Category: Reviews

REVIEW:

REVIEW: Westworld: Season Three: The New World

HBO’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Westworld is an interesting barometer of geekdom’s temperature. The first season arrived and it was a cause celebre, given its rich, sprawling cast, topical questions about the role of AI in our lives, and plenty of violence and nudity.

The second season clearly went off the rails and people questioned what was going on even as those who stuck around were intrigued by the glimpses into the other worlds vacationers could visit.

Through it all, there was Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the android who went beyond her programming and chose to control her destiny. In the third season, things went back on the right track as you can see for yourself in the just-released Westworld: Season Three: The New World from Warner Home Entertainment.

Delores escaped the park at the end of last season and we see “our” world through her eyes which was an interesting bit of writing. We also meet Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), a former soldier turned petty criminal whose story takes its time but ultimately dovetails with Delores’. Similarly, the story of Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel) takes its time and shows other aspects of this world and its inhabitants.

Where Delores’ “reawakenings” led to her sentience, Maeve’s takes us in another other direction and explores her in a World War II Italy Warworld reality, which brings her to Serac.

Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and William (Ed Harris) make the odd couple of sorts in the third major arc of the ten-episode season. Here, they struggle with determining reality versus simulation, an interesting notion as more people in the real world plug into various forms of artificial reality (Ready Player One anyone?).

The connector to all of this is Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), who is never less than interesting to watch.

The good ideas and strong performances more than make up for the uneven writing across the season. It’ll be back and there’s more than enough here to entice us to come back for another E-ticket ride.

The box set comes with both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray editions along with a Digital HD code. The 2160p transfer in 1.78:1 is excellent. The Dolby Vision nicely punches up the blacks and darker details from the traditional film.

The 1080p transfer is equally strong which helps tremendously. Both benefit from the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and Dolby Atmos so this makes for an excellent home video experience.

Much of the Special Features, scattered across the Blu-ray discs, are drawn from the existing HBO extras, starting with Escape from Westworld (1:53), which introduces viewers to the setup. Disc one also features Creating Westworld: Parce Domine (6:36); The Winter Line (7:18); The Absence of Field (6:05); and Exploring Warworld (3:56).

Disc Two offers up Creating Westworld‘s Reality:  Genre (3:54) and Decoherence (4:48). Disc Three features We Live in a Technocracy (13:44) spotlights producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy; A Vision for the Future (14:09); RICO: Crime and the Gig Economy (7:07); Westworld on Location (11:20); and Welcome to Westworld: Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Analysis (3:46), Evan Rachel Wood and Aaron Paul – Who Said It? (3:43), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Analysis (3:22), Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – Who Said It? (2:57); Creating Westworld‘s Reality: Passed Pawn (4:09) and Crisis Theory (9:03).

Nobody’s Fool by Bill Griffith

It is an odd and interesting thing: the biography of someone whose life is badly-recorded and full of gaps. It’s even more quirky when that person didn’t really do anything in his life, and even the records of where that person was are messy and often missing.

But Bill Griffith, cartooning king of all things pinhead-related, wanted to tell the story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, the second-most famous real-world pinhead [1], even though Schlitzie’s origins are disputed and his life basically consisted of being dragged around the US so people could gawk at him for fifty-plus years.

The result is Nobody’s Fool , a graphic novel about a person who may have been born Simon Metz around 1901 in the Bronx, and definitely was buried as Schlitzie Surtees in 1971 in California. Schlitzie was male, but the characters he “played” on stage were more often than not female — because that made the fake “savage” stories more shocking, because he was less than five feet tall, because it was a random carny idea that stuck, or for some other random reason, we don’t know.

The list of things we don’t know about Schlitize, though, are long. Well, “we” don’t know much about any random person born in 1901 and dead since 1971 — if that person did public things, they’d be recorded, but most of us live our lives in private, and those lives all die as the people we knew die. The people Schlitze knew are from a world that’s been gone for over sixty years, and they were marginal people to begin with — many of them with physical deformities or other health issues that shortened their lives, all of them living on the fringes of society, traveling from town to town to be exhibited as “freaks.”.

And Schlitzie, who I have to guess had some kind of development disorder — Griffith doesn’t speculate, or provide an armchair diagnosis — didn’t leave any kind of records himself, and didn’t live the kind of normal life (marriages, children, buying real estate, making business deals, joining clubs, working for companies) that generated the usual records. So we have third-hand stories and speculation and some informed guesses, random datapoints and decades-later interviews with people who knew Schlitzie.

It all gives Griffith a series of scenes, mostly of Schlitzie on stage or doing performance-adjacent tasks, since that’s the parts of his life than anyone knows anything about, fifty years after he died. But what did he feel? What did he think? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. Griffith doesn’t even try to define what Schlitzie could and couldn’t do — we know he liked to wash dishes, and that he had a larger vocabulary than other “pinheads” on the same circuit at the same time. But that’s about it.

So what Griffith has here is a sequence of pictures, a sequence of events that probably happened, more-or-less. We get to look at Schlitzie, the freak, acting weird, performing in sideshows and in the 1932 movie Freaks. We’re told stories about his origins that are probably more true than those told at the time — last of the Aztecs! half-monkey, half-human!, the missing link! — but aren’t really “true.”

This is still a sideshow. Schlitzie is still being paraded in front of a crowd to show off how weird and inexplicable he is. What he was like as a human being is still tertiary at best. Griffith cares about Schlitzie and his life, but he just doesn’t have the materials to tell this as a story. It’s just disconnected moments featuring someone with no agency and little understanding of anything that happened to him.

So this is a deeply sad book, even if it’s about a person who seems to have been relatively happy, as humans go. In a hundred years, this may be all anyone ever knows about Schlitzie Surtees. And we’ll still know nothing about Simon Metz.

[1] After Zip-the-What-Is-It, who seems by all accounts to have been a perfectly mentally “normal” African-American man who figured out a weird career for himself and ran it for all it was worth to the end of his life. That is probably a more interesting and meaningful story, but it’s not a pinhead story.

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

A Fire Story by Brian Fies

Nobody would want Brian Fies’s career, not matter how many books he sells and how many awards he wins. Two of his three major books to date have been pure “making lemonade” activities: he went through things no one wants to and came out the other side to write about them.

First was Mom’s Cancer, which was about exactly what you’re thinking it was. In between was the fictional Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?  And his new book for 2019 was A Fire Story , because his house burned down in the October 2017 series of wildfires in Northern California.

So if I say that I hope Fies’s career takes a different tack in the coming years, that’s what I mean: I hope he doesn’t have any more tragedies that launch books. He’s due for a happy book, or three, or five.

A Fire Story started out of immediacy: Fies wrote and drew a twenty-page version of this story a few days after the fire, when the pain was raw and he and his family had just realized what “we’ve lost everything” means. He posted it online, and it was seen around the world — hundreds of thousands read Fies’s comic, and a few million saw an animated version made by the San Francisco PBS station (which also won a local Emmy).

The book version of A Fire Story came about a year later, which means it’s still pretty raw and immediate — I have to imagine Fies writing and drawing this in temporary housing or rented houses, waiting and hoping to get back to the normal life that burned up.

The story here starts from those initial pages — redrawn, cleaned up, expanded, but those first panels are all here in new forms. This is how Fies and his wife woke up in the middle of a Monday night, grabbed a few things, and fled a house that then burned down before the night was over. Fies expands that story in multiple ways — he brings in more of his family, including the grown twin daughters who take in Fies and his wife after the fire; he adds the narrative of several other people whose houses were burned down, so this is no longer just his story; and he continues though the beginning of rebuilding, showing scenes of sifting the ashes [1] and dealing with the insurance adjuster.

A Fire Story is powerful, direct, and personal: Fies went through something horrible and had the skills to present its horrors clearly and precisely to the world. It’s a book to be deeply ambivalent about: do we wish it never existed, because Fies’s house was instead saved? Do we rationalize that there are always houses that burn down, somewhere, and at least this giant wildfire resulted in some great art?

I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m glad Fies was about to squeeze this lemonade and still wish he hadn’t had to. Maybe, at best, it can help those of us who have not lost everything understand it a bit better: I’ve been known to whine about my 2011 flood, which destroyed an entire basement but left the rest of the house intact; and that’s minor compared to what Fies suffered.

But  A Fire Story is a major graphic novel, no matter what else. And Fies shows that he has not just the artistic chops, but the resilience and clear vision to do it. I just hope that his next project requires the chops and maybe the vision, but not the resilience.

[1] This is not a metaphor. One of his daughters is an archeologist, and uses a rocking screen on the site of their burned house.

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

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Unhappy childhoods make for more interesting books than happy ones: can we agree on that? I’ve seen several Boomer nostalgia vehicles that were basically “everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds when I was free, white, male, and seven years old,” and they’re all deadly dull at best.

Unhappiness leads to better stories: writers don’t have to suffer, but it definitely gives them better material.

Vera Brosgol has some pretty good material; she off-handedly mentions things both at the beginning (growing up poor among spoiled rich girls in Albany, NY) and the end (moving suddenly to London at the age of ten) of this book that look like they could be full graphic novels of their own. But Be Prepared  is the story of one summer at camp…well, a little about the months leading up to that summer, and how she got to that camp, but all focused on ORRA.

Maybe I should back up slightly — Be Prepared is the story of a girl named Vera, but Brosgol’s afterword explains that it’s not purely autobiographical. The general outlines are correct, but she went to the ORRA camp for two years, not one, and events have been shaped here to make a better story — including details from other campers, such as her younger brother. Readers who demand absolute factual accuracy will be crushed; those who like stories about people will be much happier.

I fall into the second camp.

(Hah! “camp”. Pun not intended.)

Brosgol is not a new hand at this — her previous graphic novel Anya’s Ghost also drew on her being-an-odd-Russian-kid-in-America childhood, but in a clearly more fictionalized and fantastic way. (The title is not a metaphor.) That was also a damn good graphic novel, just like Be Prepared. Brosgol is creating stories aimed at younger readers — my guess is upper elementary school, maybe shading into middle, since the rule is that kids hate reading about anyone the slightest bit younger than themselves — but they’re smart, well-told stories that can only come from adult distance, and that makes them just as good for adult readers.

Anyway, young Vera feels like an outsider — her friends are more affluent and “American” than she is. But there’s a summer camp affiliated with her family’s Russian Orthodox church, and so she thinks she wants to lean into being Russian — that will be where she finds girls just like her, and the best friends of her life, right?

Unfortunately, wrong. Young Vera is introverted and a bit quirky — like all the best people — and the ORRA camp is cliquish in its own way, with traditions and history and skills she knows nothing about. Plus an outdoor latrine, which is a whole different kind of reality check.

So she’s quickly writing letters home begging to be saved from the camp she spent so much time begging to go to. But her mother is busy, so that’s not going to happen. Young Vera is just going to have to make it through camp — find a friend on her own, find things that make her happy, find things she can be good at. She does: it works out.

It turns out this isn’t the kind of unhappy childhood caused by outside events — well, it is, partly, because being poorer than people around you is never a happy thing — but mostly because young Vera is the kind of person who has trouble being happy. (I know that kind of person well; I’m one, myself.)

And, again, Be Prepared is published specifically for kids, and in particular kids who are their own flavors of weird, unhappy, different, and introverted, but Brosgol is a great storyteller. Her drawings have life and verve to them, with lots of clear emotion in her kid characters, and she structures the story well. I might even give this the highest praise: Be Prepared is a book even for those few bizarre kids who enjoyed camp.

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

REVIEW:

REVIEW: Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy

Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis turned a high concept into a charming, enduring film in Back to the Future. It spawned two uneven sequels (and I am so glad Gale see s no reason for a fourth installment) with time-hopping DeLorean and the character of Doc Brown melding into the pop culture zeitgeist.

The films, certainly the first one, deserve to be seen by all, including the current generation to whom the 1950s and 1980s are equally ancient.

Thankfully, Universal Home Entertainment agrees and we have been treated to DVDs, and Blu-rays ever since. Out this week, in time for everyone’s holiday shopping, comes Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy as the films receive the Ultra HD treatment. In a lovely embossed slipbox, you get six discs with carryover content from the 2010 and 2015 editions.

Doc Brown has invented a time machine and with Marty on hand, they travel back to 1955, inadvertently keeping Marty’s parents from meeting. As time threatens to unravel, he has to befriend them both, avoid his mom’s icky romantic advances, and get them to fall in love while dealing with the social mores of a conservative era that, like time, is slowly starting to come part. It took televisions stars Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox and turned them into movie stars. The rest of the casting was spot on which helped turn the first film into a blockbuster.

So of course, we had a sequel, going forward in time to see further ripples that are more unpleasant than one would hope for. Here. Elisabeth Shue comes along for the rider as Marty’s girlfriend and future wife (a concept which frightens here at first). And then, for the final installment, they head backwards, to a simple, dustier time: The Wild West. This is the less creatively interesting one but saved thanks to the romance between Doc Brown and Mary Steenburgen, who is good in everything.

The new scans are pristine and wonderful with Dolby Vision color correction, making shadows deeper and the 1950s a technicolor delight. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack perfectly captures the sound effects, but more important, the vital, vibrant rock and roll that was gaining popularity during the earlier era of the first film. Thankfully, the work on the sequels is equal or even better than the original.

There’s a bonus seventh disc with fresh new supplemental content along with material from the 30th anniversary edition. Among the new features is the brief The Hollywood Museum Goes Back to the Future (10:17), as Museum President Donelle Dadigan walks us through their BTTF exhibit. There’s also Back to the Future: The Musical Behind the Scenes, a three part feature on the musical version.

A nice addition is An Alternate Future: Lost Audition Tapes (3:45 focusing on those who didn’t win the familiar roles. These include potential Biffs Billy Zane and Peter DeLuise; possible Marty McFlys C. Thomas Howell, Jon Cryer, and Ben Stiller as Marty McFly; with Kyra Sedgwick as Jennifer Parker.

Finally, there’s Could You Survive the Movies? Back to the Future (19:47): A YouTube video which reality tests some of the physical humor from the films.

REVIEW: Batman: Death in the Family

REVIEW: Batman: Death in the Family

900 numbers for polling purposes, charging users for each call placed, was a 1980s fad that seemed perfect to employ in comic books for some sort of stunt. Editor Denny O’Neil and DC’s Marketing team, led by Bruce Bristow, conceived of the stunt and Jim Starlin wrote the four-part “Death in the Family” storyline to accommodate the stunt. Jason Todd, the second Robin, never was accepted by fans, either under his father, writer Gerry Conway or the post-Crisis writers Max Allan Collins and Jim Starlin. Callers got to say he would live or die.

It went on to become a media sensation, and a closer than expected vote. It also brought down the wrath of Warner Bros who was unaware of the event and the press attention because, back then, DC was a pimple on the conglomerate’s butt and no one considered telling them.

Still, the strong storyline and fine art from Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo turned the story, post-event, into a seminal tale that has been collected and referenced ever since. It sadly also gave rise to the nonsensical “Under the Red Hood”, which somehow resurrected Jason Todd, turning him from a mid-to-late teen into a muscular adult. We know the Lazarus Pit can bring back the dead, but the physical changes seemed arbitrary/ Nor was his resurrection necessary. But that’s me.

The twin stories have been compacted into the newly released Batman: Death in the Family, containing a first for the DC Animated Universe: interactivity. Much like the original story, once the Joker beats Robin with a crowbar, viewers get to pick what happens next: Robin dies in a fiery explosion or Batman save Robin. Later, viewers get other branching options, so the 86 minute run time covers all the variations while each iteration runs about 20 minutes each.

Some make more sense than others, and there’s reused footage from the Under the Red Hood animated film, both of which were directed by Brandon Vietti.

As a stunt, it’s fine with fun branches and keeps you engaged. As an adaptation of the Big Event, it leaves a lot to be desired. In truncating the story, we lose Robin’s motivation, which was seeking his birth mother, leading him to accidentally encountering the Joker. Here, he’s a brat, defying Batman’s orders to not go after the Clown Prince of Crime by himself. Meanwhile, very little of the Judd Winick story about Jason’s resurrection and reinvention as the Red Hood survives in this adaptation.

It’s interesting for this to come out just after the animated universe was rebooted in the recently released Superman; Man of Steel disc, since this stands alone.

The disc is available only as Blu-ray and Digital HD code option. Please be aware that the Digital version does not offer the branching options so you get one story called Under the Red Hood: Reloaded.

The 1080p presentation is in keeping with the usual high standards from Warner Home Entertainment and retains the color palette well. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio keeps pace so the overall home experience is a strong one.

The adventure receives audio commentary from DC Daily’s Amy Dallen and Hector Navarro, touching on the source material and the animated adaptation.

The disc comes complete with the recent run of DC Showcase shorts, which have been scattered elsewhere overt the last few years. As with the previous releases, these tend to be more satisfying than the stories they accompany. This time around we have Sgt. Rock (14:55), first appearing on Batman: Hush; Adam Strange (16:05), which can also be found on Justice League Dark: Apokolips War; The Phantom Stranger (15:07) from Superman: Red Son; and Death (19:08), which first appeared on Wonder Woman: Bloodlines.

The shorts also receive new commentary from Dallen and Navarro, adding some additional background and detail.

 

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

REVIEW: Genesis II/Planet Earth

Gene Roddenberry left Star Trek’s third season to write a Tarzan film that never got produced, setting a tone for the next decade of his career. He produced the wretched Pretty Maids all in a Row and slunk back to television, first with the animated Trek and then a deal with Warner Bros that would see him produce the underrated Questor and Spectre along with a new science fiction film, seemingly designed to distance himself from the optimistic SF albatross around his neck.

He cut a deal with CBS in 1972 to produce a 90-minute film, Genesis II designed to be a pilot for a potential series. He quickly reunited with many of the behind-the-scenes Trek team and got to work, creating a dystopia that began in 1979. We open in 2133 as Earth is recovering from nuclear war and mankind has been dramatically reduced in number. Apparently, the survivors didn’t learn any lessons as the two sides battle, with dollops of slavery, racism, and gender inequality still on display.

“My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.”  A NASA scientist, Hunt (Alex Cord) slept through the worst and is awoken to find a world out of control. Using his perspective, he finds like-minded allies forming a rebellious group determined to repair and ultimately save mankind.

As a concept, it’s not bad. The execution, from Samuel A. Peebles’ script on down, is where the pilot film gets into trouble. Peebles’ writing was stiff, and whatever rewriting Roddenberry did, didn’t help. The characters are types, never fully fleshed out, and Cord’s heroic role is blunted by his cold, aloof performance (making him better suited as Airwolf’s Archangel a few years later).

The most interesting performer here is actually Mariette Hartley, who isn’t wearing much (thank you, William Ware Theiss), allowing us to see her two navels (long story), but she has charisma and presence, unlike just about everyone else surrounding her.

Set against an America that was still arguing over Vietnam, a public just waking up to the corruption in the White House, and where a generation gap made communication nearly impossible, the themes are bluntly handled and where Trek offered people hope, this showed that nothing was going to change. Despite reasonable ratings during two airings, the network dithered over greenlighting the series. Ultimately, they gave the one SF slot on the schedule (talk about your quota systems) to a weekly version of Planet of the Apes.

ABC was waiting in the wings, wanting the show, but like Trek got a second pilot order with the new network insisting on major casting revisions. Gone was Cord, and in came journeyman action actor John Saxon, who had an appeal of his own and was a popular name thanks to Enter the Dragon. Also gone was Hartley in favor of Diana Muldaur, who was game but unconvincing in her part. The sole holdover was Ted Cassidy, but he didn’t have enough to do.

Rather than use the current events of the day as a springboard, Roddenberry stuck to themes that didn’t translate well nor were they well-handled in the rewrite, this time from Roddenberry and relatively new to TV writing Juanita Bartlett (who acquitted herself later on series like The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero.)

Joining the reimagined show was producer Robert Justman, fresh off the beleaguered Search, and he wrangled the production into a 90-minute production that never quite gelled. Years later, he admitted it wasn’t a very good pilot, which explains why ABC didn’t go to series.

Warner Archive remastered these two telefilms and they look pretty darn good. They are certainly a cultural curiosity, worth watching if you are a devotee of Roddenberry. They’re not very good as stories or pilots, the lofty ideas never properly translating to the screen. (It should be noted that after Roddenberry left, the studio tried one more time with Strange New World which isn’t here and that’s fine.) There are no extras but having these two on one-disc is a nice keepsake for collectors.

Berlin, Book Three: City of Light by Jason Lutes

I keep hitting reading roadblocks, no matter what I do. I used to have a life with a lot of dedicated time for reading and eyes that could stare at pages of text for hours on end, but the past decade has repeatedly broken all of my reading mechanisms, culminating in the minor apocalypse of the past two years. I went from reading 433 books in the Book-A-Day year of 2018 to, um, 43 the year afterward. And 2020 could possibly be even worse.

On top of that, I keep finding new things to stymie me. For example, who would predict that a graphic novel about Berlin sliding into fascism, intolerance, and sectarian violence in the early ’30s would be so resonant, and unpleasant, in 2020?

I’m sure Jason Lutes, planning out this giant project back in 1996, would have expected and wanted modern history to go differently, but, as it is, Berlin Book Three: City of Light  is immediately relevant to 2020 in ways that are deeply dispiriting and depressing.

Worse for me, the fact that this is the third of three books collecting a story that has been running for over twenty years — and the fact that Lutes uses a naturalistic style and doesn’t go out of his way to introduce characters that I last saw in a book I read in 2008 (see my review on ComicMix) — means that I only have a vague sense of who these people are and what they’re doing. It’s a couple of years later in their own lives as well, since Light is set in 1933 and Smoke was mostly set in 1930.

So I respected City of Light and I appreciated City of Light but I had the damndest time getting myself to read City of Light. I don’t want to see characters I like struggling as their society plunges into a totalitarian hellhole. (If I want that, I can just read Twitter.)

And let me say explicitly what I alluded to in my review of City of Smoke and what Lutes never says, but hangs ominously over the whole enterprise: every character we like in Berlin is probably doomed. They will all be killed by the Nazis, one way or another, sooner or later.

That’s what Berlin is about. How fascism smashes norms, destroys lives, agitates its followers and gets them to do the unspeakable in the name of blood and country. It’s a powerful message, especially in 2020, but I don’t want to read about it right now.

The way to read Berlin  now is to get the big single-volume edition and run right through it — that will solve my problems of character identification. The other problems, I hope, will start to be solved on November 3rd, and not by a book.

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

Manfried Saves the Day by Caitlin Major & Kelly Bastow

OK, first of all I probably should say that I’m not a “cat person.” There is one in my house, and I guess I tolerate cats more than I would dogs (slobbery little monsters), but I’m not all that fond of dumb animals in general.

So I am in retrospect not the right reader for Manfried Saves the Day , a graphic novel by Caitlin Major (writer and colorist, copyright owner) and Kelly Bastow (artist) about a world where…(breathless) Get this! Anthropomorphic cats have a whole society just like our own! And they keep cute little naked “men” as pets! “Men” are just like cats! (Except they only come in one gender, and that’s the gender that the creators are not, curiously.)

This is a sequel to Manfried the Man, which I have not read. The general rule is that the first book is better, and I have no reason to doubt that would be the case here, too. Maybe that book was more random-gag focused, or had a less cliched story. Anyway, if you like the idea of talking cats keeping tiny nonverbal humans as pets, try the first book.

Saves the Day has a plot so cliched that I kept expecting it to be subverted — literally, every page I was thinking up other ways for it to go, and anticipating which of the twists Major would decide to take — but I’m here to tell you that it ends up going exactly the way it looks like it will, roaring straight through all of the signposted events like a movie for particularly dull children before ending in a way Scooby-Doo would have sent back to the drawing board for a touch more nuance.

You see, there is a man shelter. And there is a mean landlord who wants to get rid of the man shelter to do mean-landlord things to it. And there is our hero, Steve, who has a demanding job and a girlfriend who is somehow even more demanding in ways that the creators don’t seem to realize are not fair at all to Steve. That girlfriend, Henrietta, runs the man shelter, and is Ahab-level obsessive about it, though again Major is on Henrietta’s side. And, inevitably, the only way to save the man shelter will be to win the annual Man Show, against (obviously) the highly-trained men of the mean landlord, who additionally will cheat in really obvious ways.

Can the scruffy underdogs beat the privileged jerks? [1] What do you think?

Since the actual plot of Saves the Day is annoying, predictable in its every straightforward second, and relies on Henrietta putting pressure on Steve in ways no one should tolerate, any pleasures of this book will rely on how much the reader enjoys seeing a little man-creature doing “adorable” cat behaviors.

See my first paragraph for context.

I did not enjoy this book. I think I only finished it because I did think Major couldn’t possibly be writing the completely straight version of this story (and was wrong about that) and because it’s short with lots of bright pretty pictures on every page. I do not recommend it for anyone with reading tastes anywhere near mine.

[1] ObMeatballsReference: It Just Doesn’t Matter! It Just Doesn’t Matter!

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

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

REVIEW: Superman: Man of Tomorrow

Every reboot of Superman tries something different, striving to find a fresh approach to the material, and Superman: Man of Tomorrow is no different. This direct-to-video release, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is intended as the opening chapter in a new continuity, a Rebirth, as it were, of the DC Animated Universe.

Other than the destruction of Krypton, baby Kal-El being raised by the Kents, and Clark (Darren Criss) arriving gin Metropolis as an adult, everything else is a modern take. Clark arrives as an intern with Lois Lane (Alexandra Daddario) just a grad student making her bones at the paper. Perry White (Piotr Michael) is there in all his bluster with Ron Troupe (Eugene Byrd) there for diversity and not a sign of Jimmy Olsen, Steve Lombard, or Cat Grant.

The story suggests Earth is aware of alien life and S.T.A.R. Labs, now owned by Lex Luthor (Zachary Quinto), is shown as being designed to hold and analyze extraterrestrials but it’s a mere breadcrumb for the future and is never addressed here. Instead, the focus is on Clark’s debut as the aviator-goggled flying man, doing good deeds, and starting to get noticed.

When a rocket prototype fails, he exposes himself to save humanity, and now everyone wants to know who he is. But, before much can be done about this, Lobo arrives. Now, the entire story grinds to halt as he announces he’s been hired to kill Kal-El, the sole survivor of Krypton. They fight, they talk, they battle, they partner. And at no point does anyone ask, “Who hired you? Why did they hire you? How’d you know he was on Earth?” The lack of curiosity, especially when major members of the cast are journalists is appalling.

Superman is aided by the Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi), who has been badly shadowing our hero and finally reveals himself and has to deal with the consequences.

But, Lobo’s (Ryan Hurst) arrival accidentally turns Rudy Jones (Brett Dalton) into the Parasite, an entirely new origin for the villain., and making him a far more tragic, and deadly, figure. His threat prompts Superman to turn to Lex Luthor for help, which reveals Lex’s sinister side. But, it’s Superman’s humanity that shines through in the climax, showing why he is a hero and worth looking up to.

The story moves along briskly, with the action and destruction doled out every few minutes, with pauses to visit Smallville, including a touching scene with Martha (Bellamy Young) handing the familiar red and blue suit to her son. The budding relationships between Lois and Clark and Lois and Superman also are nicely handled.

Less well handled is the J’Onn J’Onzz and Kal-El scenes, which go for pathos but feels flat. That the story features three supposedly sole survivors of their races is a nice touch.

Visually, there’s a simplicity to the designs of the characters, set against a futuristic city that can be envisioned as city of tomorrow, a fitting home for our hero. Some of the Krypton designs owes much to the Richard Donner films while Lobo is clearly inspired by Simon Bisley interpretation of the character.

The new voice cast is fine, if unexceptional, a freshening without being radical with Darren Criss carrying much of the load.

Overall, as reboots go, this isn’t a bad one, with plenty of room to explore, especially with Batman already operating in Gotham, and alien life visiting Earth with increasing regularity. We’ll see what happens in the next installment, coming no doubt in 2021.

The movie is available in all the usual formats including the 4K Digital HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD Code combo pack. In both 2160 and 1080 scans, the visuals are crisp and strong, retaining all the colors. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is serviceable if unspectacular, which it doesn’t really need to be.

The Special Features are the standard assortment starting with Lobo: Natural Force of Chaos (10:23) where Screenwriter Tim Sheridan, artists Jon Bogdanove and Bernard Chang, DC Daily host Hector Navarro, and voice actor Ryan Hurst very briefly trace Lobo’s humble origins from a bounty hunter in 1983’s Omega Men to star of his own series and ubiquitous appearances through the 1990s and 2000s.

Martian Manhunter: Lost and Found (8:47) presents a similar assortment of talent talking about the themes of the Martian’s role in comparison with humanity. Lacking is the context of his comic book history.

A Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie (11:56) is a stylistically cheesy introduction to   Batman: Soul of the Dragon, an animated homage the era’s kung-fu craze, featuring the Dark Knight along with Richard Dragon, Ben Turner (Bronze Tiger), Lady Shiva, and O-Sensei, who all stared in the Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter title written by the late, great Denny O’Neil.

From the DC Vault offers up Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series – “The Main Man”, parts 1 and 2, which, of course, guest star Lobo.