Friday, April 30, 2021

Random Back Issues #58 - The Mighty Thor #362

Sometimes the dice give me a comic nobody's talked about that turns out to be fun to dig into. Sometimes they give me one 500 other comic bloggers have already discussed extensively.

Probably the most famous issue of Walt Simonson's run on Thor (I figure either the Beta Ray Bill issues that started it or the all-splash-page fight with the Midgard Serpent are the other two candidates.) Thor led a host of Asgardian warriors into Hel to recover a bunch of mortal souls Hela isn't supposed to have. Noble as that is, Thor's also trying to avoid dealing with Odin being locked in battle with Surtur somewhere he can't reach. Plus the fact he said some harsh things to Sif while under the control of Enchantress' sister, Lorelei.

The mission's a rough go, as you'd expect when trying to steal from a death goddess. Some of the Einherjar are lured to their doom by visions of their loved ones. Balder's trying to hold it together since he barely made it out of Hel once before, and was a traumatized wreck for months after. Having his dead wife try kill him while proclaiming her hatred isn't helping. Although Thor finds out she lied to help Balder move on from her. Not sure how sound a strategy that is. Thor ultimately challenges Hela to a fight, one-on-one, for the souls. He wins, but she just about pimp slaps the lower half of his face off.

Still, souls won, and Hela having sworn to let them leave, it's time to go. Then Hela pops up, bringing along Skurge the Executioner. He was part of the army, but broke off when he found the Enchantress waiting. Balder reminds him things often aren't as they seem, and Skurge cuts through the illusion, revealing someone named Mordonna. Hela offers Skurge a job sailing the ship of the damned (made from the fingernails of the dead) once it's finished. She's actually hoping he'll attack her, so she can attack Thor and the others without breaking her word. Wonder what she'd have done if he shrugged and said, "Sure, mama always wanted me to be a sailor man."

Instead, Skurge blows up her fingernail ship with his axe. Whoops. With Hela now furious beyond measure, everyone beats a hasty retreat, only to find their path barred by all the warriors they've ever slain. Thor leads the charge through, and they're on their way to the Gjallerbru, the bridge that takes them out of Hel. But the tunnels beyond the bridge are dark, not suited for swift travel. They won't be able to stay ahead of the dead in there, not unless someone stays behind to hold the line. Someone brave, and strong, prepared to fight for honor.

Someone like Thor. Or, well, no, Skurge sucker-punches Thor. Nobody's real happy about that, but he explains he's going to hold the bridge instead. He's tired of feeling like everyone jerks him around and plays him for a sap, the Enchantress at the top of that list. So, rather than go back to that life, to letting himself be led around by the nose and losing all his self-respect, he's going out in a blaze of glory. And he does. Not one of Hela's forces gets past him, even at cost of his life. His stand apparently so heroic, that even Hela herself bows to him (and later allows him to leave for a happier realm of the dead, claiming one as noble as he doesn't belong there.)

Thor wakes up as they navigate the tunnels. Disappointed he lost his chance to escape his emotional turmoil in battle, but agreeing Skurge needed it more. Get the feeling Thor would not have minded dying in battle there, even though it would have been bad for those souls, and worse for Asgard. Meanwhile, they're almost clear, but Hela's guardian hound Garm is waiting. Too bad he's got to deal with a pissed off thunder god. It takes just one hit, and Thor's glad he didn't let his anger get the best of him and kill Garm, as he still has some role to play in the world's tale.

Safely away, the Asgardians return home to their families and ruined homes, while Thor ferries the souls back to Earth. While there, he's going to get roped into a combination Secret Wars II tie-in/Power Pack team-up. Then he gets turned into a frog. Being turned into a frog doesn't do much to stop him from beating Loki's face in.

We never actually see the extent of the damage Hela does to Thor's face. Either he covers it with a piece of his cape, or its kept in shadow when he shows others. Two drunks that tried mouthing off to him lose their lunches at the sight. Eventually, he grows a beard, which he maintains for the remainder of Simonson's run. DeFalco and Frenz shave it off immediately, revealing his wounds have healed. Skurge pops up again late in Simonson's run, when Thor has reason to settle some things with Hela.

[11th longbox, 117th comic. The Mighty Thor #362, by Walt Simonson (writer/artist), Max Scheele (colorist), John Workman Jr. (letterer)]

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton plays a gumshoe that tries to get to the bottom of his boss' (Bruce Willis, in a brief but pivotal role) murder. Although it's more about why he was killed than who's behind it. It leads into a whole thing about abusing eminent domain, racial discrimination, and the eternal problem of people who think they have "vision" and should be able to run over people. 

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the main female lead, playing a young law student involved in the fight against gentrification, but also more tied up in the whole thing than she suspects. Alec Baldwin's in here, playing an obnoxious, pushy shithead. Really stretching his range, but hell, he's good at it. Willem Dafoe shows up, playing an idealistic, nearly broken man.

Norton's thing is that his character has Tourette's, although neither he or anyone else seem to know that name for it. I have no idea how accurate the portrayal is. It isn't just swearing at random moments; it seems almost like word association. Where something he or someone else says or does triggers an outburst. Some times it's just muscle spasms or a need to touch the person on the shoulder. And according to him, it gets worse when he's stressed.

Norton makes sure to behave as someone who is used to his, who has developed workarounds, or knows situations to avoid. Knows how to try to muffle outbursts into his sleeve, make it look like a sneeze or a cough. Doesn't go to clubs or places with lots of people if he can avoid it. Apologizes almost on reflex to people. I'm actually surprised how nice most of the people he interacts with are about it. They're usually confused, but for all that he gets punched in this movie, only once is it because of an outburst. And that guy already hit him once before. 

The film is set some time after World War 2, so maybe they think it's from the war.

It's a leisurely paced movie. Norton's working off very incomplete information to start with, so his investigation isn't anything resembling straightforward. Which gets used to flesh out and build connections between characters, gradually reveal the political corruption, and let Norton decide what he's really hoping to accomplish. Some of it is personal, but he's not incapable of empathy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

July is Too Hot to Shake Things Up

July's solicits suggest not a quiet month, exactly, but there's not much in the way of new stuff. Mostly just things I was already buying and will continue to buy.

Marvel, for example, has one new thing I might get, hidden beneath the pile of the X-book stuff, the "Final Annihilation" stuff, and the "Sinister War" one-month Spider-Man event thing. Jed MacKay and Alessandro Cappuccio are doing a Moon Knight series. Taskmaster was a dud, but Black Cat earns MacKay another shot. Beyond that, the aforementioned Black Cat, Black Knight's final issue, Runaways was on a skip month in June, and Way of X (if I'm still buying it.)

DC actually has two things I'm considering. One is the fifth issue of Batman: Urban Legends, because there's a Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain story in there. Not worth $8, but if I can find a beat up copy eventually, I might get it. The other is Blue & Gold, a Dan Jurgens/Ryan Sook Booster Gold and Blue Beetle mini-series. There's some question of whether Sook can stick to a monthly schedule for 8 issues, but Jurgens as writer concerns me more. His work seems technically fine, but I have never gotten excited reading his writing. It's like Cullen Bunn in that there's just something that doesn't connect.

Outside that, the last issue of Jenny Zero from Dark Horse (maybe by next week I'll have the first issue to see if that's going to be relevant.) Freak Snow and You Promised Me Darkness, the latter of which will be in the first half of the conclusion to the first arc. The third issue of Yuki vs. Panda from Source Point. Midnight Western Theatre is going to ship two months in a row, and the second issue of Locust will be out, too. There's also a one-shot connected to that Phantom Starkiller book called Count Draco Knuckleduster, but Joseph Schmalke and Peter Goral. So that's maybe something new.

On the manga front, Square Enix has the fourth volume of Soul Eater Perfect Edition out. I'm a couple of volumes behind yet, but something to keep an eye on. And Vertical has the fifth volume of a series by Aki Irie called Go With Clouds North by Northwest, about a detective in Iceland that can talk to cars. I'd have to go back to find the earlier volumes first, but it's a form of back issue hunting. That's still fun for me, sometimes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Off Limits

Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines are a pair of CID men in Saigon. Their attempt to arrest a deserter is interrupted when they're assigned to investigate the murder of a sex worker by an American officer. 

As these things often do, it grows more complicated when it becomes apparent that not only is this not the first of these. A novice (Amanda Pays) in a convent knew each of the victims had a child from an American GI. The militaries already closed down the investigation once before. The Marine initially assigned to investigate decided he was safer on the front lines. Their first witness (played by Keith David) gets blown up, along with the guy assigned to guard him (played by David Alan Grier, was not expecting to see him). Dafoe gets interested in the novice. Scott Glenn pops up as a well-regarded Army colonel (and kind of nuts, got a bit of the Colonel Kurtz in him) who is also a suspect.

Most of the movie is the DaFoe and Hines trying to navigate all the various roadblocks. As you might guess, not everyone in Vietnam is excited to help members of the US military. Not that they help themselves any. They spend a lot of time chasing people, using racial slurs to people's faces, and antagonizing the Vietnamese military police. The draw their handguns at a drop of a hat, and Hinds' go-to threat to unhelpful suspects is to rip their nuts off.

Of the two, I think Hines' character is a little more focused on just trying to make it home alive, which might explain his attitude. He doesn't want to get killed because he was caught unprepared to fight back. Dafoe is, well, Dafoe. He's not as over-the-top as in some other roles, but there's still a fair amount of that intensity he typically brings to roles. But there's also a certain awkwardness, especially when he interacts with the novice. There's one bit where she brings them to speak with the sister of a witness. The sister works in a strip club, and Dafoe is very embarrassed to be sitting there with a couple of nuns, while they're entirely unaffected.

As a mystery goes, it's not that great. I figured out the killer just based on the role the character played in the film. But it's interesting to watch a movie about the U.S. presence in Vietnam that isn't about the fights in the jungles.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Bounty Hunting Is Both More and Less Fun Than You Think

Gonna be one of those kinds of weeks, huh?

Kim And Kim: This Glamorous High-Flying Rock Star Life is the first of currently three mini-series about a pair of space bounty hunters, Kim D. and Kim Q (that's her with the guitar). I've seen comparisons to Dirty Pair, in the amount of immense destruction and chaos they leave in their wake, but I tend to agree with the blurb on the back of the trade that mentions Cowboy Bebop. These two are always broke or nearly broke, and none of their plans and schemes ever seem to go how they hoped. They've each got pasts, both of which Magdalene Visaggio reveals pieces of as the story goes along, and while Kim Q. frequently irritates Kim D., they've got each other's backs.

That, and their spaceship is a beat up hunk of junk. It's basically a VW bus with wings.

The plot is them trying to make some money by going after an extremely high-profile bounty, and getting into all kinds of problems as a result. Unexpectedly, Visaggio kind of lets that thread go with an issue left, the Kims relating the story to a couple of friends and admitting they fell asleep, and everyone was gone when they woke up. So they just assume everything worked out. One of their friends, who works as an assassin, lampshades that being a mistake, but it doesn't seem to come to anything here. Actually, it's been a couple years since I read the third mini-series (Oh Shit, It's Kim and Kim!), but I can't remember there having been fallout from it yet.

I think the plot is mostly incidental, as a way to introduce parts of the Kims' backstories (Kim D. comes from a line of probate necromancers, Kim Q. is the estranged daughter of some asshole that runs a big merc crew), and highlight their characters. Kim D. is a little calmer, more practical, a bit more insecure. When she tries to use necromancy to track down a lead, she's constantly convinced she's gonna screw it up. Which she does, but that attitude can't help.

Kim Q. is the one who causes problems. Starts fights, spends all their money on booze, refuses to accept jobs from her father on principle, but encourages Kim to beg her mom to cover their rent. Honestly, she seems like a horrible friend, but I guess she's fun to be around, and she likes to hit things with a guitar. Can't find too many partners like that, I'm sure.

Cabrera's has a flexible, somewhat cartoonish style that fits with the high emotions and occasional weird crap the Kims encounter. Her linework is kept pretty simple. There's not a lot of needless little lines, which probably fits well with Claudia Aguirre's colors. They aren't blindingly bright, although it is a colorful book. Kim D.'s pink Kalashnikov is eye-catching, but not to the point it's distracting. The dark gloom and shadows are saved for when it actually fits the scene. But a lot of the colors are solid, not much in gradients, so lighter cross-hatching or whatever would probably get swamped anyway. 

Most of the characters' fashion senses could be easily described as "show off your abs". The men and women, Cabrera's equal opportunity on that score. It's a like a commercial for The Gap. But given it's a bunch of people living the "glamorous, rock star life", it and the colors, make perfect sense.

Plus, as a product of the mid-2000s comic blogowhatchamafloogle, I am obligated to be excited about any comic that has an evil scientist with a body made of famous monkeys, who makes robot gorilla henchmen.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #163

"An Empty Monument," in Doctor Strange: What is it that Disturbs You, Stephen?, by Marc Andreyko (writer), P. Craig Russell (artist), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist), Galen Showman (letterer)

I did a review of this when I purchased it back in 2012. I knew it had been a while - I think I bought this around the same time as Triumph and Torment during a Dr. Strange binge I went on - but I didn't realize it had been that long ago.

I don't think I'd change any of what I said in that first review, but looking at the story now, it's interesting how much of a bystander Stephen is in some respects. A bit like the Phantom Stranger is sometimes presented. Trying to nudge things to a proper conclusion through minor words or actions. He's drawn in by Wong's abduction, and Electra seemingly wants his help in finding away around her father's protective ward. A way that all the power that she shares with her sister can be hers, as well as the angel Galtus. She frames it differently, of course, but Stephen learns the truth quickly.

Once he has, though, it turns more into more of a struggle between Electra and her sister. Or maybe Electra and her inner demons. Stephen tries to convince her to make peace, to stop grabbing so feverishly for what's not hers, and she won't. Any such argument reads as either madness or treachery to her. Strange ultimately can't do anything to save the realm, or any of the three inhabitants. He's able to send Wong home, and he escapes alive, or is thrown away by the forces unleashed, but that's about it. At the end of the day, Strange and Wong just got sucked into somebody else's family drama, and that's always messy and unpleasant.

Russell and Kindzierski's artwork is spectacular. All the little flourishes in the architecture, or in the form Stephen's spells take as they leave his fingers. When he's trying to hold something together, they may have more of a rigid, blocky design. Right angles and sharp corners. Or the spell may be an onion-shaped purple mass with little spines sticking out. Just a lot of variety in it. The way dialogue can follow actions through a portal or circling around an important object. I think it's worth finding for the art alone, if you can.

Friday, April 23, 2021

What I Bought 4/21/2021

My work travels this week gave me a chance to hit up a comics store I haven't in a few years. Did better on back issues than new issues, but one new comic to review is better than none. Actually, having seen some of it posted online, I'm not sure whether I want to get Way of X #1 or not now.

Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade #2, by Si Spurrier (writer), Sergio Davila (artist), Sean Parsons (inker), Arif Prianto (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer) - I don't know why Dane has blue energy sparking from his nipple, and the interior of the comics is no help, either.

So Dane's alive, and rather confused and freaked out by it. He sends away the scholar he'd sent for and gets Sir Percy's ghost out to try and explain things. Where he learns Merlin cast some sort of resurrection spell on the material the sword is made out of. Also, that Percy crafted three other items from the stuff, which were supposedly destroyed in some blood river after he chose the sword for himself. Except Jacks, having returned to her professor for help and found him murdered, has another vision of the past and sees someone saved the staff that helps those burdened with wisdom.

Before she can return to Dane and clue him in, Elsa Bloodstone drives a motorcycle through Dane's stained glass window and starts trying to kill him. She's been following a series of murders (including Jacks' professor) that involve a bloodstone somehow. There's a brief fight where Elsa insults Americans taste in alcohol (probably fair, fuck if I know), and our penchant for talking. Those British detective series my father adores would suggest that's pot calling kettle black. Jacks arrives soon enough to keep Elsa from losing her head, or Dane from losing his two best friends (and I'm not talking about the ghost or the weird goat-man servant). And everyone concludes Mordred is behind all this, as he's trying to recover the other items.

I feel like I should enjoy this more than I do. I'm not sure Dane's attitude is helping. There's a bit where Percy is into his spiel with Dane sitting behind him, scanning his phone and pretending to listen. I mean, Spurrier is clearly playing with the idea these two have a long history. That Percy enjoys making Dane jump through hoops to get any kind of assistance, and Dane, having realized he can't get around it, does his best to bear it in his own way. But I'm presumably supposed to care about this exposition dump, so maybe don't have the main character no-sell it.

I do like the page where Dane and Jacks are having dinner and Dane is pouring himself wine and Davila has him just keeping pouring and overfilling the glass. Never making eye contact with Jacks, and asking the goat-guy to turn off the news (which is showing Dane's decapitated body from the previous issue) because it's disturbing her. Right, sure it is. The first panel on the next page takes up half of it and is him flipping the table and yelling about why none of them are freaking out he's moving around. The other half of the page is him reacting to Jacks pleading with him not to eat her brains. 

Granted, with that half he does the bit where he repeats the panel exactly (the second one having no dialogue), which I guess we're all supposed to not like now. (There was some bullshit about that online a few weeks back, about some Bagley pages in a Venom issue.) I kind of like it here, because Jacks has just asked Dane how he knows he's not a zombie, and so everyone remaining in the same position kind of works. Dane's trying to figure out an answer, and I think Jacks and Phillip are staying still in case the answer is, "You're right. BRAIIIIIIINNNNSSSS!" and they don't want to set off the feeding frenzy of a crazed undead with a powerful sword.

I don't actually know at the moment whether I'm going to get the next issue. Probably, but there's a bit of uncertainty.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What I Bought 4/14/2021 - Part 3

It snowed yesterday while I was out in the field. In the middle of April. Lovely. A complication I did not need, to be sure. But whatever, here's a couple of first issues. Well, one is a first issue, the other is a one-shot.

Darkhawk: Heart of the Hawk, by Danny Fingeroth, Dan Abnett, Kyle Higgins (writers), Mike Manley, Andrea Di Vito, Juanan Ramirez (artists), Le Beau Underwood (inker for Di Vito), Chris Sotomayor, Sebastian Cheng, Erick Arciniega (colorists), Travis Lanham (letterer) - They didn't have that cover at the store, but it was the one I liked best.

Three stories in this. Fingeroth, Manley, and Sotomayor set one sometime in the first year of Darkhawk's ongoing, where he briefly tries chatting up the daughter of the crimelord he was feuding with for information, then ends up fighting a crooked cop in a super-suit out to kill her. It's fine. Fingeroth works in a lot of angst for Chris about his mother and his little brothers, about trying to do the right thing but really hating Bazin. Sotomayor's coloring makes Manley's artwork look smoother than it did on Darkhawk back in the day. Less heavy on the shading and blacks, bit less of a gritty texture to things. 

Which is interesting. I'm just going off memory but I feel like the title had the look and feel of something closer to a street-level crime book, at least initially. Closer to JRJR on Daredevil than most Spider-Man titles of the time. Which makes sense, given it was mostly about Chris wanting to bring down a particular crime boss, but running into all this other increasingly crazy crap on the way.

The second story, by Abnett and Di Vito is set after Thanos Imperative, with Chris out in space trying to help people. In this case, by killing a bunch of Brood that were trying to set up in a rebuilding settlement. Chris wipes them out, but the locals prove being ungrateful shits isn't exclusive to Earth in the Marvel Universe and complain because the bar got destroyed. Cheng's coloring on the first page looks different from all the others. Almost bright to the point things look washed out. I mostly only noticed because it made Di Vito's work look a bit softer than normal, blunted some of the lines on faces. But it's only on the first page. Otherwise, it looks pretty much as Di Vito's work always does.

Higgins and Ramirez wrap things up with a five-part teaser for something. Chris is in the future, getting ready to send back his amulet with all his memories and experiences in the hope someone can stave off the "shadow war" that's about to destroy the universe or something. Oh joy, another one. The common thread between all three stories is Chris trying to figure out who he is. What does being Darkhawk mean to him, what is he wanting to accomplish, and what is he willing to do? I guess by the third story he's figured it out, but it's too late to help.

Locust #1, by Massimo Rosi (writer), Alex Nieto (artist), Mattia Gentili (letterer) - Great, more snow. Can't get away from that stuff.

The story moves back and forth between the present, where a lone man named Max is searching for a child taken by some religious wackjobs, and two years earlier. In the past, he worked on a fishing boat when the first reports of a new disease started to surface. The next time we see the past, he's at his mother's rest home, which has been fortified. But not fortified enough, as one of his childhood friends crawls in, rapidly turning into a giant bug. 

In the present, Max shoots a couple dogs to lure their owner into a trap. Where he dumps some toxic waste on the guy and his remaining dogs, then starts hacking pieces off with a machete to get what he wants. Delightful.

So the first issue sets up a search, as well as the question of how Max got from caring for his mother to seeking this child. I suppose you could add the question of why this happened, but Max feels too far removed from that to find answers. I suspect the "why" doesn't matter much to him, anyway.

Nieto's characters all have an aged and well-won look to them. Bags under the eyes, scraggly beards and unkempt hair. The end of civilization doesn't seem to change much for Max in that regard. he might look a little wilder, Nieto might shift perspective to let him loom over someone occasionally, face in shadow, but much the same beyond that. 

The cities, even before the plague, all depicted as dark and quiet. Even the shot of New York City in the past is done from a remove, where the lights on the buildings are so subdued you could easily miss them. Nieto favors overhead shots or long shots, where people are either small or can't be seen at all. It makes everything seem empty, even if it reasonably can't be. Max talks in a flashback about moving his family out of the city, away from the crush and demands, so it seems like he got at least part of his wish. The cities are much quieter now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Don't Listen

This couple that buy houses, renovate them, then sell them, purchase a big old house out in the countryside. Their son doesn't like it, saying he hears voices that tell him bad things. Soon enough, he turns up floating dead in the pool.

The mother retreats to her parents, but the father stays to try and finish the house (or process the loss). While listening to a voicemail he sent his wife that she claimed was garbled, he hears his son calling for his help. He enlists a guy who's written a bunch of books about ghosts communicating through electrical stuff, and the guy and his daughter (who doesn't believe in any of this) comes along as his assistant.

For a while, the movie feels like it's about grief. The ghost is able to mimic other people's voices, or even their appearance, and exploits this. When the mother returns to the house, having received a call from her son, she sees him disappear under his bed. The father sees his wife and son through a some plastic sheeting. The expert sees his deceased wife. The only one who seems resistant is Ruth, the expert's daughter. As soon as her mother beckons to her, she starts shaking her head and insists it isn't her.

Of course, it quickly becomes apparent the ghost doesn't have to bother with that, since it can attack people directly or even possess them somehow with flies the buzz into the victim's ears. Which makes you wonder why she bothers with all the deception and fanfare. I guess you've got to do something to pass the time when you're dead.

Fair number of jump scares, or scenes that get you to anticipate jump scares. The character sees something in one direction and it disappears. But the camera is pulled in on them so you can't see what's behind them, so when they go to turn around you're expecting a big surprise. They usually drag it out longer than that, and I can't decide whether they keep it going too long, or just long enough. You know it's gonna end badly, but the mounting confusion into terror of the characters is effective.

This movie is set in Spain, and it eventually turns out the house was used by the Inquisition. I thought it was funny the movie seems to argue that while, sure, the Catholic Church probably killed a bunch of innocent people here, this particular person probably really was an evil witch. Oh yes, now she's an angry, murdering, witch ghost. Much better.

Monday, April 19, 2021

What I Bought 4/14/2021 - Part 2

Well, the new battery I got for my laptop seems to be working properly. That's nice. Maybe 3 years is long enough for a computer, but if it still does everything I need perfectly well, why spend a lot more money changing things up when a little will solve the problem?

Today, we've got two fifth issues to look at. One's the conclusion to a mini-series, the other is the start of a new storyline.

Power Pack #5, by Ryan North (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - The other three kids look varying degrees of worried, but Julie over there on the left just looks resigned. "Oh well, so much for my superpowers."

The kids and Logan's brilliant plan is to convince the Wizard he didn't get all their powers by staging a fight with - high school play special effects - between the kids and "Wolvermean", Wolverine's evil, purple-loving twin brother. I laughed typing that out just now. I'm still laughing, actually. Give me a minute.

OK, I think I'm good. Anyway, seeing such awesome abilities as Julie's "FTL railgun punch" (which does sound pretty cool) gets the Wizard to rush out, ambush the kids, and throw them back in the cylinders he used to steal their powers originally. Except they snuck in last night with Logan and reversed the machines so they steal their powers back. Wizard gets his butt kicked and humiliated, putting everything back in its proper place. The kids use his Agent Aether drone to pretend they still have an official mentor until this stupid law is repealed, and loan him out to other helpful teen heroes.

Like Squirrel Girl! I demand a Power Pack/Squirrel Girl team-up yesterday! Actually two days ago since I'm writing this on Saturday.

This mini-series was kind of stupid and silly and I loved it. The whole "Outlawed" thing is depressing and not something I want to deal with, and North and Leon used it just enough to do this weird thing and that's A-OK. Logan cobbling together a purple version of his costume for this farce (and apparently helping the Power kids make versions of their costumes since they normally come with the powers) cracks me up. The ham acting during their "fight", and the credulous media falling for it.

Also, some of the plans the Wizard's shown coming up with involving their powers. The difference between how well Leon draws everything else, and the Wizard's barely-above-stick-figure diagram of how he'll defeat the Juggernaut by using Mass Master's power to shrink down, be swallowed, than attack Juggy's lungs with an axe (note: remember to bring axe). Brilliant.

Black Cat #5, by Jed Mackay (writer), Mike Dowling (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - Is that supposed to a webline or a regular rope she uses? If it's the latter, it's looking kind of frayed.

This entire issue is a lot of talking and set-up, all leading to the big reveal at the end. Namely, that the Black Fox is looking to break into the Guild's vault for a very different purpose than taking all their wealth. He wants to make a deal with the Guild's patron, who is basically what you get if you look up "catacomb saint" on Wikipedia. I was going to say it looked like some skeletal Aztec god-thing, but apparently that would have been an inaccurate cultural reference.

I mean, that's basically it. There's some flashbacks, to Felicia ending her apprenticeship with the Fox and setting out on her. To the Fox seeking Dracula's aid for a solution to his problem, and getting turned away. Turns out Drac doesn't appreciate someone cheating him at cards, then siccing Ulysses Bloodstone on him. Who knew the Lord of Vampires was such a petty bitch? Except basically everyone.

Dowling's artwork is more in a realistic style than the other artists the book has had. A lighter touch when it comes to shading, but at times the linework's very minimal. Almost more the suggestion of a person's face than an actual drawing of the face. Not sure if the linework got overwhelmed by Reber's colors, or if it wasn't there at all. It's not my favorite look for the book, although it works for an issue this low-energy, that's mostly talking and people having emotions. Not sure how well it'll serve if there's a fight scene or a fast-moving escape, though. Maybe we'll find out next month.

I guess not every issue can be a winner.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #162

"Extra-Dimensional Pharmacology," in Doctor Strange: The Oath #1, by Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Marcos Martin (penciler), Alvaro Lopez (inker), Javier Rodriguez (colorist), Willie Schubert (letterer)

This is one of the first mini-series I can remember getting unexpectedly excited for after I started this blog. I didn't know Brian K. Vaughn from anybody as a writer. I'm sure I'd heard of Ex Machina, but I hadn't (and still haven't) read it. And I don't think I'd come across Marcos Martin's artwork yet, either.

And yet, the combination of an interesting first cover, and a slow week in terms of new releases I was interested in, got me to pick this up. And it worked out pretty well, so I can blame all those crappy Marvel mini-series I took chances on in subsequent years on my good fortune with this one.

(Not really. The blame for those is on my poor judgement as always.)

Vaughn's Strange is an interesting mixture of experience and the arrogance that comes with that. He is extremely skilled and has been through a lot, knows a lot. But there are blind spots that come with that all the same. He underestimates an opponent (and is later underestimated himself), overreaches against a powerful creature that's killed past Sorcerer Supremes, but is able to adjust and recover. He's knowledgeable, but not infallible. He can charge in rashly, and even be a bit cruel when his temper is up. And criticially to the story, he's still very much a doctor of medicine. 

He's also a bit charming - which Vaughn plays up by adding Night Nurse to the supporting cast and eventually starting up a relationship between the two of them - and could be seen as a bit absent-minded at times. Or he's just confident that Wong has his back. He's seen a lot, and so he has a tendency to take a slightly know-it-all approach with people, psychoanalyzing them in a way that could get on someone's nerves.

Martin's version Strange is tall and wiry, more than a bit of Vincent Price to him, I think. He draws the Cloak of Levitation as a long, narrow thing that tends to close tightly around Stephen so that only his head is visible above. But Martin also changes the costume up slightly, in that Strange wears the blue shirt loose over a ordinary looking pair of slacks, rather than tucked under a belt but over a pair of leggings, as was typically the look. Maybe Strange is worried someone will call him on his "casual Friday" attire, and the Cloak wants to spare him the embarrassment.

Really, though, I think Martin, Lopez, and Rodriguez are trying to channel their best Ditko. Never a bad call when we're talking about Dr. Strange, I assume. The scenes where Stephen is in other dimensions, or the mindscape, definitely owe a lot to Ditko's Strange, and Martin's creativity in design is well-suited for it. Wish he'd had more opportunity to go experimental with panel layouts.

Friday, April 16, 2021

What I Bought 4/14/2021 - Part 1

My best week for new comics in months. Maybe over a year. Five comics, plus one from last week. Huzzah! So let's look at a couple of those on this lovely spring day.

Iron Fist: Heart of the Dragon #4, by Larry Hama (writer), Dave Wachter (artist), Neeraj Menon (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - This needs an old Joe Kubert cover-style, "There's no sign of the giant spider, Immortal Weapons!" dialogue balloons.

We find out who the mysterious dragon killer is and it is. . . I have no idea who Brenda Swanson is. The internet tells me she's from the Iron Fist series Kaare Andrews did 7 years ago. Credit to Hama for using all kinds of stuff, I guess. Another person with a grudge against Danny's family, apparently, and she wants some of that good dragon chi. Who doesn't?

Okoye's in the Heart of Heaven and speaks with another dragon who encourages her to look at the big picture and decide what's necessary to fix things. Which is, as Danny and the others find out after another seemingly pointless round of running around fighting undead ninjas, to kill the remaining dragons. I feel like Pei is going to have some objections to Okoye trying to kill her baby dragon, Gork. Which I figure is coming next issue. Danny tries to stop her, there's a lot of arguing about him not understanding what needs to be done to solve the problem.

One thing, among many, I'm confused on is where all these undead ninjas are coming from if that gate Danny pushed closed a couple of issues ago is still closed. Nothing anyone is doing seems to actually be making a difference. I really hope this doesn't turn into one of those stories where a bunch of characters are fooled into thinking they're accomplishing something, because one character is leading them around by the nose.

The design for the dragon from the Bride of Nine Spiders' dragon is terrifying, but appropriate, I guess. Strange none of the others seemed so unique, though. The fight scenes are brief, and like I said, seemingly pointless to the story, but Wachter draws them well enough. The roughness to his line makes the characters look more worn down and weary.

Runaways #35, by Rainbow Rowell (writer), Andres Genolet (artist), Dee Cunniffe (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - This is your life when you pay for magic on the installment plan.

Nico avoids doing something really stupid with Pixie. First time for everything. They find the young mutant, whose mother contacted Krakoa. Jodi doesn't want to go, because she thinks she'll never get to go home again. Oh, but after the first time you die horribly and get resurrected, why would you ever want to leave? Anyway, Jodi agrees to at least give it a try, and Logan agrees to not try and abduct Molly. Chase is also dating an older Gert through the magic of time travel. Er, science of time travel. Whatever.

The most important point - other than Molly remaining safely out of the clutches of the X-books - is that weird guy we see when Nico uses her magic finally got explained to me when Nico explains it to Karolina. There's a magician sealed inside the staff, and in exchange for Nico not having to cut herself to use it, he gets to put a bit of his soul in her instead? Yeah, no way that ends horribly. So, lover's quarrel as Karolina wants to destroy the staff, and Nico doesn't want to give the staff up. Which could be seen as her not wanting to surrender her power, but is also entirely likely about her friends' tendency to die, and magic being a useful tool to bring them back.

I'm still amused by the fact Molly is already taller than Nico. Although looking at volume 2 of the series, Kris Anka didn't draw her that tall. I guess she hit a growth spurt. Makes sense for a 13-14 year old. Anyway, I couldn't help laughing at Nico's expression in the second panel there. So excited about the idea she could trick the magician trapped in her staff for generations. I mean sure, the guy was dumb enough to get trapped in the first place, but given Nico's poor track record of decisions, I doubt she's going to sucker him.

Maybe they could call Hawkeye. When you need someone to trick a powerful being that's not as smart as they think, he's your guy.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Tank Girl

I. . . honestly am not sure what to say about this movie. Having never read any of the comics, I don't know if it's a faithful representation. If it is, I'd say the comics are kind of incoherent.

It takes at least the first third of the movie before Lori Petty actually gets herself a tank. That third does effectively establish Malcolm McDowell and his "Water and Power" district as a bunch of scumbags who enjoy varied forms of torture and murder. It also establishes Tank Girl as a big Doris Day fan. Maybe this was their version of Stanley Ipkiss as being really into Tex Avery cartoons.

Speaking of which, there's a scene that turns into a musical number. The Mask had the bit at the nightclub with swing dancing and Cameron Diaz (or maybe the "Cuban Pete" segment with the police is the better comp), so maybe this was just a thing for '90s comic adaptations. The Rocketeer had a fancy nightclub scene, too, although I don't remember a lot of singing.

Tank Girl's version is a little odd as it comes during what is ostensibly a rescue mission/escape attempt, and stalls that long enough the rescue mission fails miserably, as the person they came to save gets captured by someone else. Honestly, Tank Girl might have a hyperactivity disorder, and if so, the movie definitely reflects that, because I can't figure out what the heck she's thinking sometimes.

Why, for example, during the big attack scene at the end, is she paragliding behind her tank? She could be inside it, especially since she apparently has the only tank Water & Power had, since they seemingly have nothing else that poses any threat to it. You'd think I'd be more used to such decisions from reading Deadpool, but I can usually at least see some form of logic in his decisions, questionable as it may be.

I will say the movie certainly gives a good sense of a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors have latched on to what bits and pieces of culture or entertainment they can find. Water & Power has a fairly homogeneous depressing industrial vibe, but everyone else is living in weird cobbled together hodgepodges of whatever's handy. Old bowling alleys, fridges that would look ancient now, let alone in 3 centuries.

As far as '90s comic movies go, put it well behind Rocketeer or The Mask, but ahead of such luminaries as Barb Wire, Steel, or either of the Schumacher Batman films. Yeah, Schumacher had higher production values and a consistent creative vision, but when that vision is shit, well, just look at Zack Snyder. Having a vision doesn't make it a good vision.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Standards Are Dropping Everywhere These Days

I think King in Black might finally be over. I saw some scans from issue 5 of Venom, amped up on Captain Universe powers shoving Knull into the Sun.

Of course, that was after Venom was somehow able to call Mjolnir to him and combine it with Knull's stupid sword into a battle-axe somehow. Really, I'm just hung up on the notion of Venom - loves talkin' 'bout eatin' brains Venom - holding Mjolnir. Captain Universe powers or no, Venom has murdered kind of a lot of people in his lifetime. Brock and the symbiote both, whether together or separate. Why not just let the Punisher swing it around next?

I shouldn't say that. Donny Cates will probably do it. That man has made remarkable time in landing on my "never buy anything he writes list" alongside such luminaries as Mark Millar. I get the feeling he read a lot of the same comics in the '90s I did, but we came to very different conclusions about what we liked.

I can't decide whether Venom being considered "worthy" is more annoying than HYDRA Captain America being able to use it during Secret Empire. Probably not, if only because with Venom I can at least make the argument it's the Enigma Force doing the heavy lifting on the worthiness. Don't have that out with Nick Spencer's mess.

I feel like this all Jason Aaron's fault, though. He did that whole bit in Original Sin about Thor being unable to lift Mjolnir after Nick Fury whispered in his ear. It turned out what he told Thor was that he wasn't worthy, and that was all it took. Thor no longer felt worthy, so he wasn't. Which I guess means you just have to think you're worthy to wield it, and there you go. Because one thing I can believe is a fascist Captain America thinking he's still worthy.

But it sets kind of a shit precedent. I know Marvel likes to argue that grandiose villains like Thanos and Dr. Doom always lose their ultimate power because on some level they won't admit, they know they don't deserve it, but not every villain can be like that. Some of these guys have got to fully believe they deserve it. I could see The Hood absolutely believing it. Or the Mad Thinker. Norman Osborn in his less lucid moments, where he's not aware of what a piece of garbage he is. Magneto, probably. You get the point. 

Hell, if all it takes is having a stupidly high opinion of yourself, Tony Stark should have been picking it up years ago.

I get needing to go big for your finale, but I feel like positioning the Enigma Force as the counter to whatever Knull represents - the void, or something I think - and giving that to someone using the symbiotes ought to have been enough. Leaning on the "Now this character can use Mjolnir!" for cheap pop is just kind of annoying.

Or maybe I'm just sick of Eddie Brock and symbiote-related stuff. Like I said, Cates and I clearly came away from the '90s with different experiences.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Into the Grizzly Maze

Basically, a big grizzly bear kills people for 90 minutes. As the bear is played by Bart the Bear, I assume he's angry about that time he got suckered and killed by Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge. That is a much better movie than this one, although I think that was supposed to be a suspenseful survival film, and this is more like a slasher horror flick.

Part of the problem is they have to make the bear ridiculously clever and sneaky. With The Edge, the humans had no real supplies, and other than Anthony Hopkins' character having read a book on wilderness survival, neither of them knew what the hell they were doing. A perhaps unusually fixated, but otherwise normal grizzly bear is really fucking dangerous to those guys. 

With this movie, you've eventually got a pair of brothers (played by James Marsden and Thomas Jane) who have been hunters and trackers their whole lives. Thomas Jane's character is married to a deaf conservationist (played by Piper Perabo) and sure, being deaf in a forest full of large predators is kind of dicey, but she at least knows what not to do in the woods. They have food, radios, guns, camping gear. 

So the bear has to become almost supernatural to tilt the playing field heavily against them. It catches people by surprise like it's Jason Voorhees, or the damn Predator. It waits until one character is crossing a wet downed log to roar, so the person panics, falls off the lops and rolls down a steep hill. Where they naturally impale their leg on a sharp branch. The movie even has a couple bits where you hear someone firing a gun off in the distance, and then they go silent. Yet it's somehow not very good at actually killing people. Either that or James Marsden has Wolverine's healing factor, because otherwise that bear should have killed him three seconds after he was on him.

(There's also some really shitty CGI in the climactic confrontation. They should have found another route to go that didn't require that, because it just looks awful.)

I'm not sure it's exactly clear why the bear is doing this. We see this one local guide has taken hunters into a protected area (with the sheriff, played by Scott Glenn and doomed the minute they mention he's nearing retirement) and they've killed a lot of bears so they can cut off their paws. The bear also kills a couple of dumbasses that sneak into an area to cut down timber illegally. But the bear also attacks other bears, to the point that all the radio collared bears in the area are literally fleeing to get the hell away.

Billy Bob Thornton's in here as another guide/hunter. He says it's nature being pissed about the poaching and illegal timber cutting. Except we find out he was once almost killed by a bear while in his sleeping bag, but stabbed it in the neck with his knife. Then when he got out of the hospital, he marched into the woods and just killed 20 bears. What the fuck he's doing lecturing other people about pissing off nature, I don't know.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Eyepatches, Handguns, and Young Love

I can't decide if those would work better as lyrics in some sad Alanis Morissette song, on in some screaming Scandanavian death metal.

The battery on my laptop has crapped out entirely, but as long as I keep the computer plugged in it still works, so let's look at the second volume of Atsushi Suzumi's Venus Versus Virus. It's kind of weird, the volume lists the book as illustrated by Atsushi, but doesn't list a writer. Not sure what that means.

The basic premise is there are monsters running around, referred to as "viruses". Some of them look like vaguely human-shaped oily blobs, but some of them can either assume human form or possess someone. There's Lucia, with her mysterious eye patch and the Gothic Lolita fashion sense, who's been fighting them for some time, and Sumire, who Lucia saved recently and has just started training to fight them as well. Sumire seems to have a high sensitivity to the viruses, which both helps her see them and draws them to her, but this volume establishes that she has something else going on, too.

When Sumire's exposed to the "antivirals" they make to kill the monsters, it provokes a sort of berserker state in her (one that turns her pupils into little plus signs or crosses and gives her a deranged smile.) One which seems to make her really want to attack Lucia, who is reluctant to harm her. The precise abilities change depending on which she's exposed to, but the end result is always her trying to attack. It's also during the first of these attacks that Lucia's inner monologue suggests either she isn't entirely human, or doesn't consider herself human. That along with a conversation she has with her mentor/Alfred figure later on, make some pretty strong hints about Lucia's father.

In the midst of the three of them trying to get some handle on this weird ability, and Sumire trying to figure out what exactly it wants her to do to Lucia, she meets a guy hanging out in a playground. He's very polite, and nice, and seemingly non-threatening. Lots of those bashful, eyes closed smiles. Almost constantly, in fact. All that smiling makes him seem untrustworthy. He also doesn't seem bothered when another lightning wielding virus shows up to test Sumire. Or when Sumire pulls a gun and tries to shoot her. We already know there's someone watching Lucia and Sumire with interest, so, you know, he's probably evil. More so than even your average teenage boy.

Hey, I was a teenage boy once, I know how it is. Although I was more a mixture of sarcasm, false cynicism and apathy than straight up evil. Like Dre said, ain't too much changed.

Also, I don't know how old Sumire is supposed to be - old enough no one thinks twice about her having an after-school job - but between the school uniform she wears and his severe height advantage over her, the age gap feels like it would be questionable? Who knows, she's probably like 15 and he's 17 or something (assuming he's human).

The volume ends on Sumire seeing that Lucia has vulnerabilities as well, and that one lightning-wielding virus possessing Sumire's classmate and getting into their home. At which point Sumire decides to try and put this berserker thing to use. Guess I'd have to get volume 3 to see how that works for her.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #161

"Failed Their Stealth Check," in Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, by Roger Stern (writer), Mike Mignola (pencil artist), Mark Badger (inker/color artist), Jim Novak (letterer)

The premise of the story is that Strange passes a test of several mystics engineered by the Vishanti, but Doom is the only other person standing at the end, and by the bizarre rules of the test, he's owed one favor from Strange. To Strange's surprise, Doom requests his help rescuing his mother's soul from Mephisto. That proves as difficult you'd expect stealing a soul away from the Devil to be.

I know we're in Master of the Mystic Arts March (and April), but this is one of my favorite Dr. Doom stories. Doom is arrogant, but not oblivious to Strange being vastly better at magic than him, and more than willing to learn from him. Strange expects Doom to demand help enslaving the world, while Mephisto offers to give him the world, and Doom rejects them both, stating basically that he can take the world whenever he chooses. He doesn't need help.

He keeps his word, but exactly to the letter of it. During the mystic challenge, when one of the others argues Doom has no business there, as reliant as he is on technology, Doom states he will remove his gauntlets and deactivate all his offensive weaponry. That does not, however, prevent him from using his armor's sensors to analyze and help him mimic the other mystics' gestures and spells as they're using them. Doom is willing to do whatever it takes to free his mother, and able to use that to play others' expectations of him. He's determined to succeed, but not so blind as to trust Mephisto to keep a bargain.

He's not a good man, but he still has a certain level of honor he plays by. Mignola's Doom is a big, boxy thing, with the cape giving the appearance of broad shoulders and the oversized joints of the armor working together to give him a looming, imposing presence. It makes the moments where he's slumped over in exhaustion or despair, like a toy that's run out of power, more effective. Every so often, the art moves in close enough to offer the glimpse of the eyes and the scars around them that remind the reader there is a person in there.

Strange is definitely the confident (but not over-confident) veteran Sorcerer Supreme Stern wrote during his stint on the ongoing series. Mephisto's demons attempt to beat him by attacking his inner self, insisting he's only the selfish jerk he was as a surgeon, and it doesn't work. He consistently recognizes when a frontal attack isn't the right approach, and finds a way around. Whether it's unraveling the Vishanti's challenge, or figuring out how to beat Mephisto. Strange has been through too much to be suckered into thinking raw power and flinging spells around is always the answer.

Badger's inks and shadows aren't nearly what we'd see from Mignola's art once he started Hellboy (although I'd say the difference between his art here and what he did for the Rocket Raccoon mini-series just a few years earlier is pretty stark), and his inking makes things a bit fussier than that later blocky, solid, almost minimalist style Mignola adopted. But there are effective moments in there. The mystics who fail the Vishanti's tests become less distinct green outlines of what they were. Mephisto is depicted as this looming, shadowed form. His eyes are yellow voids, and his face is usually hidden so no expression can be seen. Especially when he's making someone an offer. It's only when he thinks he's won, or the tables have been turned on him, that the shadows fall away and whatever he's really feeling becomes readily visible.

Friday, April 09, 2021

What I Bought 4/3/2021 - Part 2

There was only one new comic out this week I wanted, so I didn't bother going hunting for it. Next week is supposed to be pretty good, so I'll try and grab it then. In the meantime, here's two fourth issues from last month to look at.

The Union #4, by Paul Grist (writer), Andrea Di Vito (penciler), Le Beau Underwood (inker), Nolan Woodard (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - I can't decide what the green lights in Choir's mouth remind me of. The weird engine from Event Horizon? A Borg Cube thing? It'll come to me in the middle of the night, I'm sure.

After opening with a flashback to some fight thirty years ago where The Sponge had the drop on Britannia (who I keep expecting to pop back up under some, "You can't kill the spirit of a nation" thing), they move to the present. Where "Doc Croc" (who doesn't like that name) and his band of lackeys (including The Choir) are invading the Tower of London to steal "The Empire Stone" created by John Dee. The Union go down like a bunch of chumps, demonstrating a total lack of teamwork. But that tech bro that put the team together takes the stone for himself before Croc can get it.

Well, we all knew that billionaires are the true villains. I'm pretty much expecting the last issue to be a fight between Croc and his bunch, as the old-school costumed villains (including a talking, cybernetically enhanced corgi), versus the irritating corporate sleazebag and his shitty haircut and stupid mustache. That could be highly entertaining, or highly depressing. I mean, I'm rooting for the super-villain personally. At least they've got flair and style.

At this point, there's no real sign the heroes are going to get their act together and work cooperatively. Or maybe they will and it'll just prove ineffective. I'm not sure yet what Grist is going for there. The Sponge seemingly didn't kill Britannia 30 years ago, and instead now works for the government. So people can change, can triumph over their inner demons? But they need the right person to nudge them along? And the team doesn't have that person, since Union Jack's clearly not cutting it. Although I feel like there's been so little opportunity to see him try it's hard to say he can't.

Guess I'll have to wait until the last issue comes out in May to see where Grist is going with this thing.

Black Cat #4, by Jed MacKay (writer), Nina Vakueva (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - She won't be happy when those cats barf all over the loot to mark it.

I'm assuming this was originally going to be the second Annual, which was mentioned before the canceled the previous run. It's focused on Lily Hollister, one of several characters added during Brand New Day. She was that one goblin villain, Menace? She had a kid with either Harry, or maybe Norman slept with her behind his son's back, I don't know. She doesn't remember much of that, and now she's trying to be a hero called the Queen Cat. Her costume is just a color-reversed version of Felicia's earlier outfits.

Vakueva draws Felicia's current costume pretty much how Kris Anka did in that two-part Madripoor story that came out last year. Where the collar flares out a lot more, the furry parts at the wrists and ankles are more like flares than cuffs, and the "mask" isn't really even that

Lily was working as a waitress at the party Felicia attended in the very first issue of the previous volume, and she's been trying to hunt Felicia down ever since. If she's going to be the hero, she needs to bring down the villain who she resembles. Nice touch by Vakueva that, when we Lily sees Felicia at points from earlier stories, she's drawn closer to how Travel Foreman drew her. Bigger hair, and with the more classic fur cuffs on the costume. Lily eventually found their hideout by staking out a takeout place, beat up Black Fox (wrong animal, lady) and stole everything they'd stolen. Except Felicia finds her faster than expected and whups her butt. 

Most of the issue is narrated as a journal entry Lily is writing, and the entry cuts off abruptly when Bruno and Doctor Korpse bust in unexpectedly. But Lily finished writing like two pages ago. Closed the journal and was laying there on her bed looking pleased with herself. So that didn't quite track. 

The big part of the issue is that Felicia encourages Lily to keep being a hero if that's what she really wants, and if she needs Felicia as a foil, then that's OK, too. The whole thing is presented as Lily only knowing enough about who she was before to hate that person, and wanting to be someone better and different. Felicia, having gone through that horribly conceived stretch where she tried to be a crime boss (thanks, Bendis and Slott, you putzes), and now getting back to what she does well (and what makes her a cool and fun character), gets that. 

I'm pretty sure that's the only time MacKay's referenced the whole "Queenpin" status quo. Hopefully it's the last time, but it fits in this situation. Felicia isn't the sort of character to judge someone else for deciding to do something dangerous and ill-advised with their life. It's not a great issue as a standalone, since Lily seems so obviously out of her league here. But as a breather between the magic-slinging madness from the previous three issues, and a return to the upcoming Big Heist, it works. Gives the comic a chance to re-center on what it's really been about.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Block Island Sound

A fisherman wakes up on his boat with no idea what's going on. His son grows concerned as the man seems to be acting strangely. Standing around staring into space, leaving fridge doors open, taking the boat out at night. Then the old man takes the boat out one night, and when they find the boat, he's gone. Eventually he washes up on shore.

For a long stretch in the middle, the movie almost seems like it's about grief and mourning. How people deal, or don't deal, with loss. The son, Harry, seems like he can't accept that things just happen. He drinks, he pursues anything that might suggest this wasn't just an unfortunate accident. One of his sisters seems like she just wants to focus on putting affairs in order, and really has no patience for Harry's struggles. Audry, the other sister, is left trying to play peacemaker. Or maybe it's the role she naturally assumes. Each of them trying to grab some control of a situation beyond their control.

It's a little strange to watch, because we know Harry is right, even if we aren't sure exactly what's going on. During the moments where the old man (and later, Harry) act strangely, there's this low "growling" as the captions describe it coming through electronics that seemingly only they can hear. So this is clearly not just depression or alcoholism. But Harry either doesn't grasp that something's happening, or doesn't want to admit it, so everyone just keeps treating it as Harry refusing to grow up, as Jen so helpfully puts it.

The movie doesn't quite succeed in creating the air of dread or suspense that I think it attempts. Mostly because it's obvious no one has any idea what's happening. There's no reason to regard Harry as anything other than a dead man walking, and the movie didn't make me care that much about anybody else. It's kind of like following a character you know Jason Voorhees is gonna kill. There's not a chance for them to escape or turn the tables, they're just running out the clock.

Also, I don't think they needed to repeat what Audry told her daughter earlier about her work with fish right at the end. It's meant as an explanation for why this is happening, but I think it was pretty clear by then. Especially since a different character had already explained it to us maybe 15 minutes earlier. Yeah, Audry thinks he's nuts, but again, we the audience know that he's not.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

What I Bought 4/3/2021 - Part 1

Well, amidst the disaster that was the end of last week, I did get some comics. There were only two comics from last month, and we'll get to those Friday. I was hoping the second issue of White Lily would be out, but no dice. Today, we'll look at the last issue of a mini-series that concluded in February.

Sympathy for No Devils #5, by Brandon Thomas (writer), Lee Ferguson (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer) - This reboot of The Indian in the Cupboard is weird. Less racist, though.

Thomas decides to pick things up after the big fight with the murderer that was ramping up at the end of issue 4. Instead, we get Winston explaining things to an unseen interviewer, who turns out to be the police commissioner. I don't think the mystery really ties together, because even Winston admits he's not sure why the killer felt it was a good idea to drag him back in. The best he can offer is that his assistant pulled it together as part of his big scheme to kill Winston and win the Mayor's heart. Which feels kind of half-assed, but does that speak to Winston's ability as a detective, Floyd's limitations as a criminal mastermind, or Thomas not being that great at writing a mystery?

Beyond that, Raleigh gives Winston one of his hands, and gets a mechanical one for himself. They couldn't build a mechanical hand for Winston based off his existing hand? Like, how differently do skeletons and musculature work for everyone else in this world? But whatever, they have to rush off to the cemetery because Winston can save the Mayor if they hurry. OK, sure, comes out of nowhere, but fine. The mummies as guards against graverobbing was a nice touch.

That's the thing about this series. The parts I like are when Thomas and Ferguson show the unique features of this world. I'm still not clear on whether everyone used to be human like Winston and were changed to these other forms, or if all the other humans are just dead, and these beings emerged from. . . somewhere. If it's the latter, then the world should be different, shouldn't it? They wouldn't just recreate what the now extinct humans did, would they? 

There are dribs and drabs of that. The mummy guards, the testing to keep shapeshifters from passing as colossals. The rainbow-colored horse Raleigh and Winston use to get to the cemetery instead of a car or something. Maybe the world needed a little more establishment before diving into a mystery that is steeped in backstory.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Nemesis Affair - David M. Raup

David Raup was, along with Jack Sepkoski, one of the scientists who said the fossil record showed evidence of periodic extinctions every 26 million years. Which in turn helped prompt the whole search for a mechanism that could do that, which led to the notion of the Sun having a companion star which hurls comets at Earth when its orbit brings it nearby.

This book isn't so much about that. Raup is a paleontologist. Outside mentioning some people who are studying them, he leaves discussion of Nemesis, Planet X, or the Solar Systems oscillations through the galactic plane alone. He does discuss his and Sepkoski's work some, as well as other studies they did on related topics. Such as investigating whether reversals in the Earth's magnetic field could be mapped to a set pattern and correlated with mass extinctions. 

Raup is more focused on the nature of research in sciences. The peculiar ways in which scientists regard themselves and their pursuits, versus reality. The notion that they are objective and always ready to accept new theories with supporting evidence, when they can be just as entrenched and dogmatic as any religious figure. He talks about Darwin's friend Charles Lyell, and how his belief in gradualism crushed Cuvier's idea of catastrophism so utterly that for decades to even suggest significant changes in the earth were the result of massive, random actions would get you laughed out of a symposium. Or worse, ignored entirely.

Raup, like Muller, is open about how he is as guilty of this at times as anyone else. That when Walter Alvarez first proposed the idea of the iridium layers as significant, he was ready to dismiss the notion outright. Because it just seemed too ridiculous. He doesn't opine on the need to balance being receptive to new ideas with skepticism the way Muller did, however. He does discuss the curious role the press plays in the scientific world more than Muller. How scientists will sometimes regard it as a breach of conduct to discuss their research in newspapers, as that's glory chasing or unseemly. And that some journals will even refuse to publish an article if the authors do that. I assume because it could be seen as circumventing the peer review process that is meant to be followed prior to publishing.

I admit, I was hoping for more about the search for Nemesis than I got. There is a brief update at the end - the book was originally published in '85, then revised in '99 - that notes there still hasn't been a companion star found, or anything else that would explain periodic comet showers. But the look into the world of scientific research was fairly interesting, and Raup doesn't waste nearly as much time on pointless stuff as Muller did.

'The operative word here is "required". Clemens was not saying which explanation of the extinctions was most likely. Rather, he was saying we already have acceptable explanations without resort to meteorite impact. The practical effect is that a new idea requires a truly compelling case - intellectual overkill - to displace the incumbent.'

Monday, April 05, 2021

It's Me, I'm The April's Fool

So last Thursday evening I'm coming home from a walk. There's this old man in the parking lot in the front of my building. He asks if I've got a cell phone. I, not being in the habit of telling complete strangers what I have on me, lie and say no. He asks if I have a phone in my apartment, and if I could call 911 and ask them to send someone to help him change his flat tire. Because he's too crippled up to do it.

OK, I didn't even know that was a thing you could do, but sure. I go inside, think about it, sigh, go back outside and ask if he has all the tools to change the tire. So I chock the tires, get the spare out, get the SUV jacked up, get the flat off. This is all a pain in the ass because his ride has an absurd amount of security crap. Like, there's two plastic covers you have to pry off to get to the little port you access to crank the spare down from the underside of the car. One of the lug nuts on the flat is entirely different from the others, and requires a different head for the lug wrench, as some anti-theft measure.

Anyway, all that's done. I roll the spare up, get ready to put it on, he asks me if I'm sure I'm not putting it on backwards. I pause to peer down at the other side, putting my hand on top of the tire for a moment.

The jack slips. Guess I needed to chock the tires against it rolling forward, rather than backward. My hand and arm halfway to the elbow are now caught between the spare tire and the wheel well of his fucking car. If you ever wanted to see a human being imitate Daffy Duck when a boulder rolls on his foot, this would have been your chance. Best of all, the old man tells me, over my screamed profanities, 'I can't do anything.'

Really? I'm not expecting you to deadlift this thing like Spider-Man, but you can't even bend over just a little to help pull the tire clear so I can get my hand free? Fucking hell, I'm in trouble here, take a chance, would ya? If I had not been freaking out about my hand, I'd have been thinking about stabbing him repeatedly.

After some amount of time, which I've estimated at 15 seconds, but it sure seemed longer, I wiggled the tire enough it fell away and my hand was loose. I'm not sure it's the single most painful incident in my life - the 11-pound alligator snapping turtle trying to take my index finger at the last knuckle in 2013 probably holds that title - but it's in the running. 

Now, we're calling 911. I will note that even through the pain, I maintain my earlier lie and state I retrieved my phone before I came back outside. Because that was something to be concerned about, him figuring out I was lying. EMTs arrive, off to the hospital, X-rays, hooray no bones broken! Which is a real stunner considering the rim of the wheel well fell right across my thumb, just past the knuckle. Given how it looked when I got it free, I figured it was smashed for sure.

As of three days later, the bruising on the forearm is fading, but the wrist and thumb are still notably swollen. The thumb and palm have a fair number of abrasions and bruises of their own, no surprise there. Seem to have almost full range of motion, although the outside of the wrist twinges sharply if I'm not careful. Could have been a lot worse. My brain keeps providing slideshows of some alternate universe where I tried to kick the tire clear with my foot and the wheel of the car dropped and sliced off my toes. Not sure why it thinks I need to see that, but it's never seen fit to clue me in on the process behind such decisions.

The important takeaway from all this is to never help anyone. It's a terrible idea, and will only end badly. The story of the Good Samaritan leaves out the part where the man he helped was unwittingly carrying the plague and the Samaritan's entire family ended up like Job's. Alternatively, as Alex suggested when I told him about this over the weekend, I'm like Zuko in Season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and just really bad at being good. Equally plausible.

I don't know what it is, but spring is the time of year when bad shit happens to me. The tornado two years ago was in May, the hailstorm last year was late March, now this shit.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sunday Splash Page #160

"Mystical Tailors Aren't Listed in the Yellow Pages," in Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #78, by Peter B. Gillis (writer), Chris Warner (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorer), Joe Rosen (letterer)

After Stern's final issue, Peter B. Gillis took over as writer, with Chris Warner as penciler, for the final six issues before the series was canceled. I discussed those issues about five years ago, but in summary, Gillis presents a Stephen Strange who feels a distance growing between himself and the humanity he defends as Sorcerer Supreme.

Stephen keeps trying to catch up with friends and acquaintances he's not seen in a long time, and regretting that he's let those relationships lapse. But those regrets keep distracting him, leaving him either off his game when he encounters threats, or unaware of them until it's too late. His entire Sanctum is whisked away into space by some alien wizard while Stephen is trying to actually keep a date with Morgana Blessing for once.

The other side of that coin is Stephen struggles with whether it was the right thing to let those human connections fade, given his responsibilities. That the Sorcerer Supreme may need to think of the bigger picture, and if that means a few people die to some minor threat, it's acceptable as long as it lets Strange be prepared for something that endangers the entire world, or the entire dimension.

It almost feels like a step back for the character from where Stern had him. Stern's Strange wasn't unbeatable or invincible - Dracula put him on his heels, and he couldn't face Umar alone - but he seemed confident of his abilities. Aware of the risks of his actions, able to balance the sides of his life. But you could argue that the pursuit of knowledge is an ongoing process, and that Gillis is just showing that there's still more for Strange to learn, in many fields. That just because Stephen was able to handle those past threats, doesn't mean he can keep multiple balls in the air indefinitely. Sometimes even a Sorcerer Supreme can get overwhelmed.

Or you could look at it, that the way that Stern's Dr. Strange was occasionally a bit awkward or oblivious is because, as Gillis presents it, he's become distant from humanity. He doesn't notice women swooning over him because he's kind of forgotten that's even a thing. I'm not sure that would hold up, since Stern sent Strange into a funk after he and Clea parted ways, but it's another possible interpretation.

The series ends at issue 81, with Stephen choosing to defeat the immediate threat and save his friends, even at the risk of leaving himself undermanned against greater dangers in the future. Gillis would write Strange's next ongoing series, which started a year later, but only the first four issues before Dann and Roy Thomas took over as writer. That series would run for 90 issues, but I don't own any of it, so next week, we'll move on to graphic novels and mini-series.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Delayed for Maximum Effect

*Morning in the hallways of Creative Industrial Approaches*

Random Employee: Good morning, Ms. Pollock.

Pollock: *hums distractedly*

Wage Schlub: Good morning, Ms. Pollock.

Pollock: Mm-hmm, yes.

Captain Androzier: Is something the matter, Ma'am?

Pollock: *mumbling to herself* Was it my turn? No, I visited last year. . .

*Pollock reaches the doors to her office. She shoves them open, but steps back quickly. Nothing happens.*

Androzier: Commandant?

Pollock: What? You know I don't use that title any longer.

Androzier: I had to do something to get your attention. What's wrong?

Pollock: *takes a cautious step into her office, looks around carefully.* What day was yesterday?

Androzier: April 1st. . . Oh. The panda.

Pollock: *nods* And the dolt.

Androzier: But nothing happened.

Pollock: *still standing in the entrance of her office* Exactly. They're never late. Punctuality is the dolt's lone redeeming character trait. But I'm certain I visited them last year. It revealed some flaws in my quarantine suit.

Androzier: Perhaps they forgot. Or they aren't coming to visit this year. That would be good. They cause a lot of damage.

Pollock: You may be right. They may have finally grown up and stopped this foolishness. *deep sigh* I may as well get some work done. I'll talk to you later, Captain.

*Androzier nods and closes the door on the way out. Pollock finally approaches her desk, and after thoroughly checking the chair, the drawers, both the potted plants in the corners, and the Jackson Pollock original hanging on the wall, settles into her seat. 

Time passes. Pollock has a research proposal from the Exotic Energy Department open in front of her, but instead taps the desk listlessly with a pen.*

Pollock: *mutters* Just forgot, huh? I'm not even worth your time any more unless you need something from me?

Sudden Voice: Aww, I'd never forget about you. You're like a torn hamstring that just won't heal.

*Pollock snaps her head up to see Calvin leaning against the opposite wall. She leaps to her feet.*

Pollock: *excitedly* Calvin! I mean, Imbecile. I mean, how did you get in here?

Calvin: *shrugs* I just walked in. Nobody seemed to notice me. Maybe they thought you needed cheering up.

Pollock: *scoffs* Cheering up? Whatever for? And from you?

Calvin: You looked pretty bored with that paperwork. Who better to raise your mood than the source of so much mayhem for you over the years?

Pollock: Anyone would be better suited to raise someone's mood than you, and the panda is the one who causes most of the mayhem. *pauses, looks around* Where is the accursed furball?

Calvin: Couldn't make it. Clever Adolescent Panda said they were too mature for prank war. Besides, this was always meant to be between the two of us.

Pollock: The panda thinks they're more mature than I am? Ridiculous. Wait, you think you can survive against me alone?

Calvin: Survive? C'mon, you're not back in "angry murder mode", are you? And why is no one wearing masks in this building?

Pollock: I had all my employees vaccinated months ago. Are you still not vaccinated?

Calvin: Half-vaccinated, thank you. My state is only mostly incompetently run. Just like kids in schools, according to elected officials tired of being yelled at by people who don't want to deal with their children, I can stand within three feet of people without worries. Your business wouldn't strike me as an essential service.

Pollock: I hijacked a shipment of vaccines meant for elderly people in rural areas.

Calvin: Ah. Sold the excess at exorbitant prices?

Pollock: Naturally. I thought you'd be more offended.

Calvin: Not like they were gonna take the vaccines anyway, if the people living in the countrysides I know are any indication.

Pollock: *poorly concealed excitement* So, when does your prank attempt begin?

Calvin: Oh, I don't have one. After the pie gag finally went off successfully last year, I'm out of ideas. I just wanted to come visit.

Pollock: *shoulders slumped in disappointment* I should have guessed. Well, that's good, of course! A wise decision on your part, sparing yourself the humiliation of having your prank backfire!

Calvin: Yeah, you're probably right. *the intercom system squawks* Is it time for mid-morning reminder to work hard for the glorious advancement of the your blinding cultural vision?

Pollock: *bewildered* My blinding - what does that even mean? I'm not Chairman Mao! And no, I don't know what this is. . . *eyes drop from the intercom back to Calvin* What did you do?

Calvin: *wide-eyed innocent expression* Me? I didn't do a thing.

Clever Adolescent Panda: *over the intercom* Testing, testing. Is this thing on? Someone wave at the security monitors if you can see me.

Calvin: *waves blindly* Our furry friend, on the other hand, may have realized life is too short to worry about nonsense like "being mature."

Pollock: I have got to improve the security of the security guard stations.

Calvin: Do you know how much skill it takes to improve the security of the security stations?

Pollock: Yes, actually, I've had several efficiency studies run on it, given the repeated break-ins by pandas, mercenaries, strange hillbilly women, and idiots. The figures always seem to be low, though.

CAP: Good morning, everyone! It's Friday, and that means the weekend is almost here. Which means it's time to release all the frustration of another long week at work.

Random Lab Technician: But we like our jobs!

Custodian: Yeah! My frustration is at an all-time low! My husband says I'm much more pleasant to be around when I get home now!

CAP: Oh. Well, that's very healthy. Also, it's kind of weird I can hear all of you. *speaks to someone in the room, probably the incapacitated guard* The intercom is a two-way system? That's neat.

Pollock: I'm not sure what you were planning to accomplish, but you didn't count on my being an excellent boss. You'll soon have another piece for your Yellow Brick Road of Failure.

Calvin: Yellow Brick Road of - ? Now who's talking nonsense? *to the intercom* Just play the damn music!

Pollock: Music?

CAP: Don't yell at me, Calvin! Ahem, while I'm pleased you all like your work so much, you still need some calisthenics, so we're going to have a short music break to encourage you to get up and move around.

Pollock: How is music a prank? You plan to embarrass me with lowered productivity for one day? The Final Four and Easter are this weekend, everyone is already relaxing.

*harsh guitar riff*

Calvin: I guess all your employees fleeing in horror would lower productivity.

Over the intercom: It's just one of those days, when you don't wanna wake up -

*simultaneous screams of horror from every corner of the building*

Calvin: *frowns* That's a bit extreme. "Break Stuff" isn't that bad of a song.

Pollock: That isn't it. Or at least, that isn't the only reason. That song triggers the security response in all our genetically engineered plants!

Calvin: Say what now?

*Both Pollock's potted plants begin to shudder and grow. The large flower bulbs that were closed earlier open, exposing smiles with razor sharp teeth. One of them lunges at Calvin, the other at Pollock.*

CAP: *screams over the intercom* Why is a plant trying to eat me?

Calvin: *scrambling backwards frantically* You made the Piranha Plants from Super Mario Bros.?!

Pollock: *leaps onto her desk* They're really more based on the one from Little Shop of Horrors.

Calvin: I've never seen that movie.

Pollock: I figured as much.

Calvin: You couldn't teach them to differentiate between friend and foe?

Pollock: *slashes at the plant attacking her with a sword hidden in her desk* The response is autonomic, so no. If we gave it that sort of intelligence, it could choose not to do what it's supposed to, when it's supposed to do it. Plus, I've had enough problems with creating life that's self-aware, thank you.

Calvin: *dives out of the way of the snapping jaws* Seems like a design flaw if you were planning to market these!

Pollock: *annoyed* Do you know how impressive it is to create a plant that can spontaneously produce a head with teeth made of sharpened, reinforced silica in response to a particular sound? And the bulb produces different structures in response to different auditory stimuli!

Calvin: OK, so what's makes them stop eating people? 'Cause they're still on the attack, and we're on a different song!

Pollock: I can't imagine your music selection would have it, but something mellow and gentle would work.

Calvin: *shouting* Play "Blue in Green"! *sound of struggling over the intercom* CAP, are you there?

CAP: Hang on! *harsh grunt and some ripping sounds* I had to bite through the stem.

*Soon, the building is filled with a soothing jazz melody. The plants cease chasing after the poor employees. The jaws close and the head shifts and morphs, before splitting open again. Now it's an unusual flower, the petals speckled with dots that glow a brilliant purple or pink. Like neon signs in the rain.*

Calvin: Wow, no wonder all detectives like jazz music. It's the perfect cure for both plant attacks and provides mood lighting.

Pollock: You complete jack - *sighs* never mind. Can I have a status report? Is anyone injured?

Different Random Employee: I twisted my ankle running down stairs.

Lab Techs: We may have busted open a pipe with liquid nitrogen in one of the labs.

Security Guard: I set one of the break rooms on fire. It spread to the 14th floor bathrooms. *Captain Androzier can be heard crying in dismay somewhere*

Calvin: *dusts hands off* Another successful prank!

Pollock: Prank? This is industrial espionage!

Calvin: Really? Seems pretty tame by our standards. Building is still standing.

Pollock: Which is more than you'll be able to manage in another moment. *advances with her sword*

Calvin: *backing up towards the door* Hey now, murder is such an ugly thing to let get into the papers.

Pollock: It's a Friday, the story would get ignored anyway. And I imagine my employees are willing to remain silent.

Calvin: Hmm, yeah, probably. Good jobs are hard to come by these days. But look, your plants are doing some other than providing groovy lighting!

*The plants have begun to emit some sort of purple-gray dust from the flower head. A could of it drifts right in front of Pollock.*

Pollock: That is a rather interesting. . . scent. What was I so angry about anyway?

Calvin: *protected by his mask* Ummm, nothing! Actually, you were just showing me your cool sword. You're absolutely right, Pollock, it is a very cool sword!

Pollock: *gleeful smile* It is, isn't it? I use to think about how much fun it would be to cut your head off with it.

Calvin: Uhh. . . 

Pollock: But then I found out how much work it is to clean after I cut off the Predator Drone's head. So I'm not gonna do that.

Calvin: I'm very glad to hear that. It looks like you've got things to do - 

Pollock: *slides to the floor, leans back against the wall* Not really. I'm kinda low on inspiration for wild ideas right now.

Calvin: Well I bet you're feeling super-creative right now, so I'll just be getting out of your hair. *calls to the intercom* CAP, you read to go?

CAP: Me and Tim - the guard's name is Tim, he's real cool - we're going eat some Oreos he had with him. They're the pumpkin ones! From Halloween!

Calvin: OK, sure. You have fun with that. *dashes out the door past a lot of other, very relaxed looking people*

CAP: You bet. Tim? I just realized, you guys don't have any cameras in the bathrooms. I mean, it's good for people's privacy, but it's a real gap in your security. I could cause so much trouble in there. . .