Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

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

Do something, even if it’s wrong, his motto. His understanding of Kierkegaard: To think up reasons why something would not work guarantees that it will not work. Never do feasibility studies. Get on with creation. Do the most difficult thing. Keep the means moral. (Maxine Hong Kingston, from Tripmaster Monkey)

COMICS

Taskmaster: The Rubicon Trigger by Jed MacKay (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist), Guru-eFX (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

I don’t recall how many MacKay comics I’ve read before this, but reading this makes me optimistic for his Moon Knight, because this is a blast. At the beginning, Maria Hill has been killed, and our hero is the prime suspect, and Black Widow is chasing him, and Not Nick Fury wants his help because Hill was working on something that Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. left behind, something called the Rubicon Trigger. What a great name for a MacGuffin! The only way to get into the file is to simulate the biometrics of Phil Coulson, Okoye, and Ami Han, and Not Nick Fury needs Taskmaster to find those three, check them out, and be able to mimic their movements. Easy-peasy! So each issue is about Taskmaster finding one of those people, getting into a lot of trouble, avoiding Black Widow, and getting back to Not Nick Fury. It is, to say the least, a shit-ton of fun, because MacKay understands that Taskmaster, while he can’t win against superheroes because he’s a villain, is a pretty fascinating character who has some skills (well, the skills he copies), so he can fight pretty well, and he’s smarter than the average bear, so he can get out of situations using his brain, and he’s ultimately not a good guy, so he has no problem with cutting and running. It’s a nice mix, and MacKay uses it well – he doesn’t exactly beat Hyperion, Black Widow, White Fox (whoo-hoo, White Fox is in this comic!), and Okoye as much as he cheats a bit to get away from them. And the ending of the book is pretty awesome, because Taskmaster is, after all, kind of a dick. Vitti draws it all very nicely – he has a good, clean line, and he uses blacks very well – and the coloring, while a bit rendered, works with the digital pencils pretty well. It’s a fun book, done well, and shows us once again that Marvel ought to do more mini-series starring their more minor characters. They’re just sitting there, collecting dust!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Don’t ever change, Taskmaster!

BONUS Airwolf panel:

Because White Fox is AWESOME

Yasmeen by Saif A. Ahmed (writer), Fabiana Mascolo (artist), Robin Jones (letterer), and Travis Czap (script editor). $19.99, 144 pgs, Scout Comics.

Ahmed tells two stories in this book, and they’re both terrific. In one, 16-year-old Yasmeen can’t get out of Mosul when ISIS takes the city in 2014, so she’s abducted and kept imprisoned for well over a year. In the second, 18-year-old Yasmeen is trying to start her life over again in a small town in Iowa and finding it difficult. We know she survives the first story – 18-year-old Yasmeen’s story begins on page 4 of issue #1 – but what happened to her in Mosul and how she survived is the crucial part of that story. In issue #1, Ahmed jumps back and forth between stories very quickly, so he can contrast Yasmeen’s middle-class life in Iraq to the one she has now in Iowa, and also to show how things fell apart so quickly. Then he settles down a bit, spending more time with each story before switching back to the other one, and the book gets into a good rhythm. We know bad things are going to happen to Yasmeen when she gets abducted, and they do, but Ahmed takes his time showing them, making sure that we know more about Yasmeen and the people around her before the bad things start happening, so they feel a bit more horrific. Meanwhile, she’s having trouble assimilating in Iowa, and part of that is because she’s carrying so much guilt about her trauma. She makes some friends, but of course others are prejudiced against her, and she’s not getting along well with her father because he doesn’t want to confront what happened to his perfect little girl when she was in captivity. He, of course, is struggling himself, as he wants to assimilate but often can’t simply because he’s Iraqi. Halfway through the book, Yasmeen and her mother help a friend who passed out at a party and whose “boyfriend” took semi-obscene pictures of her and began distributing them, and it helps Yasmeen bond with her mom and also informs the rest of the book, where we find out what happened to her at the end of her captivity. It’s a tense book, despite us knowing that Yasmeen gets out of Iraq, and it’s a heartwarming book, because Ahmed tries to show the humanity in people even as they live in a world of brutality. Most Americans, I would think, don’t know much about the divisions in Islam, and Ahmed goes into that just a bit to show why some of the people in the book are so horrible. Ahmed is an Iraqi immigrant, so while he’s not a teenage girl, he does know a thing or two about being in a new country and learning how to live there. Mascolo’s art is very good – she has a strong line, and she does a good job contrasting Mosul before ISIS and the war-town town it became, and both with the middle-class world of Iowa. She does well showing the slow brutalization of Yasmeen and the other girls with her, but she also shows us that Yasmeen retains a spark of defiance, which helps her later in the book. It’s interesting seeing that defiance when you also see her shrink early on in her new life, because while the horrors she endured in Mosul are awful, it’s also something that one can stand up to. The Yasmeen in Iowa can’t figure out how to deal with the much more subtle disrespect of the Americans, and Mascolo shows that well, until Yasmeen is able to begin to find herself again. It’s pretty neat.

Yasmeen is a keen book, in other words. Check it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

It’s sad because it’s far too true

Middlewest: The Complete Tale by Skottie Young (writer), Jorge Corona (artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), and Kent Wagenschutz (editor). $59.99, 417 pgs, Image.

Young gives us a story set in a slightly magical Midwest, where people can turn into storms and trolls still hang out by bridges, and we get Abel, a young boy whose father is not terribly nice and whose mother is no longer in the picture and who flees his home when his father turns into a giant storm one evening. With his buddy, Fox (who’s a fox), Abel sets off to possibly find his mother, but really just to get away, but he’s been “infected” with the storm gene, so whenever he begins to get angry, he begins to turn into a storm. Hey, this feels like a metaphor …

Abel doesn’t find his mother (Young writes in the back that it turned out the story wasn’t really about that), but he does find a group of carnival folk (who presumably have small hands and smell like cabbage), and the book is really about finding your own family instead of sticking with the one you were born with (although Abel’s father does go on his own journey, it’s not necessarily the one we expect). Abel eventually ends up at a slave plantation (basically, although the slaves are kids instead of Africans), and he has to use what he’s learned about his “affliction” and his “family” to try to survive and escape. It’s a very good adventure – there’s a lot of action, naturally, but Young gives us a lot of interesting characters who don’t always do what we expect them to do, mainly because he takes the time to give them good personalities, so they have their own agendas and they don’t always align with what the plot might dictate. It’s not a sad story, but it does get grim occasionally, as Abel needs to learn about life and how adults aren’t always the paragons kids think they are. Young never lets it get too bad, however, and that’s good, because who wants a super-depressing story and Corona’s marvelous art might not be the best fit for it anyway. Corona has a fairly cartoony style (a bit like Young’s, frankly), and he does a wonderful job creating this world and populating it with interesting humans and oddball characters. It’s a weird kind of world, somewhat stuck in the past, but with enough futuristic tech and magical things to make it fascinating and alive. His action scenes are very kinetic, and his storms are superb (the storms have to retain some human features, as they’re people, and Corona is up to the task). He and Beaulieu work well together, making this a very nice comic to look at.

This is 18 issues long, which feels about right. Young tells a complete story and doesn’t fall into easy solutions, which makes the book more “mature” without all the gore, cursing, or nudity we have come to expect from that word. It’s a coming-of-age story, sure, but because it’s mainly an adventure, the lessons Abel learns come from the situations Young puts him in, and those situations mean with get a lot of action along with our character growth, so that’s all right. Plus, it’s not a bad bargain, considering you get some nice extras and it’s cheaper than the single issues would be. Groovy!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That could cause some problems

Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey #1-8 by Matt Wagner (writer/artist), Brennan Wagner (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $31.92, 176 pgs, Dark Horse.

There I was, finally reading the entirety of Matt Wagner’s latest Grendel epic, which sends the “paladin” from “War Child” into space to find a habitable planet for humans now that they’ve destroyed their own and the Grendel Khanate is falling apart, and I was enjoying it quite a lot even though I had to wait so damned long for it (two issues came out in 2019, two issues came out in 2020, and then for some mysterious reason that no one can fathom, it was delayed until this year). Grendel-Prime had visited some planets, had found intelligent life on them, but none were perfect for humanity and Wagner was making some good points about interfering with other cultures and the foolishness of believing you’re superior just because you do things differently and how fragile some ecosystems can be, all with his typically beautiful art and some good old-fashioned violence. Plus, we got some flashbacks to Grendel-Prime’s “origin,” the beginnings of his mission, and even a nice cameo by Susan Veraghen, still one of the best characters in the entire 40-year Grendel saga. All was well.

And then in issue #7, on page 10 (page 142 of the entire epic, if you’re reading the collected edition), we get … an alien Donald Trump. Yep, the ruler of the world that Grendel-Prime thinks might be a good place for humans is an alien … who’s basically Trump. Ugh, thought I as I read it. I’m tired of Trump, especially the cartoon Trump that we get in satires. Listen, Trump is a vile human being who did a lot of damage to the United States and the world, and if he died while choking on a steak today I wouldn’t care one bit and thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that his brand of evil is gone from the world, but the part of Trump that’s easy to satirize – his unfamiliarity with the English language, his insistence on using “best” far too often, his hair and physique, his self-aggrandizing, and his outrageous lying – is the most boring part about him. The damage he did to the country stems from his white supremacist leanings, his love of authoritarianism, his insistence on listening to people who stroke his ego rather than tell him what he needs to hear, and his resistance to learning. That’s what enabled him to wreck the country in the name of the almighty dollar, and that’s not easy to satirize because it’s not “funny.” The alien Donald Trump in this comic is evil, sure, but he’s an obvious kind of evil – he slits a character’s throat just because he can, mimicking Trump’s assertion about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and still retaining the love of his supporters – and Grendel-Prime can easily defeat him. The real evil Trump – the one who encouraged people to overturn an election that he clearly lost – isn’t as easy to pick on, because his evil is baked into the system, and it’s not particularly “funny.” So I wish writers would just stop with the Trump analogs. This issue would have worked a lot better without it, actually, because Grendel-Prime is trying to overturn a system that he finds brutal but which has resulted in no wars among the three intelligent species that share the planet, so who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong? Grendel-Prime has come across cultures that do things differently than humans do, and while some things they do might seem bizarre and even savage, that’s how they live and survive, and does Grendel-Prime have the right to upset that? By introducing a Trump analog, Wagner takes any nuance away – the side that “Trump” is on must be wrong, no matter its merits. It certainly doesn’t wreck the book (the alien Trump isn’t in the book all that long), but it does put a damper on a fascinating story about what makes societies function and if anyone has a right to change them simply because they’re “wrong” from that person’s moral viewpoint. Alien Trump simply crashes in and upsets that apple cart, much like Trump’s imbecilic antics obscure the truly disgusting things he did as president and continues to do as ex-president. Don’t fall for the surface stupidity, people!

Still, it’s a Grendel book, and Wagner seems committed to more, as this book ends on a “cliffhanger.” More Grendel is never a bad thing!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

But they served Brussels sprouts, so, frankly, they got what they deserved

King in Black: Thunderbolts by Matthew Rosenberg (writer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Juan Ferreyra (artist/colorist), Luke Ross (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 90 pgs, Marvel.

Marvel’s thin trade paperbacks are insulting, sure, and it’s frustrating because they’re still not a bad bargain, as they’re either the same price or slightly cheaper than buying the regular issues. However, they pull shit like this, packaging the three-issue Thunderbolts story with a random Marauders story to justify the price tag, even though they could have collected the three issues of the Thunderbolts book, slapped a 10-dollar price tag on it, and called it a day. Marvel, I’m sure, knows what they’re doing, right, so I guess I shouldn’t complain,

As you might recognize, the reason I bought this is because of the third name listed above, and that is Ferreyra on art, because Ferreyra is the best artist working today and every single one of his comics is better because he draws it. The fact that he’s not drawing the biggest book Marvel has (whatever that might be) or working for Image and selling whatever property he’s working on to the movies so he can get paid is a tragedy, because drawing a random Thunderbolts comic is like when Gustav Klimt had to do murals for the new Court Theater in Vienna back when he was an unknown artist. GIVE FERREYRA SOMETHING HUGE TO DO, MARVEL!!!! Anyway, Rosenberg is a pretty good writer, so this turns out to be a lot of fun, as Wilson Fisk enlists a group of villains, calls them the Thunderbolts (because he owns the rights to the name), and sends them off to kill Knull even though he knows they won’t succeed. He just wants to take the credit when Knull gets defeated (which Fisk is confident he will be, as Fisk understands he’s living in a superhero universe where the superheroes always win). Rosenberg kills off a couple of characters pretty quickly (one gets bitten in half by a symbiote dragon), but it ends up with Taskmaster, Batroc, Mister Fear, and Star fighting their way across the city to get advice from Norman Osborn, and then fighting their way back across the city to put Norman’s plan into action. Rosenberg makes them all competent, which is nice, and while they don’t exactly succeed, they don’t exactly fail, either. Ferreyra, naturally, is astounding, as his symbiotes are superb, his action sequences beautifully choreographed, and he draws Fisk to actually look like a real fat man and not a grotesquerie. Ferreyra is so good, and I will continue to buy whatever he draws. Luckily, this is a pretty cool story.

Marvel tacks on a lousy Marauders story by Duggan and Ross, which is too bad because I like Duggan and Ross, but they don’t exactly cover themselves in glory here. Hickman’s X-relaunch was garbage, and it doesn’t seem like the people who have picked it up – Duggan included – have been able to make it tolerable. The story in this trade is dumb, the resolution is dumb, the reason Kitty Pryde and her gang are even on the seas is dumb, and as with the other current X-books, the membership seems to be “mutants someone likes” rather than any other in-story reason. It’s just a dumb story, and it’s annoying that it’s tacked onto an entertaining action-adventure.

But the first 60 pages are fun!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Now THAT’S how you kill a symbiote!

The rest of the comics this month run the gamut from quite good to absolute garbage, and the first one alphabetically is, sadly, in the latter category. Batman: Damned is trash, one of the worst Batman comics I think I’ve ever read (and remember, I’ve read a bunch of the Snyder nu-52 ones and a bunch of the Tom King ones, plus Batman is probably my favorite comic character, so I’ve read a lot of Batman comics over the years), and if it weren’t for Lee Bermejo’s very nice artwork, it would be irredeemable. I’m not the hugest fan of Bermejo’s art, but you can tell he really put a lot of work into this, and it’s impressive. Azzarello’s story is junk, however, and it erases any good feelings the art might inspire. I can’t even begin to discuss what garbage it is, from the Waynes’ marital strife to rap star Jason Blood, from whatever Azzarello is doing with John Constantine to Batman banging Harley Quinn up against the Bat-Signal (sigh) … the edited Bat-Penis might be the best thing this book had going for it, and DC took it out! (Um, so to speak.) It’s terrible, and if this is the reason DC came up with the Black Label imprint, they should have strangled in its crib.

Hey, the rest of the books aren’t bad, though! Enrico Marini’s Dark Prince Charming is, yes, another Joker story (sigh), but it’s interesting, as Bruce Wayne is hit with a paternity suit but the Joker kidnaps the girl before it can be resolved, so Batman has to get her back. It’s beautifully drawn, and despite the presence of the Joker, it’s not as grim as American Joker stories, and the bigger focus on Bruce Wayne rather than Batman is nifty. It has some problems, but it’s worth a look. Sam Kieth’s Batman/Maxx crossover finally comes out in a nice hardcover, after taking forever, and while the story is nothing to write home about (it’s not bad, certainly, but Kieth’s Maxx stories tend to be somewhat repetitive), Kieth’s art is magnificent – he took a while to do this, as I noted, but you can see why. Beasts of Burden: Occupied Territory is another solid entry in the series, as we get a story from post-war Japan and how magical creatures are trying to infiltrate the real world and what our canine heroes can do about it. Benjamin Dewey is a bit more conventional than Jill Thompson, whose presence in the series is missed when it comes to the weird magical stuff, but the art is still very good. Black Sparrow is fine, just another odd horror book by Steve Niles, who cranks these out regularly. It begins with a random prologue that never comes up again, and ends with a possibility of a sequel, and in between tells of a town in California that is overwhelmed by evil and the few people who try to do anything about it. It’s fine, but both Niles and Scott Hampton, who drew this, feel like they’re phoning it in. Bliss is an odd book that has garnered some impressive pull quotes, with various people claiming it’s like nothing else in comics, which is odd because it’s not that unique. It’s pretty good, as a young man tries to defend his father, who was an assassin for god-like creatures in a noir-ish city, in a court that wants to execute him. It’s a nice story about forgiveness and learning from our mistakes and trying to judge people based on their entire lives and not moments of those lives, and Caitlin Yarsky’s art is very nice, but it’s not something completely new and unprecedented. Weird. Moving on, I bought Batman Secret Files: Huntress because Mariko Tamaki wrote it and David Lapham drew it, and while Lapham’s art is always fun to see, Tamaki’s story – while fine – is annoying because it ties into Detective Comics, and it bugs me. I mean, Tamaki is writing ‘Tec, so there’s that, but it’s still annoying. Miskatonic is a fun story with a bunch of Lovecraft – and real-world, actually – Easter Eggs, and it’s interesting that Mark Sable uses a fairly racist Lovecraft character as one of his two protagonists, but it’s a bit disjointed and wonky, veering around a bit too much. It’s fun, but not great. Pantomime is a clever comic about deaf kids who become excellent thieves and their efforts to escape the orbit of a big bad guy whose house they robbed (they didn’t know it belonged to a big bad guy at the time). It’s a neat heist(s) book, and Christopher Sebela does nice work making the characters interesting and adding some nice twists. Grant Morrison and Alex Child give us Proctor Valley Road (with nice art by Naomi Franquiz), which is set in California in 1970, probably so no one has cell phones (there doesn’t seem to be any other reason), and it’s an enjoyable horror romp, even if the main character, August, is kind of a jerk. It’s a good story about friendship and trying to find your own place in the world, and, you know, giant hyenas that walk on their hind legs and other weird shit like that. Red Atlantis is about a young woman whose Russian parents developed spies with extra-sensory abilities for the Commies but decided that wasn’t a good idea, so they sabotaged it and were killed for their actions. Years later, their daughter is caught up in a spy game on American soil, with Russian spies doing nasty things and the woman trying to figure out whose side she’s on. It’s pretty good, and Stephanie Phillips got to consult with actual Russian spies who defected to the States some years ago, so it feels a bit more “realistic” than a book about spies with extra-sensory abilities has any right to be. Finally, there’s a new Mouse Guard comic. It’s very nice, with three stories about mice who have to do tough but necessary things to make the world a better place, and it’s more keen because I hope it portends a new Mouse Guard series, which David Petersen really ought to get to soon. Come on, sir!

So that’s that. The only book that I would really tell you to avoid is Batman: Damned. It makes me angry how terrible it is. ANGRY!!!!!

BOOKS

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer. 274 pgs, Basic Books, 2009.

The very weird Nikolai Roman Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg, who was born in Austria to a German Estonian father and was a Russian subject, is perhaps the 20th century’s weirdest madman, which is saying something in a century that produced Hitler and Idi Amin, among others. He grew up in Estonia and became a committed monarchist, so the ructions of the Russian state in the early 20th century upset him greatly, and he spent his short life trying to either restore the tsar (he naturally fought on the “White” side during the Civil War) or establish his own monarchy in Mongolia. Yep, when he was in the Russian army, Ungern was stationed in the Far East of Russia, and he became enamored of the Mongols (he claimed descent from Batu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, but now we know that being descended from Genghis Khan is not a big deal, as the dude literally could not keep it in his pants) and of Buddhism, and he practiced some weird kind of Lutheran/Buddhist fusion, with a whole shitload of sadism mixed in (as Palmer, who’s lived in Asia for years, points out, benign Western Buddhism of the kind practiced by Richard Gere and other celebrities is very much toned down from some variants of Buddhism, which have many demonic gods who need to be satiated with blood sacrifices). After the Revolution and the Civil War, Ungern stayed in Mongolia, helped throw out the Chinese (who were trying to take over the entire country), restored the spiritual head of Mongolian Buddhism (the Bogd Khan, who was akin to the Dalai Lama in Tibet), and tried fitfully to create a somewhat modern state in the country. His sadism was too much, however, and he alienated the people before deciding to invade Russia, where his dreams of empire were dashed by the much, much, MUCH larger Red Army. Ungern was executed in September 1921 at the age of 35.

Palmer’s book is fascinating, as he manages to find a lot of sources on Ungern (who was, after all, living out in the middle of nowhere for years) and create a portrait of a madman who somehow harnessed the beliefs of a religion totally alien to him and convince people he was a savior, which helps explain why they didn’t turn on him sooner (and in some cases, never, as after his failure to invade Russia many of his soldiers stayed loyal to him even though it was clear the Communists would capture and kill him). Palmer doesn’t psychoanalyze Ungern too much, as that would be impossible, but he does point out the odd fact that so many of history’s sadistic dictators come from borderlands – Napoleon from Corsica, Hitler from Austria, Stalin from Georgia – and Estonia was definitely a borderland in the Russian Empire, and this sense of alienation from both the heartland of the empire and from the land in which he lived (Germans had been in Estonia for centuries, but they remained the upper class and ruthlessly exploited the native Estonians) might explain some of his psychotic tendencies. He was also a mediocre soldier during the First World War, but he found his calling in cavalry, which is why zipping around Mongolia was such a natural fit for him. Ungern, it’s clear, is one of these people born out of time – he’s a medieval warrior born in 1886, and he never really found a place in a modern world. His story isn’t tragic because he was far too evil to be sympathetic, but it is odd how some people seem like they would be much better suited to live in a different time and how much that affects them. Ungern never really found a place, and Palmer, while not harping on it, shows this very clearly as Ungern marches inevitably toward his doom. He could have easily adapted and survived, but that just wasn’t in him. Palmer’s writing and his subject make this a compelling book, and even if we’ve never heard of Ungern, his influence on Asian history (a curious what-if of history involves China making Mongolia a dependent buffer state between it and Russia, which Ungern prevented) and even on Mongolian culture (Palmer mentions meeting a family who still thinks of Ungern as a hero) is bigger than we might think. He’s an unpleasant individual, to be sure, but he makes for a good subject for a book! (And, as Palmer points out, Corto Maltese encounters Ungern in one of the comics, so that’s fun.)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

TELEVISION

Loki (Disney+). This is the best Marvel television show of this year (they’ve been coming fast and loose in 2021!), although it does have some issues. It benefits from Tom Hiddleston, naturally, but the acting is strong throughout. We saw Loki disappear in Avengers: Endgame, and this begins there, with that Loki becoming a “variant” that the Time Variance Authority – whenever they say TVA I think of the Tennessee Valley Authority because American history is that fucking ingrained in my soul – scoops up and tries to kill (they can it “pruning,” which is not a bad metaphor, but they say it so often it gets annoying). Owen Wilson, wonderfully cast as a harried TVA bureaucrat, decides to use Loki to stop a strange figure from killing TVA agents and stealing devices that “reset” the timeline, and he gets Loki to go along with this partly by showing him how the “regular” Loki dies, which causes our hero to reconsider his life. The strange figure turns out to be a female Loki (who calls herself Sylvie), played by Sophie Di Martino, who wants to destroy the TVA for revenge. We think she’s the big villain, but it turns out that the TVA itself is the villain, slaughtering people for no reason except they aren’t “correct,” even if they have no idea what they’re doing “wrong.” The existence of “variants” means we get the fifth episode, where Loki meets a bunch of different Lokis, including Richard E. Grant as “Classic Loki,” absolutely stealing the episode (although Alligator Loki has, naturally, captured the hearts of the internet). The other two main cast members are Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a TVA judge and an old friend of Wilson (it’s never clear if they were romantic, which is nice, honestly) and Wunmi Mosaku as a TVA agent who begins to see things from Sylvie’s perspective. They eventually find out what’s going on behind the TVA, and I won’t spoil who’s pulling the strings, but it’s easy enough to suss out if you’ve read a Marvel comic or pay attention to casting decisions. The great thing about it is that it doesn’t end with a big fight (which is where WandaVision stumbled a bit), and the actors really help elevate the material. Hiddleston is phenomenal, and his bromance with Wilson drives a lot of the story. Di Martino isn’t quite as good with him, which is too bad because their romance is at the heart of the series (even though Hiddleston and Wilson have better chemistry), but the idea of Loki falling in love with, basically, himself is a nice, bold move by Marvel. Sylvie is also presented as someone with a big scheme, but it gets blown up halfway through the series and she seems to flounder a bit after that. I get that she grew up having to be ruthless to survive, but the one thing that Loki has is intelligence, and she acts a bit too stupidly in the final episode for me. Still, it’s a very good series, it does things you don’t expect a Marvel story to do, it sets up A LOT for the future, and it’s going to have a second season that seems very intriguing. Good stuff all around!

Leverage: Redemption (IMDb TV). I loved Leverage in its first run, and I’m still a bit puzzled why it came back. It’s not that I didn’t want it to, but it’s still odd. Timothy Hutton is not back, unsurprisingly, and they make sure he won’t ever be back, as the first scene of the series takes place at his gravesite. Aldis Hodge is super-busy these days, starring in City on a Hill and playing Hawkman, apparently (good choice, I think), so he’s only in the first two episodes before his foster sister replaces him. Noah Wyle jumps on board, not in Hutton’s place, but as a lawyer who decides he’s been helping bad guys too long and needs to help good guys, so the team helps him out. The ostensible reason for the series is so Sophie (Gina Bellman) can get over Hutton’s death, as the story begins a year after his death, so that’s as good a reason as any. None of the actors seem to be hurting for work, so it’s just odd. The lack of Hutton and Hodge hurts the series, I think, because the five had such great chemistry and that’s hampered a bit by their absence (Bellman, Beth Riesgraf, and Christian Kane still have great chemistry, though). Plus, Hutton’s Nathan Ford was such a fascinating character, and Wyle – as yet – can’t match him. All that being said, this is still a very fun series, with plenty of wild cons, some high stakes but nothing too crazy, and lots of fun banter. Aleyse Shannon does nice work as Hodge’s sister, and Riesgraf does well mentoring her. The guest stars are fun, from Reed Diamond (who’s always good as a weaselly villain) to Nick E. Tarabay (who’s also always good as a weaselly villain) to … yep, that’s Dan Cortese in one episode (Cortese should be in literally every show ever made, even if it’s just standing around in the background). I don’t know why Leverage is back, but it’s still a fun show, even if it’s not quite as good. But why listen to me? I know Greg Hatcher will wax rhapsodic about this show, and you trust him, don’t you?

30 Coins (HBO). This is a bonkers horror show from Spanish horror director Álex de la Iglesia (who I guess is pretty bonkers himself), and it’s just something you have to dive into with both feet and just not worry about it. It begins with a cow giving birth to a human baby, after all. It takes place in a small town in Spain (mostly; there are side trips to Rome and Aleppo) – it’s filmed in Pedraza, which is in the diocese of Segovia, but I can’t recall if it’s actually set there or if the town remains nameless – and it concerns one of the 30 silver coins paid to Judas to betray Jesus, which ends up in the town when a mysterious priest arrives to take over the church. Of course, all 30 coins come into play eventually, but for a while, it’s just about the one, which the vet who delivers the baby from the cow gets a hold of (the priest gives it to her because he wants everyone to believe it’s nothing special, but that’s a big mistake). Horrific things start happening in the town, drawing in the vet (because dark forces want the coin), the mayor (because he’s the mayor), and the priest (because he knows about the dark forces but refuses to accept them). In the first episode, for instance, the baby is taken in by a kindly old couple, but the woman taking care of it starts to go crazy. The baby grows as large as she does before shedding its skin and turning into a weird spider-monster which tries to get the coin back. In later episodes, a group of kids playing with a ouija board get more than they bargained for, a mirror leads to another, creepy world, and a dude in town thought long dead returns, but not quite as he was. Of course there’s a Shadowy Government Organization in play, although “government” in this case means the Catholic Church, and of course Satan is involved. It’s good, gory fun, with some interesting thoughts about Judas’s role in the crucifixion of Jesus. It feels like something that could only take place in a heavily Catholic country like Spain, because various things just wouldn’t work in a more Protestant or secular place. I’m a bit disappointed that it ends a bit weakly, as if Iglesia simply wanted to set up a second season that doesn’t seem like it’s needed, but we shall see. The cast is quite good, selling the ridiculousness of it all with set jaws and sexy smoldering – Megan Montaner as the vet and Miguel Ángel Silvestre as the mayor are extremely easy on the eyes, although his character seems dumb as a post at times. Eduard Fernández as Father Vergara is steely and tortured, and Macarena Gómez as the mayor’s wife has to walk a fine line between evil and sympathetic, as the mayor really does treat her poorly at times, but she’s still kind of a bitch. Manolo Solo and Cosimo Fusco are the main villains, and they have a grand time looking menacing at all times. It’s a beautiful show – Pedraza looks like a wonderful place – and while the CGI isn’t too great, it’s fine for the amount of time weird things are on screen. If you ever wanted to see someone slice open their own cheek or someone wear a bloody skin suit or someone spontaneously catch on fire, you’re in luck!

MUSIC

Indigo Girls, One Lost Day, Vanguard Records, 2015.

I’ve been a fan of the Indigo Girls almost since they started, but I get that they’re certainly not for everyone and that they don’t really do too much different from album to album. If you listen to Strange Fire (1987) today and then listen to their latter-day work, it’s not easy to discern the differences, although they have gotten just the slightest bit more adventurous, music-wise. But that’s okay, because I like what they do. Sue me. This is, not surprisingly, a good album, with a bunch of solid songs, some of which rise above the rest, because that’s how it always is with bands in general and the Indigo Girls in particular. The best song on the album is the first track, “Elizabeth,” which is Emily’s wistful, nostalgic ode to an old friend. However, “Spread the Pain Around,” Amy’s best song, is almost as good. It’s about a painful relationship that neither person can give up, and as usual with Amy’s songs, it features slightly more melancholy music (Amy plays the mandolin on the song, which is a sad instrument in general). Generally, of course, Amy > Emily, although it’s never been too big a gap, but on this album, Emily’s songs are a bit better. “Alberta” and “Learned It On Me” are both highlights, while only Amy’s “Fishtails”, with its plaintive trumpet and mournful piano, is also up there with the duo’s best. The other songs on the album are good, sure, but they’re just regular Indigo Girls songs, which rise to a good level of listenability even if they don’t make a huge impression. Amy and Emily had both just turned 50 when this album came out, and you can hear their long experience in their songs, which are slightly more nostalgic than their earlier work, but it’s clear they still know what they’re doing. This album isn’t going to change the world, of course, but for fans of the band, it’s a nice addition to the discography.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Living Colour, Shade, Megaforce Records, 2017.

Living Colour released three great albums in the late 1980s/early 1990s, then broke up. They’ve reformed sporadically since then, and in 2003 and 2009 they released decent but not great albums. With this album, however, they roar back, and Shade can stake a claim to their second-best album (Vivid is probably still their best) along with Time’s Up and Stain. The highlight of the album is probably their cover of “Who Shot Ya” by The Notorious B.I.G., which Corey Glover rips through with fury while Vernon Reid, at the sprightly age of 58, scorches the guitar solo better than almost anyone. The entire album bangs, though, as it begins with the speedy crunch of “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)” and then slows down a bit for Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues,” which gives Reid a chance to freestyle a bit. “Program” begins humorously, with some dude talking to a friend trying to remember Living Colour’s name, before Glover launches into an invective against the corporatization of media and the censorship of news. It’s probably the closest sound to their work on Vivid, if anyone is nostalgic. “Blak Out” is another highlight, with a nifty funky beat and a nice transition to a cool thrashy guitar part. The album ends with “Two Sides,” a bluesy meditation on life which sounds like a plea for tolerance for both sides, but isn’t really, because Glover isn’t having any of that shit. It’s a terrific switch of our expectations, and it also features a terrific guitar solo. This is an excellent album, and I have no idea how many more Living Colour is going to get out (they’re all in their late 50s/early 60s, after all), so we’ll have to take what we get right now!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

**********

We’re back with the Golden Age of Reprints! This month is a bit more than last month, when I only got one, but one of these … I’m not sure if it counts. But we’ll forge ahead!

Nancy in Hell is our first selection, and I’m not sure if it counts. It claims to be a “reboot,” but I’m not sure how much is new – I think the art is (Juan José Ryp drew it originally, as far as I know), but I don’t know about the script. El Torres used to send me free copies of things every once in a while, so I’ve read an issue or two of this, so I’m curious about it. I like Torres, so I hope his publishing venture works better under the umbrella of Behemoth Comics than on his own, where we got some good comics but also a ton of delays!

Savage Sword of Conan The Original Marvel Years Omnibus volume 5. As usual, I’m very far behind on my Marvel Conan, so I’ll read this eventually!

Scud the Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang. I own one issue of Scud, and I liked it, but I never got around to getting the entire thing. Image decided to reprint it, though, and now I do have it!

On to the monies!

7 July: $261.17
14 July: $195.16
21 July: $154.18
28 July: $89.28

Monthly total: $699.79
YTD: $4469.68

Publisher breakdown!

Ablaze: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AfterShock: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Archaia: 1 (1 single issue)
Avery Hill: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Behemoth: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Black Panel Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Boom! Studios: 1 (1 single issue)
Dark Horse: 8 (2 graphic novels, 6 single issues)
DC: 3 (1 single issue, 2 trade paperbacks)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
HarperCollins: 2 (2 graphic novels)
Humanoids: 1 (1 graphic novel)
IDW: 2 (1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 5 (1 “classic” reprint, 2 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
Mad Cave: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 3 (1 “classic” reprint, 2 trade paperbacks)
Oni Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Pantheon Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Scout Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Second Sight Publishing: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Storm King: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Viz: 1 (1 manga volume)
Z2 Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)

Here are the totals (the numbers in parentheses are the totals so far for the year):

3 “classic” reprints (37)
1 manga (5)
13 OGNs (58)
6 single issues (62)
12 TPBs (95)

Hereโ€™s the companies from whom Iโ€™ve bought so far this year:

Dark Horse: 43
Image: 33
Marvel: 26
DC: 19
Boom! Studios: 13
AfterShock: 10
IDW: 10
Scout: 8
AWA/Upshot: 7
Fantagraphics: 7
Titan: 5
Vault: 5
Viz Media: 5
Behemoth: 4
Mad Cave Publishing: 4
Oni Press: 4
Rebellion/2000AD: 4
Archaia: 3
Humanoids: 3
Abrams ComicArts: 2
Black Mask: 2
Black Panel Press: 2
HarperCollins: 2
Magnetic Press: 2
21 Pulp: 2
Ablaze: 1
Archie Comics: 1
Avery Hill: 1
Black Cat: 1
Cat-Head Comics: 1
ComicMix: 1
Conundrum Press: 1
Floating World Comics: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Hermes Press: 1
Hyperion: 1
Iron Circus Comics: 1
Keylight Books: 1
Legendary: 1
New York Review Comics: 1
Pantheon Books: 1
Papercutz: 1
Plough Publishing: 1
Red 5 Comics: 1
Second Sight Publishing: 1
SelfMadeHero: 1
Storm King: 1
Top Shelf: 1
A Wave Blue World: 1
Z2: 1

**********

School starts tomorrow here in the desert, and my older daughter is very excited (she likes doing stuff, and sitting around watching television works for her, but she does get bored a bit with it), while my younger daughter is a bit more guarded. She wants to go back to school in person, and she has classes and lunch with friends, but she’d just as soon never go to school again. She used to dig school, but somewhere along the way it got annoying for her, and we hope she can regain some love of it, or at least of learning new things. We’ll see. Of course, everyone going back to school reminds me of COVID, and that makes me angry, because Americans have decided that they’d rather die than get vaccinated, and while I can’t say that I’m upset by that, I wish they would get on with it and drop fucking dead so the smart people who got vaccinated can get on with our lives. I can’t even fathom the idea that half the population of the USA isn’t getting vaccinated because they think it’s a government plot to control your mind. The stupidity is staggering. I know two people who aren’t getting vaccinated, and I don’t agree with them, but in both cases, they have no problem wearing a mask all the time, so at least they’re not these people who have decided to defeat the virus by sheer willpower and ‘Murican-ness. I was reading an article calling for vaccine mandates, and I think that’s something we really need to get on. The article made the point that local and state governments could do this a lot easier than the federal government, and even just making it annoying for the non-vaccinated would work. Telling people they were going to get lung cancer didn’t curb smokers; telling them they had to go outside to indulge did. If non-vaccinated people can’t get on airplanes, they’ll probably rethink their “FREEDOM!” stance. As it is, I really wish hospitals could institute a “no idiots” policy. Our buddy Greg Hatcher is having health problems. How long has he had to wait in waiting rooms because COVID-infected, non-vaccinated people were taking up fucking space? Sheesh.

I could get into politics, but dang, that would make me angry. It’s frustrating because Arizona’s senator is one of the ones who’s pro-filibuster, and liberals in Arizona aren’t sure what the hell she’s doing. I mean, she was long an opponent of the filibuster, and it’s probably not going to cost her votes in Arizona and she’s not fucking running for re-election until 2024, so what the fuck, Kyrsten? Jeebus. Anyway, it’s nice that Fox News and other conservative news outlets are pro-military and pro-cop until the military and police point out things they might not like, like the people who stormed the Capitol were a bunch of mouth-foaming racists. Good job, “fair and balanced” Fox News! Double Jeebus.

See, now I have to stop because I’m getting angry. I will say that, for our Dutch friend Eric, a high school friend of mine just moved to Beek in the Dutch panhandle, and it seems nice. She’s having a nice time!

There it is!

I hope everyone is having a nice summer. Or, I guess, a nice winter if you live in the upside-down part of the world. And I hope everyone is being excellent to each other! And as always, if you use the link below for anything, we get a bit of the money you spent! And as I noted last month, we have a “donate” button up at the top on the right. No pressure, but if you’re feeling generous, there it is!

13 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    Burgas:

    Comics: Grendel – Devil’s Odyssey: Really you can’t be too surprised that it ended on a cliffhanger with more Grendel miniseries to come (3 to be exact)?

    Wagner has to do more enough Grendel materials for a 5th Omnibus! lol

    TV: I actually seen Loki and 30 Coins and enjoyed them both.
    Leverage: Redemption – I haven’t seen yet, but did watch the previous 5 seasons. (Gotta love more Parker!)

    Music: I don’t listen to music, but you do you!

  2. Yes, we are delighted with the new Leverage. I am pretty much in for whatever John Rogers is doing because as a writer he is a structure nerd who gets the details right, and as you point out, he’s one of the best in the business at snappy banter.

    Why are they doing it? Because they have been asked to since the original one wrapped, and it’s been long enough that getting the band back together is enough of an excuse.

    I was watching an interview with Rogers about the thinking that went into the initial two-parter with Reed Diamond, who is the definitive corporate douchebag. He said that working on the original was bad for him because… you may not know this… All the original villains were based on real people and real corporations. Only in real life there’s no team Leverage taking them out. So, he said, he was angry all the time and finally had to step back because of what he calls “asshole fatigue.” Because the bad guys were really getting away with it.

    But for the revival, he said reconnecting with the characters and actors made it a wash, and getting to shine a light on corporate legal strategy like, oh, betting on the guy suing you dying from the disease you gave him before you have to pay out any settlement, is a nice thing to do.

    God knows it’s hugely cathartic for US. My whole life I’ve been pushed around by bullies with money. Seeing them humiliated regularly, even knowing it’s fiction, just makes me happy.

    1. Greg Burgas

      That’s interesting about Rogers and the original show. You know me, I’m a cynical bastard, so I always follow the money, but if he just wanted to get away and recharge, that makes sense, too. That certainly sucks that he was getting angry just writing the show!

  3. toothpaste

    Damned was, indeed, trash. I have the first printing of the first book and showing people Batman’s dick is indeed the best part of owning that comic.

  4. Der

    “I canโ€™t even fathom the idea that half the population of the USA isnโ€™t getting vaccinated because they think itโ€™s a government plot to control your mind.” – Some people haven’t lived in a third world country and it shows.

    (I got the….checks google translate…mumps when I was like 8, and my brother got measles around the same time. Now you need to have your vaccines if you want to go to any school. public or private)

    And I finally got vaccinated! yay! The wife and I got our vaccines like two weeks ago(Sputnik V if someone is interested) and it was a really fast and painless process. Now this past week the “young ones” are showing us up. People were mocking the 18-29 age crowd calling them “crystal generation” and scared of everything, well, they finally allowed them to go to get their vaccines and the younglings showed in force. The government said that they shattered all expectation and showed like 200% more than expected young people. Go go young generations!

    (But still, we got a lot of covid cases, we are in our third wave and it sucks)

    About comics, I got very little, the second Superman Hardcover by Byrne, and several Judge Dredd digital comics(the complete case files, volumes 1 to 9, nice) I got those because they were free, and I was interested in trying some Dredd comics.

    You should talk more about the manga you get, I want to hear your opinions about those too!

    1. Greg Burgas

      The stupidest thing is that most vaccines – including for mumps and measles – are mandated, at least for kids who want to go to school, and no one has a problem with that. They’ve been so toxified by the anti-government crowd that they can’t deal with something new even if it’s exactly like something old they’ve been doing for years.

      That’s great that you finally got vaccinated and that the youngsters are, too. Here there’s growing anger among the vaccinated to do something about the idiots who refuse. We shall see.

      I tend to read a volume or two of manga to decide if I like it and then wait until it’s done to read the whole thing. That becomes a problem with some of these ridiculously long series. I used to periodically review manga – if I have time, I’ll start doing it again. I got a lot to read!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. “The article made the point that local and state governments could do this a lot easier than the federal government, and even just making it annoying for the non-vaccinated would work. ” Red-state governments are doing their best to ban that. (hell, in Texas there’s a state bill in the legislature that imposes financial penalties on cities that reduce their law-enforcement budget).
    The Lawyers, Guns and Money blog pointed out recently that the current wave of anti-vaxx is different from the wrong-but-sincere nutjobs of the past: people like DeSantis and Carlson are leading the opposition but they don’t actually object to vaccines and probably have gotten themselves vaccinated. In Tucker Carlson’s case, definitely, otherwise he wouldn’t refuse to say.
    It’s a sick feedback loop. Trump made it part of the culture war, the Republican base embraced it so now the grifters and predators are embracing it for money/power.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: Yeah, I know. It’s very frustrating. I watched an interview with a historian who had lunch with the MyPillow guy, and at least he’s a true believer. A nut, but a true believer. Politicians and Fox News people are just horribly cynical, and I’m not sure which is worse.

  6. Eric van Schaik

    Greg, have you heard if Beek was flooded last month? There was a lot of rain in Germany, Belgium and the province of Limburg where Beek is. In Holland it was mostly water damage but in Germany and Belgium a lot of people died.

    COMICS:
    Because Eric Larsen is catching up no floppys. Thanks to your CYSO of Moon Knight by Sienkiewicz column I bought the first Omnibus. Also the Spider-Man life story TPB (half price).
    Owning only one issue of Scud? Sacrilege I say ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m curious if it will become a TPB you should own ๐Ÿ™‚

    TV:
    We have to watch Loki but it will have to wait until after the Olympics. Today our 5th gold medal. Go Holland!!

    MUSIC:
    I finally found a reasonable priced edition limited box of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. I wanted to have the second disc that was only sold in an edition with 2 12″ vynil records.

    VACATION:
    In 2 weeks we will be in Well with my kids and Nicoline for 2 weeks. 3 weeks later we go to the Azores. It’s great to have 25 vacation days in Holland. Yay for us!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    VACCINATION:
    The half that doesn’t want to get vaccinated are mostly the same people who vote for Trump, and with new laws which make it difficult for black people to vote (but we are not racist…) it seems inevitable that he gets a second change to get in office.
    My oldest gets his second shot next weekend and my daughter hers in middle august. In Holland a small part doesn’t want a shot. Largely the group who vote for Baudet.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: They were staying in Gangelt, right across the border, when they arrived, and she said they didn’t have any flooding, despite it happening all around them. I don’t know about Beek, because they weren’t there then.

      I hope you dig the Moon Knight!

      Ugh, Radiohead. That’s all I will say! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Dang, I’d love to go to the Azores. Or the Canaries. I don’t know why. They always seemed like cool places to go.

      I very much hope that because the legislatures are being so blatant about making it so hard to vote and everyone has so much time to get on it, that those who are targeted by these laws start planning now for 2022 and really sweep some of these people out of office, because yeah, if this works, there’s little that can be done short of a revolution. It’s annoying, but it’s not like Republicans are being coy about it, so I hope people make sure their votes are in. We shall see. It’s going to be a nail-biting year+ coming up.

  7. Eric van Schaik

    Good to know they started dry in Holland. ๐Ÿ™‚

    “Ugh, Radiohead. Thatโ€™s all I will say! ”
    And I really thought you were a man of great taste. Sigh… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    We hope to visit Brasil in march. We have friends in Curitiba so that’s something to look forward to.

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