Somehow I’m over two years late on this Jeff Lemire comic, despite reading the first two (see my posts on volumes one
) right when they came out and liking the series a lot. What can I say? There are too many good books in the world, and keeping up with them all can sometimes be challenging. But I made it to the end eventually.
Royal City is a family story, and Vol. 3: We All Float On is where it all comes together. The first volume brought brother Patrick back to town, to join his siblings Richie and Tara and parents Patti and Peter — and, most importantly, brother Tommy, who died in 1993 but has been haunting the entire family, in very different ways, ever since. The second volume went back to ’93 to show the week of Tommy’s death, and now the conclusion brings in a new, unexpected family member and brings everything to the final crisis.
(No, not the usual comics kind of Final Crisis. The real people living in a real world — well, mostly real, since they’re all seeing Dead Tommy all the time — kind of crisis, where all of the problems peak at once.)
This is an ending, so I don’t want to talk much about the plot — but I will say that it does all end, and it does end well. Lemire is, as always, good at stories about people, especially damaged people, and the Pike family are all damaged in different ways. It does all center on Tommy, as it must, even though he has been dead for over twenty years.
I see that Royal City is now available as a single spiffy hardcover, and that’s probably the best way to read this going forward — it is a single story that happened to be published as individual comics issues and then three trade paperbacks for market reasons, but it would work best as a single book, since it tells a single story.
In our timeline, the Bronte siblings created several fictional worlds — they started with Glass Town, which grew (mostly from Charlotte and Branwell) into the somewhat separate Angria, while younger siblings Emily and Anne invented the entirely separate land of Gondal. All of those were explicitly set in odd, “exotic” corners of the real world they were familiar with, and peopled with various lords and adventurers and such. And, of course, the three sisters all published novels set in the real England of their day, all beginning with debuts in 1847.
The Brontes: Infernal Angria simplifies this, as fiction often does. There is one land: Angria. It is real, somewhere other than Earth, and accessed, wainscot-style, from the playroom of their childhood house in Haworth. Time works differently there; visitors from England can enter Angria, have any number of adventures, and return at the moment they left…but time can also pass in Angria between visits. (If the reader suspects this is entirely for storytelling convenience, he can hardly be blamed.)
Craig Hurd-Kenney makes the origin of Angria specifically in the children’s isolation and grief, starting in 1825 when their two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died. (And a few years after their mother also died.) But he actually begins this graphic novel with a prologue set in 1861, years after all four of the younger Bronte siblings were dead, in which Charlotte’s widower attends the death of her father, Patrick, and then destroys all references to Angria in the house. This seems to be setting up a later conflict, but it really doesn’t pay off in the current version of Infernal Angria — I suspect Hurd-McKenney originally had a much longer, more dramatic story in mind, and the current 90-page version is what he and artist Rick Geary were able to actually get done in the twenty-ish years they were working on it.
So Infernal Angria is one part secret history — this is what the Bronte children were really up to — and one part unfinished drama. We see the Brontes enter Angria and have adventures and interactions there, but it’s all fairly thin and quick and melodramatic, as one might expect of plot points based on the stories told by a bunch of nineteen century pre-teens — it’s almost a distraction to the real concerns, back in England, which center on whether going to Angria at all is a good thing. The core tension is between the nature of Angria, that time-stopping power which is health-reviving for English travelers, and their father’s religion. Hurd-McKenney is not always clear why these things should be in tension, unless he’s implying Angria is an alternative afterlife. (My understanding is that the Brontes’ fictional worlds were not pagan, so they should be as close to their god in Angria as in England. Hurd-McKinney, or his characters, seem to have different ideas but don’t quite make them clear.)
I think this is Hurd-McKenney trying to construct a plausible secret history based on real history, and not quite succeeding, to my mind. It’s also possible that the original conception of a longer, fuller story would have had more room to make that conflict clearer and stronger. But, as it is, it feel like the Brontes, as they each sicken and get near death in turn, make random choices about who they feel about Angria and Heaven without quite saying what those choices are and what the stakes are.
So I can’t find Infernal Angria entirely successful. It’s interesting, and knotty, and a thoughtful weaving of secret history. but everything didn’t quite come together the way I would have liked. I should admit that I came to it as a fan of Rick Geary, the artist, rather than as a Bronte scholar or knowing anything about Hurd-McKenney — so the fact that I think the pictures are more successful than the framework they support might just be what was to be expected. Either way, it’s quirky and specific: fans of the Brontes, of secret history, of 19th century literature in general, and of vague religious conflicts will find things of interest here.
(Note: this book is not available from the usual hegemonic Internet retailer, nor from B&N or IndieBound — finding it might be a problem. ISBN is 9781532386244, if you want to do some searching.)
Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas By Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells 160 pages, Amulet Books, $12.99/$21.99
Sam Maggs has carved out a fine career writing imaginative young adult fiction and graphic novels. Here, she teams with artist Kendra Wells to tackle the two best known female pirates: Anne Bonny and Mary Read. They are sailing the high seas along with Calico Jack and having a grand old time.
There’s a four-page text section discussing the historic facts behind the pirates and its makes far more interesting reading than the simplified tale presented ahead of it.
Being a pirate wasn’t easy and it was harder for women. In both cases, Bonny and Read had to discuss themselves as men to fit in, with all the complications attendant to that. At the time, Bonny had left her husband and married Jack, only to fall for Read, thinking she was a he. After that, speculation remains whether or not there was bisexual hanky-panky going on.
Instead, we get a 16 year Bonny, plucky as all get out, who captains her own ship and goes on adventures with Jack and later meets Read. The British navy are seen as a mere impediment, a distraction from their adventuring.
The plot has many a side trip and we get contemporary social outrage over injustices that were normal life of the day, so you’re constantly taken out of the story.
The characterizations are 21st century, dialogue complete with emojis, and everything sanitized for your reading pleasure. This commits the same sin as Cleopatra in Space does, using the names for identification but none of the actual person.
Wells’ art is also too simplified so it’s hard to tell teens from adults. There’s too much Manga to the faces and none of the grit and texture of life aboard a pirate ship. That said, the color is nice and many of the pages are well designed.
While fanciful and colorful, this is a misfire on many levels and can’t be recommended.
This is volume seven of something, I’m coming to it about two years later, and I’m typing this on Christmas day between other festivities.  So I expect this will be a short and perfunctory post — those of you who care about Squirrel Girl likely read this book a while ago, and I don’t have high hopes of convincing any of the rest of you at this point.
So, first up, this comes after the previous collections of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic: one
. And also the OGN
, which slots in around volume four or so.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 7: I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You is written by Ryan North (except one short story in issue 26), drawn by Erica Henderson (except issue 26, though she wrote one story there) and colored by Rico Renzi (who only did part of issue 26). It collects issues 22-26 of the comic of the title and something called A Year of Marvels: The Unbeatable #1 — which is actually written by Nilah Magruder with layouts by Geoffo and final art by Siya Oum — that I think was part of some series of one-offs (maybe to introduce new talent?) that I have never heard of before and which is unconnected to the main story.
The Unbeatable is a perfectly OK sixteen-page story in which Squirrel Girl’s sidekick Tippy-Top (a squirrel) teams up with Rocket Raccoon (from the Guardians of the Galaxy) to defeat a villain in New York’s Central Park, who has brought trees to life and intends to Conquer the World! So, yeah, that’s a thing tacked on the end of this book.
The aforementioned issue 26 is a jam issue — I suspect it was also the “help Henderson stay on track with monthly deadlines” issue, since drawing twenty-plus pages of girls and squirrels monthly is relentless and time-consuming — featuring stories drawn by Madeline McGrane, Chip Zdarsky, Tom Fowler, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Razzah, Anders Nilsen, Rico Renzi, and Jim “Garfield” Davis. It has a lot of clever stuff, but — since it’s all officially stories told by characters from the Squirrel Girl comic — it’s also pretty inside-baseball, amusing and fun but slight and entirely for fans.
The main bulk of the book, though, is a five-part story in which Doreen Green (also known as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and her best friend and roommate Nancy Whitehead win a computer-programming contest to go to the Savage Land, the alien-created area of Antarctica where dinosaurs still roam. Complications ensue there, not least the discovery of “Ultron, who is a dinosaur now.” (One might be surprised that it took North, famously creator of Dinosaur Comics, to get dinosaurs into this book.) If you are wondering if Doreen and her friends — including a supposedly-unfriendly programming team from Latveria, Doctor Doom’s homeland — defeat Ultron and save the world, please see the title again.
As always, this is fun and zippy and does not take itself entirely seriously. It is a comic set in a superhero universe featuring a young woman who is a bit zaftig, has sensible hair and a reasonably sensible costume, and prefers to talk to people rather than punch them. Of course it ended: how could such a thing last? (Has she been rebooted with peekaboo cutouts and a tragic backstory yet?)
 Not a whole lot of festivities, since it is 2020, but small, sensible, socially distanced festivities.
2020 felt like a disaster movie made real, as we hunkered down from the pandemic, watched racial strife and political shenanigans raise the stakes, all culminating in a universal desire to either end the year quickly or calla do-over. Set against the claustrophobia of being trapped at home, Paramount Home Entertainment gave us Love and Monsters, featuring the remaining five percent of humanity, living underground because the surface was no longer safe.
Good timing. On the other hand, the film has been in development since 2012 and was scheduled for release right as the world shifted on its existential axis. Paramount decided to push it out in the few theaters open and then make it available for streaming or, as of tomorrow, on disc.
Most apocalyptic films are dour and depressing, aimed at adults, or filled with adolescent wunderkinder rising against adversity, aimed at tweens and teens. This film, though, might be the apocalyptic film for the whole family.
Meet Joel (Dylan O’Brien), one of the survivors, but not good enough to hunt and gather, but is relegated to being the cook, a necessary but unglamorous role. He misses his Aimee (Jessica Henwick), his girlfriend, while everyone else in his group has paired up. Chatting by radio just isn’t working for him. Miserable and in love, he decides to brave the elements and go in search of her.
Now, the world changed after we obliterated an oncoming asteroid, without factoring in how the fallout would alter the ecology. Animals, fish, birds, and insects all grew to mammoth proportions and mankind was no longer atop the food chain. Instead, they fell to the bottom as their ranks were depleted by the hungry hungry wildlife.
So, it’s no fun, but thankfully Joel encounters Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who guide him. Nothing is as it appears from here on out and while predictable in places, it’s also heartwarming and fun. The overall story is fine, not demanding too much of its audiences, which we definitely could use.
The film is available in the usual assortments including the $k Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p transfer is excellent and there is enough of an improvement in the 2160 Dolby Vision edition to appreciate the subtleties that are brought out. The colorful world benefits from the Ultra HD. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack complements it nicely.
There is a perfunctory assortment of extras on the Blu-ray disc including seven deleted scenes (11:50), Bottom of the Food Chain: The Cast of Love and Monsters (7:43), and It’s a Monster’s World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape (7:04).
First, about that “others” in the post title: Marguerite Sauvage drew one of the six issues collected here, Ande Parks inked the pages set on Meta, Kelly Fitzpatrick colored all of it, and several other artists contributed to the back-up stories. Including all of them would make it look like a law firm.
But Cecil Castellucci wrote all of it and Marley Zarcone drew all but the first issue in Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2: Little Runaway, so it’s reasonably fair to attribute it to the two of them. And it is, as you might guess, the immediate sequel to Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy, by the same team, and concludes the initial arc of this comic. (It dove into a Young Animal crossover that had something to do with milk immediately afterward, and then reappeared, briefly, as Shade the Changing Woman.)
I thought this Shade was going to be focused on the alien-in-high-school thing, but I was wrong: the first issue here blows that up to send Loma Shade (current possessor of the M-vest, traverser of the strange interdimensional Madness between her planet Meta and Earth, minor criminal, college dropout, refugee and all-around flighty person) off on her own journey across America, in the mode of the Milligan/Bachalo Changing Man series of the ’90s.
Loma intends her journeys will go farther than that — she has a bucket list covering the whole Earth, including several things either mythological or eons-gone (like meeting dinosaurs) — but her journey turns into a quick stop in Gotham City (here entirely a stand-in for NYC, with no notable Gotham characters even appearing) and another in Los Alamos (somewhat muted; I seem to remember Milligan/Bachalo did something more pointed in their run, but I may be misremembering) on the way to Hollywood. Loma is an obsessive, and all of her love for Earth has been filtered through the ’50s TV show Life With Honey, which was a minor fad on Meta when its TV signals arrived, fifty years after it was broadcast on earth and about ten years before this story takes place.
(As a sidebar, Castellucci slyly makes it clear that Life with Honey was never a big deal for anyone but Loma. The marketing copy for the Shade books tends to take Loma’s point of view — this is the biggest hit in the galaxy! — but that very much seems not to be actually true. Loma is not a reliable narrator of anything.)
So the arc of Changing Girl turns out to be entirely about Loma chasing down the heroine of an old TV show, for her own obsessive reasons, and ending with a character reset — not unlike the multiple times that happened in the Milligan/Bachalo run, but maybe a bit more quickly. (Milligan/Bachalo ran seventy issues, with about three resets during that time.) I’m not complaining: I like seeing supposedly superhero comics focusing on obsessive, damaged people who never do anything remotely heroic or even punch anyone. I’d have liked to see Loma’s journeys have more time and space, but everything in comics these days needs to wrap up in a couple of arcs for the TPs and to make room for the next crossover, so this is probably all we ever were going to get.
Oh, and the “villains” on the Meta end do chase Loma, in a way that seems like it will be the usual mad-scientist thing, trying to Conquer The World! or something like that. It goes an entirely different way, which is amusing and welcome, but that all ends slightly rushed and uneventfully.
The art is still excellent: Sauvage’s issue in particular is a delight, in a much more comics-realistic style than Zarcone and making me think she would be awesome for a new Millie the Model or some other high-fashion book, centering on attractive women wearing attractive clothes and doing something interesting. Zarcone still works in what looks to me like a modern version of Bachalo’s Shade look from the ’90s, a nice bit of visual continuity. And Fitzpatrick’s colors are still vibrant and eye-catching, essential in a book all about “the Madness” and what it does to people.
This didn’t go as far as I hoped it would, but it has a great tone and style, and a central concern unusual in Big Two comics: about people and their connections, and (without being obvious about it) something of that what-is-the-right-thing-to-do idea that’s always so central to superhero comics.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released an all-new official clip from Batman: Soul of the Dragon.
In the clip, martial arts master O-Sensei (voiced by James Hong) introduces to his exclusive group of students – including Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli), Shiva (Kelly Hu), Ben Turner (Michael Jai White), and Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos) – to the all-powerful Soul Breaker, a sword with the potential to tear a hole in time and space.
Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, the all-new next entry in the DC Universe Movies canon, arrives January 12, 2021, on Digital and January 26, 2021, on 4K Combo Pack & Blu-ray.
An all-new original animated film, Batman: Soul Of The Dragon does a deep dive into Elseworlds vibes by putting Batman in the midst of the swinging 1970s. Faced with a deadly menace from his past, and along with his mentor O-Sensei, Bruce Wayne must enlist the help of three former classmates – world-renowned martial artists Richard Dragon, Ben Turner and Lady Shiva – to battle the monsters of this world and beyond. The film is rated R for some violence.
This is the remaining two-thirds of John Allison’s attempt to see if he could reconfigure the essential Britishness of his writing and port Tackleford wholesale to its American equivalent: Spectrum, South Dakota.
(No, I don’t quite see it, either. I’m thinking some old mill town in western Massachusetts would be better, or somewhere in coastal Maine, but I am an East Coaster to begin with.)
In case that’s confusing: John Allison writes sprightly, fun stories with various levels of fantasy elements, set mostly in the English Midlands, often centering around the quirky town of Tackleford, first as a series of webcomics (Bobbins, Scarygoround, Bad Machinery
, and see theseposts
of mine) and increasingly as floppy comics that people actually pay money for (most famously Giant Days). A couple of years ago, he launched a series called By Night, with many Tacklefordian flourishes, set in, as I said, the distant town of Spectrum. The comic was drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, who also provided variant covers.
I covered the first collection here
back in May, and now I have the rest of the story: Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 collect the rest of this twelve-issue series. So far, it doesn’t seem to have spawned a sequel.
And I still find it basically the same kind of thing as the first volume: fun, but subtly off and not quite as enjoyable as Allison’s stories set in a greener and more pleasant land. The dialogue often falls somewhere between Allisonly snappy and actually colloquial American, as if he were trying to stretch to speak in a foreign tongue and not consistently succeeding. Nothing is actually wrong here: it’s a fine adventure comic, with snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and a plot that bounces around and makes things happen. It just feels like someone trying to “do John Allison in the USA” and subtly missing the point.
So: former friends Jane and Heather have discovered a portal into a fantasy world, and of course intend to monetize that…by making a documentary film about it. (Allison is always quirky, even when he’s trying to be American about it.) This is slightly hampered, first, by their being driven out of the fantasy world by the authorities there, and, secondarily, by the increasingly heavy-handed tactics from authorities here related to the corporation that built the portal and then went bankrupt, pauperizing the town.
These two volumes feature a lot of running about, and an array of colorful characters, from drug dealers to a small green troll-like fantasy-world person, from aged (and possibly insane) scientists to salt-of-the-earth vermin-extermination working men. There are nefarious plots from both ends of the portal, surprising revelations, applied mad science, semi-random murder, and pulse-pounding board meetings.
All of the ingredients are fine, and By Night could seem really awesome to someone not familiar with Allison’s other work. (Or to someone violently allergic to anything non-American, I suppose: goodness know we do have those.) It’s not one of his best works, but that is a very minor quibble on my part — this is a better run of comics than nearly anything cover-featuring a person wearing a mask and published in the last eighty years.
I still think most readers would be better served as an introduction to Allison by diving into Bad Machinery or Giant Days (depending on their preferences), but what do I know?
The names of the legendary animators of the 30s and 40s have faded with time, except to the connoisseurs and collectors, which is a shame. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery should be as well known as respected as is Walt Disney, though these days, the latter is better known as an entrepreneur than an animator.
This is why we should love and support Warner Archive, for gathering the forgotten but still vital cartoons of the past and making them available in contemporary forms, which brings me to the just-released Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2. One a single disc we have 21 cartoons to enjoy, most of which hold up extremely well.
Avery, to those who recognize the name, certainly know him for his work on Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. But, after he moved to MGM, he continued to offer up side-splitting entertainment with characters such as the sexy Little Red Riding Hood and her leering adversary the Southern Wolf (voiced by Daws Butler).
Here, he worked with writers Heck Allen and Rich Hogan and their efforts hold up. Droopy Dog and Spike are also represented here. Standouts include “Cuckoo Clock”, “Magical Maestro”, “One Cab’s Family”, “The Cat That Hated People”, and “The First Bad Man”. Given changing social mores, the disc comes with a disclaimer that the disc is intended for Adult Collectors and may not be suitable for children to which I say, phooey.
The digital transfer is far from perfect and may disappoint those used to pristine high def reproductions of work. Sadly, a fire in the 1960s destroyed many negatives, limiting what could be used to make these discs and future ones. Clearly, the source material was in rougher shape and the best efforts were no doubt taken. That said, the color saturation is fine and screens well on a television screen. As I understand it, the source material was varied to generate the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, but they do a nice job so audiophiles may be the only ones troubled.
Nicely, there is a nearly hour-long Tex Avery: King of Cartoons documentary.
List of Shorts:
1. Little Rural Riding Hood
2. The Cuckoo Clock
3. Magical Maestro
4. One Cab’s Family
5. Cat That Hated People
6. Doggone Tired
7. The Flea Circus
8. Field And Scream
9. The First Bad Man
10. Out Foxed
11. Droopy’s Double Trouble
12. Three Little Pups
13. Dragalong Droopy
14. Homesteader Droopy
15. Dixieland Droopy
16. Counterfeit Cat
17. Ventriloquist Cat
18. House Of Tomorrow
19. Car Of Tomorrow
20. Tv Of Tomorrow
21. Farm Of Tomorrow
This book makes we want to get Hegelian, but I have to immediately insist that it’s not the book’s fault — I’ll overanalyze anything given half a chance, and this just happened to wander into my sights.
So, with that caveat: Are You Listening? feels like a synthesis. Tillie Walden started her comics career with shorter books and stories — which I still haven’t seen, and which may, for those who know them well, utterly shatter this idea I have — and then moved on into big books with first Spinning, then On a Sunbeam, and then Listening.
Spinning is the thesis: a memoir about Walden’s own life, growing up mostly in Texas, a girl realizing she’s queer, beginning to think about what she wants and doesn’t want in her life, focused through the lens of her decade-plus as a competitive skater.
On a Sunbeam is the antithesis: a SFnal story, set in an entirely imagined universe (one with no male gender at all, as far as the story showed, though there was, oddly, one “non-binary” person), with strange and quirky rules, and a story of first love thwarted by the universe and (more prosaically) by the fact that first loves tend to end anyway.
Last year Walden came back with Are You Listening?, a graphic novel set in real-world Texas but featuring fictional characters, about two young queer women who are not going to have any quote-unquote “relationship” with each other, a road trip on a smaller scale than Sunbeam but featuring eruptions of fantasy unlike Spinning. So: synthesis.
Walden is already an interesting and subtle graphic novelist, even this early in her career, so I don’t want to try to pigeonhole her, but I think this could be a signpost. What I hope to see from her over the next years or decades is more books like Listening: based in a realistic world but with fantasy elements, about young women (probably getting older as Walden does herself) navigating things other than just first love and coming out, who are more and more at home in their own lives as time goes on.
(We’ll see if that’s the case: Walden is clearly smart and talented enough to go an entirely different way, somewhere along the line.)
So Listening is the story of these two women and this one trip. Bea is in her late teens, and is clearly running away from her small-town home, for reasons we won’t learn for a while but are clearly powerful. Lou is almost a decade older, a small-town mechanic making a trip to visit family — but it also quickly becomes clear that she’s also running away, in the quieter way of a more settled, slightly older person who has gotten deeply unhappy with some of the major things in her life.
Along the way, they find a cat, and try to take it back to its home. Lou teaches Bea how to drive. They open up to each other, at least somewhat. And they are pursued by the mysterious, unexplained Office of Road Inquiry as they drive further and further into West Texas.
As far as I can see, that Office has nothing to do with Bea’s secrets or Lou’s restlessness. They do have an interest in the cat, though: maybe it’s the cat that ties everything together. Listening is not a story in which everything is tied up in a bow at the end — it’s the story of a few days in Bea’s and Lou’s lives. Important days, transformational days. Days where they change each other and move on in their own directions with more purpose, but just a few days.
Like Walden’s previous books, Listening is about people and their relationships. There are other things going on in her books, but the people are central and their emotions are the drivers of her books. Listening feels like it has a tighter focus than Spinning, which covered whole years and all of young Walden’s concerns, or Sunbeam, with its larger, complex cast and richly imagined universe. Walden here is bouncing two characters off each other — both of them feel like getting out, of different things for different reasons, and then throwing other complications at them to see how they react and what kind of people they are when they come out the other end.
It’s a surprisingly quiet book for a road-trip story about two women pursued by potentially-supernatural and definitely threatening entities, but surprising is par for the course for Walden so far. And surprising is a wonderful and amazing thing for any creator — even more so for someone who can put out lovely, deep books like these this often.