“A holy war is nevertheless a war.”
“For this reason perhaps there should not be holy wars.” (Umberto Eco, from The Name of the Rose)
This is an odd Western, not quite set in 1866 when it claims (some of the language is far too modern) and more allegorical than anything – remember Jim Jarmusch’s Western, Dead Man? It sort of reminds me of that, which, depending on your view of Jim Jarmusch, could be high praise indeed. It’s more beautiful and dazzling than narratively strong, but Sherman nails it, so the beauty of the book overwhelms you, while Lewis, who tends to write these kinds of things, is up to what he’s trying to do, even if you might not like what he’s trying to do. This is more about the idea of a Western than a straight Western – the tropes feel deliberately leaned into, as if Lewis is subtly mocking them as the main character, especially, tries to move beyond them. He’s getting revenge for the murder of his wife, who was killed while he was fighting the Civil War by a gang called the Above Snakes, who claimed he hadn’t paid their “protection” money even though he knows he sent it. Dirt – yes, his name is Dirt – moseys through the desert (at one point a character talks about Apache Junction, which is about 15 miles east of where I’m sitting as I type this) looking for the gang, accompanied only by a yellow vulture that talks to him. It seems to be a figment of his imagination, but is it really? There’s also Dr. Tomb, a snake-oil salesman, who’s the first person we see in the comic, as he’s telling us the story of Dirt (Dirt narrates in caption boxes, but Dr. Tomb talks directly to us), and it’s unclear what his connection to Dirt is, although he doesn’t seem like a very nice person. What’s most interesting about the book is that Lewis makes it almost ridiculously “Western” – there’s an entire town populated by people seeking revenge on those who harmed their loved ones, and while it’s goofy, Lewis plays it (almost) entirely straight, which makes it even more ridiculous. Dirt’s “vengeance vulture” seems tough, but it’s really absurd, talking weird smack and acting like a bad-ass … until he runs into an even tougher “vengeance bird,” which acts even more obnoxiously. Early on in the book, Dirt rescues a brothel full of girls from a pimp, but when he returns the girls to their mothers, the feel-good story turns a bit darker than we expect, as Lewis is subverting the idea of the heroic rescue. When we find out why Dirt’s wife actually died, it’s … not a stupid reason, per se, but a very nihilistic one, again subverting the standard tropes. Even an unpleasant person like Dr. Tomb is the slightest bit goofy, which makes him a bit scarier, to be honest, but also not someone who fits into a more “regular” Western. Lewis still manages to tell a powerful story about loss, revenge, and redemption, but the fact that the book does have (very dark) sense of humor and that it’s not quite a Western make it not only an interesting story, but an interesting deconstruction of a Western, as well.
Sherman, meanwhile, does a wonderful job with the art. He’s got a bit of a Paul Pope vibe here, which is never a bad thing, and he takes Lewis’s oddball script and makes it even weirder, leaning into the deconstructive aspects of the story. His vulture wears a top hat at one point, because why not, and his Dr. Tomb wears a beaked mask and a big shaggy coat, making him look vaguely like a vulture himself. Sherman’s command of the page is the most impressive part of the artwork, though. One double-page spread uses small, square panels laid over two full-page drawings to show the way in which Dirt’s wife was eventually condemned to death, while he uses unusual camera angles throughout to give us a sense of the scope of the landscape through which Dirt operates. In some places, he simply expands the panel but leaves it relatively uncluttered, making the world bigger and Dirt smaller, which is a neat trick. His coloring is superb, from the painfully blue sky that opens the book to the sickly yellow of the vulture. There’s an astonishing double-page spread near the end that is colored red, and that much red almost overwhelms us, which it’s meant to do. Sherman has been doing some very nice work recently, and this is just another example of it.
Lewis isn’t entirely successful – he can’t quite thread the needle between a serious Western and a parody of Westerns – but this is still a pretty darned good comic. There’s nothing wrong with leaning a bit odd, and there’s still enough red-meat violence to satisfy the bloodlust of the average comic book reader. So that’s fun!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
A quarter-century ago, Milligan and Deodato worked on a book together. That book was Elektra, and the results were … not good. Unfortunately. However, in recent years, “Bad Milligan” seems to have faded into the ether a bit, and Deodato re-invented himself (as he writes in the afterword of this volume), and this collaboration is a lot better. Which is keen. Milligan gives us a story of an assassin who’s captured and instead of going to jail or getting executed, she’s put into the “absolution” program, meaning she can redeem herself … to a degree. Milligan, who never met a part of society that he couldn’t skewer, creates a program by which condemned criminals can earn their release – Nina gets tiny bombs implanted in her head, and she goes after other bad people and killing them … but she’s doing it all for the public, who judges her and raises her “absolution score.” If she reaches a certain level, she’s free. It not, the bombs go off and kill her. Fun! Of course there’s a talk show dedicated to dissecting Nina’s performance, with a host and guest stars, one of whom is a dude who managed to achieve “absolution” and one of whom is a feminist critic of the whole magilla. Nina, meanwhile, is not very good at connecting with the audience, until she starts going after people the audience themselves suggests … but that leads to other complications. Milligan knows what he’s doing, especially with regard to social satire, so the book is quite fun to read even though it’s relatively serious. Milligan tries to make the on-line crowd as idiotic and extreme as possible, but he can’t compete with real life, so while the on-line world of the book is ridiculous, it feels far too real and sad. The talk show portion of the comic is extreme, too, but, again, sadly not too far from real life. The parodic aspects of the comic, therefore, are tempered a little by reality, but they’re still a clever way to get into Nina’s head, and Milligan does a good job making her an interesting character, as she tries to figure out how to get “absolution,” if she even deserves it, and if she’s willing to do what her on-line audience wants her to do to get it. Milligan rarely gives his characters an easy way out, and he doesn’t here, so it’s a fascinating conundrum for Nina as her deadline approaches and she continues to have a crisis of conscience.
As I’ve noted for some time, I’ve always – for the most part – liked Deodato’s art, but when he “re-invented” himself – as he puts it – sometime around the turn of the millennium, his art really became superb. I will never like his use of celebrity models, and Bruce Willis showing up (briefly) in this book is distracting, but his use of chunky blacks and hatching is brilliant, the strategic dropping of holding lines is excellent, and the way he lays a page out, with gutters breaking up panels that you think shouldn’t be broken up but which allow him a strange storytelling freedom is amazing. Deodato has become very adept at blending 3-D models into his pencil art, which probably saves time but which can look far too intrusive if not done right. Deodato does it well, and so it feels as seamless as possible. He’s an excellent artist, and his work on late-’90s Marvel comics that might make your eyes bleed a bit shouldn’t dissuade you from taking a look at what he’s doing now.
Both Milligan and Deodato seem to be having a blast doing indie comics, which is how it should be! This is another nifty book from AWA to check out – they’ve been publishing a lot of keen comics!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Fantastic Four: Life Story by Mark Russell (writer), Sean Izaakse (artist), Francesco Manna (artist), Carlos Magno (artist), Zé Carlos (artist), Angel Unzueta (artist), Nolan Woodard (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor).
Perhaps the best satirist comics writer today, Russell gets a chance to do something a bit more straight-forward with this, but given that it’s an “Elseworlds” comic, he still has plenty of leeway with the characters. I mean, Doom and Galactus are in it, naturally, but because the story unspools over several decades, Russell can take his time with both of them, so their impact is a bit more purposeful than it might otherwise be. Galactus, for instance, takes decades to arrive at Earth, mainly because the universe is really, really big, yo. The neat thing about these “Life Story” comics (I think this and Spider-Man are the only ones so far, yes?) is that the writers can take their time and show how people change over time, so Sue, for instance, can ditch Reed like she should in the comics, because his neglect of her and Franklin (no Valeria in this comic!) occurs over years of “real time,” not years of fake “comic-book time” like in the regular books. Sue leaves, as she should, and it takes a while before Reed understands what he’s done and tries to fix it. Meanwhile, someone like Johnny can grow up (more than he has in the regular Marvel Universe, where’s he’s older than he was at the beginning of the Silver Age but still not too old) and realize what needs to be sometimes doesn’t always lead to a happy ending for everyone. Russell has some issues with Ben, but it seems most writers have issues with Ben, because his whining about being a big rock pile always intrudes on literally whatever story he’s involved in, so he really comes off as a whiner (granted, he’s a big fucking pile of rocks, but it’s still annoying). Russell gets to do some interesting things with the time periods – Sue is involved in trying to get the ERA passed in the 1970s, the threat of nuclear war is greater in the 1980s during Reagan’s presidency – and he does some clever things with how the FF fight bad guys, especially Galactus (no Uatu to save them!), and because it’s an Elseworlds, he can show the consequences of superheroing without worrying that the characters need to be fighting fit and Bristol fashion in the next issue or story arc. It’s always fun to see what a writer will do with those training wheels off, and Russell does a pretty good job with it.
Izaakse is a solid superhero artist – nothing spectacular, but solid – and while he needs a bit of help in the later issues, some of the other art is in flashback and some of it is consistent thanks, possibly, to Woodard’s colors, so the art is overall pretty good. It’s tough to write a lot about the art – it’s pleasant to look at, tells the story perfectly well, and isn’t ugly. The best parts are with Galactus, because Izaakse and – it looks like Magno, but I could be wrong – get to have some fun with the cosmic stuff, but nothing is really bad about the art. It’s nice.
Ultimately, while this is a good comic, it’s still an Elseworlds, and Russell’s obvious reworking of some parts of the FF story won’t transfer to the “real” comics (not that I read a lot of FF comics anyway, but still). It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what could be done in the “real” comics, but that’s it. Still, it’s entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I mentioned recently that I’m not quite as impressed with Zdarsky as some people are, but I don’t think he’s a bad creator, just a bit overrated. It seems like when he’s doing something that feels like it’s going to get more attention, he shows off, but when he’s flying under the radar, he’s a bit better. I don’t know what the anticipation for Public Domain was, but if it was high, maybe he’s ironed that out, because this is a fun comic – it feels like Zdarsky is reining it in a bit, which is nifty. This comic is a take about creators’ rights, and Zdarsky does some nice things with it. Miles Dallas, a journalist who craves to be taken seriously, is assigned to cover a new superhero movie, one based on a character his father, an artist, co-created (or … created?). He’s mad about his father getting screwed out of royalties, but then the PA of the writer of the hero (who’s a dick) finds an old contract giving ownership rights to Miles’s father, Syd. Miles wants to fight for the character, but his father is more ambivalent, and Miles doesn’t get it. Syd eventually agrees to see what he can do, but it’s a twisty path they have to walk, because they’re going up against a giant corporation that won’t hesitate to use their lawyers and money to crush Syd. It becomes a family drama – Miles and his brother, Dave, have a bit of a contentious relationship, and they try to work it out in this book; Miles and Dave are not exactly estranged from their father, but the relationship still needs to be fixed; Syd and his wife, Candy, are working through some things; even the asshole writer has some issues with his sister, who’s more important to the story than I’m going to reveal here. There’s some goofiness in the book, but Zdarsky does a nice job with the seriousness of the family stuff, and with regard to the creators’ rights stuff, he makes some interesting and relevant points about ownership and what it might mean to different people. As I noted, there’s some funny stuff in here, but it’s within the flow of the book and true to the characters, so it doesn’t feel like Zdarsky showing off. The fact that he’s drawing it, and he’s a solid but unspectacular artist, seems to help – he doesn’t write anything too wild because he might not be able to draw it, so the book stays grounded. That’s a good thing, at least where Zdarsky’s concerned.
This was the sixth-best comic of 2022, according to the poll I picked apart at CBR, and while I don’t think it’s quite that good, it’s still a good comic. Where will it rank on my possibly-only-hypothetical best-of list for 2023? Come back in a year and find out! (Wait, don’t come back in a year – check in with Atomic Junk Shop every day!!!!)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I enjoyed the first trade of That Texas Blood, but it wasn’t great. I kept getting it, though, because it was enjoyable, and the book is getting better, too, which is nice – volume 2 was better than volume 1, and volume 3 is pretty good, too (I’m not sure if it’s better than volume 2, but it’s also better than volume 1). Perhaps Condon just needed to get his feet underneath him, but the stories in the past two volumes just seem better. Which is nice.
In this collection, we’re in 1992, there’s a horrendous storm heading to West Texas, Sheriff Joe is facing a smarmy challenger to his office in the upcoming election, and … well, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Oh dear. The killer – that’s his handsome mug on the cover – is known as the Red Queen Killer, because he chops the heads off of his victims and leaves bloody chess pieces when he wants to intimidate people. The first scene in the book is the killer stalking his prey, and it’s very tense. Condon seems to trust Phillips a bit more these days, as a lot of this book is relatively silent, and Phillips creates a wintry world with dangers lurking around the corners. The first scene is horrific, and then the killer starts stalking Sheriff Joe’s secretary, Lu, and the final two issues are a masterclass on ratcheting up the tension, as the killer strikes, Lu fights back, and the sheriff rushes to save her. We know Joe survives (as he’s in volume 1, which is set later in his life), but who else will?!?!?!? Condon and Phillips do a superb job stretching the moments out, as we begin in Lu’s house and end up out in the blizzard. It’s very well done. Equally well done is the problems Joe is having with the weather and the election. As is typical with these kinds of stories, Joe is the stoic, apolitical dude who just wants to do the job right and doesn’t care about public opinion, while the dude running against him is a slick snake-oil salesman, and Condon writes their confrontation – which Joe is reluctantly dragged into – very well. He also has to deal with the blizzard and with notifying the public about the killer, which he doesn’t want to do because he wants them all to stay home instead of going out in vigilante squads, and this kind of real-life conundrum helps make the weirdness of the killer and his mask work better. It’s this kind of balance that makes the horror hit harder, which is why the story works so well. The way Joe and his deputy figure some things out is nice, too, because it’s just about hard work – Joe isn’t necessarily the most brilliant dude, but he works at the job and doesn’t overlook anything, so when the connections present themselves, he can make them. I like the “brilliant detective” stories as much as the next person, but I enjoy the “nose-to-the-grindstone” kind of cop stories, too, and Condon does that well here.
Phillips’s work continues to look vaguely like his father’s, which is not a bad thing at all, and one underrated thing I think has come from digital coloring is the way blood is shown. Back in the day, an artist had to draw the boundaries of the blood into the panel, but these days, colorists like Phillips can just put the colors in later, and blood looks more … spattery? Is that word?
Ok, good. Anyway, it might be morbid, but the blood in this book looks really good, and we have digital coloring to thank, so thank a computer today!
It’s nice to see That Texas Blood getting stronger. Will it last? Only volume 4 knows for sure!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Batman – One Bad Day: Catwoman #1 by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist/colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Jessica Berbey (assistant editor), and Dave Wielgosz (editor). $7.99, 64 pgs, DC.
After the godawfulness of the first of these “One Bad Day” specials, I’ve avoided them, but Jamie McKelvie drawing a Catwoman/Batman comic is something I couldn’t resist, so I picked this one up (Wilson is a fine writer, but if she had written this and, say, Tony Daniel had drawn it, I would have skipped it). I’ve now read two of these, and I’m not sure about the overall theme. In the Riddler one, King actually did look at “one bad day” that turned the Riddler, as stupid and unpleasant and wrong it was, but in this one, while Wilson does tie it back into Selina’s history, it’s just … a Catwoman comic. A “Prestige Format” Catwoman book, to be sure, but because Selina hasn’t been a real “villain” in years (if she ever really was one), they’re not going to do a story about how she burned her pimp alive or something like that (I don’t even know if her backstory still includes prostitution, but you get my point). In this comic, she’s still boinking Batman, for crying out loud, so how “bad” could her “day” have been? Wilson does add a bit to her backstory, as she comes across a brooch that her mother hocked for rent money years before and is now up for auction at far more than it was worth, as the pawnbroker believed it was a fake and didn’t offer her a lot but it turns out it wasn’t a fake, but nothing in there is so traumatic that it would make Selina a thief. Selina always seems to be a thief for thieving’s sake – she just digs it, man. No psychoanalysis needed! Wilson does give us some nice heist hijinks, some twists and turns, and a mysterious new villain who I assume will be showing up in the Catwoman book – does Selina still have her own book? – in the near future. It’s actually a pretty good villain introduction, so I can’t believe said villain won’t show up again.
I’m here for the McKelvie art, though, and it’s amazing as usual. McKelvie always picks up some new tricks whenever I see his work, and here he “roughs” his art a bit – just slightly, as his thin line still dominates – with some Benday dot effects and slightly muted colors (Matthew Wilson, who has colored a lot of McKelvie’s work in the past, tends to be a bit brighter, and McKelvie mutes it a bit to good effect). He smudges in the background to create steam and light pollution, which works well in a skeezy place like Gotham, and he photoshops some design work into clothing to add a bit of busyness to the scene – not in a bad way, but the art looks a bit messier than McKelvie generally does, which combines with his fine line to give a nice overall “textured” feel to the art. Some of the coloring is nice and subtle – when Selina’s mother hocks the brooch, McKelvie makes her sallower than the pawnbroker, implying their different economic stations without being too obvious about it. He uses just a bit more hatching – not much, but a bit – to add a bit more texture to the art, and he’s gotten better at action over the years, so Selina’s fight with the new villain is good and kinetic. And he makes Batman smile, which is always fun to see. McKelvie is, of course, a superb artist who doesn’t work as much as I want him to, and so it’s cool to see him doing a fancy comic like this. His art is almost worth the cover price.
I’m still not sure how this fits into DC’s “One Bad Day” initiative, but who cares, right? It’s a keen Catwoman comic by two good creators. Enjoy it for what it is!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Rivers of London volume 10: Deadly Ever After by Celeste Bronfman (writer), José María Beroy (penciler), David Cabeza (inker), Jordi Escuin Llorach (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer), Andrew Cartmel (script editor), and David Leach (editor). $17.99, 88 pgs, Titan Comics.
I like these Rivers of London comics, even though I haven’t read the accompanying prose books (they provide a “map” in each collection to show where the previous comics and the books fit in along the Thames, and I’m not even sure it’s necessary to read the prose novels) and I’m not going to pretend they’re brilliant comics – they’re just interesting and entertaining stories. With some comics, I want to convince you to buy them, or at least read them if you do so illegally (boooooo!!!!). With these, eh. In this one, two immature river goddesses accidentally unleash something on the world that makes people live out fairy tales – in the nastiest way possible. Bad things are happening, the two main characters in the books – the inspectors who are also wizards – are off doing other things, so the girls have to sort it out. It’s a clever little mystery, but it’s nothing terribly shocking or revolutionary. The art – which on these books has never been superb, but is generally adequate – is not superb, but it is adequate. I don’t know – I enjoy this weird, magical world that Ben Aaronovitch created and which Titan plays around in, but these comics won’t change your lives or anything. But they’re fun.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Rauchway uses William McKinley’s assassination to launch into an examination of fin de siècle America, as McKinley represented the old guard of Republicans while Roosevelt tried (and failed) to drag the Republicans into the new century (he lived to see many of his better progressive ideas co-opted by the Democrats), and he ties it all together with the somewhat enigmatic figure of Leon Czolgosz, the so-called anarchist who shot McKinley in September 1901. It’s a brisk, interesting book, as Rauchway begins with the murder, speedy trial, and execution of Czolgosz – he was electrocuted about seven weeks – less than two months!!!! – after he shot McKinley, but then circles back to his life, Roosevelt’s political career, and how the two intersected, even if vaguely. Czolgosz aligned himself with anarchism, which was a big deal in the world at this time, and Roosevelt wanted to use the specter of a vast anarchist conspiracy, in which Czolgosz was only a cog, to stamp out dissent in the country (Roosevelt was generally on the side of the working man, but he detested chaos, so he was a bit conflicted over unions and strikes and other such “socialist” things) … a conspiracy that, it should be noted, didn’t exist, and even tough Chicago police officers knew it didn’t exist and generally left anarchists’ meetings alone because they were just talking (what a refreshing attitude for cops to have!). After Czolgosz’s death, a Boston doctor named Vernon Briggs dug into his life to see if he was insane or just misguided, and Rauchway does a good job bringing not only Czolgosz but the social and economic situation of the working class in late 19th-century America to vivid life. It’s an interesting book because Rauchway isn’t simply doing a history lesson – he doesn’t gloss over the contradictory attitudes of Roosevelt or others in the book, pointing out that the people often needed to compromise if they wanted to advance an agenda (Jane Addams, a big supporter of Roosevelt who also tangentially came into contact with Czolgosz, did this in 1912 when she backed Roosevelt for president despite her annoyance with his reluctance to promise anything to poor blacks in the South). The strands of anarchism, socialism, progressivism, and corporatism come together and influenced so many, and it’s fascinating to read Rauchway working through how all these things vectored in the person of Czolgosz, who wasn’t really an anarchist and was an American citizen, despite some people trying to stir up fears of “foreigners” (Czolgosz’s parents were immigrants, but he was born in the States). It’s a bit depressing reading this book and realizing how much we as a country have backslid, as Roosevelt and many others – on both sides of the political spectrum – really did believe that government could make people’s lives better and could provide a bulwark against rapacious capitalists, and that idea has gone by the boards over the past several decades. Rauchway gives us a big picture of why a man like Czolgosz, who was well educated, possibly gay, and unable to advance in society, might feel alienated and hostile toward someone like McKinley, who was amiable but definitely willing to go along with stronger personalities, no matter where they directed him. Rauchway implies that it’s a bit of wonder there wasn’t more hostility toward politicians. He also links McKinley’s murder with Roosevelt getting shot on the campaign trail in 1912, which provides nice bookends to Roosevelt’s national political career. Roosevelt was a more complex politician than most people give him credit for, and this book does a good job showing that. It’s quite interesting.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
This is, I guess, an updated version of the 2002 book, which had a slightly different subtitle. As it’s from 2004, Raviv can bring readers a bit more into the Marvel Age of Movies, as in 2002, things were looking better in that regard but not quite as strong as in 2004 (and, naturally, definitely not as strong as in 2008 and forward). Plus, we get that nifty Amanda Conner cover!
As I read this book, I couldn’t help thinking about how much more I hated rich people after I read it then before (and, to be fair, I wasn’t too happy with rich people before). Raviv tells the tale of Ronald Perelman, Ike Perlmutter, and Carl Icahn as clearly as possible, and although I probably only understood about 75% of what he wrote (junk bonds and other stock market crap will never make sense to me), it’s still a fascinating read that makes me hate rich people a lot more, which perhaps wasn’t Raviv’s intent. It’s just … these dudes had billions, and they thought nothing of gutting companies just to sell them for even more billions, which, fine, but a lot of people lost jobs, and Perelman and Icahn, more than Perlmutter (who at least was fairly hands-on with Toy Biz), didn’t get involved in the companies and so didn’t know or care about the human cost. None of these dudes knew much about comics, so the fact that the comics were relying on freelancers with no insurance didn’t really cross their minds (Perlmutter, at least, worked with Avi Arad, who loved the comics). The twisty saga of Marvel’s bankruptcy in the mid-1990s is occasionally ridiculous, often stupid, and probably as frustrating to read about as it was to live through, because all of these dudes were stubborn pricks who never wanted to admit they might “lose” in their idiotic battles for dominance (as they all knew they would remain billionaires, “lose” is a relative concept). It really is a compelling story, with Arad really the only one coming out looking like a decent dude (Perlmutter sort of does, but he’s still a prick), and while I do wish Raviv had gotten a bit more into the movie rights issue, which crippled Marvel’s ability to control their characters, that’s a minor complaint (he does get into it, just not as much as I would have liked). I don’t have much else to say – it’s a book about Marvel’s bankruptcy, so there are going to be hurt feelings on all sides, lawyers racking up fees, and everyone acting like an asshole. Fun stuff!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Yellowstone season 5 (sigh … part 1)(Paramount Network). I’m still not convinced this isn’t the final season of this show, despite its ratings, because it just feels like we’re heading toward an apocalyptic showdown that no one will survive. We’ll see. Anyway, this remains a good show thanks to the acting and the scenery, while the overall plot continues to be a bit overcooked. Costner gets elected governor at the beginning of the season, and we’re dealing with that, as he cancels the Evil Corporation’s plans to develop land by his ranch, and they want REVENGE!!!! The showrunners might have listened to people complaining that the show was too MAGA-adjacent (it’s really not, but it’s about cowboys, so of course the right wing has latched onto it), because they bring back Piper Perabo as the world’s most annoying environmentalist, set her up as a straw man, and allow Costner and his daughter, Beth (played by Kate Reilly), to take her down hard. It’s stupid – she’s mad about ranchers, when ranchers generally have a vested interest in keeping their lands relatively pristine, but she’s not mad about the pipeline they plan to run through the Indian reservation right near Costner’s land? It makes no sense, but it allows Taylor Sheridan and his writers to portray cowboys as the real stewards of the land, unlike those stupid bureaucrats in Washington. Whatever. It’s annoying, but the politics of Costner trying to not be a politician is what makes the show compelling. The showrunners focus on the wrong character, though, which isn’t a surprise. The show has become more about Reilly’s character, because Reilly eats the role raw, and she’s really brilliant, but the character is just a cartoon, and exists only in the fever dreams of “real” men and women who think “civilized” means “being a pussy.” The real show is about Luke Grimes and Wes Bentley as Costner’s sons – Bentley is adopted – and how they’re living their lives. Grimes tried to get away from the ranch and even married a Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille, who’s gotten better and better as the show has gone on), but he keeps being the dutiful son and getting drawn back into the drama, while Bentley is always reminded that he’s not really Costner’s son, yet everyone gets grumpy when he’s not loyal to Costner. He has a great speech this season about how he wanted to work on the ranch, but Costner forced him to become a lawyer so he could represent the ranch’s interests, but Costner has no respect for lawyers so he doesn’t respect Bentley even though he was the dutiful son. It’s a great dilemma, and when Bentley launches impeachment hearings against Costner, he’s not wrong at all but, of course, the show portrays it as a betrayal (and he’s spurred on by a hot piece of ass working for the Evil Corporation, so we know he’s thinking with his dick, but it doesn’t make him wrong). Beth is popular because she says exactly what’s on her mind and takes no shit, but that’s what makes her boring (and the show’s attempts to humanize her, which they do a bit more this season, aren’t terribly successful). People pump their fists and say “fuck yeah!” when she clocks a lady who says she’s going to bone Beth’s husband over the head with a bottle, but, again, that’s a cartoon. I do hope the showrunners stop being so enamored of Beth, because Kaycee (Grimes) and Jamie (Bentley) are the actual interesting characters on the show.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke season 2 (PBS). This remains a fun show, with Eliza Scarlet (Kate Phillips) continuing to bang up against the patriarchy as she tries to establish her detective agency and William Wellington (Stuart Martin) continue to be exasperated by her even though he totally digs her. It’s cleverly written, as Eliza and William’s banter is very good (I don’t love that they’re going to become romantically involved eventually, but for now, their back-and-forth is fun), and the cases tend to be pretty interesting. In this season, Eliza gets a friend – a woman who admires her and wants to be like her but is a bit too meek to rebel against society as Eliza did – and things at Scotland Yard get dicey for William, as the Police Commissioner wants his unaccomplished son to be a detective and Wellington has to mentor the kid, which is fraught with trouble. So there’s that drama to go along with a search for a missing sketch by Charles Darwin, murders based on a popular novel, grave-robbing, poisoning, and other such criminal activity. The show (which is now filmed in Belgrade instead of Dublin) does a nice job bringing 1882 London to life, unsubtly commenting on Eliza’s position as a woman in this society but still doing it fairly well – there are plenty of women who think she’s crazy, so it’s not just the men – and also unsubtly linking it to today’s world, which is also fairly well done even if it’s obvious. It’s just a solid mystery drama, resting heavily on the shoulders of the two leads, who do a very good job carrying it.
Peaky Blinders season 6 (Netflix). The final season of Peaky Blinders is pretty good, although not quite as good as the first couple, mainly because endings are hard, man. The death of Helen McCrory, who played Aunt Polly, the strong matriarch of the family, hits pretty hard, and the show does a decent job of working her death into the narrative and providing a good revenge motive for Cillian Murphy and Finn Cole (Murphy wants to go after the actual people who killed Polly, while Cole wants to go after Murphy because he thinks he didn’t do enough to protect her). The biggest problem is that some cast members – Cole most notably – don’t get enough to do, and because the final season is only 6 episodes, it feels rushed, so the threats – Oswald Mosley is the “big bad” of the latter half of the series, but his allies are nasty, too – don’t feel as strong as they did earlier in the series. Tommy Shelby – Murphy – has a lot to do as he staggers toward legitimacy, and it never feels like the stakes are high enough as he navigates treacherous waters. Considering who dies in this season, that might sound silly, but it’s still true. Even given all that, it’s still a good show, and given that it’s the final season, there is some suspense about whether Tommy and others in his family will make it out alive. The cast is still stacked, and Tom Hardy gets to do his Jewish gangster thing a bit, which is fun, and Anya Taylor-Joy and Sophie Rundle get to tear into their roles, and Murphy is always superb, but it just feels rushed. It’s an odd feeling because each season has been 6 episodes, but because they could always put stuff off until another season, they didn’t feel like they zipped by. This does, and it’s too bad. Still, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a good gangster epic with a lot of interesting stuff to say about class warfare, post-traumatic stress, and British fascism. That ain’t bad! (And it’s too bad they couldn’t kill Mosley, who lived until 1980. But such is life.)
Annika season 1 (PBS). We’ve been on a bit of a “Masterpiece Mystery” kick recently (see above, and there’s more coming!), and this is yet another solid cop drama from the other side of the pond (or, depending on where you live, your side of the pond!). Nicola Walker stars as the titular character, heading up a new “Marine Homicide Unit” around Glasgow, solving water-related murders. She’s a single parent to a teenage daughter (although they lead us toward the girl’s father, which is kind of the “big reveal” at the end of the first season), she has an interesting team, and … that’s it. There’s not much to say about it – the crimes are interesting, certainly, and the cast is good – Jamie Sives is the dude who wanted Annika’s job and didn’t get it, but he’s trying to cope with it; Ukweli Roach is the English dude who’s trying to prove he’s an excellent cop; Katie Leung is the quirky younger cop (I mean, Leung is 35, but she looks younger) who’s able to connect with Annika’s daughter (and whose younger sister starts dating Annika’s daughter about halfway through the season). Leung is probably best known in the States as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies, so that’s neat. The scenery is gorgeous, the cast is fun, and the crimes are nifty. There’s not much else to say!
Magpie Murders (PBS). Hey, it’s another “Masterpiece Mystery” show, what do you know! I very much enjoyed this, as it’s a “one-and-done” murder mystery, as it’s six episodes and nothing else, so you don’t have to wait for a new season! Lesley Manville plays a book editor for a indie publishing house whose big author, Alan Conway (played by Conleth Hill, who’s best known as Lord Varys on Game of Thrones), has just delivered his latest “Atticus Pünd” mystery (Pünd is modeled quite obviously on Hercule Poirot). Manville’s boss is happy because he’s about to sell the company to a big corporation, and he wants Manville to take over as CEO, something she doesn’t seem terribly interested in. Her boyfriend wants to move back to Crete and open a hotel, and he wants her to come with him, so she’s mulling that over. Then, two things happen: the new book is missing the final chapter, and Conway falls to his death from one of the towers of his palatial mansion. Oh dear. Manville heads off to Suffolk to find the chapter, and she begins to suspect that Conway was killed. Meanwhile, we also get to see Pünd solve his case, as Conway used elements and people from his own life to populate his book, and Manville begins to realize that perhaps the answer to who killed Conway is in the missing chapter. It’s a fun show, as we toggle back and forth between the “real” world of the present and the book world of 1955, and there are red herrings and clues and some metatextual stuff about murder mysteries and some interesting commentary on fame and what it does to people. The cast is very good – Manville and Conway are good actors (although he dies in the first episode, he shows up a lot in flashbacks), Tim McMullan as Pünd is fun, Matthew Beach as Conway’s lover and Pünd’s secretary (a lot of the cast does double-duty) is good, Alexandros Logothetis as Manville’s partner conveys just the rigth amount of mysteriousness about what he’s doing, and the rest of the cast does good work, as well. It’s just a clever conceit and two decent mysteries, although one character does do the classic stupid “confront the bad guy without any back-up plan” thing, but oh well. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Astrid (PBS). This is called Astrid et Raphaëlle in France, which is a far more appropriate title, as it has two co-leads, and I wonder why it was changed for the States. My theories: three more syllables is too hard to remember, man!!! Or: What a weird name, and why is does that lady have a dude’s name, and what’s up with the umlaut? I can’t watch this!!!!!
But I, an intrepid ‘Murican, did watch this, and it’s a pretty solid cop show. Lola Dewaere plays Raphëlle, a commander in the Paris police, who has to check the Criminal Records division in the first episode, where she meets Astrid, a woman with autism who works there. Astrid, of course, remembers everything and loves puzzles, so she’s a crime-solving savant, and the two of them team up. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s a bit better than most ‘Murican cop shows of this ilk, for a few reasons. Dewaere and Sara Mortensen, who plays Astrid, are very good together, and chemisty is always a good thing to have in a television show. More than that, though, the show does a good job addressing Astrid’s autism – ‘Murican shows that have people on the spectrum tend to shy away from it, as they just call the people “quirky” or “socially inept.” Astrid has autism, though, and Raph and her co-workers have to deal with that, and we meet friends of Astrid’s who also have autism, so the show gives us a community of people, some of whom are better at social interaction than Astrid, some of whom are worse. In that regard, the show strives to be more realistic than most shows that feature “weird” characters whom they won’t admit are autistic. The mysteries are interesting, and the characters are compelling, and that’s about it. I dug it.
Let’s check out the “classic” reprints I bought this month!
There’s a very nice hardcover from 2000AD/Rebellion of Halo Jones by Alan Moore (whose name is, for once, prominently displayed on the cover) and Ian Gibson, with fancy-pants coloring. The coloring is nice, although I wish it was a bit brighter. This is a terrific comic, and if you’ve never read it, here’s a chance! Marvel managed to get out their final Conan the Barbarian Omnibus (I don’t think they finished Savage Sword, but maybe they never will now?), so that was nice. Dark Horse has another nice EC collection of Weird Fantasy #13-17 and #6 (which comes after the others, chronologically, because numbering in the ’40s and ’50s was weird), and they also managed to get The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz – an It’s Alive book – out, which is nice. This is another Sam Glazman book that Drew Ford, bless ‘im, was trying to get out for a while, so I’m glad it’s finally here. The restoration is very nice. PS Artbooks, which tends to hold onto their products and then dump them all in the same week event though they get solicited in different months, shipped their collection of Blue Bolt/Weird Tales of Terror issues, with some Basil Wolverton and Joe Orlando (with Wood inking him) as well as their final collection of Señorita Rio stories from Fight Comics, with Lily Renée, Nick Cardy, and Jack Kamen art. Good stuff!
Here’s what I paid this month for comics, remembering that I really am trying to cut down!
4 January: $218.68 (Not a great start to the year, but Conan and the two PS Artbooks came out this week, and the olde-tymey reprints are always a bit pricey)
11 January: $158.74 (More nice fancy reprints!)
18 January: $91.93 (Normal week of collected editions, yay!)
25 January: $31.20 (!!!)
Money spent in January: $500.55 (January 2022: $765.86; January 2021: $397.35)
That last week was weird – the least I’ve spent in a long time. We shall see if it bodes well for the year!
Here are the publishers from whom I purchased comics!
Abrams ComicArts: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AWA: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Black Caravan: 1 (1 single issue)
Dark Horse: 5 (2 “classic” reprints, 3 single issues)
DC: 2 (2 single issues)
Image: 5 (2 single issues, 3 trade paperbacks)
Marvel: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 trade paperback)
Oni: 1 (1 graphic novel)
PS Artbooks: 2 (2 “classic” reprints)
Roaring Brook Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Titan Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
2000AD/Rebellion: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Let’s get to some rambling thoughts and other things!
The Batman television show debuted 57 years ago on 12 January 1966. To celebrate, here’s Julie Newmar stretching (in giant format, because why not):
This is fun: It’s every non-word David Lee Roth says in “Runnin’ With the Devil.” I don’t know why this guy’s Instagram handle is “i ruined it for you,” because this is awesome and not ruined at all:
The NFL has been playing post-season football (Eagles in the Super Bowl, whooooooo!!!!), and a few weeks ago, Jacksonville came back to beat the Chargers after trailing 27-0. Fans very much did not like the call by Al Michaels at the end of the game, when Jacksonville kicked the game-winning field goal:
Great Jaguars comeback or amazing Chargers choke? Yes. pic.twitter.com/QuQYArRfjd
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) January 15, 2023
That same week, Cincinnati beat Baltimore on a weird fumble that they returned for a touchdown. Fans had jokes:
If Al Michaels and Tony Dungy called that Bengals fumble return pic.twitter.com/7NGiitFvuS
— Korked Bats (@korkedbats) January 16, 2023
I mentioned that my resolution this year is to lose weight, which is always my resolution, and at the beginning of the year, I weighed 260.8 pounds. January wasn’t the greatest month, as I gained some weight early on in the month before I started getting it under some control. So my weight is now 258.7, which means I managed to drop two pounds in January. Not great, but not bad. The trick, for me, is keeping it up. We shall see!
I decided that 2023 is another Year of the Beard! I haven’t had a beard since … 2013? 2014? I can’t recall. Anyway, I’m growing it back, and we’ll see how long it lasts – I’m going to try to take a bit better care of it this time around. I’ve been taking photos of my face every Sunday (because the first of the year was on a Sunday), so let’s take a look at my progress. in gif form … which doesn’t work unless you click on it. So do it!!!!
I … don’t have anything else. Sometimes I have something to rant about, but things are ok, I guess, in life in general. I mean, people are still crazy, and people are still shooting people for no reason, and cops are still killing people, and Republicans are still weird, and the ex-pres is still lurking out there, but, you know, things are a bit fine for now. Less than two weeks from now, Philadelphia will have another Super Bowl title, and all will be well in the world!!!! Have a nice day, everyone!