Despite the unfestive title, RDWRER is the third “Frasier” in a row to do a holiday. Two episodes ago, it was a birthday episode (sort of) for Kelsey Grammer, then last episode was a Christmas episode, and now this episode is the New Year’s. There’s no specific mention of the new elephant—Jane Leeves knows David Hyde Pierce had a crush on her, but he doesn’t know she knows. Instead, it’s a Crane Boys episode; Grammer, Hyde Pierce, and Mahoney go on a wacky adventure.
The episode starts with Grammer and Peri Gilpin talking about their respective New Year’s. Grammer’s requires a flashback (and the entire episode). He and Hyde Pierce’s plans have fallen through, so they finagle an invite to a Wine Country party; they just need to get there. Good thing dad Mahoney’s custom plates—RDWRER (Road Warrior, sound it out)—have just arrived for his Winnebago. After a short scene with Leeves (she gets one bit then exits), it’s a road trip episode, with Grammer and Mahoney never letting Hyde Pierce drive.
New-to-the-show-this-season credited writers Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil do a great job, and Grammer delivers on the directing front. As per usual, he showcases his fellow actors over himself—Leeves’s outburst about late Christmas cards, Mahoney getting into it with a rural cop, Hyde Pierce convinced he’s been kidnapped. Then Grammer lets himself have a great showcase talking to Hyde Pierce—telephonically—about the kidnapping. It’s an “event” holiday episode, much more than the preceding two. The show’s not letting the mega-plot get in the way of an episode this time.
There are a couple fun and weird bits. First, Mahoney’s obsessed with Austin Powers, even though Grammer assures him he’s missed the pop culture moment. It’s silly and ages awkwardly—if they were really betting on Mike Myers being ubiquitous, they bet wrong—but it gives Mahoney some absurd lines to deliver well. Then Rebecca Schull guest stars. She was on “Wings,” which takes place in the same universe as “Cheers.” I can’t remember if there was ever any post-“Cheers” crossing over with “Frasier,” but… it’s a good bit part. She and Anthony Zerbe are an old couple also on the road in a Winnebago.
I think there was an episode of “Wings” where Schull had an evil twin. Maybe she’s playing the third sister here.
Excellent episode. Clock’s ticking, though. The clock is ticking.
Artist Don Perlin keeps himself busy this issue. Each page has at least seven panels, usually with Perlin doing the action in small, vertical panels, in long-shot. As detail isn’t Perlin’s strong suit, the composition choices help.
I have to be honest and admit I dug this issue so much I’m worried about myself. There’s nothing good or interesting about it, but it’s a monster comic set in the Marvel Universe. We get a three-way fight between Wolfman Jack, the Hangman (who Doug Moench writes better than Marv Wolfman, who created the character back in Werewolf #11), and the seventies Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Hyde’s got a ridiculous name—DePrayve (but better than George Lucas’s prequel proper nouns)—but it doesn’t matter. Werewolf has a relatively low bar to clear, though Moench seems again committed to changing things up. The last time he changed things up, Moench made the comic closer to its ground situation back in the first few issues. Moved Jack in with Buck again, reintroduced Lissa’s frequently forgotten impending werewolf curse, and brought in another dipshit cop. The last dipshit cop was dirty. This dipshit cop doesn’t know the last one was bad news, so has it out for… well, Jack, I guess. Wolfman Jack.
Moench writes a peculiar comic, from the Hangman’s (restrained but well-focused) rants and then Jack’s narration. It’s still forgotten experience—Jack doesn’t remember the werewolf’s adventures, even though he narrates them in the comic—but Moench ignores the discrepancies better.
The less you think about Werewolf by Night, reading it or writing it, the better.
It’s a godawful issue for Jack’s pal, Buck, not just because Perlin can’t draw him the same in any two panels.
Otherwise, no guest stars. No step-dads, no sisters, just Hangman terrorizing the werewolf. It’s better than it ought to be.
“Frasier” does indeed run into immediate problems with Jane Leeves finding out David Hyde Pierce has a crush on her (and has had one for quite some time). Leeves has her first moment of romantic interest—post finding out—and it’s when Hyde Pierce puts his jacket on her. They’re standing out on the balcony unraveling the plot-driving confusion. Leeves has spent the episode thinking Hyde Pierce is romantically interested in her again because he’s on the outs with girlfriend Jane Adams, while Hyde Pierce just wants to patch things up with Adams.
But they’re out in the cold Christmas air (it’s the Christmas episode), and when Leeves shivers, he offers his suit jacket. Why are they out on the balcony? So he can discretely ask her something (related to Adams), and while it’s awkward, it doesn’t require them to be outside. It’s just to set Leeves to get swept away by gallantry in an absurdly unnecessary situation.
Last episode—the “first part” of this two-parter, quotations because it’s not a real two-parter—neither Adams nor Saul Rubinek showed up. In this episode, Leeves initially thinks Hyde Pierce won’t confess his devotion because Rubinek’s around. Except Leeves has now got the “what ifs,” and it’s derailing the show. Or at least threatening to do it.
The episode begins an indeterminate time after last episode, which was a birthday episode (initially) for Kelsey Grammer. I’m vaguely curious if they do him having a birthday just before Christmas in other seasons, but I’m not willing to do the work. But some time has passed, only Leeves hasn’t seen anyone to tell them about the crush discovery. Anyone meaning Peri Gilpin, who becomes Leeves’s sidekick this episode, which is fine—they’re great together—but it’s strange and forced.
Pamela Fryman directs this episode (she did last episode, too) and does a fantastic job. Grammer’s got a Christmas party at work (Tom McGowan and Edward Hibbert briefly guest), and then he and John Mahoney have Christmas antics fun; Fryman does great with that stuff. And she does all right with Leeves’s, but she can’t make it work. The script—credited to Jon Sherman (who didn’t get the credit last episode)—just isn’t there.
To confuse Leeves, Hyde Pierce has an opening subplot regarding Maris, which means Adams’s most significant contribution is a brief harpy scene. Rubinek does slightly better, at least getting to have fun as Grammer’s Christmas party gofer.
It’s okay, but the problems are immediately showing. Not assuring.
WHERE TO LISTEN
This episode is the first entry in a two-parter, but one of those loose sitcom two-parters where it’s just so they keep them together in syndication. Whatever comes after Back Talk will be inevitably different because, after over a hundred and seventy episodes, “Frasier”’s going to deal with one of its longest-running story arcs.
Not the chair, though it gets mentioned.
No, this episode is where Daphne (Jane Leeves) finds out about Niles (David Hyde Pierce) having a crush on her. Possibly. It depends on how drowsy Kelsey Grammer’s painkillers make him, but Leeves is on a collision course with the reveal.
But it doesn’t start about the seven-year crush; it begins with Grammer’s birthday breakfast and a bad back. And some good jokes with dad John Mahoney giving him gruff. The episode’s script credit goes to Lori Kirkland; Pamela Fryman directs. It’s a near exemplar “Frasier,” from the structure to unexpectedly giving Leeves a big acting task, except it’s too functional. There’s no going back if Leeves finally finds out… you can just see the TV teasers.
When Grammer tells Peri Gilpin about his bad back, she suggests he list his current complaints about the human condition aloud. He finally gives in to the idea—with Hyde Pierce and Gilpin nicely teaming up against him—only when he confesses (to an unlikely recipient) how much he will miss Leeves when she leaves (no pun; to get married), she overhears and thinks he’s got romantic feelings.
Something Mahoney reinforces (without elaborating on). So Leeves thinks Grammer’s got the hots for her and gets really uncomfortable—another great sequence from Leeves. This episode gives her a lot more to do than usual.
Excellent performances from Grammer and Leeves, with some solid scenes for Mahoney too. Gilpin and Hyde Pierce are all support; they’re good and funny, but they’re all support.
There’s a great subplot about Grammer discovering the best salve for his bad back, which comes back in the credits scene just right.
It’s a really good episode. But it’s also a really good episode related to the show’s Achilles heel (or so we’ll soon learn). From here, however, it seems like they’ve got smooth sailing ahead.
Emergency Declaration is a disaster movie made like a horror movie. It’s not just any disaster movie, either; it’s Airport meets Airplane but with bioterrorism. The bioterrorism doesn’t have to do with the horror movie; it’s all the investigation procedural. The horror movie experience is entirely reserved for the victims (and the audience). Declaration doesn’t thrill, it doesn’t excite, it terrorizes. From the start.
As we’re meeting busy cop dad Song Kang-ho (whose wife Woo Mi-hwa went on vacation with girlfriends without telling him), co-pilot Kim Nam-Gil, single parent Lee Byung-hun, and seeing the flight attendants and class trips arrive, we’re also meeting Yim Si-wan. He’s asking the desk clerk weird questions about the flights because the first act of Declaration is all about how lax Incheon Airport security is going to cause lots of problems.
Pretty soon, Lee’s adorable daughter, Kim Bo-min, has to go to the bathroom and goes to the boys because the class trip is waiting in line for the women’s. In the can, she just happens to see Yim slicing himself open so he can put a vial inside to get through security. Again, it’s Airport, only with bioterrorism instead of a bomb. And then it’s Airplanebecause Lee’s actually a hotshot pilot who burned out and is now a bit of a drunk. Luckily adorable Kim keeps him in line.
Now, by the time Kim sees Yim mutilating himself, it becomes clear director Han isn’t stopping the terror any time soon. Especially not when cop dad Song goes on a call about some TikToker threatening to do something to an airplane. Song pretty quickly discovers evidence, and it’s time to start talking about turning the plane around. Except no one listens to Song for a while.
But it’s okay because we’ve established the pilots made sure to get extra fuel (bad weather in Japan, which comes up again).
So we’re just waiting for Yim to do something and to see how it affects the lovable or at least sympathetic cast of passengers. Especially Kim, because Yim decides to terrorize her.
Now, Yim’s just an incel. He’s some other things on top of it, but when the news eventually compares him to someone else, it’s a U.S. mass shooter incel. Declaration came out in 2021, so in the middle of Covid-19, but you’d never know it. It’s a recent movie where Rona doesn’t happen (wow, did South Korea do things better than the U.S.—everyone’s crowded together in this movie, on plane or not), but it’s about bioterrorism and how people react to communicative disease. So it’s this weird, in-direct commentary on Rona only not, starring a generic incel, only not.
Or it would be such a commentary if Han weren’t just making a terrorizing movie about a lot of people dying horrible deaths and no one really being able to do anything to help, especially not over-promoted men, the United States, or the Japanese. Though Song’s somewhat shoe-horned in so they don’t have to give Jeon Do-yeon too much to do as the government minister in charge of the response. The movie decides in the third act she’s really super-duper important, only they don’t give her enough in the first act. She makes sense; she’s navigating the bioterrorism thriller. Lee’s on the plane doing his Ted Striker thing. Song’s around like it’s Taking of Pelham One Two Three. They needed first and third act drama, so they gave it to Song, while at least some of it should’ve been Jeon’s.
When I say director Han’s trying to terrorize, he’s not being coy about it. Whether or not the unfortunately constant lens flare is supposed to be ominous as far as foreshadowing (spoiler, yes), the editing and music are just about scaring the audience. Lee Byung-woo’s score is excellent. It’s almost entirely just horror movie slasher stalker music. Relentless.
Then the editing—from director Han, Lee Kang-il, and Kim Woo-hyun—cuts to and from characters in moments of incredible stress and tragedy, and fear. Whether they’re in the ground or the air, it’s just about scared people in their worst moments. Han brings incredible severity to this fictional remake of Airport. It’d be an opportunistic melodrama if it were a true story. But it’s not, so it’s just terrorizing.
And it works out pretty well. Declaration starts cracking somewhere in the second half, and it’s falling apart by the third. The film forecasts a lot of the story (intentionally) and occasionally drags things out too much.
There’s some excellent acting. Song and Woo have some great phone call scenes, Lee’s an awesome imperfect hero, and Yim’s never not scary. Han directs the hell of the film with outstanding CGI plane special effects. It’s gorgeous.
It’s also manipulative, and a little insincere, but—as with everything else Declaration does—expertly so.
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.