The virtual WonderCon panel examining the forthcoming Justice Society: World War IIended a short while ago and can be watched below.
Headlining the panel discussion were actors Stana Katic (Castle, Absentia, A Call To Spy) as the voice of Wonder Woman, Matt Bomer (Doom Patrol, White Collar, The Boys in the Band) as Barry Allen/The Flash, Elysia Rotaru (Arrow) as Black Canary, Omid Abtahi (American Gods, The Mandalorian) as Hawkman, Chris Diamantopoulos (Red Notice, Silicon Valley, voice of Mickey Mouse) as Steve Trevor, Armen Taylor (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind) as Jay Garrick/The Flash, Liam McIntyre (The Flash, Spartacus, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War) as Aquaman, and Geoff Arend (Madam Secretary, Batman: Hush) as Charles Halstead/Advisor alongside director Jeff Wamester (Guardians of the Galaxy TV series), co-screenwriters Meghan Fitzmartin (Supernatural, DC Super Hero Girls), and Jeremy Adams (Supernatural, Batman: Soul Of The Dragon), and supervising producer Butch Lukic (Superman: Man of Tomorrow, Constantine: City of Demons). Publicist Gary Miereanu moderated the festivities.
Surprised to find himself in World War II, but instinctively aware of his new role, The Flash (voiced by Matt Bomer) makes quick work of a platoon of Nazi soldiers terrorizing a war-torn village in this all-new clip from Justice Society: World War II. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, the all-new feature-length animated film arrives on Digital starting April 27, 2021, and on 4K Combo Pack and Blu-ray on May 11, 2021.
Hey, we just got a new trailer for The Suicide Squad, which will be in theaters and streaming on HBOMax August 6th! Let’s see if you can spot the BIG Easter egg. Go watch it, then come back here…
All done? Fun, huh? But what Easter egg am I talking about? It’s this:
In the trailer, we see Savant, played by Michael Rooker, getting a bomb implanted in him so that Amanda Waller can keep him in line– do anything she doesn’t like, and BOOM!
But who’s doing the implanting? Dr. Fitzgibbon, that kindly old gent on the right who looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly?
Why, that’s John Ostrander, ComicMix columnist and creator of the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller. He’s quite literally the guy who killed off at least 18 members of the Squad and maimed so many more. So it makes perfect sense that James Gunn would reach out and bring John (who’s a gifted actor in his own right) to inflict further damage onto these poor actors.
Come to think of it, it reminds us of the first issue of Suicide Squad where John killed off an entire airport full of actors.
Thirteen years ago, I saw this book for the first time (in an earlier edition). I was fairly late: it was published in comics form several years before that, but I did have the slight disadvantage of being on the other side of the world.
I was impressed then; I’m equally impressed now. The Trese stories are great urban fantasy in comics form: taking a lot of the standard furniture of the genre (attractive young female protagonist with a mysterious past, powerful protectors, and a complicated relationship with the local supernatural powers, plus a lot of the mystery-plot aspects) and using them well, while also centering on very specific supernatural elements that we non-Filipinos are unfamiliar with. (See also my post on the third volume
; that’s as far as I’ve seen so far.)
It didn’t have to be Philippine mythology: there are probably dozens of places in the world that could support a similarly new and energetic series, from Vietnam to Nigeria to Chile to Nunavut. (Not the Lake District or Transylvania or Bavaria.) But these creators were Filipino, so that was the world they knew, and they have been making great use of it.
The good news is that you can find Trese now, which you mostly couldn’t for the last decade. (After I lost my copies in the flood of 2011, I didn’t have them, either.) The American comics company Ablaze published an edition of this first collection, Murder on Balete Drive, late last year, and the second one is scheduled for June. There’s an animated series on Netflix, though some googling hasn’t gotten me to any solid information on the date it will be (or was?) released. With any luck, the rest of the eight books published in the Philippines will come here (and the rest of the world) as well, and creators Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo can spend more time making these stories and less time being high-powered global advertising guys.
Balete Drive collects what were the original first four issues, all standalone stories. Baldisimo has redrawn the art, so it’s even stronger than it originally was: stunningly inky and atmospheric, in a style immediately accessible to Americans but still inherently Filipino. (Remembering how many Filipinos have done great work in American comics for the past six or seven decades, this should not be a surprise.) Tan has added short sections after each story to give a little more background on the supernatural entities in each section – these aren’t necessary, but they’re useful for us non-Filipinos. So this is the best possible edition of these stories: possibly annoying to Filipinos who have been supporting it for a decade, but gratifying to those of us elsewhere in the world who finally get to see it for ourselves.
All of the stories are about Alexandra Trese. She’s young, she’s called in when the Manila police have a weird case that they don’t know what to do with, she has skills and knowledge and contacts that can solve those problems – usually in ways that at least do not add more violence. But the supernatural is a dark and dangerous place, for anyone caught up in it and and possibly even for Trese. Her father, Anton, was respected and powerful but does not seem to be around now – and she’s very clear she is not her father. So there are story hooks for later, set carefully and with skill.
These are the first four cases of hers we know about. They clearly were not the first cases of her life: Tan and Baldisimo may some day go back and tell those stories. (They may already have.) They are dark and dangerous cases, with various monsters causing trouble and relationships that need to be carefully talked back into place. Luckily, Manila has Alexandra Trese to do that for them.
And, luckily, you have the stories of Alexandra Trese to look forward to.
I am bad at reviewing books in a timely fashion. And that can lead to being bad at reviewing books, period. I’m going to keep this post short, but I reserve the right to decide it’s pointless to begin with and delete it all.
(If you’re reading this, I didn’t.)
5 Worlds is a young-readers graphic novel series, coming out roughly annually. I missed the first book, The Sand Warrior. If any of what I type below sounds interesting, go check out that book. I did look at the second one, The Cobalt Prince, during my 2018 Book-A-Day run. I’ve now just read the third book, 2019’s The Red Maze. Last year there was a new book, The Amber Anthem. And the finale, The Emerald Gate, is coming this May, but doesn’t seem to be available for pre-order yet.
I didn’t remember Cobalt well when I dove into Red, and I obviously never went back to Sand, and won’t move on to Amber or Emerald. So most of what I could say about this book is beside the point – and that pains me, since a publicist actually sent this to me, back in the spring of 2019, in the hopes I would give a little attention to it when it was new and shiny and looking for an audience.
The five worlds are an interesting, mildly complex soft-SF universe, with five habitable spheres (I think four are actually moons, though it’s not super-clear if they’re moons of the same thing or not) and different governments and people on each of them. It’s all pitched at a level for young readers, but these stories are about ecology and corruption and believing in yourself and doing the right thing and finding the people who can make things better. All good things, obviously.
I read this too quickly, and I’m not going to get into plot details. There is a mild case of Chosen One-itis in our heroine, Oona Lee, and maybe almost as much in her friend Jax Amboy. Actually, the third major character, An Tzu, might be equally chosen for other things.
This isn’t really a book for me: I try to engage with YA graphic stories, since I love their energy and the sense of possibility in great books for young readers. But I somewhat bounced off of this, after not quite clicking with Cobalt. So all I can do is point to it, say that it looks to be quite good for what it is, but that I’ve been reading it half-assedly, and that’s not good for me or the book.
No media property is “real” until it becomes as big as it possibly can be, until it becomes a movie. Every novel, every comics series, every TV show, every webseries, every nonfiction book, every song, every TikTok sea shanty aspires to turn into a big budget motion-picture that will dilute and adulterate what was special about the original thing while making vast amounts of money for the same few global multimedia conglomerates and making the newly shiny, market-tested and subtly stupider thing vastly better known among people who would never bother to pay attention to the original thing.
This is yet another sign that our world is inherently flawed, and that, if there are any gods, they hate us.
Norman Bridwell wrote and illustrated over fifty books about Clifford the Big Red Dog, using first his own imagination, his wife’s stories of her childhood imaginary playmate, and his daughter’s name (Emily Elizabeth). As the years went on, those books were influenced by the generations of kids that grew up with Clifford between the original book in 1963 and Bridwell’s death in 2014.
Those books still exist, and are the real Clifford. Nothing else will ever replace or tarnish them. (Though plenty of them are pretty minor: ABCs and other unexciting series entries. If there’s fifty of anything, not all of them will be gems.) Since then, there’s been a couple of animated TV shows, with either the usual gigantic Clifford or the equally canonical tiny puppy Clifford.
And, of course, people tried to make a movie at various times. Over the past two years, they finally succeeded: a live-action movie with a CGI Clifford was released this past November. Since line extensions are a thing, there was eventually a book of the movie of the books, Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Movie Graphic Novel, adapted by Georgia Ball from the screenplay and story, and drawn by Chi Ngo. It featured a more cartoony Clifford and a modern comics-rounded versions of the movie actors, rather than trying to be photo-accurate.
(I like cartoony, and think cartoons should be cartoony. So I’m inclined to like this better than the movie anyway.)
I don’t quite see why the movie exists in the first place, but I like what Ball and Ngo have turned it into here. There’s a movie-level story here, as there must be, and they have to roll that out. But they have a light touch with character and Ngo in particular has a knack for open, expressive faces. So this is pleasant even as it hits all of the same kid-movie story beats that all of us will see coming from miles away.
In this story, there is a girl named Emily. Her middle name is Elizabeth, but she doesn’t use it on a daily basis. She lives in New York City: her mother is a harried paralegal and her father is mostly out of the picture, forgetful and divorced and away. We’re a far way from the nuclear suburban family of 1963; Emily is also mildly bullied at her fancy school, since she’s the scholarship kid and clearly not rich like the others. And she’s going to be in the care of her Uncle Casey for her birthday, as mom has to jet off to Chicago for a big case.
And, elsewhere in the city, there’s a little red puppy looking for a home, and a mysterious man named Bridwell who helps and cares for animals. That latter is a very nice touch: I can forgive a lot of the generic plot of this story because it clearly has its heart in the right place.
I regret to inform you that there is also a rapacious corporation that wants to profit from big-red-dogness, since a Big Movie must have a Big Movie Villain, and this one is no exception. From the graphic novel, it looks like this element is handled about as well as one could hope, given that it exists at all.
This is the book of a movie for kids, so of course there is a happy ending. Everything must come out for the best in the best cinematical worlds. And I am deeply cynical, but this is a nice story that a lot of kids, I hope, will enjoy. Whether they need or want the story in graphic-novel form rather than the movie, I can’t say: I have no interest in seeing what this story would look like with John Cleese as Bridwell (!!!!??? which I discovered while typing this), but I am not ten and have not been for a long time.
So: this is a thing. It exists. It is derivative of the movie, which is probably somewhat derivative of the John Ritter TV show, which was clearly derivative of the Bridwell books. But it’s pretty nice, for all that. You could definitely do worse.
If you are me, you will have noticed that this post is not tagged “I Love (And Rockets) Mondays,” and that it is not appearing on a Monday. If you are not me, you did not notice and do not care.
But that tiny, silly issue of nomenclature is at very central to this book — Gilbert Hernandez’s full-length graphic novel Maria M. is not a “Love and Rockets” story. But it is a meta-Love and Rockets story, a comics version of a movie from his L&R world, like his previous stories Chance in Hell and The Troublemakers and Love from the Shadows. (And then there’s Speak of the Devil, which is really weird — supposedly the “true story” of the events that inspired a movie of the same name within the L&R world, so the true fictional version of something that we previously half-saw a fictionalized fictional version of.)
So this is a version of the story we’ve already seen part of in Poison River – but Hernandez is specifically telling us it is a packaged story, designed for a purpose, turned into fiction and cleaned up for a particular audience. I think it’s meant to be a ’90s movie set mostly in the ’60s, something from the Goodfellas era, in a world where that gangster era was more Latin than Italiano.
And, of course, all of Hernandez’s graphic novels are fictions. But the level of fiction in them is clearly important to him: that some are the “real” story and some are the sensationalized movie version. This one is a movie version, but Maria M. looks to be a relatively big-budget, moderately prestigious picture – probably not made with serious expectations of Oscars, but one that would be reviewed well and remembered fondly, that was a strong stepping-stone for its cast and crew and a sturdy, dependable, engrossing piece of entertainment for its era.
It is is that: Hernandez is good at making fictions that resemble other fictions. (Though, this time out, he isn’t deliberately trying to ape wide-screen images with his panels, the way he mostly did with the earlier movie-books; Maria M. is laid out like a “normal” Hernandez comic, with standard panel progressions and lots of variations in size.)
And the story itself? We are somewhere unclear. From Poison River, we know it’s an unnamed Latin American country, but here it’s left entirely unspecified. It’s probably that same country; it’s probably not the US. We begin in the late ’50s; Maria is a voluptuous eighteen and has no daughters. Unlike Hernandez’s Palomar and Luba stories, Maria M. is not about family – not about that kind of family, not about Maria’s family. It is about family in the way that all gangster stories are.
Over the course of the next couple of decades, she weaves in and out of the lives of a group of pornographers and gangsters, many of whom become obsessed with her. She never accomplishes much, never gets rich and famous the way she wants to be, never really gets out. But she does come to be happy with what she gets, as far as we see, which is not nothing.
The later parts of the story are largely about her relationship with the fictional version of Gorgo – I won’t spoil any of that, but I mean “relationship” in an expansive sense that is not at all equivalent to sitting-around-talking-about-our-feelings. This is a Hernandez book about gangsters, and a crime movie presented on the page: there will be gunplay and ambushes and torture and various horrors along the way. But Hernandez means this to be a movie, and he knows how movies are supposed to be structured: he knows how audiences want movies to end.
Maria M. is the most successful of the Hernandez movie-books, which is unsurprising. It was designed to be the capstone of them to begin with: the book that was actually based on a good, successful movie, with the biggest dramatic sweep and the strongest story. We should not be surprised that Gilbert Hernandez can make a strong, crowd-pleasing story when he sets out to do it; we should remember that he usually sets out to do different things each time.
For Black History Month, DC Comics has the hottest ticket in the comic book world… The Return of Milestone Media.
That happens today.
The in-store books will launch in April, but new and veteran fans can head over to DC’s website and find some digital gold. I’m not a part of the new Milestone, but who knows, perhaps one day I will return if they buy me something pretty. Denys Cowan’s brilliant idea is about to make history all over again, with Reggie Hudlin and Derek Dingle.
Thursday was Clarence Avant’s birthday. Clarence is known as the Black Godfather; he’s also hands down the most powerful man in music. He turned 90 yesterday and is just as compelling as when he was 30.
Fun Fact: Clarence had the winning bid when the original art for Hardware #1 was auctioned off.
Not So Fun Fact: A fraudulent letter was sent to Clarence to prevent me from accepting an offer at Motown, where he was Chairman. That was perhaps the dumbest move ever made in corporate crime.
Clarence knew the letter was bullshit and was not surprised it was sent. He asked what I wanted to do about it.
Clarence is about Black empowerment and needs no “teachable moment” because every moment spent with him is a teachable one if you’re smart enough to listen.
Sometimes I was smart enough; that time, in 1993, I’m not so sure. My answer was to let it go and protect some folk who may have suffered if Clarence made a call about the letter. Clarence told me the person would continue to be a problem if I did not check him.
I didn’t; he still is.
The funny part of this is I don’t want to ruin this person’s legacy. But he had no problem trying to destroy mine. One thing is for sure, I’m not going another year with no resolution.
I have Clarence to thank for that resolve. I will always be grateful for his guidance and friendship.
Jason Medley is a triple threat, a world-class designer, a hellofa writer, and an outstanding human being. His Sheriff Wright series has assembled a great team and is one original bad-ass idea. I will be talking more about that in detail in another column, but he gets a shout-out here.
I gotta give a shout-out to a gifted writer and chef who has beaten the odds and raised 3 super talented children who will each do great things, I am sure of it. More on them later; for now, hats off to Sheila Walls-Haynes.
Lastly, there’s Sidney Clifton, who I will also be giving a lot more ink; in the meantime, here’s a long-overdue congratulations to a no-joke pioneer.
These individuals are doing things that deserve recognition by a lot more people than I can reach. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with each.
The thing to remember about young readers is that they’re young. Maybe not everything in the world is new to them (“Wow! Breakfast is oatmeal! I’ve never seen that before!”), but they’re seeing and experiencing new ideas and concepts and situations all the time.
It can be hard for those of us who haven’t hit that concentrated dose of newness for years to remember what that was like, but the best stories for young people embody that sense: they’re stories for people who are living newness all the time, building their selves day by day and figuring out what they think and feel about lots of things all the time.
So I try to keep that in mind with books for that audience: to think they way they would, and not the way I do. I’m probably not as good at it as I think I am, of course. But you always have to try.
Allergic is a graphic novel for young people. If you’re dismissive, you could call it an “issue book.” But everything’s an issue book if it resonates with something in your life: an issue is just a thing that actually touches you. And this is a book that will touch a lot of people — there are a lot of kids who suddenly realize they’re allergic to something, when that something comes into their lives for the first time.
It could be peanuts or pollen or penicillin or a bee sting. It could be life-threatening, or annoying, or barely noticeable, or anywhere on that spectrum. It could be obvious, or sneaky and hard to track down. It could be something that kid loves, or something that kid wasn’t that interested in anyway.
So it’s a big “issue,” that a lot of people need to worry about on a daily basis.
Writer Megan Wagner Lloyd and artist Michelle Mee Nutter have taken those facts, and an understanding of that young audience, and built them into a story about one girl — because we all respond better to good stories, we all want to see someone else working through things to understand how we could do it ourselves.
Maggie is young — just turning ten as the book opens. She’s wanted a puppy for a while: she’s planning to be a vet when she grows up; she loves animals, though entirely from afar up to now. And you can guess that it doesn’t go the way she wants. She has a strong allergic reaction to pet dander. After a few tests, it turns out she reacts badly — rashes, swelling, itching — to just about any animal with fur.
So she goes through all the usual stages: anger (at her parents, at the world), denial (which doesn’t last long; her skin gives her away if she’s near a furry animal), bargaining (as she runs through a list of non-furry animals and finds them all wanting), and finally acceptance. She meets other young people, at her school and elsewhere, who are allergic, to other things and in other ways. She learns what we all learn: you need to find the ways your life can go around the roadblocks and detours every life throws up, to make the life that’s the combination of what you want and what you can get.
Maggie’s in a good position; she should have a good life. She has a loving family, good medical support, a new understanding of this annoying way her body works. And her story will resonate with a lot of other young people, struggling with allergies or other issues — Lloyd and Nutter tell her story well, and tell a wider story than I’m focusing on. Maggie has twin younger brothers and her mother has a new baby on the way; she has friends at school and other activities. She has a life, and Allergic is about her life, not just this annoying skin reaction she has.
This is obviously mostly for young people: that’s what it’s for, that’s what it does well. But if you have the care of a young person with an allergy, or any medical/personal issue that could be similar, you might want to take a look at it for yourself, and for that young person.
Note: I’m actually ahead of publication on a review, for the first time in a long time. Allergic officially goes on sale this coming Tuesday, March 2nd. If you order it right now, your bookstore will probably be able to have a copy for you that morning. (Or you can use my link and have a exploitative hegemonic megacorporation deliver it directly to your home: your choice.)
Peter Bagge is a world-class grump, and I have to respect that. I tend to connect that to his libertarianism, but the direction of influence is unclear and it’s not as if comics isn’t full of grumpy loners outside of libertarians, either. But Bagge has had a long career both making comics about fictional grumpy, obnoxious people and making comics about how he is libertarian and so entitled to be grumpy personally about such-and-such, so he’s been leaning into it for some time now.
Although, come to think of it, the last decade of his work, focusing mostly on biographies of strong-willed but not necessarily libertarian people of the past, might show him starting to walk down a path of slightly less grumpiness — and I emphasize slightly.
But here I am looking at Classic Bagge, the man who spent more than a decade making a comic book called Hate and meant it the whole time. So expect every page to be pickled in bile, to mix my metaphors.
Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff is the odds-and-sods collection from the Hate era, gathering stories he did with other creators (mostly as the writer) or for other purposes, most but not all of which appeared, first or eventually, in the quarterly or annual Hate comics of the ’90s and ’00s. It is absolutely chock-full of grumps and cranks and losers and weirdos of all types: you would be hard-put to find a single functional human being on any page of this book.
So this may be a book best read in bits rather than straight through. Bile and spleen can be fun, but too much will curdle. And there’s enough here to curdle the strategic federal cheese reserve.
What you will find in Other Stuff:
four stories about young hipster Lovey and her horrible friends
the Musical Urban Legends series, and a couple of related rock ‘n’ roll stories
a large section of collaborations, with work by both Hernandez brothers, Alice Cooper (writing), Adrian Tomine, Alan Moore (writing), Daniel Clowes, Johnny Ryan, Danny Hellman, R. Crumb, Rick Altergott, and a few others
six single-page biographies of scientists
several other assorted “true” stories, some of them vaguely reportage
a dozen-and-a-half strips of “The Shut-Ins,” early-Internet super-adopters and shunners of the outside world, created to appear on a website promoting Adobe products
and a couple of even weirder things
This is very varied and odd; the section with collaborative work is possibly even weirder than the stuff I gave more attention to above (a R. Crumb Cathy parody! Ack! Dilbert as a Muslim terrorist, offensive in so many ways I can’t even catalog them!). Bagge is a creator seemingly unafraid of letting out every idea he has ever had, which is good for the breadth and depth of his work but also can result in some what-the-hell?! moments. This book has more than a few of them.
When you’re talking about people who have an inordinate fondness for insects, you probably mean either God or E.O. Wilson. And only one of them is a person you can actually have a conversation with. (Well, Wilson is 91, and probably still busy enough that it would be tough to get some of his time — but you know what I mean.)
Actually, you can differentiate them a bit more than that — God is said to like beetles better, and Wilson was always an ant guy. Just in case the distinction becomes important in your life.
Edward O. Wilson
is the towering biologist of the 20th century, which is particularly impressive since that was such a physics-heavy century. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for books he wrote, is responsible for hundreds of scientific papers and possibly the foundational biological theory of the era, and is one of the pillars of the conservation movement. Naturalist was his memoir — the story of how he grew up, got interested in ants, got into science, and navigated most of his career. That book came out in 1994, when Wilson was 65, and just a couple of years before he retired from active teaching at Harvard — but, as I said above, he’s still going strong now at 91, and has published as many books since Naturalist as he did before it. So the idea probably was that Naturalist was going to be basically the story of his life, but he may need to add a second volume at this rate.
Naturalist has had a strong life, and has been particularly influential on young readers interested in science — obviously those kids who like bugs, but also the ones who end up going into chemistry or physics or possibly even (gasp!) engineering.  So clearly someone — maybe even Wilson himself, since he’s obviously a smart guy with a lot of ideas — thought it would be good to do one of those new-fangled “graphic novel” versions of Naturalist, since all of the kids love them these days.
(I may be deliberately making this sound silly for comic effect. But it was a good idea.)
However it happened, Island Press — the nonprofit that publishes the prose edition of Naturalist — found Jim Ottaviani, the premier and almost only writer of science in comics form, to adapt Wilson’s book into comics and cartoonist, illustrator, and cartoonist C.M. Butzer to draw it. Colors are by Hilary Sycamore, but the pre-publication proof I read only features color for the first seventeen story pages, so I can’t really speak to her work here as a whole. The graphic adaptation came out last November, and is widely available now — so now there are two versions of Naturalist available to be handed to a budding scientist, one of which features lots of pictures of ants to go with Wilson’s words.
As usual with Ottaviani’s work, there are lots of caption boxes and dialogue — he likes to get in as many of the real words of the books and scientists he’s adapting as possible. So this will be a denser graphic novel than many readers are used to: I’d say that’s no bad thing, since science is demanding and full of details that require close attention. Anyone looking for something quick and surface-y is not cut out for a life in science to begin with.
And, of course, this is the story of a life, and one intertwined with field exploration, collaboration with other scientists, and writing — some of it is about external action, but most of what was important in Wilson’s life happened in his thoughts, as he examined ants around the world, thought about them back in Massachusetts, scribbled ideas on a board with colleagues, and bounced their theories off the real world to make sure they actually worked.
I wish there were more graphic novels like this, and fewer about punching people, but that’s the world we live in. Intellectual activity is always less popular than punching. But this one is out there, and it’s really good at what it does. If you know someone who could be a scientist eventually, this would be a good book to give her.
 Note: your present writer’s son is a budding engineer, in the second year of a five-year undergraduate ChemE program, and so he kids because he loves.