Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – April 2021

Ateh was a poetess, but the only lines of hers that have been preserved are: “The difference between two yeses can be greater than the difference between yes and no.” (Milorad Pavic, from The Dictionary of the Khazars)

COMICS

Black Widow volume 1: The Ties That Bind by Kelly Thompson (writer), Elena Casagrande (artist), Rafael De Latorre (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Carlos Gómez (artist), Federico Blee (artist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

I recognize that I’m kind of in the bag for Kelly Thompson, because despite never having met her in person, I’ve communicated with her A LOT over the years, thanks to her writing for the old blog and us getting along quite well (I recently emailed her to say hello, in fact, and we had a nice email conversation). So I try hard to judge her work on its own merit and not the fact that I think Kelly is awesome, and granted, I haven’t loved everything she’s written, but she’s a damned good writer, and she does such a good job with these Marvel characters that it bugs me that she’s not a bigger star (soon enough, I hope!). Part of what makes her so good is that she’s one of the best dialogue writers in comics – she’s like old-school Bendis, except that she doesn’t add the stuttering that Bendis enjoys, so it feels the tiniest bit less realistic than Bendis’s but it’s not as annoying as his can be. She also makes the characters sound like human beings – they don’t always talk in exposition, they go off on tangents, they get in human-like snits, and they don’t all sound alike. It’s refreshing reading one of Kelly’s comics, because it’s going to “sound” different than most comics, and so when she hits us with an emotional moment, it tends to land better than when a writer not as good with dialogue does it. So, in issue #1, despite the fact that we’re pretty sure Natasha has been “brainwashed” somehow (she’s living a normal life in San Francisco and, as Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier discover, she has a kid who’s definitely older than three months, which is how long she’s been missing), Thompson gives her dialogue that helps reveal her character and move the plot along, so we know it’s Natasha but still know something is wrong. When the villains meet later to discuss their plans, they’re not pretentious monologuers ranting from on high, they’re people who talk to each other and react appropriately to others’ words. Villains in groups are rarely monolithic, but Thompson makes them far more petty than we’re used to seeing, because she makes them into real people with real concerns … one of them being that they all know Natasha is unbeatable in standard ways, so they’re terrified she’s going to “wake up” and figure out what’s been done to her. Which, of course, she does. Thompson also uses Clint, Bucky (yes, I know he’s called James these days, but it’s Bucky!) and Yelena Bulova well without taking the focus off of Natasha. The vagaries of superhero comics means that Thompson’s plot, which is fairly clever, needs to be smashed with a big fight, but at least she gives us justification for it, and it’s not just “we need a big fight.” By humanizing the villains, she makes it easier to accept when they do stupid things.

I’ve always liked Elena Casagrande’s art, but it seems that in this comic, she’s taken a big step forward (I’d have to go back and look at some of her older stuff to compare). Her line looks thicker and bolder, adding some nice heft to it, while she’s still able to go softer and keep things fluid. It seems the coloring helps, too – Bellaire is, of course, one of the best in the business, and she doesn’t over-render Casagrande’s art, so the lines seem to be more solid even if they’re thinner. In the brief flashback sequence colored by (I think?) Blee, you see a bit more rendering, which works as a contrast to the rest of the book and also with Gómez’s softer “pencils.” Casagrande also designs pages well – there are a few double-page spreads which show a whole bunch of movement, as Casagrande puts multiple iterations of the same character “moving” across the page, and she directs our eyes masterfully. She knows when to open things up and when to focus, which is a very good skill to have as an artist – manipulating the flow of the book and making sure the readers pick up on the important stuff while also taking advantage of the “wide-screen” format comics us well. It’s a beautiful book, in other words.

Thompson’s books are fun to read because of the way she knows the characters, so she makes them her own without contradicting what came before. When you’re in a shared universe, that’s a good thing to be able to do. So give this a look. It’s neat.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that doesn’t sound very fun

G.I. Joe: World on Fire by Paul Allor (writer), Chris Evenhuis (artist), Niko Walter (artist), Emma Vieceli (artist), Ryan Kelly (artist), Brittany Peer (colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $29.99, 242 pgs, IDW.

Paul Allor is a good writer, so I’m not surprised that his G.I. Joe epic, which begins with Cobra in control of the world and shows how the plucky rebels of G.I. Joe fight back, is good. I don’t generally buy G.I. Joe comics, but occasionally they’ll throw a special event at us, and those usually turn out quite good, and Allor does nice work with this. The ending is a bit rushed, as things fall apart for Cobra far too quickly, but it’s all about the journey and not the destination with Manichaean comics like this (i.e., most of them), as we know Cobra isn’t going to win, but how G.I Joe wins becomes more interesting than whether they do. This particular story begins with a delivery driver named Rithy who stumbles onto a Joe operation, picks up a flash drive the Joe dumped, and watches as the Cobra leader kills said Joe (I won’t give it away, but it does happen on the first few pages, so it wouldn’t be a huge spoiler). Lady Jaye tells him to forget what he saw, but he interferes in a Joe operation, so they reluctantly bring him in. Allor uses him as our POV character, and so we get a nice conceit: the story is mostly from the vantage point of new recruits to G.I. Joe, so they’re not seasoned veterans who know what they’re doing. This allows Allor to explain things that newcomers to the G.I. Joe Universe might not know and also to introduce the characters and why they have code names. Because Allor has a lot of space to work with (until he, um, doesn’t), we also get some insight into some of the Cobra characters and what their motivations might be beyond “being evil.” There are a few one-off stories about espionage in the age of Cobra and one about a single dude trying to fight the very tough Cobra robots, and those fill in the world nicely, too. In the end, Allor seems to run out of room, and the way Joe takes down Cobra is a bit hilarious and even keeping with the characterization Allor has built up in the book, but it still seems too easy. I guess the point is that dictatorships really are houses of cards built on sand, but it still seems too easy. Other than that, though, this is a very interesting look at life during an occupation and what can happen to people when their souls are crushed. Honestly, the biggest problem with the book isn’t the ending, it’s that Allor teases us with the coolest Joe character (you know which one!!!!) and doesn’t follow through. Damn it, Allor!!!!

Evenhuis does good, solid work on the art – his action scenes are a bit blocky and stilted, but as I often note, that seems to be the hardest for artists to master. What he lacks in fluidity he makes up for in laying out a page, so even if the characters seem to pose a bit, the way the page is helps move the action along, and it’s never confusing. He does a good job with world-building, as the characters move from one locale to another, and Evenhuis makes sure that places look different and that we always know where we are. The coloring is nice, too – Evenhuis has a relatively thick line, so the digital rendering in the coloring helps soften his “pencils” just a bit so his people don’t look too monolithic. Whoever picked the fill-in artists did a bad job, because if it’s not a rule of thumb that you pick “worse” artists as your fill-ins, it should be, as Vieceli and Kelly are both, at this stage of their careers, better than Evenhuis. Vieceli draws the espionage issue, and her long, languid lines are snakelike, keeping the Cobra theme in mind, as well as the slithery, slippery nature of the story itself (I know snakes aren’t slippery; work with me, people!). Kelly, meanwhile, is just a terrific action artist, so the issue he draws of the man fighting the robots simply looks great. Evenhuis does a nice job, but I can’t help thinking what the comic would have looked like if Kelly could have drawn the entire thing.

Still, it’s a good story, and a good comic. The G.I. Joe story paradigm is very flexible, and it’s always neat when a writer is allowed to put their own stamp on it. If you have fond memories of the cartoon where a million lasers were fired yet never killed anyone, give this a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Your big penis substitute just comes in … handy sometimes
(I’ll see myself out)

Once & Future #13-18 by Kieron Gillen (writer), Dan Mora (artist), Tamra Bonvillain (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer), Amanda La Franco (associate editor), and Matt Gagnon (editor). $23.94, 130 pgs, Boom! Studios.

Things come to a head in this arc of Gillen’s King Arthur epic, as the British government gets involved, we meet Gawain and Lancelot, we see Galahad again, we learn more about Duncan’s mother and what her outlook on this whole thing is, and there’s a dragon. There’s a lot going on, in other words. Gillen, as is his wont, continues to write clever things that explore things many people don’t think too much about – this idea of story, which he very much loves, is in itself a storytelling engine that he exploits to its utmost – and his plotting has gotten much better over the years, which is why he’s possibly the best writer in comics right now. His stories always feel logical and inevitable, unlike, say, Alan Moore’s and Grant Morrison’s work (not that their work isn’t logical, but when they’re in full weirdo mode, it might take a while to get there), but at the same time, he never really does what you expect. His twist in this comic, of course, is making Arthur a defender of the Britons, meaning if he came again he’d kill most of the Anglo-Saxons in England, and he does it again in this arc, as Galahad is seeking the Holy Grail to revive a sickened Arthur, and just when we think he’s been thwarted, Gillen again pulls something out of his bag of tricks that shows he’s several steps ahead of us. As always, the best artists are those who can create something dazzling yet simple, something that makes us peons say “Well, of course!” even though nobody else thought of it. Gillen does that here, to wonderful effect. Plus, you know, the dragon. Dragons make everything between 8-10% better.

I assumed this would be the final arc because Mora is fucking off to make some dough drawing the Bat-dude, but it’s clearly not the final arc from the way it ends. So I’m not sure where it goes, because Mora and Bonvillain are such a superb team on this comic. Mora has always been good at the big stuff, but when Iain dies in issue #13 and Bridgette chats with him as he does, Mora does an excellent job showing the life draining out of his face and the way Bridgette comforts him just a little, even though he’s a racist asshole. Mora’s designs, from Lancelot to the dragon to the new and improved Galahad, are amazing, and Bonvillain’s use of creepy greens and eerie blues continues to give the book a weird, mystical feel. Mora’s drawing and Bonvillain’s colors of the sickly Arthur are horrifying, making his “resurrection” even more distressing and disturbing. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m pretty sure I own Bonvillain’s first comic or at least something from extremely early in her career, and it’s neat to see her become one of the best colorists in comics.

So I don’t know what’s happening with Once & Future. I certainly hope Gillen continues it, and it would be nice if the art could remain the same. I don’t know how long Mora is going to be drawing Detective, but once you’re inside the Big Two Salt Mines, it’s hard to break free, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. This is a nifty series, and I hope we get more of it in the not-too-distant future.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Carbs are my only worthy foe!

Shadow Service volume 1: Dark Arts by Cavan Scott (writer), Corin Howell (artist), Triona Farrell (colorist), and Andworld (letterer). $17.99, 110 pgs, Vault Comics.

The elevator pitch for this book works: a natural-born witch is tracked by England’s “preternatural defense” department, who recruit her to fight the demons in charge of crime in the country. She is, of course, quite the rogue, doesn’t work well with others, is supremely powerful but doesn’t know the full extent of her powers, and has connections that they want to use but which she doesn’t necessarily feel like giving to them due to her healthy disrespect of authority. Eventually, she realizes she needs to work with them, but of course they’re hiding stuff from her about her. You’ve heard it all before, so why is this book any good?

Beats me. Scott tells the story with a lot of verve, and he comes up with some interesting villains and problems for Gina to solve, so the overall plot, if a bit standard, doesn’t overwhelm the cleverness. Gina has the tragic backstory, but she’s still an interesting character, and so are the others in the espionage unit. The story zips along nicely, and Scott does throw a few wrinkles at us, which is nice. Plus, Howell’s art is simply terrific. She’s been doing good work for a while, so it’s not surprising, but it’s really good here. She seems to be using some thicker hatching to make her art a bit rougher, and it suits the subject matter nicely. The monster that threatens Gina when she’s a child, for instance, is all knotty and terrifying, and when she draws an ethereal demon, she still uses excellent hatching to make the demon more “solid” even though it’s still smoke-like. I’m not sure if Howell has worked with Farrell before, but the coloring is very good, too – it’s darker than I’ve usually seen on Howell’s art, which works because of the darkness of the settings and the subject matter, but Farrell lightens things up at crucial times, which makes that art pop a bit. Plus, she uses mood colors very well, which is always a nice thing to see. The digital shading, which can look tacky, fits in perfectly with the “flatter,” “traditional” coloring, which is nice. It’s a good-looking comic, and that goes a long way in helping the story work.

I certainly hope that Scott doesn’t get too sucked into the grand conspiracy he hints at in this volume, although I suppose he’s probably going to. I’ll check out the next volume, certainly, and we’ll see what’s what!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Timely!

Backtrack volume 2 by Brian Joines (writer), Jake Elphick (artist), Doug Garbark (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer), and Jasmine Amiri (editor). $19.99, 120 pgs, Oni Press.

I like how the bad guy in Backtrack isn’t some world-conquering villain, just some dude who likes making people race through time for his own twisted amusement. He’s just a rich douchebag, in other words. Anyway, in this concluding volume, we learn a bit more about the surviving racers and why they were chosen, and one of them has to make a hard choice because he’s been recruited to spy on the others, essentially. We also learn a bit more about Alyson, our protagonist, and while her issue with her brother is fairly obvious, very often when emotion is involved, we can’t see what’s obvious to others, so it’s understandable that Alyson would need someone to point it out to her. Joines takes us to the future for one leg of the race, but the most fun part is when they’re in the 17th century dealing with pirates, because one of them takes to that like flies on shit. In the end, things get resolved fairly well, as Joines isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, just tell a good time-traveling yarn, and he succeeds. Elphick continues to provide excellent art, using nice page layouts to show the disorientation of time travel and doing a good job showing the intense emotions the racers continue to experience. There’s not much to say about this – it’s just a very entertaining comic. Doesn’t everyone want to be entertained occasionally?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mmmm … brisket

All righty, let’s take a quick look at the rest of what I bought in April!

Paul McCaffrey’s art on Adler is terrific – steampunk to the extreme, naturally, but still strong – and it supports a fairly dumb but still mildly entertaining story that ignores everything about society in the late Victorian era simply so that women dressed in vaguely Victorian garb can kick butt. I have no idea why people want to use characters from a specific era if they’re not going to at least try to make that era “realistic.” Except for the fact that Irene Adler is a specific character ganked from someone else’s fiction (as is the bad guy in this comic), there’s no reason why this is set in the 1890s except that cell phones don’t exist. It’s annoying. Atlantis Wasn’t Built for Tourists is a fun monster comic that doesn’t explain why someone named a town “Atlantis” but is otherwise entertaining. It’s a vampire story … or is it? that doesn’t break much new ground, but does its thing well. Warren Ellis can’t create his own “Spider Jerusalem Douchebag” character for The Batman’s Grave, so he turns Alfred into one, and it doesn’t quite work. Neither does the story, which is an extremely decompressed version of that Mike Barr story about the anti-Batman from the 1980s. It’s not bad, because it’s Ellis, but it does feel too long. Hitch’s art is marvelous, though – occasionally in recent years he looks like he’s phoning it in, but not here. Matt Kindt’s Crimson Flower features weirdly beautiful art by Matt Lesniewski and is not a bad story about a young woman seeking revenge for her father’s murder years earlier, but it doesn’t offer many surprises, either, especially after the first time the woman is in a dangerous situation. Kindt sets it in Russia and flavors it with Russian folklore, which is nifty, but despite being fairly entertaining, it doesn’t break any new ground. Hellblazer concludes, I guess, although Spurrier ends with an odd new status quo for our hero, one which it might be interesting to see get picked up when DC inevitably starts another series. Spurrier is a good writer, so this isn’t going to be bad, but it feels even bleaker than your usual John Constantine comic, which, given his history, is really fucking bleak, and when your solution to John’s problems is that his life is even shittier than we expected, it’s kind of hard to really love the book. It’s okay, but not great. Emma Kubert is the latest excellent Kubert artist – it’s really unfair, honestly – and Inkblot is a fun if slightly silly comic about a dimension-hopping cat and the sorcerer who’s trying to track it down as she interacts with her family, who rule different worlds in different dimensions. It’s an interesting comic, and I’m looking forward to more of it. I wanted to like Zac Thompson’s Lonely Receiver a lot more, because Thompson is a good writer and the idea of a woman ordering the perfect artificial intelligence soul mate for herself sounds neat, but the execution was just off – the protagonist is just a horrible person, the AI isn’t much better, and there’s not much there to believe that the protagonist even deserves love, much less knows what to do with it. Thompson goes places I didn’t think he’d go, which is admirable, but the entire thing doesn’t hang together as much as I would have liked. The second volume of The Plot is more monster comic than creeping horror, although the explanation for the weirdness around the family home is interesting. It ends a bit too neatly, but both volumes still make a pretty good horror book. Joshua Hixson’s art remains a strong selling point, too. The second volume of Something Is Killing The Children isn’t quite as good as the first, mainly because writers always kind of pause after the initial rush of craziness and fill in the world they’re building, and Tynion does that here. It’s interesting, but not as insane as the first arc, but this is still a pretty keen horror book. Stargazer is an interesting alien abduction story in which the abduction is not exactly what it seems. Antonio Fuso is always an interesting artist, and he gives the proceedings and nice, trippy feel. I haven’t read my old Usagi Yojimbo volumes yet, so I’m certainly not going to start with this one, but it looks neat, as always. The Vain is a fairly clever vampire story, in which four vampires kind-of sort-of want to go legit, as they, for instance, offer their services to fight Nazis in WW2. There’s an FBI agent who becomes obsessed with getting them, and the book tracks both of them across the decades as they circle each other. Eliot Rahal comes up with interesting ideas, and this one is pretty good. The Vigilant is a decent superhero epic starring British superheroes repurposed from olden times. Some of them are older characters, and some are legacy heroes stepping in for older characters, and it’s a pretty good bunch. The main story is by Simon Furman and Simon Coleby, and it looks very nice, but there are other stories with different creators sprinkled throughout – Henry Flint shows up for a few stories – and that’s pretty keen. Vlad Dracul is a somewhat disappointing story about the Wallachian voivode who inspired the Dracula myth – Andrea Mutti’s art is typically good, but the story isn’t quite up to snuff. Vlad is a HUGE dick throughout, even though we’re supposed to be rooting for him against the evil Turks who are trying to wreck his land. The Turks themselves are boring stereotypical villains, so Vlad’s fight isn’t that compelling. Historically the book is poor, but I’ve been told that I need to stop harping on that, so I’ll stick to the fact that the central struggle just isn’t that interesting. The story of the Turkish presence in the Balkans could make a great story, but this isn’t it. Finally, Women of Marvel is a fun anthology comic that features female creators writing female characters. It’s a mixed bag, certainly, but I always dig checking out these DC/Marvel anthologies, because you get to see a lot of creators who normally wouldn’t be doing these things actually doing these things. And Marrow is in one of the stories, so there’s that. Fucking Marrow. Sheesh.

All right, let’s take a look at some other forms of entertainment that I’ve been consuming!

BOOKS

Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World by Stephen O’Shea. 411 pgs, Walker & Company, 2006.

So recently, in my reading of books in alphabetical order by author, I’ve had three about the Mediterranean and the clash of civilizations around it. That’s what happens when you read books according to a fairly rigid schedule and you’re interested in medieval European history! O’Shea decides to focus on battles, with a few chapters in between devoted to border regions, where Muslims and Christians came together and were forced to live in some semblance of “convivencia,” the Spanish word he likes to describe the situation. So he writes about Al-Andalus (Spain of the 8th-15th centuries), Sicily, and the Ottoman Empire, but his main focus is on the battles. He writes about some of the better known fights between Muslims and Christians – Poitiers (732), Constantinople (1453), and Malta (1565), but he also writes extensively about Yarmuk (636), Manzikert (1071), Hattin (1187), and Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). The first three are famous and have been written about a lot, but the latter four, while still famous, are usually just mentioned in passing in longer histories. Even Hattin, at which Saladin basically destroyed the Crusader states, is usually skimmed over by Crusader historians eager to get to Saladin’s dealings with Richard the Lion-Heart. But they’re all important events. Yarmuk ended the Byzantine influence in the Levant; Manzikert ended the Byzantine influence in eastern Anatolia and introduced the Turks to the world scene; and Tolosa ended any hope of continuing Muslim rule in Spain. O’Shea delves into the situations that led to the battles and visits the battlefields to get a sense of how the battles were fought, and uses a lot of good sources even though some of the battles remain a bit hazy today because of lack of good sources. He’s an engaging writer, and he doesn’t seem to have any axes to grind (which occasionally comes up in histories), which is nice. It’s always good to get some context for historical events, and with massive battles kind of falling out of favor as historical inflection points, it’s nice to read something that acknowledges their importance but is also cognizant of the larger forces at work (despite his chapter on Malta, which is a favorite of medieval/Renaissance historians, he alludes to the fact that it didn’t really mean too much in the grand scheme of things). I knew about all of these battles, and more about some than others, but I learned quite a bit I didn’t know, which is always fun. So if you’re really interested in how Islam and Christianity got to know each other over 800 years or so, you should check this out. Who doesn’t want to know more about that?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

TELEVISION

The Luminaries (Starz). This is a decent mini-series based on a 2013 novel, and while it’s not great, it does feature some good performances. Unfortunately, those don’t necessarily include the two protagonists, played by Eve Hewson and Himesh Patel. They’re fine, but it’s hard to believe they love each other, and they’re dominated by Eva Green and Marton Csokas as the antagonists. Hewson is a prospective prospector arriving in New Zealand during the mini-gold rush of 1865, and she meets Patel, another prospector, on the boat arriving in Dunedin. She arranges to meet him later, but she can’t read, so his address written on a piece of paper means nothing to her, and the person she asks to read it for her, Green, is the worst person she could have asked. Green runs a brothel, and she decides to steal Hewson’s meager purse and tell her the wrong hotel for her meeting, so Hewson eventually has no choice but to work for Green. Green and her lover, Csokas, are plotting to steal whatever gold Green’s husband, played by Ewen Leslie, brings back from the west coast, and he strikes it rich, and then the machinations can begin! The story is told partly in flashbacks, as everyone ends up on the west coast, where there’s a dead body and the townspeople are trying to figure out what’s going on, and we keep flashing back to Hewson’s journey from Dunedin to Hokitika, and it’s fairly interesting. But we’re supposed to believe Hewson and Patel are in love, and I never believe that when characters meet for five minutes and don’t see each other again for a long time. It’s not realistic, but good actors can pull it off, but Hewson and Patel, while perfectly fine, don’t have a ton of chemistry, so it’s hard to believe that they’re soul mates (Hewson and Green have more chemistry, but that’s because Green has chemistry with literally everyone). Green roars through the series, obliterating almost everyone in her path, and she and Csokas are fierce together. Csokas is wildly underrated, probably because he is vaguely Eastern European (he was born in New Zealand, but his father was Hungarian) so he’s a good go-to when you want a vaguely Slavic bad guy, but he’s always mesmerizing, and he is here. So this is a pretty decent story with some flaws, but a lot going for it, too. Plus, there aren’t enough shows set in New Zealand (and filmed there!), so that’s fun.

Q: Into the Storm (HBO). Cullen Hoback decided to make a documentary about “Q,” the mysterious “insider” whose weird posts on 8chan spawned a movement of right-wing … well, crazy people to start connecting dots and believing that Tom Hanks was drinking the blood of babies. You know, normal stuff like that. The “QAnon” movement certainly cries out for a documentary, and Hoback goes down a serious internet rabbit hole, but this sucker is 6 hours long, and it could easily be half that. After we start interviewing the various people who believe in Q (whose posts, like the best psychics, are extremely vague but with enough buzzwords to make it seem like they’re really informed but aren’t giving us the whole story, thereby allowing crazy people to fill in their own blanks) and once we start getting into the people behind 8chan, there’s not much else to say. Hoback gets seriously involved in his own story, as he befriends the founder of 8chan (who later sued to get his name disassociated with it because it’s such a cesspool) and the owners of 8chan (a seriously weird father and son), and he’s able to film a tense escape from the Philippines as well as use footage of the Capitol riots, but he spends far too much time on the people when it’s kind of clear they don’t deserve it. There are points to be made about freedom of speech on the internet (not the points most of these people make, because they’re whining about companies shutting down their serves – which they’re perfectly within their rights to do – or, in the case of the QAnon people, not paying enough attention to them, which is also perfectly within our rights to do), especially when the government is trying to figure out if several right-wing shooters were goaded into it by posters on 8chan and other sites (for the record, I don’t think shutting down sites is the way to go, because of course the real solution is gun control, which nobody wants to discuss, so we’re back to the old “Judas Priest albums and video games” excuse for why crazy people want to kill people who look slightly different from them), but Hoback has a lot of other things to cover, and that gets a bit lost in the white noise. It’s not a bad documentary, just too long. So if you’re in the mood to hang out with some seriously nutty people (unfortunately, these nutty people have far too many enablers in the Republican party, including the Great Orange Baboon), check this out. If you really want to know who “Q” is and don’t care about how we get there, use Google!

Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham (Starz). Sam Heughan is the main male star of Outlander, and Graham McTavish is one of the important co-stars, and presumably during the pandemic they have nothing to do because Outlander production was shut down, so they went on a road trip around Scotland. They have nice chemistry together, busting on each other like childhood friends (McTavish is 19 years older than Heughan) and checking out various parts of Scottish culture and history. So they check out the food and drink of the country (the Sikh chef with the Scottish accent is a wonderful example of cross-cultural diversity), they play some sports (Scottish sports generally involve throwing heavy things), and they get into clan history and Culloden. They ignore religion, which I found interesting (perhaps too controversial a subject?), but otherwise, this is a fun show, the principal consequence of which is to make me want to visit Scotland even more than I already did (which was a lot). They go all over, from Edinburgh to the Highlands, from Skye to St. Andrews. It’s a fun show, and while it might not make you want to watch Outlander (it’s clearly designed to at least intrigue you about the show), it will probably make you want to visit Scotland!

Resident Alien (SyFy). This is a good comic, so I assumed it would make a good show – the premise is really TV-friendly – and the first season of the show is quite good. Alan Tudyk – whom I will always call Steve the Pirate – is very good as the titular alien, Harry, and they tweak his origin so that he kills the real “Harry” and takes his place, mainly because his ship crash-landed and he needs to find the weapon he’s going to use to kill every human on the planet. I wasn’t a huge fan of this change when I watched the pilot – in the comics, Harry is much more benign – but it’s better than I initially thought, because it does allow Harry to grow and change and realize he doesn’t want to kill everyone (spoiler: he doesn’t kill everyone). The cast is great – Sara Tomko is Asta, whose friendship helps make Harry more human; Alice Wetterlund is D’Arcy, the madcap bartender with hidden layers; Corey Reynolds and Elizabeth Bowen are wonderful as the sheriff and the deputy (remember when Reynolds was going to be Green Lantern? good times!); Levi Fiehler and Meredith Garretson do good work as the mayor and his wife, whose son, Judah Prehn, can see Harry as he really is; and Prehn and his buddy, Gracelyn Awad Rinke, are very good as the too-smart-for-their-own-good kids. Of course Harry becomes more human, and Tudyk sells both his alien-ness and his human-ness quite well, and the show is very funny in places playing off the fact that he has no idea how to live in a community of human beings. There’s an alien convention with the “ancient astronauts” meme guy playing himself, and there are some good guest stars who I don’t want to spoil in case you haven’t heard about them yet. It’s a well done show (there’s one annoying plot thread from the first season that I hope they don’t forget about), and I’m looking forward to season two.

MUSIC

Jane’s Addiction, The Great Escape Artist, Capitol Records, 2011.

Bands need to know what kind of band they are, and lean into that. I’m all for bands experimenting with their sounds, but they also need to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Perry Farrell has never quite seemed to twig that he’s in a guitar-based band, which is why he went off and formed Porno for Pyros, because he wanted to do weirder stuff. More power to him, but when Jane’s reformed and released Strays in 2003, Farrell seemed to get what kind of band Jane’s is. It took another eight years before they released another album, and in that time, everyone in the band seemed to forget what they are. Let’s put it this way: Farrell is one of the great weirdos of rock history, and being weird is fine, but Dave Navarro is one of the great guitarists of rock history, and pushing his guitars way back in the mix is never a good thing. Navarro plays keyboards on the album, too, which are pushed up in the mix, and while Navarro is a talented musician so of course the keyboards sound good, this feels like Eddie van Halen wanting a second guitar player when Roth left the band so he (Eddie) could play more keyboards. Jeebus, Eddie, you’re a guitar genius, nobody wants to hear you play keyboards while Hagar wails away! So while Farrell does his usual weird stuff, the songs are fine but a bit enervating. Without Navarro driving things, Farrell noodles too much, and we get the worst of Jane’s without getting the best. Without the best, the songs get dragged down a bit, and it’s too bad. The first song on the album hints at this dichotomy: “Underground” features a nice grungy guitar riff, but the spaciness of Farrell’s vocals (filtered through something) are distracting, as is the spaciness of the music. Navarro’s solo is terrific, grounding the song, but it portends bad things. Take a song like “Curiosity Kills,” which should be a great song. Farrell is fine, and the song has a good groove, but Farrell filters the vocals to sound ethereal (which, given his harsh voice, isn’t really the smartest thing, as he’s best when he highlights that part of his talents), but Navarro’s guitar is almost non-existent, even during the solo, which sounds is an Edge-from-Eighties-U2 solo if I ever heard one (it works for him, but not for Navarro). You can hear what they’re going for on the album’s best song, “Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object),” which has a great groove, neat lyrics, synth that doesn’t intrude too much, and a good-if-not-great Navarro guitar solo. It’s frustrating listening to this album, because there’s no doubt that the songs are well done, they just sound like they’re coming from a band that’s gotten old. I listen to a lot of old dudes playing music, and not all of them go gentle into that good night. I appreciate that Jane’s tried something different on this album and some of the songs do a good job with it, I’m just perplexed that they forgot that Navarro is a superb guitarist. I mean, sure, experiment all you want, but you got to let the stallion out of the barn, too!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Villagers, Awayland, Domino Recording Co. Ltd., 2013.

I heard Nothing Arrived, the best song on this album, at some point last year, and it intrigued me, so I bought the whole album … and none of the songs are as good as Nothing Arrived. That’s okay, though – that’s a great song and a devastating video (see below), which I don’t read as sad as some people seem to think. But the rest of the album is pretty good, so that’s all right. Villagers is a vehicle for Conor O’Brien, the primary songwriter, who plays some guitar on the album, as well as some percussion and synthesizers, and O’Brien writes some clever songs and the band, while on the dour, electronica side of folk, gives us some cool stuff. “Earthly Pleasure,” the album’s second track, is a terrific song about a guy having visions while he’s sitting on the toilet. And there’s a woman speaking Esperanto and drinking ginger tea. Of course. “Judgement Call” is another nifty song, with a nice xylophone-esque synth part and O’Brien singing about the insidious evil of conformity. “The Bell” is probably as funky as Villagers gets, with a good thundering piano and a nifty salsa beat. It’s a nice album, but it hasn’t yet inspired me to go out and get more Villagers albums. I’ll have to think about it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ★ ☆ ☆

As I’ve been doing, let’s take a look at the current Golden Age of Reprints we’re in!

Asterix Omnibus volume 4. I read a lot of these when I was a child in Germany, and it’s nice to have them in a fancier format.

The Defenders Omnibus volume 1. Another nice giant omnibus from Marvel. Thomas/Englehart/Wein/S. Buscama (among others) – looks good!

Dracula: Vlad the Impaler. An old Roy Thomas book, with Esteban Maroto’s gorgeous art presented in black and white. I hope it’s better than the other Dracula book I bought this month!

The Syndicate of Crime. Jerry Siegel didn’t create the Spider, but he did write most of the strips in this collection, beautifully illustrated by Reg Bunn. If 2000AD wants to keep collecting these olde-tymey British superheroes, I’ll probably keep buying them!

Usagi Yojimbo: Origins volume 1. See above. One of these days someone will have all of Usagi Yojimbo collected and in print, and then I can start reading it!

Let’s take a look at the money of the month!

7 April: $240.32
14 April: $114.49
21 April: $162.21
28 April: $134.44

Total for April: $651.46
YTD: $2290.90

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of comics I bought by publisher!

AfterShock: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Behemoth: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Boom! Studios: 3 (2 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
DC: 3 (1 single issue, 2 trade paperbacks)
Dark Horse: 5 (5 single issues)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
IDW: 4 (2 “classic” reprints, 2 trade paperbacks)
Image: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Legendary: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Mad Cave Publishing: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 3 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Oni Press: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Papercutz: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Rebellion/2000AD: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 trade paperback)
Scout: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Titan: 4 (3 graphic novels, 1 trade paperback)
21 Pulp: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Vault: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)

Let’s tote them up! (The numbers in parentheses are how many I’ve bought so far this year.)

5 “classic” reprints (28)
7 OGNs (22)
9 single issues (30)
18 TPs (54)

Let’s go the publisher standings!

Dark Horse: 20
Image: 14
DC: 13
Marvel: 12
Boom! Studios: 8
IDW: 7
AWA/Upshot: 5
Scout Comics: 5
Titan: 5
AfterShock: 4
Behemoth Comics: 3
Rebellion/2000AD: 3
Vault: 3
Black Mask: 2
Fantagraphics: 2
21 Pulp: 2
Abrams ComicArts: 1
Archaia: 1
Archie Comics: 1
ComicMix: 1
Floating World Comics: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Hermes Press: 1
Humanoids: 1
Hyperion: 1
Iron Circus Comics: 1
Keylight Books: 1
Legendary: 1
Mad Cave Publishing: 1
Magnetic Press: 1
Papercutz: 1
Plough Publishing: 1
Red 5 Comics: 1
Viz Media: 1

That was fun, right?

**********

My daughter and I got vaccinated in April/May (our second shot was last Saturday, the first), so that’s nice. My wife had already gotten her second shot because she’s a bit more “at-risk” than we are, so she was eligible slightly earlier. I didn’t have any effects after the first one – my arm wasn’t even sore – but this past Sunday, after the second one, I felt a bit under the weather. Nothing too big, just a bit achy and fuzzy-headed, like I had a cold. It passed after the day, however. My daughter never tells us if she doesn’t feel good (we think that in her mind, feeling “bad” means we’re taking her to the hospital, even though we tell her over and over that that’s not the case), but she seemed fine both times. We’re hoping to get my younger daughter vaccinated soon – she doesn’t turn 16 until the 22nd of June, but I guess Pfizer is pushing for FDA approval for kids 12-16, so if that comes through soon, we’ll sign her up. My younger daughter has had a particularly shitty year, and most of her small circle of friends are already 16 and vaccinated and their parents won’t let them hang out with unvaccinated kids, so it’s just one more shit brick on the pile for my daughter. We cannot wait for this stupid school year to be over.

I have a few friends on Facebook who have written that they’re not getting vaccinated. That’s fine, but I really hope society in general turns their backs on those people. I get the small percentage of people who can’t get vaccinated – a number far smaller than most people claim – but there’s a reason schools ask if your kid has their shots, and I would love it if, in a few months when presumably everyone who can get vaccinated should be vaccinated, businesses deny entrance to the unvaccinated and schools don’t let your kid in if you didn’t get them vaccinated. I doubt if it will happen because we have too many mouth-breathing Republican legislators and governors who get their science facts from people like Joel Osteen, but I would still love it. Just like I love Biden ignoring Republican lawmakers to do things that the actual human beings in the country actually need and can use, I would love it if society as a whole simply stopped listening to these anti-science feebs and told them “Don’t get vaccinated? Fine. Then you can’t rejoin society. Go live in the woods somewhere and grow your own corn.” I know as we get older we’re supposed to become more conservative, but as I get older I get more liberal because conservatives are just that stupid these days. Eisenhower would be weeping if he weren’t dust.

18 April is the anniversary of my daughter’s car accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury, and every year on that date I write about her year, so if you want to read it, here it is. We are, as always, thankful that she’s alive, even though we’re sad about what happened to her. But let’s move on from that subject and check out some photographs that my mother recently sent to me from when I was but a lad in the 1970s!

The first one is from 1974, maybe? YOU KNOW YOU LOVE THE HOUNDSTOOTH PANTS!!!! The second is from 1976 or 1977, and check out my suspenders and turtleneck action. The third one is from Christmas 1974, and I am playing a toy saxophone and wearing that amazing pant-and-vest combo with that burnt orange shirt. The fourth is from May 1975, and we just moved to Liederbach, Germany, outside of Frankfurt, and that’s our new house. Dig me in my light green outfit, while my sister looks like she stepped off the set of “Heidi.” The final two are from the summer of 1975 and the summer of 1976, respectively, and I AM SPORTING LEDERHOSEN IN BOTH PICTURES!!!! Yes, I wore lederhosen out in public! (The first photo is at the Frankfurt Zoo.) My sister really wasn’t this unpleasant all the time, I swear! I mean, she is smiling in that second picture! My wife has a lot of photographs are herself from when she’s a kid, but I don’t because my mom has them. A lot of our pictures from Germany are on slides, which is no good. So I’m trying to get my mom to send me more of them, and if she does, I’ll show them to you guys. That’s just how I roll!

I hope everyone is having a nice time, and I hope everyone is getting vaccinated. We’re going out to dinner in a few weeks with friends we haven’t seen in probably 18 months, so that should be nice. Let’s hope things can get back to a semblance of normality soon enough! Have a great day, everyone!

(As always, I’ve linked to Amazon in case you want to purchase anything in this post. If you use the link to buy literally anything, we get a small part of it, so feel free!)

13 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    On that Q documentary, I’m not really that interested, because late last year I listened to a podcast mini-series called Q Clearance, put together by a British reporter named Jake Hanrahan, who did a really good job of unraveling the whole mess (from 4-chan through 8-chan and the latter’s creepy founders). It consisted of eight 30 to 40 min. episodes. Seems like this TV documentary covers a lot of the same ground.

    Resident Alien, though, is quite awesome. I’ve never read the comic, so I don’t have that frame of reference, but I really like the show so far (I’m four episodes in). Tudyk is the major selling point for me, but like you noted, the entire cast is quite strong and it’s damn entertaining.

    And I haven’t gotten my shot yet. My partner got her first one (Pfizer) last week, while I’m still waiting for a call from my doctor telling me that my number has come up.

    1. Greg Burgas

      That podcast sounds like it does cover the same thing. It is fun seeing some of these people in living color, though – they are a treat, to say the least.

      We now have a surplus of vaccines here, and that’s why it’s annoying that some people are choosing not to get it. I haven’t been paying enough attention to what’s happening, vaccine-wise, in other countries, because I suck. I hope you get yours soon!

      1. Der

        How is the vaccination in other countries? well, dire is the correct word. Let’s say that the big countries hoarded a lot at first. That I get, you got to protect your people first. What makes me angry is the people that see that they have enough vaccines to go around and then decide not to get vaccinated.

        You should start the rumour that they are going to send the vaccines to brown people in third world countries, maybe that will make them get their shots

        In Mexico we have applied around 20 million shots(for 120+ million population) so yeah. And we are doing “ok” in the vaccination effort. I follow the news and it appears that we get a million more shots every week or so, but it’s going slow. We started in december last year, and the government said that they were going to vaccinate everyone over 60 in february. Obviously that didn’t happen. My mother(63) got her two shots in march, my dad(68) got his first in april I think and my mother in law(63) got her first in april, so yeah, not great, but at least it’s something

        Now go and read Usagi!

        1. Greg Burgas

          Man, that sucks. Biden just got rid of the patents for the vaccines, and I know China is doing pretty well distributing theirs, so maybe the big countries can stop being douchebags soon enough.

          I hope you get yours soon! And I’ll read Usagi one of these days!

  2. Darthratzinger

    I donΒ΄t know anybody who wears (or wore) Lederhosen and I live In Bavaria! I`m so sorry You had to go through that. Kudos on those Asterix Omnis. Like every European comic book fan I think theyΒ΄re amazing and should get way more exposure overseas.
    IΒ΄m jealous of Your vaccinations. My wife and I will still have to wait for months. Our daughter is two, so for her it will be years, which sucks bigly:-(
    On the other hand my parents never forced Lederhosen on me.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Well, we’re Americans, so maybe my mom thought that more people wore them! I actually still own that pair – I think I have it, but maybe my mom has it in her closet. I don’t recall how I felt about wearing them! πŸ™‚

      I’m glad that Papercutz is doing the Asterix books, because they’ve been reprinted a lot, but I like order in my comics, so the fact that they’re just doing them in original publication order is cool with me. I loved them when I was wearing my lederhosen in Germany! πŸ™‚

      As I noted above, we seem to have a surplus here in the States, so I was glad we were able to get it. It would be nice if they fast-track it for kids, as they kind of have to congregate in schools, where adults have more options for social distancing. I hope it’s not too long for you!

  3. Eric van Schaik

    Greg writes about music woohoo πŸ™‚ πŸ˜‰

    Comics:
    Once and Future looks nice. See if I can find nice TPB’s in Holland.
    I’ll skip The Batmans Grave. I wasn’t sure but after your writing…

    Television:
    I can’t get the stations you mention so I haven’t been able to see any of them. But Resident Alien sounds interesting. Let’s hope some station want to show it in Holland.
    We still have to see the last 3 episode of the first season of Umbrella Academy. Also Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But my wife to be (less than 2 months now) likes to watch mediocre series so it will take a while… πŸ™

    Music:
    I’ll only buy a cd for 1 song if its really cheap. A cd must have 2 or 3 songs that I like for me to purchase. Jane’s Addiction and Villagers didn’t do much for me. Sorry. I know I have a different taste.
    The last cd was of April Rain. Post rock music made in Russia. Maybe not your cup of tea but that’s okay πŸ˜‰
    I recently counted from how many nations I have music: 27. Most music is made in England and America. I’m curious how those numbers are in Greg’s house πŸ™‚

    Reprints:
    In Holland we get 1 or 2 reprints of Asterix. Next week I’ll get Asterix and the golden sickle. In size it comes close too the Marvel Adamantium Editions.
    You’ll get the original story, about 30 pages of information about the time the story was made and the proces. As an extra bonus it is also presented in black and white but you have to know french to read it. Mine is not so good.
    The only bad thing about it is that the order in which they publish it is all over the place. They already published one of the new team…! Stupid french πŸ˜‰

    Mia’s accident happened the year my second son (Hidde) was born. When I see the photos it reminded me of my former girlfriend who died last year. Not able to make real contact made me really sad. I’m glad Mia’s is still around.

    Saxophone Greg is the best!! πŸ™‚

    Vaccination in Holland isn’t going all too well unfortunately. Because of a mistake (40.000 people born in 1963 got a letter way too early, and I was 1 of them) I’ll get my first shot this thursday.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: Umbrella Academy is pretty cool. My have to get into season 2 soon …

      I’m sorry your future wife has mediocre taste. What she say about your taste?!?!? πŸ™‚

      I’ve never taken a look at where my music comes from. I know it’s mostly the States and the UK, but I do have some other countries. Nowhere near 27, though.

      I’ll get to more CDs next month! I did just buy Gazpacho’s first album because you told me about them, so we’ll see about that (I haven’t listened to it yet).

      Yeah, I can’t read French. I’m a mouth-breathing ‘Murican!

      I remember when you told us about your ex-girlfriend. That had to suck. I’m sorry, sir.

      I did play real saxophone a bit in the early Eighties, so that was just me warming up!

      I hope your vaccination goes well!

  4. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Definitely going to check out Black Widow!

    I’ve scheduled a vaxcation for the end of the month – my town in MA has a clinic offering walk-in Janssen shots, so I’m going to pop over, get the shot, and fly back to Dublin 15 days later, haha – luckily, my parents (both 60) are already fully vaccinated and my little brothers will have their second shot by the time I’m back.

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