Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – January 2022

At that moment he did not desire Moscow, or victory, or glory (what need had he for any more glory?). The one thing he wished for was rest, tranquility, and freedom. (Leo Tolstoy, from War and Peace)

COMICS

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V (writer), Filipe Andrada (artist), Inês Amaro (color assistant), AndWorld Design (letterer), Ramiro Portnoy (assistant editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $14.99, 110 pgs, Boom! Studios.

For the past few years, Ram V has been turning out several really excellent comics, and Laila Starr is one of the better ones. The Hindu goddess of Death (Kali, although I can’t recall if she’s ever called that in the book) is laid off and sent to Earth to inhabit a mortal body, as her boss (the Trimurti) tells her that she won’t be needed quite as much. Some dude on Earth is going to figure out the secret to immortality, so Death is going to become redundant. She finagles her way into the body of Laila Starr, a girl who dies at the exact moment the dude – Darius – is being born, and the book is about her popping up in his life at important moments and trying to kill him. At the end of each issue, she dies in some odd way, but she’s Death, so she gets reincarnated. So that’s the plot.

Obviously, Laila is not going to kill the dude, because it wouldn’t work in the context of the book, so the book is really about the way she learns about life and whether immortality is really all that it’s cracked up to be and what it really means. Both Laila and Darius are fascinating characters, in different ways, and Venkatesan does a really nice job building their relationship, as Laila simply doesn’t understand humans and resists learning about them for a long while. Darius doesn’t really teach her, just explains about the events of his life, which form a beautiful portrait of humanity. Andrade’s gorgeous art assists the story very nicely, as he gives us a Mumbai bursting with life and characters in the story seen through Darius’s eyes, so (for instance) an important person from his childhood becomes a gentle giant, implying the impact he had on the boy’s life. Laila, meanwhile, meets odd ghosts and large birds, and Andrade does marvels with the weirder parts of the book, too. The coloring is vibrant, too, giving us a powerful vision of a life and all its facets.

This is a terrific comic, and if Ram V gets his money writing for DC and he can turn around and keep doing things like this, then everyone wins, I guess. That’s keen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Seems axiomatic!

Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton by Kyle Starks (writer), Chris Schweizer (artist/colorist/letterer), Liz Trice Schweizer (color assistant), and Jon Moison (editor). $16.99, 159 pgs, Image/Skybound.

If Chris Schweizer isn’t going to do any more Crogan’s Adventures books (which would be sad, but if you can’t make money doing them, you can’t do them!), I’m glad he’s still doing crazy-ass excellent comics like this one, which is a blast and a half. Trigger Keaton, a long-in-the-tooth television action star, is found dead, and only his latest sidekick thinks it was murder. He manages to corral the five other sidekicks Trigger has had over the years into the case, and they start to investigate. Things do not go well.

As much fun as the main plot is, with its Stuntman War and wild violence, the backstories are even better. Keaton, as we learn very quickly, was a reprehensible human being, and none of his sidekicks liked him at all – the sixth one, Miles, actually has to make sure they’re innocent before he works with them. There are good reasons that they investigate the murder, but I won’t get into them here. Starks just has a blast showing how awful Keaton was and how fucked up his sidekicks are because of how poorly Keaton treated them. We also get glimpses of his television shows, and I wish I lived in a world where Frankenstein & Frankenstein (it’s a cop show) existed. The shows are all parodies of various action genres (there’s a Knight Rider show, for instance), and they’re hilariously warped. Starks has a blast creating these things and showing how shitty Keaton was and why everyone who knew him might want to kill him. Meanwhile, Schweizer’s cartoonish art is always a delight to see. His fluid linework makes the action zip, and the crispness gives everyone a unique and distinctive look. It’s a packed script, and Schweizer crams panels onto pages, but his storytelling is so good that it’s never too busy and we can always tell what’s going on. Schweizer’s such a good artist, so I always look forward to whatever he’s drawing.

Starks tells a complete story, so even though this is “volume 1,” it’s not like it ends on a cliffhanger. In the grand tradition of stories, though, he does leave open the possibility for more volumes, so who knows. I wouldn’t mind more stories with this cast of characters and this creative team!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

They’re very civilized!

Once & Future #19-24 by Kieron Gillen (writer), Dan Mora (artist), Tamra Bonvillain (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer), Gwen Waller (assistant editor), and Dafna Pleban (editor). $23.94, 127 pgs, Boom! Studios.

Gillen and Mora’s (and Bonvillain’s, because her colors are a huge part of the book) Arthurian Epic continues to be one of the best books out there (and I’m still so chuffed that Mora is still on the book, because I thought he’d be gone when he started on Detective, and now he’s doing World’s Finest, and I still hope he can do this comic), and Gillen keeps throwing weird shit into it and making it work, and I have no idea how long he plans to do it, but as long as Mora and Bonvillain are game, I hope he can do it for a long time. In this arc, “Otherworld” has taken over Britain, turning everything a bit strange, and Duncan, his grandmother, and Rose are trying to fix things, but of course things aren’t going well. Gillen chucks in a giant, a Gorgon, a water god, and William Shakespeare, because why the hell not? I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s so much fun to see what kinds of stories Gillen will plunder next, but if you’re familiar with British-type stories, you can guess what might be coming, but it’s very interesting to see what kind of spins Gillen puts on them. There’s plenty of violence, naturally, but Gillen’s strength has always been characters, and he makes even the minor characters and even the odd villains fascinating. Mora’s kinetic art is perfect for this book, and Bonvillain’s vibrant colors make Otherworld a surreal, creepy place, bursting with nature so it’s beautiful, but tinged with an eerie hue so it’s still “off” from our world. This team is firing on all cylinders, and it’s good to see.

As I noted, I don’t know what’s coming with regard to Mora and his presence on this comic. It’s not done, certainly, and I hope Gillen is able to complete it with the original artists. Gillen just became a father, so he needs the dough, people, so buy his comics because they’re awesome. Don’t let Mora fall into the DC Pit of Despair!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He seems reasonable

Undone by Blood or The Other Side of Eden: volume 2 by Lonnie Nadler (writer), Zac Thompson (writer), Sami Kivelä (artist), Jason Wordie (colorist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer), and Mike Marts (editor). $16.99, 110 pgs, AfterShock Comics.

This volume isn’t quite as good as volume 1, but it’s still pretty danged good. Thompson and Nadler go back to 1934 and introduce Silvano, a Mexican living in Texas who hooks up with another dude for a heist of the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi. Things do not go well, needless to say. Soon Silvano and his partner are on the run from creepy rich dudes, and people are getting killed. Meanwhile, Silvano is reading another novel of Solomon Eaton, which is the conceit of this series – the action switches back and forth from the “real” to the action of the novel, and Nadler and Thompson show how the two stories mirror each other. In this case, Eaton goes to Mexico and gets caught up in a heist of a train, and that heist, needless to say, does not go well either. The interesting thing about the two stories is that unlike in volume 1, Thompson and Nadler resist the idea of giving us a clean ending – both endings are a bit ambiguous, which isn’t maddening, because of course real life rarely has clean endings. Silvano and Eaton try to do something, and neither gets what they expect. As usual with their comics, Nadler and Thompson do a lot with social issues, so Silvano is Hispanic at a time and place where it was not all that good to be Hispanic, and while the heist is the major plot, Thompson and Nadler don’t neglect the other aspects of life in 1930s Texas. Silvano is also a good Catholic, so the idea of punishment for sins comes into it, as well. It’s more complex than your standard heist story, in other words! Kivelä continues to be amazing on art, as he uses really intricate page designs to create motion and isolate certain aspects of the art he wants to emphasize, and Wordie does a nice job with the dusty desert and how blah it can make everything (I always joke that there are two colors in Arizona – a reddish brown of the ground and a ridiculously bright blue of the sky, and nothing in between). It’s a beautiful book, in other words.

I wasn’t sure how the writers were going to do a volume 2 after the conclusion of volume 1, but if they’re going to do this, a new story with the only common thread that the characters read Solomon Eaton books, then I hope they keep doing them for as long as they want. These are very cool comics!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s some solid dick right there

Shang-Chi volume 2: Shang-Chi Vs. the Marvel Universe by Gene Luen Yang (writer), Dike Ruan (artist), Tríona Farrell (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

Yang’s cool Shang-Chi take continues with our hero taking over his father’s criminal organization and trying to reform it even as his new-found siblings don’t think that’s a great idea (they go along with it because he’s the boss, but they don’t like it) and all the heroes don’t believe him. So he has to fight a lot of them (I mean, it’s in the title), and Yang does a good job showing how Shang-Chi wins – or at least doesn’t lose – without putting them down too much (which is always a problem in books like this; Shang-Chi is a good hero, but could he really fight Thor?). Issue #2 is the best one, as Shang-Chi and his brother go to a super-villain auction, and shit hits the fan, naturally. Yang does a good job humanizing the bad guys, even if they’re still bad guys, and the issue is pretty funny, too. It’s an interesting take on Shang-Chi, and it’s not too crazy that someone will have to come along and go scorched earth on it *coughKrakoacough* if a new writer comes along. Ruan’s art is good – he doesn’t do anything too shocking, but it’s good superhero art, in that nobody is stiff and the action flows nicely. It’s a cool book. I do have one question: Why can’t someone who’s not the character’s ethnicity write a character anymore? Yang is a terrific writer, and I’m very glad he’s getting some nice high-profile gigs at Marvel, but it seems like Marvel wanted someone Chinese to write the character because they didn’t want to seem culturally insensitive. That’s a noble thing, but my point is that there’s nothing in this book that feels like only a Chinese person could write it. Yes, there are nods to Chinese mythology and such, but nothing that couldn’t be found on the internet. It’s not like Yang is writing an accent that only a Chinese person would understand how to write, or doing subtle cultural things that only a Chinese person would know to do. At least, it doesn’t seem so. I’m just curious, because did Marvel give Shang-Chi to Yang because they were terrified of giving to a white person, and will they let him write, I don’t know, the Fantastic Four? Will they let a non-Chinese person write Shang-Chi in the future? I’m fascinated by questions like these because they seem to make people uncomfortable and no one wants to answer them honestly. I hope Yang does well on Shang-Chi because he’s a very good writer, but does Marvel want him to do well because he’s Chinese? Either way, this is a cool comic. So that’s nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Poor M.O.D.O.K. – no one respects his physical limitations!

Basilisk is a pretty cool story about people with terrifying powers, each focused on one sense, and the one young lady who splits from them and tries to take them down. Cullen Bunn is good at this sort of thing, and the book zips along nicely, with really nice art from Jonas Scharf. Tom King continues to prove that he simply can’t write Batman, as his Batman/Catwoman Special is a dull life story of Selina and of her long-time romance with Bruce Wayne. It’s basically a celebration of John Paul Leon, which is why it’s worth getting, but the story … blech. Black Friday is a very dark comedy (so to speak) about the undead wreaking havoc in a big box store. It’s nothing special, but it’s fun to read. The idea of a group of people, all dressing in Captain America cosplay and solving local problems, is not a bad one, and The United States of Captain America isn’t bad, but it’s a bit … too woke, I guess. The characters all talk in slogans, and they take down obvious villains, and while Christopher Cantwell hints around at the deeper issues in the country, a superhero comic is not the place for it, and the story creaks under that weight. Not bad, but not great. Chained to the Grave gives us an outlaw rising from the grave to take revenge on those who betrayed him and to keep his family safe, and it’s pretty good. Kate Sherron’s cartoonish art is actually quite good, but feels out of place in a story like this. I like Compass, which tells of a secret society trying to collect magical artifacts and keep them out of evil hands, but it’s still ridiculous – there are Mongols in 13th-century Wales, for crying out loud. Still, it’s a fun adventure if you can silence the annoying pedant in your brain. Jeremy Bastian is back with Cursed Pirate Girl: The Devil’s Cave, which is as beautiful and as incomprehensible as all the other Cursed Pirate Girl comics! One of these days, he’ll be done with it, and I can sit down and read them all and hope they make sense! Deadpool: Black, White & Blood is another nice collection of stories, although it isn’t as good as the Wolverine one. The law of diminishing returns? Travis digs Doctor Crowe, and we get a nice collection here, with fun adventure stories from a variety of artists. I got another “Death of Doctor Strange” one-shot because I dig Elsa Bloodstone, and this is a cool monster story by Tini Howard and Ig Guara. The Immortal Hulk: Apocrypha is an interesting collection of Al Ewing stories that didn’t quite fit into the main Immortal Hulk run, and it’s pretty keen. Nothing essential, but a neat Defenders story, a fun She-Hulk story drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt, and a story drawn by Juan Ferreyra. Fraser has been bothered by Siancong recently, and so we get The Marvels: The War in Siancong, just to mess with him. It’s not a bad comic, as Busiek does a good job weaving together a large story, but it shows once again why Busiek ruined comics with Marvels so many years ago, because DC and Marvel took the wrong lesson from it, and now they never more forward so they just fill in backstories, which doesn’t work very well. They keep looking back instead of moving forward. Also: Vietnam exists in the Marvel Universe, and Busiek even references the war in Vietnam quite a lot, so this Vietnam stand-in is even dumber. Miles to Go is a pretty neat story about a woman who was an assassin when she was a teenager (there’s a reason) and now her daughter is being threatened by mysterious bad guys tied to her past. B Clay Moore is a good writer, and Stephen Molnar’s art is quite good, and I really hope there’s more to the story, because it ends a bit ambiguously. Non-Stop Spider-Man is, sadly, garbage, which is too bad as it’s from Joe Kelly and (for a bit) Chris Bachalo. Bachalo got COVID, I guess, and the book was delayed and he couldn’t finish it, and that’s too bad, but it’s not the art that’s bad, it’s the story, as Kelly gives us a dumb superhero plot steeped in racism (the bad guys are racist, not the actual plot) that is only interesting when the Zapata Brothers show up. Other than that, it’s lousy. Too bad. Steve Skroce’s Post Americana is a beautiful comic, of course, with a fairly dumb plot about rich people trying to recolonize the American wasteland after the apocalypse and the poor folk who try to stop them. It’s a fun read, and Skroce does a few silly and interesting things, but it’s still somewhat forgettable. I continue to enjoy the Rivers of London books, and this one is interesting, as it tells the story of a crime from various points of view, slowly revealing the true nature of what’s going on. It’s a neat way to tell the story. Silver City is a neat story about a woman who is killed and wakes up in “heaven,” which isn’t exactly what she expected. She has to learn what her own deal is (she has amnesia) and fight against evil dudes, of course. Luca Merli’s art is very nice, and I do hope we get a second volume, as this ends on a pretty serious cliffhanger. Volume 4 of Something Is Killing the Children is the “secret origin” of Erica Slaughter, and it’s pretty good. Not as good as the first three volumes, but still pretty good. Karla Pacheco and Pere Pérez continue to do excellent work on Spider-Woman, as we get a typical bonkers super-hero plot (that I won’t spoil) and phenomenal line work and design by Pérez. It’s a really fun book. The second volume of That Texas Blood is better than the first, as Sheriff Joe Bob flashes back to 1981 and his investigation of a weird cult and what terrors he found. I’m not sure why I liked it more than the first volume; I just did. Deal with it!

BOOKS

The Queen’s Man by Sharon Kay Penman. 287 pgs, 1996, Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

I’m a big fan of Sharon Kay Penman, who writes big, sprawling epics about medieval England, and while she was doing that, decided to write short mysteries set in the final decade of the twelfth century, because why not? This is the first one, and she introduces her protagonist, a bastard named Justin who discovers in the first few pages that his father is the bishop of Chester (a seat which didn’t exist, but so what?) and who cheekily takes his name even though he has no right to it. Justin witnesses a murder on the road outside of Winchester, and while he can’t save the victim, he does take possession of a letter the man was carrying, a letter meant for the queen of England. “The queen” in 1193 (when the book is set) is Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most formidable people in the history of the world, and Justin manages to get to her with the letter, which is fairly important as it tells of the fate of the king, her son. The king is, of course, Richard I, who went on crusade and was shipwrecked on his way back and thrown into prison in the Holy Roman Empire, whose ruler was not a friend of England. Eleanor’s other son, John, was scheming to take over the country, which Eleanor knew would be a disaster (and would, in fact, be one when John did finally succeed his brother in 1199). Eleanor enlists Justin to find the killers, whom she believes were in the pay of John, and find out what they know and what, potentially, John knows. If John knows about Richard, he can use the information to make sure Richard mysteriously dies in prison and take over. It’s a race against the clock!

Penman is a lively writer who knows a great deal about life in medieval England, but she usually writes about the great people of the realm, so this series is refreshingly different, as she focuses mostly on the common folk. Justin moves between those two worlds well – his father, while never acknowledging him as his own, made sure he had a good education, so he’s not completely out of place at Eleanor’s court, but he’s still a commoner, and his interactions with the regular folk of London is nicely done. He gains an ally in the under-sheriff of Hampshire (where Winchester is located), with whom he has a contentious relationship before forming a friendship, and the landlady of a pub next to the house he rents is also a big help to him. They solve the mystery, of course, and Penman does a very nice job showing how they could do it, given all the limitations on “police” work in the 1100s. She also shows the society quite well – obviously, things were a lot different 900 years ago, but so much is familiar that it’s easy to get into the story. And, of course, the political intrigue is well done, too, as Eleanor and John have spies everywhere, and Justin has to navigate that society very carefully. It’s a quick read, as Penman’s prose goes down easily, and she does a very good job of immersing us in a world that’s not too unlike our own.

I don’t know if any readers out there want to jump into Penman’s giant epics, but if you’re curious about reading something about medieval England, this is a good place to start. It’s a quick, gripping read, and it might make a Penman fan out of you!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit by Laura Penny. 242 pgs, 2005, Crown Publishing.

This book came out at the height of the Bush presidency, and it’s a bit depressing how relevant it still is, even if it’s not the greatest book because, as Penny herself states at the end, she’s preaching to the choir. Penny dives into our culture and its endless bullshit, from advertising to politics, from pharmaceuticals to insurance, from big box stores to education. It’s somewhat depressing reading, naturally, but I imagine it would have hit harder in 2005, when it was first published, than now, when we’ve almost become inured to the bullshit. Nothing Penny writes about has changed too much (maybe it’s gotten a bit worse, but certainly not better), so it’s hard to get too worked up about her writing. She’s very thorough (she does write about how short the book is, but it’s still very thorough) and her prose is interesting and lively, but it’s also exhausting reading, mainly because her theses have gone mainstream in the past 15 years, with our Orange Overlord making Bush seem like an amateur in the realm of bullshitting and pharmaceutical companies and schools and insurance companies upping the ante on the bullshit*, and it’s just frustrating. I’m not saying this is a bad book, as it’s very well done, but it does feel like it’s been overwhelmed by so many examples over the past decade that Penny’s examples seem almost quaint. God, the world sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?

* Our insurance company rejected a new order for a wheelchair for my daughter in November. The company making the wheelchair appealed, but before anything could happen with that, the year rolled over and my wife’s company got a new insurance carrier, so the old one – despite the claim coming in before the end of the year – washed their hands of it, so we had to re-submit it to the new company. I am convinced they rejected it solely so they could run the clock out because they knew at the end of the year they wouldn’t be the carrier anymore. This is for a person who has literally no ability to walk whatsoever and never will, mind you, and who has had the same wheelchair for five years so it’s not like we’re just trying to get a new one for the hell of it. It’s a no-brainer that she needs a new one, but those motherfuckers rejected it anyway. No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Cruel as the Grave by Sharon Kay Penman. 242 pgs, 1998, Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

The second of Penman’s “medieval mystery” books takes place soon after the first concluded, and this time, our hero Justin de Quincy solves a murder that has nothing to with the political intrigue of the realm, although Eleanor’s efforts to free Richard the Lion-Heart and John’s efforts to usurp the crown are still a major part of the book. Justin is convinced to solve the murder of a teenager who was fooling around with one dude while the dude’s brother was secretly in love with her, and the brothers’ aunt wants Justin to clear both of their names, as they are the prime suspects, after all. Justin takes the case, so to speak, because he’s a kind dude (a sucker, as his friend the sheriff might say), and as he gets involved in it, his own feelings of abandonment by his father come into play. He’s also gotten the woman he’s sleeping with pregnant, and as she’s of a much higher social status than he is, marriage is not a possibility, but he wants her to have the baby, again because of his own feelings about a father who never acknowledged him and he wants to be a part of the kid’s life. It’s all very complicated, and Penman does a good job showing how stratified medieval society is even if the people did have some freedom within it (nobody cares that the dude is banging the murdered girl, for instance, but he certainly can’t marry her because she’s of far lower status than he is). The queen continues to work for her son’s freedom, and she needs Justin to find out what’s going on with John, so there’s a nice sequence where Justin has to sneak inside Windsor castle to get a message to John, who’s besieged inside. Once again, the book is a nice, easy read, zipping along, full of engaging characters and interesting insight into medieval society, and Justin shows once again that he’s a good detective, mainly because he doesn’t allow the stereotypes of society to sway him – he simply looks for facts, so even if they fly in the face of what society says, he’s able to suss things out. This isn’t quite as good as the first book, mainly because the murder doesn’t tie into the larger plot of Richard and John and Eleanor, but that’s not a huge concern, as Penman is able to tie them together thematically a bit, which is nice. It’s still a good book, and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Dragon’s Lair by Sharon Kay Penman. 317 pgs, 2003, Random House.

The second of Penman’s “medieval murder mysteries” ended on kind of a cliffhanger, so I decided to read the next one instead of reading a different author in between them, like I did after the first book (I get burned out on authors if I read too many of their books close together). However, the cliffhanger at the end of the second doesn’t really lead into this book – it’s kind of like those stingers at the end of some movies, I guess, where everything is wrapped up but then a giant radioactive snail is moving slowly toward Paris, and the team needs to go off and fight it but we never see that adventure. That’s fine, because this is still a good book, so I didn’t mind the slight feint of the slight cliffhanger. In this book, our hero Justin de Quincy is sent to Wales to investigate the disappearance of some of the ransom Queen Eleanor had to collect to free her son, Richard, from the dungeons of the German emperor. Penman has always been interested in medieval Welsh history, so she’s in her wheelhouse here, as Justin tries to figure out who stole the ransom before all hell breaks loose. The ruler of Gwynedd (northern Wales), Davydd ab Owain, is convinced his nephew, Llewelyn, stole it to make him look bad (Llewelyn considered himself the rightful heir to the kingdom, and considering history knows him as “Llewelyn the Great,” he had a point). Justin, naturally, doesn’t get caught up in the emotions of the court, and once he meets Llewelyn, he becomes convinced of the man’s innocence. Meanwhile, the noblewoman he was boinking is pregnant, so that’s a pickle, and he reconnects with an old childhood friend in the city of Chester and starts boinking that dude’s sister, so there’s a lot going on. As usual, things are not what they seem, and Penman does a nice job taking historical figures and figuring out what they might do – Emma, the half-sister of King Henry II and wife of Davydd, is not very well known in history, but Penman makes her a fascinating character with motives that feel right, even if they’re not historically accurate. Justin has to navigate a lot of political currents, and there’s a lot of intrigue and tense situations, and it’s all very well done. I like this book a bit more than the second one, because as I noted with that one, the murder felt a bit outside the main narrative. Each of these books can stand on its own, but it appears Penman wants to link them to Eleanor’s attempts to get Richard out of prison, and the first and third feel stronger because that connection is stronger. You can read each as a standalone book, but the first and third are the better ones!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

TELEVISION

Yellowstone season 4 (Paramount Network).

Kevin Costner’s vehicle continues to roll merrily along, but I wonder if next season is the final one, because this season felt a bit more like a set-up, after each season told kind of a self-contained story and this one didn’t. There’s no Neal McDonough or Josh Holloway as the “big bad” this time, as the villains remain kind of amorphous – the company that wants to develop the land by Costner’s ranch is still villainous, but the woman in charge of that, played by Jacki Weaver, isn’t much of a presence this season, although she has potential. The season begins with the aftermath of a concerted effort to kill all the Duttons (season 3 ended with Costner seemingly bleeding out on the side of the road, but of course we knew he wasn’t going to die), and we find out who’s behind that, but that doesn’t really consume too much of the season. It’s a lot of little things, leading, it feels, to big things next season. Costner’s favorite son, Luke Grimes, moves out of the house because his wife and son are too traumatized by the attack, which came close to killing them, and he goes on a vision quest at the end of the season because his wife’s Indian culture is beginning to seep into his world. Meanwhile, Kelly Reilly, who’s really good as Costner’s daughter, brings home a kid whose parents are dead, and she and her soon-to-be husband, Cole Hauser (how is Cole Hauser four years younger than I am?), start to raise him even though neither of them is really parental material. There’s drama among the cowboys on the ranch, Jimmy (Jefferson White) is shipped off to Texas after he recovers from his bull-riding injuries so he can become a real cowboy, Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) is still trying to figure out how to keep the corporations at bay even as he tries to profit off of the development, and Piper Parabo shows up as an environmental protestor for whom Costner has a soft spot (Parabo is only 19 years younger than Costner, so it’s not quite as icky as it could be, although they look 30 years apart, because Costner has either aged hard or they make him look older, while Parabo is still only 45). Meanwhile, Wes Bentley, Costner’s least favorite son, is hanging out with his real dad (played by Will Patton), who convinces him to run for governor, which goes about as poorly as you might expect because Bentley never gets a break on this show. As usual, the acting is terrific on the show, as everyone is really giving their all and the guest stars are quite good, too, but the show still annoys me a bit. It’s so teeth-achingly earnest about the cowboy life and what makes someone “good” or “bad” – Bentley is bad because he doesn’t want to be a cowboy, so of course everything he does is framed as venal and craven, while Reilly would almost certainly be dead or disbarred by now, but because she’s fighting for the “right” things, she comes off as a hard-bitten hero. It’s not Reilly’s or Bentley’s fault, as they both do very good work, but the show is a bit unrealistic in its veneration of the cowboys. I kept saying that I want someone to just shoot Reilly and Hauser in the heads, because the way they act, someone definitely would, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. Still, it’s a fun show, and it does a nice job showing the many facets of the conflict between preserving the land and developing the land, and while the developers are universally regarded as evil, they’re not cardboard villains, and that’s pretty keen. We shall see if the next season is the last one!

How To with John Wilson season 2 (HBO). I don’t have too much to say about season 2 of Wilson’s documentary series – it’s still strange, funny, beautiful, occasionally uncomfortable, and kind of brilliant. Wilson keeps coming up with interesting topics that allow us to follow along as he goes down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, each bizarre and hilarious, as he tries to appreciate wine more or remember his dreams or be more spontaneous. He ends up at a party some energy drink magnate is throwing, and the dude seems like a very good guy even if his energy-drink empire feels a bit like a cult. Wilson talks about joining an a cappella group in college, which takes a very dark yet kind of funny turn. He flies to Las Vegas to meet his landlord, the woman for whom he tried to make risotto in season 1. She sold him the building she owned in the first episode of this season, and Wilson also opened a business in one of these episodes (he’s spending that sweet, sweet HBO money wisely!). As always, the incredible amount of footage he shoots as he wanders around New York becomes impressive fodder for his musings, and he finds a bunch of very interesting people as he wanders (the dude who believes in reincarnation and thinks you can tell who someone used to be because you resemble that person is one such character), and this is just a very cool way to spend 3 hours (6 episodes at 30 minutes each). I hope there’s a third season!

Yellowjackets season 1 (Showtime). This is basically “What if Lord of the Flies, but with girls?” and it’s not bad, although the creators say they have a five-year plan (just like Stalin!) and even with the revelation at the end of this season, I’m not sure if they can sustain it. It takes place both in 1996, when a high school soccer team from New Jersey crashes in the Canadian Rockies on their way to Nationals, and in 2021, when the survivors (well, some of them, as it’s unclear if we simply haven’t seen some of the others yet) are trying to live their lives and getting blackmailed over “what they did” out there (cannibalism is heavily implied, but it hasn’t actually been confirmed yet). In 1996, we’ve just reached the first snowfall at the end of the season (they crashed in the spring), and they have about a year left in the wilderness, as they were lost for 19 months. There’s a lot going on, and not all of it is good, unfortunately. The actors are pretty uniformly great, though, which goes a long way. Melanie Lynskey, a wildly underrated actor, is excellent as the adult Shauna, a woman who tries to keep out of the limelight and live a normal life, but has some pretty serious demons running around in her head. Juliette Lewis is Natalie, who’s been in and out of rehab over 25 years and whose discovery of a possible murder of one of the survivors kicks the plot into high gear (the blackmail comes first, but the survivors don’t really take it seriously until the death occurs). Lewis is excellent, also, which isn’t surprising. Tawny Cypress plays Taissa, who’s running for state senate and whose own demons drive her to some pretty dark places. Christina Ricci is marvelous as Misty, who was the team’s equipment manager and therefore never really felt like she was a part of it, and whose sense of isolation drove her to do some creepy things. The “1996” counterparts of these actors are excellent, as well – Sophie Nélisse is wonderful as Shauna, Sophie Thatcher is very good as Natalie (although of all of them, she seems the most unlike “Adult Natalie”), Jasmin Savoy Brown is very good as Taissa, and Samantha Hanratty is brilliant as Misty. Two other standouts are Ella Purnell as Jackie, Shauna’s best friend in 1996 and the queen bee of the team who finds out her high school skills count for nothing in the mountains; and Warren Kole as Jeff, Shauna’s husband, who’s kind of a doofus and doesn’t really know how to handle his taciturn wife (he was Jackie’s boyfriend in high school, so he knows about the crash although not what happened while they were lost). The biggest problem with the show is the writing – there appears to be something supernatural in the mountains, but the writers won’t commit to it, so some of the vague supernatural stuff that might not be is dumb if it’s not, and it’s frustrating. The kids have to be in charge, because the one surviving adult of the crash loses his leg and can’t function, but they don’t seem to take the crash all that seriously to start (to be fair, they think they’re going to be rescued, but the lack of a rescue is another annoying quasi-supernatural thing in this) and they act like it’s just another day at Generic High School, USA. The story in the present is better, but some of the characters still act extremely dumb, even when they know not to trust someone or that they actually can trust someone. The actors are a pleasure to watch, and maybe the vague supernatural stuff won’t bother you, in which case the story will work. The big twist at the end of the season might work, but it also might be disastrous. I’m not positive I’m going to tune in to season 2 to find out. This feels like something that I’ll have to ask the wife about, and if she’s really in, I’ll watch, but if she’s ambivalent, maybe we’ll just skip it. I don’t know. It feels like there’s a very interesting story hiding inside a more lurid horror story, and maybe it will come out!

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It’s always fun to check out my “classic” reprints, ain’t it?

Papercutz continues to bring out the Asterix Omnibuses, with volume 5. Everyone loves Asterix, right?

Dark Horse is still doing collections of old EC books, with this group of Weird Science issues. Featuring the usual gang – Feldstein, Kurtzman, Wood, and Marie Severin’s beautiful colors!

More Savage Sword of Conan (volume 6 already!), mostly written by Michael Fleisher and Roy Thomas and mostly drawn by John Buscema. Someday I’ll read all these Marvel Conan comics and my brain will explode from awesomeness!

PS Artbooks finally gets around to shipping one of the collections I ordered, with Classic Adventure Comics volume 1. Lots of cool stuff, beautifully reproduced. (They don’t do credits, annoyingly, but that Fu Manchu cover is Wood, and Joe Kubert has some nice work in here.)

IDW has the olde-tyme Usagi Yojimbo: Origins volume 2, now in color. I would have liked to get these when they were in black and white, but such is life. Still looks neat.

Let’s take a look at my spending, reset for the New Year!!!!

5 January: $65.94
14 January*: $223.79
19 January: $313.10
26 January: $163.03

* Books didn’t make it to comics shops in Phoenix on Wednesday the 12th, so I didn’t buy my books until Friday. Remember when new books came out on Friday? Good times!

Total for the month: $765.86. Well, shit. That pace will already put me $500 over last year, which was too much. I am pre-ordering less, though, so I should see some drop-off in a month or two. Dang, comics are spendy.

I had fun breaking things down by publisher, even if you all skipped it each month, so let’s take a look!

Ablaze: 2 (2 graphic novels)
AfterShock: 3 (3 trade paperbacks)
Antarctic Press: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Boom! Studios: 3 (2 single issues, 3 trade paperbacks)
Centrala: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 single issue)
DC: 1 (1 single issue)
Drawn & Quarterly: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Graphic Mundi: 2 (2 graphic novels)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Humanoids: 1 (1 graphic novel)
IDW: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 7 (2 single issues, 5 trade paperbacks)
Invader Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 9 (1 “classic” reprints, 1 single issue, 7 trade paperbacks)
Papercutz: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
PS Artbooks: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Scout Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Titan Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Udon Entertainment: 1 (1 manga volume)
Viz Media: 1 (1 manga volume)

5 “classic” reprints
9 graphic novels
2 manga volumes
7 single issues
23 trade paperbacks

Phew! All right, let’s move on!

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It’s so late in January as I type this that we’re almost a week into February, so I don’t have much to say about life in general. People still suck, it seems. Not you guys, but, you know. I wish people didn’t suck, but such is life. Here’s something strange:

The reporter was knocked down by a car while reporting and got up and kept going. That’s a tough broad!

Here’s a story that makes you feel a bit better about humans. Jon Dorenbos, who was once the long snapper for the Eagles, had to quit football when a physical revealed a weird heart condition, so if the Eagles weren’t trading him, he probably would have died. He’s now a magician, and was once a finalist on America’s Got Talent. He seems like a swell guy. A few weeks ago, he and his wife were out at dinner when a woman caught fire right near him and he saved her life by jumping on her with a blanket. He’s a superhero! Here’s the news story about it. It’s sad because the woman was severely injured, but she definitely would have been dead had he not been there.

All righty-o, that’s enough for this month. I linked to The Many Deaths of Laila Starr below in case you’re interested, but remember that if you use that link for any buying whatsoever, we get a tiny piece of it. It’s fun to keep the lights on! Have a great day, everyone!

12 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    BURGAS: I like ONCE & FUTURE because it’s rooted in Arthurian mythology, like CAMELOT 3000 and the MAGE trilogy.

    I hope Dan Mora stays the course.

    I haven’t watched YELLOWJACKETS but will one of these days.

    If you dig YELLOWSTONE, you should check out the prequel: 1883 with Sam Elliott. Can’t go wrong with ol’ Sam?!

  2. $765.86. My mortgage is $733.10.
    I have no mojo for film, TV much these days. I watch the news, JEOPARDY (It’s better when there aren’t 30-day champs, IMO), Finding Your Roots, and not much else. I tape stuff (Kennedy Center Honors from late December; STILL haven’t seen it). Malaise.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Look at you, with your fancy euro sign. I don’t know what that number is in real, all-American money, sir!!!! 🙂

      I certainly did get Fight Girls! I like how DC wasn’t letting Frank Cho do a Wonder Woman story, so he did his own!

  3. Der

    Our mortage is around $650 usd, only 4.5 years to go!

    We are still looking for job, hopefully we don’t end unemployed for long, but what can you do? send resumes and wait for a good offer

    No income means no comics, so I’m reading comics from my small pile of shame and rereading comics that I only read once before. I just finished the Puma blues, and as you said, gorgeous art, so-so writting

  4. John Wilson went to the same college I did, apparently, so I’m aware of the different a capella groups on campus, so I’m interested to see that one.

    Yellowjackets was pretty interesting overall, with Christina Ricci’s character and young counterpart both being delightfully cuckoo as a highlight. I wonder if the cannibalism is a feint. And I can’t believe that the story would be such a big deal even years later even if there was cannibalism, given that the Alive soccer team isn’t thought of as horrible people for having to do what needed to be done to survive. As someone who’s the same age as these girls, just about, as well, I was on the look out for anachronisms. The only one I really saw, which might not be one, but could be, was when one of the stranded girls said something to another about “your favorite Spice Girl is…”, and from what I looked up, the Spice Girls didn’t release “Wannabe” in the States until June ‘96, which would probably be after the airplane trip, so they shouldn’t have known about the Spice Girls. Which is really the hardest thing they had to deal with, y’know!

    I believe Fantagraphics still has rights to reprint Usagi Yojimbo, and I think they went to new printings of the B&W books just recently. So you could still get the B&W version!

    1. Greg Burgas

      The a capella thing gets weird, fast.

      Everyone keeps talking about the cannibalism, and I do think they’ll get to it, but I agree with you about it, because it’s just implied early on, but never confirmed. I think the fact that they seem to kill the people rather than just waiting for them to die would be the reason people would get upset about it. But yeah, there has to be more to it than just cannibalism.

      I forgot to mention the Spice Girls, because I thought the same thing you did, and of course my wife looked it up. The Spice Girls were around before the plane crash, but yeah, I doubt if high school girls in New Jersey would have known about them because they hadn’t hit the States yet. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.

      I’ve ordered the old Usagi Yojimbo books from Fantagraphics in the past and they’ve never shown up. Maybe I’ll have to try again!

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