Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

There was a lot of sturm and drang at Pixar before they committed to making Toy Story 2, afraid their golden child might be ruined by a lackluster sequel. Not to worry, it was charming and a box office hit. They wisely waited until they had the exact story to tell for Toy Story 3, a film who’s ending never fails to elicit a tear or two for my long-ago childhood.

At first, we were dealing with Woody (Tom Hanks) coming to grips with his human, Andy, seeming to prefer the new, shiny Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Then there was a little matter of Andy aging out and what that meant for the toys. They’re meant to be cherished, not neglected, so the passing of them to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) was a perfect touch.

But Bonnie is not Andy and her tastes are her own. She’s younger, of almost an entirely different generation, and Woody is left to wonder what is his role today? These existential issues are nicely played from beginning to end in the charming Toy Story 4, out now on disc from Disney Home Entertainment.

Bonnie is ready for school and Woody, always looking after the toys and his human, feels a responsibility to be there for her. No need, it turns out, as her kindergarten orientation gave her the opportunity to create her own toy, turning an ordinary spork into her new playmate, Forky (Tony Hale). Its problem is that Forky believes it was meant to be used once and disposed of, not loved. Once again, Woody feels responsible for keeping Forky from suicide and ruining Bonnie’s budding school career.

When the family goes on a road trip, things get complicated as a visit to an antique store introduces Woody to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a girl’s doll created with a defective voice box and relegated to a shelf. She and her Jerry Mahoney-like dummies sweet-talk and entrap Woody, in order to obtain the thing she feels would make her desirable. Forky winds up a hostage so it’s Woody to the rescue, aided by Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who vanished years before and wound up in the store, a toughened go-it-alone figure.

Some of the action sequences in first-time director Josh Cooley’s hands are overdone at the expense of the menagerie of toys having anything useful to do. Instead, the thematic focus is entirely on Woody and his place in this strange new world. He does what he does and along the way, recognizes its time for the next chapter of his life. The ending makes sense and works emotionally even if we take our sweet time getting there.

The film has been released in a variety of formats including a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD code combo pack. The 1080p high definition transfer captures the colors nicely and we can marvel at how far the CGI animation has come since the first film (1995). The Blu-ray defaults to the DTS-HD HR 5.1 audio track although you can easily upgrade to the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Both sound just fine, if not perfect.

The combo pack comes with two Blu-ray discs with Special Features on both. The first, with the film, also offers up Bo Rebooted (6:21); Toy Stories (5:38) as cast and crew reminisce; and Audio Commentary with Cooley and Producer Mark Nielsen. The second disc contains Let’s Ride with Ally Maki (5:41), the voice of Giggle McDimples, goes in the recording process; Woody & Buzz (3:35); Anatomy of a Scene: Playground (9:31); Carnival Run (1:00); View from the Roof (0:29); Toy Box (13:00), introducing Gabby Gabby, the Vincent dummies, Forky, Duke Caboom, Ducky & Bunny, and Giggle McDimples; Deleted Scenes (28:00), Introduction, Scamming Playtime, Bo Knows Hippos, Desperate Toys, Knock-Offs, Recruit Duke, and She’s the One.

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

The Doomsday Saga sprawled across the four monthly Superman titles for the better part of a year, clearly too long to successfully adapt as part of the DC Animated Universe series of films. When The Death of Superman was announced, everyone knew a second film would follow and sure enough, viewers were treated to The Reign of the Superman. The 1992-93 storyline was streamlined and revised to be fit into the animated continuity, so characters who weren’t around at the time, are here now.

Warner Home Entertainment has edited the two films together into a 2:46 and has released it as The Death and Return of Superman released in a variety of formats including the nifty 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition Gift Set (4K, Blu-ray, Digital HD, and a Steel action figure). The 4K gift set comes with Superman: Doomsday as a bonus 4K disc.

As noted in reviews of the two films, it does a reasonable, but not perfect, job of taking the serialized story and putting it all together. Lex Luthor gets played up more than he deserves and the Justice League’s core heroes have a far more prominent role. The “replacement” heroes – Steel, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, and the Eradicator – are all here for good or ill, adding new players for future films.

As one would expect, the excellent voice cast is back including Jerry O’Connell’s Superman, Rebecca Romjin’s Lois, and Rainn Wilson’s Luthor, supported by Jason O’Mara (Batman), Rosario Dawson (Wonder Woman), Shemar Moore (Cyborg), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern), Matt Lanter (Aquaman), Christopher Gorham (The Flash), and Nyambi Nyambi (Martian Manhunter). They are joined by Cress Williams (Steel), Cameron (Superboy), Patrick Fabian (Hank Henshaw), and Charles Halford (Eradicator).

In the edit, some dropped sequences are back, helping seamlessly meld the two into one, despite an unavoidable shift in tone given the Man of Steel’s prominence only in the first half and the void he left subduing the second.

It’s faithful enough and satisfying enough to own. As for which version to buy (or give, after all, the release is timed for holiday giving), the Blu-ray 1080p is just fine both visually and aurally. The 4K is nicer but not enough to justify the cost, unless you really want the Steel figure or find a good sale..

Thankfully, there’s a nice new special feature, Long Live Superman (45:57), with co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee joined by creators Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Brett Breeding, Neal Adams, and Danny Fingeroth discussing his history and enduring appeal. The celebration includes commentary on Action Comics #1000 and footage from the Fleischer cartoons, George Reeves television series, first Chris Reeve film, and various DCAU films.

Carried over from the previous editions are The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All, Lex Luthor: The Greatest Nemesis, and six episodes from various series: Legion of Superheroes, “Dark Victory: Part 1-2”; Superman: The Animated Series, “Heavy Metal”, Justice League Unlimited, “Panic in the Sky”.

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

I’ve recently spent some time in the Syracuse University Archives researching old comic strips. It turns out they have an incredible collection of original artwork by top tier comic artists – everyone from Hal Foster to Frank Robbins.  It’s quite a thrill and every time I view these originals I feel like a kid who’s successfully raided the cookie jar – and got away with it.

That’s how the new Monster Island book made me feel.  You might remember Graham Nolan’s independent comic from about 20 years ago.  It was a kick to follow along as two military folks fight their way across an island full of monsters.  And it’s not Frankenstein or the Wolfman – these are monsters in the classic Kirby-Atlas Comics or Godzilla-TOHO studios mold. Big and scary and nutty and goofy and fun. My kinda monsters.

You’ve seen this format before. Scott Dunbier and IDW have essentially created the category we all call Artist’s Editions. These books are shot from the original pages complete with production notes, blemishes, corrections and handwritten scrawls. Reading one of these is the closest most of us will ever come to holding the original art in our hands for one sitting.

Graham Nolan is a strong artist, and he’s also a strong storyteller. He’s got a vibrant visual sense (I’ve been a fan since the old Hawkword series) and here, as the writer, he’s able to introduce big concepts and keep the story moving, all the while helping readers get to know the cute couple at the center of the story.

This volume is even more fun as it includes extras. Some as you’d expect, like the character sketches, are wonderful and whimsical. Of note are the comic strip versions of Monster Island. Years ago, Graham Nolan had repackaged the strip to sell to a newspaper syndication. His efforts never went anywhere (it’s a shame, as this thriller lends itself to this format), but it did lead to him getting the gig penciling the Phantom for several years.

The story is fun, but beyond that, I find Nolan’s efforts inspirational. He comes across as the kind of guy who has a vision and puts in the hours to see if he can make it a reality.

Kudos to him -and I am sure he has inspired up and coming creatives over the years.

REVIEW: Anna

REVIEW: Anna

Luc Besson captured my attention with Léon the Professional in 1994 and since then, I’ve wanted to love everything he’s done, but the man is incredibly inconsistent so it’s as if every other film is worth a look. However, he hasn’t really scored since 2014’s Lucy. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was a pretty misfire and now we have Anna.

The film, out now on disc from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, is another in a long line of admirable female empowerment tales. His French action-thriller has its moments, and a (literally) cheeky performance by Helen Mirren, but has a low-budget look and feel that never goes beyond the surface so every single character feels one-dimensional.

We are introduced to the latest find, Sasha Luss, a willowy blonde who can kick ass but pales in comparison to the far superior Atomic Blonde. At first, she is a down on her luck girlfriend to a drug dealing moron, but then gets recruited to work for Russian Intelligence, where she is trained to deadly perfection by Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans), who then convinces KGB chief (or something, its unclear) Olga (Mirren) to take and use his new weapon.

Where the film succeeds best is its frequent time-bending storytelling so you only think you know what’s going on before they rewind and fill in some vital gaps. As a result, the story evolves and can intrigue you, but its utter vapidity and absurdness, staggers the imagination. Olga sends her into the field for a test with an unloaded gun and then we have the first of several high-octane set pieces that are too broad and comical to be taken seriously.

Along the way, she wearies of the life, and preferring to stay in at home with her model girlfriend Maud (Lera Abova) or find a way out of her career as a killer, undercover as a fashion model. She crosses paths with CIA officer Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy) and he may offer her a ticket to paradise. Or not.

There’s a drabness to the photography, adding to a somber look with just flashes of color, usually Anna in various states of dress or undress. With the characters incredibly underwritten, a solid cast is given little to do except go through the paces and tick off the check marks. The action is either okay or over-the-top, unremarkable all around.

Such a weak state of affairs may explain is worldwide bomb at the box office, grossing under $30 million after a summer in theaters.

The film was released in an assortment of formats including Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Shot digitally, the native 2K high definition transfer is perfectly fine if as unexceptional as the film itself. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is up to the task for every punch and tire squeal.

There are a handful of average special features including Dressing a Doll: The Costumes of Anna (8:06); Anatomy of a Scene: The Restaurant Fight (6:41); Unnesting a Russian Doll: Making Anna (13:57); and Constructing the Car Chase (5:40).

REVIEW: The Dead Don’t Die

REVIEW: The Dead Don’t Die

The zombie fad appears to be in its final days given the trickle of new novels, movies, and television shows. Another sure sign of its impending end is the arrival of satire, this time in the form of The Dead Don’t Die, a atar-studded comedy that shambled on and off the screen before you noticed it.

The film, out on disc now from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, should have been a laugh riot, a brilliant takedown of the genre., At least, that was the expectation that came with the pedigree: Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, and yes, both Iggy Pop and Tom Waits.

Set in a small town in west Pennsylvania, clearly an homage to the godfather of zombie films George A. Romero, the film starts off well enough but by the midpoint, shifts from comedy to action/comedy and loses its footing, decayed bits falling off with a thud.

While local farmers begin noting oddities, we’re told that Earth has shifted its rotational axis resulting in the birth of zombies, out for living flesh to consume. The battle for survival sets the stage for hilarity to commence. We certainly chuckle here and there, but Jarmusch never fully commits to poking fun at the zuvembi, not like the Zuckers did with the airplane disaster genre, and we the audience are all the worse for it.

We’re treated instead to chuckles, the occasional guffaw, and then loses itself and never recovers, leaving you deeply disappointed and dismayed. There should have been a lot more social satire interwoven with the genre spoof, but everyone plays it cautiously.

The film is out in the usual formats including a fine Blu-ray and Digital HD combo. The 1080p high definition transfer works just fine although not perfectly, much like the film itself.  The same can be said for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Together, they make for a satisfactory home viewing experience.

The assortment of special features proves, perhaps, more disappointing than the film itself, since they are all very short, avoiding any depth, analysis, or background for the curious. We have  Bill Murray: Zombie Hunting Action Star (1:21); Stick Together (2:47) where the cast praise their director; Behind the Scenes of The Dead Don’t Die: six-parts — Zombie Tai Chi (0:55), Growl Practice (0:18), A Spin Around the Set (0:32), Craft Services (1:00), Undead Symphony (2:16), and, Finger Food (0:22).

REVIEW: Flash Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot

REVIEW: Flash Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot

Flash Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot
By Barry Lyga
320 pages, Amulet Books, $13.99

I’ll stipulate upfront that Barry Lyga is an old pal from his days at Diamond Distributing. I’ve delighted to see him become a successful YA novelist and here, he brings his two worlds together in the latest of Amulet Books’ series of novels based on the CW shows. Lyga has been writing books based on The Flash, mining the show and the comics it is based on for a satisfying blend.

This novel is actually the first chapter that, as the title suggests, will involve not only Team Flash but Green Arrow, the Legends, and Supergirl. What could possibly require so much firepower? Well, let’s start with the arrival of speedster refugees from Earth-27 and their oppressors, the Crime Syndicate of America. Harassing the residents of that world is Anti-Matter Man (a one-off foe from the JLA-JSA team-up in Justice League of America #47-48), a seemingly mindless creation from the anti-matter universe of Qward.

See? You definitely need to know your DC lore to fully appreciate the Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel. Thankfully, Lyga pauses to explain al the television continuity references, especially as they relate to characters and previous episodes.

Now, if the CSA isn’t enough of a problem, Joe West and Dinah Drake, Black Canary, are on the hunt for crimes seemingly perpetrated by the Bug-Eyed Bandit, but they also encounter Irwin Schwab. Yes, Barry has managed to integrate Ambush Bug into the narrative and it makes the reader chuckle.

Readers need to pay close attention, because the story here and in his previous trilogy, are set in a splinter reality, one where Flashpoint didn’t happen so, for example, Dig’s child is still a girl. It’s a neat way to offer up the same flavor of adventure without messing with the still-evolving television continuity. The temporal mechanics of this splinter reality and it’s own multiverse may give you headache so best not to think too much about that but focus instead on the story.

There’s plenty of rising action, plenty of fighting with Ultraman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring, but what’s real interesting is the hidden, growing menace posed by Owlman. We get this through Earth-27’s James Jesse, who is not the Trickster, but deathly afraid of the costumed criminal.

If Lyga could have done anything differently, it would have been to to focus more on the characters, their personalities, and their interactions. He does this with Joe and Dinah but it just made me want to see more.

This YA novel is a good, easy read and if you enjoy the series its based on, then you’ll have a good time here. You can expect the second installment in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, these successful shows have inspired their own spin-off series in various forms, the latest being the Crossover Crisis trilogy by Barry Lyga. I was given a chance to have a look at the first book, The Flash Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot, thanks to Abrams Books and its imprint responsible for the book series, Amulet.

So, as with everything else I’ve ever reviewed, let’s start with the design! I really like the way this book looks–it isn’t a graphic novel, it is a YA novel, but it has the pizzazz of a graphic novel. I learned that César Moreno, the cover illustrator, has an extensive background with producing covers and posters for comic book series, so it makes sense. He also has done the covers for several other The Flash series novels that Lyga has written, so he definitely knows his stuff.

The inside of this book seems as though it was put together just as carefully. Although the Flash has the big name on the cover, the inside of the cover is Green Arrow’s forest green. Every page of the actual story has a lightning bolt design, with the beginnings of chapters dominated by lightning bolts radiating from the chapter number. This is used to great effect during the climax of the book when the design is switched up a little (the normally white page is colored black, while the design and words still stand out in gray and against a white text box, respectively). The care in design is also evident in the “To be continued…” teaser page, where the lightning bolts rush across the page, as if the Flash has just run by, already onto his next adventure.

The book is set up in something of a comic book format: although it’s primarily in text, we still get things like “the story thus far” in the beginning, a teaser for the next volume, and so on. These are also nice touches and makes the book easier to pick up for readers new to or not very familiar with the Flash.

A strength the book has is easing readers into the Flash’s universe. I’m more familiar with the Flash in his animated ventures, so I appreciated the economic explanations for things that appeared to be tied in with both his and Green Arrow’s respective live-action shows. Towards the climax, there were a couple of new elements introduced quickly that I had trouble keeping up with, but not being too familiar with either live-action show, I’m not quite the target audience for this story. I imagine that a fan of the related shows wouldn’t have this problem at all.

Nonetheless, I found the story a fun venture–it really does feel like a comic put to text, keeping the usual vigor and excitement, with an unfolding mystery that I could imagine as a regular comic story very easily. It involves mirror universes overlapping, with different villains (who are seen as heroes in their brutish worlds and are identical to certain heroes in our Flash and Green Arrow’s world) appearing in Central City with the help of a dimensional rift, along with thousands of multiverse refugees. They are harbingers for even bigger troubles in both this and presumably later books in the trilogy.

The Flash and Green Arrow in Legends of Today

This isn’t the first time the heroes have lent each other a hand, either! (‘The Flash,’ “Legends of Today”)

Although that is more or less the main plot, there’s also a lot going on in B and C stories that also have to do with the alternate worlds interacting to some extent. The story never flags and it never feels overwhelming, either: it seems that, for the most part, action-heavy or high-tension moments are balanced with just as important, but more leisurely-paced chapters. Leisurely compared to the Flash’s normal pace, of course. To be honest, it’s what I would consider the “B” story–featuring Brie Larvan’s bees and her brother–that has me the most intrigued for the next two The Flash Crossover Crisis books. There’s something about those robo-bees! The multiverse villains also tease a bigger story that will come to a head for the patient that makes you want to stick with things, not to mention the book’s actual teaser which names Supergirl as a player in book two.

One thing I noticed and appreciated was that Lyga does not appear to talk down to his audience. The book is officially classified as YA by Abrams and Amulet Books. Sometimes this means that existing stories are repackaged and reduced to the simplest terms. Lyga does not seem to be afraid of challenging his target audience and regularly throws high school vocabulary in as well as high school math (to his credit, he takes the reader through the math as succinctly and clearly as one probably can, though it still filled me with dread because, you know, math). He is also great at presenting examples to explain these ideas, again, without talking down to the reader. He just nudges them along. It’s a hard thing to balance, but Lyga manages it.

Another upside–or possibly downside, depending on how you look at it–of this book is that I found it a relatively fast read. As I said earlier, I found it as vibrant as reading actual comics, and sat down with it in the same way, reading it in just two or three longish sessions. A recurring thought was that if the book was a comic, I would already be waiting for the next issue to continue the story. I was glad I didn’t have to wait for that! (Although, of course, I have to wait for the next book in the series.) The upside is that there are several other Flash books by Lyga to tide a reader over while waiting for the next The Flash Crossover Crisis, as well as a related Supergirl series by Jo Whittemore.

All in all, this was an enjoyable book that reminded me why I had liked the Flash so much when I was actively watching Justice League or other DC property-cartoons that featured him. Although the Green Arrow was also in these shows, I don’t recall paying much attention to him, and I now feel like I ought to go back and give him a fair shot; he seems like an interesting character as well.

I also think this would be a great book for reluctant readers, as well as regular readers in its target audience. As I said, I like that it doesn’t talk down to its target readers, and it’s exciting enough that I think readers won’t mind having to look up a few words or suss out a concept on their own. (I only hope that I’m not the one a kid asks about the math!)

The Flash Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot by Barry Lyga will be hitting bookstore shelves on August 13. It is currently available for preorder.

Join Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and the rest of Team Flash and Team Arrow in an all-new adventure from author Barry Lyga. Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot is the first in a trilogy that finds our heroes facing a crisis that could end not just their universe, but all of them.

I have apparently been living under a rock for years, because I didn’t even know that there were books based on the DCTV CW shows; that was silly of me. Of course there are books based on those shows. I mean, even Teen Wolf had books. Anyway, the Crossover Crisis series will feature characters from The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow. Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot focuses primarily on Team Flash and Team Arrow and has a mystery in each city. In Star City, a serial bomber somehow connected to Brie Larvan is terrorizing the city, while in Central City, a dimensional breach has opened and thousands of refugees from Earth 27 are pouring through, fleeing Anti-Matter Man, who has rendered their planet uninhabitable.

Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot reads just like an episode of The Flash with one key difference – Flashpoint never happened. All of the characters are perfectly recognizable; I can picture them clearly and hear their voices in my head. There’s not a lot of introspection or exposition, but in a book like this where we already know the characters, they’re really not necessary, and I don’t think the book is lacking because of it.

The writing style is simple, and this is a quick, easy read, but it isn’t dumbed down. I imagine it’s much like reading a script for one of the shows. Also, as someone who is familiar with both shows but hasn’t watched in quite some time, I wasn’t lost or struggling to figure out who was who or what was going on. There is backstory peppered throughout, and for people who are caught up, it might seem a little redundant, but for someone like me, it was very helpful in allowing me to follow along. I really liked the story and am completely intrigued by the concept of the alternate timeline – I kind of hope that comes up at some point in the series.

Fans of The Flash and Arrow who are looking for more adventures with these characters will like this book. It was rather an enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to the next books in the series!

——-

Crossover Crisis: Green Arrow’s Perfect Shot by Barry Lyga is published by Amulet Books and is currently available wherever books are sold.

*I was provided with a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

By Barry Lyga

320 pages, Amulet Books, $13.99

I’ll stipulate upfront that Barry Lyga is an old pal from his days at Diamond Distributing. I’ve delighted to see him become a successful YA novelist and here, he brings his two worlds together in the latest of Amulet Books’ series of novels based on the CW shows. Lyga has been writing books based on The Flash, mining the show and the comics it is based on for a satisfying blend.

This novel is actually the first chapter that, as the title suggests, will involve not only Team Flash but Green Arrow, the Legends, and Supergirl. What could possibly require so much firepower? Well, let’s start with the arrival of speedster refugees from Earth-27 and their oppressors, the Crime Syndicate of America. Harassing the residents of that world is Anti-Matter Man (a one-off foe from the JLA-JSA team-up in Justice League of America #47-48), a seemingly mindless creation from the anti-matter universe of Qward.

See? You definitely need to know your DC lore to fully appreciate the Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel. Thankfully, Lyga pauses to explain al the television continuity references, especially as they relate to characters and previous episodes.

Now, if the CSA isn’t enough of a problem, Joe West and Dinah Drake, Black Canary, are on the hunt for crimes seemingly perpetrated by the Bug-Eyed Bandit, but they also encounter Irwin Schwab. Yes, Barry has managed to integrate Ambush Bug into the narrative and it makes the reader chuckle.

Readers need to pay close attention, because the story here and in his previous trilogy, are set in a splinter reality, one where Flashpoint didn’t happen so, for example, Dig’s child is still a girl. It’s a neat way to offer up the same flavor of adventure without messing with the still-evolving television continuity. The temporal mechanics of this splinter reality and its own multiverse may give you headache so best not to think too much about that but focus instead on the story.

There’s plenty of rising action, plenty of fighting with Ultraman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring, but what’s real interesting is the hidden, growing menace posed by Owlman. We get this through Earth-27’s James Jesse, who is not the Trickster, but deathly afraid of the costumed criminal.

If Lyga could have done anything differently, it would have been to to focus more on the characters, their personalities, and their interactions. He does this with Joe and Dinah but it just made me want to see more.

This YA novel is a good, easy read and if you enjoy the series its based on, then you’ll have a good time here. You can expect the second installment in 2020.

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 1 by Tardi

I probably should say this first: this book is titled I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 1 . And it’s credited to “Tardi.”

One might easily assume “Tardi” means “Rene Tardi,” the chap who was a POW. But one would be wrong.

Rene died in 1986, and never drew comics. (There are some of his sketches in the frontmatter here, so I don’t want to say he didn’t draw anything. He could draw better than me, for one thing.)

This “Tardi” is his son Jacques, who originally used both of those names for his bandes dessinees until the weight of all of those other French cartoonists who only use one name got to be too much for him, and he succumbed to the lure of the single moniker.

Even in a case, like this one, where that creates confusion. Style is more important than anything else, eh mes amis?

Rene POW is a 2012 comic — translated into English for a 2018 publication in the US — based on a series of notebooks that Jacques made during conversations with his father in the early ’80s. One may presume that he had the idea for this book even then; Jacques Tardi had been a working cartoonist for over a decade at that point. But it took a few more decades for him to get around to it, during years when he told stories about The Great War and Paris detectives and Adele Blanc-Sec and American crime and steampunky super-science and many more.

For a book that claims to be a memoir of WWII, Rene POW has some very odd elements. It starts off with an introduction by Dominique Grange, which is mostly about her father and only secondarily about Rene Tardi. Somewhat later in the book, the reader realizes that Grange is Jacques Tardi’s wife, but the book does not explain this explicitly anywhere. In honor of that connection, Rene meets Grange’s father in that POW camp later in the book — they didn’t actually meet then in real life, or at least didn’t remember it.

And then the book itself is framed as Rene telling the story to Jacques. Rene looks like he did at the time of the war, a strong, angry young man in his uniform, and he narrates the book — sometimes as a voice coming out of nowhere, sometimes as his young self in the scene. And then Jacques appears as a schoolboy, maybe ten or thirteen, who wanders through the scenes without being part of them, questioning his father in words that mostly seem to be post-Rene’s death but sometimes do turn into a conversation between the two men.

So this is neither exactly what Rene wrote nor a true collaboration between the two. It is instead based on notes made while Rene was alive, but full of questions and second thoughts that Jacques only had after his father was dead. But that’s the only way to collaborate with the dead: to take everything they did and said, and present it as honestly as possible, while also pointing out the things they didn’t do or say.

POW life in WWII was horrible, and the French had it nearly the worst. (The Russians probably had it the absolute worst, and the Americans probably the “best.”) Rene Tardi was in Stalag IIB for basically the entire war; he was captured just as France fell. So he has a long time of horrible events to cover here, and they are horrible and unpleasant and full of hideous details.

This is not quite as searing as Tardi’s books about World War One; this book is about his own father, who survived the war. But it’s still a war story, and it’s a reminder of how much war destroys — not just the people who are killed and the cities that are flattened, but also what’s broken in even the people who survive.

[1] Completely unconnected footnote: I realized, when putting together this post, that I don’t have a snarky tag for France. (England has There Will Always Be An England , for example, but I tend to use the vaguer Foreigners Sure Are Foreign  for the whole rest of the world, which may not be the best plan.) My first thought, since my tags tend to be super-sarcastic and borderline obnoxious, was Wogs Begin at Calais, but that’s vastly too offensive.

So, instead, I’m creating the slightly less offensive new tag 246 Kinds of Cheese, in honor of De Gaulle. I trust you will treat this with exactly as much seriousness as it deserves.

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

REVIEW: Lego Batman: Family Matters

REVIEW: Lego Batman: Family Matters

There seems to be no end to Lego films featuring pop culture’s greatest heroes and villains. Out now from Warner Home Entertainment is Lego Batman: Family Matters, featuring the Caped Crusader (Troy Baker), Robin (Scott Menville), Nightwing (Will Friedle), Batgirl (Alyson Stoner), and Batwoman (Tara Strong) facing off against the Red Hood (Jason Spisak), Scarecrow (Steve Blum), Wizard ((Ralph Garman), Penguin (Tom Kenny), Killer Croc (Nolan North), Riddler (André Sogliuzzo), Solomon Grundy (Fred Tatasclore) and Two-Face (Christian Lanz). What more could a kid want?

The movie is released in numerous packages but the target viewer will want the Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack with the bonus Mini Ultimate Batmobiel (84 pieces).

Writer Jeremy Adams takes Under the Red Hood and modifies it for the younger audience. Given the title, you know there will be a lot of focus on the Batman Family, and these are the best moments in the 79-minute production. The action is fine, but overall, it’s a so-so production compared with the fresh, cheeky previous productions.

There are quips, asides, breaking the fourth wall, but it all feels too familiar. The story, directed by Matt Peters, moves along fine enough, but just doesn’t excite the viewer.

The movie looks fine in Blu-ray, at the 16×9 aspect ratio, with good colors and crisp images. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is up to the match, capturing the colorful biffs and pows. There are no special features given the target audience’s obvious lack of interest in such content.

Mix Picks: Mountainhead #1

Up in the corner of every IDW cover, the corporate brand image has been temporarily modified to help celebrate the company’s (impressive) 20 years in business. The iconic IDW lightbulb icon implies a level of creativity and fresh ideas. And their new comic Mountainhead lives up to that – it’s fresh, different and gripping.

This series starts out telling the story of the Stubbs family – a father and son team who are always on the run and living off the grid. They break into houses and burglarize them.  It’s not quite as straightforward as all that, though. One key tenet of their modus operandi is to not get sucked into the never-ending messaging of our consumer-focused society.  The father reminds the son, Abraham, during a break-in, that “it’s all just stuff”.   Additionally, the father reinforces the concept of not defining oneself by one’s possessions.   That’s a great message, but when Abraham comes a across an electric guitar, the reader can see it gets more difficult to hang onto these highfalutin ideals.

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