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  • Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1977) #237

    Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1977) #237

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    This issue is weird. The story’s weird, and the issue’s weird. The story’s weird because it’s about the Legion committing numerous intergalactic crimes because their financial benefactor is in danger. The issue’s weird because, well, the art is… lacking.

    And the art’s from Walt Simonson and Jack Abel. I’m not the most well-read on Simonson, but I know he’s not supposed to remind you of Rob Liefeld, so maybe it’s Abel’s inks. Because the faces are all bad, but then about half the figures are bad too. Like, giant muscles and hands and little heads with too small faces on them. The only decent panels are the superhero team long shots. Otherwise, it’s a high-grade eyesore.

    Also, the spaceship design—the stuff new to the issue because there’s a callback to Mon-El’s story last issue—looks like “Star Trek.” Like Klingon ships from “Star Trek,” just without thoughtful nacelles.

    Now on to the story.

    The Legion is gathered to have a retirement party for Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, who have to quit because they’re married. They’re barely in the story—just in the first of the six chapters—and they get so little to do or say, it’s like writer Paul Levitz is avoiding them.

    They fly off on their own, and the Legion financier, intergalactic businessman R.J. Brande, has a moment before little drones attack him. Brande looks a little like Harry Mudd from “Star Trek: The Animated Series.” The silly mustache.

    Anyway. Some guy’s out to kill Brande for bankrupting his family, and he’s holding him hostage unless the Legion goes and steals three artifacts. He says it’s to rebuild his family fortune, but it’s really to destroy the galaxy or something.

    It doesn’t occur to the Legion they should be suspicious of the villain’s story until the last chapter, which is part of the weirdness. The story’s weird in its thoughtlessness like Levitz was phoning in the plotting.

    The first quest is a relatively simple follow-up to Mon-El’s adventure last issue. This team of Legionnaires has to fight space pirates. It’s also where there’s some really figure drawing on Superboy; just really bad. It’s a strange sequel to the story last issue because that one was all Mon-El reflecting on the adventure as he did his thing. This time he’s got pals, and there’s just a lot of talking. It’s easily the most successful, story-wise, of the quests.

    Because the second quest has three female Legionnaires breaking into the Legion base, where team leader Wildfire and Princess Projectra have to stand guard. Princess Projectra is giving Wildfire shit for not being human anymore and, therefore, a big buzzkill. Kind of mean. Then Shadow Lass comes in and whines about how she only joined the Legion to meet a husband, but it’s a ruse for her compatriots to steal something.

    From their team.

    Instead of… telling them what’s going on. Though given how shitty they are to each other, I mean, would you want to talk to them if you didn’t have to?

    The third quest has that Legion team assaulting a less advanced but still spacefaring species. Making fun of their appearances as they do.

    All this shitty intergalactic behavior from the Legion—as far as they know—is to save their wealthy benefactor. So the people they assault, the things they break, the things they steal, all that damage is okay because their patron is in danger.

    Sure, the whole galaxy or solar system or whatever is in actual danger, but they don’t know that detail. Apparently, the Legion’s motto is “the richer you are, the more people we’re willing to hurt for you.”

    The jerk store behavior and the bad art do not make for a good read.


  • Batman: Year 100 (2006) #2

    Batman: Year 100 (2006) #2

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    About a third of this issue is talking heads. First, it’s unnamed Batman 2039 and his team—including a new Robin, who starts the issue working on a bitchin’ motorcycle for Bats—talking through what led up to last issue’s issue-long chase sequence, and then it’s cop Gordon and his gang looking through the archives for information on “The Bat-Man.”

    Both sequences are strange, though for different reasons. The Batman one because creator Paul Pope is trying to avoid doing any character introductions and instead focus on their conversation about the dead cop and Batman’s inability to remember enough details. It’s a briefing with occasional personality (usually from Robin 2039). It’s not interesting, but it’s also not grating like Gordon’s sequence.

    So the Gordon sequence. They’re going through the archives—remember, last issue, no one had any idea there was a “Bat-Man” a hundred years ago, and even the modern incarnation was a surprise to Gordon. In Year 100 continuity… Detective Comics #27 is in continuity, something something something in the sixties in continuity, The Dark Knight Returns is in glowing continuity. Then maybe something from Dark Knight Strikes Back. I didn’t read Strikes Back so I don’t know if it’s what Pope’s talking about. The most attention goes to the DKR stuff, which means in Year 100 continuity, Batman in Dark Knight was at least seventy, not fifty-five or whatever. Also, Zorro would be out.

    It’d be better if Pope weren’t just overtly winking and nodding to Frank Miller. But, it still wouldn’t be good. No one knows about there being a Batman in Gotham City for eighty years because the records were destroyed. It also means no one in Gotham in 2039 remembers anything from twenty years before. Seems like mass amnesia would have more repercussions.

    The other two-thirds of the comic are action procedural. Gordon goes to the crime scene to see what the federal cops are lying to him about; Batman breaks into the federal cop morgue to look at the guy he supposedly killed.

    Exquisite art on all of it, though obviously better on the action. Pope doesn’t make the talking heads sequences interesting visually; he matches the monotony and tediousness of the dialogue. Appropriate, but also, why do the scenes if you’re not interested in doing the scenes. Especially since the first issue established Year 100 can run on pure adrenalin. Contriving reasons to be reticent during exposition dumps….

    The second half of the comic does a lot to redeem the first, though it’s clear Pope doesn’t actually have a good story, which is foreboding given there are two issues to go.


  • Werewolf by Night (1972) #1

    Werewolf by Night (1972) #1

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    Werewolf by Night’s got a cliffhanger to resolve at the beginning of its first issue, which is awkward. Especially since writer Gerry Conway’s going to take so many shortcuts. He’s in a race to resolve everything, concluding in a breakneck single-page wrap-up, and he never gets a chance to setup Werewolf as its own book. Nevertheless, there are the vaguest hints; more on those in a bit.

    First, the cliffhanger. We last saw Jack Russell, titular Werewolf by Night, turned to stone by a teenage mutant girl whose father had been doing experiments on innocent people trying to find a cure for her. They were going to use dark magic from the Darkhold, a book Jack wants because… some other villain told him about it.

    This issue starts with the werewolf still stone and Jack narrating a recap. The gorgon eyes stuff doesn’t work on werewolves who turn back into humans. Just as Jack changes, his new pal Buck Cowan arrives. He’s chartered a seaplane, but before anyone can say, “I hate snakes, Jock,” the duo runs into mutant girl, her now paralyzed father, and their reluctant mutant thug.

    It’s an entirely different take on the mutant girl than in the previous issue, which had her as tragically, sympathetically evil. The father surviving his fall is a weird and mostly pointless change. Also, the idea she got her father a new outfit and a wheelchair in the few hours since she’d turned Wolfman Jack into stone…. Conway’s going to end the issue with just as silly of a time twist too. I hope it’s not going to be a regular narrative device.

    Since Jack gave the mutant girl his name in the previous installment, she just follows him back to the mainland, where she can threaten his sister, Lissa, and Buck too. Luckily, it’s the second night of the full moon, so Jack can turn and save the day.

    But what if being turned to stone somehow cured him of his lycanthropy? Wouldn’t that twist be a heck of a series starter?

    Speaking of the series, the hints at what Werewolf might be like when not resolving existing cliffhangers: Jack and Buck hanging out, Lissa too? In the previous installments in Marvel Spotlight, Conway avoided sister Lissa; talked about her a bunch, avoided her. Now she’s finally around. And Buck and Jack have a good enough rapport, with Jack trying to hide the furry alter ego from both his costars.

    As before, the draw is the Mike Ploog art. The werewolf stuff is great, the human stuff is good—Jack’s an often shirtless action star now, with absolutely phenomenal hair. Ploog draws great expressions, great movement, but the hair is just out of this world.

    The only time the art lags is with the mutant girl and her father plotting. Otherwise, even with brief family drama stuff (Jack and Lissa’s step-father is a complete prick), all the art’s magnificent. Ploog’s art enthralls, page-to-page, panel-to-panel.


  • Kill or Be Killed (2016) #4

    Kill or Be Killed (2016) #4

    The most unrealistic thing about Kill or Be Killed is Dylan isn’t a white supremacist. Like, historically speaking. Also, his classes in graduate school. Much of this issue’s about him trying to find his next target, starting with a subway fantasy about taking out a couple punks, but then it turns out he’s just watching too much Death Wish 3 or whatever.

    Okay, Dylan watching Death Wish movies is also somewhat unrealistic.

    But after the subway shootout fantasy, he opines you can’t just kill Black drug dealers in parks because it’d be racist; besides, they’re just a cog in the wheel. To find bigger fish, he’s got to do research, which means reading newspapers and police blotters. Dylan’s a copaganda-invested vigilante. It leads him to a strip club where he’s sure the girls are human trafficked from Russia, so he’s going to kill their handler.

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    At the same time, his affair with Kira has accelerated, leading to their content-less soap opera babbling about her boyfriend (and his roommate) taking place while they’re both naked. The roommate’s getting suspicious because Dylan keeps going out every night from 2 to 4 am. This is why The Punisher lives alone.

    Overall, it’s an okay issue (relatively speaking). Writer Ed Brubaker tries really, really hard to rationalize Dylan through his narration. It’s not entirely successful, and it seems vaguely half-assed, but at least Brubaker’s trying to be thorough. But it reads like his notes on a project, not a finished project. Kill or Be Killed needs an editor, not Eric Stephenson’s “editorial supervision.”

    Artist Sean Phillips gets in some great New York City street scenes, but he’s also got his scale problems. Lots of Dylan’s head looking oversized for his body—in panels where the other people have standard-sized heads—but this issue also has Phillips drawing other characters awkwardly small. Seriously, the whole thing could be explained if it were Dylan’s fantasy he’s playing out with his action figures.

    There’s a biggish reveal at the end, along with a wrench in his relationship with Kira; neither are particularly engaging, but at least they’re dramatic blips in a series so awkwardly otherwise without them.


  • No Highway in the Sky (1951, Henry Koster)

    No Highway in the Sky (1951, Henry Koster)

    No Highway in the Sky has a peculiar structure. It starts with Jack Hawkins; he’s just starting at a British aircraft manufacturer and, during his tour, meets scientist James Stewart, who’s hypothesized a catastrophic, inevitable failure for the latest, greatest plane. Stewart’s convinced the tails will rattle off the planes, which are made with a new kind of metal composite.

    No one has paid any attention to Stewart until this point because he’s absent-minded, but Hawkins is curious, so he gives Stewart a ride home and has a drink. Hawkins remains unconvinced of Stewart’s theory and now more suspicious he’s wrong because it turns out Stewart’s an egg-head who does science at home too. Plus, Hawkins doesn’t think Stewart’s raising daughter Janette Scott right. Hawkins doesn’t have any kids of his own, but he’s not an egg-head, so he knows better.

    It’s a very awkward, vaguely ableist scene, making fun of Stewart with Hawkins having no cachet except… not being really smart.

    Then Hawkins runs into an old war buddy, an uncredited David Hutcheson, who has his own suspicions about the plane, and then Hawkins immediately believes Stewart. At numerous times throughout the film, people will be against Stewart, then change their minds by the next scene. R.C. Sherriff, Oscar Millard, and Alec Coppel’s script is meticulous in contiguous scenes, but then transitions are almost non-existent. Or, presumably, cut for time.

    Anyway.

    With Hawkins convinced, he and big boss Ronald Squire decide they will send Stewart to Canada to investigate a crash. Because Squire hasn’t had his reversal yet, he’s thrilled to be sending Stewart as punishment for complaining. There’s also this strange—possibly unintentional—subtext with Hawkins and his wife (Elizabeth Allan, credited but not really in the movie) watching Scott while Stewart’s away. It seems intrusive, probably because Stewart and Scott only really have that first scene together to develop their character relationship. Everything else is for the plot.

    The plane trip to Canada is where No Highway gets going because it turns out Stewart’s in one of the planes he predicts will fail. So even though he’s previously been entirely indifferent to potential deaths, they’re suddenly on his mind. Specifically, movie star Marlene Dietrich, who’s on the plane with him; Stewart’s wife liked Dietrich’s films, so he tells her how to, maybe, survive a crash into the Atlantic.

    Stewart tries telling the pilot (an uncredited and very good Niall MacGinnis) and telling the friendly stewardess, Glynis Johns, but no one believes him enough to turn the plane around. Instead, they believe him enough to consider the possibility, which leads everyone to resent Stewart as the plane becomes Charon’s ferry. Maybe.

    Lots of good acting on the plane ride, along with some unfortunate composite shots. No Highway’s a tad overconfident in its special effects, with director Koster giving his actors way too much to do in front of lousy projection shots. The instincts are good, but the execution’s disappointing.

    After the flight, everyone is again forced to reexamine their relationship with and opinion of Stewart. Not just the people on the plane but also Hawkins, Squire, and—eventually—Scott. The third act turns Stewart back into the subject after begrudgingly making him the protagonist for the second. The film would rather stick to Johns or Dietrich and their experiences with Stewart, but since he’s the only active player, he’s got to play protagonist.

    The third act is split between Hawkins (handling the professional repercussions) and Johns (taking the home life ones). Johns and Dietrich end up with one really good scene together—along with Scott for a bit—where they talk about who wants to fail Bechdel more. There’s an excellent subtext to the scene, though, with some really incisive moments from Dietrich. In the third act, Johns sort of runs out of character; she’s just a good British homemaker, even if she’s not currently married. There’s only so far she can go.

    Most of the film’s problems resolve after that rocky first act. After a certain point, all of Stewart’s associates just talk really nice about him, which the film says makes up for them talking shit earlier. Not playing ableist assholes, Hawkins and Squire do much better (though basically just doing a quality assurance procedural). Johns suffers because her role goes nowhere, but she’s good. Dietrich’s got some good stuff. Stewart has a handful of good and great scenes, but for the most part, he’s just okay. The film doesn’t allow him an internal arc, instead making him project it; sure, acting out provides dramatic fodder, but limitedly.

    Koster’s direction is occasionally peculiar, and he and cinematographer Georges Périnal don’t know how to shoot inside the airplane, but it’s all right. Koster’s good with the actors, and he keeps the pace up. The other technicals—besides the composite shots—are solid.

    It takes a while for the film to get going, but once it does, whenever No Highway gets good (and it frequently does so), it gets very good.


    This post is part of the Aviation in Film Blogathon hosted by Rebecca of Taking Up Room.


  • Every Secret Thing (2014, Amy Berg)

    Every Secret Thing (2014, Amy Berg)

    There’s a lot to say about Every Secret Thing and nothing to say about it. And some things can only easily be phrased as complimentary insults, like Rob Hardy’s photography is valuable because the movie’s an object lesson in how not to photograph a film.

    Or how director Berg’s a great example of why a director needs to be able to work with their actors and know what’s good and what’s not. It would also help if Berg were better at the visuals, but directing the actors would’ve made a big difference.

    Though maybe not Diane Lane. Lane’s a celluloid vampire here. She sucks the life out of every frame. Well, every byte; Thing’s shot on video, so maybe Hardy’s just inept on the format. Though if he told Berg they could shoot a dark room with visible daylight under the shades and say it was nighttime… well, that one’s still on him.

    Or maybe say something about Robin Coudert's omnipresent and lousy music. Billy McMillin and Ron Patane’s editing is about the only competent technical, and they clearly were cutting together a mess.

    Because once you get past the snide not-compliments, Every Secret Thinghas serious problems. A lot of the acting’s terrible, some of it because the direction’s terrible, some of it because Nicole Holofcener’s script is terrible. I’m sure not all of it is Holofcener’s adaptation (the movie’s from Laura Lippman’s novel) because the narrative trickery and manipulation are straight out of middling crime novels. And, you know, incredibly famous crime thrillers, making the whole thing very predictable as far as villains, with some very convenient details withheld until the third act.

    The film’s about eighteen-year-olds Danielle Macdonald and Dakota Fanning; they’ve just gotten out of juvie for kidnapping and killing a baby when they were eleven. There are flashbacks peppered throughout the film to reveal more and more about that incident, but Macdonald protests her innocence while Fanning mopes.

    Now, the film will treat Macdonald as suspicious because she’s fat; mom Lane bullies her about it, and Macdonald talks about it at length to other characters. And the movie is all about demonizing her; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything do fatphobia as phrenology, but Every Secret Thing wants to be a pioneer.

    Separate from that treatment of Macdonald’s character, the movie also has a lot to imply about interracial relationships between Black men and white women. There’s also a vice versa couple (Black lady, white man) around too, but the film’s distracted during those scenes because they can do a “poor people are classless” thing instead.

    So, again, the best worst things about Every Secret Thing are technical incompetencies because they distract from the more problematic issues.

    Anyway.

    Another little girl goes missing, and the original baby’s mother goes to cops Elizabeth Banks and Nate Parker and says to investigate the recently released duo. Banks was the uniform cop who found the dead baby, and she’s still got PTSD. It’s not actually important because there’s no character development in the movie, just timed reveals. Because it’s terrible.

    Who took the baby, and will the good guys get there in time. There’s inherent tension—especially since the parents, played by Sarah Sokolovic and Common, are very sympathetic. Common because everyone treats him like shit for being a Black guy, including Black cop Parker. The movie threatens to explore Parker’s hostility but thankfully does not.

    Acting-wise, the best performance is… Banks. Kind of by default. Macdonald’s bad in a terrible part, Fanning’s not good in a terrible part, Lane’s “pull out the thesaurus” bad. Sokolovic and Common are better than the main cast, same with Parker. But, of course, it doesn’t help the flashback children actors—Brynne Norquist and Eva Grace Kellner—are lousy, and Berg has even less ability directing kids than adults.

    For a second, it’s nice to see Julito McCullum (Namond, Wee-Bay’s kid on “The Wire”) in a tiny part, but then you realize he’s in this movie. Sure enough, Thing ruins it.

    Because Every Secret Thing is faulty. Sometimes it’s worse than faulty, but it’s always faulty.


  • All-New Collectors’ Edition (1978) #C-55

    All-New Collectors’ Edition (1978) #C-55

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    The cover promises an “epic-length novel,” which apparently works out to sixty-one pages. It’s four chapters, starting with Superboy traveling to the future for Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad’s wedding. Once there, he discovers a militaristic world where the Legion (and the U.S.) is fighting moon colonists, led by the Chinese. We find out later it’s the Chinese. Because they stole something from the Americans in the 1980s.

    It’s initially not too moldy, but once the action gets to the moon and the Chinese villain is basically future Fu Manchu, it’s ick. Though the scene doesn’t last long, and the whole moon colonists versus Earth thing is a time aberration red herring.

    The “bad guys” interrupt the wedding, kidnapping the couple after their vows; the plan is to ransom them for the polar ice caps to create oceans on the moon. As if there are any polar ice caps in the future.

    Anyway.

    Superboy wants to go to the past and fix the timeline; Wildfire intends to attack the moon and rescue the hostages. Writer Paul Levitz does each of those missions as a chapter, then brings everyone back together for the finale.

    The Superboy team goes back to 1978, natch, where they’ve got to stop a mysterious businessman from destroying the United Nations. Only Superboy can’t be seen in 1978 (Superman’s there, after all), and the villain is prepared for the Legionnaires even though they ought to be a surprise. There’s not much in the way of time travel hijinks (though there’s a disappearing spaceship in a park eight years before The Voyage Home), and there’s not enough time for it to be a mystery, but it’s engaging.

    The hostage rescue story is more exciting. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are in danger, and it turns out the Legion’s got the wrong kind of powers to rescue them. Unless they can all work together and figure out the right power formula to save the day. Err. The couple. While the chapter relies a lot on familiar characters—whereas the time travel one is about the period and villain—it’s better with the danger tension.

    The finale, however, is a familiar Legion villain monologuing about his evil plan with an editor’s note every fifth panel referring to a previous Legion of Super-Heroes comic. And Levitz does even try to cook up a good solution; it’s very basic, very silly. Though Mike Grell and Vince Colletta’s art sells it.

    I’ve always been bearish on Grell and Colletta’s a punchline, but their art’s good. There’s a lot of it, but Grell loves drawing capes, and lots of the heroes have capes, so it works. The flow’s good, though. It’s about the flow. And it’s consistent through the sixty-one pages. Even the opening with Superboy is good art, along with the interesting tidbit Smallville pre-Crisis was in… Massachusetts or something?

    Levitz’s plotting is good. His details less so. Despite being three times the size of a regular story, there’s very little character work. Wildfire’s a dick, and Superboy’s fed up with him. The newlyweds only get to respond to their plight, nothing else.

    It’s an immensely readable “epic-length” novel, but it’s not particularly substantial. Unless you’re really into the mystery villain and all the callbacks to previous Legion stories.

    The last few pages are a combination Legion history and roll call, going over the various heroes, giving each a paragraph, and a nice drawing from James Sherman (inked by Jack Abel). Nothing in the backup relates to the main story’s callbacks, which is kind of amusing; the feature requires different reader foreknowledge than Levitz drops in his history lesson.


  • Frasier (1993) s07e02 – Father of the Bride

    Frasier (1993) s07e02 – Father of the Bride

    This episode’s very funny, but often in a “the less you think about it” way. The script’s credited to Mark Reisman (his first credit on the show), and it very impressively gives almost everyone in the main cast a story thread. Except for John Mahoney, who gets a couple hilarious bits but not a thread, and Peri Gilpin’s is tacked onto Jane Leeves’s.

    The A-plot is Kelsey Grammer inadvertently taking over Leeves’s wedding planning. Well, wait; he very intentionally takes over the wedding planning, but he inadvertently puts himself in that situation. The episode uses audial gags three times, always to strong effect, with the first being a bad case of hiccups leading Leeves to believe Grammer wants to pay for her entire wedding. She’s frustrated with her interfering mum in the U.K. and is so relieved Grammer’s saving the day, he can’t find a way to back out. The “paying for the wedding” plot goes unresolved; once Grammer starts taking over the wedding, auditioning harpists, caterers, and ministers, it’s the raucous center of attention.

    The B-plot is David Hyde Pierce’s new girlfriend, Loryn Locklin, being a high-priced escort. Not because they met somewhere, and he doesn’t know, but rather because he doesn’t know the dating service he’s using is actually an escort service. So, his mistake entirely. Grammer finds out about it from Saul Rubinek, who does his one requisite guest scene as Leeves’s fiancé. The escort thing is an aside for later; otherwise, Rubinek’s there to make things even more awkward for Grammer backing out of his wedding funding commitments.

    There are some great scenes for Grammer, who gets more and more obsessed with throwing the perfect wedding, and a few excellent ones for Leeves. Hyde Pierce has some excellent deliveries, but the jokes immediately start molding. See, Locklin doesn’t know Hyde Pierce doesn’t know she’s an escort, which means he’s just being an asshole. So it’s a mistaken identity bit, only an unnecessarily mean-spirited one.

    Locklin’s lack of characterization also brings attention to Leeves and Gilpin’s plots, which are of the “decorate and be decorative” nature. Leeves wants to do the decorating, and Gilpin’s upset about Leeves’s wanting to decorate her in an ugly bridesmaid dress. They pass Bechdel for a few scant moments before failing it again.

    Sure, it’s an episode in Leeves’s long-going marriage arc, so they will be talking about her marrying dude Rubinek and male boss Grammer interfering, but the dynamics play out a little weird.

    Though often very funny. From the first scene, there are a lot of laughs, and they don’t slow down. The episode’s got some actually inspired jokes and bits throughout (a little broad at times but still), and there’s even time for some father and son time for Grammer and Mahoney. Director David Lee maintains great momentum, and the structure’s phenomenal.

    It’s just some of the themes are thin and easy.


  • Night Court Theme Fits All: All Creatures Great and Small

    Night Court Theme Fits All: All Creatures Great and Small