Category: Reviews

Look by Jon Nielsen

Look by Jon Nielsen

Artie is a cute little robot in an apocalyptic, post-human landscape, roaming through a desert on Earth with a single job, that, frankly, seems a bit pointless. He has one friend, another robot, who pushes him to learn and discover more about his world, to break out of his programming, and to save something important.

I had to check the dates on Jon Nielsen’s graphic novel Look , because the parallels with the Pixar movie Wall-E were so obvious that I wanted to believe this was from the late ’90s and it was all parallel development. But no: this is a 2017 joint, so, unless I assume Nielsen (a fairly prominent web cartoonist) was living in a media-free cave during the Aughts, those parallels must be built-in, part of some plan.

Look is not officially a book for young readers, but it’s tone is very middle-grade and it’s entirely kid-friendly; I expect it has already found its way into a lot of school GN collections. And that means being similar to a twenty-year old movie might not be a problem. Ten-year-olds don’t know automatically which robot story came first, or have a deep knowledge of robot stories to begin with (oh, some ten-year-olds will have a deep and abiding passion for robot moves, or any other random thing, definitely) – or care.

Back to Artie. He’s the guy on the cover. His job is to circle a desert, endlessly, looking for something. Accompanying him, with a history we don’t know at first, is the vulture Owen – who, quirkily, seems to have a problem remembering things, like a different Pixar character.

The story here starts when Owen goads Artie into breaking his routine, going to The Village to talk to “Mr. Hew” (who turns out to be a wise old turtle – oh, and this may be a minor SPOILER, but every last character in this book is actually a robot, even if they look biological). Artie has realized that he doesn’t know what he’s looking for in the desert, just that he’s looking for something, and would like some more direction.

Mr. Hew doesn’t know what Artie is looking for either, and sends him to The Factory. Artie turns out to be defective – that should probably be in quotes; but you know what I mean; you’ve seen stories like this a thousand times – and the large scary robots at The Factory try to reprogram him to forget everything he’s learned and destroy his emergent personality.

Artie gets away, with Owen’s help. They head out of the desert to see what else is in the world. And then the rest of the plot happens; I won’t go into all of the details. It follows the path I mostly expected, though with some quirky surprises (ecological messages, sure, but a functional city portrayed positively?) and the requisite happy ending.

This is pleasant and zippy; Nielsen draws with thin crisp lines and gets a lot of life into the body language of his robots. It is a story pitched at that Pixar or kid-GN level, so don’t expect deeper insights or more complexity than that. But it’s just fine on that level, if possibly just a bit second-hand and familiar to an adult.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: No Hard Feelings

REVIEW: No Hard Feelings

Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is fully, frontally, nude for a few minutes of this rom-com. It’s in character and far from salacious, merely adding to the humor and delineating her character.

That said, the R-rated rom-com No Hard Feelings out now from Sony Home Entertainment, is disappointingly predictable, using the nudity to break the typical pattern, adding little to the genre, which needs some fresh life.

Lawrence’s Maddie Barker is in dire need of a new car after the one she used for her Uber gig got repossessed to pay tax debts. She’s 32, barely hanging on, and in need of a lifeline.

Said lifeline comes in the form of the Beckers (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) who want their son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) to gain some confidence and maybe some sexual experience before heading off to Princeton in the fall.

While twice the kid’s age, she agrees and they meet and things don’t go well until they do. The end.

There are some themes here, mostly about taking control of one’s destiny, being true to one’s self, and the endurance of true friendship. Lawrence’s Maddie has to address the nearly generational gap between her and her charge and it shows she needs to accept adulthood. But, the comedy isn’t very fresh and the circumstances feel contrived by the numbers, so the script from John Phillips and Gene Stupnitsky, who also directed, needed work. Lawrence is a producer here and if she is to be believed, had a blast making this film, which is certainly a change of pace from her more recent work.

Lawrence is rarely bad on film and gives it her best here, making the most of soft material. She and Feldman, best known for Broadway’s Catch me if You Can, are fine together but it just doesn’t work as well as it could have. They get fine supporting performances but again, from people who have given stronger performances elsewhere.

The movie, out only on Blu-ray and Digital HD, seems fine in its 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer.  The daytime and nighttime sequences are equally clear with good color. It pairs well with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Neither is top of the line but perfectly serves this film.

There are a handful of Special Features, none particularly special. We have A Little Wrong: Making No Hard Feelings (6:00), A Motley Crew: Meet the Characters (7:00); and Outtakes & Bloopers (4:00).

REVIEW: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 30th Anniversary Edition

REVIEW: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 30th Anniversary Edition

To many, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm stands are one of the best Batman stories in filmed media and even one of the best stories all time. With its 30th anniversary now here, Warner Home Entertainment gives you a chance to see for yourself. Out now in 4k Ultra HD for the first time, the movie stands up quite well.

When it arrived in late 1993, critics hailed it but did disappointing box office and it has subsequently gone on to gain stature as it has been available in multiple packages ever since. Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, and Michael Reaves, one would think many hands might spoil the tale, but instead, all four revered the Caped Crusader and honored him with an all-original story.

New to the mythos is Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), who also lost her parents to violence. There’s a spark between them, but Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is in his early days as the Dark Knight and has little time for romance. We jump ahead 10 years and now the Phantasm is going after the same cowardly lot of criminals as Batman, but he kills rather than apprehends, setting up a showdown.

There’s some mistaken identity as people think Batman is Phantasm with Councilman Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner)  vowing to bring Batman down. Complicating matters is the Joker (Mark Hamill) until all the players come together for the final confrontation when Phantasm’s identity is revealed (not that it’s that much of a surprise).

The story has heart and soul with plenty of doses of action. It moves along swiftly in its 78 minutes. [Yes, it does have echoes of Mike W. Barr’s Batman Year Two, but that’s a discussion for another time.] Pasko’s flashback sequences, including that immortal line “I Didn’t count on being happy,” give the film some emotional weight that many of its companion features lack.

According to Warner, “The 4K HDR remaster of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was sourced from the 1993 original cut camera negative and was scanned at 4K resolution. Digital restoration was applied to the 4K scans to remove dirt, scratches, and additional anomalies, but special care was given to not touch the film grain or the animation cel dirt that was part of the original artwork. This is the first time since its theatrical release that it is presented in its 1.85 aspect ratio.”

The 2160p version is quite good and looks fabulous, a cut above the current Blu-ray version. It’s clear, colorful, and detailed. The original 2.0 mix is here along with the superior brand-new 5.1 remix.

For a 30th anniversary salute, I expected more than one new feature, no matter how good it is. Kevin Conroy: I Am The Knight (26:08) gets the tribute the animated voice of the Batman deserves. After over 400 animated appearances (plus a guest role on the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths), he has become as synonymous with the hero as his creators and live-action actors. This is not included on the Digital HD copy.

The Unbelievable Unteens by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

The Unbelievable Unteens by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

I’ve never created superhero characters. [1] So I could be talking out of my ass here. But I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the form that requires new work to slavishly follow the models of previously created universes, so that even the slowest reader can point to the models and get it.

I could be wrong, as I said. It certainly looks like that is absolutely required, because it happens every damn time.

The Black Hammer universe , as created by writer Jeff Lemire and his various collaborators, has been incredibly derivative from the jump, and I have to believe this is very, very deliberate. Lemire could write about people in fanciful wedgie-inducing costumes that are not immediately reminiscent of the comics he read in the ’70s and ’80s, so he must be doing it – over and over again, relentlessly – on purpose.

The Unbelievable Unteens  is the X-Men rip-off. OK, maybe there’s a bit of Teen Titans in the DNA, too, but not much. This 2022 collection gathers the four-issue series of the same name, plus the Free Comic Book Day story from 2019 “Black Hammer Presents…Horrors to Come” (co-written by Lemire with Ray Fawkes, with art by David Rubin). I think that FCBD story has already appeared in another collection, since it was very familiar.

The other big touchpoint of Black Hammer is nostalgia, as required in any derivative superhero story. So these are not stories about original heroes in a modern world, but instead stories about Not-That-Guy (for purely copyright reasons) in Almost-That-Story, from Back When You Were Young And Life Was Wonderful. Some of the stories specifically look back, and some are set in the past as a look back. But the creative eye never ever looks forward, or even to anything demonstrably modern.

So Unteens is a story set in the late ’90s, where the Unteens are a fictional superhero group, written and drawn by Jane Ito. But! They were actually real, an actual ’80s superteam, and Ito was one of them! A shocking revelation from her past will bring her face-to-face with her old teammates, and they must revisit Their Darkest Hour to save One Of Their Own from the horrible fate she’s been in for roughly a decade. (I suppose I should give Lemire half-credit for a story that obviously references The Dark Phoenix Saga but actually has a different plot.)

This story is shorter and more direct than most of the Black Hammer-verse pieces, which made the end feel rushed and perfunctory. Previously, the sidebar stories have been more complex and interesting – they were actually stories instead of exercises in keeping the core cast in pretty much exactly the same situation while giving the illusion of Massive Events Unfolding. (Wait: didn’t I already say this was a derivative superhero series? I hate repeating myself.)

As always, Black Hammer stories are professional, populated with realistic people who talk like human beings and have human concerns that sometimes even are important to the plot. The giant wodges of standard superhero furniture are dull and obvious, but they’re the point of the exercise, so I have to assume they are not dull and obvious to the target audience. Given that this one was shorter, and possibly rushed to a conclusion, I wonder if even that target audience is beginning to tire of the endless exercise.

I suppose I can live in hope, as always.

[1] Well, not seriously. My friend group in college made up jokey superhero versions of ourselves, and I was 5-Man, with the incredible power to control anything in a group of five, inspired by a random shirt I had with a giant athletic-jersey-style 5 on the chest. I think we made up other characters not based on ourselves, too, and maybe some villains. My other main contribution to superherodom was the previously mentioned String Boy . We were all very fond of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, at least as a model for character creation, which may explain some of it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Grosz by Lars Fiske

Grosz by Lars Fiske

Today I’m going to try to describe a nearly wordless book about an artist I’m not all that familiar with, by an artist I’m not all that familiar with. If I descend into potted history and bland statements, that will be why.

George Grosz – I probably could force Blogger to display the original German spelling of his name, but I don’t have the energy for that this morning – was a German painter and caricaturist of the early 20th century (1893-1959). As you probably can guess from the intersection of the time, place, and field, Grosz was artistically radical and politically engaged: he was strongly anti-Nazi from the earliest days, moderately Communist (but, like so many others, disillusioned after a visit to the Soviet Union), and generally anti-clerical and anti-“high society.” He escaped Germany with his family just as Hitler rose to power, living in the US for the last twenty-five years of his life before dying in an accident in postwar Berlin very soon after his return there.

Lars Fiske is a cartoonist and artist and maker of other kinds of books; he’s Norwegian. His cartooning style is not a million miles away from Grosz’s paintings: both are complex, full of overlapping elements and extreme caricature. And, maybe a decade ago, maybe not quite that long, he made a book about Grosz’s life. In 2017, Fantagraphics published a US edition as Grosz . I didn’t see any indication of a translator, but the text is minimal: Fiske may have done it himself.

Grosz is a potted life, made somewhat more elliptical by being wordless. We see Grosz doing things, and have chapter titles (with what I think are quotes from Grosz) and place/time tags, but we’re not told the meanings of events and have to piece it all together ourselves. But we can follow it pretty well: Gorsz was a dandy of a young man, with big ideas for art, served in the army in the Great War where he apparently was wounded, loved American culture and strongly criticized German society, was involved in radical movements both artistic (Dada) and societal (Communism), ran afoul of growing oppression in Germany throughout the ’20s, and eventually got away to the US, where his life calmed down substantially.

Fiske’s art is extremely energetic, mostly black-and-white with some pops of color (red in particular) and a beige-ish overlay with geometric shapes of white cut out. Gestures are large, faces are caricatured, and he uses strong diagonals throughout – sometimes to divide actions into overlapping panels, sometimes as defining elements, sometimes as vanishing-point lines that he leaves in the drawing, sometimes just to be there. His drawings are visually dense: this is not a book to scan quickly.

I found I got a decent sense of the high points of Grosz’s life, and came to like the hawk-nosed guy, who is a bit of a sex-mad loose cannon in Fiske’s telling. Probably not just in Fiske’s telling, too, and to the end of his life, frankly: Grosz died from injuries sustained by falling down the stairs after a long night drinking. Which is definitely a colorful way to go, especially in your mid-sixties.

Even if you don’t care about Grosz – I didn’t before I read this – Fiske’s strong, assured cartooning and his aggressive linework make this a really visually interesting comic to read.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

As a Cartoonist by Noah Van Sciver

As a Cartoonist by Noah Van Sciver

I used to personalize far too much when I read, to reflexively attribute ideas or thoughts in a book to the author. To blame the author, some times, for how I reacted to the book, or just hold them responsible for how I, or anyone, responded to a book. [1]

I got better; I got older and (I hope) smarter.

One quirk of that growing-older change is that, as I seemingly have less and less time to read, I’m willing to give writers more and more chances, to assume it’s a book that’s not working for me rather than the author. And I try to be more generous to creators, to assume positive intent, to get away from that young-huffy pose of outrage that’s so energizing to so many of us read-everything types for so long.

So I keep coming back to creators that don’t quite work for me, especially if I see things I like in them. I just read a Katie Skelly book a couple of weeks ago, for example, liking it better than I did her past stuff. And I’m here again with another Noah Van Sciver book despite thinking Fante Bukowski  wasn’t really my kind of thing and finding Saint Cole  technically strong but something of a slog to read. [2]

That’s what brought me to As a Cartoonist , Van Sciver’s short book of mostly autobiographical comics from last year. It’s a thematically connected collection of comics, collecting work from what seems to be all phases of his career, from his first comic Blammo to a bunch of newer work. It’s not a single narrative, but it is organized, mostly, by chronology: the main spine of the book is Van Sciver’s professional life over the past decade. Van Sciver provides a list of original publications in the backmatter – have I mentioned recently that creators who make original publication clear are the very best people in the world? they are – and a number are listed as “never published,” which could mean they were new or could mean they just didn’t make it into anything else.

My guess is that Van Sciver was thinking about a book like this for a while – the autobio cartoonist is a clear type, and he seems to be in an indy-cartoonist world that includes a lot of autobio guys. And, as seen from some of the work here, he does have a confessional streak, or an urge to tell stories from his life, to tell his stories and express things that happened to him. But he’s not relentlessly confessional, like James Kochalka or even John Porcellino – the strips with Van Sciver as a character are focused and directed, all about his career and work. They’re not the kind of general “here’s what I was doing and thinking” daily-comics: it’s all about his aspirations and fears and life as someone trying to make these kinds of stories, in a world that mostly doesn’t value that.

His life As a Cartoonist, you might say. He did.

Mixed in with the focused autobio material are some jokier pieces from Blammo about “Notable and Tasteful 19th Century Cartoonist,” a now-forgotten and unnamed hack from a century ago, and some quirkier related pieces, like a page Van Sciver sold as a print, of him dancing under the title “How it feels to be a cartoonist.”

It’s not the kind of book that is a single thing; it coalescences and explores rather than explains, showing us some aspects of what’s been like to be Van Sciver over the past decade, some hints of his personal life and history. (His childhood is fascinating – he came from a big family that seems to have been on the edge of poverty for a long time; his mother separated from his father and their Mormon faith when he was young; it looks like they moved around a bunch, too – but I think he’s only told bits and pieces of that story, here and elsewhere.)

The title is arch and implies a certain distance, but Van Sciver is more of a warts-and-all cartoonist: he’s grappling here with what it means to be a professional in this field, how to handle various situations, how it feels to be “a cartoonist,” for good or bad, in mid-career, after the shiny newness has worn off and he’s just trying to do something else and keep his life and career going. He portrays himself as well-meaning but not always successful, self-doubting and conflicted, prone to be taken the wrong way and somewhat odd because of his unusual upbringing. He’s a specific, detailed person telling stories about interesting, particular things in his life – and making those stories just as long as they need to be.

It’s a strong collection, with more of a focus and connection than you might expect from the sources. Even the “earlier, funnier stuff” – as Van Sciver has fans repeatedly tell him they like best, in an echo of Woody Allen – works really well in context, both as comic relief and as parallax: a hundred years on, all cartoonists will be half-forgotten.

[1] My theory is that I did this because I started out in SF, the field that never saw a metaphor it didn’t turn into concrete. And I grew up at just the right time to be indoctrinated by a long string of Heinlein author stand-ins and form the assumption that was normal.

[2] One of the bits in this book also explained to title of Saint Cole to me, making me feel like a dunce. Van Sciver does mention most readers missed it, but it was a smart touch and it totally flew over my head.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

As I tell my students, choices have consequences. Brilliantly, several choices made by Mikles Morales and his friends come back to bite them in the ass in the wonderful, if bloated, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Out now from Sony Home Entertainment, the 2:20 film is merely part one of a more sprawling saga that is entirely built around Miles (Shameik Moore) making a decision in the previous film that has multiversal implications.

In fact, his repercussions have such omniversal impact that Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) has formed the Spider-Society with its core members traversing the multiverse to repair the damage (with a wonderful throwaway line about Doctor Strange).

Miles is blissfully unaware of this until another of his actions appears in the form of a new foe, the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who is seen mastering his powers with growing confidence until he makes a mistake and enters himself and, therefore, the multiverse.

We see not only Miles’ anguish for the above events but also for keeping his secret from his loving parents, Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), and his seeming estrangement from his crush Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). When he finds himself in Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni)/Spider-Man India’s reality, he saves Pavitr’s father, Police Inspector Singh, which is considered a canon event. Each Spider-Man, we’re told, must suffer such losses; it’s their curse. To preserve that, Spidey 2099 has decided that Miles is the original anomaly that needs to be contained permanently, which would also mean Lt. Morales was destined to die in two days.

There are many wonderful emotional scenes between Miles and his parents or with Gwen or with the elder Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) that give the film greater depth than you would imagine.

Visually, it’s a stunning accomplishment, growing from the previous Into the Spider-Verse with visual styles that match each world and its inhabitants. Live-action footage is nicely woven in just enough to feel organic.

Throughout the film, there are wonderful homages to the comics that spawned so many of these iterations, along with elements from the animated television series and feature films. It’s an Easter Egg hunter’s smorgasbord.

My problem is that many of the sequences are overly long, extending the action and cutting the dramatic tension. The film could have lost 20 minutes and been tighter and more satisfying. Stil, kudos to writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham, along with the directorial trio of Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson.

The film was reviewed via streaming, and the 2180p high definition looks wonderful. The sound mixing issues that plagued the early theatrical release are absent here, with a fine Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track that sounds strong on home equipment.

There is a plentiful assortment of special features including an audio commentary (not available for streaming; Creating the Ultimate Spider-Man Movie (14:49); Obscure Spiders Easter Eggs (5:39); “Imma do my own Thing” Interdimensional Destiny (8:26); Across the Worlds: Designing New Dimensions (7:00); Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Cast (13:00); Designing Spiders and Spots (12:00); Raising a Hero (8:00); Scratches, Score and the Music of the Multiverse (5:00); Across the Comic-Verse (8:00); Escape from Spider-Society (8:00); Miguel Calling (5:00); Lyric Videos.

The Agency by Katie Skelly

The Agency by Katie Skelly

Katie Skelly is a fun, interesting cartoonist whose work hasn’t quite connected with me. I knew that from her My Pretty Vampire , but the “fun, interesting” thing got me to come back for another run.

The Agency  is a 2018 book, collecting a loose series of webcomics that came out over the three previous years. It doesn’t tell a single story, but there is a through-line, and – as I’m coming to think is standard for Skelly – there’s a core viewpoint and style that unifies the whole thing.

(I wonder where these stories appeared, since they’re quite sexy – and my sense is that the webcomics world has usually been divided into the “no nudity! we’re family-friendly” world and the “all sex! all the time!” world. This isn’t all sex, but it’s mostly sex: there’s a lot of nudity, casual and specifically sexy, and basically all of the stories have have some sexual activity, though not as central and overwhelming as it usually is in a sex webcomic. I may here be circling the fact that this is by a woman, and so it’s about things that this woman found sexy and wanted to put into a comic – therefore it’s not as male-gaze-y and relentlessly focused on sticking penises into things as the typical sexcomics by a man.)

Skelly doesn’t tell us what “the agency” is. But her main characters are all women, all introduced as “Agent ” starting with 8 and running up, sometimes jumping numbers. They have sexy adventures in which they explore things, are glamorous, and have vaguely portentous dialogues. They are in vaguely genre-fiction settings that don’t entirely cohere together: a Barbarella-ish spacewoman, a model, a spy – maybe several model/spies. As I’m thinking is usual for Skelly, there’s a ’60s movie vibe, in the situations and the costumes and hair and the bright vibrant overlays of color.

These are sex stories, but generally positive ones. These women are getting sex they want, with themselves or other people or odder things (vibrating alien flora? octopuses!). The agents tend to disappear suddenly, as Skelly’s attention shifts for the next story – they’re signposts rather than people, characters who can be in the next situation for the next sexy idea. But they’re mostly happy, and all self-motivated – they’re doing what they want, getting mostly what they want, and enjoying themselves.

Again, there’s no overall story. Each piece is basically separate, like we’re watching some sexy short-film festival from 1968, far more woman-focused and sex-positive than would have been likely at the time. Their stories are vibrant and visually interesting – Skelly has a flat style, with quick lines and big eyes and ruled panel borders under those big slabs of glorious color – at times psychedelic, always distinctive.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: The Flash: The Complete Ninth and Final Season

REVIEW: The Flash: The Complete Ninth and Final Season

The Flash arrived on the CW as an antidote to the heavy, bleak world of Arrow. Our Scarlet Speedster was going to be a bright, upbeat superhero series and it was—at first. With each successive season, it grew bleaker and more chaotic as an overstuffed cast all demanded screentime and the writing staff never seemed to grasp that there were other villains than those connected to the Speed Force.

The 2022-23 television season brought us The Flash’s ninth and final season, providing a chance to give closure to the core characters. Tomorrow, Warner Home Entertainment releases The Flash: The Complete Ninth and Final Season.

Across the truncated season, everyone had a moment to shine, get their due, take a bow and move aside so the Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Nora West Allen (Candice Patton) center got to have the last word as they finally welcomed Nora to the preset. We’d already seen more than enough of her adult self (Jessica Patrick Kennedy) in previous seasons.

A distracting plot line was the arrival of a new character in a familiar form, that of Khione (Danielle Panabaker), created because they wrote Frost and Caitlin Snow out at the end of the eighth season. There was little need for that, and their absence was keenly felt since this new person was a deus ex machina. It also meant Chillblaine (Jon Cor) spend most of the season moping.

The supporting players show some growth, notably Cecile Horton (Danielle Nicolet), becoming a hero in her own right, although the costume felt superfluous. The Allega (Kayla Compton)/Chester (Brandon McKnight) romance, which always felt like juvenile high school stuff, finally got them together, ending some painful moments for the actors.

It was certainly nice seeing recurring players get their curtain call, notably John Wesley Shipp. More than a few speedsters and villains came but, but it all felt overly stuff and some, such as Dreamer (Nicole Maines) felt rather superfluous. And the series couldn’t leave without Stephen Amell coming back one final time and his appearance was perhaps the best use of a character.

Of course, it was all coming down to a finale between Cobalt Blue/Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) and Eobard Thawne (Tom Cavanagh). But before that, we had to deal with the Red Death (Javica Leslie), alternate reality’s warped version of Batwoman Ryan Wilder. While it was nice to see Leslie, this didn’t advance the story or characters and felt more like filler than anything tasty.

With a finite number of episodes and an ending to reach, one would have hoped that the creative staff more carefully choreographed the events so we were left with a far more satisfying conclusion.

The final season is out on a Blu-ray-only box set without a Digital HD code. All the episodes look fine in their 1080p, 1.78:1 aspect transfer. The colors and special effects play quite nicely. The DTS lossless audio track is a fine compliment.

There are just a few special features this time around, including The Flash: The Saga of the Scarlett Speedster (touching on both the comics and TV series) ; Deleted Scenes, and the Gag Reel.

2023 was not kind to the Flash, with a whimper of a TV ending and a box office disaster with the feature film. One hopes that, in time, we’ll see creators do the fastest man alive some justice.

Fortune & Glory by Brian Michael Bendis

Fortune & Glory by Brian Michael Bendis

I went through a Bendis kick, around the time a lot of the hip comics kids did, back in the mid-Aughts. I at first liked Powers, and then thought it ran at high speed away from everything that was originally good about it. I was mostly impressed by Alias. And I think I wandered away about the time he, inevitably, like every other new writer in comics, was fully subsumed into the Wednesday Crowd and started writing sharecropped superheroes all of the time.

{Spongebob Narrator Voice: Fifteen Years Later}

I just re-read Fortune & Glory , his least representative book. It was there in the app I used to find comics, since this spiffy new edition was just published in May, and I’m always up for nonfiction these days – the curse of the middle-aged man.

I see I didn’t actually review Fortune the first time I read it, back in 2007, so I might as well go into some of the details here. Bendis created this – he started off as a writer-artist, which might be forgotten, since he’s been just writing for a long time now – as a three-issue miniseries back in 1999. He’d done a few comics, mostly self-published, at that point – Goldfish, Jinx, Torso – all of which were dark mysteries and most of which I think were set in his native Cleveland. He was “hot” in the way it usually happens, though I doubt a self-publishing mystery series would pop now: his books were growing in popularity and getting media attention, so the bigger fish were starting to nose around.

In particular, Hollywood studios started reaching out, looking to option his books. Bendis had some loose contacts to actual Hollywood types, and was introduced to a newish producer here called David Spree, who became something of an advisor and also became “attached” to a couple of Bendis projects. Bendis also got a Hollywood agent, and started talking and taking meetings.

Fortune is the story of, basically, how those first three comics projects of his got him in the door to a whole bunch of places, got him a whole lot of meetings, and apparently led to a fair bit of money for options and writing the script for Goldfish…but did not, in the end, lead to any movies being made.

For Hollywood, though, that’s a massive success: Bendis got a new line of income, got taken seriously, and even pitched pretty strongly (with fellow comics writer Marc Andreyko, the idea that became the comic Torso) and successfully. The Torso movie, in particular, seems to have almost happened, though Bendis is vague about how it fell apart – my guess is that it was a “personality conflict,” probably not anywhere near him, and that the real story will only be told in memoirs thirty or so years down the line.

So this is a talking-heads book, heavy on the dialogue. I’m not sure if Bendis has been doing the Mamet-esque rat-tat-tat dialogue in his superhero books, but this is a real-world version of that, full of smiling tanned people lying to each other and Bendis’s cartoony avatar – that’s him on the cover – gamely making his way through the middle of a whole lot of bafflegab and bullshit and blatant lies.

Bendis was always a better writer than artist; I think he says that, in almost exactly those words, somewhere in this book. So it’s not surprising in retrospect that he turned in the drawing board to focus on the word processor. This is, I think, one of the last big projects he drew, and it’s fun and cartoony and full of energy – I don’t think a story this personal and “here’s what happened to me” would work as well drawn by someone else – so it was a suitable way to wind down that part of his career.

And the Hollywood stuff is entertaining, in the vein of a million other Hollywood stories from the past century or so: the names change, but the story is always the same.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.