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.
The Jericho Mile plays a little like a truncated mini-series. The first hour of the film introduces the characters, the ground situation, and does an entire arc for six characters. There’s a minimal subplot about prison psychologist Geoffrey Lewis trying to convince seemingly super-fast-running inmate Peter Strauss to open up in therapy. Lewis then gets the idea to have Strauss run against some college runners; the subplot involves warden Billy Green Bush and track coach Ed Lauter, but it’s all just set up for the second half.
The first hour is all about Strauss and best friend Richard Lawson. Strauss is the quiet, obsessively working out white guy, Lawson’s the affable Black guy. They stay away from the Nazis (Brian Dennehy, Burton Gilliam, and Richard Moll), and they stay away from the Black Liberation Army guys (Roger E. Mosley and Ji-Tu Cumbuka). They’re just friends, and it’s a beautiful arc. Both Lawson and Strauss get epic monologues, with director Mann showcasing the performances. Mile’s technically uneven for a TV movie—there’s clearly different film stock, and the sound’s terrible—but Mann, Strauss, and Lawson were definitely approaching the film as an acting showcase. It’s almost stagy, but never in a bad way, just Mann spotlighting the acting well.
Lawson needs to bump up a visit from his wife and newborn baby, and only Dennehy can get it done, which pisses off Mosley. It feels like a short story, but immediately after, there’s this sports movie about Strauss’s Olympic possibilities uniting the prison behind him. The first hour directly informs the second half—Strauss’s reasons for trying to compete, for example—but there’s also all the ground situation to build on. Mann opens the film with a five-minute montage of life on the prison yard. Mosley’s pumping iron, Dennehy’s holding court, Miguel Pinero and the Mexican gang are playing handball, Lawson and Strauss are running. There’s this great prison newspaper sports page narrative device to kick off Lewis’s interest in Strauss (only not really because Strauss was on his radar already). It goes nowhere in the second half, which is weird, but Mile runs out of track in the third act, so it’s not a surprise….
The wide-reaching character development arcs in the second half all build off material Mann subtly baked into the film. Mile’s exceptionally well-directed. It’s a shame Rexford L. Metz’s photography and, especially, Michael Hilkene and James E. Webb’s sound isn’t better because it ought to be a sublime viewing experience. Mann directs it; budget and circumstance don’t allow it.
The problems all come as the big race approaches. It’s a sports movie, after all, there’s got to be a big race. There are some existing problems, like Bush busting ass as the warden and never being good enough. The part’s written like a reformer with political ambitions, but Bush plays it without motivation and then makes some bombastic choices like he ought to be wearing a novelty hat. In one shot, Lauter appears just as confused by Bush’s behavior as I am.
And some of the performances aren’t as good as the best performances—Strauss and Lawson—but the movie’s all about showcasing those performances. Mosley, Dennehy, and Lewis are all solid as the main supporting players, but their parts are limited. They exist to react to Strauss and other events, to provide fisticuffs to delay the race.
Everything’s going along just fine until they need to resolve Strauss’s therapy arc, which they create right at the end of the second—it’s running and then, wham, great Strauss monologue—and then resolve two or three scenes later after the race. It’s so fast, and there’s none of the promised character development for lifer Strauss going outside the prison. Instead, it’s just the second part of his therapy breakthrough monologue.
It feels like they had three one-hour episodes; they kept the first one, then cut the second two hours down to one. The second act’s bumpy at times too, but Mann nails the sports movie, so it’s okay. But the finale’s just too messy.
Excellent performance from Strauss, a really good one from Lawson. Strauss gets better writing (script credit to Mann and Patrick J. Nolan).
Jimmie Haskell’s music is interesting. About a quarter is great, a quarter is bad, another quarter is just there, and then the rest is Sympathy for the Devil but in a non-copyright violation-y way. The movie’s theme music is Sympathy for the Devil, which is on the nose considering it’s about a sympathetic prison inmate.
Still. Jericho Mile’s beautifully directed, with some phenomenal performances and strong writing.
I can’t imagine Werewolf will keep it going, but somehow they find themselves this issue. I mean, it’s Doug Moench’s surfer bro pulp and Don Perlin’s “what if I just page layout like it’s 1952” penciling and inking, but still. They’re in sync here, and it’s… fine?
Or at least closer to fine than I’d have thought. I was dreading Perlin taking over the inks, but it ought to be okay if he keeps aiming low.
Now, there are caveats, of course. Perlin’s figure drawing is hard to describe without sounding ableist. He seems to draw an oval for the body, an oval for the head, not thinking about necks, shoulders, or chests. There is one panel where he seems to be doing a Mike Ploog homage with Jack’s features. However, Perlin’s got no consistency with Jack’s features, so maybe it’s just roll of the dice.
The story finishes up last issue’s modern Jekyll and Hyde story (sort of). Wolfman Jack escapes the police—after wrestling with the obnoxious cop in the worst drawn net I’ve ever seen or imagined—and fights the Hyde monster on the streets of Pasadena or wherever. It’s the first time the werewolf seems to have killed someone in ages (for all the killer werewolf talk, Jack’s only killed like one guy), but then Jekyll recovers to turn out to be a future foil.
Jack’s stepfather (and uncle) Phillip and sister Lisa show up for a few panels. She’s still waiting to turn eighteen and werewolf out; the funny thing about Werewolf is the monthly structure means you could count how many months since Jack’s eighteenth birthday (within a two-month margin of error). In other words, this Lissa thing better pay off.
The finale brings back a previous villain, which is perilous. Moench doesn’t have the space to go overboard with narration (Perlin’s got six landscape panels most pages, no deviations), and it helps immensely. We don’t get seven adjectives a sentence anymore.
But Werewolf’s in precarious “harmony.” Too much personality from a villain might break it.
I’m not exactly enthusiastic about Werewolf, but I’m not dreading it… which usually lasts two issues. We shall see.
And here’s how you do a comic book. I was wondering when Catwoman was going to click and level up, and it’s this issue. It’s not just Darwyn Cooke’s pencils, though he’s got dozens of great panels in the issue. Pretty much everything except Selina fighting Clayface Y2K’s muck is great. The muck stuff is fine, but it’s gross, and it’s just muck. Worse, it’s pink flesh muck. Icky bad.
The issue starts with Selina confronting the killer and hearing some of his origin story. U.S. soldier, battlefield injury, weird experiment, dumped as a monster on the streets of Gotham by the U.S. Army. Tracks. She thinks she can talk him down and get him some help from that dickhead Batman (who does end up cameoing and is a complete piece of shit, gloriously rendered in a forties nod from Cooke and inker Mike Allred). She’s not entirely wrong, but she’s not right enough not to have a big supervillain fight. Except she’s Catwoman, and she’s not ready to fight fleshy muck monsters.
Writer Ed Brubaker does an exceptional job writing the fight scene. It’s a character development micro-arc for Selina as she realizes the new responsibilities she’s taking on; there’s doubt, regret, turmoil, all in rapid-fire as the fight progresses. Brubaker captures these snapshots into Selina’s experience through the text, tied to the visuals, and it’s phenomenal stuff. I knew Catwoman was going to get good, but I didn’t think it would get this good this fast.
Especially when the epilogue involves setting up the series proper, with Holly becoming a Kyle Investigations operative and Leslie Tompkins firmly established in the supporting cast. Except Brubaker writes it as a contrast to dickhead Batman, who doesn’t care about sex workers getting murdered and thinks writing Leslie a check fixes all the problems with the poors.
Only then Cooke (and Allred and colorist Matt Hollingsworth) turn the final splash page into this Batman visual homage deep cut. It’s so good.
This opening arc has got to be a killer trade.