Category: Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eye of Mongombo, Book One by Doug Gray

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

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

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

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

Spongebob Narrator Voice: twenty-eight years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Nathan Hale’s Alamo All-Stars, Major Impossible

REVIEW: Nathan Hale’s Alamo All-Stars, Major Impossible

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars
By Nathan Hale
Amulet Books, 144 pages, $19.99

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Major Impossible
By Nathan Hale
Amulet Books, 126 pages, $13.99

In 2012, Nathan Hale, the graphic novelist not the dead patriot, began a series called Hazardous Tales, starting with his namesake. Since then, he has released nine volumes, with the tenth due in the fall.

The series spans the years and focuses on the familiar and unfamiliar names throughout American history.  In each case, a trio of spectral figures act as narrator, Greek chorus, and the print equivalent of Statler and Waldorf. We have Hale the colonial hung as a spy, his masked hangman, and a British red coat. In each case, they take the middle ages reader through the story. Hey pause to explain historic figures, details, debunk urban legends, and much more. As a result, they are entertaining and informative in the best sense of both words.

2016’s volume six, Alamo All-Stars, has been turned into a larger-sized new edition with sixteen additional pages tucked in the back. These include photos of artifacts, the real people depicted, and other artifacts along with mini-comics featuring the history the Alamo cat. There’s even a section devoted to Phi Collins and his donating his Alamo memorabilia to the fort.

What most know about the Alamo is the rallying cry, “Remember the Alamo!”, and legendary figures Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett were present. After that, things get fuzzy, but here Hale walks us through all the players, the shifting alliances, and the eventual establishment of Texas as a state. It was nice seeing a different take on Juan Sequin, the focus of Jack Jackson’s wonderful Los Tejanos graphic novel.

There are frequent pauses for the ghostly trio to provide commentary, sort out rumor from fact, and help us keep track of the various Mexican leaders. I’m not sure how the intended audience will find the book, but I certainly learned a lot from it.

The more recent release gives us something far lesser known. Nicknamed Major Impossible, we are treated to the story of John Wesley Powell, a one-armed explorer who organized an expedition to explore the Green and Colorado rivers by boat, traveling from Wyoming through Utah and the Grand Canyon region of Arizona. The trip had never been done by Americans, well white Americans, and was a harrowing experience for the ten men who set out shortly after the Civil War, to continue mapping the American west.

Again, he carefully takes us through their trials and tribulations, keeping track day by day. There are disastrous choices made, difficult decisions to make, and the unknown around every bend of the rocky terrain. I knew none of this and was interested enough to finish it, thanks to the lively writing and drawing.

Each volume is well-illustrated and presented in muted colors, giving a nostalgic feel to them, and setting one apart from the other. In every case, Hale shows his research cleverly hosted by the Research Babies.

These are recommended from fourth grade up and will make useful tools well into middle school.

REVIEW: Bloodshot

REVIEW: Bloodshot

In 1992, every comics company had a guy with gun – DC’s Deathstroke, Marvel’s Punisher and Cable, Fleetway’s Judge Dredd, and then came Valiant’s Bloodshot.

In the 2010s, every studio needed a comics franchise to exploit for box office supremacy – Warner’s DC, Disney’s MCU, and Sony, not happy sharing Spider-Man with Disney, picked up Valiant’s Bloodshot from the Columbia scrap heap by way of Paramount.

In the intervening years, filmgoers had already been treated to an endless array of gun-toting, cool-looking figures from Neo to John Wick (who just happen to be played by the endlessly fascinating Keanu Reeves).

There was no particular demand for one more, certainly not one played by Vin Diesel whose range goes from A to B. From Pitch Black to Hobbs and Shaw, he’s pretty much the same guy, without the range of roles his rival, Dwayne Johnson, has managed.

So, Sony finally delivers a Diesel vehicle in Bloodshot and it was fittingly met with a giant yawn from general audiences and comics fans alike. Out now on disc and streaming, the Sony Home Entertainment film isn’t bad; it isn’t great either. What’s missing is something that feels fresh, a performance that shows us something different, and a reason to be emotionally invested.

Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a dead Marine brought back to life thanks to nanotechnology. Fresh from the grave, he intends to kill Martin Axe (Tony Kebbell), the man who murdered his wife Gina (Talulah Riley) before realizing that the man who resurrected him, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), is up to no good (ho-hum). A lot of this smacks more of Deathlok than anything else and even that’s been recycled on television.

We race around the world, we watch him fight people, break things, got injured and regenerate, rinse, repeat.

The debuting director, David S.F. Wilson, was a good choice if you’re into production design and special effects, where the film is at least moderately interesting.  Where the film needed a more skilled director was to work with hack Jeff Wadlow’s screenplay, which he’d been working on for many a year, through several studios before someone wisely brought in Eric Heisserer to finesse it, but it might have been too little, too late.

Wilson doesn’t seem to know what to do with the supporting players including the cyborg jerk Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan) or the possibly intriguing KT, played by Diesel’s Fast & Furious universe costar Eiza González, who acquitted herself nicely in Baby Driver.

Despite the bland script and lackluster direction, Diesel gives it his all and is 100% committed to the part. He just isn’t given anything interesting to do with the character.

The film suffered from bad reviews just in time for the coronavirus to shutter theaters around the world, leaving the film to a streaming fate as it eked out a mere #28 million worldwide against a $45 million budget. Whatever plans there were for a Valiant Cinematic Universe may have become an unintentional Covid-19 victim.

The movie can be found streaming and in the standard 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD flavors. The film itself was reviewed via Moviesanywhere.com and the high definition performance was sharp, clear, colorful, and just fine making the movie look better than it is.

The digital and discs have an assortment of special features that are worth a look only if you liked the feature. There’s R.S.T. HACK: CHAINSAW, a set of four animated shorts (6:20) purportedly revealing classified information on CHAINSAW.

Before Sony enthusiastically provided the cash for the ending, an earlier and less interesting version was shot and is included here with optional commentary (4:26). There are three other deleted and extended scenes: This is What we Fight For (1:22) Why can’t I remember anything (2:50), and Eric Evacuates (:31).

Rounding out the extras are the standard background pieces including Outtakes & Blooper Reel (1:59), Initiate Sequence: Directing Bloodshot (9:16), and Forgotten Soldiers: The Cast of Bloodshot (11:13).

REVIEW:Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

REVIEW: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

REVIEW:Justice League Dark: Apokolips WarAll of the marketing promises that Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, out today for digital streaming, is the final chapter of the DC Animated Movie Universe. Similar to Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame wrapping up a decade’s worth of stories, this too brings everything to a cosmic climax, the likes of which have not been attempted before. The largely successful effort clocks in at 90 minutes, making for the longest film yet in the 38 animated features from Warner Animation.

The film opens with John Constantine (Matt Ryan), now a full-fledged member of the League, in bed with Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), a moment of bliss before impending doom. The language and graphic violence definitely make this inappropriate for the youngest viewers so parents are forewarned.

Darkseid (Tony Todd) has been a looming threat and now, he launches his all-out assault on Earth. With the Titans left to defend Earth, Superman (Jerry O’Connell) leads the Justice League into battle on Apokolips. They get their asses kicked and Earth gets conquered.

Two years later…Really, no spoilers so far because this was in the first few minutes of the epic battle. Through dialogue and sparing flashbacks, writers Mairghread Scott, Christina Sotta, and Ernie Altbacker show how one by one, the world’s greatest heroes fell. Earth is now being plundered for its resources and humanity has been reduced in great numbers.

Of course, there is a resistance and this is where the bilk of the story takes place. Clark Kent, laced with Kryptonite through his body and therefore powerless, recruits Constantine, mourning Z’s death with alcohol, to help resume the fight. A loose network of heroes and villains, relying on one another for survival, forge a plan. As a result, characters from across the films are present with Lois Lane (Rebecca Romjin) taking a leadership role. And it’s no surprise lowlifes like Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre) are still around.

Meantime, Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) recruits his mother, Lady Shiva (Sachie Alessio) to join the battle. He and Raven (Taissa Farmiga) have one of the more significant storylines in this sprawling story while she and her father Trigon (Jon Bernthal) also have a major thread.

Standing in their way is Darkseid, no longer surrounded by any other member of the New Gods. His new Furies include transformed versions of Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Mera, and Hawkman. Occupying the Mobius Chair is Batman (Jason O’Mara), now a loyal servant.

As the film unfolds, one of the most glaring aspects of these massive team-ups is exposed. Characters who normally avoid death from gunfire, talon, knife, cosmic blast, etc. easily fall here to show just how overwhelming the odds are. As a result, many characters are seen in very quick cameos. Similarly, Darkseid is just way too powerful, on a scale never before seen. He seems to make easy work of not only Earth’s heroes but the entire GL Corps and kills the immortal Guardians, which doesn’t feel right. And what happens to the Central Power Battery is an incredibly false note.

Surprisingly, Constantine is far more heroic and the center of action than he should for such a cosmic tale, but given that the title is Justice League Dark, it makes some sense. The other occult members play minor roles with Etrigan (Ray Chase) getting some of the film’s best lines.

This, of course, is a story about heroes and heroism with plenty of noble sacrifices throughout. The final solution involves some of both and fittingly wraps the film series. Then there is one final problem, with 31% of Earth’s magma now gone, the planet is doomed. Superman, though, refuses to give up and as he rallies the exhausted troops, Constantine turns to one of them, telling him he knows what must be done. And the film ends as it must.

I’m not sure why they felt the need to end the continuity, but they tie up many threads from previous films. And the heroes aren’t gone for good. Coming later this year will be a new Superman tale.

The film was screened digitally and there’s an interesting gap after the end credits suggesting a post-credit hint for the future.

None of the Blu-ray’s special features were included for review but for the record, you can expect on May 19:

  • DC Showcase: Adam Strange (Animated Short) – On an asteroid mining colony, mysterious drifter Adam Strange is dismissed as an interplanetary derelict. But when the miners open a fissure into the home of a horde of deadly alien insects, his true identity is exposed. He is space adventurer Adam Strange, whose heroic backstory is played out in flashbacks as he struggles to save the very people who have scorned him for so long. Charlie Weber provides the voice of Adam Strange, alongside with Roger R. Cross, Kimberly Brooks, Ray Chase, and Fred Tatasciore. Adam Strange is produced and directed by Butch Lukic (Batman Unlimited franchise), who also conceived the original story – which is written by J.M. DeMatteis (Constantine: City of Demons).
  • Darkseid: New God/Evil Classic (New Featurette) – This documentary explores the machinations of one of fiction¹s greatest Super Villains as we learn more about what fuels Darkseid¹s drive to becoming a galactic Atilla the Hun and the importance of Deities in our classic and modern fiction.
  • Filmmaker Audio Commentary – Observations and behind-the-scenes insight from Executive Producer James Tucker, Directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and Screenwriter Ernie Altbacker.
  • Look Back: Justice League Dark (Featurette) – John Constantine leads a group of misfit characters that use magic to vanquish their opponents. This is the dark version of the Justice League taking on the malevolent forces that go beyond our plane of existence.
  • Look Back: Batman and Harley Quinn (Featurette) – Take a peek at the animated feature film, Batman and Harley Quinn, featuring the creators and talented voice cast.
  • From the DC Vault: Justice League Action, “Zombie King”
  • From the DC Vault: Justice League Action, “Abate and Switch”
  • From the DC Comics Vault: Teen Titans, “Nevermore”
  • A Sneak Peek at the next DC Universe Movie, Superman: Man of Tomorrow – An advanced look at the next animated film in the popular DC Universe Movies collection.
REVIEW: The Gentlemen

REVIEW: The Gentlemen

After dabbling in worlds created by others, including Sherlock HolmesThe Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Aladdin, director Guy Ritchie decided to return to his roots and tell a quirky English crime caper. Whether he was feeling nostalgic or attempting to regain the cred earned from the wonderful Layer Cake is unknown. What I can tell you is that while far from perfect, The Gentlemen is an entertaining delight.

The film is largely a two-handed, an engagement between Fletcher (Hugh Grant), an untrustworthy independent reporter, and Ray (Charlie Hunnam), the right hand to drug lord Michael Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). It’s move and countermove between the two as Fletcher tries to extort 20 million pounds or reveal what he believes to be the scoop of the year. And as they go back and forth, they tell each other pieces of the bigger pictures and then we go into flashbacks. Each time one thinks he’s trumped the other, we get a new wrinkle, another story, and things fall into place. By the end, you’re satisfied and amused which we could all use right about now.

The flashbacks and changing points of view may take some getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with Ritchie’s earlier work. But they and the oddball cast are what make the film worth watching. It’s terrific seeing Grant cast against type and he’s well-matched by the underseen Hunnam. That said, we’ve seen McConaughey in this role before so he’s fine, just boring in comparison, and the more versatile Michelle Dockery, as his wife Rosalind, is way under-utilized (and there should have been far more prominent women in the story). Colin Farrell steals every scene he’s in as the athletic trainer/thug Coach, who manages a gang of boxers turned gangbangers.

There’s some predictability here and there along with some stereotyped characters marring the story, but overall, this was fun to watch and should have done better before we were quarantined. There is strong production design and costuming, especially Grant and Farrell.

The film is now available from Universal Home Entertainment in all the formats you could ask for including the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital HD combo pack. Note: the digital HD is for iTunes only, which I personally object to.

The 1080p transfer nicely captures the colors, lighting, and textures. The Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 default) audio mix is also strong so the viewing experience is a positive one.

As entertaining as the film is, the Special Features leave a lot to be desired. You get Best Gentlemanly Quips (3:09), Glossary of Cannabis (00:46), Behind the Scenes of The Gentlemen (1:37), and a Photo Gallery.

 

REVIEW: Underwater

REVIEW: Underwater

REVIEW: UnderwaterListening to the audio commentary to Underwater, you can hear director William Eubank gush about the set design, the costumes, the creature effects, the title sequence, and so on, and you realize it’s about all that and not the story and characters. Any time you take your eye off the story and characters, you’re in trouble.

Underwater, out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, is a complete misfire of a horror thriller, effectively remaking Alien and setting it under the sea. It wastes an engaging enough cast anchored by Kristen Stewart, looking as fetching in her underwear as Sigourney Weaver did, and never builds enough original suspense to be worth sitting through.

She plays Norah, a mechanical engineer deep down in a corporate mining facility and of course, the corporation has ignored warnings of strange sightings, leaving the small crew vulnerable. So of course, things go wrong, one after the other, and the crew is winnowed until its just her and Jessica Henwick versus the sea creatures.

Ho hum. You know what’s coming, you don’t care when it arrives, and know how it’s going to end so you’re watching out of sluggishness, not interest.

There’re sparks of interest here and there, mostly why you remain rooted in your seat, hoping for better. The crew is led by Vincent Cassel and his French accent, complete with the always watchable T. J. Miller, and rounded out with John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright. Whatever is revealed about the characters is just enough, in the Eubanks’ mind, as he wants to keep moving the story forward, forgetting we need to be invested in the characters. One of the extended scenes visually reveals things about the crew which begs for more but it’s cut, he says, to keep the story going.

If only the story had a direction that was fresh, new, and compelling. Blame goes to the script by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad and Producers Peter Chernin, Tonia Davis, Jenno Topping who have all produced far better stories and should know better.

Stewart is an interesting actor to watch, but her film choices leave you wondering. What attracted her to such a flimsy story? It’s a waste of her skills. And while it’s always nice to see Henwick get work, she needs meatier roles.

The movie could not be reviewed on disc due to the Covid-19 protocols and was watched digitally. On MoviesAnywhere.com, the high definition edition looks good, capturing the subtle shades of the murky sea, the grubby interiors, and so on. The audio track sounds fine on a computer and a soundbar. The digital edition also comes with the Special Features you will also find on disc.

There are extended or deleted scenes, with and without commentary by Eubank, Associate Producer Jared Purrington, and Phil Gawthorne. — Call the Mover Extended Scene (1:30); Crew Suit Up Extended (1:44); Gantry Exit Extended (2:30), Baby Clinger Extended (1:35); Midway Station Extended (1:43); Ocean Floor Walk Extended (5:35); Rock Garden (:48); and Smith Departure Extended (1:01).

The trio can also optionally be heard on Alternate Ending (2:55), Real Bunny Montage (3:25); Making Underwater, in three parts: Design (17:54), Production (19:50), and Creatures & Visual Effects (19:56); Audio Commentary with Eubank, Purrington, and Gawthorne.

 

REVIEW: V the Final Battle

REVIEW: V the Final Battle

Once upon a time, when there were just three major networks, the schedules would be filled with glossy, interesting, high-concept miniseries, usually aired during the vital November, February, and May sweeps periods when the ratings were used to set advertising rates. This is what gave us great concepts like ABC’s Roots or, in 1983, V.

Metro subways and bus stations were plastered that spring with red-suited people, wearing sunglasses and big smiles, wrapping their arms around ordinary folk and we were assured: “The Visitors are our Friends”.  A few weeks later, they were replaced with replicas but now a spray-painted V covered them and we got a hint of the Visitors’ true, reptilian nature.

The V miniseries, wonderfully written and directed by Ken Johnson (he of Incredible Hulk fame) was a taut two-night affair that presented the aliens coming to Earth and befriending us before their true intentions were revealed and a resistance movement began. Johnson carefully varied both the humans and aliens so there were differing perspectives and allegiances. The show turned Marc Singer into a star and introduced the world to Robert Englund.

The May ratings were a smash, so NBC ordered a sequel entitled V: The Final Battle, a three-part epic for May 1983 that is now available on Blu-ray for the first time from Warner Archive.

Johnson was once more the mastermind although he and the network began to clash over the creative direction and he left the production.

The overall plan is that the aliens need the world’s water and are befriending humanity in an attempt to gain converts to their cause or a cowed populace who will not stand in their way. In their human disguises, they beguile, bribe, and seduce many to their cause, manipulating the media, and steadily taking control city by city.

The action in both miniseries is limited to Los Angeles, letting the novels and DC Comics adaptation (which I edited for a stretch), see what was happening elsewhere. The rebellion is led by TV reporter Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), more or less opposed by Diana (Jane Badler) and John (Richard Herd). The sequel continues where we left off but there are new complications. First, Diana’s failure to secure the planet according to schedule means her superior, Pamela (Sarah Douglas), arrives to take charge. Joining the rebels are CIA operatives Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) and his burly sidekick Chris Farber (Mickey Jones).

Teen Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin) was impregnated by the Visitor Brian (Peter Nelson) during the first miniseries so of course, she will be giving birth here. The crossbreeding, ordered by Diana, resulted in hybrid fraternal twins, a reptilian boy with blue eyes, and a human girl with a forked tongue. When Parrish, a doctor, conducts an autopsy, she discovers a strain of bacteria that killed the boy and could be turned into a weapon, dubbed Red Dust, to repel the invaders.

It’s all very good for its day, with some strong acting, good makeup, and a fast-paced story. The V phenomenon was nicely continued here.

Sadly, NBC decided to follow it with a disastrous weekly series the following season. In the hands of Dan Blatt and Robert Singer, they were making it up as they went along, ignoring internal logic or, you know, science.

Anyway, the two-disc Blu-ray looks good with a fine, If not perfect, transfer, retaining its broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix is perfectly adequate. There are no special features included beyond network teasers.

REVIEW: Hilo: All the Pieces Fit

REVIEW: Hilo: All the Pieces Fit

Hilo: All the Pieces Fit
By Judd Winick
210 pages/RH Graphic/$13.99

Receiving the sixth volume of a continuing series to review can be a daunting task if you have not read the previous five, especially if there is no recap section preceding the story (a complaint I have about most series).

That said, this volume, wrapping the initial storyline takes a little time to get one’s feet wet then you are propelled through the action, figuring things out along the way. Credit to Judd Winick for being adept at doing this so by the end, you’re not just accustomed to the characters but emotionally invested in the team of protagonists trying to protect the world.

The series kicked off in 2015 so readers of this mid-grade series can grow up with the characters and if they’ve outgrown it after this volume, they will be satisfied. And for those who are just finding it, be assured volume seven and a new story arrives in 2021.

Hilo is an android built to resemble an elementary school student and drops from the sky onto Earth. He was befriended by D.J. and Gina and over the course of the series, they learn about him and his extradimensional origins as well as the threat presented by Razorwark. What does this red-armored being want with Hilo and Earth?

This volume has the first in-person confrontation between Hilo and Razorwark with the fate of the world at stake. Gina finds herself playing a significant role as magic comes into this mostly SF story and there’s a heroic sacrifice that will no doubt require tissues for the younger readers.

Winick, no stranger to graphic storytelling, evolves the status quo so the end of book six leaves everyone different from book one, which is a good thing. His writing is breezy and his open, cartoony style is filled with kinetic motion and letting big moments take whole pages. It becomes a quick-paced read after the first 30 or so pages as we build momentum.

There’s a lot to recommend in this all-ages series, but you must start with book one.

 

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

I pity Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn for not being able to find its audience, having the misfortune of opening just as the pandemic entered the news. Shunted to streaming, it’s languished and honestly, it’s entertaining and fun.

It’s not as good as anticipated.

Long in development, the movie was the brainchild of Margot Robbie, who immortalized the live-action version in 2016’s Suicide Squad misfire. Her role was largely inspired on the New 52/Rebirth take on the character, more Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti than Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. She was certainly the best thing about the movie so a spinoff featuring her and some of DC Comics’ other heroines sounded great.

She bonded with screenwriter Christina Hodson, best known for her solid work on Bumblebee (and credited as the writer of the still unfilmed Flash), and they crafted a gonzo story that picked up where the other film ended, hence the “emancipation” portion of the mouthful of a title.

Harley Quinn has severed her ties with the Joker and is adrift, wallowing in self-pity, leaving a trail of destruction on a large scale. A regular at the Black Mask Club, run by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she befriends Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a torch singer turned Sionis’ personal driver. She’s on hand to witness Sionis’ thug Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) picking up a valuable diamond, only to have it snatched from him by the teen thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Elsewhere, Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is investigating Harley’s actions while a female vigilante (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is killing criminals. And we’re off.

The diamond is the magnetic McGuffin that brings the women together to oppose Sionis and his criminal forces climaxing in an amazing battle at an abandoned Fun House.

Review: ‘Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey’

The various women all get their backstories told in various flashbacks and Hodson gets credit for playing with the story structure so we’re getting multiple points of view, flashbacks, and voiceovers (with Harley not the most reliable of narrators). Still, we learn Dinah is the daughter of Black Canary who, we gather, was protecting Gotham City before Batman arrived. The entire sense of legacy is cool but tossed of in a line and never picked up so we never fully understand Dinah’s reluctance to embrace her sonic powers and fighting skills.

Cassandra is there in name only, serving the fans and doing a massive disservice to the fans of her four-color source. What we have here is closer to a female Short Round with a potty mouth.

As underwritten as the women are, the men are worse off with Szasz, a deadly opponent in the comics, is reduced to being a sidekick thug who never comes off as menacing. Sionis’ comics origins were creepier and he was far more threatening in comics than here. McGregor was miscast or misdirected because he never rises to a true threat or memorable screen villain. At best, he’s a wanna-be Bond villain, at worst, he’s just boring.

Gotham City’s edges are the focal point of the story but Gotham, when well-used, is a character in its own right and the film’s production design fails to accomplish this until we get the final quarter, both at the amusement park and then at a pier. Until then, it’s a generic city which is not Gotham, home to the Bat. His presence gets a shout out but never seems to influence the cops or the criminals.

Where the film excels is energy, with some of the best stunts and action sequences yet found in a super-hero film. Kudos to the stunt team and the actors who just let it rip and looked like they were having a ball.

Director Cathy Yan gets credit for bringing a loose sense of verve to the proceedings but I wish a little more care went into characterization and its place in the greater DC filmed universe.  She and Robbie hope for a sequel with Poison Ivy, which could be fun, but the box office forecast makes that an iffy proposition at best.

The movie can be rent or bought on your favorite streaming service. The copy reviewed via MoviesAnywhere.com nicely captured the range of colors and tones from daylight to foggy night. The audio at home was just fine so overall, watching from the home screen wasn’t an issue.

The film is accompanied by a routine assortment of special features which, light the film,  keep things bright and always on the surface: Birds Eye View Mode, the entire film with pop up trivia and commentary offering some interesting tidbits and insights; Whip it Real Good (:55), a shorter version of the Skating piece; Birds of a Feather (8:26), everyone gushes; Romanesque (4:57), a look at Roman Sionis; A Love, Skate Relationship (4:29), a brief look at the real world roller derby women who participated in the film and the stunts on wheels; Grime and Crime (10:38), exploring the production design; Sanity is sooo last Season (7:39), a look at costumes and accessories; Wild Nerds (6:03), all about the unusual approach to storytelling including the visual effects, notably scenes with Bruce the hyena; and Gag Reel (2:02).