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Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart

So this is much more of a conventional superhero thing than I thought it was. Oh, it’s pretty good – Lemire is a strong writer, as always

, and Ormston does that pseudo-horror look that is nearly a Dark Horse house style (or maybe just rules the Mignolaverse). But I was expecting something quirkier. (Note that Black Hammer is four years old. I had plenty of time to get more details; I just didn’t bother.)

It’s not clear if this was really a team. No name for the group is given in this first collection. But a half-dozen of the superheroes who used to defend Spiral City have been stuck on a farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere for ten years, after a battle with Darkseid “the Anti-God”. They saved the world, and ended up here. The creators don’t tell us how or why in this story – I’m sure it becomes clear later.

None of them are Black Hammer. Black Hammer isn’t the name of the group either. Black Hammer was another guy, the one who died as part of the whole saving-the-world thing. (Or maybe afterward, discovering that they really can’t get out of this small bit of farm landscape with one small town.) The actual hammer he used – this is a superhero comic, so obviously “Black Hammer” is a large Black man who carries a hammer to hit things with until evil is vanquished, because superhero comics are still written for the particularly stupid children of 1938 – is lying on the ground in a field, as if to shame Chekhov into thinking a gun on a mantlepiece could ever be sufficiently obvious.

Black Hammer, the series, is not exactly a pastiche – it’s not “doing the favorite superhero stories of my youth, only as if written by a functional adult” like Astro City has generally aimed for, or “I want to tell stories of these existing characters, but the IP owners haven’t hired me to do so, so decipher this really transparent code” like a dozen others. The characters are pastiches, though — most of them very obviously so:

  • Golden Gail is Mary Marvel, with the serial numbers crudely altered
  • Abraham Slam is the standard WW II strong guy, powered by gumption rather than magic or superscience
  • Barbalien, Warlord from Mars is J’onn J’onz lightly run through a Edgar-Rice-Burroughs-inator
  • Madame Dragonfly is Madame Xanadu with details changed, your standard ’70s horror host with weird and mysterious powers (and a tragic backstory involving accidentally creating a muck-monster boyfriend and eventually losing him)
  • Col. Weird is an ’80s-style reimagining of Adam Strange, transformed by his journeys through the Anti-Zone into a distracted, ghostly, transitory presence
  • Talky-Walky is Weird’s robot sidekick, more or less an equal member of the group on the farm
Black Hammer: Secret Origins  collects the first six issues of the main Black Hammer series, beginning when those six have been living on “The Farm” for ten years. Some of them may have been aging, such as Abraham (though this is unclear: we don’t know when this story takes place and he’s been around since 1939 without any powers to keep him young), while Gail has definitely not been aging, which is a plot point.
Speaking of the unclear timeline: Gail and Abe are clearly WWII heroes, with forty or fiftyish years of history behind them. That puts us in the ’80s or ’90s. Weird and Barbalien are ’50s characters with some history as well, Weird specifically a ’50s character with a later (’70s or ’80s) spin put on him. Dragonfly was probably the “newest” character if we think of them as being part of an established universe. But all of them probably had at least a decade’s worth of adventures behind them, and most of them multiple decades.
This is a combination “introducing the team” arc – they each get an extended flashback to show their origins and life back in Spiral City – and examination of how well they’re all getting along here on the farm. Abe is doing best: he’s making time with a local age-appropriate waitress (ex-wife of the unpleasant local sheriff) and finally gets into her pants during this story. Gail is doing worst: she’s stuck in the superhero body of her nine-year-old self and has been repeating the same grade in a crappy rural school every year. Barbalien might be becoming a churchgoer. Dragonfly is mystical and detached, and clearly has Deep Secrets that readers will need to wait to learn. Weird is barely sane at the best of times, fading in and out of reality. Talky is just keepin’ on keepin’ on.
Near the end, there is a Shocking Event from Outside, and everyone who has ever read a superhero comic will immediately see the next three or four plotlines coming out of that. (Most obviously: Black Hammer II! The sensational character find of whatever-the-hell-year-this-is!)
I’m being pretty dismissive here, because this is all very deeply derivative stuff. Lemire makes that clear in the sketches and other materials collected after the story: there are even ’80s DC Universe-style character sheets for all of the major characters (and several who didn’t make it in). The derivative-ness is the point. This is a story for people who want more stories about superheroes like these, written by someone who understands how actual human beings talk and drawn by someone who has experienced actual cast shadows, studied the ways clothing actually drapes, and experienced the touch of actual human women.
That is not my particular jam, but I’ve started this, so I think I’m going to try to read it far enough at least to see how they get back to Spiral City. (And how long Black Hammer I stays dead: my bet is not all that long.) But know that this is very much a “wouldn’t it be cool if Jeff Lemire could write without those suits at DC screwing it all up?” book.

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

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board by Kristen Gudsnuk

Hey! Remember when I said that I thought Kristen Gudsnuk’s middle-grade graphic novel Making Friends  was a lot of fun, but that I missed the random background goofiness in the world that Gudsnuk brought to her previous book (for adults, as much as any book about superheroes is) Henchgirl ? Sure you do!

Well, Gudsnuk had a sequel to Making Friends a couple of years ago – I just found out about it recently, since I guess I don’t spend as much time keeping track of comics for middle-graders as I should – and I’m happy to report that Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board  shoves the Weird Stuff meter way over into the red zone before it’s done, in a very integrated and fun way. So I do hope to keep using Gudsnukian as an adjective and looking forward to the day when everyone does.

Making Friends followed seventh-grade motormouth Dany – seriously, she’s one of those people (I was intermittently one of them at a slightly later age) who cannot shut up to save their lives even though she knows she’s saying things the wrong way – as she adjusted to life in middle school, where her old friends had a completely different schedule. She thought her life would be perfect if she just had one really good best friend, so, when a magic sketchbook fell into her life from her deceased Great-Aunt Elma, she made herself the perfect friend, Madison Fontaine.

(See my post on the first book for more on where it went from there.)

It’s now a little later in the school year: there’s still a gaping hole in the gym ceiling from , and Dany has been using her reality-warping powers in lots of ways, none of which could ever backfire on her…as far as she’s ever foreseen. But Madison is now even better friends with Cara McCoy

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, another cheerleader, and Cara is not Dany’s biggest fan. Cara isn’t a “mean girl,” though she does get mean in the ways middle-schoolers do. Honestly, it’s pretty clear than Dany can be annoying regularly, and is exhausting nearly all the time.

So Dany thinks: I just need to use the notebook again, to make things better. I’m too busy and too lazy to get everything done – what if there were two of me? So she uses the notebook to create “Cloney,” a version of herself with a ponytail who lives in a “Pikkiball.” And it actually seems to go OK at first: the two Danys get along with each other, Cloney is happy to take original Dany’s place at school, and nobody is an evil twin or from the dimension of death.

But there’s other stuff going on in the background. Dany’s parents have mysteriously won the lottery. Her mother has lost a lot of weight suddenly. Some other relatives, we see later, have had equally surprising life changes. All soon after Great-Aunt Elma passed and her stuff was bequeathed to her family – interesting!

Gudsnuk doesn’t underline that; the reader has to pick up on it. Or maybe it’s that Dany doesn’t pay much attention to it, since she’s self-absorbed in the ways only a twelve-year-old can be, and the book is from her point of view.

But Back to the Drawing Board is a book where things get even nuttier than in the first book. It builds slowly at first, but the back half of this one is full of all kinds of weird magical powers and events: it is (he said approvingly) deeply Gudsnukian and lots of fun. There is an even bigger magical conflict at the end of this book, and, this time, it’s not all Dany’s fault – though she and her friends do need to be the ones to make everything right.

Gudsnuck has a slightly looser line here than in the previous book, as if she’s drawing at white-hot speed and trying to get to all of the good stuff in her head. I found it a bit too loose here and there, but it works almost all the time. And her people are energetic to a fault: she’s particularly good at a cartoony open-mouth pose when they run into yet something else bizarre and unexpected.

Obviously, the core audience for this book is middle-school girls. But I’m about as far from that demo as you can get, and I’m looking forward to Book Three later this summer, so take that as a recommendation. If you’re an adult, I’d still start Gudsnuk with Henchgirl, but, if you like that, you’ll get a hoot out of these books, too.

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

Veteran WB Director Jay Oliva Forms Lex+Otis

Veteran WB Director Jay Oliva Forms Lex+Otis

Digital Dimension Entertainment Group (DDEG) and Lex+Otis have formed a joint venture studio, KRAKN Animation, with locations in Montreal and Los Angeles.

Headed by Louis-Simon Menard, CEO & President of DDEG, and Jay Oliva, Founder & CEO of Lex+Otis

, who serve as Co-Owners, KRAKN will provide pre-production and animation services that feed the market’s appetite for premiere real time 2D and 3D series and features.  

“Our mutual passion for immersive and engaging storytelling, and desire for doing things differently is what unites us,” says Menard. “DDEG’s Meduzarts Animation has been collaborating with Lex+Otis on several noteworthy projects for years. The creation of an integrated animation studio became a natural next step for both companies.” 

Digital Dimension’s Meduzarts Animation studio has recently been collaborating with Oliva and The Stone Quarry Animation on Netflix’s Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas. The series, which features an all-star cast including Joe Manganiello, Dave Bautista, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Christian Slater, Ella Purnell and more, serves as a prequel to Snyder’s Netflix Original zombie heist action film Army of the Dead. Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas is Executive Produced by Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Wesley Coller, from The Stone Quarry, alongside Jay Oliva and Shay Hatten.  The two studios are also collaborating on Snyder’s recently announced take on Norse mythology for the streamer, Twilight of the Gods.

“I’ve long been an admirer of Digital Dimension Entertainment Group and their groundbreaking work as one of the top animation studios in the world, so the opportunity to collaborate and finally be part of a studio together with them is a dream come true,” Oliva explained. “Both creatively and technologically, Lex+Otis and Digital Dimension strive to push animation to its limits, and both studios have filled their rosters with some of the finest animation talent in the world. Further, both studios rank among the best in the business, in particular with regard to real-time 3D animation. Pooling our mutual talents and visionary approaches will truly bring the best of both worlds to KRAKN.”

Fresh off the launch of the Netflix’s worldwide anime hit series Trese, Lex+Otis (L+O) continues to move forward at lightspeed on several new series for the streaming service and in development of two dozen additional projects. Among the upcoming, already-announced Netflix series from Lex+Otis is the star-studded Ark: The Animated Series, featuring the voices of Russell Crowe, Elliot Page, Vin Diesel, Malcolm McDowell, Michelle Yeoh, David Tennant, Jeffrey Wright, Gerard Butler, Karl Urban and more.

Meduzarts Animation specializes in content for mature audiences, collaborating with clients such as Netflix, Legendary Entertainment, WB Games, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Bethesda Softworks. Franchises the studio has worked on include Spider-Man, Mortal Kombat, The Elder Scrolls, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6, Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Dawn of War, Star Wars, to name a few.

About Digital Dimension Entertainment Group

A winner of six Emmy® Awards and four Visual Effects Society Awards, the Digital Dimension Entertainment Group is headquartered in Montreal. Employing 200 people, its creative productions have been broadcast around the world for more than 25 years. Its studios include Meduzarts Animation, Saturday Animation and KRAKN Animation, each of which is set to release new series in the upcoming months, including several original brands currently in development.

New Images from  Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two

New Images from Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two

There are new faces aplenty, and one notable (masked) face missing, as the plot continues to unfold in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC, the feature-length animated Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two will be distributed by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital starting July 27, 2021, and on Blu-ray beginning August 10, 2021. 

The four new images from the film are:

Poison Ivy takes command of Gotham City’s criminal forces – and Bruce Wayne’s mind – as Batman: The Long Halloween

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, Part Two begins. Katee Sackhoff (The Mandalorian, Battlestar Galactica) provides the voice of Poison Ivy. 

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two could be subtitled “Rise of the Villains” as most of Gotham City’s rogues’ gallery joins the fracas – including Mad Hatter and Scarecrow. Voiceover superstars John DiMaggio (Futurama, Batman: Under the Red Hood) and Robin Atkin Downes (The Strain, Constantine: City of Demons) provide the voices of Mad Hatter and Scarecrow, respectively.

Laila Berzins
A new Falcone comes to the table as Carmine “The Roman” Falcone’s daughter Sofia arrives for  Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two. Laila Berzins (Genshin Impact) gives voice to Sofia, and Titus Welliver (Bosch) voices Carmine.

Batman is conspicuous in his absence as the mob wars and the influx of classic villains dominate the news in Gotham City. District Attorney Harvey Dent (voiced by Josh Duhamel) and Police Commissioner James Gordon (Billy Burke) lament their missing colleague while hoping the Batsignal will finally get his attention early in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms hits Disc Aug. 31

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms hits Disc Aug. 31

BURBANK, CA – The fate of the universe once again hangs in the balance as warriors come together for one final clash in Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, an all-new, feature-length film produced by Warner Bros. Animation in coordination with NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The film arrives from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack on August 31, 2021.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms will be available on Blu-ray (US $29.98 SRP; Canada $39.99 SRP) and 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (USA $39.99 SRP; Canada $44.98 SRP) and Digital. The Blu-ray features a Blu-ray disc with the film in hi-definition and a digital version of the movie. The 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack features an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc in 4K with HDR, a Blu-ray disc featuring the film in hi-definition, and a digital version of the movie. Pre-orders will be available for the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack beginning June 28, 2021, and for Digital starting on July 8, 2021.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms picks up shortly after the explosive finale of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, the 2020 blockbuster hit that initiated these animated films – which are based on one of the most popular videogame franchises in history. In Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, our team of heroes are besieged by the enemy forces of Shao Kahn – forcing Raiden and his group of warriors into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms. Now our heroes must travel to Outworld in order to defend Earthrealm and, simultaneously, Scorpion must find the ancient Kamidogu before it’s used to resurrect the One Being – which would mean certain destruction of all things in the universe. Time is short and the stakes are high in this action-packed continuation of the Mortal Kombat journey.

Joel McHale (Community, Stargirl) and Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) return to their lead roles as Hollywood star-turned-fighter Johnny Cage and all-business warrior Sonya Blade, respectively. Also returning for the sequel are Jordan Rodrigues (Lady Bird, The Fosters) as Liu Kang; Patrick Seitz (Mortal Kombat X, Aggretsuko, Naruto: Shippuden) as Scorpion & Hanzo Hasashi; Artt Butler (Her, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as Shang Tsung & Cyrax; Robin Atkin Downes (The Strain, Batman: The Killing Joke) as Shinnok & Reiko; Dave B. Mitchell (Mortal Kombat 11, Call of Duty franchise) as Raiden, Kintaro & Sektor; Ikè Amadi (Mass Effect 3, Mortal Kombat 11) as Jax Briggs & One Being; Grey Griffin (The Loud House, Young Justice, Scooby-Doo franchise) as Kitana, Satoshi Hasashi & Mileena; and Fred Tatasciore (Robot Chicken, Family Guy) as Shao Kahn.

New to the Mortal Kombat Legends voice cast are Matthew Mercer (Critical Role, Justice Society: World War II) as Stryker & Smoke; Bayardo De Murguia (Tiny Pretty Things) as Sub-Zero/Kuai Liang; Matt Yang King (Mortal Kombat 11 video game, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five) as Kung Lao; Paul Nakauchi (Carmen Sandiego, Overwatch) as Lin Kuei Grandmaster; Emily O’Brien (Days of Our Lives, Constantine: City of Demons) as Jade; Debra Wilson (World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, MADtv) as D’Vorah.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is directed by Ethan Spaulding (Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, Batman: Assault on Arkham) from a script by Jeremy Adams (Supernatural, Justice Society: World War II) and based on the videogame created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. Rick Morales (Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, Batman vs. Two-Face) is Producer. Jim Krieg (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) is Producer. Executive Producer is Sam Register. Ed Boon (NetherRealm Studios) is Creative Consultant.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms Special Features

Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital

  • The God and the Dragon: Battling for Earthrealm (Featurette)Go behind the scenes and inside the creative process of bringing Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms to action-packed life on screen.
  • Voices of Kombat (Featurette)Join Joel McHale , Jennifer Carpenter, and the cast as they detail the process of creating unique and compelling voices for the larger than life characters in the film.
  • Kombat Gags: Gag Reel (Featurette)Step inside the VO booth with the cast of the film for all of the flubbed lines and outrageously improvised lines from the cutting room floor.
  • Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms Audio Commentary (Audio Only)Producer Rick Morales and Screenwriter Jeremy Adams take the audience inside the art of writing and animating the film in this feature length audio commentary.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms will also be available on Movies Anywhere. Using the free Movies Anywhere app and website, consumers can access all their eligible movies by connecting their Movies Anywhere account with their participating digital retailer accounts.

BASICS

Blu-ray – $29.98 USA, $39.99 Canada

4K UHD Combo Pack – $39.99 USA, $44.98 Canada

Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray Languages: French, German, Latin-Spanish, English

Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray Subtitles: Dutch, French, Latin-Spanish, English-SDH, German – SDH

Running Time: 80 minutes

R for strong bloody violence throughout and some language.

REVIEW:  Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

REVIEW: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Reviewing any adaptation requires two trains of thought: is it a good representation of the source material, and is it a good story standing on its own. Frankly, I don’t play video games or watch much animation these days, so in watching the 4K Ultra HD release of Sony’s 2005 Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, I had to view it as a story only.

I do know how wildly successful and popular the Final Fantasy franchise has been through the years and apparently this seventh iteration was a real big deal once upon a time. So

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, I’m told the film begins where the game left off which means it has to recap enough for those, like me, new to this, and fast enough so as not to bore the diehard fans.

Apparently, the film left something to be desired and the 100-minute film was beefed up with more material and it’s this “Complete” version we have, now running 2 hours 6 minutes. That’s a good thing since this takes some getting used to. Apparently, the evil Sephiroth tried to suck the soul out of the planet, only to be defeated by Cloud Strife, but not before the major city of Midgar was destroyed. Now, two years have passed and our protagonist is asked to aid the world once more in defeating the antagonist, who has managed to send his spirit into the terrible trio of Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo.

There’s fighting, magic, meaningful exchanges, and action. Does it make a whole lot of sense to someone new to the franchise? No, not really. Too many elements show up without context so it’s a nicely produced CGI animated feature that doesn’t work for outsiders. Watching it can feel endless for those not in the know and for those familiar with the franchise, I’[m told this is a very strong, successful entry.

The film is released in a combo pack containing the 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD code. The anime CGI animation is quite strong with striking visuals. The 4K version is stronger than the Blu-ray, especially with the color grading, but both have a relatively weak source material to work from given the film came out 15 years ago. As a result, there are some transfer issues, more notable in the Blu-ray than the 4K so it’s nice to have both. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Japanese track is excellent, superior to the English track.

This is not exactly the prettiest movie ever made considering the inherent source flaws, the animation detail which is well below modern standards, and the bleak color spectrum content, but Sony appears to have done everything within its power to make this look as good as it can. Mild adds to sharpness and a fairly good HDR color grading run have improved the look of the movie a good bit over Blu-ray but do be aware that the steady stream of aliasing remains for the duration.

There are no new features, but the 2009 Blu-ray release’s special features carry over intact. These include Legacy of Final Fantasy VII (6:38);  Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII (23:55); Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Compilation (29:43); On the Way to a Smile-Episode: Denzel (28:07), an OVA focusing Denzel, set between the game and the film; Sneak Peek at Final Fantasy XIII (7:12); five trailers for Advent Children Complete.

REVIEW: Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1

REVIEW: Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1

Warner Animation has been more miss than hit when adapting long comic book serials into a 90 minute or less feature film. Thankfully, they finally learned the lesson and are adapting Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s thirteen-part Batman: The Long Halloween into two films. The first part is out tomorrow and I am quite pleased with it.

The overarching plot has to do with the serial murders of people connected to crime boss Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver) as the triumvirate of Commissioner Gordon (Billy Burke), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel), and Batman (Jensen Ackles) all occurring on holidays. The hunt of the Holiday killer propels events as each attempt to thwart the next killing fails, leaving the good guys reeling and Falcone scared.

Set early in Batman’s career, a recurring theme is his lack of skill and experience as a detective. This is hammered a little too hard and neglects the years Bruce Wayne spent training before returning to Gotham City to assume the guise of the Dark Knight.

The adaptation

, written by Tim Sheridan and nicely directed by Chris Palmer, is more faithful than its predecessors while still modifying events, none of which are objectionable. There is a lot of duality seeded throughout but my favorite are the subplots contrasting the marriage of Jim and Barbara (Amy Landecker) Gordon (complete with young Babs and James Junior) with that of Harvey and Gilda (Julie Nathanson) Dent. Another nice touch is the stirring romance between the bat and the cat, as Selina Kyle (Naya Rivera) gets more screen time.

Loeb has a formula for Batman stories which started here, stretching out a story to ensure each key member of the rogues’ gallery gets used to help spur sales. But, as we see so many of them locked up in Arkham Asylum, it feels overstuffed considering where we are in the Caped Crusader’s career. And the extended use of the Joker (Troy Baker) begins to feel like padding, slowing the actual mystery. Instead, I would have preferred seeing more of Gordon and Batman sifting through the clues with Julian Day (David Dastmalchian), better know as Calendar Man.

An interesting point is raised that the Gotham underworld is under attack, not from Holiday, but from the increasing number of crazed villains drawn to the city or its protector.

The suspects are nicely given their moments, notably Carmine’s son Alberto (Jack Quaid) and rival Sal Maroni (Jim Pirri). Others are mentioned but we don’t get to them until part two. Speaking of which, we end the film on a fine note, not a cliffhanger, but questions left to solve and the viewer eager for part two, scheduled for digital download on July 27 and on disc August 10.

The look is wonderfully atmospheric and the thick outlines of the characters actually work given the subject matter. The action sequences are thankfully not overblown and the Batmobile gets some nice moments. All of this is well-supported by Michael Gatt’s score.

The movie is out on Blu-ray and Digital HD and looks just terrific on disc, with a good, solid color scheme, and no obvious errors. The key extra contained on the disc is the most disappointing DC Showcase offering of the lot. Sheridan utterly fails in adapting The Losers, a collection of World War II heroes who lost their solo strips. Rather than give us an interesting, character-based story about heroism and loss during the war, we get the trite visit to Dinosaur Island. Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch are joined by the token Henry “Mile-a-Minute” Jones, and the Chinese Special Agent Fan Long. It’s such a wasted opportunity.

Sadly, there is nothing else of note other than the obligatory Sneak Peek of Batman: The Long Halloween – Part Two (9:10). The disc is rounded out with From the Vault – Batman: The Animated Series: “It’s Never Too Late” (22:24).

The Man Without Talent by Yoshiharu Tsuge

It’s fascinating the way that art comics are similar across vastly different cultures, the same way adventure comics are. (“OK, there are these guys, with crazy powers, wearing colorful clothes, and they fight!”) If I were being saturnine, I’d say something like “it’s almost like we’re all human beings.”

The Man Without Talent  is almost forty years old, by the Japanese man Yoshiharu Tsuge, and it could almost have been made by Joe Matt last decade. Oh, sure, the cultural signifiers would be all wrong, but the core of the story, the one man who just doesn’t want to do anything, is remarkably similar.
Man Without Talent is a series of six linked stories about the former manga-ka Sukezo Sukegawa, who now tries to make a living selling stones next to the Tama River – stones that he found in that river. It’s a quixotic pursuit, but we soon learn Suzeko has been through several of them already: fixing and selling cameras, being an antiques dealer, a crazy dream to build a toll footbridge. All of this is to avoid making more comics, which are both harder work and barely remunerative to begin with. (Suzeko is not much in demand as a comics-maker, he complains, but he actually has established contacts there, so it’s hard to see that would be a worse career option than the ones he actually chooses.)
Suzeko has a wife and a young child; the three of them seem to have no other family in the world, no strong connections. One of the stories tells of a “vacation” – to a lousy, cheap hot springs, combined with a mostly-failed attempt to find rocks in another river – where they specifically say that they don’t have anyone else in the world: no parents or siblings, whether alive or near or what, and no close friends. They exist on the margins of society, in the company of a loose group of similar people – shop-owners one step above beggars, men who salvage random junk for a living, rock dealers, and other oddballs.
What all of these people have in common, which is only lightly commented on, is a distaste for the bustle and forcefulness and go-getter pace of modern life, of urban living. They want to be left alone, to do not much, and to just get by. So they mostly do.
Yoshiharu Tsuge’s own life is very close to Suzeko’s – this is the kind of story where the reader is expected to understand that Suzeko is not Tsuge…but that he’s not Tsuge in a mostly technical, official sense. This edition has a long essay about Tsuge by the translator, Ryan Homberg, which notes that Tsuge has not produced any comics – or, apparently, done work of any kind, since this book was published in 1987. So, in a way, Suzeko did win: he got what he was looking for. I doubt that made him happy: Suzeko is not someone made with the capacity for much happiness.
Man Without Talent is an art comic, and one from a culture on the other side of the planet from me. So it is quiet, and elliptical, and filled with details of a culture I know only from other works of art. Anyone willing to spend the time, and with an inclination to find the slacker life worth examining, will find this deep and resonant. The only real criticism I could make of it is that the text is all typeset in a very obvious font; comics don’t need to have hand-lettering, but their letters should look like individual effort went into them.

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

Ascender, Vol. 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

So I was, to put it mildly, not happy with the way Descender ended . I knew that there was a sequel to that series — this is it, Ascender — but I figured I would not be coming back after writer Jeff Lemire set up a Backswing Fantasy larger than any seen previously. (Larger both in the backswinginess and the fantasy: this is full-bore dragon-starship goofiness here.)

But the local library had a copy of Ascender, Vol. 1: The Haunted Galaxy , and that last Descender volume was literally the only time I’d read a Jeff Lemire comic and not really enjoyed it, so I thought I should give it a chance.

I tend to suspect the Descender/Ascender transition was the plan all along, since Ascender is not so much a thematic riff on Descender, or another story set in the “same” (vastly changed) universe, but a flat-out pure sequel. The main character of Ascender is Mila, the roughly nine-year-old daughter of Andy and Effie from Descender, and the main action of this volume is Andy and Mila running away from danger to get to another character we recognize from the previous volumes.

That is to say: you could start here, but starting here is not the point, and not the expectation. This is for people who read Descender. (And that makes me think, with my old fantasy-editor hat on, that this will want to be a trilogy eventually — what would that make the merged science/fantasy galaxy’s story? Leveler?)

You may have also noticed that Bandit, the robot dog, is on the cover along with Mila, so mentioning it shouldn’t be a spoiler. His arrival sets in motion the plot, which so far is running on the same kind of rails as Descender, with two cases of “that person has got to be dead” already showed prominently, one immediately subverted and the other obviously going in a very specific direction. It’s all a bit lazy and obvious, I’m sorry to say.

In related news, the Big Bad is a vampire queen named Mother – I guess it’s positive that she’s of the old and morbidly fat style of evil vampires, not the slim and seductive type? – who is the latest in a centuries-long series of vampire queens who apparently immigrated in from some other universe between the end of Descender and this book. (Seriously, there’s nowhere in the universe shown in Descender they could have been. I’ll buy “the universe flipped to magic, and now we have vampires!” but not “oh, and they’re centuries old, because they were actually .”) She is casually cruel to her underlings and rules the galaxy with a bloated fist, because of course she does, and she somehow did all this in less than a decade.

There are Rebels

, because any Star Wars-inspired story worth its salt has to have them, and they are obviously the good guys. Mila will join them, eventually, but probably not until book three – my guess is that she meets them in passing in book two, maybe with her keepers at the time getting into a violent disagreement with the Rebels, and then that has to be papered over later. The Rebels have a secret Sorcerer leader, whom the evil vampire queen is of course insane to find and kill, but said sorcerer does not seem to be actually good enough at the sorcery thing to make the Rebels any kind of match for the Forces of Evil.

(Oh, and the sorcerer is almost certainly a robot. My money is on Tim-21, but it’s definitely not going to be a new character. I expect his big reveal will be at the end of one of the volumes: maybe two, more likely three.)

Ascender looks wonderful, moves quickly, and is full of action, adventure, and vigor. It’s also hugely derivative and barely exists as a thing of its own, being a Descender remix by DJ Star Wars using beats from several hundred years of generic horror. I may read more of it, if I can keep getting it from the library, but I’ll be damned if I’ll spend money on this.

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

The Law Is A Ass #541: I Don’t Care How Many Times You Repeat the Adjective, The West Wasn’t That Wild

The Law Is A Ass #451: I Don’t Care How Many Times You Repeat the Adjective, The West Wasn’t That Wild

Night of the Skulls

I watched an old episode of The Wild Wild West the other day; well duh, there haven’t been any new episodes in decades. It was “The Night of the Skulls”, in which James West, intrepid Secret Service agent during the U.S. Grant administration and our hero, shot and killed his intrepid Secret Service partner, Artemus Gordon. And that was just in the teaser.

Now don’t worry (not that I was worried about any of you being worried; I wasn’t, because I knew you weren’t), we learned at the beginning of the episode’s first act that Artie was still alive. We learned this, because Artemus Gordon, master of disguise, was posing as the minister at his own funeral and Jim went to it to confer with Artie. It seems Jim had pretended to kill Artie to attract the attention of The Skulls, a secret league of assassins, so that he could infiltrate them and learn what they were up to. (To what they were up? Up to what they were? What say we just ignore that silly rule?) (There, I’ve always wanted to end a sentence with a proposition.)

Jim accomplished his goal. By the end of that funeral scene, the Skulls had spirited Jim away from the funeral in their personal and modified hearse. How the Skulls knew Jim was going to be present while they were planting Artie in the dirt I don’t know. I thought criminals returned to the scene of the crime, not the scene of the grime.

But spirit Jim away

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, they did. Soon he was standing before the Skulls. Including its leader who wore a mask to conceal his identity. I don’t know why he bothered. As soon as that earlier funeral scene went out of its way to introduce Stephen Fenlow, a United States Senator described as being fairly new to Washington, the identity of the Skulls’ mysterious leader was more obvious than the murderer in a Columbo episode.

Senator Fenlow had assembled a league of assassins with eight members. He then set them against each other in a kill-or-be-killed contest until only three assassins were left. Fenlow presumed the survivors would be the best assassins of the group so the best people to participate in the next part of Fenlow’s plan, a coordinated strike that would kill the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State. Then Senator Fenlow would offer himself up to a country that was suddenly without a leader as a replacement President and be accepted as leader by acclamation.

Other than the fact that it would have meant that the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State all had to die, I almost wish that Jim and Artie had let Fenlow get away with his plot. If only so that we could have seen his face when he learned that he had wasted his and our time with a scheme that was so far from best-laid that it had ganged agley before it even started. Fenlow, you see, would have needed to kill a lot more people in order to become President.

It may surprise you to know that the United States Constitution has a provision for what happens if the President and Vice President both die. It shouldn’t surprise you, but it may. So in case it does, let me state that Article II, § 1, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution authorizes Congress to declare who should act as President should the President and Vice President both be unable to serve in the office. Under the aegis of this provision, Congress has passed three Presidential Succession Acts: the Presidential Succession act of 1792, the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.

The Wild Wild West took place during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant served as President from March 4, 1869 until March 4, 1877. So the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 would have been the one in force during his terms in office. Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the line of succession was Vice President, President pro tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, then the members of the Cabinet in the order that the departments over which they presided were created. (This would be Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, and downward until you reached the lower levels of successor that ABC plumbed for Designated Survivor.)

Did you see the thing that made Senator Fenlow’s plan even more stupid that it seemed at first blush? (And that first blush was the type you’d get when you realized your dream that you were addressing an auditorium full of people while nude wasn’t a dream.) Under his plan, Fenlow would have killed the wrong people.

After killing the President and Vice President, he needed to kill the President pro tem of the Senate, not the Secretary of State, because the President pro tem was next in the succession line. Even if Fenlow had successfully killed the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State, no one would have acclaimed him President, because the next successor, the President pro tem, was still alive and kicking and would have kicked Fenlow out of contention.

Moreover, even if Fenlow killed the right three people, he would have had to kill a lot more people (the Speaker of the House and then the entire Cabinet) before the country could, or would, have turned itself over to some silly junior senator. Especially a silly junior senator who didn’t even understand the workings of the government he wanted to preside over well enough to know the presidential line of succession.

Maybe Fenlow shouldn’t have had all his candidates kill each other. Then he would have had a few more assassins to kill more of the successors who stood between him and the presidency. Of course. Not all of them, but some. Fenlow never had enough assassins to kill everyone that stood between him and his becoming President. It seems that when it comes to the question of who should replace the President, the United States believes that nothing exceeds like successors.