sucker for people marching stupidly into places they shouldn't. One woman's husband died there after a heart procedure, the other's sister was a nurse who committed suicide. They would both like to see their dead loved ones. What could go wrong?

Well, the widow sued the hospital, and the nurse in particular, for the death of her husband.Which helped drive the nurse to throw herself out a window. So, that's awkward. Then there's the fact neither of them will listen to what the father says. He lets one drink some Yin water so she can see her sister, she insists on doing it again. He says no, she grabs the bottle away and it shatters on the ground. Which is bad, because it attracts spirits, including one particularly angry one.

Things go downhill from there.

The movie isn't very well put together. The characters and the plot can't seem to decide which tragedy they want to focus on. For a while, the son and the widow are trying to find his father. But then they seem to get caught up in the history of a mother who lit herself and her son's body on fire. They don't accomplish anything by this, other than us actually seeing the death we'd already been told about. Then the son's like, "Wait, I still need to find my father", and the widow goes, "Wait, I still want to see my dead husband", and off they go in separate directions. 

The other woman reaches out to her sister and they seem to jump out a window together. But then she's still seemingly alive later to jump out the window again, alone. The widow finally sees her husband, but there's another ghost, too? Maybe she's the original spirit that caused all the problems? Maybe she's just another victim of the grieving mother? I don't know.

Monday, March 29, 2021

What Kind of Seasoning Goes with Souls?

I, for one, would appreciate being informed of my impending death ahead of time. It's very considerate. What if I was about to go do my laundry, or file taxes? Now I needn't bother. The IRS can send me my refund in hell.

Square Enix Manga has been releasing a "perfect" edition of Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater manga. It's a hardback book, and each volume is equal to, I think, 1.5 volumes of the original softcover releases. Looks nice, and I'd heard the anime didn't entirely follow the manga, so I was curious.

Whatever differences there are going to be haven't started by the end of this volume, though, as it's mostly concerned with setting up the characters and the world. There's "meisters" and "weapons", the latter being people who actually turn into weapons wielded by the meisters. They then work together hunting down humans who commit horrible crimes which could eventually turn their soul into a "kishin", which is like some incredibly powerful demon. If the weapon eats 99 souls of evil humans, and 1 witch's soul, they become a weapon fit to be wielded by Lord Death (not to be confused with Lord Death-Man) himself.

 
So there's three teams: Maka and Soul (who's a scythe), Black Star and Tsubaki (a ninja weapon that can take many forms), and the Death the Kid/Liz/Patty trio (the sisters being a pair of handguns, which Kid holds upside-down for some dumbshit reason). Of the three, Maka and Soul are probably the most functional. Their biggest issues are Maka's temper (and issues with men because of her dirtbag lech of a father, who is also Lord Death's current weapon), and Soul being too concerned with being cool, while he's really kind of a dork. 

Black Star is fairly strong, and when he focuses, he's an impressive fighter. But he's too interested in being the star, yelling that he's the one who will surpass God, so he screws up a lot. Tsubaki's a quiet, gentle person, who finds it easy to get along with him, but can't exactly reign him in, either. Kid has this weird hang-up about symmetry, to the point he abandons Liz and Patty in the middle of a mission because he thinks a painting in his home might be slightly off-center.

 
Ohkubo gives each character a highly unique sense of fashion and design, which is nice. A lot of the villains are based on historical or Western fiction characters, and some of the design choices for them are. . . interesting. I wouldn't even know how to describe Jack the Ripper's look in this thing. Most of the settings are designed to be either spooky and atmospheric, or perhaps a parody of it. Graveyards and narrow alleys with buildings that seem to lean in and loom over you. The moon has a giant grin and drools blood. The fight scenes are generally pretty clever and fun. Always some back-and-forth, interesting attacks, a mixture of comedy elements and violence. Ohkubo can draw punishing hits. Uses a lot of little lines, that kind of make the person doing the hitting and the person getting hit look like they're vibrating or shaking from the impact.

 
About the comedy, though. Some of it plays off the main cast being dumb kids, who make dumb mistakes. Like Maka and Soul trying to hide behind a tree, but their butts and their heads are sticking out in plain view. Or Kid freaking out over an enemy ruining their own perfect symmetry. But a lot of it is a lot of, like, "Master Roshi's a pervert, ha-ha" stuff. Soul tries to ambush the witch they're after but crashes in on her in the bathtub, oh no, he got a nosebleed. Black Star tries to spy on Tsubaki in the hot springs, but can't keep his mouth shut and gets a shuriken in the forehead. That sort of thing. And it's not really even funny, so it just becomes annoying. Hopefully there's a bit less of that in subsequent volumes, once the main plot kicks in a bit more.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #159

 
"Great, Now You've Summoned Him," in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #59, by Roger Stern (writer), Dan Green (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist), Jim Novak (letterer)

After Englehart left the book with issue 18, there are about five issues by Marv Wolfman, plus another three by Jim Starlin, before Roger Stern takes over. In the second volume of Doctor Strange, nobody wrote more issues than Roger Stern. His first stint ran from issues 27 to 37, with mostly Tom Sutton as artist. Although just going by the credits, Ralph Macchio was taking over more of the writing by the last few (Stern gets "scenario" credit, Macchio gets "script".) I don't actually own any of those issues.

After Stern departs, Chris Claremont and Gene Colan take over for about 8 issues. I had no idea Claremont ever wrote Doctor Strange, but given Claremont's love of astral plane stuff, and Strange's fairly active love life, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. My impression is that after Claremont, Frank Miller was supposed to take over, to the extent Marvel even had ads in their comics hyping that, but it never happened. Instead, Stern came back with issue 47, and stayed until issue 75 (minus a couple of fill-ins here and there). Early on, he has the Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin art team, and this stretch includes Clea and Strange breaking up, and that issue where Stephen's astral form is running around ancient Egypt in the margins of that Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four issue where they're prisoners of Rama-Tut.

I own two stories from this run. One is Strange's rematch with Dracula. A Dracula who's enlisted the support of a bunch of Darkhold worshipers to increase his powers dramatically. Even with Strange getting an assist from Hannibal King, Blade, and Frank Drake (a trio Marvel would eventually put in a series called Nightstalkers in the '90s), Strange can't meet the King of Vampires head on, and has to use misdirection and a circular approach to defeat. Dan Green and Terry Austin are the penciler/inker team for most of that story, although Steve Leialoha draws the conclusion. Green's Strange is a bit older looking than Colan's was, his eyes are narrowed a lot, face a bit thinner. Which matches that he's wiser as well. He doesn't just charge in to confront Dracula directly. He knows the risks, and takes steps to put himself at an advantage.

The other story arc follows soon after, as Stern and Paul Smith send Stephen into the Dark Dimension. After they broke up, Clea returns to her home to lead a rebellion against Umar, who is currently running the show and presenting herself as a kinder, more compassionate ruler than her brother Dormammu was. Strange has purposefully been keeping his distance from Clea, not wanting to risk pointing Umar at her. Umar becomes convinced Strange is involved anyway and attack him, so he figures he might as well get involved.

Smith's version of Doctor Strange spends a lot more time practicing magic shirtless than Green's version. And Stern seems to play a bit with the idea that Stephen is largely oblivious to the fact women find him attractive. He and the Black Knight end up on a cruise ship (which is ultimately attacked by Umar), and Dane is amused (and a little jealous) of how many women are eye-humping the ol' Sorcerer Supreme.

The first issue of Stern's run I owned was actually the last, where he and Sal Buscema have Stephen find a young woman trapped within some strange form that's missing half her soul. The issue is more interesting to me because it starts with Stephen venturing into Hell to try and save the Richards' from Mephisto. 

It's a weird little sequence because Mephisto is stronger than ever due to the Dire Wraiths' efforts in Rom: Spaceknight to turn Earth into a new Wraithworld, so when Forge's Neo-Neutralizer shuts that down, Mephisto finds himself on "E" all of a sudden. And also because Mephisto was after Franklin Richards for his immense psionic powers, and when Reed figures this out and tells Strange to free Franklin, the kid fries Mephisto with zero effort. Stephen doesn't react outwardly, but inside he's basically like, "Ho-leeeee shit." Like I said, kind of an odd introduction to Dr. Strange.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Random Back Issues #57 - Spider-Woman #14

Shower crying: When you want to mask your tears, but can't be bothered to go stand outside in the rain.

Jess is feeling down because she saw her assistant Roger (aka the not-terribly-super-villain Porcupine) get blown up by a pumpkin bomb last issue, courtesy of the Hobgoblin. She's feeling lost, but Carol Danvers shows up, despite their having a big fight over Civil War II. What with Jess having recently dated Hawkeye, and him having recently killed Bruce Banner because Carol was so convinced he was a threat by Future Vision Kid. Goddamnit Bendis, your shit's exhausting. Anyway, she offers to babysit so Jessica can work on the case. 

 
First stop is a little town populated entirely by women who were married to super-villains and decided to get the hell away. I'm unclear on if they allow the husbands of super-villains. Roger's ex, Olivia, is not happy to see Jessica, who she blames for getting Roger killed, and for taking Roger away from his actual daughter. Jess tries to plead innocence, but Ben Urich (her other partner) wisely drags her out of there and explains a few things. Like how she was the only one unaware of Roger being in love with her, and that from his ex-wife's perspective, it's kind of shitty he couldn't bother to do domestic stuff for her and his child, but he's all too happy to fold laundry and babysit for Spider-Woman.

In news certain to give her something to think about other than being a homewrecker, Ben shows her some photos of Roger going to visit a villain bar the night he was killed. A property owned by Roderick Kingsley, the original Hobgoblin. So she goes to the bar, and beats the crap out of a bunch of villains. I call foul on her managing to down the Beetle with one venom blast. Actually, what the hell is the Beetle doing there? It's not Janice, the one that's Tombstone's daughter, and I thought Abe Jenkins was persona non grata with the villain set because he embraced the Mach Whatever-version-he's-up-to-now identity.

Maybe Secret Wars undid that. Who knows?

Jess gets distracted by a call from Carol long enough for the Bruin (the other bear-themed super-villain) to throw her out, but it's OK, because some high-tech, no doubt questionably legal monitoring system Danvers has access to picked up the Porcupine robbing a bank. Spider-Woman hightails it over there, and while the Porcupine won't speak and confirm his identity, he does shoot her with a crapload of quills. Only instead of sedatives, they're explosive.

 
[10th longbox, 143rd comic. Spider-Woman (vol. 6) #14, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Veronica Fish (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Landham (letterer)]

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora is the story of a ship sent to colonize habitable moons around a relatively nearby star, and the problems that arise. There's no faster-than-light travel (they don't get past 10% the speed of light), so the trip takes 150 years. The people selected to go aren't put into any sort of hibernation or stasis, so it isn't them that will actually make planetfall, but their several generations removed descendants. Which becomes a point of contention. The originators of all this had big plans, but it falls to all these other people, their descendants to make them happen, or die. And the descendants never got a choice in the matter.

Based solely on this story, I'm guessing Robinson doesn't think much of the idea of colonizing other worlds as a solution to problems here on Earth (I'd say she's right.) This mission isn't presented as that, so much as humanity thinking making a mark in the universe is a good idea, but even the worlds the inhabit within the Solar System are presented as being milennia away from being anything like truly habitable worlds. Mars, for example, is described as being perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 years away from being sufficiently terraformed humans could live outside without resupply from Earth.

And until they reach that new home, their ship-home is a comparatively tiny, closed system. All they have in terms of nutrients, minerals, materials, genetic diversity (of both humans and all the flora and fauna coming with them) are confined within that ship. That leads to problems, not all of which (or probably even most of which) the people who came up with this idea considered. So there's quite a bit in there about nutrient cycles, conservation of nutrients, issues of population biology stemming from the inhabitants of the ship essentially being an island population now. 

(Quammon's Song of the Dodo did have a part about how species that are used to having low populations are less vulnerable to the sorts of genetic issues that crop up from a limited amount of genetic diversity than species accustomed to having a large genetic base that is suddenly sharply restricted.)

Even once they reach their destination, the problems don't end, and social strife becomes a new concern in the face of these new problems, as the community on the ship can't agree on what to do. Ultimately, they agree to disagree, and the story proceeds from there.

All of that, the problems, the solutions, the things that apparently nobody paid attention to, or underestimated the importance of, the stresses it puts on the people and the ship, that was all pretty interesting. The idea that every deceased is cremated and, other than just a tiny bit of the remains their family gets to keep, reintroduced into the soil as a source of phosphorous and other important minerals. The fact the bacteria evolve more quickly than everything else, and get into places nobody planned on. The limits of what the ship can handle.

Robinson presents most of the story as a narrative being compiled by the ship's artificial intelligence, who was told to do so by one of the most innovative engineers on the ship when, and has to figure out how to do that as it goes along. So Robinson tries to vary the writing style as the AI grows, and evolves, investigates new concepts in writing and logic systems. Concludes metaphors and dumb, for example, and that analogies are much better, if still imprecise. Which sometimes segues into ruminations on how all human language is about inaccurate comparisons of one thing to something else. By near the end, the ship has a tendency to vastly over-explain everything, in a way that reminds me a bit of my dad. Where he enjoys talking about it so much he can't (or doesn't want) to get to the point.

The one drawback to this is that, by that point, I identified the ship as the main character more than Devi or Freya, Devi's daughter. So I was more concerned with the ship's fate than theirs. The last chapter of the book is focused on a group of the sip's inhabitants (including Freya) trying to adapt to what's a wholly new circumstance for them, and it kinda didn't work for me. I think I get what Robinson was going for with the last 20 pages, where Freya confronts her fears and goes outside, but I kept reading it, expecting something a little more, profound? Final, maybe.

'Devi scowled, but it was her mock scowl; she was admitting Freya was right, even though she didn't want to; that was what that look always said. She said, "Our ancestors were idiots."

Freya said, "But how does that make us different from anyone else?"

Devi laughed and gave Freya a shove, then hugged her as they walked along. "Everyone in history, descendant of idiots? Is that what you're saying?"

"That's what it seems like."

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Holy Crap, A Month Full of Interesting Things!

There are actually a lot of things to talk about in June's solicitations. Does this mean the long winter is over?!

OK, I'm not planning to buy anything from DC, but I figured I'd mention they're letting Garth Ennis do some sort of Batman mini-series. Seems curious to let someone who hates Batman write a mini-series about him, but sure, why not. There's also a Supergirl: World of Tomorrow mini-series by Bilquis Evely that once again tries to find someplace for Supergirl to belong. Oh, and there's an official comic adaptation of the upcoming sequel to Space Jam!

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I suppose it's good I can laugh about things like that, rather than losing the will to live.

OK, on to companies with comics I might buy. Marvel's still wasting time with Heroes Reborn, but it might end in June. The X-Men are doing some "Hellfire Gala" with really stupid "formal" outfits for everyone. So if I'm still buying Way of X by its third issue, I have that to look forward to. Busiek's The Marvels will be on its third issue, Iron Fist: Heart of the Dragon concludes, Black Knight reaches its penultimate issue. Black Cat may be in trouble for all the heroes she's ripped off over the course of her title, but there's also an Annual coming out which is part of some "Infinite Destinies" thing. Gerry Duggan may be doing another Infinity Gems related thing? Did they learn nothing from garbage-ass Infinity Challenge? What am I saying, of course they didn't. These are the people who thought they needed a second Civil War.

No sign of Runaways, though. Bummer. Fingers crossed for a skip month.

Dark Horse. There's a mini-series called Jenny Zero about a washed-up former mech pilot trying to sober up and fight kaiju again. Its third issue comes out in June, but I might try and grab issue 1 next month. More importantly, a second volume of John Allison's Steeple is out in trade! I guess this is stuff he did strictly online. That's two months in a row with good collections from Dark Horse, whoo!

In terms of books I'll probably still be buying, there's the third issue of You Promised Me Darkness and issue 2 of Freak Snow through Behemoth Comics. There's the fifth and final issue of White Lily from Red 5, and the second issue of Yuki vs. Panda through Source Point Press. 

Scout Comics does have the second issue of Midnight Western Theatre listed in the June solicits, just as the end of issue 1 promised. Plus the first issue of Deniz Camp and Filya Bratukhin's Chaos Agent, about a super-spy who wants more from life and is keeping secrets from the organization he works for. Then Literati Press has Nick Hermes' Black Jack Demon, about a boy who tries to hunt down the man who killed his father in the Old West. I'm not sure if it's a one-off thing, or the first issue of a series.

I doubt I would buy either of these, but there were two mangas that amused me. Tokyopop had Her Royal Highness Seems Angry, about a beloved princess whose kingdom was destroyed and is reincarnated in someone who is hated by everyone, including her family. OK, that's not funny, or it doesn't seem like it to me. But the title is kind of funny. The other was from Yen Press, called Maid I Hired Recently is Mysterious. I mean, that could go a whole lotta ways.

Best case scenario, where I'm still buying all those Marvel titles come June, and decide I like Jenny Zero, that could be 14 new comics that month, plus the Steeple trade. My gosh, it's like it's 10 years ago.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Robot Carnival

Found this odd little '80s anime anthology movie on Amazon Prime. There's seven short films in all, plus an opening and closing sequence involving a giant, treaded machine rolling over a village in the desert while all its fireworks and mechanical ballerinas blowing up any homes and people not being trampled. Kind of a weird start.

Each film has its own style, each goes a different route. Most of them have no dialogue, except for "Presence" and "A Tale of Two Robots, Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion". That latter one is kind of funny, the only one that really tries for humor. This bunch of Japanese kids trying to use their coal-powered parade float mech to fend off some crazy European scientist and his battery-powered, brick-reinforced mech. Although the English voice actors seem to be doing bad parodies of racist imitations of Japanese people in how they pronounce stuff sometimes. Maybe Amazon Prime has the original version, with Japanese voice actors?

Visually, "Cloud" is probably the most unusual. It's presented as more like a drawing. In the lower left corner is the one constant character, walking towards the edge of the frame, head bowed, wind at her back. That remains largely the same, and the backgrounds change. From clouds, to face in the clouds (or spirits?), to a mushroom cloud, to a rocket blasting into space. The changes aren't abrupt, but they aren't quite smooth. You're supposed to notice that it changes, while this sad music plays in the background. I won't pretend I understand what it was getting at it, but it definitely caught my attention.

"Franken Gears" is the mad scientist not understanding his creation. "Starlight Angel" is some angsty teen romance thing, and the "robot" isn't even a real robot. Total rip-off. "Deprive" is a quick action thing about a robot saving the little girl he looks after from. . . I'm not sure how to describe the bad guy. David Bowie if he painted himself like a smurf? The bad guy from Voltron crossed with a member of the Mistfits from Jem? (I figure given when the movie was made, '80s cartoon references are appropriate.)

Here, you look at him and tell me what you'd say. I'd swear he looked bluer when I was watching than that image I found suggests.

"Presence", that one's a little odd. Where a Toymaker creates a robot, then freaks out when she asks him to give her a name, or to help her to be more alive. I couldn't shake the feeling the Toymaker was, himself, a robot. We see that there are perfectly human-passing robots in the world, but that they're broken bodies are discarded in the rubbish. He notes he never knew his mother, and that while he thought he'd found what he was looking for in marriage, he realized he wanted something more basic. Which I took to mean he wanted to create life himself. There's also a bit where he's started up all the old wind-up toys to distract himself from her questions, and one of them knocks another to the ground as he reaches for a wrench.

Maybe it's just that he was human, but not ready for the responsibility of guiding a life himself? Which would mean his wife did everything with the kids presumably (although there was something about how she was presented I can't get my head around.)

My favorite of the lot was "Nightmare", where some massive, partially constructed robot emerges from below the earth and tries to re-create or take over the world. It has a little assistant who flies around on something like a bicycle and zaps machinery so robots crawl out of it. There's one guy, asleep in an alley, who wakes up and gets chased around the city on his moped by the assistant, and in so doing ultimately ruins the whole thing.

It reminds me a lot of Fantasia, the part where the Devil rises from that mountain and sends all the shadow creatures over the landscape. Think I'm remembering that right. I just remember seeing that as a kid and it being the only part that didn't seem too much for babies for me by then (no idea what age I was at that point). I mean, when the chase reaches where the giant robot is, there are a bunch of the other demon/robots just dancing around, partying and celebrating in time with the gears and pistons that move around them. It feels very Disneyish, but in a way that's kind of creepy, and very cool.

One thing I was kind of interested to see overall was the similarities in how different shorts portrayed robots visually. A couple of them gave their robots one eye that was substantially larger than the other. And a couple would depict the forearms as having some outer covering, but the upper arms just look like exposed bone. No wires or blinking lights or armor, just an oddly human looking piece of anatomy.

Monday, March 22, 2021

What I Bought 3/17/2021 - Part 2

Depressingly, but not surprisingly, there are still a lot of people in this state with their "Trump 2020" flags flying in their front yards. Or their "Trump's face superimposed on Rambo's body" flags. I would ask when these folks are gonna get over it, but the answer is "never."

So instead of talking about people being idiots, let's talking about comic book characters fighting undead ninjas. Much more interesting.

Iron Fist: Heart of the Dragon #3, by Larry Hama (writer), Dave Wachter (artist), Neeraj Menon (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Like Deadpool, Okoye knows all giant lizard monsters have a critical blind spot on top of their heads.

Having temporarily kept that door shut, Danny realizes that maybe bringing cities brimming with undead ninjas into populated areas unprepared for their arrival was a bad idea. So he, Luke, and the Bride of Nine Spiders split up to try and keep anyone near the cities from killing the dragons. Someone named Radiance in Tokyo gives Danny a little guff, but agrees to leave the dragon alone as long as he helps her kill the undead. Easy enough. 

Luke goes to Rio, where Sunspot cops a real attitude about how he got pulled away from basically running space to deal with this. Okay DaCosta, don't let the fact Hickman's taking a liking to you give you a swelled head. He changes his tune once Luke proves very effective at killing the undead. Wachter even makes sure to give us more undead being hit with their own severed limbs. And he wanted to make sure burning corpses don't start brush fires, so that's cool. 

 
Bride of Nine Spiders mostly just cuts to the chase and starts killing undead without being asked to win over Okoye. I mean, she does narrate what she's doing while she does it, but she (or Hama) is old school, it's fine. I'd prefer it if Wachter made her more still when she's fighting. She was originally presented as someone who kind of hangs back, unleashes the spiders, doesn't move too much, but just wreaks havoc. Whatever, teamwork makes the dream work! Then some Storm Shadow looking guy on a rotting horse shows up, kills the dragon with one swing, cuts out its heart with another, kills three of Okoye's soldiers with the next and bails. She gives chase, but the Prince of Orphans, looking beat to crap, tells her she'd lose, and can be more helpful elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Hidden Dragon's not content staying hidden.

This issue could almost feel like filler. Danny and the other go fight undead for a few pages, then Fooh calls them back because of the Hidden Dragon. The only thing of real significance seems to be Prince of Orphans enlisting Okoye. But the fact that Danny was told to protect the Heart of Heaven, but Aman is telling Okoye she needs to go there, keeps giving me that feeling someone (probably Danny) is getting played here. Fist is running around, following instructions, but nothing he's doing seems to be making the situation any better. They stop the undead, for now. But another dragon died, so what good did that do? Why hasn't Aman stepped in to work with the other Immortal Weapons?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #158

 
"Support the Neck, Count," in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #14, by Steve Englehart (writer), Gene Colan (artist), Tom Palmer (inker/colorist), John Costanza (letterer)

Welcome to the 5,000th post on Reporting on Marvels and Legends!

Strange got his second shot at an ongoing in 1974, although it published somewhat erratically the first 2+ years. Steve Englehart's run went covered the first 18 issues, and seems to be maybe the most highly-regarded, non-Ditko run with the character, at least in some circles of comics fandom. I only have one issue of it myself, and it's this one.

This is the second half of Strange's first run-in with Dracula (the first half of which was in Tomb of Dracula #44, which we'll get to someday). Wong got ambushed and snacked on by Drac, and Strange went hunting for him, planning to destroy him so Wong's soul could resume possession in his body. Except Strange lost and got bit himself. His astral form's free, so he uses it to mess with the vampire's mind for a bit, torment and goad him with illusions of his deceased wife to lure him out over the ocean. 

Except he let the ruse slip a little too soon, and Dracula evades the sun.

They fight it out, and Strange wins by calling on the power of God to not only kill Dracula, but bring Wong back to life and make himself not a vampire anymore. Pretty slick. 

The color printing doesn't do Colan's art any favors. It tends to wash out or obscure too many details, especially in faces. I doubt that's on Tom Palmer so much as the limitations of the technology of the day. One thing I notice here is that, in contrast to a lot of artist who draw Strange's Cloak of Levitation like a living, responsive thing that almost floats off his shoulders, Colan draws it as a limp cloth that drapes and clings heavily on him. I'm guessing because Strange isn't himself, even when he's up and moving, with the taint of vampirism on him. 

Dracula's cloak, in contrast, has more of that living energy to it. Billowing out as he leaps, hanging loose to help him almost blend with the shadows. Although, since he can change into a bat or mist, then change back in the same outfit, I'm not sure what his clothes are actually made of.

As it turns out, Dracula actually tricked Strange into thinking he destroyed the Lord of Vampires. But he's not interested in continuing the fight either, so he lets it drop. And that's largely where things are left, for the next seven years.

Friday, March 19, 2021

What I Bought 3/17/2021 - Part 1

Between the relatively few books I'm getting, and it being a five-Wednesday March, it's been, not feast or famine, more moderately-filling snack and famine? But there were three comics this week, and I even managed to get all three. So let's look at the two first issues I picked up.

Black Knight #1, by Si Spurrier (writer), Sergio Davila (penciler), Sean Parsons (inker), Arif Prianto (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer) - Huh, the little wings on his gloves actually project out from them.

Spurrier's big retcon to Dane Whitman and the Ebony Blade during King in Black was that it isn't the blade that taints Dane, it's that the blade actually is powered by all the ugly emotions inside the person wielding it. If you're too nice or good or whatever, you won't be able to draw on its full power, and possibly can't even pick it up. Thor, for example, can't pull it out of the ground at one point in this issue, which, I dunno. Thor's been pretty full of violence and ego over the centuries. He's no Boy Scout.

Dane is trying to decide what to do about this. Can he be a hero, if he's only useful when he embraces the Dark Side? Is spending time worrying about this of any use? The Avengers are presented as barely tolerating him (I mean, Captain America refers to him as their 'W.M.D.', which is just bizarre when Thor and Carol Danvers are standing right there). He's contacted some history student to try and help him dig into the history of the blade, but thinks maybe that's pointless, too.

Then he gets his head cut off. It's not a permanent thing, though.

 
I feel like Spurrier's going too far afield with the character, but the only two times I've really read much of Dane Whitman were the Stern/Buscema Avengers, and that '90s Heroes for Hire series Ostrander wrote. So it's been a while. And I guess being leader of the Avengers during one of their least fondly remembered eras could do things to a person's self-confidence.

I don't really like Dane having the cape with the fur-lining trim. Looks like it would be heavy and in the way. But hell, he's already wearing a suit of armor, how much more weighed down can he get? The changes to the armor when he lets himself go are kind of cool. More jagged, more points and spikes. He's going to use his trauma in an entirely unhealthy way, and the armor's going to reflect that by becoming more aggressive looking.

Other than that, I like that when we see Dane's bedroom, he's seemingly taken a swipe at every item in there with the sword at some point. Walls, doors, couches. Also there's a mannequin that's either Sir Percy of Scandia or Forbush man holding a broom against one wall. No slashes in it, interestingly enough.

Midnight Western Theatre #1, by Louis Southard (writer), David Hahn (artist), Ryan Cody (colorist), Buddy Beaudoin (letterer) - It would seem, if you're sunlight sensitive enough to need an umbrella, that you should keep your giant bat wings in the shadows.

A gang led by a goon named Red Tom kills everyone in town, children included. The bartender gets to live, though. Then in walk the pair on the cover, although the guy is significantly less imposing since he's whining about being thirsty and how they always do what she wants to do. Tom ultimately shoots the guy (Alexander) in the head. Then the lady (Ortensia), stabs him in the hand and lights the bar on fire. Not because he shot Alex - who is fine, if annoyed - but because of all the other murdering. Alex gets his drink, Red Tom gets shot, and they're on their way.

Southard doesn't waste much time getting down to it. The first two pages are set 20 years earlier, Ortensia somewhere out west with her father, and then it's onto cold-blooded children murdering (off-panel, for the record). And by the end of the issue, the threat of Mad Tom's gang is dealt with, but we get the opportunity to see a bit of Alexander and Ortensia's personalities and relationship, which raises plenty of questions. Why are they traveling together? What's Alex' need to get to the coast? Where'd Ortensia get that horse? What's the significance of the white owl that watched the kids get killed (assuming there is one)?

But I like the two main characters well enough. They play off each other, and I want to learn more about them, so that has to be considered a plus.

 
It's funny how much less dangerous Alexander looks inside the comic versus the cover. Even when Hahn draws him with his wings out near the end of the issue, most of the time he's unimpressive. A little short than Red Tom, skinny and kind of socially awkward. The way Beaudoin letters his dialogue makes it seem like he talks in a constant whisper (although the font size, combined with the white letters against a black speech bubble is kinda hard to read.) He's like either a sheltered child, or an absent-minded museum director. The sort of guy who gets punched in the face, and loudly wonders why you punched him in the face.

Now Ortensia looks fairly cool either way. The bowler hat (or is it too short for a bowler? A derby?), the vest, the white streak in the hair, a couple of facial scares. Hahn makes those more prominent than Andrasofszky does on the cover, but then Hahn makes the white stripes on her pants much narrower than they are on the cover. I think I prefer the light and dark being equivalent, but it might be more symbolic that there's only a bit of white here and there.

The next issue's supposed to be out in June, according to the back of this comic. Hopefully the solicits for June back that up when I get to actually see them.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Song of the Dodo - David Quammen

Islands are an excellent place to study a lot of aspects of biology. Dispersal, competition, adaptive radiation, speciation, natural selection, on and on. They're isolated to various degrees, so it's somewhat easier to keep track of arrivals and departures. They're of relatively limited area, so it's easier to define the boundaries for a study.

Quammen looks at the history of studying life on islands as it influenced the development of the idea of evolution by natural selection by Alfred Wallace (and Darwin), and then how the study of that changed over time. Especially once MacArthur and Wilson developed their theory of island biogeography. Which said, in a simplified manner, that the number of species on an island will be based on a combination of its distance from the mainland and its size. Distant islands are difficult to reach, not many things can swim/float/fly that far. Small islands can't support as many species, because there's not as much space, and not as many habitats or ecological niches.

Operating from that, MacArthur and Wilson deduced there's a sort of equilibrium each island between new arrivals, and the extinction (or extirpation) of species already present. Where that point is on the graph depends on the islands size and distance. This is interesting enough on its own, or it was to me when I was talking biology classes in college. But it's become more relevant as human development and reshaping of the planet progresses. 

As Quammen notes in the late stages of the book, even habitats on the mainland are becoming islands as the land around them is turned into Wal-Marts, or row of identical suburb housing. Missouri, for example, has about 1% of the tallgrass prairie it had before the Europeans showed up, and it's scattered all over the west side of the state, in little patches. 40 acres here, 120 acres over there, maybe a nice 3,000 acre patch on a conservation land.

While Quammen discusses all this, and the resulting battle lines that were drawn after The Theory of Island Biogeography was published, he's also traveling the world. Speaking to different biologists (including Edward O. Wilson, because this book was published in the 1990s) about their work, how it relates, what they're finding. 

That can involve speaking with a biologist who discovered a previously unknown species of macaque in Madagascar, that's carved out a niche by eating parts of cane trees that are high in cyanide. Or traveling to the Amazon to a location where there are dozens of small patches of forest left behind from the clear-cutting, essentially islands surrounding by oceans of open land, where scientists monitor the species within to see how they're doing. How big a patch is enough to sustain a population?

Quammen's not a biologist by trade, and he's definitely not a mathematician, so he tries to avoid getting too technical when the topics he's discussing start veering into logarithmic math. Which is fine with me. I know the math part is important, but the Experimental Design course I took in grad school taught me I didn't grasp how people figured out the mathematical relationships that they build their formulas on.

Quammen's writing is very casual at times. full of his own opinions, and not just on his distaste for math. He's moderately scornful towards Darwin, who he's pretty sure delayed publication of a paper Alfred Wallace wrote and sent to him for review on evolution by natural selection, so Darwin could finally get off his ass and publish something about it first, after 20 years of nitpicking his writing. 

He may very well be right, although I think basing it on best estimates of shipping rates from Indonesia to England in the 1850s is a little flimsy. But you have to factor it in when you read it. Quammen describes Darwin's writing style as 'half-barmy', but Quammen's the one who felt this book needed a four-page digression about him getting mugged in Rio and almost missing his bus out to meet a biologist studying muriquis. Outside a brief joke that the monkeys seem to behave more politely than humans in Rio, the story serves no purpose, and the book's over 600 pages, so it's not like it needed padding out.

What it could have used, was some diagrams. The book has several general maps, showing things like whatever island chain he's happening to visit at that point in the book, along with a few relevant towns marked on it. But seeing as this book is presumably written for people who aren't trained biologists, maybe some pictures would have helped. A copy of the graph MacArthur and Wilson made, or a diagram showing how adaptive radiation works. Something to illustrate the concepts. Hell, even some pictures of the creatures he's talking about wouldn't have hurt. I know what a Komodo dragon looks like, but I have no mental picture of an indri.

That aside, it's a neat book to read if you're at all interested in that sort of biology. And if the idea of these biologists sniping at each other like high school kids via research papers published in various scientific journals amuses you, well there's a fair amount of that in the second half.

'The crux of the matter of extinction - the extinction of Raphus cucullatus or any species - is not who or what kills the last individual. That final death reflects only a proximate cause. The ultimate cause, or causes, may be quite different. By the time the death of its last individual becomes imminent, a species has already lost too many battles in the war for survival.'

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Runaways Need One Good Team-Up Experience

I'd like to see the Runaways interact with Squirrel Girl. By which I mean Ryan North and Erica Henderson's version of Squirrel Girl. (Not sure if anyone's used her since Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ended. Kind of curious to see how she's characterized when she does eventually appear.)

Partially because the team seems so insistent that adults have always let them down, it would be nice for them to get at least one data point that didn't confirm to that. I mean, technically they already have a couple, because Cloak and Dagger did intend to help them, but got ambushed and mindwiped by the teams' parents. And Spider-Man was fully intent on helping them until Nico barged in and zapped like she frickin' Electro.

(Nico Minoru: Making the wrong decision every time since 2003.)

That aside, Squirrel Girl's unbeatable so she can't let them down. Although, since she was a freshman or sophomore in college for all of North and Henderson's run, she might not qualify as an adult. That would make her no older than Chase or Nico at this point, but they're playing at being adults.

Besides that, I think Molly getting to team-up with Squirrel Girl would be pretty enjoyable. Finally, someone who would encourage all of Molly's flights of fancy! Doreen thoroughly supported Gabby's plans to dress a wolverine up in fancy suits and let him rampage through cardboard cities she constructed, so yeah, I think she and Molly would get along great.

There is the risk that Doreen's boundless optimism would react with Gert's relentless cynicism like matter and anti-matter, devastating all life for miles around. But that would turn out to be part of some grand contest between the embodiment of Positivity and Negativity, where they see how humanity reacts in such an apocalyptic event, to see which of them is more powerful.

I know, cynicism and negativity are not synonymous. It's a first draft, it just needs some (read: a lot) of workshopping. As long as we all agree the ultimate winner will be Brain Drain's bizarrely hopeful nihilism.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Siege of Jadotville

Viewing options on Netflix are dire as fuck these days, so ended up watching this movie about a small detachment of Irish soldiers the UN sent into the Katanga province of the formerly Belgian Congo.

The operation is, of course, fucked from the start. It's really just a dog-and-pony show. Send them out, act like 150 men with outdated weapons, limited food, and no air cover are a real presence. Meanwhile, the higher-ups have other plans going, which fail, and make the situation worse. Then it turns into a Cover Your Ass situation, and the troops are hung out to dry while the politicians maneuver. That classic tale.

The Commandant of the Irish troops (played by Jamie Dornan) has apparently read quite a lot about war, but never fought one himself. None of his troops have. Dornan portrays him as increasingly frustrated, but determined to do his duty. Of course, there comes a point his definition of his duty and the United Nations' differs.

But the UN had their chance to do this right, when now-deceased President Lumumba requested their help. But he was going to nationalize all the mining, and might have been to friendly with the Soviets, so they balked. Now that General Tshombe's pulled a coup, they decide it's time to get involved. Locking the barn after the horse killed a bunch of people.

Except the mining companies are quite happy with Tshombe being in charge, and hire him 1,000 mercenaries, including some French Legionnaires as officers. Little difficult to take the UN seriously when it's own members are undercutting it and working against it. It's the League of Nations with better press agents.

Although I'm not sure the Legionnaire guy should be ridiculing Ireland for not having fought a war. Is having gotten your asses handed to you in every war you fought over the previous 150 years really any better than having not waged an official war at all (I say official, because I think the Irish would contend they fought a war of sorts against the English)?

The film does just the bare minimum fleshing out some of the soldiers. The sergeant is gruff but steady. This one guy is worried because he enjoyed killing people. The sniper is extremely competent. This one guy asks what the other soldiers' moms look like so he can beat off to it. Just a bit more depth than a standard paper plate.

The movie does that a fair amount though. It sort of hints at a potential subplot, but never does anything with it. They introduce a widowed white lady whose husband made their fortune and died mining uranium early in the film. She and Quinlan talk a couple of times before the shooting starts, including her letting him use her phone to call his wife, which suggests she may play a larger role, but it never goes anywhere. There's a chunky white guy in a suit who must be a mine official (looks a bit like that Canadian politician Doug Ford and is listed in the credits as Man In a White Suit) that shows up a couple of times. He's watching one of the initial assaults by the mercs, and Quinlan orders the sniper to kill him. Other than the mercs withdrawing temporarily, nothing comes of that either.

I understand this is based on a true story, and therefore not everything get tied up in a neat little bow. But if you are going to do it as a story, why include elements that don't really go anywhere? As a reminder it's a lot of white people messing around in an African nation they (or their ancestors) helped screw up in the first place? I think they had that covered between all the UN guys being white, the French guy who hires the mercs, the French legionnaire leading the mercs, etc.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Fighting Distracts From the Awful Family Reunion

That's the sort of comment you save for at least the third date/fight, creepo.

I went by the store I bought volume 1 of Shaolin Sisters from last month, but they didn't have volume 2. I bought volume 3, anyway. The trio of sisters still aren't on the same page. Well, they're all chasing Bai Wang, who stole Seilin's bell, or Drake, who stole the other two, that pretty much constitute all their deadbeat kung-fu father gave them, but they aren't working together. Julin and Kalin must have convinced their pirate queen big sis not to kill them, but Seilin's not interested in a team-up.

Bai Wang's got other concerns, as some mysterious dude named Drake shows up riding a giant snake with crow wings. That's nifty, if likely to be an ecological disaster. Her lineup of '80s arcade beat 'em up characters manage to kill the creature eventually, and Bai Wang handles the other guy with, I think, an energy beam. Maybe the old Special Beam Cannon, the art's still a little vague and reliant on reader interpretation at times. Kakinouchi really likes panels of alternating light and dark sheets or radiating lines coming directly at the reader. I'm not sure it's the best approach.

Drake turns out to be someone thought dead in volume 1, possibly under mental control, and retreats, everyone on his tail. Julin and Kalin get stuck fighting Nini the Nun (is that the worst name of the four, or is it Shino the Able?), and Seilin runs into Kuichi the Dog, who, based on the panel at the top, has no concept of personal boundaries.

And then it turns out none of the girls are really up to the challenge. Even with the advantage in a handicap match, Julin and Kalin are losing, and Seilin is unable to actually shut up the creep she's fighting. She has to get bailed out by the last second arrival of someone called "Shark". Guess it's better than "Tank."

I dunno, I feel like it's not great the alleged main characters of your story can't even handle the sub-boss. They're not even the main villain herself (assuming Drake's boss doesn't turn out to be the main bad guy), but her lieutenants, you know. Make them tough wins, sure, but give 'em something. 

Maybe once they have their bells back, and actually work as a team it turns around. Whole greater than the sum of the parts and all that, but this is volume 3, and there's only two more after this, so it's not like there's a whole lot of time for them to level up.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #157

 
"Swirling Mists and Starry Skies," in Doctor Strange (vol. 1) #183, by Roy Thomas (writer), Gene Colan (artist), Tom Palmer (inker/colorist?), Jean Izzo (letterer)

Welcome to Master of the Mystic Arts March (and April)! Starting off with the one and only issue I own of Strange's first ongoing series. This book was originally Strange Tales, which for its last couple of years had mostly become Dr. Strange's book by default, but also sometimes featured Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Then they went ahead and changed it to his book officially at issue #169, and it remained that way for 15 issues. 

This is actually the final issue. I own because it's the very first comic in Essential Defenders Volume 1, because Roy Thomas kicks off the battle against the Undying Ones, which moves through Namor and Hulk's books, and that eventually Steve Engelhart would use through the first several issues of Defenders, once that book actually exists.

That said, there's not much to that in this issue. Stephen gets a telegram from an old friend, and when visits finds the man under the control of three minions of the Undying Ones. Strange defeats them by - pulling open the curtains and exposing them to sunlight. Credit for lateral thinking, I guess.

Possibly the more significant development in this issue is the Stephen returns home from a big adventure trying to save Eternity to learn that the manifestation of reality has tried to do him a solid. Strange had to publicly do magic to save someone, and so Eternity has changed his identity to Stephen Sanders, which will presumably keep people from tracking him down to bug him about magic and/or try to kill him. Not that it has much effect on this issue, other than leaving Stephen awed that Eternity can do something so intricate to such a minute detail with seemingly no effort.

Gene Colan's art is the real draw here, and I think the lack of color lets it show off a little more. You can see all the wavy mist and shadows and the full contrast in a way the color printing of the time probably didn't allow (next week's entry is also Gene Colan-drawn, but in color, and I don't think it looks nearly as good). When Stephen visits his friend, Colan uses these tall, narrow panels with thick borders to show Strange is hemmed in with the threats. Once magic starts getting thrown around, the panels tilt and almost topple as Strange is pushed on the defensive. Magic takes the form of either wavy lines or bizarre whirlpools, like doorways to other realms are just casually being tossed around.

Strange wouldn't get another solo book for about 5 years. We're going to spend a few weeks on that one, though, starting next week.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Random Back Issues #56 - She-Hulk #1

Come on Jen, everyone knows Chilly Willy's a penguin. Just because Blizzard's frozen through and through, it doesn't make them the same.

The first issue of Dan Slott's run has Jen spending as much time as possible as She-Hulk, living a party girl lifestyle, in sharp contrast to the glimpse we see of her in law school. Where she was quiet, studious, and basically went unnoticed by everyone in her class. I don't know anything about law school, but it seems like it would be competitive enough the other students would notice someone doing well enough to finish summa cum laude. But maybe law school is so tough you don't have time to worry what anyone else is doing.

Anyway, in the present, she's dating an underwear model, abusing her Avengers Priority card to park illegally, stressing the mansion's security protocols with all her unannounced guests. Most unforgivable, she's making a ton of extra work for Jarvis with the messes and the parties.

During a trial for a company which stored Anarctic Vibranium (the kind that's unstable and melts all metal) improperly, she bails during her closing argument because of an Avengers emergency. MODOK is trying to use Blizzard to freeze the entire planet so AIM can have all the technology. All the technology that will now be buried under a shitload of glaciers? As you saw up above, Jen handles that and throws another big party at the Mansion. Big ups to Captain America for offering to help Jarvis with the mess. He's a solid dude, not like that lout Tony Stark, who just stands there silently.

 
Jen ends up winning her case, the jury returning the verdict in minutes, and that's the end of her good news. Her model boyfriend breaks up with her, citing a need to date someone with more 'depth.' Then Captain America and the Wasp swing by to tell Jen she's out. Not out of the Avengers, but out of the mansion. Presumably, Steve is worried living in the mansion is causing negative health benefits because look how tiny her hands are.

When she gets to work, her car gets booted because her Avengers Priority no longer works, and she finds out the guy with the Vibranium issues got a successful mistrial filed. His attorneys argued Jen helping to save the world unfairly prejudiced the jury. Then she finds out she's fired because she's been acting too unprofessionally.

 
So it's off to a bar, where several guys try unsuccessfully to hit on her, and then Blizzard hits her with an ice beam. From a gun. If all his power comes from a gun, why did MODOK even need him? Just kill him and take the freeze gun! Anyway, Blizzard's pissed she ruined his chance to be a big shot. When she busts loose, he figures she's about to ruin his face, but instead she offers to buy him a drink, and he eventually passes out.

At which point she's approached by Holden Holliway, one of the heads of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, and Holliway, the firm that defended Anarctic Vibranium guy. Holliway already mentioned that she's very important, for reasons I don't think we learn until the end of Slott's run on the next volume. Pretty sure he ends up being evil. I know, an evil lawyer? Ridiculous.

He starts off by making reference to her not really being drunk due to her metabolism and 'immense body weight'. Man likes to live dangerously. Or he figures whatever is left of him after she punches him can sue her. He offers her a job, but as Jennifer Walters, not She-Hulk. Jen reluctantly agrees, telling herself she can stand being 'her again.' Unfortunately, Jennifer doesn't have the unique metabolism or body size, so she is immediately completely wasted and pukes all over Holliway's shoes (and an unconscious Blizzard). Well, Holliway's a dick, so I'm gonna say he deserves it.

[9th longbox, 198th comic. She-Hulk (vol. 1) #1, by Dan Slott (writer), Juan Bobillo (penciler), Marcelo Sosa (inker), Chris Chuckry (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer)]

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Triple 9

The title is a reference for the police code for officer down, apparently. Because this crew of thieves are planning to steal some files from a Homeland Security depot on behalf of a Russian-Jewish mob, and killing a cop is the best way to make sure all the cops are otherwise occupied.

So Anthony Mackie's character, as a cop himself, decides they can sacrifice his new partner (Casey Affleck). Especially since the partner's dad is also some veteran cop (played by Woody Harrelson), who will call in everybody if his son's dead. Except Affleck saved Mackie's life, so there's a little bit of conflict there for him. Is he really going to set this guy up?

Which is as close as most of the thieves get to any moral stand. Aaron Paul plays a former cop on the crew whose brother gets killed by the Russians to send them a message. He falls apart over that, and the whole "kill a cop" thing only makes it worse. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the leader of the crew, and he does a decent job of playing a guy who knows he's on a string, but can't help thinking he can salvage the lousy situation he's in. And his frustration comes through in how he gets violent and dangerous with anybody who threatens him pulling this job off. He tries to act like he has loyalty to the crew, but when it comes down to it, he's only loyal to himself.

Harrelson's performance is less effective, since he seems to be going for the idea that this cop has been at this too long, seen too much, lost too much. But he plays it so over-the-top in his mannerisms it's hard to take it seriously.

The movie probably tries to wrap too many of its threads up too neatly. Just too many people shooting other people out in the open, or planning to shoot other people in the open. It was very satisfying when the main Russian mob lady (played by Kate Winslet) got her comeuppance. I don't think they needed the bit where she turns out to be racist. She was already obviously a manipulative, cold-hearted asshole, I was fully on board with her being killed. But sure, why not?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Black Cat's Magical Introspective Journey

I said I wanted to try and go a little in-depth on the scenery Jed MacKay and  C.F. Villa used during Felicia's conversation with the ancient magic in Black Cat #3, so with no new comics for me this week, let's do that.

It starts with her in a circle of light in an otherwise featureless void, where she is promptly joined by the magic, taking the form of the Black Fox. It's got a sales pitch to make, and it chose her teacher, rather than her mother, her father, Spider-Man, either member of her crew, or anyone else. Could be because the Fox has a certain amount of status with her, or could be foreshadowing that she can't trust the Black Fox. Because the magic is trying to get what it wants here, by acting like it's giving Felicia what she wants. There's also a bit where's he's talking and circling her, and he's under his own, separate spotlight. He's got his own goals, and they don't necessarily align, or even overlap the Cat's.

After a brief check on what's happening in the world, they start their descent. It takes them across a chessboard, while the magic insists it just wants to run free, without being constrained by rules. Not a bad sales pitch to make to a thief. Only some of the pieces are identifiable, but it looks like Bruno and Iron Man are on one side, and Spider-Man and Odessa (and probably some Thieves' Guild lackeys) are on the other. I know one of the upcoming solicitations says Spidey's not happy with what Felicia's been up to, but the placement of Iron Man on what might pass for Felicia's side is curious. Unless it's simply because she was able to use his resources. And there's the fact they both walk straight across the board in one go. Which is restricted to either rooks or queens. Powerful pieces, but neither one is what you have to protect or capture to win. Not sure what the king would be in this case.

The path continues further down, and by this point, we can see that beneath the path is fire. Right at the moment the magic shares enough power that Felicia can carve up 5 symbiote dragons in one swipe. Is it salvation, offering exactly what she needs to save her and her crew from an ugly end, or is he leading her into Hell? The earth is, in a sense, burning right then. But there's also the question of what exactly the magic would do if it were given free reign. It might decide that fire is pretty groovy.

And just like that, Felicia and the Fox are in another odd little room, decorated in what I assume is 1960s style. It's got the mock-up of Warhol's Marilyn Monroe painting up, the TV's a distinctly archaic model, and Felicia's chair looks like something out of a period spy flick. Which is an odd choice. Compared to when Felicia first appeared in comics, setting her childhood (and the memory they watch is from that time) in the 1960s probably works chronologically, but it would put her in at least her 50s now. Unless it's some sort of notion of the slick cat burglar character being of that time. 

Or it's really about the Fox, since he certainly could have been active then. Felicia's caught up in both the Fox' game and the magic's, but they both want her to think it's her play. That she's the one who really wants this power, or that she really wants to rob the Thieves' Guild master vault. This whole issue, it's the magic, dressed up as Fox, that leads the way. From one setting to another, one part of its pitch to the next.

Two other points. One, the way Villa draws the room, it seems like the furnishings occupy only a small part. The walls, the ceiling, and the tiled floor are all featureless, empty. Maybe saying she hasn't really expanded her life much. She has a few friends, maybe, if her crew counts. A mother she mostly keeps at arms length. A succession of brief flings or failed attempts at more meaningful relationships. Taking measure of a life in terms of emotional connections, Felicia doesn't have much.

Or, it's just so nothing distracts from the sales pitch, which at that point involves reminding Felicia of how little she's been able to do at times. She couldn't keep her father out of prison, could only break him out to let him die at home. And Doctor Octopus once tore her up really badly when she tried to help Spider-Man. On cue, out in the real world, she gets more aggressive, actively taunting the dragons to try harder, even as she stomps on the neck of one.

Shift again, this time to a hallway filled with paintings. Spider-Man pushing her away because he doesn't think she's powerful enough to fight alongside him. Captain America and the FF telling her to hit the bricks when she goes looking for powers. The Kingpin, who gave her luck powers specifically as a way to take revenge on her and Spider-Man. And then Venom, who tore her up badly once upon a time. Which brings it back to her current situation, although I'm surprised they didn't use the time Carnage nearly killed her during Maximum Carnage. Not that I'm going to complain about ignoring that story, but it would have fit.

I wasn't sure why the shift from the TV presentation to the paintings, but maybe, since he also used the TV to show her what was going on outside, this was a way to cut her off from that. Keep her focused on his pitch, and not on how gleefully she's wiping out dragons, or how freaked out her crew and Dr. Strange are. There's also the sense that a painting is more permanent than a television show. Felicia could turn a TV off, but the painting suggests these are things she's always going to remember. Villa draws the painting as larger than Felicia, and she's shown looking up at both the Kingpin and Venom ones. They loom large. All these rejections, screw-ups, defeats, humiliations? They're going to stick with her.

But hey! Maybe this helpful source of old magic can give her the chance to do something about it! It's not like all these shitty guys that made her feel inadequate! The magic's really not doing a bad job here. Feeding her worst impulses by portraying itself as unfairly hampered by the rules of magic. Making her feel like she isn't good enough as she is, and reminding her of times she failed to drive it home. Ignoring her making Iron Man look a chump, or taking out Sabretooth by herself, or the fact that every time something she's tried hasn't worked out, she pulled herself back together and tried something else. 

It makes her angry, defensive, impatient, and that's when he makes his real offer, done up as a game show. Because this is all just a game to the magic, finding the way to get her to, as he put it earlier, 'say yes.' he even makes an entire audience of himself, although they oddly remain silently. I'd expect them to either encourage Felicia to take the deal, or encourage the Fox to offer her everything behind the doors. Which it could, but my acting like each thing on offer is its own discrete prize, it makes the magic seem so much more generous. It's going to give her what's behind all three doors, not just one. What a pal!

What's behind the doors? Well, the power to destroy all those people he just reminded her beat her up or made a fool of her in the past. Wealth, respect, her father alive and back with her mother again. Villa draws Felicia's mother leaning her head fondly on her father's shoulder, but both of them are looking proudly at Felicia. Finally, all those past loves back with her, and her on a throne no less. I confess I don't know who the brunette on the right is, in front of Flash and the Puma. I'm also curious at the implications of Odessa being there. Does that mean Felicia knows Odessa's in love with her, that this whole thing is more than just a power play by the New York branch of the Thieves' Guild?

And while he does refer to some of them leaving her, it's after he says, 'Every heart you've broken, healed.' Again, trying to make her feel like a failure, but one that this magic can fix. And the doors, and the versions of her behind them, are all much bigger than Felicia herself. Bigger, better versions of herself, hers for the taking.

Of course, it ultimately doesn't work. For all that the magic appeals to the rule-breaker in her by talking about how constrained it is by rules, everything it offers is based on the magic putting its own rules in place. That Felicia has enough power to kill Venom or Wilson Fisk, or bring her father back from the dead, or make people love her. Felicia doesn't let other people restrict her, but by the same token, she's not all that interested in locking other people up.

I still think the magic misreads her in that it thinks she just wants all this stuff handed to her. The Black Cat's whole thing is taking what she wants from people who think no one can take stuff from them. What's the point if it's just handed to her by an ancient source of magic? But I'm not sure that perception lines up with the text, beyond her refusal to use magic in matters of the heart. Maybe in the sense she demands enough power to protect her friends before she'll even really listen to the pitch.

I do like that the Cat seems to have managed to keep a little of that power even after rejecting the offer. The magic offered, and she held onto it, or stole it on the way out the door.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Kraken - China Mieville

A preserved specimen of a giant squid goes missing, somehow. All signs among the spiritually inclined point to this somehow ushering in the end of the world. Which causes a lot of chaos, because this is going to be a real end, nothing emerging from the ashes. Billy Harrow's the employee of the museum who prepared the giant squid, and this leads all concerned parties to believe that he is a figure of some importance. Which he is, but not in the way anybody seems to expect.

This is my first time reading Mieville's prose work, so I don't know if the twists and surprises are typical. Because that's a big part of this, just a seemingly constant string of misdirection and red herrings. Billy insisting there's nothing special about him, but he's wrong. But they're wrong about what's special about him. This person's dead, no they aren't. This person's behind this, no they aren't.

For the most part, it works because Mieville demonstrates that basically everyone is fumbling in the dark. They all suspect someone else is behind it, but all the assumptions keep turning out to be wrong. I think he goes to the well one time too many, though. There's a moment I thought the situation was resolved, the day had been saved, and then the story says, "Nope, not yet," and finally the true threat is revealed. But by then, I was just ready for things to be over. I wanted to exhale, and having to go through one more tense struggle was just too much.

That said, I love the world-building. All the different sorts of magic and belief, the ways of interacting with the world, of finding little loopholes. It's very interesting, in light of the final boss and what he's actually trying to destroy, the way all these characters have found little niches, ways to survive, thrive, or make a living. A place they can operate, a thing they can do that's unique.

Sometimes he leans a little too hard into trying to make the characters unique, at least in the sense that a couple of them really irritate me. I assume the one competent cop really just being a bully, who learned magic because she liked being able to use it to humiliate people, and presumably became a cop for the same reason, is deliberate. But the main hired muscle threat has this incredibly irritating way of speaking where two-thirds of what he says is seemingly random phrases and I just hated it. And Mieville didn't really do a good job of conveying what made him so terrifying to everyone. Goss seems to be a real sadist, but that's hardly unique in the book, and other than that, he's more annoying than impressive.

Outside that, though, most of the characters are interesting in how they're all sort of harried, stressed, and responding to it in different ways. Hunkering down, freaking out, shutting down, snapping at everyone, watching with avid interest. It's a real variety, which felt like a good representation of how people would behave.

'Billy dripped in more bleach and the ink rolled. "We're not going to pour you down the sink. You don't get to dissipate painlessly with rats and turds." He held the pipette over the glass. "I will piss in you and then bleach you so you dissolve. Where is the rest of you?"

He wrote. The penmanship was ragged. FUCKERS.'

Monday, March 08, 2021

What I Bought 3/4/2021

Well, I hoped to also get the last issue of Sympathy for No Devils when I swung by the store last week, but no dice. So we'll just look at the two comics I did manage to get. The theme this week is Wolverine guest appearances! Are they gratuitous? Maybe!

Power Pack #4, by Ryan North (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Wolverine smiling like that creeps me out. Also, if he's about to stab a dude, that is not the best place for Jack to be perched.

The other Power kids use what little power they've got left to bust free and keep Julie from dying horribly. Unfortunately, that means they're basically out of power, against the Wizard, who has all their powers, and is talking a bunch of shit about it. Katie's got a little left and actually tries to kill him, to their extreme concern of her siblings, but the dude can move at lightspeed, so good luck with that.

He talks some more junk about how they're dumb, and he's great, and that's why he should have this power, and then he flies off. The kids yell at each other, Julie puts forth a highly questionable theory that while the Wizard drained their powers, some of his personality went into them and that's why Katie's trying to murder people and complaining about how adults have screwed everything up for them. Or she's justifiably pissed about how adults have, in fact, screwed everything up for them.

Deciding they a) need help, and b) still need a mentor, they leave a note at the Krakoan embassy for Logan, and he shows up at their apartment, where the kids introduce him as "Dr. Brucie Mansworth", and tell their parents an extremely convincing story about how he tutors children from kindergarten up to college. I really hope their parents are just playing along, because no one can be that stupid. 

 
North wants us to take Julie's explanation for them being angry at face value, but it really just sounds like someone who doesn't want to admit they're angry they fucked up and wants to blame it on something else. I mean, she's chastising Jack for saying "frig", I'm pretty sure she's just grasping at any control of the situation she can manage.

Is the Wolverine appearance gratuitous? Well, he doesn't do much of anything here, and I feel like Katie just as easily could have contacted Shadowcat, so for the moment, yes.

Runaways #34, by Rainbow Rowell (writer), Andres Genolet (artist), Dee Cunnifee (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Here we see Molly following in the proud tradition of Shadowcat and Jubilee by already being taller than Logan by the age of 13.

So Molly did check out Krakoa on their official website, and the X-men (or whoever) did receive two e-mails from Griffith Park. One asking to be picked up, the second telling them to stay away if they know what's good for them. So they assumed it was Molly, until Chase points out Griffith Park is over 4,000 acres, so there's probably more than one damn mutant living there.

Good to see Krakoa has failed to solve the issue of bureaucratic incompetence, in addition to the issue of populating your government with fucking war criminals and the equivalent. So much for mutants finding a better way.

The X-jerks prepare to leave, while doing a piss-poor job apologizing (another thing mutants apparently haven't improved upon), when Molly insists she's going to help find this other mutant. They find a suspiciously vacant lot, then march into an invisible passage to some empty mist-covered place, where they all get attacked by monsters.

Hey, Chase actually found something he can fight without getting his ass whooped! I'm frankly disappointed by that.

Nico does a spell that disperses the void and reveals a big mansion and all of the sudden she and Pixie are into each other? I have made no bones of the fact I don't get relationships where you just show the characters fighting and arguing constantly, but even allowing for that, this development makes no goddamn sense. And I have no idea if I'm supposed to know who the Legolas-looking guy we keep seeing each time Nico uses her magic is supposed to be. If he's shown up previously in this run, I haven't bought that tpb yet.

 
Rowell seems to be hinting that Molly might be getting frustrated their her friends are still treating her like a kid, instead of an equal. Chase tells her if he and Nico decide she needs to leave the search for this missing mutant, that's it. I know they legally adopted her, but I imagine that gets a little frustrating. Especially considering Molly is stronger and more capable than probably either of them. Certainly more so than Chase.

That said, if she's thinking maybe Krakoa would be better, she's got another thing coming. I'm pretty sure she'll get dismissed even more readily there, based on the bits I've seen from the current New Mutants run. Gabby (aka, Honey Badger/Scout) is not having a good time.

I like Genolet's designs for the monsters. They're sort of generic, with the yellow eyes, and the teeth, and a couple of them have mechanical parts, but I think that's the point. This was a defense system, probably generated by someone's mind, and they defaulted a sort of basic "Scary Monster" look.

Is the Wolverine appearance gratuitous? Well, as he notes, almost anyone would have been a better choice to send on this mission than him. He clearly doesn't want to be there, and spends all the time he's not fighting monsters rolling his eyes and making sarcastic comments. So I'm going to say "no", because it's a good representation of how poorly Krakoa is being run, and that's why Molly should stay far away.