6/24/2017

Loverboys

Loverboys, by Gilbert Hernandez.
By Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez made his mark early in the alternative comics market of the 1980s with his stories centering around Palomar - a fictional village located somewhere in Latin America. For over a decade, he weaved a complex tapestry of melancholic tales about small town love and intrigue using Palomar’s unconventional inhabitants. Hernandez has more recently moved away from these longform stories to shorter, more self-contained comics. But Loverboys will feel familiar to fans of Palomar. There’s the small town setting. A varied ensemble of individuals linked to each other by who they slept with, or who they want to sleep with. Unspoken rivalries bubbling beneath the surface. Voluptuous feminine figures with a mysterious past. An enigmatic supernatural element haunting his cast and informing their actions. All this is drawn in his signature cartooning style. But at barely eighty pages, Hernandez has distilled these components down to their bare essentials. The result is a story that tamps down on its more flamboyant soap opera aspects to exhibit greater emotional restraint. Not that Hernandez isn’t already an intelligent storyteller, but this work seems slightly more detached.

The restraint is somewhat surprising given that the book’s front cover captures two of its principal characters in an intimate moment. But much of the sexual activity takes place off panel. And there’s even less outright violence. So much of the storytelling in Loverboys is economical. Hernandez’s art is perhaps even more starkly minimalist, if that’s even possible. His traditional page layouts, simple perspective, and uncluttered panel compositions function as an simple stage for his cast, which are always designed to be visually eclectic. Actually, this is a huge cast for such a comparatively short comic, so not all of them can receive equal attention. But the reader can easily spot several of them in the background either casually observing or surreptitiously eavesdropping on the foregrounded characters. This all serves to reinforce the gossipy nature of a tiny community.

Loverboys, by Gilbert Hernandez.

The minimalist visuals are complemented by the book’s spare dialogue. With the exception of the establishing pages used to introduce the fictional setting of Lágrimas, there’s very little exposition to describe the actions of the cast. Almost nothing is revealed of the inner lives of the minor characters. But the observant reader will notice some of them going through their own individual arcs. Clues are found in their actions, facial expressions, and offhand remarks. Even information about the central characters is divulged gradually: one crucial detail which helps to illuminate their motivations is delivered in a casual aside sometime past the halfway point.

At the heart of the story is the May-December romance of young lothario Rocky and his former substitute teacher Mrs. Paz, and the effect this has on Rocky’s little sister Daniela, who happens to be Mrs. Paz’s current student. The relationship and its eventual dissolution isn’t in itself all that remarkable. What is compelling is how Hernandez is able to map how it creates ripples throughout Lágrimas. As the town’s resident pretty boy, Rocky’s romantic interest in the elderly Mrs. Paz sparks a considerable amount of interest. And as their relationship begins to flounder, Mrs. Paz is suddenly eyed by a random collection of singles - from the unlovable loser who’s never dated anyone, another would-be womanizer, a pair of creepy twins, to even a lonely schoolgirl. Through separate interactions with each of them, some of them sexual, Mrs. Paz in turn either embarrasses, humiliates, or enables them. Hernandez handles these scenes with his characteristic mix of empathy for his cast’s frailties while delighting (even sometimes indulging) in human sensual pleasures. Only this time his approach is a little more compressed.

Loverboys may not contain the narrative intricacy, sustained world building, or emotional highs of his earlier work. That’s not likely. But there’s something to be said when a talent like Gilbert Hernandez tackles new formats. If this is a lesser work, it’s still more accomplished than most  comics being currently published. Or to quote one of the characters in the book, “I think it’s beautiful.”

Loverboys, by Gilbert Hernandez.

6/17/2017

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid Vol. 1

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid Vol. 1, By Coolkyousinnjya.
By Coolkyousinnjya

Manga is rife with ordinary people whose lives have been made more complicated by their association with monstrous roommates or supernatural love interests. Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid distinguishes itself from the competition with its ordinary human for once not being a socially awkward single male whose primary character trait is that he functions as a doormat for the more imposing (mostly) female characters. Who needs more of those? Miss Kobayashi is a working adult woman. More importantly, she’s not an office lady working an entry-level position. Kobayashi is a trained professional in the male-dominated field of software development. One night, she wanders up a mountain in a drunken stupor. And at the top she encounters a massive, but wounded dragon named Tohru. They fall into friendly banter, which ends with Kobayashi inviting Tohru to crash at her pad. The next morning, Tohru shows up at Kobayashi’s front door and morphs into a young human girl. Unfortunately, Kobayashi doesn’t remember a thing about last night. But against her better judgement, she lets the errant dragon stay anyway. Mischief ensues.

Kobayashi is more of a deadpan snarker than most protagonists. She mostly comes across as a woman who easily passes for just one of the guys. She dresses in male fashions. Her appearance isn’t particularly immaculate. She walks with a constant stoop. Kobayashi certainly does not read as kawaii. In fact, it turns out that she’s a closeted otaku with a maid fetish. Manga creator Coolkyousinnjya draws her in a minimal style that would seem rather appropriate to yonkoma. Indeed, the slice-of-life focus on Kobayashi’s interactions with Tohru reflects the format’s particular brand of light humor.

By contrast, Tohru in human form is superficially cute. She disguises herself as Kobayashi’s live-in maid. This being Japan, Kobayashi immediately evaluates her performance against Victorian maid ideals. Tohru consistently fails, not because she’s a bumbling fish out of water, but because she’s actually too efficient. Kobayashi refuses to ride Tohru’s back when in dragon form for her daily commute because Tohru flies too fast and her back’s too uncomfortable to sit on. Tohru doesn’t understand why Kobayashi insists on using washing machines to do the laundry when dragon saliva does a better job as a cleaning agent.

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid Vol. 1, By Coolkyousinnjya.

Tohru actually has no problem passing for human and truthfully doesn’t think too highly of the species. But thanks to their mountaintop meeting, she’s fallen in love with Kobayashi. And in case anyone mistakes this for innocent puppy love, she clarifies to Kobayashi that her love is sexual in nature. Since this is a manga aimed at an adult audience, the frankness of the exchange is definitely more direct than most manga interactions written for younger readers. But at this point in the series, Kobayashi seems uninterested in reciprocating Tohru’s affections. So the conversation is brushed past pretty quickly.

Whatever goodwill is established between the two (and with the reader) is partially undone in one scene that unfortunately reveals the creepy otaku side of Kobayashi when she goes on a drunken rant about maid tropes that leads to her forcibly stripping Tohru of her clothes even while there’s a another person in the room. It’s a traumatic experience for Tohru, but the scene is mainly played as slapstick. Thankfully, the moment doesn’t linger. That’s the most problematic part in a comic which contains some light fanservice for its adult male demographic. Otherwise, there’s nothing else too egregious.

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid Vol. 1, By Coolkyousinnjya.

6/10/2017

Wonder Woman Annual #1

Wonder Woman Annual #1. Story: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing Art: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David Lafuente Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellarie, John Rauch Letters: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
Story: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing
Art: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David Lafuente
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellarie, John Rauch
Letters: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

The stories that get published in superhero annuals usually tend to be best described as “continuity lite.” For the most part, this also applies to this year’s Wonder Woman Annual. But thanks to the effects of the ongoing DC Rebirth, the character's history is presently in flux. In the New 52 timeline, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman would meet during Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s 2011 run of the Justice League, where they would team up to thwart an invasion from Apokolips. Apparently, this is also the plot for the comic’s upcoming cinematic adaptation. More recently, Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott have been retelling WW’s origin in their Wonder Woman Year One story arc. Their efforts have pretty much undone those events, the controversial Brian Azzarello 2011 run, not to mention the squicky Supes-WW pairing (with help from Superman's scribes). Wonder Woman is no longer the God of War (seriously, how was this ever a thing?), and back to being a symbol for empowerment, peace and compassion.

Rucka and Scott cap off their Year One arc with the Annual’s headliner “And Then There Were Three....” Taking place shortly after Wonder Woman #10, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne catch Diana’s superhero debut on television, and independently conduct their own investigations. They both coincidentally (and very improbably) end up on the same patch of Nevada desert while trying to locate the secret government facility housing Diana. But while the two caped crusaders banter, WW has already snuck up on them.

Wonder Woman Annual #1. Story: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing Art: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David Lafuente Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellarie, John Rauch Letters: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

At ten pages, this is hardly the grandiose occasion envisioned by Johns and Lee. This is a character driven story where Rucka channels his experience writing for all three superheroes into amusing dialogue. Clark is consistently hilarious when trolling Bruce, I mean Batman (heh heh!). With Diana around, no one’s going to engage in needless name calling, macho posturing, or any gratuitous violence. But Batman’s still the biggest dork. And Rucka leaves no doubt who he thinks is the greatest hero among the three of them.

Since 2016, Scott has established herself as one of Wonder Woman’s leading artists. There’s a sweetness to her portrayal of Diana that hasn’t been seen in almost a decade. But in this story, she’s also proving to be just as good in capturing Clark’s relaxed confidence, and Bruce’s guarded disposition.

The other stories are more typically written to be harder to pin down. "The Curse and The Honor" by writer Michael Moreci and artist Stephanie Hans is however closer to Azzarello’s Diana as stoic warrior. She has travelled to rural Japan to aid a swordsman save his village from a curse. But the swordsman has already taken on the curse, becoming a monster in the process. The story is clearly a homage to samurai tales. But the ten page limit hampers both the reveal and the ending. Everything is dependent on drawing out the mood. Instead, everything feels rushed. This feels like a lesser version of a comic written by Frank Miller starring Wolverine or Elektra.

Wonder Woman Annual #1. Story: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing Art: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David Lafuente Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellarie, John Rauch Letters: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

“In Defense of Truth and Justice” by writer Vita Ayala and artist Claire Roe lands in more familiar territory with Diana rescuing the villainous King Shark from being executed by Markovian authorities for a crime he didn’t commit. Roe’s art combined with Jordie Bellarie’s muted palette makes the story look like a noir crime drama with superheroes. She draws the most buff version of Diana in this Annual.

But “The Last Kaiju” by writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, with artist David Lafuente, repeats the same theme, only now with a giant monster. When Diana realizes that she can communicate with a Kaiju rampaging through the Pacific coast, she decides to protect it from ARGUS and find it a suitable home. Lafuente does draw the goofiest visuals. At one point, Diana grabs the Kaiju by the nose and airlifts it to safety. That’s one way to tame a beast. The sight itself is almost whimsical.

Wonder Woman Annual #1. Story: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing Art: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David Lafuente Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellarie, John Rauch Letters: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

6/07/2017

More NonSense: The Wonder Woman Film Edition

Wonder Woman (2017) alternative poster, by Doaly. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
Image via The Poster Posse, by Doaly

Did you know that Wonder Woman is finally headlining a groundbreaking, not to mention hugely profitable, film? The amazing amazon has become a genuine cultural phenomenon. For the beleaguered Time-Warner, it's the only instalment from the DC Cinematic Universe to have so far garnered critical acclaim. And director Patty Jenkins will be back to helm the sequel (maybe). But there have been a few controversies, such as leading lady Gal Gadot's Israeli background and her advocacy of the IDF leading to the Lebanese government banning the film.

This is, off course, long overdue for a character usually touted as one of DC's top three superheroes (the other two being Superman and Batman) but receives only a fraction of the attention directed at her peers. What took them so long? There are a few unfortunate consequences to being part of a cinematic universe. The film's dreary visual aesthetic had already been laid down since Man of Steel. So this is partly justified by setting the story in WW I Europe. In contrast, the sun-drenched island paradise of Themyscira is a welcome sight. The inevitable and annoying slo-mo action sequences favoured by Zach Snyder are also exploited to capture Diana's perception of fired bullets as moving through the air at a snail's pace. The film just can't quite overcome the dullness of the requisite CGI-enhanced final showdown, mainly because Ares (David Thewlis) is no more interesting a villain than Ultron or Ronan.

But these films live or die on the casting of their heroic leads. Gadot is a compelling presence, which was first evident when she was the one bright spot in the abysmal Snyder showcase that was Batman V Superman. Her bemusement at the great metropolis that is jolly old London made the small moments of pleasure she found all the more endearing. Chris Pine, playing Steve Trevor, proves to be an excellent second banana. A suitably cynical foil to Diana's moral absolutism. His attempted seduction of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) while speaking with a German accent is an amusing highlight, and convinced me that Pine should play the honey trap more often. It takes a while before Diana reaches the front line and joins the fray. But the moment she throws aside her disguise and crosses No Man's Land under a hale of machine gun fire might be the best coming out party for a cinematic superhero in the present era (and definitely in all of the DC Cinematic Universe).

Though Hera help me, I'm still not pleased with the decision to utilise elements from the controversial New 52 reboot for Diana's origin story. The choices made have the cumulative effect of closing off her connection to the larger world of Greek mythology (and the attendant feminist overtones found in the comics) which I wished remained open for future instalments. I hope the gods aren't as extinct as Diana was led to believe. And the Amazons were so badass I wouldn't mind seeing them make a return appearance. And bring back the invisible jet!

Germain Lussier has a rundown of directors who made their debut with a smaller independent film, then were signed on to direct an expensive studio blockbuster. Patty Jenkins makes the list as one of the few, and now the most successful, women offered the opportunity.

Vincent Schilling lavishes praise on Eugene Brave Rock's portrayal of supporting character Chief. In their first meeting spoken entirely in Blackfoot, he introduces himself to Diana as the trickster Napi. That would explain his easy acceptance of her as an immortal being.

Nate Jones compares the film's fictional and real German general Erich Ludendorff.

Charlie Jane Anders speaks up for Wonder Woman as hero and role model.

James Whitbrook gives his recommendations for Wonder Woman comics.

Keith DeCandido speaks in favour for Wonder Woman's last great onscreen incarnation played by Lynda Carter, and critiques the mediocre animated feature from 2009.

Hunter Harris on the David E. Kelley Wonder Woman pilot that never aired.

Willa Paskin muses on how to better review superhero movies. Needless to say, this is already a controversial point in comics.

Emily Asher-Perrin examines the evolution of Robin Wright as a heroine by comparing her role of Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride, and General Antiope from Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot on auditioning for the role.

Angelica Jade Bastién on Wonder Woman's convoluted history and the tendency (especially by DC) to underestimate the character's enormous appeal.

Wonder Woman (2017) Director: Patty Jenkins, Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
Image via Hollywood Reporter

Maggie Umber on the break up of her marriage with Raighne Hogan due to the financial stress caused by both partners running the publishing house 2dcloud.

Asher Elbein analyses the causes for Marvel's weak print sales. The Direct Market has generally done a poor job cultivating new readers. But Marvel deserves special recognition for going out of its way to alienate them:
The past decade has been a parade of singularly embarrassing behavior by Marvel writers and editors in public. The former editor Stephen Wacker has a reputation for picking fights with fans; so does the Spider-Man writer Dan Slott. The writer Peter David went on a bizarre anti-Romani rant at convention (he later apologized); the writer Mark Waid recently mused about punching a critic in the face before abandoning Twitter. The writer of Secret Empire, Nick Spencer, has managed to become a swirl of social media sturm all by himself, partially for his fascist Captain America storyline and partially for his tone-deaf handling of race and general unwillingness to deal with criticism.
And the publisher's lack of faith in its new titles is now well known:
Marvel’s marketing and PR must bear a hefty share of the blame as well. The company habitually places the onus for minority books’ survival on the readership, instead of promoting their product effectively. Tom Brevoort, the executive editor at Marvel, publicly urged readers to buy issues of the novelist Chelsea Cain’s canceled (and very witty) Mockingbird after the author was subjected to coordinated sexist harassment. 
The problem, however, is that the decision to cancel Mockingbird was necessarily made months in advance, due to preorder sales to retailers on the direct market. The book itself launched with only a few announcements on comics fan sites; no real attempt to reach out to a new audience was made. Marvel’s unexpected success stories, like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, are largely built on the tireless efforts of the creators themselves. (In Deconnick’s case, she paid for postcards, dog tags, and fliers for fan engagement out of her own pocket, for a character she didn’t own or have a real expectation of royalties from.)
Ben Judkins recommends his top five comics/animated works for the martial artist. I myself have reviewed Boxers & Saints and commented frequently on the Avatar the Last Airbender franchise.

Cartoon: Duterte Declares Martial Law in Battle Against Islamists

Duterte Declares Martial Law in Battle Against Islamists by Erik Thurman.
Go to: The Nib, by Erik Thurman

5/27/2017

Flash #22

Flash #22 Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Howard Porter Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Steve Wands Cover: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson  Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. Jay Garrick created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Howard Porter
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson

Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Jay Garrick created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert.
Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

The last instalments of “The Button” story arc felt like an exercise of running in place. Clues were teased and some moments were played out for their nostalgic value. But there was a dearth of actual revelations. The origins of the smiley face button are never discovered, and the powerful entity Reverse Flash refers to as “God” remains hidden. This last chapter doesn’t advance any of the main plot points. On the contrary, both Batman and Flash get to witness again the death of Eobard Thawne at the hands of his unseen God.

The comic’s primary attraction, as made clear from the cover, is in its teasing of a reunion with the original Flash Jay Garrick. As in the guy from the 1940s who used to live on Earth 2, not his New 52 counterpart. The character’s presence is of enormous symbolic importance. And his teammate Johnny Thunder has already put in an appearance. DC isn’t quite ready yet for the full restoration of the classic Golden Age milieu. So we only get a few pages of Barry and Jay interacting before the latter is pulled back into the chaotic timestream.

Flash #22 Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Howard Porter Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Steve Wands Cover: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson  Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. Jay Garrick created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

After four issues, Batman and Flash have little to show for their investigation. What they found out is pretty much what they already knew when DC Rebirth began. And they lost the button to Doctor Manhattan. Not that they know this yet, because DC is is still holding off on this revelation, even though this isn’t a surprise to anyone following their comics for the last several months. The reasons for the story’s lack of forward movement are revealed in its epilogue - essentially an advertisement for the upcoming event that will be the official coming out of the Watchmen characters, Doomsday Clock. And as if to show that things are finally getting serious, the panels revert back to the nine panel grid first used in Batman #21. Look out folks! It’s the battle of the Supermen.

5/25/2017

More Nonsense: Kung fu Kenny Edition

Go to: DNA, by Kendrick Lamar

Marvel had to release a statement to reassure fans, due to the backlash over its latest event Secret Empire.
At Marvel, we want to assure all of our fans that we hear your concerns about aligning Captain America with Hydra and we politely ask you to allow the story to unfold before coming to any conclusion.
1978 documentary The World of Comic Books is now available online. It's an interesting time capsule of the Bronze Age comics industry, complete with onomatopoeia (pow, swoosh, boom!), canned sound effects, and accompanying bombastic narration that could have been written by Stan Lee himself. The documentary even gets to throw shade at the casual sexism of comics fandom. But the best part is seeing artists such as Neal Adams, Jim Steranko and Trevor Von Eeden in their prime.

Nicola Streeten reports on two comics exhibitions: Shoah et bande dessinée and The Inking Women.

Jia Tolentino profiles G. Willow Wilson.

Christopher Butcher talks TCAF.

Tom Spurgeon reports from this year's TCAF.

It's time for the Jedi to end. And it just took 40 years.

Shawn Setaro on the connection between kung fu cinema and hip hop culture.

Robert Foyle Hunwick on the rise of Chinese fight clubs.

Maren Williams on the sedition charges brought against Fahmi Reza for portraying Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown.

Charles Pulliam-Moore on the death threats levelled against transgender webcomic creator Sophie Labelle.

It boggles the mind that there are racist Star Trek fans who reject the cast of the latest series Discovery. It's Star Trek!

R.I.P. Roger Moore (October 14, 1927 –  May 23, 2017). He was the James Bond of my generation.

5/21/2017

Libby's Dad

Libby's Dad, By Eleanor Davis.
By Eleanor Davis.

Libby’s Dad examines how children tackle what is for them one of life’s great mysteries, the grownups who control them. What exactly is it that drives their behaviour? Do they even share the same feelings we experience? The setting is a pool party attended by several prepubescent girls, held at the newly purchased house resided by Libby. The titular character is largely absent from the comic, but is the source of the girls’ attention once one of them passes along a piece of gossip regarding the recent divorce of Libby’s parents. They try to square this information with the hospitality they’ve experienced first hand. How could Libby’s dad be the bad guy when he allowed the girls to hold a pool party, eat cake, and even bought them delicious KFC? The vast gulf between perception and reality is only magnified by the immaturity and very limited outlook of children.

Eleanor Davis draws a brightly colored, but claustrophobic milieu. The girl’s own simplified world view represented by lineart rendered entirely in colored pencils, and figures drawn with flattened perspective. Backgrounds are minimal, with Davis eschewing conventional panel borders for strong color fields. The same visual elements which envelop the girls in comforting familiarity are flipped halfway through to become immediately terrifying when they begin to seriously reconsider the validity of the rumors. The broadly defined art’s lack of subtle gradations capturing the girls’ constant inability to comprehend the moral ambiguity of the surrounding adult world. Everything about that place just fades to white.

Libby's Dad, By Eleanor Davis.

Off course, the comic is written from an adult’s viewpoint of children’s behaviour. Davis doesn’t bother to answer the questions raised by the girls about the true relationship between Libby’s parents. Only to show how the girls are easily misled by the different scraps of information they’re fed. They’re quickly swayed by the comforts of the house, an elegant example of sleek mid-20th century modern design. They have a child’s obsession with associating with the proper brand identity, hence the affection for the aforementioned KFC, or exemplified later in a cutting remark about the impropriety of crying into a box of fruit-themed cereal. The girls share the inability to sustain any kind of introspection, not atypical for children their age. And there’s a casual cruelty to their value judgements that reduces everything to a zero sum game, familiar to any kid caught in an argument about who has the coolest parents. It's a warped view mirrored in their grotesque features.

So there’s a lot about the comic that feels surprisingly complex and nuanced, not to mention true to life when regarding how children often fail to process much of the world around them. And it’s beautifully drawn with tools that rarely receive this level of prominence.  If there’s  one criticism I would level, it’s that Libby’s Dad ends with a bait and switch that can feel a little premature. Or maybe I’m disappointed that its young characters didn’t really acquire any real insight. I guess, every child needs their reassuring illusions.

5/13/2017

Flash #21 & Batman #22

Flash #21 Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Howard Porter Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Steve Wands Variant Covers: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Mikel Janin  Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Flash #21
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Howard Porter
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Steve Wands
Variant Covers: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Mikel Janin

Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

At the end of the last installment, Barry Allen scurried over to the Batcave only to find a bloodied and unconscious Batman, and the burned corpse of Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse Flash. This issue of The Flash opens with another superhero joining the time-displaced Saturn Girl in knowing that something is terribly amiss with the DC Universe. An aged Johnny Thunder screams his magic word to the heavens, only to wait in vain for his faithful Thunderbolt. He clearly remembers the existence of the Justice Society of America. Not that it helps when a bunch of orderlies show up to drag him back to his room at the retirement home. Johnny is just the first sign of the returning pre-New 52 Universe. This issue then keeps tapping into fandom’s nostalgia for DC's past.

To begin with, Barry admits to the convalescing Batman about experiencing visions of the Helmet of Mercury. But Johnny’s returning memories would indicate that Barry is actually foretelling the return of his predecessor Jay Garrick. And if that’s not enough, Barry later shows up at a cavernous Justice League storage room filled with artifacts that should not exist in the New 52. What could the Flash want from this outlandish and never before seen collection? Oh right.

Flash #21 Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Howard Porter Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Steve Wands Variant Covers: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Mikel Janin  Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

The Cosmic Treadmill is a familiar Flash plot device, but has been virtually absent since the New 52 era began. So its reappearance means that some weird sh#@ is about to go down. Barry plans to use the treadmill to trace Thawne back to wherever he came from. He’s joined by the still injured Batman, because no one really talks him out of an investigation even when his health is on the line. Where do they end up? A most impossible place.

Batman #22 Story: Joshua Williamson, Tom King Art: Jason Fabok Colors: Brad Anderson Letters: Deron Bennett Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Batman #22
Story: Joshua Williamson, Tom King
Art: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Deron Bennett
Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner

Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

According to Barry Allen, Flashpoint should not exist. Flashpoint isn’t an alternative reality, but a badly damaged DC Universe. Barry should know, since he was there when it was erased and then replaced by the New 52 timeline. Barry also sounds like every irate fan reading this comic. And that’s because he and Batman are somehow back at Flashpoint as if Barry never left. And they’re both facing this timeline's Batman, Thomas Wayne. Then they get to fight a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons, because the issue needs some gratuitous violence to distract from dialogue that is basically a trio of superheroes arguing about their metafictional status. The big takeaway of their conversation is that only something immensely powerful could be messing with the DC Universe, since this mysterious entity can sustain an entire nonexistent timeline. At this point, I’ll be disappointed if no one less than Geoff Johns doesn’t show up at the end to explain his nefarious plan to control all reality by roofying Doctor Manhattan with the aid of Donald Trump.

Otherwise, this feels like an excuse to have Bruce Wayne meet his would-be father as an adult crimefighter. Batman has so far been pretty much a passenger on Barry's inter-dimensional chase. And it’s not as if Barry alone couldn’t have quickly mopped the floor with the bad guys while fixing his damaged treadmill. But at least fans get to witness just how awkward the imagined reunion would have been between these two emotionally stunted males who both like to cosplay as bats. The only weapon Thomas has left to fight the Atlantean and Amazon forces storming the gates is the gun that was used to kill his child. But fully-grown Bruce quickly swats it away. Did he forget just how severely injured he still is from fighting Thawne, or is Bruce just that much of a self-righteous prick? Still, Thomas gets the last word in when he tells his son that he doesn’t need to be Batman anymore.

Batman #22 Story: Joshua Williamson, Tom King Art: Jason Fabok Colors: Brad Anderson Letters: Deron Bennett Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

Hey, the story arc is finally rushing to its conclusion. Where will the dynamic duo end up next? Will Bruce heed his father's sensible advice to raise a family? Maybe we'll finally get some real answers? Hah. Just kidding.

5/07/2017

The Circle (2017)

The Circle (2017). Director: James Ponsoldt Writers: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega  Based on the book by Dave Eggers.
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega

Based on the book by Dave Eggers.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is a young woman who lands a job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. Think of it as a mashup of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple. Its signature product is TruYou, an ill-defined piece of software that’s every social media platform and cloud service all rolled into one convenient online identity. The Circle’s company motto is “Sharing is caring”, and CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) advocates for a form of radical transparency, which he intones with the words “Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better.” Eamon is first spotted at one of the company’s regularly held Friday meetings, run like a typical slick keynote staged within a large auditorium. Hanks applies his trademark charm when plying his character’s own version of a reality distortion field. So is he supposed to be another tech visionary freeing the world from its petty vices, or a rapacious business person who will end up destroying it? Or is he just failing to practice what he preaches? The film never comes to any answer. Its message becomes increasingly muddled until it arrives at an ending that apparently wants to play it more than one way.

This is seen in Mae’s journey through the film. At first she’s a little incredulous of The Circle’s corporate culture. This part of the film plays like a satire of contemporary Silicon Valley, which is presented as a hive mind passive-aggressively encouraging every employee to maintain an active online presence, then rates the quality of those interactions. Any dip in quality or drop in activity sends some other employee concernedly scurrying towards Mae to enquire if anything’s gone wrong with her life.

The Circle (2017). Director: James Ponsoldt Writers: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega  Based on the book by Dave Eggers.
via cinema vine

But the story takes a half-hearted turn towards conspiracy thriller when Mae befriends Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), the creator of TruYou. The disillusioned co-founder has become suspicious of his company’s increased monopolistic presence. He seems intent on recruiting Mae for... something, while she still hasn’t fully drunk the kool aide. But nothing comes of it, and Ty is reduced to a scowling presence in the background. On the contrary, Mae turns into a full-blown evangelist for The Circle’s goals, even becoming a guinea pig for the company’s latest experiments in total transparency. A couple of plot twists later, and Mae has changed her mind again. Or has she? Mae is always looks very earnest, but also exists in a state of perpetual confusion. In the end, she doesn’t seem to know what she wants.

The Circle is the second Hollywood feature this year to explore similar themes. The first was the critically panned Ghost in the Shell. Both are stories about the hero's conflict with a powerful technology corporation peddling an attractive form of utopianism while hiding a more unsavory underbelly. The latter follows a much more formulaic route. It ends with the clear defeat of the bad guys and the validation of a triumphalist brand of individualism. The Circle aims for greater social relevance, but mostly succeeds at being broadly alarmist. It hints at philosophical introspection, but is a little too wedded to our present. I get the impression the filmmakers were made to write a more conventional ending instead of logically following the premise to arrive at a more interesting conclusion. Or maybe they suffered from a loss of nerve.

The Circle (2017). Director: James Ponsoldt Writers: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega  Based on the book by Dave Eggers.
via cinema vine

5/03/2017

Animation: Hate for Sale

Go to: Vimeo, by Anna Eijsbouts (via Cheryl Eddy)

Hate for Sale

Hate for sale. All the very best
Hate for sale. Vintage stuff.
Do my cries excite your interest?
Lovely hate. Your life is rough.

Buy my hate. You'll come right back for more.
Hate for sale. Enough to start a war.
Hate the rich, the brown, the black, the poor.
Hate is clean. And hate will make you sure.

Hate for sale. You'll feel superior.
Hate for sale. You'll make the news.
Hate the families who come here fleeing war.
Hate the gay. The trans. The new. The Jews.

Don't need to care who you detest
Hate makes you feel a whit less scared
To know that your group is the best
And burn to ashes all the rest
Who will not face the real test
But showed up naked, unprepared
To be sent back, or drowned, or hurled
back into the abyss. Your world
will be so safe, so clean, so great.
And all you needed was some hate.

Hate for sale. All the very best
Hate for sale. Vintage stuff.
Do my cries excite your interest?
Hate for sale. Never enough.

- Neil Gaiman

4/29/2017

Action Comics #977 & Batman #21

Action Comics #977 Story: Dan Jurgens Art: Ian Churchill Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Rob Leigh Covers: Andy Kubert, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Action Comics #977
Story: Dan Jurgens
Art: Ian Churchill
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh
Covers: Andy Kubert, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

The “Superman Reborn” story arc had literally merged the two most recent variants of the titular character (the version who had existed since Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the newer New 52 version) into one, marking the first step towards another line-wide rewriting of the DC Universe. But what exactly does that mean for its already impenetrable continuity? And what is Superman’s personal history like this time? This issue of Actions Comics introduces yet another retelling of his origin story. And it’s a darn familiar one. How often can one re-arrange the same primary elements over and over again? Lone survivor of the doomed planet Krypton. Raised by the Kents on a farm in rural Kansas. Reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. Possesses fabulous powers from absorbing the rays of the yellow Sun. If this comic is any indication, the comparatively rich history of the Post-Crisis era is returning in a big way. But with a few tweaks.

The comic opens with Clark working at the bullpen of the Daily Planet as if the the exposure of his secret identity and his untimely death had never taken place. The image is a fairly reassuring return to the status quo. His cubicle is cluttered with photographs indicating that Lois Lane is still his wife, and that their son Jonathan was born on this Earth and not during the weirdness that was Convergence. Everything is right with the world, except for the nagging feeling that something is seriously wrong. So Clark flies to the Fortress of Solitude to ask its computer to play back his entire life story, via the neat trick of immersive holographic simulation. That’s such a Star Trek thing to do.

Action Comics #977 Story: Dan Jurgens Art: Ian Churchill Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Rob Leigh Covers: Andy Kubert, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Krypton again looks like a Silver-Age scientific utopia, blending various elements from all past incarnations, rather than a genetically engineered dystopian society that denies all emotion. Martha and Jonathan Kent find baby Kal-El and decide to pass him off as their own biological son, much like in John Byrne’s comic retelling The Man of Steel. Clark grows up with Lana Lang and Pete Ross. But in a concession to Smallville-inspired reboots, Lex Luthor is also a childhood acquaintance. And just as before, Clark reveals his powers to Lana, instead of hiding his abilities from anyone like some vagrant until he reaches Metropolis. Suck it Zach Snyder!

The retelling in itself is fairly pedestrian. It’s mostly a bullet list summary of the main plot points of Superman’s early life. And it wisely leaves plenty of room to add new details in the future. The significance of this comic is more in how it demonstrates that DC is carrying out their promise to clean out much of the New 52 history if it’s deemed unsuccessful. But who can they blame for this mess? Read on.

Batman #21 Story: Tom King Art: Jason Fabok Colors: Brad Anderson Letters: Deron Bennett Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner, Mikel Jannin  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Batman #21
Story: Tom King
Art: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Deron Bennett
Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner, Mikel Jannin

Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

So, way back in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Batman found the Comedian’s smiley-face button inside the Batcave. In this issue, he’s still puzzling over how this thing got into his secret lair. The stymied detective calls the Flash for assistance, since he suspects this is all related to the Speed Force. Batman's not wrong, given the reappearance of Kid Flash heralded the Rebirth. Unfortunately for him, all hell breaks loose when the Flashpoint version of Reverse Flash comes back from the dead and proceeds to kick the living crap out of him. It is a pretty brutal beatdown, as that iteration of Eobard Thawne was and is a huge dick. It also doesn’t help that he remembers that it was his timeline’s Batman who gave him the shaft.

The comic also does an amazing job trolling the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Thawne has a brief vision of someone he calls “God”, the person probably responsible for stealing ten years away from the DC Universe and heavily implied to be Doctor Manhattan. Artist Jason Fabok et al. further strengthen the connection to Watchmen by mimicking Gibbon's nine-panel grid in most of the comic's pages. He actually makes a good case for the technique by showing how it can stretch out time. Thawne’s assault on Batman lasts barely a minute. But it must be the longest minute in the Dark Knight’s career.

What else? The comic’s first appearance of Batman has him standing in front of the Batcave monitors while a hockey game is playing. This reads similar to Ozymandias’ own habit of having numerous monitors playing in the background while he keeps his own company. The bloodstained smiley face motif recurs throughout, from the markings at the center of the hockey pitch, to a poster in the background while a number of Arkham Asylum patients (including a time displaced Saturn Girl) watch the same game on television, to Thawne’s grinning visage being covered with Batman’s blood-soaked spit.

Batman #21 Story: Tom King Art: Jason Fabok Colors: Brad Anderson Letters: Deron Bennett Variant Covers: Tim Sale, Brennan Wagner, Mikel Jannin  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Flash (Barry Allen) created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

So... DC still won’t officially reveal the story's true universal threat, but keeps brazenly telegraphing the integration of the Watchmen characters into their cosmos while drawing out this not so compelling mystery. What’s not to love?

Video: A.D. 1363, the End of Chivalry

Go to: Vimeo, by  Jake Mahaffy (via Cheryl Eddy)

4/22/2017

Black Cloud #1

Black Cloud #1, Story: Ivan Brandon, Jason Latour Art: Greg Hinkle Colors: Matt Wilson, Dee Cuniffe Letters: Aditya Bidikar Design: Tom Muller.
Story: Ivan Brandon, Jason Latour
Art: Greg Hinkle
Colors: Matt Wilson, Dee Cuniffe
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Design: Tom Muller

“I’m from a place of stories, so big that they defined everything. People so committed to their stories they choose to live in them” intones Zelda, the main protagonist of Black Cloud. “We tell these stories to ourselves... To keep on going.” Zelda is a grifter out to con simple minded rubes with snake oil. She’s part of a long American tradition of hucksters, cheats, and entrepreneurs selling people on a dream of an illusory better world. But creators Ivan Brandon and Jason Latour subvert the conventional trope of a craven villain manipulating honest working folk to part with their meager savings. Zelda is a young black woman, and the rubes she tricks are self-absorbed, rich millennials looking for a relief from their ennui. Zelda isn’t even an Earth native, but an exile from a supernatural realm. She’s probably violating her exile and not a few laws by selling limited access to this realm, without fully informing her clients about the dangers they’ll be exposing themselves to. The comic conveys the experience as something like a drug-induced high, only with much more lethal side effects.

The setup affords Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson to engage is a number of virtuosic turns. The comic begins with a sepia-colored prehistoric world populated by cave dwellers haunted by giant batlike monsters. But after an awesome display of magical power, the scene quickly shifts to the gleaming spires of a modern metropolis, the neon blue and red lighting of the streets below, and finally to the monochromatic hues of Zelda’s dream world, punctuated by bursts of random technicolor. These shifts from the mundane to the virtual/fantastic recall any number of films from The Matrix to Inception. And the dream world itself possesses an early 20th century milieu vaguely reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s magical world found in the New York of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Black Cloud #1, Story: Ivan Brandon, Jason Latour Art: Greg Hinkle Colors: Matt Wilson, Dee Cuniffe Letters: Aditya Bidikar Design: Tom Muller.

But that’s also sort of the problem. While visually accomplished, I’m not really sold on whether Zelda’s world is a place where rich young people would want to slum around when trying to relieve their boredom. The place feels more generically terrifying than uniquely exhilarating. And while Zelda spins some great lines convincing them of her realm’s attractions, her 1st person narration throughout the comic can get a little ponderous after a bit. It doesn’t help that it also gets in the way of Hinkle’s more whimsical art.

For all her monologuing, Zelda remains at this point a mysterious character. Her motives don’t seem particularly nefarious, but she’s very cavalier with the safety of her customers. She’s a hero who’s experienced some hard luck, and has decided to survive in this alien world by exploiting the native one percenters. It’s a slight twist to an old tale, but does it truly do enough to turn the tables on them?