“Human beings are free except when humanity needs them.” (Orson Scott Card, from Ender’s Game)
As much as I dislike the publishing model of comics these days, I get it. You have your monthly serial, and you’ve conditioned people into believing that that’s how it’s done, and I get it to a point. If you have an IP (shudder), you want to make sure that IP (blech) is constantly out there in the public mind, especially with a niche product like comics. It’s fine – I don’t love it, but whatever. What bugs me is when complete and relatively short stories go the same way. I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I don’t know why it bugged me about this book, but it’s a five-issue mini-series with newly created characters that will most likely never get a sequel. Why couldn’t it have been released as a standalone graphic novel? I know the answer: because it would have sold even less than if it came out as a serialized monthly, but man, that’s so stupid. I don’t understand consumers sometimes – it doesn’t take much thought to shift to trade paperbacks, but we keep the serialized monthly format alive through sheer, zombie-like momentum. Sigh. I really should burn my soapbox. It always depresses me to get up on it.
Anyway, this is a terrific story – it’s basically Alien, except the alien is a human, which is fun. It’s the far future, and the Earth has been reclaimed by an alien race after its (self-inflicted) destruction. The aliens are small and jellyfish-like, but they’re able to attach themselves to other animals’ brains and operate them, which allows them to move around and even switch bodies, which is handy. A scientist is breeding animals on Earth because his species is in a war and they want to find tougher bodies in which to fight. Early on, there’s a human child in the ecosystem (the scientist calls him Helpless, because that’s what he thinks of him), but the scientist thinks he will die soon. Of course, he doesn’t, and years later, a general arrives to find new bodies because the war is not going well. The scientist (who has been joined by his daughter, with whom he has a fraught relationship), doesn’t think the human is still alive, but a scouting party to the surface finds Helpless, and they manage to capture him. They bring him on their spaceship, and that’s when things start getting bloody for everyone involved.
Paknadel does a clever thing by making the human – who we, as humans, would be naturally sympathetic toward – the savage killer while the aliens are the somewhat hapless victims. The other clever thing about the book is that nobody is completely unsympathetic or sympathetic – Helpless, despite being savage, is sympathetic only because he’s the one they’re experimenting on, but he’s also non-literate (he does mimic speech, but doesn’t seem to understand it), so it’s harder to get close to him. The aliens, meanwhile, are terrified of this human, and the scientist – B’tay – is a coward, but also trying his best to keep the military out of his experiment. The general, Cov’n, seems like a typical warmonger, but he’s losing the war, and it’s clear that won’t be a good thing for his species, and before he goes full villain on us, it makes him somewhat relatable. So there’s a lot of interesting little tidbits throughout the book that makes it more than a bog-standard monster-on-the-loose story.
Wijngaard, as usual, does amazing work on the art. He uses a bit thicker of a line than usual, probably because so much of the book takes place in a rough natural setting, and he smudges his brushstrokes and colors a bit more than he usually does, too, and he even colors a bit off-register to create a sense of wildness threatening to overtake civilization. The aliens’ main bodies are bizarre but not completely inhuman, which makes them relatable as much as Paknadel’s writing does, and Helpless is nice and Tarzan-like, which has to be what Wijngaard is going for. The spaceship and the aliens’ original bodies are a bit more creepy, which is probably the point. Wijngaard has gotten more fluid over the years, and his action scenes in this comic are nicely choreographed and horribly brutal, as Helpless is, after all, savage and fighting for his life, so he doesn’t have time to be nice. It’s a gorgeous comic, which isn’t surprising given Wijngaard’s track record.
This is just a really good comic that should be read all at once, damn it! #CompleteGraphicNovels4Evah!!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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This is a pretty standard “call up Satan” story, but those are always fun, and Panosian does some decent things with it. The protagonist, Cindy, is married to rock star Jack King (if Panosian giggled when he came up with that name, I would tell him to grow up), who dies on stage on page 3 (it’s actually a bit annoying, because his death scene is very vague and not much is said about how he died, which seems important for the overall narrative but apparently … isn’t?). Cindy has to take on the responsibility of dealing with his estate, and it turns out that Jack was trying to go in a different direction with his music, which he was trying to take control of from the record company, and of course there are record company people and various hangers-on sniffing around Cindy … until she finds the Satanic altar in the basement, and then her priorities shift a bit, as you might expect. Panosian gives us the standard crew – the nefarious executives who want to make money off of Jack’s corpse like they did off his live body; the charming groupie who’s friends with Cindy and helps her through things; the mysterious ex-employee (who’s hot, of course) who might be an ally against the execs … you know the drill! Yes, yes, some of them (but which ones?!?!?) are trying to summon Satan, which is a terribly 1970s thing to do (the book is set in 1973), and Panosian does a decent job making Cindy sympathetic and competent but not overly so, as she’s clearly in over her head and is trying to figure out a way out. If you choose to read this as a metaphor (given the current circumstances with striking writers and actors, why not?), you can, as Jack wanted control over his own music and the “devilish” executives didn’t want that, and it might be a better story if we picture it all as that, because the Satanic stuff is kind of rote. Again, fun, but rote. Talajić continues to do excellent work, as he seems to be using slightly thicker and harsher lines (not that he hasn’t done that before, but it seems more pronounced here) to give 1973 a grungy feel, which is, of course, what 1973 deserves! Plus, he gets to draw a decent amount of nudity (male and female), so that’s nice for him.
Panosian is not quite a good writer yet – he has decent ideas but hasn’t broken out of the standard way to tell a story, which holds him back – but because his ideas are good, his comics tend to be entertaining but a bit forgettable. So it is with this one!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Don’t Spit in the Wind #1-4 by Stefano Cardoselli (writer/artist), Brian S. Long (assistant writer), Dan Lee (colorist/letterer), and James B. Emmett (editor). $16.96, 92 pgs, Mad Cave Studios.
As you might recall, I’m totally in the bag for Stefano Cardoselli, despite the fact that he often writes his own stuff and he’s, um, not much of a writer. I mean, he’s fine, I guess, but it’s clear his talents lie in his art. The one thing his stories do have is a gleeful, almost manic intensity, so that even as you recognize that the plot might be paper-thin or the satire a bit obvious or the characters not that well developed (all are in evidence in this comic), there’s a frenetic momentum and a commitment to the mayhem that a lot of other writers lack, and it makes things work far better than you might expect. In this book, Cardoselli gives us a ruined Earth, garbage collectors trying to clean it, and the rich and powerful living in an orbiting satellite paying no attention to them as an apocalyptic cult stalks them and plots to set off nuclear bombs because humans don’t deserve even a wrecked planet. In Cardoselli’s cynical hands, it’s a morbidly comic story, as the workers are basically emptying the ocean with a spoon, the cultists are faceless crazies, and the representative of the rich and powerful never speaks because he’s always eating. As comic as it might be, it’s also extremely bleak, as Cardoselli lets us know that no one is safe, even if he doesn’t take a lot of time to develop the characters so it’s not like we’re too put out when someone is killed horribly. Obviously, it’s a serious topic, and Cardoselli wants to show the absurdity of it as well as the very real consequences, and he does manage that, even if it’s a fairly shallow tale. But it doesn’t matter too much, because generally, you come to Cardoselli’s comics for the insane art, and he does not disappoint. It’s amazingly detailed as usual, adding a wonderful layer of decay to everything, as Cardoselli makes sure we can see all the pockmarks and tears and wrinkles of everything and everyone, and it makes this world simply look beaten down. His characters are wonderful, as we get the trash collectors in their antiquated radiation suits wandering a wasteland, the guys back in the headquarters just trying to get through their shift, and the weird cultists, who have moseyed on over from the set of Mad Max: Fury Road. Even the rich dude who eats all the time looks slightly decayed, as he can’t escape the decrepitude even in his orbiting fastness. Cardoselli has fun with the weird monster that hunts the humans (you can see it on the third cover up there), and he makes the entire planet hostile, from that monster to the swarm of locusts that attack one of the workers. It’s a bleak story, as I mentioned, but the art, as usual with Cardoselli, is glorious to behold.
I imagine, like a lot of idiosyncratic artists, Cardoselli is a bit of an acquired taste, and with the fact that he’s not the greatest writer, there might be an even bigger barrier. But he makes comics his own unique way, and they’re fun as heck even when we’re talking about the end of the world after the world has already ended. I know I’m going to keep buying his comics, so you might want to check one of them out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Bunn has written some things that are absolute bangers, but usually he just writes good solid comics, and it appears that DtD,NbN is one of those – nothing too special, but just something that’s a good read. He introduces the story in an interesting way – a group of people in an SUV pick up a hitchhiker who instantly thinks they’re a cult, but they tell her they’re traveling salesman (almost as bad!). They have a weird scheme that Bunn doesn’t quite explain, but I assume we’ll find out more about it as the book goes along (I mean to say that the selling part is perfectly straight-forward, but there seems to be something weird behind it all). Max, the woman they pick up, decides to help them out in the next town because she could use some money. So far, this is playing out like a lot of other stories – the POV character joins some existing group, and we navigate the story with her/him as our proxy. The group avoids one house in the small West Virginia town in which they’re selling, but Max goes in later because she has a weird feeling about it. The rest of the group finds her … fighting a very weird monster inside it. They dispatch it, and … Max says she’s a monster hunter and heads off on her own! She’s not actually the POV character – we’re staying with the group, as they are now more attuned to the weirdness in the world, and they begin fighting monsters (Max is still a presence in the book, and it’s clear she’ll be back, but she’s not the main character). Bunn gives us three stories – issue #1, issues #2-3, and issue #4 – as our intrepid neophyte monster hunters begin to have weirder experiences now that they know what to look for. It’s a clever feint, and Bunn does a nice job with the monsters themselves and the setting – Bunn likes backwoods types of places (he grew up in one), and the places the group goes are nice, spooky, rural spots. The characters themselves are clichés – the fallen minister, the addict ex-high school teacher, you know the drill – but Bunn still does a decent job with them, although it is to be hoped that as the book goes along they’ll become more interesting (and in issue #4, one of them has an experience that makes them a bit more unusual as a character). Cantarino gives us solid art with some interesting monsters – the first one is probably the best, although they’re all weird and occasionally gruesome – and she does a good job with the rustic settings. It’s just a decent horror comic. Bunn knows what he’s doing with those, so it’s a good comic. Not great, but good.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ★ ★ ★
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I’m a bit trepidatious about getting Ryan Browne’s work, not because he’s not a good artist, but because I hated Gods Hates Astronauts so much that it affects how I view his stuff, even when he’s not writing it, as is the case here. That’s how much I hated that comic! However, Charles Soule is a pretty good writer, and Browne is a good artist who’s also wildly inventive, so I figured a book about genies would be a good fit for him, and it is. In this book, every person in the world gets a genie and one – only one! – wish, and Soule looks at the consequences of that, which are not good. The story begins in a bar, and the owner immediately wishes that nothing happening outside the bar will affect the physical structure or anyone inside, so Soule can concentrate on the group already there, giving us the through-line of the book. He also wants to jump far into the future (the book ends at eight centuries after the genies first appeared, with “eight” being the operative number), which, he admits, did pose a problem with the characters (he solves it pretty well, though). It’s an excellent comic, as of course people go nuts early on (which is where Browne has fun), but eventually things settle down and it becomes a book about desire and power and how to build a society, all things that make for good fiction. Some characters try to do the right thing and it ends up backfiring on them, some characters do foolish things but it turns out to be a good thing in the long run, and bad things happen to good people and vice versa (although, because this is a comic, eventually justice comes for everyone in a deserving fashion). Soule gives us a pretty good cast: the band that plays in empty bars, the kid and his drunk father, the Chinese couple who found the wrong bar, and the prescient bartender. He makes them all interesting and is able to show the good things and bad things about having a wish with just this small group, although the cast does expand as the story moves out of the bar. The explanation for the genies is pretty neat, too, and while at the end of the book Soule seems to fudge a bit about how one character can still be alive, that’s not a big deal. This is a clever comic that puts a nice spin on a post-apocalyptic story (I mean, genies granting one wish will surely lead to an apocalypse, right?), with Soule doing a good job focusing on the human element and coming up with good reasons for why some wishes work the way they do. There’s a villain, of course, but he’s not just a cardboard cut-out bad guy, which makes him more interesting, as well. Browne gets to draw a lot of weird and wacky stuff, and he does a very good job with it, and the creators’ often childish senses of humor (which is one reason why I hated Browne’s solo book and didn’t love Curse Words, their previous collaboration) isn’t on such obnoxious display (there are a few moments, but that’s fine, because a childish sense of humor can work in very small doses). I was debating about getting this fancy hardcover (I assume there’s going to be a trade paperback), but it wasn’t too much more than buying the single issues, and it’s a very nice package, and it’s a really good comic, so there you have it!
Rating: ★ ★★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
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Grim volume 2: Devils & Dust by Stephanie Phillips (writer), Flaviano (artist), Rico Renzi (colorist), Tom Napolitano (letterer), Maya Bollinger (assistant editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $14.99, 110 pgs, Boom! Studios.
This volume isn’t quite as good as the first, mainly because that told a decent, somewhat self-contained story – not completely, of course, but close enough – and now that the series seems to be something Boom! wants to continue (at least for now; Boom! seems to like 15-issue stories, so maybe volume 3 is the last one?), this second volume feels a bit more like moving the chess pieces around a bit. Early on in this volume, no humans can die (thanks to the events in volume 1), and it’s as horrible as you might think (yes, nobody dying sounds good, but when the dude who has lost his entire lower half of his body and his guts are oozing out isn’t dying, things come into focus a bit more), but once Jessica figures out that she can do something about it, it’s kind of shunted to the background (of course, it’s not really, because it’s not solved and it’s something Jessica has to solve, but Phillips simply ignores it, which is a bit strange). One of Jessica’s companions in exile, Marcel, is tormented by the Devil (a Devil?) for no reason – I mean, Marcel feels guilt for something he did, but he shouldn’t, and it wasn’t a bad thing anyway), and we meet a mysterious woman in prison who, naturally, is a key player in this drama, but it still feels a bit unfocused. I’m sure it will all pay off in future volumes – whether the next one is the last one or not – but it just feels like Phillips has one too many balls in the air. Still, it’s a good series, full of weird and horrifying moments, interesting characters, and amazing art. Flaviano is really outdoing himself, and Renzi has been a terrific colorist for years, so the cool colors in the book isn’t a surprise. I imagine that this reads not only better in trade but as several chapters in a longer narrative, so I’ll just wait until volume 3 to see what’s what.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Creating comics is hard, I know, and when I read something like Hailstone, it becomes apparent, because this is soclose to being a really excellent comic, but some stumbles along the way by both writer and artist keep it simply good, and it’s frustrating reading it, and I imagine it’s frustrating writing and drawing it, because there’s so many different ways this could have gone. It’s a horror story set during the Civil War (which is important), but in a remote town in … well, the back of the book says it’s in Montana, but “Montana” didn’t exist until 1864 (which, to be fair, is probably before this book is set, as the war has been going on for some time, so it could be late 1864/early 1865), so the war doesn’t have much impact on the book except for the fact that there’s a munitions factory in the town, which seems a bit far away from the main action to be making munitions, but of course there’s a reason for it! The elements are there: the honorable sheriff just trying to do the right thing when people start disappearing in the woods, because he’s a good dude and he lost his son in the woods a few years before; the Indians (the Niitsitapi) who live in the area are also suffering, both from disappearances and the weather; the captain who runs the munitions factory isn’t inclined to help search for the missing or even give rations to the townsfolk because he’s so focuses on winning the war; the monster in the woods is something very creepy, and it gets worse the more we know about it. There’s nothing really wrong with the story, but as with so many works of fiction, it lacks that spark that makes it great. It’s not exactly predictable – Scavone does keep us a bit on our toes, which is nice – but some elements are, and that makes it bothersome. The army captain, for instance, is almost a mustache-twirling villain (and he has a mustache, so he could do it!) – we know there’s something hinky about him from when he first shows up, but he’s obnoxiously villainous later in the book. The plot is decent, but it feels a bit out of place both in time and place, but I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to give it away. On the art side, de Latorre generally does a good job, but the climax is laid out a bit oddly so it’s not always easy to figure where everyone is in relation to others and it leads to a weird, anticlimactic moment at the climax’s peak, which is not where you want anticlimactic moments, to say the least. I don’t know if the art is a result of the script or the artist choosing a way, but it’s a bit frustrating. As with a lot of comics, there’s a good idea that turns into something entertaining, but it’s not quite great. It’s hard to do. Maybe this will do that for you!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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This is a weird post-apocalyptic monster story, which isn’t surprising given that Hopeless is a bit of a weird writer. Despite my ramblings here, these are meant to be shorter reviews, so I can’t really unpack all that’s going on in this story, but it’s a lot, and while I’m not sure it all works, it’s certainly interesting. Kaiju have wrecked human civilization, but remnants still hold on, like usual in these kinds of stories. A young woman, Lupe, is walking around San Antonio with no protection from the monsters and not a care in the world when she’s rescued by Rico, who lives with a small familial tribe in one of the abandoned buildings. It is, however, unclear whether Lupe needed rescuing, and Hopeless toys with that a lot early on in the book, when we think it’s going to be a romance between Rico and Lupe and how they figure out what’s going on with the monsters (no one seems to know where they came from). HOWEVER … it’s not that kind of book at all. It is about Lupe, but who she is and her connection to the monsters (of course there’s a connection!), but it’s also about sexual and gender politics, toxic masculinity, Prince Charming syndrome, and all sorts of things that would make Ron DeSantis poop his big boy pants if he knew this comic existed. While you might roll your eyes at the “wokeness” of it all, it is an adventure/horror comic with a lot of action and, you know, giant monsters, but it’s interesting how Hopeless works all this stuff into the book before he sort-of biffs the ending? I mean, not quite, but it’s a bit too easy, I guess? Anyway, it’s an interesting comic, and the art is superb – it’s “realistic,” so the people look like regular people in a destroyed landscape, and into this Ibáñez throws these horrifying, slimy creatures that don’t fit in our universe but have certainly made themselves at home. Lupe is attractive but not overly so, which makes the characters’ obsession with her more interesting, because she’s not an unattainable beauty but someone dudes think they “have a shot with,” so it goes along with some of the toxicity the men bring to this story. I could probably write a lot more about this if I really pored over it more, but perhaps that will happen another day. For now, this is a clever take on a post-apocalyptic, monster-ridden world, and while I’m not positive it ends as well as it could, it’s still pretty neat.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
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The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox by Matthew Rosenberg (writer), Jesús Merino (artist), a bunch of other artists and colorists, Ferran Delgado (letterer), and Katie Kubert (collection editor). $24.99, 222 pgs, DC.
On the one hand, I love this comic: it’s a book starring the Joker, and there are very, very few deaths, and it’s unclear if the Joker had anything to do with any of them! (Some he clearly didn’t, but some … maybe?) So he’s not a crazed murdering psychopath throughout, which is nice because that portrayal is annoying and, frankly, boring. He’s much more the trickster here, and if DC wants to turn the Joker more into what Marvel has done with Loki, I’m not going to tell them no – I don’t mind if the Joker kills some people, but killing everyone he sees and always getting away with it is dull. The story is, as the title claims, a puzzlebox, as the Joker is telling the cops the story, and that’s fun – the concept of the book works, as there’s a central crime (I’m not going to tell you what it is, even though the back of the trade gives it away, because it’s a crime that DC would never allow to happen, so the reader knows it’s bullshit, but the characters don’t, so it sort-of works in the context of the comic) and the police have rounded up every villain in Gotham, it seems, and while the Joker is the main narrator, many other villains tell their stories, as well, and Rosenberg has a lot of fun with the idea of an unreliable narrator. So, the concept is neat, the Joker isn’t a murdery murderer, and the way the story unfolds is good. However … it is a bit convoluted, which makes it a bit long-winded occasionally (it’s not bad that it’s complicated, but convoluted does get annoying), the ancillary plot is a bit weird, and I dislike stories where the villain explains himself at the end, as happens here. I get we needed an explanation, but it would be nicer if the Joker didn’t get to tell us what’s going on, as the momentum of the book does come to a screeching halt a bit. Also, I still don’t love how Gotham cops are either incompetent, corrupt, or both, and while they’re not too bad in this book, they don’t necessarily cover themselves in glory. Overall, though, it’s a fun comic. Rosenberg has different characters tell their stories, so their views of, say, Batman differ wildly (and in many cases, humorously), while the artists get in on it, too – when the Penguin is telling the cops what happened, he’s seen as a much more attractive person in his flashback, because that’s how he sees himself. The art is good, too – Merino handles the “present” stuff, while different artists (too many to list!) handle the flashbacks. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty good, and the Joker is a lot more interesting than he’s usually been for the past … three decades or so?, so that’s a plus!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
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Lovesick is an odd comic, one that takes place in the world of snuff films and cannibal fetishes, but which Vecchio twists about halfway through into a story of lost people who just want to be loved, and it doesn’t quite work, although it’s a pretty good attempt. Her protagonist, Domino, is a hugely popular dominatrix who kills her followers on video – her followers vie with each other to be the next victim, because some fetishes just work that way. She’s also involved with Jack, who’s, well, a cannibal. Again, some people really want to be eaten, and Jack finds those and gives them to Domino, so she can kill them and he can eat them. Yes, this is a twisted comic, with a lot of sex, nudity, and gore, and Vecchio does a nice job making the world seem … not exactly normal, but something that could fit into the real world (and she says she did a lot of research for this book, so I imagine these people are out there, doing their thing). As we learn more about Domino’s past with Jack, it turns into more of a twisted love story, and it’s clear that Domino is very lonely. That part of the book is fairly effective, but the problems with the story are too much to overcome. As much as Vecchio makes Domino in charge of her followers, I can never shake the feeling that when writers write about women being empowered through sex, it’s often not as empowering as they think it is. Domino is in charge, and the followers who want her to kill them are pathetic and not worth the skin they’re wrapped in, but still, there’s an uneasy feeling about Domino’s relationship with them. She’s either their god or their whore or both, and either they want her to kill them or they want to kill her (she’s attacked at one point by a bunch of men, but her posse of women comes to her rescue and kills them all). In each instance, she’s not a person, and it feels like the pathetic ones could easily turn on her and become her attackers if she showed any weakness (as is hinted around throughout the book). Meanwhile, in the mostly flashback second half of the book (Vecchio originally did three issue and then decided to expand on that with four more), we find out that Domino was someone whose parents hated her, who hated school, who hated herself, and she doesn’t mind when Jack abducts her because she wants him to eat her. He doesn’t think she’s worthy, and he becomes her mentor in the … I don’t know, sexually gruesome arts? But Jack always holds the power, even if Domino outgrows him, and even in the present, it’s clear he has more power than she does. Vecchio, unfortunately, never does much with character development for Domino or her posse – Jack is actually the most complete character in the book, so Domino remains an enigma. In some cases, it’s very deliberate and effective – we don’t need to know how shitty her home life is. But because she’s an icon and not a person, it becomes clear that she’s a commodity for the men to fight over, and she feels like a fairly passive one, at that. It’s a frustrating book, because it doesn’t feel like Vecchio wanted this to be as much of a tragedy as it is, but authorial intent goes out the door once the work is in the hands of the overthinking public, like me. The ending of the book feels tragic, even though Domino’s not dead, and I think Vecchio maybe wanted it to be a small moment of triumph for Domino? I don’t know, but this book is more uncomfortable because of the power dynamics than because of the sex and gore. Vecchio’s art is nice – occasionally oversaturated with reds, which is the point, but sometimes it’s the tiniest bit hard to “read.” Other than that, it’s nice work. The story, though … it’s a lot to chew on, which isn’t a bad thing, but I’m not sure if it works the way Vecchio wants it to.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Even a comic as good as Minor Threats (and it is quite good) runs into the same problem that anyone, from Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek to Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum, runs into when they try to create superheroes from the ground up: all the good ones have been done. There’s a reason the characters created in the late 1930s and early 1940s have lasted: they’re icons. Guy Who Can Fly. Urban Vigilante. Guy Who Can Run Fast. Warrior Princess. Guy With Magic Wishing Ring. Super Soldier. King Of The Ocean. Everyone is working in the shadow of Siegel, Shuster, Kane (ha!), Finger, Simon, Kirby, Fox, Norriss, Weisinger, Marston – and that’s fine, for the most part. We understand analogs, and we deal with them, and we make Mark Millar a multi-millionaire because of them, and life goes on. But for something like Minor Threats, that’s a bit of an issue – not enough to wreck the book, because the people reading this will most likely be very cognizant of the ideas of analogs and will just roll with it, but if we look at this in as much of a vacuum as we can, it’s a bit different. Ostensibly, it’s about the minor villains – as the back cover puts it, the ones who get tied to telephone poles before the hero goes off to deal with the real threat. Anyone who’s ever read superhero comics probably loves those guys – who doesn’t like Crazy Quilt more than the Joker, anyway? – and it’s a good hook to base a book on. We’ve seen it before, of course, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. The main character, Frankie, is an ex-villain sidekick who went by Playtime, but now she’s tending bar in a villain hang-out in the bad part of town. She got into the villain game because her mom, the Toy Queen, forced her to, and her mom is still bugging her about not being a better villain, so Frankie has some issues. She wants to live straight because her ex won’t let her see her daughter because her daughter is a bit traumatized by the life her mom used to lead. Frankie is, naturally, a bit upset by that. Anyway, early on we meet some of the bar’s denizens, and they’re a motley bunch of D-listers who might once have been more important but have either gotten old or are just not able to keep up with the changes in life. One of them, Snake Stalker, bursts into the bar one night with another villain, who’s dying. It turns out the Insomniac – “Batman” – beat him up, and he dies in the bar before Scalpel – the villainous doctor – can save him (in a nice twist, he’s Snake Stalker’s lover, which isn’t a big deal in the book but is still a good touch). The villains learn that Stickman – “the Joker” – has killed the Insomniac’s sidekick, Kid Dusk – “Robin” – and the Insomniac is trying to find him and he doesn’t care who he has to beat up to do it. So Frankie and her group decide to find Stickman himself and kill him before the Insomniac, because it’s clear he’s going to do some damage as he hunts. Meanwhile, the other heroes – their group is called the Continuum – are looking for the Insomniac, too, because they need to stop him before he does irreparrable harm to their reputation. So the minor villains have a lot to get through before they can get to Stickman.
It’s a good plot, and the writers do a nice job showing that even if these villains are D-listers, they still have some talent, and they’re able to figure out where Stickman is. Oswalt and Blum also show that they’re still very clever, a little out of their depth, but what makes them work is that they’re not crazy like Stickman (and, to a good degree, the Insomniac), so they can react in ways that aren’t just “Let’s kill everyone.” The crazies like Stickman simply can’t fathom that, and it gives them an edge. Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away, but the writers do a nice job giving each of their main characters interesting personalities, as a different character narrates each chapter, so we get some insight into why they do what they do and why they’re not losers despite not being as big-time as some of the other characters. Oswalt and Blum throw in some twists that aren’t too surprising but work pretty well, and because they’re able to ground the characters a lot, when things hit the fan, we actually care what might happen to them. Meanwhile, Hepburn does a wonderful job with the art. His character designs are terrific – the superheroes are larger than life, Stickman is creepy (he wears a black suit with white lines on it, creating a “stick man,” and it’s simple but effectively weird), and the D-listers work because they’re the slightest bit seedy. Brain Tease, for instance, looks a bit like a homeless dude who found his costume in a Goodwill (it was custom-made for him, but he’s gone downhill a bit since he had it done), and it works because, despite his down-and-out status, he’s still a genius. There’s a lot of interesting background characters, too, making the city look like a real – if weird – place, and Hepburn does really nice work with the scenery as well, from the broken-down neighborhood where Frankie works to the apartments built on top of a kaiju skeleton. At one point the crew briefly heads through a dimensional rift, and Hepburn has fun with that, and the final fight with Stickman and the Insomniac is brutal and balletic. It’s just a really nice-looking book.
However … as I noted above, the analogs these characters are based on are icons. The biggest problem with the book is the problem with a lot of superhero comics – the writers are relying on our prior knowledge to make emotional connections with the characters. They can be reasonably sure we can make those emotional connections, but it’s still a cheat code, in a way, and looking at this in a vacuum (again, I know that’s probably impossible), it becomes a bit annoying because all the power in the dichotomy between the way Stickman operates and the way the others do comes from other comics. When the D-listers talk about the code and how Stickman has broken it by killing Kid Dusk, in the comic itself there’s no evidence of this “code” because we’re supposed to know that the writers are basing it on the fact that the Joker breaks whatever “code” Batman has with his villains. Nobody reading this cares about “Kid Dusk,” so the Insomniac’s reaction is blunted a bit because we don’t know how much he cared about his sidekick. Obviously, this is “Death in the Family” except Batman goes absolutely nuts, but the history of Jason Todd isn’t in this book (and even that didn’t help that character, thanks to the bloodthirsty fans back in 1988). This is frustrating – I get that this can’t be too long a book, and Oswalt and Blum do a nice job with the main characters (the Insomniac isn’t really one), but because the plot does revolve so much around Stickman breaking the rules and the Insomniac’s brutal reaction to it, it would have been nice if the writers hadn’t relied on our own set of contextual clues to make their point. That works a bit better in serialized comics, but it still isn’t too great. With a different property published by a different company, it becomes more egregious. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it. But it does point out how hard it is to do superheroes without falling into analogous patterns. Icons gonna icon, yo!
Minor Threats is very good, though. Give it a look!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
It’s not a new idea to point this out, but Scott Snyder is really obsessed with fathers and sons, isn’t he? I hope his relationship with his dad is/was ok, because he seems to really want to write about them, and they’re not always that great. In Night of the Ghoul, we get two fraught father-son relationships, so Snyder is literally doubling down, and it’s almost – not quite, but almost – a parody of his own work, except I don’t think Snyder wants to be that subversive to his own pet theme. We have the main character, Forest Innman (a LOT to unpack with that name), and his son, Orson (see? parodic or not?), who head to a senior living facility way out in the desert (50 miles west of Calexico, if that helps) to visit a filmmaker who made a horror movie in 1936 that disappeared until Forest, who works at a studio digitizing film, stumbled across it. The filmmaker seems to be hiding, as he’s using a different name, and he doesn’t want to admit who he is, but eventually he does, and he tells Forest the story of the movie, which he claims is a true tale. We see parts of the movie throughout, and it’s there we get the second father-son story, as a World War I soldier returns to the States changed somehow, and his kid begins to believe that something very bad happened to him in Italy. Of course, it did – his dad was possessed by the Ghoul, which is apparently the world’s oldest monster, something that causes plagues and other mass die-offs when it feels humanity has become too smug. Or something. Anyway, the filmmaker – T.F. Merrit (another name we could unpack a bit if we so chose) – claims that he was the kid in the movie, and that his father was possessed by the Ghoul, and that the cult surrounding the Ghoul – of course there’s a cult! – are keeping him prisoner because they’re close to unleashing the Ghoul on the world again and he’s the only one who knows how to kill it. Dum-dum-DUMMMMMM!!!!!!
Snyder is good at horror, so the story is pretty good, although it does hit the familiar beats you’re … um … familiar with, including the two twists you usually get in these kinds of stories (you know what I’m talking about!!!!). The “fictional” father-son relationship can easily be read as a person in the war getting PTSD and not being able to relate to people when he get back – Kurt obviously loves his son in the early part of the film, before he gets possessed by the Ghoul, but when he gets back, he’s aloof and distant. Snyder obviously doesn’t push this, because Kurt is actually possessed by a monster, so there’s no need to give him PTSD, but the metaphor is certainly there. Meanwhile, Forest and his wife are separated, and Orson obviously doesn’t want to be there, but Forest is trying to rebuild his relationship with his son, so Orson agrees to endure the journey to the desert. Forest, meanwhile, turns into a cliché about halfway through the book when it turns out he’s pursuing the movie because he’s insecure about being a man. He tells Orson that he just wanted to make something of himself, and when Orson says that nobody cares about that, Forest says that Orson does, because he just knows. Orson, however, seems to care more about his mother’s early onset Parkinson’s than his father’s stupid quest, but Forest goes right back to making stupid choices, which means Orson makes stupid choices, leading them right back into the belly of the beast. I get that some fathers might feel this way, but in fiction – and particularly in Snyder’s fiction – they all feel that way, and it’s just dull. Snyder has to figure out a way to make Forest an idiot (because in horror stories, the protagonist is often an idiot), so he falls back onto solid, boring, clichéd ground. The story is pretty good, even with all that, but it’s just frustrating that it feels so rote so often.
Francavilla is excellent as always – his line work and color art continue to be top-notch. He gets to design a truly weird Ghoul, along with some other very disturbing, monstrous things, and it’s clear he’s having a blast. Usually, he sticks to primary colors, and does nice things with reds, blues, and yellows, but in this book, some of it is in purple, and the shift to more “mysterious” colors works very well. Francavilla isn’t a flashy artist – he just gets the job done, and anything he works on becomes better simply because he draws it. That includes this book!
Snyder has plans to do more of these – twists on classic monsters – which might be neat, but then again, writers often have grandiose plans that never come to fruition! Night of the Ghoul is an interesting place to start, and as a story, it’s not bad. It’s just a bit frustrating that so many writers (Snyder is definitely not the only one) are locked into a method of storytelling and they don’t seen to be able or have any interest in breaking out of it. Still, it’s an entertaining and nice-looking comic. That’s always fun!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Radiant Black volume 4: Two-in-One by Kyle Higgins (writer), Marcelo Costa (artist), Eduardo Ferigato (artist), Zé Carlos (artist), Carlos Eduardo (inker), Raúl Angulo (colorist), Igor Monti (colorist), Rod Fernades (color assistant), Becca Carey (letterer), and Michael Busuttil (editor). $16.99, 146 pgs, Image.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep going with Radiant Black, but I decided to give it one more volume – this one – before deciding. And … I still don’t know. It’s a perfectly fine superhero comic, but it’s just not thrilling me, and 24 issues in, that’s a problem. Higgins seems like the kind of guy who has good – but short – stories in him, and this long-form comic has had its ups and downs, and its ups might not be enough to save it. In this volume, for instance, the first story is about our heroes – Nathan and Marshall, who share the “radiant” power – fighting a giant robot from space, with the help of some of the different “radiant colors” who make up this universe, and it’s fine. Then there’s an issue in which they fight one of the villains who uses the powers. It’s fine, too. The next issue, which focuses on Nathan going to Los Angeles to deal with some of his intellectual property stuff, is quite good, mainly because Higgins writes about more real-world stuff, just with superheroes in the background. Then more giant space robots – which turn out to be vanguards of an army – arrive, and the dudes find out they’re there to take the power back and are ready to destroy the Earth if need be. This leads to the final issue, in which they learn more about the power and why it’s not working perfectly for them, and it’s also a good issue, but a very good part of that is Costa’s hallucinogenic art (he took the preceding three issues off, presumably to work on it), as Nathan and Marshall are in some weird dimension where they can talk to the power. It’s another nice issue because Higgins is trying to figure out how something like this would work, and what he comes up with makes sense. It leads into the gimmicky issue #25 (if you don’t know what the gimmick is, I won’t spoil it, but it came out this month, so it’s fresh in my mind), and … I don’t know. Much like Invincible before it (this isn’t as good as Invincible, but still), it’s a good superhero comic, but it also feels like … it’s not good enough? Like, in their desire to write a straight-up, straight-forward superhero comic (nothing wrong with that), Higgins (and Kirkman before him) forgot the gonzo wackiness of superheroes? It’s a nice read, but is it that compelling? Right now, I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
In a brief introduction, Hogan explains that despite volume 6 wrapping up many major plot points (including whether Harry would return to his home planet, like Poochie), it was never intended to be the final volume of the series, even if many people (me included) thought it was. Now, I don’t think Hogan is being disingenuous (why would he be?), and as with everything from the past few years, COVID might have thrown a wrench into things and slowed down the production of this book, but I can’t help think that the popularity of the television show (and I guess it is fairly popular) didn’t have just the tiniest bit to do with this volume – I mean, volume 6 didn’t kill off Harry, so there was always the possibility of more stories, but were Hogan and Parkhouse saying, “Why don’t we wait and see how the show does before we continue?” a little bit? I don’t care, because Resident Alien is what it’s always been – an enjoyable, somewhat soapy, casual crime drama, and that’s what we get here. Harry and Asta’s romance is the focal point, but there is a crime, and Harry is barely involved, as Hogan has done a good job building up the characters in the town to the point where they can go off an do things on their own. There’s not much to say about this: it’s as good as it’s always been, and while it’s not going to change the world, it’s fun reading about these characters and Parkhouse does his usual good job with the art. I didn’t love the cliffhanger (the crime gets resolved, but there’s still a cliffhanger!), but I’ll get into that when volume 8 comes out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The X-Cellent season 2 (ugh) #1-5 by Peter Milligan (writer), Michael Allred (artist), Laura Allred (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Lauren Amaro (assitant editor), Kat Gregorowicz (assistant editor), and Darren Shan (editor). $19.95, 100 pgs, Marvel.
Milligan and Allred conclude their return to the “X-Statix” corner of the universe, and I do hope they jump back in periodically, because they’re good comics and the world is getting increasingly weirder, so their satire gets more and more on point. I mean, Zeitgeist becomes a god in this story because he has so many social media followers (it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the gist). There’s a lot going on in this story, too much to unpack in a short review, but Milligan really does a good job updating the old comic for a newer era, and makes what ought to be a depressing book at least goofy enough to be entertaining while still being depressing. Zeitgeist is a horrifying monster, but the way he kills people – by vomiting on them – is so bizarre that it becomes morbidly funny. The general ineptitude of everyone in the book except for Zeitgeist is oddly fun, as well, although that means we get a deus ex machina at the end that is largely unsatisfying. Perhaps that’s the point – I certainly wouldn’t put it past Milligan. Milligan and Allred working on this book might not be your thing, and I get that, because it’s such an arch conceit that it feels hard to really engage with the comic, but it’s still a trenchant look at our vapid world, and Milligan pulls no punches, which is not a bad thing. We’ll see if they have more stories of Guy Smith and the gang in them!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
A few years ago, we watched a show called Turn (subtitled “Washington’s Spies” after the first season because people are stupid, I guess), in which Jamie Bell played Abraham Woodhull, the key member of the Culper Ring, a spy network which is the focus of this book. They could have used this as a source! It was a good show, and this is a good book, because the subject matter is fascinating – espionage is always a gripping topic to delve into, because of its nature, and given the fact that George Washington, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Woodhull – along with others in the Ring – almost invented modern intelligence gathering by accident is a pretty keen tale. Rose begins with Nathan Hale, a terrible spy who did not say the famous last words attributed to him, and points out that Hale was the kind of spy most European governments used – a soldier who would sneak behind enemy lines, collect information, and return soon afterward. In Europe, with its regular standing armies and well-known tactics and places to fight, that was enough. Rose makes the point that the American Revolution, with its more guerrilla nature, required a new kind of spy – a civilian who could live behind enemy lines – and a new kind of gathering system, as the spies would not often be able to meet with the soldiers in home territory. Tallmadge understood that, and Washington quickly grasped it, and Tallmadge was able to recruit Woodhull, who put together a group of people – men and women – who lived in New York after Washington retreated from the city and on Long Island, which became the breadbasket for the British in the north. A lot of these people did not speak or write much about their service, but Rose is able to use the original dispatches and the scanty recollections of the men to piece together a terrific narrative, as the spies were often in great danger – they weren’t soldiers, so the British did not treat them with the respect given to soldiers and simply hanged them – and they had to figure out ways to get the intelligence across to Connecticut, which is where Tallmadge was based. Their biggest coup, perhaps, was figuring out that Benedict Arnold had betrayed the Americans, but they had other successes, as well. This is just a well researched, well written book about a very compelling part of the war that most historians mention briefly, when they talk about Arnold. Rose points out how revolutionary (sorry) it really was, because the British, for instance, did not have very good intelligence throughout the war, because they didn’t modernize how they did things. Washington’s innovations came from distrust, it’s true – he insisted on cross-referencing things because he knew spies would make things up just to get paid – but it’s still impressive that he was able to recognize that something new was needed and shift to that after the Hale debacle. It’s a good book.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
White House Plumbers (HBO). It took me a moment to realize it’s around the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, hence the recent interest in it, with Gaslit and now this coming in short succession. I liked Gaslit a bit more, but this is pretty good, too. This focuses on E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and it’s only five episodes as opposed to eight, so it feels a tiny bit rushed, especially the last episode, but it’s a good cast and the story will never get old, I don’t think. Woody Harrelson is good as Hunt (Harrelson is 62, just to make you feel old), a man who knows a bit too much about what’s going on in government (he was famously somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination … or was he?) so he’s dangerous to the powers-that-be, but he’s not clever enough to make it work for him. As with a lot of television shows/movies, he’s desperate to be rich and have status, and that drives him to do idiotic things in the name of ‘Murican – and Nixonian – interests. Justin Theroux as Liddy pales a bit in comparison to Shea Whigham in Gaslit, but he does a pretty good job, and Liddy’s weird racism is baked into this show a bit more than it was in the other one. Lena Headey is always fun to see, but she has a tough role as Hunt’s wife – she doesn’t have much to do early on, and just when she finally gets to sink her teeth into some meatier stuff, she’s killed off (Hunt’s wife died in a … suspicious? plane crash in December 1972). The focus on Hunt’s family works pretty well, because it’s clear that he was not a great father and he suddenly decided that maybe he should have been, but it’s almost too late for it, and Harrelson does a good job playing that tragedy. Of course, the actual break-ins and burglary stuff will never not be funny, because these guys thought they were James Bond when they were Maxwell Smart, and the show plays up their idiocy well. There’s a moment when Liddy tells his wife (the marvelous Judy Greer in a totally thankless role) that if, in years hence, Americans’ faith in government has been chipped away because of what they did, it will have been worth it, and that feels so forced that I can’t believe Liddy ever even thought something like it. It was annoying, because yes, of course that’s what happened, but Liddy, for one, had, it seemed, too much faith in government (there’s also a moment when he speaks disparagingly of Timothy Leary, which is hilarious considering they did a lecture tour together in the 1990s). Overall, it’s a solid show. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good.
The White Lotus season 2 (HBO). The first season of The White Lotus was a weird animal, full of hateable people played by really good actors, and a weird tour-de-force by Murray Bartlett as the titular hotel’s concierge, and I wasn’t too sure I’d watch season 2 (it was supposed to be one season, but of course there’s a season 2, although Mike White decides to shift the location to the Sicilian branch of the hotel, and presumably, moving forward, we’ll shift locations each year), but the wife wanted to check it out because it’s such good location porn (even more so this season, with Mount Etna often erupting in the background and characters wandering through the countryside and spending some time in Palermo), so we did. This season is better than the first, because while a lot of the people are still contemptible, the locals are more interesting than they were in season 1, and at least some of the people aren’t complete dickheads, and White does some interesting things with the plotting that make it more of a fascinating show. The cast, as with most HBO shows, is excellent: Jennifer Coolidge is back as the very unhinged rich lady, and this time she’s married (somewhat unhappily) to Jon Gries and dragging her assistant (Haley Lu Richardson) along with her on this supposedly romantic vacation. Michael Imperioli is there with his father (F. Murray Abraham) and son (Adam DiMarco), and they’re trying to track their family’s roots, but Imperioli has also screwed things up with his wife (in an example of HBO’s fuck-you casting, Laura Dern is his wife, and we never see her, only hear her on the phone) and wants to reconnect with his son. Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe play newly rich people (Sharpe invented something or sold something that made him a lot of money), and they’re vacationing with Sharpe’s college roommate, Theo James, and his wife, Meghann Fahy, who seem to be perfect but, like everyone the show, have some issues. Plaza and Sharpe are super-liberals, and Plaza has nothing but contempt for James’s brotastic character, but Sharpe can’t quite cut the cord to this connection from his past. The Americans’ problems are all typical rich-people crap – Imperioli can’t keep it in his pants, which he gets from his dad, who routinely cheated on his mom, and his son is trying to be better at relations with the opposite sex; James and Fahy are clueless about the world and James cheats on Fahy while on vacation with her, mind you, and Fahy implies it’s ok because she cheats on him; Sharpe doesn’t seem sexually attracted to Plaza anymore but refuses to talk about it; Coolidge is playing her late-career annoying, confused weirdo (she’s good at it, it’s just that she plays it a lot). Far better is the local drama, with Sabrina Impacciatore playing the concierge, a semi-closeted, middle-age lesbian who is crushing on an employee and doesn’t know how to approach her; Simona Tabasco as the prostitute who plans to hang out with Imperioli all week, but when he has a crisis of conscience, she hooks up with his son … but is she playing him or does she genuinely like him?; and Beatrica Grannò as Tabasco’s buddy, who wants to be a singer and gets her chance when the hotel’s lousy lounge singer has a medical issue (it’s funnier than it sounds, even though it’s a somewhat serious situation). The Italians are much more interesting, because they’re actually dealing with issues that money can’t solve (well, for the most part) and have actual consequences. I mean, there is a dead body at the beginning of the show (just like in season 1!), so there are consequences, but if the Americans at the end aren’t dead, they really haven’t learned all that much, so screw them. White does keep some things ambiguous at the end (and I certainly don’t want to give too much away!), which is nice, because there are some things that seem serious for the characters but we’re not exactly sure if they are. It’s a nice way to end it, and it makes the season a bit more haunting than the first. As with season 1, it’s not a great show, but this season is a bit more compelling than the first, which is nice.
Yellowjackets season 2 (Showtime). Another show that I didn’t love, but we decided to check out season 2, and … I still don’t love it, although I don’t hate it, either. Everything I liked about season 1 – mainly the superb actors – is still there, and everything I didn’t love – mainly that the characters do stupid, stupid things – is also still there. Melanie Lynsky, Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis – the four main “adult” versions of the characters – are still excellent, and they’re joined by Simone Kessell as the Adult Lottie and Lauren Ambrose as Adult Van, while the actors playing the teens are also still excellent. The one thing I do like is that the writers get into the supernatural aspect of the crash and what happened to the girls in the wilderness, which helps explain some of their stupidity, but they still do dumb things, and it’s frustrating. I don’t have too much to say about the show – things happen, the cannibalism implied in season 1 is shown in season 2, so there’s that, and everyone is depressed because their life sucks. I’ll probably watch season 3, but I can’t really give the show a ringing endorsement.
Recipes for Love and Murder (Acorn TV/Sundance). Maria Doyle Kennedy, whose acting debut was in The Commitments three decades ago and has been worky steadily since, stars in this charming murder mystery, set in Eden, South Africa (really the town of Prince Albert) – it’s a murder mystery, certainly, but it’s ten episodes with just the two – connected – murders, so it does meander a bit, not in a bad way, but in a way that lets us get to know all the characters fairly well. Kennedy is terrific as a woman with a slightly mysterious past in Scotland (which might come to the fore in season 2, if there is a season 2 – I don’t know if there will be one) who returned to South Africa to live in her mother’s farmstead. She writes for the local paper, and her boss turns her recipe column into an advice column, but Kennedy decides that the best advice is giving people recipes, so there’s a lot of food porn in this series (and if there’s not some kind of cookbook to go along with this show, someone is missing an opportunity … although I don’t know if British and American chefs have access to kudu). Kennedy’s first letter is from a woman in a bad marriage who plans to leave her husband, but she ends up dead, and Kennedy and Kylie Fisher, playing the paper’s other writer – she’s an investigative reporter – feel like they need to find the killer, because they feel a bit responsible for not seeing the signs. Her husband is the obvious suspect, but there’s also the female friend who was madly in love with her, so what’s up with that? The show tackles racism, sexism (the paper is run by a woman, and she has to fight against arrogant men who don’t take her seriously), classism, and inter-generational strife, and it’s interesting that it does this in a place like South Africa without getting really heavy about it – it’s not an unserious show, but it’s not dour, either. The show doesn’t only focus on the murder – Kennedy continues doling out food-based advice, Fisher reports on the bad conditions faced by the working poor (most of whom, naturally, are black), the paper’s editor has to deal with pressure from the local businessmen about Fisher’s articles, because it’s 2022 and the newspaper isn’t doing well and they’re talking about pulling their advertising. The way the murder is solved is well done, too – Kennedy and Fisher aren’t geniuses about it, nor are the cops (who, of course, want them to stay out of it), they’re just dogged in their pursuits and they all figure some things out that lets them put the entire picture together. It’s not the greatest mystery, but it’s constructed fairly well, which is nice. Part of the fun of the show is the food preparation, which is sumptuously shown, and the scenery, which is stunning. The showrunners really take advantage of the landscape – Prince Albert lies on the southern edge of the Great Karoo, so there’s a starkness of the semi-desert but also mountains that can be very lush with vegetation. It’s filmed oddly – I’ve noticed that some other British shows are the same, as if they’re being filmed in a extreme crystal clear video, not film, but it makes everything look hyper-real, and it’s a bit bizarre. My wife noticed it too, so it’s not just me! Anyway, this is an interesting show – it looks great, it has a lot of good actors, and there’s a nice, intricate plot that allows for a lot of neat ancillary things. That’s not too shabby.
The Lazarus Project (TNT). This is a British show repackaged by TNT (they added commercials at odd times, which is standard for American showings of British shows, and muted all the “fuck”s, although one did slip through into the closed captioning) about a dude who is one of the very few people on Earth who can remember going back in time, which is important because apparently there’s an organization – called the Lazarus Project – that is dedicated to stopping man-made extinction-level events and can “reset” the time line and stop the disasters from happening. Paapa Essiedu is George, who joins the organization because he’s naturally able to remember the time jumps – most people forget them, but the people who work for the organization get a serum that helps them remember … unless they’re like George. They can only reset to a “checkpoint” – 1 July of any year – so if you make it past that particular date in any year, you can’t go before it and reset. That takes care of going back to kill Baby Hitler and such. There’s a dude who wants to destroy the organization, of course, and he’s the main bad guy, but during the course of the season, George kind of becomes the villain. The woman he loves is killed soon after 1 July (of 2023) and he knows that if he resets the time line, she’ll be alive, but they don’t just reset it to save one person’s life, so George tries to create a disaster so they’ll go back. He does, they do, but there are, of course, consequences. It’s an interesting show that doesn’t go too far off the rails with the time travel contradiction stuff – because the time line is “reset,” anyone can mess with people and it doesn’t matter … unless, of course, the Lazarus Project solves the problem and things keep going. The show does a good job of showing the psychological damage this would do to people – a few times, the time line gets reset dozens, possibly hundreds of times because the organization can’t figure out what to do. The first bad guy went through something over and over that deeply scarred him, which is why he wants to destroy the organization (he remembers it because, of course, he worked for the group before going rogue). There are a few things that annoyed me, though, and it’s because the characters are so stupid. A couple decides to get pregnant while working for the group, even though they know they could be reset and either have their baby wiped from existence (which happens) or … something worse. George actually causes his girlfriend’s death because he’s a dick – early on, after he remembers the previous time line for the first time in his life, he drives his girlfriend away because he’s acting crazy (not surprising) and he eventually sees her with another dude. After he gets reset, he manages to not drive her away, but he dickishly gives the dude bad investment advice (he was working on an app that was able to figure out what companies would do well and which wouldn’t, and he told the dude to invest in one he knew would tank). Because of this, the dude gets angry with the girlfriend and accidentally pushes her in front of a truck. Hey, George, maybe don’t be a dick and then your girlfriend wouldn’t get accosted by the dude! Of course, the woman who recruits him into the group and another dude in the group who also experiences the jumps naturally find out that he’s plotting to destroy the world, and they want to stop him, but after he does it … why do they care? What’s done is done, and all the people he killed are alive again, and he’s not going to do it again because his girlfriend is alive, but they really come at him hard. I mean, I get they could just ban him from working for them, but why do they want to arrest/kill him? Finally, Essiedu does a pretty good job playing George as someone who’s desperate because he’s in love, but he is still kind of creepy, and he gets worse as the show goes along, especially after he saves his girlfriend’s life. I think the show knows he’s creepy, but I’m not sure. It’s an odd choice, because he is the main character, and I’m not sure if they’re going for a “love conquers all” kind of thing, which is sweet in some ways but can easily turn sour, as it seems to have here. Still, it’s a pretty interesting show, and I’m looking forward to season 2.
I very much like Synthetica, Metric’s fifth album, so I thought I’d buy another one, and as I couldn’t figure out which one to buy, I thought I’d start at the beginning with their first (well, the first to be released, as the first they recorded wasn’t released for several years). It’s not as good an album as Synthetica, unfortunately, and it shows some promise but doesn’t really work all that well. The first song, “IOU,” is indicative of the kind of album it is. Emily Haines has become a good vocalist, but her voice sounds flat and even bored, while her lyrics don’t scan terribly well and they’re all over the map a bit. The music is similar – the band has talent, of course, but they don’t seem to have much of a spark to their playing. Some of the songs are better than that, but it’s a vibe over the entire album. When the band speeds things up a bit, the songs improve – the best songs on the album are “Succexy,” “Combat Baby,” and “Dead Disco,” the latter two of which were released as singles, which was smart of the band. None of those are great songs, however, just pretty good. Haines has a good voice when she uses it, but she’s all over the place and doesn’t have the heft she needs to pull off some of the lyrics. She wasn’t young when the album came out – she was 28/29 during the recording of it – but her voice and vibe are much better nine years later when Sythetica came out. I just don’t have a lot to say about this album. It’s just kind of there. Sorry!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Here are the “classic” reprints I bought this month:
Dark Horse has the third (of four) volume of Air, plus another EC collection – those are very nice. Marvel has Gerber’s Defenders run in a nice omnibus, and I’ve wanted to read it for a while, so once I get to it, I’ll be happy to dig it!
Here’s the money I spent this month!
5 July: $66.76
12 July: $288.01 (The $100-Defenders Omnibus came out, and that pushed my total up significantly, but it was still a crowded week even without that!)
19 July: $69.40
26 July: $145.78 (Small week … except for the latest Terry & the Pirates collection, one of which came out last month, too – they’re trying to catch up because they got a bit behind)
Total for July: $569.95 (July 2022: $740/07; July 2021: $699.79)
YTD: $3670.78 (through July 2022: $6258.80; July 2021: $4469.68)
Here’s a breakdown of the publishers and formats for this month:
AWA Studios: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Boom! Studios: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Clover Press: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 8 (2 “classic” reprints, 2 graphic novels, 4 trade paperbacks)
DC: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Drawn & Quarterly: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 single issue)
Image: 6 (2 single issues, 4 trade paperbacks)
Mad Cave Studios: 1 (1 single issue)
Marvel: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Top Shelf: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Uncivilized Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Vault Comics: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Broken down by format, we get:
3 “classic” reprints (26)
6 graphic novels (33)
0 manga volumes (6)
4 single issues (58)
13 trade paperbacks (81)
So far this year, here are the publishers from which I’ve gotten comics:
Abrams ComicArts: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AfterShock: 2 (2 single issues)
Ahoy Comics: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Archaia: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AWA: 4 (4 trade paperbacks)
Battle Quest Comics: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Beacon Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Black Caravan: 2 (2 single issues)
Boom!: 7 (7 trade paperbacks)
Clover Press: 3 (2 “classic” reprint, 1 graphic novel)
Conundrum Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 35 (7 “classic” reprints, 8 graphic novels, 11 single issues, 9 trade paperbacks)
DC: 21 (3 “classic” reprints, 13 single issues, 5 trade paperbacks)
Del Rey: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Drawn & Quarterly: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Epicenter Comics: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Fantagraphics: 6 (1 “classic” reprint, 2 graphic novels, 3 single issues)
First Second Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Floating World Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Greenwillow Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
HarperCollins: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Helvetiq: 1 (1 graphic novel)
High School Heroes Productions: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Image: 45 (1 “classic” reprint, 2 graphic novels, 17 single issues, 25 trade paperbacks)
Lev Gleason: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Living the Line: 3 (3 graphic novels)
Mad Cave: 6 (1 graphic novel, 4 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 23 (3 “classic” reprint, 6 single issues, 14 trade paperbacks)
NBM: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Oni: 3 (2 graphic novels, 1 trade paperback)
Penguin Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
PS Artbooks: 4 (4 “classic” reprints)
Rebellion/2000AD: 4 (3 “classic” reprints, 1 trade paperback)
Roaring Brook Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Silver Sprocket: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Titan Comics: 3 (1 graphic novel, 2 trade paperbacks)
Top Shelf: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Uncivilized Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Vault: 6 (6 trade paperbacks)
Viz Media: 6 (6 manga volumes)
Z2: 1 (1 graphic novel)
This is not, as claimed, Mike Pence (the fact that it might have been made a lot of people angry), but it’s still a really good throw:
give this girl the cy young for hitting mike pence in the melon with a water balloon pic.twitter.com/vfurgNF8Z6
— belt sanderson (@avoidthehanoid) July 14, 2023
I missed the beard gif last month for … reasons (ok, I forgot), but it’s back! It’s getting nice and long, and it’s still not annoying me as much as it has in the past, so I’m sticking with it for now! The dark blue shirt is the oldest image in the gif below:
How long will it get? NO MAN CAN SAY!!!!
In the weight arena, this morning, I checked in at 254.2 pounds, so I lost 1.3 pounds in July. Good times!
June: +/- 0
That means I’ve lost 6.6 pounds so far this year. Satan would be proud!
Not much else is going on. The daughter started school because her district went to an all-year schedule, which is good for me and her because she gets bored during the few weeks of summer after camp and before school starts, and this gives her something to do. It’s very hot, though, so even going out for a little bit in the heat messes her up, because she has trouble regulating her temperature. She’s handling it pretty well, but she is a bit warm when she gets off the bus in the afternoon, even though it’s air-conditioned. Other than that, we’re just doing our thing. How is everyone out there? I hope you’re having a good day!