Who’s James Sherman, and why have I never heard of him before? He pencils two of the three stories in the issue, with Bob McLeod inking him on the first, Joe Rubinstein on the second, and he’s good. He’s a little too designed-focused, but more on the second story, and the design element comes from the narrative. But he’s good. Great expressions. Pretty good flying superhero sci-fi space action.
Though the first story doesn’t just have sci-fi action, it’s also got some sports ball.
The story begins with Superboy convincing Brainiac 5 not to pay attention to his monitor duty and play three-dimensional chess instead. As if it didn’t feel enough like “Star Trek.” Brainy was supposed to be keeping an eye on Cosmic Boy and Night Girl, who are on vacation on Cosmic Boy’s home planet.
Now, during the sports ball sequence, the girls are scantily clad for the game. The boys are in shorts and t-shirts. It seems a little weird, but then Cosmic Boy and Night Girl put on their superhero costumes, and they’re both basically wearing lingerie. It’s comically revealing for both of them, but more Cosmic Boy because he’s the story’s lead. Once the rest of the Legion shows up to help them, Night Girl gets squat. Her powers don’t help.
The one other female superhero is also in an absurdly scanty outfit (the cape doesn’t offset it). Otherwise, for a few pages, anyway, I thought Legion would try to balance its gazes.
The actual story involves some funny-looking alien terraforming the planet. The superheroes utilize their powers in precisely the right way to save the day, which makes me wonder if writers Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg came up with the solution or the problem first.
The second story is about an evil alien spaceship interrupting Mon-El’s vacation. Levitz writes this one solo, and, wow, is there a lot of Mon-El interior monologue. Thought balloons crowd the emptiness of space.
Michael Netzer pencils this one, with Rubinstein and Rick Bryant on inks. The art’s low okay; the sci-fi spaceship stuff is all good, but the Mon-El action is eh. Might also just be a boring story with too many thought balloons. The end’s a cop-out too, which doesn’t help.
The last story is where Sherman comes back and goes wild with the design stuff. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl want to get married, but it means leaving the Legion (unlike failing to explain Cosmic Boy’s bustier-based costume or Night Girl’s thong, writer Levitz does cover the marriage rules for new readers). So they go to mind-reading VR place to test whether or not they should get hitched or stay on the super-team.
Sherman goes all out with the transitions as the VR throws the heroes into unexpected sci-fi fisticuffs. He’s got detail and consistency—though McLeod’s a better inker for him than Rubinstein—but the repetitive visuals get tedious fast.
There aren’t any standouts as far as the stories go; the first one “wins,” but only because the third one’s draggier than the second one, which is already tedious. Nice art, though. And the character work is solid. They’re just doing boring things.
The season’s off to an excellent start with this episode, which also inadvertently shows how much “Frasier” has changed getting to season seven. First is with Kelsey Grammer directed episodes; Grammer’s first couple efforts didn’t have him around—I think he was entirely absent in one, and showed for the intro in the other—but he’s front and center for most of Momma Mia.
The second development is more subtle and also possibly a result of an already full episode—David Hyde Pierce isn’t low-key lusting after Jane Leeves in their scene together. Leeves has only got one scene (it’s going to be a full episode, after all), but gets to be in on the first reveal of the episode’s punchline—Grammer’s dating a woman who looks just like his mom (guest star Rita Wilson) and doesn’t know it.
Except Hyde Pierce sees it right away and talks to Leeves about it. Dad John Mahoney’s going to have to wait for a little while later into the episode so they can build more tension.
While the episode opens with Grammer’s meet-cute of errors with Wilson, which involves Peri Gilpin’s fix-up not showing up for him, then Gilpin telling the wrong lady she’s caught Grammer’s eye, the episode’s all about Mahoney’s birthday weekend. Grammer and Hyde Pierce are taking him to the family cabin—“Frasier” has gone to many a family cabin and I’m pretty sure none of them have been the same cabin. This cabin is a rental, however, so they get a continuity pass.
Though it doesn’t make sense why they’d rent a cabin when they’ve already got their… never mind.
Hyde Pierce and Grammer quickly start bickering once they arrive, which seems like obvious Crane boys drama in the script—credited to Rob Hanning—but it’s actually all set up. They’re children, with dad Mahoney, and lady who looks like mom Wilson. Leads to some very funny scenes. The episode’s got a lot of laughs, both deliberate ones the script sets up, but then also a bunch of physical material for Hyde Pierce. He’s afraid of the bugs, you see. They even do an absurd bit where he’s got a suitcase with nothing but different kinds of bug repellant. It’s too broad but at least quick.
By the end of the episode, they’ve gotten past all the laughs for some sincere family moments for Grammer, Hyde Pierce, and Mahoney. Despite Mahoney and Hyde Pierce sharing a plot thread, observing Grammer on his separate one with Wilson, there’s even a nice moment for Mahoney and Grammer. It’s an extremely well-constructed episode.
It’s really funny. There are a couple hiccups—the suitcase of bug repellant is the stand-out—but there are a dozen really good laughs. Leeves and Gilpin don’t get a lot of screen time, but they’re very good with what they do get, especially Leeves.
Season seven’s looking good.
There is no backup story in this issue, just Jack Russell’s third adventure as Werewolf by Night. Writer Gerry Conway—through Jack and the werewolf’s narration—is very clear about it; the first outing as the werewolf was two months ago, meaning we’re skipping Jack’s second Larry Talboting and going straight to the third.
There’s not much story to the adventure, starting with the werewolf interrupting a biker gang trying to assault Jack’s sister, Lissa. His evil stepfather, Phil, only appears briefly. Conway’s keeping the family stuff on the back burner. The story this issue’s all about setting Jack up for this next adventure, not this one.
Once the first lycanthropic night passes, Jack tries to hitchhike home and finds himself with a Peter Lorre-type who takes him to one of those desolate European castles all over L.A. The Peter Lorre-type’s wife, Angela (not Harkness), starts torturing Jack for information about the Darkhold, which she thinks is Jack’s inheritance.
Jack, however, doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so she sics her pet Frankenstein monster on him. There are various fights between the werewolf and the monster, some convenient black magic gone wrong, and Jack’s promise (to himself and the reader) he’s going to track down this Darkhold book.
In other words, a bridging issue, but one so early, who knows where the story’s headed. Conway sticks to his narrative approach from last issue—the werewolf thinks a lot, Jack talks a bit to himself but doesn’t think a lot—at least until the narration-heavy second half, where Jack’s recollecting has to move the story along from set-piece to set-piece.
The story’s not the point, however. The point is Mike Ploog's absolutely phenomenal artwork. It’s getting to see Ploog do his own Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, page after glorious page. Of course, there are some great Ploog expressions, but since most of the comic has monsters fighting, the emphasis is on the action.
The finale’s a tacked-on mess, with Ploog and Conway rushing through a resolution in one page, but right up until it, the comic’s a visual delight. Ploog gets to do strange action—werewolf versus bikers–and then the more traditional monster versus monster action. Whether the modern California setting or the dark castle setting, Ploog does a great job. The figure drawing, the expressions, and the settings; it’s breathtaking work and more than makes up for the story being perfunctory.
Also… Conway (and his editor, Stan Lee) don’t seem to know what the word “penultimate” means; they just know it’s a fifty-cent word. But it comes on that lackluster last page, just punctuating it being a disappointing finish.
Ignore all missteps for the masterful Ploog art.
I’m not reading the back matter on Kill or Be Killed for lengthy reasons, but if there’s some explanation why artist Sean Phillips is drawing the twenty-somethings with odd bodies—their heads are too big for their bodies and slightly too round—I may regret not knowing.
This issue opens with another of the illustrated micro-prose, which writer Ed Brubaker established last issue. On one side of the page is black letters on white, lots of white space because the narration’s relatively terse, even when there’s a lot of it, and images on the right from Phillips. The two things move in unison, what protagonist Dylan thinks about while experiencing or witnessing the visuals.
Except, also not, because Brubaker starts the comic where he ends the comic, and Dylan’s not thinking about the same things at the beginning as at the end because it’s all past tense narration. It’s an entirely acceptable, basically successful technical device—the text alongside the images.
I also don’t like it.
Maybe they’ll win me over, but it seems like a cop-out. The minimally successful approach; basically, it’s just taking the prose specials of the eighties and, instead of type-setting them, having your letterer do them. The comic doesn’t credit the letterer (it’s apparently Phillips), so maybe he’s just using Blambot fonts anyway, and it’s still just type-setting.
I’m not sold on it, though they use the same device later in the issue with better effect; maybe because the white space does something with the visuals later, instead of just pushing them to one side.
This issue has Dylan making his first kill—to appease the demon who’ll kill him if he doesn’t kill an evil person. The demon doesn’t appear. Actually, there’s not much follow-up on the first issue's outstanding things—best friend turned roommate’s girlfriend turned illicit lover Kira wants to chat with Dylan about their status. He puts it off because he’s figured out where to get a gun and, thanks to the gun kicking off a madeleine moment, who to kill.
When Dylan does finally get back to Kira, carrying her to bed, it’s where the figures are so obviously distorted. So Phillips has got to be doing it intentionally. Right?
Especially since the rest of the issue, the other people Dylan encounters—his dealer (who’s a hoot), his mom (who’s always in another room), flashback friends, flashback Dad (the comic rushes through Dad having killed himself and the inevitable repercussions on Dylan)—they all look normal. It’s Dylan and Kira who look like strangely molded action figures.
Dylan’s first victim’s crime is particularly terrible, making him a worthy target, but it’s also a narrative gimme. Brubaker takes two big shortcuts—the gun acquisition and the victim selection—so hopefully, those contrivances will somehow pay off.
After the oversized first issue, this one seems a little too quick, especially since we don’t meet anyone else. We hear about them in Dylan’s narration, but only Kira really gets to exist in scenes, and even then, they’re really quick.
But it’s okay. Full disclosure—this read-through isn’t my first attempt with the series, and I’m trying hard not to get derailed. I’m trying to keep an open mind here.
Hence not reading the back matter.
This issue’s got two stories, benefits of being a fifty-two-page giant on the regular. The first story’s by Paul Levitz, Mike Grell, and Vince Colletta. Colletta also inks the second story, but the rest of the team’s different; second story is Gerry Conway and George Tuska.
The comic itself is basically burying the lede—Conway’s second story follows up on last issue’s cliffhanger and buries that lede in a literal sense. The first one’s lede-burying is more abstract. The Legion is fighting pirates who want good modern technology for their backward planet, and Brainiac 5 wants to make sure no one listens to the terrorists’ point of view.
What is it, 1776 or something?
It’s also interesting because Levitz writes Brainiac 5 as an egomaniac, but Conway doesn’t.
And it reveals how much trouble it’s going to be keeping up with the cast; I seriously thought the guy arguing with Brainy was named Garth, but it’s Cosmic Boy, whose name is Rokk. He just looks like Aqualad, whose name is Garth.
The techno-pirates aren’t even the main plot, which involves Superboy’s annual brainwashing. The first attack interrupts the brainwashing, something the entire Legion knows about, at least the whole line-up for this issue. Unfortunately, there’s no exposition explaining if this secret requiring brainwashing is new or old; meaning, should a regular reader know they’ve got to brainwash this secret from Superboy’s mind, or is it something Levitz is introducing for the first time here, twenty-ish years into the publishing history.
It wouldn’t be necessary if the secret weren’t so blasé. The idea is Superboy would blab if he knew the truth. Superboy, who keeps his identity secret, and so on. It’s a weak finish to an engaging story. Levitz and Grell handle the talky action well; there’s lots of well-balanced banter and exposition. Grell’s future art is good, but his figures are elongated. Superboy, in particular, often looks like his chest has been stretched.
And, now, the second story, which opens with a note explaining it’s continuing from last issue. Last issue had four Legionnaires turning into a giant monster who attacked Earth. This story’s got nothing to do with that event. It takes half the story to even tie into the previous issue; it feels like you’re reading out of order.
This story’s about some angry dude claiming the Legion let his kid die because they wouldn’t let the dude capture a space monster with magical healing radiation. It’s set at a trial with testimony from the various participants, with a device able to determine if they’re telling the truth. The truth as they know it.
Conway touches on the differences in how prejudice and bias affect one’s experiences, but only very briefly and in the coda. It’s actually a thoughtful, empathetic observation from Brainiac 5, who’s not an asshole this story. It’s nice Conway gets the moment in, especially since the rest of the story has to wind itself silly to gin up some drama. Conway hides way too many details from the reader to create drama, not just how it all relates to the previous issue.
And unfortunately, does zip with the themes Conway explored in the previous issue.
But it’s fine.
Once again, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes is fine.
Doctor Strange and the Maddening Mouthfuls of Multiverses is barely a sequel to the original Doctor Strange outing, which is fine; the original was six years ago, and star Benedict Cumberbatch has gotten more mileage out of his non-solo appearances. However, given it’s a sequel to the Disney Plus show, “WandaVision,” which was a deliberate, thoughtful examination of the trauma Elizabeth Olsen (second-billed in Multiverse) experienced as an MCU character… it’s not great they (they being screenwriter Michael Waldron, who did not write “WandaVision” because it was well-written) turn Olsen into a one-to-two note supervillain here. She’s a Disney villain, right down to how calling herself a “witch” means she’s bad now.
Olsen’s performance is, you know, excellent. No notes. She’s terrific. It’s a bad part, but it’s good acting.
Cumberbatch starts the movie dreaming about a ponytailed version of himself fighting a monster alongside teenager Xochitl Gomez. Then he goes to ex-girlfriend Rachel McAdams’s wedding to someone else, who the movie never actually introduces because it’d require too much writing. Instead, a giant one-eyed octopus monster invades New York City, and Cumberbatch has to save the day. In doing so, he discovers the monster’s after Gomez, who isn’t a figment of his unconscious, but rather a real teenage girl who’s spent her life accidentally jumping from universe to universe. And someone’s after her.
Benedict Wong, who’s taken over Cumberbatch’s job as Earth’s sorcerer supreme since the Avengers movies, also shows up to fight the monster. So pretty soon, they’re all sitting around to talk multiverses. Wong and Cumberbatch are funny together, and they decide they’re going to help Gomez with the demons pursuing her.
Cumberbatch has the great idea to ask Olsen for help, only to discover she’s actually the evil stepmother. Sorry, supervillain.
There are some big action set pieces, but then it’s off to the multiverse for Gomez and Cumberbatch while Wong’s trying to stop Olsen on Earth. Regular MCU Earth. Doesn’t go great for Wong.
Olsen’s trying to steal Gomez’s multiverse jumping power so she can find a universe where her sons are real (she made them out of magic on “WandaVision”). Also, dreams are views into other universes, which seems like it should be important but isn’t.
There are some big and not-so-big cameos along the way, but most of the movie is pragmatically setting up the finale to be as contained as possible. See, it turns out Gomez jumps to the universe most likely to quickly hurry plots along, so if you need to get to a universe populated by Marvel heroes from alternate realities (or franchises), Gomez’s on it. She and Cumberbatch also pick up a variation of McAdams along the way, so while McAdams has a lot to do in the movie, it’s all busy work and emotional labor for Cumberbatch (who she doesn’t even know, not really).
Of the action set pieces, only a few are inventive. Well, one, actually. There are some other okay ones, but only one is anything special. The rest are a combination of good CGI and decent humor. Primarily because of Gomez, Wong, and McAdams. Cumberbatch plays well off the actors who can do the humor better. Olsen doesn’t get any humor; she just gets to turn the internal turmoil and suffering to eleven with no payoff.
Despite all the cameos, Multiverse avoids bringing back anyone to give Olsen an arc. And since all the cameos are otherworldly—other-universey—they don’t carry any emotional heft, though there’s an excellent joke for one of the cameos. And the acting on them’s not bad, especially the most fantastic of them.
Raimi’s direction is fine. He’ll occasionally show more enthusiasm than the baseline, which is pretty rote. Of course, it doesn’t help he’s apparently disinterested in all the world-building in the second act, but considering it’s all fluff… he’s not wrong.
The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good, even if it means the finale just reveals they didn’t actually do an arc for Gomez (instead treating her as an accessory for Cumberbatch). Multiverse takes an incomplete on character development overall, promising next time maybe Cumberbatch will grow a little.
Okay music from Danny Elfman, decent photography from John Mathieson (except in the cameo-heavy part of act two, where some setting appears to be off with the cameras), and excellent production design from Charles Wood. Even when the setting’s incredibly obvious, Wood makes it unique.
Multiverse only runs a couple hours, but because it’s truncated. With an actual first act, it’d add on at least another twenty minutes. It’s almost like they should’ve just done it as a TV series, though more Waldron writing wouldn’t do anyone any favors.
It’s mostly middling, with some good performances and solid filmmaking. Given how much the film disses Olsen’s efforts for the overall franchise, hopefully, she can escape any sequels, prequels, sidequels, or spin-offs.
From the first page, it’s clear there’s going to be something special about Werewolf by Night. The narration tells us we’re in modern Los Angeles, but artist Mike Ploog visualizes it like an old Universal horror movie set. The architecture, anyway; the accruements are all modern.
The page has three panels; the first two have a figure stumbling through the “mist-moistened” city, and the third reveals the figure—our narrator—to be a werewolf. And, wow, does Ploog draw a great wolfman.
The following few pages are werewolf action, running from the cops, dispatching a mugger; lots of movement, and lots of narration. Then the action cuts to Jack Russell waking up from a nightmare on his eighteenth birthday. Outside being a California beach stud, he’s a traditional Marvel protagonist with a lot of family drama backstory; his mom is married to a rich asshat, and he’s got a little sister (from actual dad, not stepdad). Something is going on with dad’s chauffeur, a brute who apparently has the run of the place, and the whole scene just gives Jack bad vibes.
The comic’s set over the three nights of the full moon, the second interrupting Jack’s birthday party. Writer Gerry Conway gives Jack a lot of out-loud monologuing (versus thought balloons); all those self-exclamations also contribute to the Marvel hero feel. The werewolf gets lots of thoughts, but they’re somewhat disconnected from Jack. It’s very dreamy, and a great success thanks to the Ploog art.
The story brings in Jack’s tragic inciting incident for his “Marvel hero” origin, complete with flashbacks to the old country where we discover his real father was a werewolf too. And he really had a Wolf Man-style experience. The comic uses that movie’s “Even a man who is pure of heart…” poem (no credit to Wolf Man or writer Curt Siodmak, Marvel’s gonna Marvel).
In the present, Jack discovers an insidious plot going on around him, which the werewolf is all too happy to unravel with its claws. In other words, fantastic action finale. Ploog can draw the hell out of a fight scene.
It’s not just about his figures and action, however. Ploog’s also got these wonderfully expressive faces, all the drama playing out over them. It’s a gorgeous comic.
And, if you’re reading it through Marvel’s digital offerings, it’s just a great Marvel origin comic for Werewolf by Night. But Marvel Spotlight #2 (in print) has a Venus reprint by Bill Everett.
It’s an eight-pager about Venus discovering a mysterious thirteenth floor in an office building infested with a swarm of murderous gargoyles. When she tries to tell the cops about it, they call her a silly girl (even though she’s always been right in the past).
Everett’s art’s good—it’s not quite good girl, but it is a glamour girl as superhero (well, ixnay on super, she’s given up her god powers)—and the story’s engaging enough. It’s a bummer Marvel doesn’t include it with the digital copy of Spotlight #2.
To be sure, the Werewolf by Night feature’s enough, but the backup’s a fun, quick read.
Kill or Be Killed kicks off with approximately thirty-three pages of story. I feel like it’s got to be thirty-two, but the quick count was thirty-three. And writer Ed Brubaker packs those thirty-three pages.
The comic starts with a bunch of gory action killing as our hero, Dylan, shotguns a bunch of bad guys. Well, presumably bad guys. He only kills bad guys, he assures us in narration; Sean Phillips’s art captures the gloom and gore. It’s a lot to start an issue with, but Brubaker and Phillips get through it as the narrator—who’s talking directly to the reader—decides to fill us in on his backstory.
Dylan’s a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student in New York City, living off inheritance and student loans, older than his peers because one of his suicide attempts got him kicked out of school. He’s got no girlfriend—though we get to meet an ex in a flashback in the flashback—and his roommate has stolen his best friend (dating her). As Dylan’s domestic life gets more complicated, with his best friend, Kira, starting an affair with him behind the roommate’s back, he soon finds himself once again suicidal.
Luckily, he’s got one of those apartment buildings like Selina Kyle in Batman Returns and he survives the attempt… only a demon shows up demanding Dylan kill bad guys to make up for the demon not getting his soul in the suicide. A murder a month to keep the demon away.
The issue ends before Dylan’s done the deed, but we know he’s clearly heading in that direction from the opening.
There’s a lot of narration. A lot of it. Some of it’s tedious, some of it ages poorly (the comic’s from summer 2016 and Brubaker’s not great at future-telling), but it rarely gets to be too much. There’s always gorgeous Phillips art to offset any narration-related lag. The New York City stuff is phenomenal, the character figures—their figures look artificially small—not, but it’s only in medium or long-shots. Close-ups, talking heads, Phillips’s on it.
The comic’s intense, unpleasant, and exceedingly well-produced.
Cyrano has good production design from Sarah Greenwood and costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini. And there’s one time Ben Mendelsohn doesn’t seem terrible. And I suppose his musical number is the most personality the film ever shows because it’s like a really shitty Disney number, like a “Disney’s jumped the shark with that one” type thing.
Otherwise, Cyrano is a dumpster fire.
The film’s a musical, based on a stage musical by screenwriter Erica Schmidt, songs by Bryce Dessner, Aaron Dessner, and Matt Berninger, and music by the Dessners. All of the writing is bad. The songs, the music, the adaptation. All of it. Bad.
Now, Wright’s direction is terrible—particularly of the actors when saying lines of dialogue to one another, but still. The writing’s bad. Wright does risible work throughout—the war scene’s inept and embarrassing, both for the viewer and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who’s never impressive but never inept like Wright. Not until that war scene. Then Cyrano looks as silly as it plays, which the rest of the film usually avoids.
Now, it does always sound as silly it plays. The Dessners’ musical score is omnipresent because someone understands the flat delivery from the cast is a problem and so there needs to be some emotion somewhere. Even if it’s the bad music. But then there’s the singing.
So, Peter Dinklage as Cyrano. It’s a stunt cast. Fine. He’s not good. He’s sometimes awkwardly, uncomfortably bad (while still better than most of his costars), but he also cannot sing. And Cyrano is a musical. So Dinklage sludges through ever song and the more he sings the worse the number. It’s bewildering and starts early enough there’s no time Cyrano isn’t barreling down a mountain away from the tracks.
Now, while Dinklage can’t sing, his leading lady can’t sing or act. Haley Bennett’s the object of his affection and she’s bad. She’s bad opposite Dinklage, she’s bad opposite himbo Kelvin Harrison Jr., she’s bad opposite aspiring rapist Mendelsohn. Her singing numbers are lousy and seem like someone really wished they got to direct a Sarah McLachlan video in 1994 but didn’t get the job and has been stewing over it for thirty years.
How old’s Wright?
Himbo Harrison. He’s not good either. He’s the least disastrous casting, however. The film does a particularly bad job establishing Harrison’s character, specifically Schmidt’s script. The material’s just not there. But Wright also does a terrible job directing Harrison and Dinklage’s pseudo-friendship. Somewhere in the third act it’s clear the relationship needed to be strong but it’s barely trifling.
Dinklage already has a best bro in Bashir Salahuddin, who’s not bad like most of the cast, possibly because Salahuddin doesn’t get too much material. Though Joshua James gets less than Salahuddin and is atrocious.
The cast and crew’s commitment to making a long, lousy movie could be seen as impressive so long as one doesn’t suffer the film itself.
Cyrano’s godawful, start to finish.