Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Injustice

REVIEW: Injustice

I don’t play video game so I am only peripherally familiar with Injustice, an Imaginary Story featuring the DC Universe. Similarly, I didn’t read the Injustice: Gods Among Us prequel comic book that apparently sold well enough to inspire Warner Animation to invest precious time and resources in adapting it to film. The resulting product, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is an acquired taste.

Those familiar with the source material will be irked at how much has been trimmed out to fit hundreds of pages into a 75-minute story. Those unfamiliar with the tale will scratch their heads a lot

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, asking, “How’d that happen?”

Taking a page from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, Superman turns dark with rage and grief after the Joker kills Lois Lane. The twist is that this Lois is pregnant, deepening his pain. He becomes a dictator, instilling his warped view of justice around the world, forcing his allies to either side with him or form the resistance.

And we’re off.

I don’t find this sort of story particularly compelling without the requisite time for characterization and the film, written by the hit or miss Ernie Altbacker, favors action. And the action here, directed by Matt Peters, is not staged as well as previous animated offerings so the entire production leaves me cold. I am also not particularly impressed with the character designs which are clunky, hampered by the limited animation. The overall production just doesn’t work.

The most interesting aspect is the vocal cast, led by former Green Arrow Justice Hartley as the Man of Steel. He’s opposed, of course, by Anson Mount’s grim Batman. Derek Phillips does fine triple duty as Nightwing/Deadwing and Aquaman along with Anika Noni Rose’s Catwoman and Faran Tahir’s Ra’s al Ghul.

Given the veteran production talent behind the scenes

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, they should all have known better that a story with this much scope can’t successfully be truncated.

The film is available in the usual formats including the 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD code combo. While the animation is stilted, the transfer to 2160p is very strong, with sharp colors and even saturation throughout. And the 1080p is just fine. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio finely captures the explosions, bickering, and pontificating.

The Special Features include Adventures in Storytelling – Injustice: Crisis and Conflict (30:55) as producer Jim Krieg, director Matt Peters, producer Rick Morales, and screenwriter Ernie Altbacker, explain their unfulfilled ambitions for the story. Beyond that, we get the far more interesting two-part “Injustice” story from the 2002 Justice League.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part II by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Rich Tommaso

OK, you know how in big superhero comics, everything needs to be back at status quo ante eventually? Worlds will live, worlds will die, Ultrafellow will be replaced by a disabled teen Latina, and the entire Evil-Fighting Gang will disband for good…but only until it all goes back to the way it was before.

Readers tend to assume that your modern passel of writers – the ones we respect, the ones who talk about loving punching-comics since they were five, the ones we sometimes think still wear Underoos to big shows – only do this because they are forced to do so by the evil rapacious companies, and that, given their druthers, they would Change Things Permanently, which Would Be Awesome.

So, under this assumption, all of those careful putting-things-back-in-the-box storylines, all of the big Events that undo the previous Event to reset for the next Event – those aren’t the fault of their writers, those are all imposed on them by the evil, evil Suits in…what is it, Burbank, now? Burbank is funny, so let’s say Burbank.

People assume that. They want to believe it. But is it true? Or do those writers just want to put all of their toys back in the box neatly, because they’re still those five-year-olds playing with Star Wars dolls [1] at heart?

Why do I bring this up? Well, you can probably guess. But I’m spoiler-averse enough not to completely fucking spell it out for you right here.

So, he said, brightly, here’s Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part II , a creator-owned superhero comic that has been lauded by all of the Usual Suspects for the Usual Reasons. The series won the Eisner for Best New Series in 2017. It’s written by Jeff Lemire, who also writes comics about real grownups who don’t punch each other all the time, and drawn mostly by Dean Ormston, with a few issues in this book from the pen of Rich Tommaso. This particular collection gathers the end of the second main series

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, and – nudge nudge, wink wink – finishes up the main story begun in the first volume . (Here’s what I’ve written about Black Hammer-verse comics so far : I warn you that I have perhaps enjoyed complaining about them more than I did reading them.)

Now, I like Lemire’s non-superhero writing. I think he’s one of the great talents in comics, with a deep understanding of human behavior and a willingness to tell serious, dark stories when that’s the material he’s working with. And flashes of that Lemire do shine through the cardboard walls of the superhero universe he’s constructed here for his dolls to play in. Ormston is a solid artist in that spooky Dark Horse house style, and Tommaso has a quirkier thin-line style (here something like a ’40s comic translated through a modern sensibility) that I quite like as well.

So these guys do good work. They can tell great stories. They just, from the evidence here, would prefer to move their dolls around a few very cliched sets and ape dialogue they loved as children.

This book opens on the cliffhanger from Age of Doom Part I: our heroes are about to go back to the real universe for the first time in a decade, which will allow Darkseid the Anti-God to make the skies red for twelve issues or so and then, presumably, to destroy everything everywhere. (We don’t see him actually do anything like that: maybe the Anti-God just wants to go down to the shops and get a few things? He’s never actually on stage

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, or doing anything. All we know is what his enemies say about him.) So, to save the world, Lemire deploys first one, then another Standard Modern Comics Plots.

First up, one of the character has to meet his maker, in best Grant Morrison fashion, with the usual panoply of forgotten/never-existed characters for added pathos. Then we get the Everything Is Changed World, where All of The Heroes Have Forgotten They Ever Were Heroes, because That Is the Saddest Possible Thing. Both of those plots get solved, obviously: that’s how Standard Plots go in superhero comics.

And then…well, see my first few paragraphs. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens, but if you read superhero comics, you know the drill by now.

This is deeply disappointing, and makes all of the Black Hammer comics up to this point completely pointless.

Now I’ve seen modern creators do “my favorite childhood comics, but with actual human motivations,” and that’s plausible. I’ve seen “how I would have handled my favorite story,” which is hermetic but understandable. I’ve seen a lot of “this is the right way for Character X to behave, unlike what all those dum-dums said,” which can be fun.

But this is something else. It’s a like a long car trip through boring, familiar territory with a promise of something new at the end, only to turn a corner and suddenly be back home, only the house is shabbier by our absence. If this is what Lemire planned to do the whole time, I have a hard time understanding why he, or anyone, though it was a worthwhile thing to do.

[1] “Action figure” is a term made up so that American boys could play with dolls and not feel feminine in a way that their culture embarrassed them about. All action figures are dolls. Period.

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

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I’ve Loved Before by North, Charm, & Renzi

So I have no idea if the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series ended at #50 for actual economic reasons (slowing sales), for fake economic reasons (Marvel wanted to concentrate only on comics that can have ten different covers), or for real creative reasons (Ryan North ran out of ways to tell the same “Doreen Green faces Big Marvel Villain, and gets BMV to talk about feelings rather than punching”). It may have even been a reason I’m not considering – perhaps the combined forces of global squirrels realized this comic was too close to reality for their liking

, and they’ve used their squirrely wiles to suppress it.

But, for whatever reason, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – at that point the longest-running Marvel comic (hey! that’s another possibility: it annoyed someone in the Marvel hierarchy that such an off-brand, for-female-and-young-people comic was so prominent!) – ended with issue #50, in January of last year.

The very last storyline was collected in this, the last collection: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I’ve Loved Before . As with the previous few books, the creative team was writer Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, and color artist Rico Renzi, with a quick guest appearance from original series artist Erica Henderson.

In that book, Squirrel Girl’s greatest foe gathers up all of her nearly-greatest foes and executes a carefully-orchestrated plan to first unmask Doreen Green (she who is Squirrel Girl) and then kill her.

Spoiler: it doesn’t work. Squirrel Girl is not murdered in the last issue of her comic. This may seem to be a silly thing to mention, but in modern-day superhero comics, the opposite is actually somewhat more likely.

Anyway, there’s a big fight – no, really, really big – involving nearly every character who has appeared in all fifty-eight issues of Squirrel Girl, but, in the end, niceness wins, with only a minor case (lampshaded in the actual book) of deus ex machina. This book is mostly fight scene: in that way, it’s more like the rest of the superhero millieu than most of the previous Squirrel Girl stories

And Doreen nearly comes out of the closet near the end, in a way that gives plausible deniability to North but which only the very youngest and most sheltered of the Squirrel Girl audience will miss. And I can wish that was clearer or louder, but maybe this is as good as it could get.

I’ve written far too much about this series – witness my archives – so I think I’ll leave it there. This was a nice comic that went almost entirely against the grain of modern superhero comics, in ways that were all good and positive. It was sometimes a bit too Girl Power! for me

, but I am not a girl, and my opinion is not that important.

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

REVIEW: The Colony

REVIEW: The Colony

For some reason, too many science fiction films dwell on disasters and not on the sense of wonder of being in space. The majesty and grandeur of the universe doesn’t hold enough promise and therefore release after release seems to focus on the terrible things that will happen to us out there. The latest such release, The Colony, is now out on disc from Lionsgate, which they hope will amuse you until they inflict Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall.

Here

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, we have Louise Blake (Nora Arnezeder) aboard the Ulysses 2, exploring what is left of Earth after several centuries. The ship, probably like its predecessor, crashes, and she is the sole survivor. We flip back and forth between not-very-interesting flashbacks about Louise’s childhood (played by Chloé Heinrich)

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, focusing on the relationship with her father Sebastian Roché, and what she sees of a water-logged Earth. Danger arrives in the form of Gibson (Iain Glen), warlord of a band of survivors/scavengers.

It all feels very familiar from production design to plot points. Writer/director Tim Fehlbaum doesn’t seem to have anything interesting to say about man’s future, mankind itself, or much of anything else.

The film is out on Blu-ray and Digital HD and looks like a perfectly fine AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1, equally matched by the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.

Given the film’s lackluster reception and box office, there’s no surprise at the paucity of Special Features. There’s the aspirational Audio Commentary from Fehlbaum and Visions of the Future: Making The Colony (19:26), a perfunctory behind-the-scenes piece.

You can easily skip this one unless you really enjoy SF stories on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

It’s interesting to note that the two Marvel Cinematic Movies of the fall are the ones that hew furthest away from the source material. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, out now in both streaming and disc, it makes the most sense because the original Master of Kung-Fu comic was very much a product of its time. Capitalizing on the kung fu craze of the early 1970s, it also melded the comic with Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the epitome of the Yellow Menace, a pulp magazine staple.

But, boiled down, the story is about fathers and sons and legacy, a solid framework that writers Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham developed with co-writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton. While jettisoning the stereotypes, we have instead Xu Wenwu (Tony Keung), a near-immortal being who has amassed power and wealth across the centuries but doesn’t find happiness until he met Li (Fala Chen). What he comes to learn is that she hails from a hidden civilization

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, protecting the world from a deadly dragon, walled within a mountain.

At one point, Wenwu’s enemies come calling and kill Li as she protects her children, Shang-Chi and Xialing. The grieving man sends Xialing away to be raised apart while he trains Shang to become his successor. When the adult (Simu Liu) objects, he is given a decade to find himself. He drifts, taking the name Shaun, and coasts along, parking cars in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Of course, time’s up and dad summons son and daughter home. He must find the dragon and free it, for it is, he believes, keeping his wife from him.

There’s a lot of pain and emotional heft here, more than in some of the other MCU offerings. It’s also about coming to terms with great power and great responsibility which seems woven into the DNA of every Marvel hero.

There are terrific set pieces along the way, with plenty of martial arts mayhem that honors the best of the Asian filmmaking tradition. We, of course, get to the village where a lot of backstory is filled in by Shang and Xialing’s aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh).

For comic relief, we get the welcome return of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the faux-Mandarin and Shang’s opponent Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) is on hand as a leader of the storied Ten Rings, which has been in the background of the films dating back to 2008’s Iron Man.

The final battle is of course a little drawn out but exciting and things resolve nicely with some solid human moments, Shang and Katy’s final time as mere civilians before Wong (Benedict Wong) retrieves them to fully insert them into the Marvel mainstream.

The film is very entertaining and its cultural roots help it stand apart from its brethren. It’s far from groundbreaking as a superhero origin tale, but nicely shines light on a new corner of the MCU.

The movie is out in streaming, 4K Ultra HD, and Blu-ray so you have your pick of formats. The 4K streaming is sharp and crisp, retaining the color palette and shadows without a glitch. The disc has a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack or Dolby Atmos and both sound strong.

The Special Features are nothing out of the ordinary and they include The Costumes of Shang-Chi (1:31); Building a Legacy (8:53); Family Ties (7:28); Gag Reel (2:10); and best of all, Deleted Scenes (14:23). There are two notable moments that make Razor Fist an interesting character and one that fleshes out Xialing a little. Finally, there’s Audio Commentary from Cretton and Callaham where we learn the director has had a lifelong obsession with the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, hence its role in the film.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrT-bkNCXTI&w=560&h=349]

As far as I know, this book hasn’t been banned. Rather the opposite, so far: it was nominated for a National Book Award, and has won some other, more specific awards. But the week I read it acclaimed graphic-novelist-for-kids Jerry Craft was banned from a Dallas-area school for “critical race theory” [1], so I’m calling it now: the Usual Suspects will be protesting this book

, too, since it makes their little Kaydens and Buddies either “get lib’rul ideas” or whine that their teachers are being mean to them, depending on how stupid and/or indoctrinated any individual Kayden or Buddy is.

That may seem to have nothing to do with the book, but it’s not. Culture wars have no boundaries: they range through all of culture. Culture is what we live in. And the white supremacists are waging a very clear cultural war, with loud “will not replace us” messaging on national TV, aimed at people exactly like the co-author of this book.

When Stars Are Scattered is a book every Kayden and Buddy should read. As young as possible: maybe when they’re about seven, like Omar is at the beginning of this book. They should think about how they would live if they were refugees in a foreign country, with one parent dead and the other possibly lost forever. They should think about other kids: in their classes, in other parts of America, around the world. They should wonder what those kids are going through.

(To quote a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, “if you think you’re at your limit, just remember what some folks survive .”)

This is a true story, more or less. From the afterwords by Omar Mohamed (who lived it, and shaped it into a story) and Victoria Jamieson (who turned the story into a script and the script into drawn pages), I think some characters are composites or somewhat fictional. But Omar is real. His brother Hassan, who can only say the word “Hooyo,” is real. The refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya, where hundreds of thousands have lived for up to three decades now, is real. And the civil war in Somalia, which is still going on, is real.

Omar was about four and his brother just a baby when they left Somalia. What happened that day isn’t revealed until late in this graphic novel, but I will tell you it opens three years later, with the two boys taking every chance they can get to look at new arrivals, hoping they will see their mother.

Scattered is mostly about life in the camp

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, and how Omar grows up there. It’s a grinding life: not enough food, very little to do, no clear possible escape. The dream of every refugee is to get out – some, like Omar, dream of going back to their lives before the war, but we get the sense that’s mostly children. Adults know that can never happen. The other dream is to get out: to be allowed to settle in some faraway country, Canada or America or somewhere in Europe. Only a few can get one of those slots: it’s a long process, full of paperwork and interviews, and there’s an element of competition to it.

And is your family situation worse than the others around you? Have you suffered more than them? Are you more worthy of being resettled somewhere overseas because of what you’ve been through?

And what does it do to a person and a society to have to think like that, to tell your story through that lens to UN interviewers?

Omar makes it through that world. This is a book for children; it has a happy ending. Omar is telling us this story, because he did make it out to America, and made the life he wanted. More than that, his adult life is devoted to helping other refugees, both the ones who made it to America and the ones back in Dadaab. It’s a good life, a life worth celebrating and spotlighting. I’m glad he and Jamieson were able to tell his story so cleanly and clearly, to an audience that needs to hear it.

And so, again, I want to see When Stars Are Scattered in every elementary school across the country. Especially the ones without people named “Omar,” or people who look like Omar Mohamed. That’s the way compassion and honesty wins the cultural wars: through true stories of different people, presented to an audience young enough to learn lessons of compassion and honesty.

[1] In case you don’t know, actual CRT is a graduate-level discipline, originated in law schools and also taught at the graduate level, to graduate students, in graduate schools of other kinds. It aims to untangle racial biases in things like historical criminal sentences.

It is in no way identical to “teaching white kids that kids of other races are also real people who you need to respect.” The latter should be base-level standard, but it’s what “conservative” parents are actually protesting, as seen in a telling quote from Connecticut, also this week: “helping kids of color to feel they belong has a negative effect on white, Christian, or conservative kids .”

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

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams by Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred

“Rayguns?” That’s important enough to make the title? Stardust, sure, though more in the Ziggy sense than the “we are all” sense. And Moonage Daydreams, why of course. But why rayguns?

If I had been the editor of this book, I would have asked, “Why not “Starmen?” Or maybe “Pretty Things.” Even “Space Oddities,” though that would be a bit on-the-nose.

(Note: I am pretty sure my willingness to ask dumb questions was not instrumental in being cast out of the world of Sfnal Editorial work. Pretty sure. Yeah.)

But that’s the title we have, even though (he said, hitting the tedious point for the last time, he promises) there are no rayguns in this book. Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams . A biographical graphic novel about the chap born David Jones, but better known under his stage name. Primarily focused on the creation of and tour following the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars record from 1972.

(And, frankly, I’m pretty sure someone, at some time during the creation of this book, lamented that the perfect title had already been taken, by that album. And maybe someone toyed with the idea of re-using the title.)

It’s drawn by Michael Allred and colored by Laura Allred. The script seems to be, from M. Allred’s afterword, mostly by Steve Horton

, working from an Allred outline and list of important story beats, and then extensively worked over by both of them. (Horton did a lot of work

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, definitely, even if the art is all Allred and the words are at least somewhat Allred.)

It opens on the last night of the Ziggy tour, in 1973, in London. That’s our frame: it leaps back to show Bowie’s early career up to that point, in at least sketchy form. Unlike a lot of biographical stories, it doesn’t get into childhood at all: there’s a montage of David Jones At Various Youthful Ages on the first page, but that’s literally it. Instead, it’s all career: what he recorded when, who he worked with, who he knew and bounced off in London in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Horton and Allred get a bit name-dropp-y with that, frankly, as they try to show that Bowie was the center of everything and influential on everyone and the best musician of any kind ever. I mean, I get that they love Bowie and especially this period: you don’t spend months or years on a project like this without that level of love. But a bit of context goes a long way, and a bit of idol-worship is more than enough.

It’s also all more than a little compressed: Horton and Allred are huge fans, so they’re trying to get every last moment and idea in that they can, and the book comes across a bit staccato because of that. If you are a huge Bowie fan, that will be great: you don’t need context, and it gives you more recognizable moments and ideas. For those of us who are more vaguely Bowie-positive, it’s a flood of panels, many of which seems to be heading off in different directions to tell us something else.

Allred also drops into phantasmagoria a few times, in what may be meant to be chapter breaks and an extended visual overview of Bowie’s later career at the end. These are wordless pages, crammed with images, most but not quite all of them images of Bowie in various guises and stages of his career. They are gorgeous and impressive and stunning, but not really comics, since they deliberately don’t tell any story.

All in all, this is a book that is better the more of a Bowie fan you are. Not a fan at all: you will be bored and confused. Enjoy his music: it will be pleasant and enjoyable, though maybe a little much. Huge Ziggy-era stan: you will love it, though probably also find things to nitpick, because stans must always stan.

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

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber, and Nathan Fairbairn

I have generally not been in favor of Big Two superhero comics going “realistic.” That’s mostly because what counts as realism in superhero comics looks more like cynicism or nihilism from any other point of view, and because superhero comics are inherently one of the very most artificial artforms ever devised by the hand of man.

So I’m happy to point out that Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? is very artificial, and revels in it. The only other series I’ve seen that has as many introducing-this-character-with-their-fantastic-logo! boxes is Paul Grist’s deeply quirky Jack Staff. But this book does that trick one better: the person being introduced every single time is Mr. James Olsen himself, our hero and main character, in an unending sequence of sillier and sillier locutions about Superman’s wingman.

(I’m pretty sure I remember “Superman’s wingman” somewhere in the middle there. Nearly every way you could think to describe the Olsen boy are already in this book.)

Perhaps I should back up slightly.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was a famous Silver Age title, from the era where comics were flagrantly artificial and their audiences were assumed to be entirely made up of children who would age out within a year or three. It ran for twenty years, and regularly turns up in random internet “have you ever seen this insane thing?” collections. (Two words: Goody Rickles.)

And Jimmy, as a character, is closely associated with that era. He doesn’t get the full-force opprobrium directed at some kid sidekicks, since he was intermittently depicted as an actual adult (if a juvenile, silly, easily-distracted one) and had an actual job that made sense in the context of the comics. But he was often comic relief in core Superman stories, and his own title was, to use a technical term, regularly batshit crazy (in the best possible way).

So Mr. Jimmy Olson comes with some baggage. And the 2019 series about him – by writer Matt Fraction, artist Steve Lieber, and colorist Nathan Fairbairn; collected as Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson: Who Killed  Jimmy Olsen?  – leans heavily into the silliness, providing not just a goofy Jimmy, but a very weird take on Batman, an extended Olsen family with shocking connections to Lex Luthor (who also gets an extended family), the aforementioned massive number of story-introducing boxes, and a lot of just plain goofiness.

For example: the book opens with a story from some piece of product entitled Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1, which I gather from context was some kind of crossover event thingy. (“Crossover event thingy” is a technical term in corporate comics.) In that story, Olson wakes up in Gorilla City, surprisingly married to an interdimensional jewel thief after a long night of drinking gorilla-strength champagne, and ends up in the possession of a cat that vomits astoundingly large and sustained streams of blood. Complications quickly ensue.

This all seems like random goofiness. Nearly all of it will become very important to the overall plot of Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? Note: I am not saying any of it becomes any less goofy.

The actual plot of the main story takes a while to coalesce, and is told out of chronological order. My sense is the playing-with-time stuff isn’t to be daring or stylistically inventive; it’s just another way to be randomly goofy and confusing. I liked and appreciated all of it; those who like more straightforward superhero stories may be annoyed or bored.

So we get Jimmy causing trouble, having to flee Metropolis for Gotham City, having his Life Model Decoy (named something slightly different I don’t want to dig through all the pages to find) “murdered,” and hiding out as an oddball “modern” version of himself (Timmy Olson, cringe YouTube sensation!). We also see Jimmy’s fabulously wealthy family (stuck-up brother, boho playwright sister), Jimmy’s deep family history (return to the frontier days of New Obsterstad with the feud of the Olsson and Alexander families!), Lex Luthor lurking around the edges of the story doing that I-am-such-a-villain hand-wringing gesture, Jimmy’s landlord/lawyer, a very silly very minor villain, an interdimensional would-be conqueror, and a rapidly-increasing death count of people close to Jimmy.

Again, we don’t get any of that in order: we get bits and pieces of all of it, smash-cutting from one Jimmy Olson story intro to another, and it all coalesces about halfway through this twelve-issue miniseries.

To my mind, if you’re going to do a superhero story, or even a story set in a superhero world (this is more of the latter; Jimmy is always central, and most of the important characters don’t have powers), you need to be at least halfway lighthearted. We all know every ending will be happy, all deaths are temporary, and all drama is momentary. And Who Killed gets that tone right: it doesn’t make fun of its own story too much, but it doesn’t try to pretend this is about the fate of the world, either.

To my mind, this is what good comics in a superhero milieu looks like: fun, with consequences to actions but not overly invested in them, full of random oddities and an overall sense of possibility.

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

Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, (and in smaller letters) Dave Stewart and Todd Klein

Hey! Shit actually happens in this book! And those things largely validate my “get off the pot and actually say XYZ” grumblings from the previous books, which also makes me happy. [1] Once again, I’m not claiming any great powers of reasoning or insight: this is a pastiche superhero comic, and the plot beats are thuddingly obvious. They were just massively delayed for reasons that I tend to believe owed more to “I want to tell some only vaguely related stories first” than “this Other Stuff is actually important.”

This book follows the first two Black Hammer books (one and two ) and the very much sidebar (and baroquely-titled) books about Sherlock Frankenstein and Doctor Star Doctor Andromeda (my post will go live in three days as I type this; let’s see if I remember to add the link!). And it leads pretty directly, I expect – with the caveat this this series has been all about the fakeouts leading to extensive unrelated flashbacks up to this point – into the next volume, which is titled Age of Doom

, Part II.

(There’s no third volume of Age of Doom, which could be ominous, but there are seven more volumes after that. They could all be flashbacks – Black Hammer ’45 pretty obviously is, for one – but I choose to believe that even this series will move forward in time once it exhausts all other options.)

Anyway, this is called Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I  but, as I just pointed out in tedious detail, it’s not actually “Part 1” of anything. It’s either part three (of the linear story) or part five (of all previous volumes). Like the rest of the main series to this point, it’s written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Dean Ormston, assisted by colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein.

And it’s still stuck on the moment at the end of the first volume, when the new spunky female Black Hammer arrived on “The Farm” from Spiral City, discovering the five or six superheroes living there (do we count Talky Walky? I do) after The Event and we the audience saw one of those supposed heroes, the witchy Madame Dragonfly, immediately steal Hammer’s memories for what we have to assume are nefarious purposes.

(Note that we get a different flashback version of that scene in this volume, following the big “everything you know is wrong” moment, and the new version means that the old version could not have possibly happened that way…which is really annoyingly lazy storytelling.)

So we open  this book with another return to the moment where Hammer announcing she’s remembered everything and is going to have a reckoning, and she of course immediately disappears. (Gotta keep the tension up somehow!) From there, we get a couple issues of Hammer in various weird worlds (first a transparent ripoff of the bar between worlds from the end of Sandman, then not-DC Hell and a couple of other mystical places, just in case any of the slower readers aren’t convinced Dragonfly is behind it), while the main cast decide to figure this out and get sidetracked by their various inamorata deciding that, yeah, OK, we can have sex now.

Again, Lemire is making it clear, even to the slower kids in the back, that the two reality-warping characters are…what’s that again? oh, yeah, warping reality.

Eventually, in time for the last of the five issues collected here, we finally get to see Everything We Know Is Wrong. (Well, Everything We Know about the Farm. I bet we know some wrong things about the death of the previous Hammer, and maybe the Anti-God, too.) And we get a big cliffhanger moment on the very last page, as we must when a Part I is going to lead directly to a Part II.

As before, I can appreciate the storytelling and character work – both Lemire and Ormston do good panel-by-panel and page-by-page work here, making engaging people, moving them around convincingly, and making them all interesting – while still finding the overall structure silly and ungainly and massively derivative and entirely airless. I still think Black Hammer is a very well-done version of a thing I would be hard-pressed to say is worth doing.

[1] Trust me, this is me happy. At least as happy as I get about manipulative third-hand superhero tales.

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

Fangs by Sarah Andersen

I did not intend this to turn into Sarah Andersen Week here at Antick Musings, but why not? She’s funny, and the two books I read nearly back-to-back are funny in very similar ways, which could potentially be interesting.

Fangs  is a small unjacketed hardcover, stylish and blood-red. I believe it was Andersen’s fourth solo book

, following three collections of her “Sarah’s Scribbles” strip (and the graphic novel Cheshire Crossing, with novelist Andy Weir). There is a goth-y young woman on the cover, as you can see. Readers will generally assume she is a vampire, and assume that this is her story.

That’s correct: she’s Elsie. On the first page, she’s in a bar for monsters, meeting a new young man (Jimmy). They quickly start a relationship, and we quickly learn this is not a book that will tell us a story – like Sarah’s Scribbles, these are funny comics about a situation, and this situation is “what if a 300-year-old vampire goth girl fell in love with a vaguely hipster werewolf?”

So Fangs is a lot like a collection of a gag-a-day strip (not all that surprising, since Sarah’s Scribbles has run as a daily strip off and on, and this project originally appeared on Tapas in a similar format) – every page is a separate strip about Elsie & Jimmy, with some kind of vampire or werewolf-themed joke.

Humor is always subjective, but I thought Fangs was clever and funny – as funny as Sarah’s Scribbles, and a bit more clever, as Andersen clearly was having a lot of fun assembling these jokes from the intersection of relationship-humor and horror-humor. There’s also an underlying sweetness to it: you get the sense that these two people haven’t really connected with anyone else in a long time, and having each other, in all of their quirky oddities (supernatural and personal) to be with is a wonderful thing.

This is a short book

, but who knows? Maybe Andersen will come back and give us more comics about Elsie and Jimmy. There’s no reason this couldn’t keep going for a long time, or come back for somewhat longer stories. (What would a vacation look like for them? Do either of them have families the other one gets to meet?) And, even if she never does, this is a fun, sweet package as it is.

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