New art team Brad Rader and Cameron Stewart take over for this done-in-one, which brings Slam Bradley into the series proper—he appeared in a Detective Comics backup setting up Catwoman (or at least tying in enough to be reprinted in the first trade… I think). But he and Selina team up this issue, which is a profound style clash. Rader and Stewart visualize Catwoman action scenes akin to previous artist Darwyn Cooke—with one big exception, which I’m saving for later—but their Selina and Holly investigation procedural pages are like Silver Age romance comics.
And Slam looks like a villain out of a Dick Tracy knock-off, which is some of the point. There’s the contrast in characters, come together in this weird little corner of Gotham City, but Rader’s not great at integrating the two visually. Slam always looks out of place, just slightly too much of a literal caricature to fit.
It doesn’t really matter because it’s a great issue. Ed Brubaker’s script is superb, and—aside from Slam sticking out—Rader and Stewart do a fine job. And here’s that big exception—out of nowhere in the second half, Rader bakes in this building rage in Selina. She boils over with it, even as her narration is relatively cool. It’s fantastic stuff and one heck of a success for Rader on his first issue, especially following up Cooke. When a pissed-off Selina comes across a bad guy, her anger’s palpable entirely through the art.
The story’s about Selina trying to shut down a drug mule operation. The bad guy is getting neighborhood kids to do it, flying down to South America with a fake parent, swallowing a bunch of dope, flying back in intestinal distress, pooping it out. I’m pretty sure there’s another way to get the drugs….
Anyway, doesn’t matter. Holly has found this bad thing going on, Selina will take care of it. Even after she collides with Slam, who’s working a case somehow involving the Mr. Big.
But then there’s also the initial bad guy, who Brubaker gives this incredibly efficient character arc. Outstanding work, with Catwoman distinguishing itself well as something other than “Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman without Darwyn Cooke.
The creative team seems to realize they’ve got to make a good impression, and all of them do so in unison and separately. It’s real good.
I’m back to wondering if they commissioned a bunch of stories from the same prompt, and now it’s creator Richard Corben’s turn to do them himself. There aren’t any co-writers this issue, not even on the one-page strips. It’s just Corben, and it’s a triple.
Unfortunately, there are four stories, but the first three more than make up for the lag.
The first story’s the writing prompt one. Some selfish nephews visit a dying relation, looking for some cash. The relation tells them to bugger off—it’s a Shadows standard—and then the money-seeker kills them. Except here, the relation dies of natural causes, and the boys are left contesting a will. It isn’t actually Richard Corben illustrating an estate law procedural, but it’s just as weird in the end. There’s some beautiful pacing on the story too. It feels double-sized, thanks to Corben’s opening narration and how it carries the opening one-page strip’s tone.
Then the following story is about a gravedigger who works for his corrupt cousin. After being particularly shitty one day, the cousin decides to follow the gravedigger home and check up on his living situation. He’s in for a big surprise.
Similar to the first story, Corben sets up one horror story trope only to do something else with it. This story also has the biggest haunting factor of the issue (and it’s in the running for the most haunting of the series)–another strong entry.
The third story’s about a woman getting a ride from some dude, and they stop at a roadside horror museum. Except the only thing in the museum is a creepy garden with moldy statues.
Corben pushes too hard on the writing—he draws the couple like love interests, but their dialogue just has them acquaintances. It’s so noticeable by the third page I went back to check if he had a co-writer. The story turns itself around enough by the end, with some really dark humor, even for Corben. The art’s particularly gorgeous on this one.
The last eight-page feature is the Deneaus chapter, the Ancient Greek action epic Corben’s been doing the whole series.
It’s the penultimate chapter. Most of the chapter is a battle scene with the bad guys falling right into Deneaus’s traps. Some good art, but there’s nothing to the story. Even with all the twists and turns, Corben’s not going anywhere with it or the characters. It’s too bad. Still totally fine, but a disappointment. Especially taking the rest of the issue into account.
The two one-pagers are fine. The back cover color one gets away from Corben, but the first one’s solid.
I’m going to miss this series.
Black Adam opens with kid narration. At first, it seems like the narrator kid is Ancient Kahndaqi Jalon Christian, who’s sick and tired of living under a tyrannical king who has his people mining eternium for him. Eternium is not a “Masters of the Universe” thing; it’s more like the DC Universe version of vibranium. Except not really, because it doesn’t do anything. They set it up like it gives people superpowers, but… no.
But the narrator is not Christian because the flashback’s not in English. The present-day Kahndaqi people all speak English (and are apparently a Christian Middle Eastern nation-state in the DC Movie Universe—they’re Muslim in the comics, but the movie people don’t have the stones to make sympathetic Muslims).
Anyway. The narrator is Bodhi Sabongui. His mom is renegade university professor Sarah Shahi (dressed like a less objectified “Tomb Raider”); she’s trying to keep Intergang from getting all the Eternium. Including a magic crown, which we saw in the prologue. The evil king wants to be a demon lord and needs the crown, but then the people’s hero comes to stop him.
In the comics, Intergang was a criminal organization in Metropolis who gave Superman trouble. In Black Adam, they’re Blackwater, except they’re called Intergang. And they’re committing war crimes daily, but there’s no United Nations to send Jean-Claude Van Damme and whoever in the DC Universe. Instead, there’s the Justice Society, and they don’t give a shit about Intergang committing war crimes. They’re about maintaining the status quo, globally speaking.
So when Shahi resurrects Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson from his tomb to save her from a bunch of bad guys, Viola Davis calls Hawkman Aldis Hodge to go keep the West’s oil interests safe or whatever. The first act of Black Adam—besides the introduction to the superhero team, which is basically just an X-Men sequence (or Deadpool 1)—is a little like Terminator 2. Sabongui is going to teach Johnson it’s not okay to kill people. Except, not really, because Sabongui’s country is being occupied by a criminal organization who made speeder bikes because they really liked Tron. It’s a complicated situation and might need Johnson’s killer instincts, which Pierce Brosnan realizes, but no one listens to him despite him being a hundred years old with a magical gold helmet to tell him the future.
Now, I really hope Davis gets two million dollars a minute in these movies on the condition she films on her iPhone in the bathroom, but Brosnan’s hacking through this movie. He gets some energy when he’s opposite the other actors, including Hodge, who’s an intentional charisma vacuum (he’s playing the straight edge who gets in the Rock’s way), and especially Johnson. Still, Brosnan looks exasperated with all the superhero business.
So, interesting casting choice.
Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo play the young superheroes. Centineo is a legacy hero and a lovable, slightly dopey bro. Swindell has a way too intense origin recap, seemingly just so she can privilege-check Centineo. Black Adam’s got three credited screenwriters, but it feels like Many Hands contributed. Because despite that first act “young John Connor and his pet Terminator” setup, the second act’s mostly a superhero fight movie. Johnson’s dealing with the mercenaries while Hodge tries to stop him and let the mercenaries go back to killing civilians.
But there’s also the magical archeology subplot with Shahi and then the secrets of Johnson’s origin story.
The movie’s got a surprisingly effective plot structure. Director Collet-Serra front-loads the best action sequences, set to either pop songs or scene-appropriate selections; the rest of the action’s middling, occasionally a little better. Johnson turns on the charm a little earlier than he should—narratively speaking—but the movie needs it, and he obliges.
Oddly catchy score from Lorne Balfe; it’s not particularly good, but it earworms all right. The special effects and technicals are all competent, though there’s way too much going on in the third act without enough actual content. Characters have big, action-packed story arcs just to delay them from participating in the main plot. It’s weird. They also use a lot of slow and fast motion effects to distract from the finale’s limited scale.
Johnson’s the whole show and he’s much better than anyone else in the movie. His closest competition is Brosnan and Brosnan’s not close. Centineo and Swindell are likable, but in a TV show supporting cast sort of way (which is appropriate since they’re TV show supporting cast). But Shahi and Sabongui—occasional affability aside—aren’t good. And whatever Hodge is doing isn’t working.
With some very specific caveats, Black Adam’s far from a fail.
Ric Estrada takes over on pencils—John Calnan still inking—and I guess I hope he takes over from Joe Staton. Estrada’s not great on distance or action shots, but his close-ups are okay. And his not-great stuff fits with writer Gerry Conway’s Silver Age-y Legion. For example, this issue has the Legionaries hitching a ride on a warp trail. One of them just grabs it. And not Star Boy. Timber Wolf can do it.
Though based on Conway’s occasionally insipid narration, Timber Wolf can do anything. Except keep his mouth shut. He barks a bunch of orders before chasing a bad guy, with the narration talking about how he never talks.
He just talked–more than anyone else.
The story has the Legion stopping the Space Circus Assassin, who is apparently trying to start an intergalactic war between Earth and one of its former colonies. The only thing to unite the two peoples was the Space Circus, but if meanies are going to try to incite violence, what’s even the point? The silliness gets the comic through quite a bit.
It also helps they’re trying to uncover the assassin, so it’s a mystery with various reveals. Brainiac 5 is around to tell people when they’re right or wrong; whether they listen to him is another story, sometimes leading to trouble. Based on the conclusion, not only should they have really listened to him, Conway should’ve written it better. It’s a decent espionage thriller at its core, but the Space Circus stuff is just too goofy.
Except then again, Estrada does better with the goofy. The finale’s weird and enthusiastic.
I’m not sure Conway Legion is ever going to be “good,” but it’s certainly better than usual.
I really hope Estrada sticks around.
WHERE TO LISTEN
Writer Marv Wolfman starts this issue with a….
Okay, here’s a welcome to the future moment. Wolfman starts the issue with a quote about a Hindu king, making me think this issue was the third in his “religion” trilogy of issues (beginning with the Jewish issue, then a generally religious one) with Hinduism. But not only doesn’t Wolfman return to it—he’s just doing it to South Asia up Taj’s brief appearance, which reveals what I remember it revealing—it’s not even from a Hindu text. It’s from A Man and a Woman, an 1892 novel by one Stanley Waterloo, an American newspaperman turned novelist. Despite being a hit in the 1890s, Waterloo didn’t maintain popularity long enough for anyone to turn his works into movies.
He apparently made it into a book of quotes unless Wolfman was really into willfully forgotten pop literature.
After Taj’s scene, which has his wife taking him to see their vampire son, who the villagers have decided—out of fear but no inciting incident—should die. The villagers had been donating their blood for years to keep the kid “alive,” but not anymore. He’s got to go. It’s a well-illustrated scene but dramatically inert. Wolfman’s narration when Taj is protagonist is at best condescending and often worse.
The main story is Dracula, familiar Shiela, and her new de facto beau, David, fighting an unrevealed villain for control of the Chimera statue. No more spoilers than the following, but the Chimera statue is basically like if the Infinity Gauntlet were made out of toothpicks glued together. It can conquer the universe, but it’s really, really, really delicate.
The villain gives the leads hallucinations, good and bad, so Shiela dreams of Dracula loving her as a woman. David’s scared his dead dad was actually an atheist and thought his son going to Yeshiva was stupid. Dracula has a fight scene with the vampire hunters. Dracula’s hallucination ends with daughter Lilith delivering the fatal blow as she’s the one he fears the most. I wonder if that detail will come back.
The ending suggests the series is undergoing another change in supporting cast, which is peculiar for several reasons.
There’s excellent art from Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, and some of Wolfman’s character development is, if not successful, at least engaging. But there are definitely causes for concern. The series has been in a kind of limbo for a half dozen issues, and Wolfman’s just heading in deeper.
As I feared, Gary Erskine continues to fall apart on the art this issue. As I assumed, it doesn’t really matter. Writer Garth Ennis is doing such a phenomenal job with the script, Erskine gets a pass. He’s got exceptional problems with depth—I don’t even know how to describe it but somehow, although Erskine’s figures are three-dimensional, they’re not three-dimensional in relation to one another. It’s actually disquieting, looking into Dan Dare’s now soulless eyes.
Which are better than busy eyes, which Erskine and colorist A. Thiruneelakandan give acting Prime Minister and former Dan Dare companion Jocelyn Peabody and then one of the admirals. Dan Dare: The Revival companion Christian escapes the busy eyes—you have to see them, it’s like the person’s supposed to be surprised, but Erskine draws it like they’re staring so hard their eyes are watering—but mostly because she’s not in the comic enough. And when she is in the comic, she’s background or conversation fodder. The aforementioned admiral talks smack about Dare putting her in charge.
Half the comic is resolving last issue’s cliffhanger—the Mekon’s got Dan and is going to torture him, then conquer Earth—then the other half is the final battle getting underway. Ennis works up a rather interesting juxtaposition for the two arch-enemies: they’re the only competent person on their respective side. Well, besides Christian and Peabody, but they’re just lassies, aren’t they? The Mekon’s army is at least genetically predisposed to being easily led (and distracted), while the British admiralty no longer trusts their sailors. Or whatever they’re called in space. Ennis gets in some good military culture digs.
There’s also a lot of sci-fi stuff as the humans figure out how the aliens have harassed a black hole and so on, along with some battle tactics. Ennis paces this issue beautifully; it feels double-sized, but it’s not. However, the next issue will be, and I imagine it’ll feel like at least three comics. Three great comics.
4×13 – Police Squad, 6 of 6 – OnesiesEmily and Andrew reach the end of POLICE SQUAD (IN COLOR) and sadly bid farewell to this actually great series. Listen as they discuss Peter Lupus, Leslie Neilsen (FTW), guest stars, comedy tropes, and much more.
WHERE TO LISTEN
Lady Bird is a loving tribute to Sacramento, California, specifically growing up there as a teenager, from the perspective of a main character who hates Sacramento. Writer and director Gerwig opens the film with a travelogue of Sacramento streets and locations, a device she repeats sparingly (only significantly in the fantastic finale); Lady Bird is set in the fall of 2002; Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy shoot it in a grainy, succulent style. It looks seventies; only it’s very, very 2002 (and 2003). It’s particularly particular when Gerwig does an absurdist—but grounded—comedy aside.
It’s a gorgeous film, start to finish, and Gerwig’s enthralled with her subjects, whether setting, scenery, or character.
Despite an exceptionally on-point opening quote and irregular narration from lead Saoirse Ronan (and despite her being the Lady Bird of the title), the film is not a character study. Especially not of Ronan. Laurie Metcalf gets scenes from a character study, which ends up just making Gerwig’s big swing of a finale even more successful. Ronan is the daughter, Metcalf is the mom. Lady Bird is all about the two of them missing each other, hating each other, loving each other. From the start.
Before the Sacramento montage, which turns into a Catholic high school ground situation montage, Gerwig and Metcalf are on their way back from a college visit. They’re bonding over the Grapes of Wrath on audio cassette (2002), and then one of them says just the wrong thing, and the other one gets pissed off, and they argue and ruin their moment. As the film progresses, Gerwig’s going to reveal the depth of their emotionally rending relationship, layering in the details from conversations between the two, but also just comments from the supporting cast. Because Gerwig and Metcalf’s relationship is at the core of the family dynamics; dad Tracy Letts plays peacekeeper, while brother Jordan Rodrigues and his live-in girlfriend Marielle Scott watch from the sidelines. Everyone’s got a slightly different perspective on it, whereas Ronan just thinks Metcalf can’t stand her.
Which isn’t wrong.
The family drama is backdrop. In the foreground, it’s Ronan’s senior year of high school. She goes to a ritzy Catholic school on a scholarship. Her best friend is another scholarship kid, Beanie Feldstein. Their friendship is one of the film’s tectonic plates, and they’re fantastic together. Lois Smith is the nun in charge. She encourages Ronan to try theater, which leads to her meeting Lucas Hedges, her first love. Except then they all go to a Thanksgiving concert, and Ronan gets a look at moody boy Timothée Chalamet, and things start getting complicated.
Chalamet runs with an entirely different crowd—the rich and popular one—while being a tragically hip, soulful, Goth anarchist who sits through everything performatively reading A People’s History of the United States. Chalamet simultaneously looks twelve and thirty-eight; when he’s going, everything stops and stares—Ronan, Gerwig, the viewer. He’s captivating. And such a perfect little jackass.
But it’s not like Hedges doesn’t come with problems, and Ronan’s never met anyone like Chalamet. She’s not in college yet, where she’ll discover he’s just a trope, albeit with some substantial motivation with his own home life. Besides Ronan, the most family we get is from Feldstein and Hedges, but it’s there for all of the kids. Metcalf’s very aware she’s living working class in expensive circles, something she tries to impart to Ronan without success.
Things get worse when Letts loses his job, especially since it adds to the things he keeps from or downplays with Ronan. The character relationships are delicate and precise, with Gerwig and editor Nick Houy making all the right cuts.
The film’s technically superlative. Gerwig’s direction, Levy’s photography, Hoey’s cutting, Jon Brion’s music (though the soundtrack is more important, and—in what can only be described as a baller move—Gerwig has the stones to turn liking a Dave Matthews song into a plot point), and then April Napier’s costumes. But the film’s all about Ronan’s performance.
Watching Lady Bird is watching Ronan to see what she’s going to do next. The same thing happens with Metcalf, which is such an outstanding echo—but Ronan’s in the spotlight. Gerwig throws a lot at her but then—especially in the second act—skips significant dramatic moments, so Ronan doesn’t have a steady character development arc. Instead, Gerwig uses skip-aheads to adjust the narrative distance, finding a different angle to inspect Ronan’s performance. Ronan’s full-stop great, but Gerwig hinges the entire thing on her being able to do the development arc in summary; Gerwig’s incredibly trusting and fully rewarded for it.
Ronan, Metcalf, and Chalamet are the best performances, but there aren’t any slouches. Letts, Feldstein, and Hedges are all great too. Smith’s awesome, as is Stephen McKinley Henderson as the theater teacher priest.
Lady Bird’s one of a kind from its first story beat (in the prologue) and then, over and over, one of a kind. It’s even magical at times. Gerwig, Ronan, and Metcalf do incomparable work.
It’s so damn good.