Category: Reviews

Book-A-Day 2018 #232: Luba and Her Family by Gilbert Hernandez

Last week, I looked at what Jaime Hernandez did right after the ending of the first Love and Rockets comics series in 1996. At the time, that could have been anything: completely different comics work, gallery paintings, film work, becoming a hermit in darkest Upper Slower Slobbovia. But, as it turned out, Jaime continued the same story sequence in basically the same tone and style in a series of related comics series.

And his brother Gilbert did the same thing: Luba and Her Family  collects comics from mostly 1995 through 2001 (with one 2011 story up front just to confuse bibliographers of the future) that originally appeared in floppy form in Luba and Luba’s Comics and Stories and Measles and New Love. It follows most obviously from the latter clump of stories in Human Diastrophism and from the two graphic novels in Beyond Palomar; the focus is on Luba and her sisters Fritzi and Petra, and their extended families in Southern California — particularly on Petra’s precocious daughter Venus.

They’re not stories set in Palomar, but they’re stories of that now-extended cluster of people with connections to Palomar. Besides the cluster of stories about Venus, there’s also the short serial “Luba in America,” presented here in something like its original serialized form, each installment interspersed between other stories, though feeling like it was originally going to be longer. And the rest of the stories are less defined: they’re mostly about Luba’s daughters, particularly TV-show-host Doralis, and there’s a minor thread running through about how nearly all of them are lesbians and haven’t managed to tell their mother yet. But, mostly, they’re Gilbert family stories: each showing another moment or series of moments, another set of interactions in this big family full of prickly complex people, and how they’re bouncing off each other this time.

The Venus stories are probably the most interesting and distinct: Hernandez had been doing complicated-family stories for twenty years at this point, and he was definitely good at them, but the outlines and details were familiar. Venus, on the other hand, was a smart kid — probably nine or ten in these stories — in a rich-kid LA setting, equally concerned with her friends, her family, and comic books. She gives us a different perspective on her family — particularly her deeply selfish mother — in an almost unreliable-narrator way; Venus sees or is close to things that we’re not sure she understands or can process correctly. Venus herself mostly keeps a light tone: she’s young, and deliberately happy, and surrounded by a big loving (sometimes loving too much with the wrong people, but that’s a different point) family. But the reader is presumably older and more experienced than she is: we see and understand things she glosses over.

But, mostly, this is middle-period Hernandez: he’s moved beyond the magical realism-tinted village stories of the early days to something more traditionally soap-operatic, with the central elements sexual affairs and old secrets and family ties. These particular stories are all domestic, without the gangster flourishes of Poison River or the noir stylings of his later “movie” books of this century. This book might be the best example of that kind of pure domestic Gilbert Hernandez story available now, and close to the beginning of the stories of these people.

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

REVIEW: Gotham the Complete Fourth Season

People who have stuck with Gotham since its inception will admit it is over-the-top, over-packed, and incredibly messy but they can’t stop watching. Thankfully, an increasing number of people have gotten wise to the nonsense and the ratings dictated that the forthcoming short season five will be its last.

Gotham the Complete Fourth Season, out Tuesday from Warner Home Entertainment, presents all 22 episodes on four Blu-ray discs and you can see for yourself the chaos that masquerades as a prequel to Bruce Wayne becoming Batman (an act we’re promised we’ll prematurely see in 2019 when the series returns).

From the outset, the villains have always been outsized personalities, with grand schemes, unable to spread their criminal behavior to neighboring cities. Something roots them to Gotham even though none never clearly win. They would rather fight with or betray one another, each with some ambitious plan that seems to smack up against someone else’s plan.

Then you have the civilians with the women a collection of off-kilter kooks and the men relatively flat and uninteresting. The titular focal point, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) spends the season regaining his moral center, setting him and Bruce (David Mazouz) as Gotham’s savior as it descends into No Man’s Land. While producers Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon will tell you, the season was loosely following the Batman Year One and Batman: The Long Halloween storylines, you’d be hard pressed to see how.

I suppose the whole Sofia Falcone (Crystal Reed) power play can be traced to the latter event, but in name only. Her scheme to rule Gotham with Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Tabitha Jessica Lucas), and Selina (Carmen Bicondova) pits her against the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and his Iceberg Lounge, where he doles out permission to commit crimes like a lord. To fight back, he summons Sofia’s dad, Carmine (John Dorman) to handle his scion only to lose his life.

GOTHAM: Camren Bicondova in the “Pax Penguina” season premiere episode of GOTHAM.

Once the pieces are in place after the first half season, we then move things into high gear, tearing the city further apart, creating the finale as Gotham is cut off from America and everyone carves up the streets into fiefdoms. Behind the scenes, the would-be-Joker Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) casts a cackling shadow. His shooting of Selina at the end echoes Killing Joke and takes her off the board for now.

As the chaos descends. Bruce is in a teenage funk, an emo-boy as opposed to a vigilante in training, refusing help from Alfred (Sean Pertwee). Thankfully, he has enough sense also to not kill Ra’s al Ghul (Alexander Siddig), who sees something in the kid none of us do.

Thankfully, the city is large enough so there’s plenty of scenery for every actor to chew. They all get choice moments and good lines now and then, but everything is moving at such a fast clip, you’re riveted to the screen so you don’t miss a twist. And I suppose that’s the mad genius behind this wreck of a series.

The high definition transfer to 16×9 1:78:1 audio with DTS-HD Master Audio are fine for watching the madness on any screen.

The special features are scattered across the four discs starting with deleted scenes for four episodes on the first disc; and one deleted scene on the second disc; and no deleted scenes on the third disc. Disc four, though, has no deleted scenes but you have Solomon Grundy: Born on a Monday, The Sirens Take Gotham, and The Best of DC TV’s Comic-Con Panels San Diego 2017 (58:25).

REVIEW: Arrow the Complete Sixth Season

Although Arrow set the tone and allowed the CW to grow its own integrated television universe, the series itself has been a maddening, uneven affair that always seems to take three steps forward then backslide at least one.

In what could have been a final season, that unevenness was never more frustrating as the show whipsawed characters and situations into increasingly dumb configurations that annoyed rather than entertained.

You can revisit all the nonsense in Arrow: The Complete Sixth Season, out now on Blu-ray and Digital HD from Warner Home Entertainment.

Season Five ended with Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) finally comfortable with one another, ready to resume their romance. Everyone is manipulated or kidnapped to find themselves on Lian Yu as Adrian Chase John Segara), who is excessively over-prepared, blows it all to hell.

We open the new season with the aftermath, starting with the death of Samantha (Anna Hopkins), who begs Oliver to care for their son William (Jack Moore), who has just learned of his father’s alter ego. As everyone is licking their wounds, we meet the tech savvy Cayden James (Michael Emerson), who is working to subvert Mayor Queen and ruin Star City. Not helping matters is FBI Agent Samanda Watson (Sydelle Noel), looking into the Mayor and the city’s leading vigilante.

Along the way, we have the crossover “Crisis on Earth-X” which ended with Ollie and Felicity finally tying the knot and shifting her from the geeky, fun, and intense hacker to the nurturing surrogate mother, watering her down as a character.

The producers decided their overstuffed Team Arrow needed pairing and contrived to force them into betraying and distrusting one another so they’re split into the Original Team and the New Team, none of which is convincingly handled. Neither is the internal strife between Ollie and John Diggle (David Ramsey), as they feud over which ones gets to play Green Arrow, further splitting the team.

In perhaps the most interesting twist, halfway through the season, James is killed off by the real mastermind behind everything, thuggish Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevado) who then is revealed to have somehow put every cop and judge in the city inside his suit pockets. Once more, the antagonist appears to have thought of everything while our heroes stumble into one another, blindly led into trap after trap, never growing wiser or better prepared. Aiding him is Anatoli (David Nykl), who really added little this season and was wasted while Black Siren (Katie Cassidy) seemed to play both sides against the middle with no clear agenda.

Diaz forces his way into The Quadrant, described as the secret cabal running America’s underworld but they come across as boobs, as one by one, Diaz shoots them without consequence. He, sadly, repeatedly survives near death and will remain a threat in the seventh season, commencing in October.

We wind up with Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) dead, Thea (Willa Holland) leaving to find herself, and the team reunited, saved from the FBI by Oliver giving himself up and going to prison so he has failed his city and is paying the price.

The sheer incoherence of the plotting spoils some great performances and the overemphasis on the amazing stunt fighting has long since become boring. Should the seventh be the final season, one hopes new showrunner Beth Schwartz will bring some dramatic coherence and discipline to the series.

The Blu-ray discs are AVC encoded 1080p transfers in 1.78:1 with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, making for a fine home entertainment experience.

The special features are scattered across the four discs with the first offering up The Split of a Man: Deathstroke (11:48); the second gives us an in-depth Inside the Crossover: Crisis on Earth X (41:59); the third offers up Revenge in Ones and Zeros: The Story of Cayden James (10:52), which just reminds us how wasted Emerson was; and finally The Best of DC’s Comic Con Panels San Diego 2017 (58:27). No deleted scenes or gag reel this time.

REVIEW: The Death of Superman

Doomsday. The unstoppable engine of destruction also appears to be the unstoppable antagonist having been a regular in the comics since 1992 and brought to the animated and live-action films. The sheer power on display is catnip and allows DC Comics’ most powerful figure to go mano y mano.

The DC Animated Universe of direct-to-video films has been uneven, usually a result of either poor writing, bad directing, or off-putting character design. That they are now linked, building a shared universe is a small pleasure as the producers mine the comics for stories to adapt and weave into their mythos.

The Death of Superman story has been adapted repeatedly but the latest attempt, now available digitally from Warner Bros Home Entertainment, but this may be the most satisfying version. A large part of the credit has to go to writer Peter J. Tomasi, who brings a tremendous amount of humanity to the characters along with some much-needed humor.

Not only does this adapt the classic 1992 story, but also works within the animated universe as it uses their version of the Justice League, nicely uses the Man of Steel’s supporting cast, actively involves Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson), and sows the seeds for the follow-up Reign of the Superman adaptation, coming later this year.

As Doomsday hurtles to Earth, Superman (Jerry O’Connell) is wrestling with the decision to reveal his secret to Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn), soliciting advice from his ex, Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), and the Flash (Christopher Gorham), who is about to finally marry. Elsewhere, we get glimpses of Lex working on programs despite his house arrest, making him the first to be aware of the danger to humanity.

When Doomsday emerges from the sea, he is making his way across America and the League is summoned to handle the matter but in typical animated style, we see only one member fight the behemoth at a time as opposed to a coordinated group effort, a mistake directors Sam Liu and James Tucker keep repeating. That said, it certainly was nice to see them in action, their personalities clear from Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) to Martian Manhunter (Nyambi Nyambi).

Given the level of devastation, it feels like it takes Superman too much time to get involved, but once he does, he gives it his all as the two battle across Metropolis, including a brutal fight on a bridge that endangers hundreds of civilians.

Of course, Lois and Jimmy Olsen (Max Mitttelman) are on hand for the finale, with Lois risking her life when it appears Superman was down for the count. In fact, having Superman put it all into the killing blow to save her is a great emotional beat.

And then we get the aftermath, the funeral, the tears, and the sense of loss. During the end credits, we cut away repeatedly to tease the coming of the Superboy clone, John Henry Irons (Cress Williams) forging the Steel suit, a floating Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman entering the atmosphere.

Frederik Wiedmann delivers a strong score to match a well-written, very entertaining film, the best in the series to date. Tomasi and the team sprinkle several winks to readers and long-time fans, adding to the enjoyment. The only design issue I have is that the heroes have bull necks and Superman’s face is just wrong.

Released in the usual assortment of packages, the 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray looks just fine, and the lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix is good.

There are just two special features, the obligatory tease for Reign of the Supermen (9:33) and  The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All (16:23), a somewhat bloated look at the battle with martial arts expert Christian Medina, along with the usual talking heads, talk about its construction. Sadly, the only participants from the core material was original story editor Mike Carlin and artist Jon Bogdanove.

The two contributions from the DC Comics Vault are Legion of Super-Heroes, Season 2, “Dark Victory” Part 1 (22:54) and Part 2 (22:50), which were the series’ final offerings.

Book-A-Day 2018 #225: Penny Century by Jaime Hernandez

You might think the stories in this book would feel like a break, but they don’t.

Penny Century  collects work from Jaime Hernandez from the great Love and Rockets hiatus: from right after the end of the first comics series (in 1996) through 2002, just after the start of the second series. One might assume that the first series ended because the creators — Jaime and his brother Gilbert — wanted to shake the status quo up, and try different things.

But, for the evidence here, that wasn’t true on the Jaime side of the book: what he did immediately afterward was Whoa, Nellie!, a short graphic novel about the cluster of his usual characters connected to the world of women’s wrestling, and then immediately after the single-issue “Maggie and Hopey Color Fun Special,” starring his two most central and popular characters. (And then the solo series Penny Century, which focused slightly more on the title character, as this book does.)

Of course, these days — twenty years later — we just see Penny Century as the fourth collection reprinting Jaime’s Locas stories. There’s no break, and we don’t expect there to be one. Maggie and Hopey reunited at the end of the previous volume, which means…they’re mostly still living separate lives in different places in this book.

Jaime Hernandez might be a romantic in some ways — he does write great stories about the ways people love each other — but not the way we usually mean that term. Maggie and Hopey lived together, and had a relationship, for a short time when they were both very young, and have been separated for a good decade at this point. In fiction, we tend to assume that means they’re “meant” for each other, and that they’ll be deeply in love when they meet. But in a real world, it just means they each once was a different person, and those people were close.

And let’s not forget that one of the core traits of all of Jaime’s major characters — from Maggie to Doyle, from Ray D. to Speedy, from Hopey to Izzy — is that they all find ways to doubt and sabotage themselves. (The one singular exception is Penny Century, maybe because she resolutely refuses to be Beatriz Garcia, the person she would sabotage. That also makes her the most surface-y of Jaime’s characters, with quirks like repeatedly running away from her billionaire husband and wishing for superpowers substituting for more substantial flaws.)

That’s made clearer than ever in two of the long stories towards the end of this book: “The Race,” a Maggie dream sequence focusing on her worries and inadequacies, and “Everybody Loves Me, Baby,” the flashback-filled story of Maggie’s marriage and divorce to a guy from the old punk days. That self-destructive impulse may be most obvious, and most pervasive, in Maggie, but maybe that’s just because she’s the central character.

If you want to be really reductive, Locas is the story of people making choices — often without even realizing it was a choice — that turn out badly in the long run. Not genre fiction badly — real world badly. Like missing a step here and missing a step there and finding yourself older than you thought and without any of the things you thought you wanted. That’s where Jaime’s characters live: in that feeling, in that world.

They’re happy enough, like any of us: that’s what life is like. And Jaime Hernandez is one of the best at showing that feeling, that kind of life: his people feel like friends we’ve known all our lives, or like ourselves. Penny Century collects an era that’s not talked about a lot — not like “The Death of Speedy” for a decade before or the “Browntown” from a decade later — but it shows those people in the middle of those lives in all of their glory. And, as always, he draws like a dream.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #224: Knife’s Edge by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

It’s a welcome surprise to see a story wrap up in two books. Oh, there are still single-volume stories, even in these fallen days. But anything that goes longer than that seems to stretch on forever, or at least to go much longer than anyone expected when it began.

Not here, though.

Knife’s Edge  is the second half of the historical adventure graphic novel that began in Compass South ; the story began in the first book and conclusively ends here. Everything is wrapped up, all of the details mean something, and it ends the way Oscar Wilde said fiction should.

It may seem like faint praise to single out writer Hope Larson and artists Rebecca Mock for actually ending their story well the way they said it would, but it really isn’t: endings are much harder than beginnings. And doing it in a thematically appropriate way — this story is about a set of tween twins in 1859, and I won’t spoil all of the doublings and dual roles in the series — is even better.

We begin with a flashback, which may be confusing: I didn’t realize it was a flashback at first. But then Cleo and Alex Dodge’s father is shanghaied, and we all realize where we are. They were reunited with their father at the end of Compass South [1], and now they’re learning the backstory: who their mysterious mother and father are, since Mr. Dodge is not actually their father by blood. (Though he’s raised them since infancy.)

The twins are in possession of a compass and knife that, together, are the key to finding a lost pirate treasure, somewhere in the far South Pacific. And they are on a ship whose captain is willing to help search for that treasure, for a cut of it. But the pirates are not all safely dead with their treasures, and the antagonists from the first book come back with a faster ship and an eye for vengeance.

Before Knife’s Edge is over, we’ll have thrilling stern chases at sea, foot chases through a bustling town, sword training and fights, shipwrecks and betrayals, surprising allies and enemies, and a climactic visit to that treasure trove that will solve all of the plot complications in a moment.

We also have a very preliminary, tentative love story, though only for Cleo — there are very few women on board ships in the mid-19th century, so Alex will have to wait until he’s on the right shore.

It’s all presented in mostly bright, colorful art by Mock, using chapter heads and pages with wide white margins for a classic adventure-story feel. The people are real and historically honest; Cleo pushes against what a woman’s supposed to do in her time without being a superwoman, and she gets treated in complicated ways by the men around her — because she’s twelve on top of everything else.

Knife’s Edge doesn’t just end the story of Compass South; it ends that story well, which is more important. This series will mostly been seen in school and local libraries in the YA section, but it’s worth seeking out for adults who like historical adventures — it’s not quite swashbuckling, because it’s more realistic than that, but it does have excellent adventure and intrigue on the high seas.

[1] Not to give anything away, but there’s a nicely matching similar scene, with somewhat different characters at the end of this book.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #222: Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters & Brooke Allen

Any place with mysterious secrets has a backstory, by definition. And, the longer the creators take to roll out that backstory, the more convoluted and detailed it gets, with flashbacks and strange characters from the past and previously unknown giant mountains that are retroactively declared to have always been right over there.

Lumberjanes is full of secrets, at least at this point. (I’m running several years behind; maybe all the secrets have been answered and the comic is all-friendship-all-the-time now. But I doubt it.) Issues 14 through 17 of the comic, originally published in 2015 and collected the next year as Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time , has most of the stuff I somewhat sarcastically described in that first paragraph and more.

It also has a lot of all-friendship-all-the-time, since that’s the core of the series. There’s even a boy who gets in on the friendship, at least some of the time, possibly because he doesn’t feel quite at home with full-on boyishness. Whether all-friendship-all-the-time is available to male-identified persons is still an open question at this point.

If you’re not familiar with Lumberjanes, I can direct you to my posts on the previous three books: one and two and three . They’re probably not the very worst explanations of Lumberjanes online, at least.

But I do have to repeat, as I have every time I’ve written about Lumberjanes, that this is a series about young women (some people might call them girls) and their friendships. I am not now, and have never been a young woman, and I’ve been known to be grumpy about friendships.

So Lumberjanes is cute and positive and full of lovely art and smart and inclusive (of female persons) and adventurous and has interesting Deep Secrets that are being gradually revealed, but it’s a book for young women and the adults those young women grew into. I like it, and I think Lumberjanes is happy enough that people like me like it, but that’s not why it’s here.

That is fine. That is better than fine; too much of the history of art has been made for people very much like me, and is still made for people like me today. What I’m saying is that you might want to get a female person’s take on Lumberjanes. For just one example, can I point you to Johanna Draper Carlson , who is also much more up-to-date on reading all things Lumberjanes than I am?

Lumberjanes, as always, is written by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters, and all of the art here is by regular series artist Brooke Allen. There are also now a couple of novels written by Mariko Tamaki for those of you allergic to the comics format but still possessed with a burning desire to experience the glory that is Lumberjanes.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #223: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu

If you can read the stories of a whole bunch of women pioneers — such as the ones in the book I’m about to discuss — without being at least a little bit annoyed at men in general, frankly there’s something wrong with you.

And you can take “men in general” as expansively as you want, o dudes who insist “man” is always and ever a perfectly good word to mean “humanity.” There’s enough shittiness and negativity in the world for at least two genders.

But damn did every single advance for women come because a woman demanded it, fought for it, and faced down multiple men who insisted that not only shouldn’t she do that, it was physically impossible for her to do it, so she should just go back her knitting and housekeeping.

(And if I hear a single “not all men,” I’m going to smack you so hard. Nothing is all anything, you bozos.)

On the other hand, reading a bunch of stories like these is also energizing — sure, a lot of horrible people tried to stop nearly every woman in the book, but horrible people are ubiquitous (insert reference to the political figure of your choice here), but every one of these women did the thing they’re known for, despite that opposition.

So, yeah, people in general are the worst, but some individual people are the best — that’s the story of humanity from the beginning.

Penelope Bagieu has thirty individual stories to tell in Brazen — all individual people, all women, and generally of the best. (There are some debatable candidates here, like the awesome but also pretty bloody Wu Zetian, Empress of China.)

Each story gets a title page, a three-to-seven page comic (nine-panel grid) telling the story of her life in as much detail necessary for the story Bagieu has in mind, and then a lovely two-page spread, more evocative than purely illustrative, of the essence of what make that woman great.

The comics are good: text-heavy, but snappy and quick-moving, setting the scene for each of these women in their very different places and times. But those spreads are even better: if there was a gallery show of them, I’d want to go to see them large and in person.

Bagieu casts a wide net here, from modern US and Europe (Giorgina Reid, Betty Davis — yes, that’s the correct spelling, it’s not the woman you’re thinking of — Tove Jansson, Christine Jorgensen, Temple Grandin, Jesselyn Radack, Katia Krafft) to slightly more historical figures from the same places (the amazingly kick-ass Nellie Bly, Hedy Lamarr [1], Clementine Delait, Margaret Hamilton, Josephina van Gorkum, Delia Akeley) to women from further afield in time and space (Nzinga, Lozeb, Wu Zetian, Agnodice, Leymah Gbowee, Sonita Alizadeh). Unless you have really eclectic knowledge and tastes, some of them — maybe a lot of them — will be unfamiliar to you, which is a big plus.

Every story taught me something I didn’t know, which may say more about me than the book. Every one was zippy and fun: Bagieu is focusing on women who succeeded at something. (No Joan of Arc here, for example — the closest thing to a martyr is Las Mariposas, three rebel sisters from the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.)

It’s all true, it’s all good comics, Bagieu’s closing spreads for each woman are wonderfully iconic, and you might learn something, too. Brazen is a total win all around.

[1] True story: recently, in a work meeting, the ice-breaker question was “What Hollywood star, past or present, would you want to have dinner with?” I was having trouble thinking of anyone until I remembered Hedy: she was my easy choice.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #221: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 5: Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

The parade of odd would-be world-conquerors continues in this collection of Squirrel Girl’s exploits — I almost said “latest collection,” but I’m still running almost two years behind, so it’s not. She hasn’t turned grimdark in the meantime, has she? That would be sad.

Anyway, in the five issues from late 2016 collected in (deep breath) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 5: Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World  (exhale), our intrepid Squirrel Girl, Doreen Green, spends three issues battling a supervillain who breaks apart into smaller versions of himself when punched — something which makes it very difficult for the heroes of the Marvel Universe to apply their usual problem-solving heuristic [1] to.

Doreen occasionally uses other solutions to problems — oh, she can punch, too, she wouldn’t last long in a Marvel comic if she couldn’t — so this becomes her problem to fix. Also, it’s her comic, but that’s pretty meta.

(By the way, this is volume five — I’ve written about the first four here and here and here and here .)

And, yes, she does save the world: that’s the point of a superhero comic. She does get some help from Ant-Man — the ex-criminal one, not the movie one, or any of the three or four dozen others — but more fun is Brain Drain, her friend/protege/sidekick/coincidentally also an ex-villain, who is a brain in a jar in a robot body and who is more nihilistic than anyone in a Marvel comic is generally allowed to be.

Well, that takes up three of the five issues collected here. What else? Doreen fights the Taskmaster — whose power of “understanding how to do something perfectly by seeing it once” is always vastly overrated, since he doesn’t actually get the superpowers to fly or shoot eyebeams or punch someone through the side of a building [2] — in an issue entirely from the point of view of her cat.

And then issue #16 is the amazing 25th anniversary celebration of Squirrel Girl. And, since it’s a big anniversary, it’s entirely taken up with a retelling of her origins…well, actually, her entire career, more or less.

It’s all fun and amusing in the Stunning Squirrel-Girl Manner, but it’s all the same kind of thing as previous Squirrel Girl stories by writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson. [3] It’s still somewhere in that nebulous middle ground between “like a normal Marvel comic, only funny and not entirely serious” and “science and girl power for parents and their pre-teens,” and it does manage to avoid any crossover events that might have been cluttering up its universe at the time.

It’s just more of the same: that’s what I’m saying. If you liked it before, you’ll probably like the reprise. But, at some point, you might want to hear a different song. [4]

[1] Is opponent attacking? Then punch.
Is opponent resting? Then declaim.
Is opponent defeated? Then monologue about justice.

[2] Squirrel Girl defeats him because she has a tail, which he can’t replicate, and that would be cool if we didn’t see him on previous pages fighting Hulk (superstrong), Iron Man (flies, shoots force beams), Spider-Man (shoots webs), and Ms. Marvel (stretches), every single one of whom can do at least one thing Taskmaster cannot replicate. But none of them is the star of this comic, which is Doreen’s real superpower.

[3] Thought I was going to forget to mention then, didn’t you?

[4] HA! I may be overly optimistic here: eighty years of superhero comics, and the neckbeards are still obsessed with their one song.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #219: The Creeps by Fran Krause

I debated whether to categorize this post as “Horror.” At the moment, I haven’t, but maybe I’ll change my mind as type. Let’s see how that goes.

Fran Krause has been making a comic called Deep Dark Fears  online called 2012, working from the submitted worries and fears of mostly anonymous contributors. (He’s also an animation teacher at Calarts.)

There have been two collections of the strip — the first one was Deep Dark Fears (unsurprisingly) in 2015, and a second book, The Creeps , came out in 2017. I’ve been reading the strip for a few years — I’m not sure exactly how long — but I missed the first book, and just read the second.

Each comic is generally four panels in a grid, with text underneath each panel — he’s illustrating the fear, in something like the words it was submitted to him.

And everything here was the worst fear of at least one person in at least one moment — something that person needed to share right then, when prompted. Not all of it was scary to me, not all of it will be scary to you — and none of it is designed to outright frighten you. There are no jump scares here, no fake-outs. Krause is illustrating things that other people are scared of…and seeing that, or thinking about that, may turn your mind down those paths.

So the title is is a good choice: these are comics more likely to “creep you out,” to make you feel uneasy, to make you think, than to actually on-purpose frighten you.

The Creeps also includes a couple of longer stories, also based on fears and stories about fears from contributors. They’re laid out with more flair, taking advantage of the full book page here. (I suspect the format of Deep Dark Fears is partly driven by how the individual panels will appear on various social platforms, especially on mobile. [1])

Krause has a simplified but sophisticated art style for these stories: people have dot eyes, limbs are close to rubber-hose quality, ears and noses are mostly geometric shapes with blocks of color, and backgrounds tend to be minimally sketched. He pulls it all together with blocks of subdued colors — I think primarily watercolor, and occasionally has a larger page-like structure underlying the four panels — but, usually, they’re designed so each one can stand alone in a string. (And, in fact the book plays with that: sometimes having two strips on facing pages, sometimes having one strip on the right and the title on the left, and sometimes running one strip across a spread, two panels on each side.)

Deep Dark Fears is an interesting and diverse crowdsourced comic, focused by Krause’s art, his selective eye, and the relatively narrow subject matter. It has the pared-down simplicity of the best comics or Zen koans, a sense that these are the fewest, most precise words to express this particular feeling. And it is quite likely to give you The Creeps.

[1] Can I be a Luddite for a second and mention that mobile has blown up a lot of good, sophisticated design on the web? There’s no going back, since you have to go where the users are, but a desktop window is a better platform for many media — any video with a decent quality, long-form text, comics with any kind of page design, etc. — than a mobile screen is. Oh, well — grump, grump.

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