Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Harley Quinn: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: Harley Quinn: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: Harley Quinn: The Complete First SeasonThe live-action and animated originals found at DC Universe go where Marvel’s Netflix series chose not to dwell. While the twisted characters are as dark, the language and violence go further, with even more overt sexuality.

While it has an appeal with live-action, seeing this with Harley Quinn is disturbing. Seeing her animated form cavort through corpses, mass destruction, and friendship reminds us of her WB debut on Batman: The Animated Series, over 25 years ago. So, the first season of the new show, out now on disc from Warner Archive, is aimed at those who grew up with her, not their children.

Everyone is foul-mouthed and the gratuitous violence and mayhem seem to be the animators’ way of showing that they can do it rather than a story’s need for it. Most of the R-rated material is unnecessary and distracts from what is the show’s strength: its characterization.

Long before Margot Robbie was emancipated in February’s Harley Quinn film, the cartoon Harley (Kaley Cuoco) opened her show by breaking up with the Joker (Alan Tudyk), urged on by her gal pal, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell).

Harley wants to be a member of the Legion of Doom, but Mr. J explained sidekicks weren’t welcome. Nor were partners. Her desire forms the spine for the season, as well as evolving her relationship with the Clown Prince of Crime, culminating in a solid showdown finale.

There are plenty of other Gotham figures appearing throughout the series, from a horribly mischaracterized Commissioner Gordon (Chris Meloni) to a fun Riddler (Jim Rash) and tragic Clayface (Tudyk). Even JLA foe Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) makes an appearance. And yes, of course, the Dark Knight (Diedrich Bader) himself is a frequent guest as doe members of the League.

The thirteen twenty-two-minute episodes come from executive producers Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Dean Lorey, whose NBC series Powerless was short on funny, which may explain why the funny here is so uneven.

Harley Quinn season 2, episode 9 live stream: Watch onlineThis is about Harley’s growth as a woman; a strong, capable woman charting her own destiny. She has outgrown the Joker’s psychological hooks and has clear goals for herself. The buddy-buddy relationship with Poison Ivy becomes something more in the second season, streaming now. Those who remember her as the dependent, damaged lovesick companion clearly haven’t paid attention to her New 52 comics incarnation or the alterations seen in the feature films.

The trick has been keeping her likable enough for us to root for her and here, the writers have done a fine job. Aided by Cuoco’s assured delivery, this is a Quinn who stands up herself and is ready to commit larceny, carnage, and other crimes to achieve her goals.

Ivy, though, isn’t what we have come to expect. She’s not the ecoterrorist nor is she the gay best friend as she embarks on a heterosexual romance for a while, something that bothers both viewer and Harley.

The character designs are familiar enough and you can quibble with the appearance of some. This Joker seems to be bits and pieces from other incarnations and not to my liking but most of the others, from Batman to Aquaman to Riddler, are just fine. The animation itself is stiff and somewhat limited – the animated features spoiled us. These are certainly watchable and at times fun, but I expected a lot more.

The episodes are on two DVD discs with no special features.

REVIEW: Jaws 45th Anniversary Edition

REVIEW: Jaws 45th Anniversary Edition

Summer has always been peak movie season and there certainly have been major releases before 1975. But a combination of elements came together in a perfect storm of entertainment that created something new: the summer blockbuster. You start with a stellar adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel in the hands of a young, still-developing but promising director in Steven Spielberg, a strong cast anchored by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, and a fresh score from John Williams. Altogether, Jaws burst into the American consciousness. It rewrote the rules for Hollywood success, rules that only recently have been challenged.

Universal Home Entertainment is releasing a 45th anniversary edition, coming to 4K Ultra HD for the first time, complete in a combo pack with Blu-ray and Digital HD. The limited-edition packaging includes a lenticular cover and a 48-page booklet with a fine overview.

I am among a handful of Americans left to have never seen the film before now. One of the first things I noticed was that the film luxuriates in al the little touches, the background conversations, leisurely aspects of American summer, and variety of types. We’re welcomed into the community of Amity, which could be Anywhere, USA. Then, once the horror is revealed, the focus shifts to the trio of unlikely allies.

Spielberg lets the tension build with the first few shark incidents while letting the scenes play out. The longer scenes and tight editing combine to draw you in, and keep you glued to your seats. Verna Fields was a brilliant editor, and her touch missed; while Williams, two years pre-Star Wars, reminded us of the importance of the score. Both earned Academy Awards for this picture.

While I mentioned the trio at the to of the cast, they are surrounded by a really strong support team led by Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb (who co-wrote the script with Benchley), and Lorraine Gary. Scheider represents the audience, learning about the predator and coming to grips with the deadly threat, the everyman trying to do the right thing while dealing with the political and economic pressures brought on by the Mayor (Hamilton).

With Bruce the shark (the name given to the semi-successful mechanical version) as the real antagonist, Shaw’s Quint brings us to the darkness within the ocean and ourselves. His work was always strong and the 1970s was his heyday (The Strong, Jaws, Robin and Marion, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3).

There is so much I knew about the film before sitting down with it, I was concerned it would spoil the experience. Not so, for there is much I never had seen before. There is obvious loving care taken the producing this new disc with a stellar 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD transfer. The first thing you notice is the grain, something immediately connoting age these days, but you quickly adjust and appreciate the clarity. This is a leap beyond the previous Blu-ray disc. It is accompanied by a fine Dolby Atmos soundtrack, letting you enjoy Williams’ work all over again. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is equally good.

The 2012 special features are included here including The Making of Jaws (2:02:48), The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws (1:41:06), Jaws: The Restoration (8:29), Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (13:33), From the Set (8:46), and Theatrical Trailer (3:15). The Blu-ray contains Storyboards, Production Photos, Marketing Jaws, and Jaws Phenomenon.

We are reminded again how producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown took a chance on Spielberg, against Universal’s instincts and scored beyond anyone’s imagination. With summer upon us, and new films hard to find, this is a good time to revisit the one that started a trend.

REVIEW: The rest of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

REVIEW: The rest of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

In time for the digital streaming release of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, I had the chance to see a digital version of the film which I reviewed here.

Warner Home Entertainment sent out the 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD combo pack for further examination. The feature itself is just lovely to watch on 4K, both audio and video are superb.

The real fun this time are the Special Features starting with the DC Showcase: Adam Strange (16:05). J.M. DeMatteis wrote a fine tale, tragically updating the story of the archeologist who found himself becoming the hero of distant Rann. We see Adam (Charlie Weber ) on Rann, too late to stop a Thanagarian attack that seemed to kill his wife, Alanna. A Zeta beam transports him back to an asteroid mining colony located cheekily in Space Sector 24601, where he succumbs to despair and alcohol. Until… It’s an interesting take on the concept although it has zero bearing on the comic (Adam is a blond!).

We then have Darkseid: New God / Evil Classic (14:57) as the creative team and others, notably Jack Kirby’s former assistant Mark Evanier, pay tribute to Darkseid, Kirby’s greatest contribution to DC in the 1970s. Other contributors include directors Matt Peters and Christine Sotta, DC Daily host Hector Navarro, and executive producer James Tucker.

The Audio Commentary – Directors Matt Peters and Christine Sotta, executive producer James Tucker, and screenwriter Ernie Altbacker talk the freedom being in the “Tuckerverse” and wrapping this reality, created all the way back in the Flashpoint film. There are interesting insights and anecdotes.

Sneak Peek: Superman, Man of Tomorrow (8:35) previews the next animated entry, coming later this year.

From the DC Vault – Justice League Action: “Zombie King” and “Abate and Switch” and Teen Titans: “Nevermore”.

Definitely not an entry point so if you liked the series of interconnected films, this is for you. Others can wait for the next standalone.

REVIEW: Silicon Valley: the Complete Sixth Season

REVIEW: Silicon Valley: the Complete Sixth Season

Silicon Valley was a wonderful sitcom for HBO that carefully traced and satirically commented on the tech boom. In our world, the companies were filled with geeks, nerds, and weirdos who were suddenly making millions off bits and bytes. There are the outsized figures who become household names and the financiers hoping to catch a rainbow. So, of course, it was an ideal setting for a series and it managed six seasons, despite interruptions and real-world distractions.

And here we are at the end. Warner Archive has just released Silicon Valley: the Complete Sixth Season on DVD. While the show was about technology and corporate America, it was also, at its core, about friends so it’s no surprise that through the start of Pied Piper through the final episode we still have Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Dinesh Chugtal (Kumail Nanjiani).

We pick up at a pivotal time for tech as Congress has seemingly woken up to their existence and we find Facebook, Google, Amazon, Pied Piper, and their archnemesis Hooli speaking to a Senate Committee about data mining. It’s timely and important to see them playing with the big boys. Despite Richard’s protestations that Pied Piper would never collect user data, he is disabused of the dream when Colin (Neil Casey) confirms that it is exactly what they’re doing. And we’re off.

They have a bigger operation, newer, shinier offices, more people to run things, but the focus rarely strays from the core cast, and that’s as it should be.

Reflecting the tense mood of the times, as people cast a jaundiced eye on the big tech, we could enjoy the antisocial gaffes, childish pranks, and antics of this crew. As the season progresses, we watch the growing influence and value of Artificial Intelligence, especially as Pied Piper comes up with something that is huge. So huge that AT&T wants it but as they learn the lesson that so many science fiction movies and novels have explored for decades, once AI gets smarter than humans, there’s trouble on the horizon.

As a result, the final two episodes raise moral and ethical issues that truly challenge our team and we can see that despite all that has happened, Richard and Gilfoyle remain true to themselves. In a final bit, similar to the coda at the end of The Deuce, which ran concurrently, we jump ten years into the future to learn what becomes of everyone. It’s prescient and feels just right.

A lot of the credit goes to the cast, but they were selected by Mike Judge, who created and produced the series along with Alec Berg, joined this season by Clay Tarver as co-showrunner. The writing has always remained sharp, occasionally inspired.

These seven episodes nicely round out the series. The DVD transfer is perfectly fine if unspectacular and there are no special features included with this.

The Wallace Mystery by Rick Geary

I’ve written a lot about Rick Geary here over the years; I’ll try not to repeat myself too much now. His comics work for the past couple of decades has been variously-titled series of graphic novels, generally in a slightly smaller physical format than a standard pamphlet comic, about famous historical murders of the last two hundred years, in the US and UK. (Or regions that are today parts of those nations, to be pedantic.)

There was the Treasury of Victorian Murder, the Treasury of XXth Century Murder (which may officially be ongoing), the Little Murder Library (which is definitely ongoing), and various one-offs and other things. The one thing they all had in common: murders that got a lot of media attention at the time, so they had enough primary and secondary sources for Geary to sift through to make his comics.

The most recent book in this long string is The Wallace Mystery; it’s part of “Little Murder Library.” Like the previous books in that series, Geary self-published it through his Home Town Press, and publicized and capitalized it through a pre-publication Kickstarter campaign. It’s not yet available in his webstore — and not available anywhere else that I can see — but will probably be available through Geary eventually.

For now, you might have to settle for me telling you about it.

Geary’s self-published books are a bit less “finished” than the ones he publishes through others (mostly NBM, the last twenty-five years or so). The front covers are simpler, there’s less text on the back, and the spine is really minimalist. The art is comparable in style: one or two largeish panels, fully drawn with watercolors to add depth and tone. The text is typeset, though, in a square all-caps font  that is clean and readable but which I don’t love that much. (And comics feel less like comics when the type is clearly set — a good font-based-on-the-artist’s-lettering can go a long way to avoid that.)

But they’re otherwise pure Geary — it’s just Geary with less publishing support, obviously because he’s doing just about all of the work himself.

Wallace Mystery tells the story of the 1931 murder of Julia Wallace of Liverpool, a 52-year-old married woman with no obvious enemies or problems. For the usual reasons, her husband William was the primary suspect, and ended up going to trial for the killing. Geary tells the story in his usual style: generally straightforward, but occasionally florid, with excursions into theory and unanswered questions, the product of a mind pulling on all of the strings at once.

Geary runs through the whole story, through the death of William and the other major characters. That’s one of the benefits of his matter: you can end cleanly if everyone is dead, even if important facts (like actual proof of the murderer) are still in dispute.

Wallace Mystery is not one of Geary’s major books: in general, my advice with Geary is to pick a murder case you’ve heard of and read that book first. Unless you’re an expert on Liverduplian history, this will not be that. But it’s another good entry in that string, and it’s great to see him still doing his thing, dependably and well, this far along in his career.

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

REVIEW: The Deuce: The Complete Third Season

As a teenager, I walked the streets of Times Square, warned about its squalid, sordid nature. It was clear from the movie marquees that porn was readily available along with peep shows and prostitutes were visible on many street corners.

HBO’s The Deuce filled in the gaps in my knowledge by exploring what went on inside those buildings as it expertly showcased the pimps, prostitutes, porn producers, and mobsters whose lives were inextricably intertwined along with the politicians, cops, and reporters on the fringes. From David Simon, George Pellicanos, and Richard Price, they brought their expert eye and storytelling skills to the three seasons, covering 1971-1985.

The Deuce: The Complete Third Season is now out on DVD from Warner Archive and gives us a chance to reflect and salute the show. Produced by and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, she inhabited Eileen “Candy” Merrell as a hooker who aspired to more and set against the rising tide of feminism in American society, did whatever it took to become her own director, creating a sub-genre of “smart” porn. We watch her hustle to raise the funds and coax her cast, including Lori Madison (Emily Meade), into doing more than moan on command. As Eileen fought for everything, including the price of her relationship with her son, Lori skyrocketed to fame and fortune, then became a tragic figure.

Female empowerment grows throughout the series, notably with Abigail “Abby” Parker (Margarita Leieva), an upper-class college grad who winds up tending bar and getting deep into the left-wing politics of the day. Similarly, there’s Ashley (Jamie Neumann), a prostitute who transformed into an activist. Their stories are as compelling and vital as are the ones surrounding sex, drugs, and crime.

While their story was one pillar, so too was the story of twins Vincent and Frankie Martino (James Franco), one determined to keep the sordidness at arm’s length until he could go legit, while the morally-challenge other went for the quick buck regardless of consequences. Both worked for Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli), the mob’s capo responsible for the sex industry. Their interactions build to a series of, ahem, climaxes this season which shows how insidious the business was regardless of how the financial model changed.

By jumping from 1977 to 1984, where most of the season is set, we watch the arrival of the video cassette recorder, transforming how porn was made, distributed, and consumed. After all, as has been proven time and again, porn is always on the leading edge of new technology with its purveyors among the earliest adopters. It’s interesting to watch as people scramble to adapt, adopt, and profit. Some are good at it, others feel left behind.

In a coda to the final episode, we jump to 2019 and there’s Vincent, seemingly the sole survivor, the winner after walking a tightrope for decades. He’s alone and seemingly adrift ina world he no longer recognizes as he strolls Times Square, now awash in garish lighting to appeal to tourists as the ghosts of all he knew and loved to keep him company.

The eight episodes are on DVD and look just fine, if not as crisp as the original cable broadcast. They are accompanied by the short feature Setting the Scene: 1985 along with the Inside the Episode discussions that ran with the original 2019 broadcasts.

Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez

Two years later, here’s a one-shot I Love (And Rockets) Monday — because the Brothers Hernandez have kept making comics, and those comics do make their way into books eventually, and even more eventually I will read them.

Is This How You See Me?  collects a Jaime story that ran from the end of the book-size annual New Stories into the beginning of the current magazine-sized Vol. IV comic. And I covered it, more or less, in the last post of the main run of I Love (And Rockets) Mondays.

The story? Maggie and Hopey, now pushing fifty (possibly from the other side) head back to Hoppers together for a punk reunion that neither one of them is all that enthusiastic about.

Well, Hopey is never enthusiastic in a positive way about anything: she was a ball of chaos in her youth, and has settled into a cynical sour middle age. Maggie is more mercurial, as usual, wanting to believe that things will be wonderful but continually remembering all of the other times she believed that things would be wonderful and they weren’t.

So they both know that you can’t go home again. And they don’t live that far from home to begin with: they didn’t get that far or do that much, all of their dreams of rock ‘n’ roll or prosolar mechanicdom to the contrary. We don’t know what their old friends do for a living, exactly, but we suspect they’re more successful: Terry has been making music all this time, at least successfully enough to have a career as a leader of various bands. And Daffy was never as punky as the rest, a girl from the nicer side of town who went off to college and seems to be solidly in the professional/managerial class. (Remembering that Maggie manages an apartment building and Hopey is a teacher’s aide — both jobs they fell into in mid-life when other things fell apart.)

None of that is text, but it’s definitely subtext. Punk was one of the regular youth-fueled screams of rage and rebellion, giving voice to people who felt like their lives had no good options. And they were not wrong.

But we all have to live our lives, not just protest them. Punk bravado burns out, or starts looking silly. Maggie and Hopey are long past the point where punk attitude was relevant to their lives, so this is like any other reunion: wondering who will be there, whether any of it will be worth it, whether it can provide any of those moments of clarity we live for.

This reunion is scripted by Jaime Hernandez. So there will be moment of clarity, for us as readers if not for his characters. I’m afraid Jaime’s central characters are cursed to never have clarity: that may the most central thing about Maggie and Hopey. They will never really understand themselves, or each other.

Well, I may be wrong. They’re getting older, and they’re getting better at seeing clearly.

This is the story of one weekend in about 2016, with flashbacks to 1979, when the two girls were young and fearless and something that passed for innocent and damaged in different ways than their middle-aged selves. I can’t say if it will be as heartbreaking for people who can’t remember 1979 — who haven’t lived fifty or so years themselves. I think so: I think Jaime is that good. But it has more punch the more of this connects with you personally, like any good art.

The more any of us live, the more regrets and what-ifs we accumulate. They can overwhelm us, I guess, if we let them. Is This How You See Me? is about wandering through those piles of regrets and what-ifs without actually talking about them, about seeing where you are this year and looking back in wonder and surprise and awe at who you were forty years ago.

It does not have the electric shock of The Love Bunglers. It’s a quieter book, a middle-aged book. But it’s just as strong, just as true, just as real. And Jaime Hernandez is still one of our best storytellers, working fearlessly in a form he’s made his own.

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

REVIEW: The Invisible Man

REVIEW: The Invisible Man

REVIEW: The Invisible ManAfter its creative misfires reviving their classic monsters, it is understandable audiences were cautious about Universal’s latest offering, The Invisible Man. Thankfully divorced from that shared universe, this retelling of the H.G. Wells tale stakes out new ground thanks to surehanded direction and a stellar performance from Elisabeth Moss. The film was one of the few bright spots in the abbreviated 2020 film season and is out now disc from Universal Home Entertainment.

The novel was a product of its time, the science fuzzy enough to be accepted by the genteel readership, the thrills delivered through its gripping third-person narration, a change of pace for Wells, who was rapidly becoming the father of science fiction with his works. There, Griffin altered his physiology to become invisible but grows mad with his attempts to find a way to reverse the process. As serialized, it was a ripping yarn that has been endlessly adapted ever since.

Here, as written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the focus is shifted from the tragic figure to a potential victim. Rather than a science fiction or horror tale, this becomes a psychological thriller, leaving audiences wondering through its 2:04 running time whether the title character is real or a figment of her fractured imagination.

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship with the unpleasant Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), until she enacts a long-gestating plan to run away. After nearly failing, she finds sanctuary for a fortnight with her old friend Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). She is suffering a horrible case of PTSD, so frightened of the outside that the concept of seeking professional help (or a restraining order) is beyond her.

Freedom is dangled before her when word is received that Adrian is dead. But is he? Soon, she begins hearing things, seeing things, feeling things that suggest she is being tormented by Adrian but is invisible to the eye. In time, her nerves frayed, her manic tone suspects, she tries to convince James Adrian is back, invisible, and seeking revenge for leaving him. James is concerned and her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) suspicious of her.

Things build, the tension building with a quickening pace and you can see for yourself what happens next. It is a contemporary spin, for sure, with more a strong dose of female empowerment. While Hodge and especially Rain are underutilized, the film is really Moss’ and she owns it, bringing all her gifts to bear.

The film is out in the usual formats including Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.  The 1080p transfer is very strong which is essential when the visual details count. The colors are sharp and the lowly lit scenes easy to follow. Even better is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

The Special Features are the usual assortment starting with a solid Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Leigh Whannell and followed by nine Deleted Scenes (13:24); Moss Manifested (3:54); Director’s Journal with Leigh Whannell (10:51); The Players (5:24), and Timeless Terror (3:04).

Given our limited theatrical choices in the months ahead, you would do well to catch this one.

By Night, Vol. 1 by Allison, Larsen, and Stern

I am unabashedly a John Allison fan; I’ll say that up front. I may not have been quite as much of a long-term Allison fan as some — I discovered him around the time Scarygoround begat Bad Machinery, if I remember correctly — but I’ve been reading his stuff for a decade or two and writing about it here for nearly as long.

So if I say that his new-ish series By Night , whose first volume I just read, is slightly disappointing, I want to be clear that I mean that I am not gushing about it in the manner I usually do for Allison projects. It’s fun and zippy and quirky and interesting; it’s a good comic. It’s just not as Allisonian (at least to me) as I hoped.

So, now that I’ve just deflated the whole thing before I even started, what is this By Night comic, anyway?

Well, it’s written by Allison, as I implied. Art is by Christine Larsen (probably best known for a stint on the Adventure Time comic; possessor of an awesome website with lots of excellent art) with colors by Sarah Stern (whose website is only very slightly less awesome). It began in mid-2018 and seems to have ended with issue #12.

It’s about two young women, former friends from school who meet again in their dead-end town in their mid-twenties and go on a quirky supernatural adventure together, eventually pulling in a larger cast of oddballs from that town. So far, it sounds very Allisonian.

But the town in question in By Night is Spectrum, South Dakota, and Allison is exceptionally British. (One might even say quintessentially so.) There are other parts of By Night that made my editor’s red-pen hand twitch, but the core of my uneasiness is that Allison’s dialogue and phrasing here is often not quite American, while also not quite being as sprightly and clever as his usual. He is definitely aiming to write Americans, and it was a grand experiment…I just think that it doesn’t play to his strengths.

Anyway, Jane Langstaff is the studious, serious one and Heather Meadows is the free-wheeling wild child (as we have seen often before in Allison’s work). They meet up again in this dying town, and Heather convinces Jane to go along on her mad scheme to investigate the newly-unprotected Charleswood Estate, which was once the commercial heart of the town, back before its founder and driving force disappeared mysteriously. They go there, and discover a portal to an alternate world populated with fantasy creatures and various dangers, wandering in and out a couple of times, guided by a goofball local, and…well, that’s about it in these four issues.

I assume there’s a larger story about that mysterious founder, and probably Deep Secrets about the fantasy world, and these issues have plenty of plot, but it doesn’t end up going in ways that makes much of a story. Things happen, then other things happen, and a few more people learn about the portal — but what, if anything, any of that means isn’t clear at this point.We also don’t see much of the fantasy world; the story tends to cut away from it to go back to our world — either because Allison is more interested in the real-world end, because he’s setting up for a bigger reveal later, or just because, I can’t say.

There’s one more collection available, of the next four issues, and I expect a third will be forthcoming to finish it up. (Well, maybe I hope it will be forthcoming; from the publication schedule, I would have expected it last fall.) I plan to see where this goes; it’s not a long story, and the creators are all doing good work. So I reserve the right to later say that I’ve changed my mind, and this is just as awesome as other Allison works. That would be a nice outcome, actually: I want to love things.

If you’re less of an Allison fan than I am, I wouldn’t pick this as your entry point. Giant Days or his webcomics (which have the advantage of being free) are much better for that. But if you want to see how he handles Americans: here you go.

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

The Eye of Mongombo, Book One by Doug Gray

Serialization, the fans of floppy comics are fond of telling us, means that stories actually get told, since their creators can get paid while they’re working. If a creator had to finish an entire story before publishing anything…well, that might take years, and clearly no one can live on nothing for years and so, ipso facto, Batman has to punch people every month or else comics won’t exist at all.

(I may be horribly mangling their argument for my own purposes.)

But serialization just means that stories can start. Market forces, timing, and the creators’ circumstances will affect that story once it’s running — no storytelling mechanism can avoid those things. And so a lot of serialized stories don’t manage to end. They stop mid-way, for whatever reason, to be picked up later, quietly forgotten (Billy Nguyen), loudly forgotten (All-Star Batman and Robin), or stop-and-start for an extended period of time (Hepcats).

Which all brings us to Doug Gray and The Eye of Mongombo . It was a comic book from Fantagraphics, launched in 1989 and expected to run twelve issues, but the last issue was #7, in 1991. I read it at the time, enjoyed it a lot, and kept hoping it would come back — I’ve mentioned it on this blog a few times, I think.

Spongebob Narrator Voice: twenty-eight years later

Doug Gray re-emerged last year with a Kickstarter and a plan to finally finish Eye of Mongombo and publish it as three album-format books. The campaign did not hit its funding target, but Gray decided to finish the story anyway, and the first book was published at the beginning of this year. So I got to read a big chunk of Eye of Mongombo for the first time in a few decades — I did own the comics (until they were destroyed, with all of my other comics and most of my books, in the Flood of ’11), but I don’t think I’d pulled them out to read since maybe the mid-90s at best.

Eye is a goofy late-80s comic, from deep into the black-and-white boom, and it did set off to tell one story. A long, convoluted, silly story packed with reverses and incidents, yes — one that could be told well in serialized form — but a single story.

Our hero is two-fisted anthropologist Dr. Cliff Carlson, who begins the story by first being fired by one nemesis (department head Nuskle) and quickly afterward being turned into a duck by another nemesis (Jumballah, some kind of witch doctor). Cliff is smart and cunning and quick on his feet, so being duck-ified only momentarily slows him down: he’s soon off to find the fabled treasure of the title along with his unworldly grad student Mick and his sexy girlfriend/fellow adventurer Raquel.

Unfortunately, Nuskle stole the map for the eye, so Cliff and friends are chasing “Numbskull” (and his dimwit brother-in-law). And there’s at least one other group, some nefarious types who also seem to be among Cliff’s many nemeses. All set off for South America, variously hiding from, stalking, and attempting to murder each other.

Gray went into animation after Eye‘s aborted first serialization, and his story has the energy and one-damn-thing-after-another pacing of a good cartoon. It manages to stay a silly adventure story rather than a parody, which is a tricky balancing act: Gray isn’t making fun of his characters (well, not all of them), but using them to tell a story with funny parts.

The art looks pretty much like I remember the original Eye, but the Kickstarter page has multiple examples of improved panels compared to the originals. Clearly, my memory is faulty…or Gray got pretty good by the end of the first serialization, and that’s what I’m remembering. Either way, it will be interesting to see what the back half of Eye looks like, once we get past the reworked early-90s stuff and get into entirely new pages.

Eye is not great literature. It’s not a lost comics classics. But it’s a great goofy adventure story, filled with oddball characters and drawn with verve. I liked it a lot in 1989, and I still like it a lot now. I really hope Gray manages to finish it this time and maybe, just maybe, goes on to do other stories as well.

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