blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Superseded

CATWOMAN (2002) #3

10/19/15

It’s a strange issue. It’s a good issue–though it’s certainly the least ambitious so far–but it’s also a strange issue. Selina doesn’t have as much narration as she had before and now she’s doing much different things. She’s the star of a Bronze Age Batman comic, where Batman dresses up as Matches Malone and investigates on the wharf.

It’s a successful issue. Cooke’s in on the Bronze Age vibe of the issue and the art feels very seventies. The content Cooke’s illustrating, anyway. There’s even a sixties thing with a used car dealer. A lot of thought went into the visual presentation of the book. I just wish Brubaker hadn’t been so quiet.

So far, this series has been about Selina evolving into a do-gooder. This issue continues that evolution, but with the exception of the narration in the first few pages, Selina’s experience is absent from the comic. Even when Brubaker brings back the narration later, it’s to establish that Matches Malone sequence.

Like I said, strange. Expertly, enthusiastically done, but with too much confidence in the narrative effect of the comic to worry about the narrative itself. It’s showy.


CATWOMAN (2002) #2

10/8/15

Cooke mixes a lot of styles in this issue. Selina lives her non-costumed life in a more angular city, one with more art deco designs than when she’s got the costume on at night. But Cooke also finds this mixed style for Selina herself. She’s got the modern look, but he also goes for Silver Ago influences to make her more sympathetic.

And then there’s what Brubaker’s narration does for her character. This series of Catwoman integrates whatever history the character had since Batman: Year One, so the Jim Balent stuff and whatever else, with a continuation of the character from Year One. Or at least something closer to that characterization. Including the history of prostitution.

The prostitution angle–with Holly, Selina’s sidekick from her Year One days–figures into the story, with Gotham’s dirty cops ignoring a serial killer preying on girls on the street. Selina ends up investigating it. There’s no humor in the comic. Not a moment. Not even when Cooke and Brubaker take the time and care to show Selina’s pure joy in running around the rooftops. It’s serious stuff; Brubaker’s very deliberate in how he works through Selina’s thoughts in the narration too.

Again, it’s noir. It’s a noir comic masquerading as a superhero comic (masquerading as a noir comic). Brubaker juggles the mainstream and more artistically ambitious beautifully. What Cooke does is just as important, but it only works because of how well Brubaker does his bit.


CATWOMAN (2002) #1

10/6/15

In his ★★ review of Batman Returns, Roger Ebert said, “no matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.” I disagree about the film, but not all of the quote. I agree with the first part, not so much the second. Because it’s a closed vision of heroes.

It oddly doesn’t seem to occur to Ebert how the “junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything… [can be] the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” Because a review of a single comic book from 2002 needs this long of a preamble. One with the only time I’ll agree with Ebert this year and a great Rick Moody quote.

But Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman requires a significant preamble. Because Brubaker and Cooke crack Ebert’s problem. How do film noir and superheroes go together? Well, the superhero can’t be the hero. Batman shows up in this first issue of Catwoman for two reasons.

First, regardless of how progressive DC was being with a non-objectified characterization of Catwoman, they weren’t being so progressive they didn’t want to sell the comic. There’s an exceptionally tasteful, but sexy, suiting up sequence. Cooke can do that kind of thing, thanks to Brubaker selling Selina’s excitement. It’s believable.

That scene is so well-executed, one might just skip over it as a commercialist detail. But Batman is all commercial. You launch a spin-off of a Batman comic, Batman better guest star, especially in the early aughts, especially going from Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. You need Batman. And this issue delivers. A full-on Batman action sequence–it’s hard to remember when Brubaker’s mainstream writing was a DC staple, not how he brought the same thing to Marvel to better sales–then Batman shows up for character stuff.

And that character stuff is the second reason Batman shows up. He’s essential to Brubaker’s characterization of Selina. Selina has an informed but seemingly simplistic view of Batman; he’s her dark blue boy scout. It gives Selina better possession over the shared setting, she belongs.

Brubaker and Cooke visualize that setting as a noir. They start with the already noir-ish David Mazzuchelli Year One visuals then develop it, creating a Technicolor film noir. Brubaker’s script follows Selina–the comic’s narrator as well as protagonist–through her last few days of sabbatical. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to get suited up again.

There’s a lot of noir framing in the flashbacks and so on. The narrative construction is special stuff. It’s meticulous. Meticulously written, then meticulously illustrated.

By the time the most noir element comes into the comic–in its last pages–Brubaker and Cooke have already delivered an awesome read. The way the last two pages and the soft cliffhanger? It’s the chocolate sprinkles on the frosting.


Shadows on the Grave (2016) #1

12/24/16

Corben does horror anthology. Except for the feature story, everything moves quickly and perfectly. There’s a narrator, there’s a variety of disturbing situations–all beautifully rendered in various Corben styles, smooth to rough to smooth–it’s perfect. Except the feature, which lacks the other entries’ effective, accessible, plain narrative style.


Infinity 8 (2018) #3

5/8/18

It’s a fine wrap-up for the first Infinity 8 arc. It’s kind of amazing how well Zep and Trondheim plot it since, once again, it’s all action. They’ve just gotten done with action, then there’s more action, and they don’t change settings. The issue doesn’t introduce anything new, just makes Keren figure out how to save the day with limited resources.

There’s some great character stuff this issue between Keren and her “love interest” Sagoss. It’s the first time Sagoss has been likable as anything other than an annoyance. Great expressions from Bertail on the couple as well.

Lots of humor, lots of lasers, lots of hungry aliens. The hungry aliens have a bit of a twist as far as their motivation goes, which is cool, as is the idea the book gets a soft reset at the end. The next arc will be after time has reset. The ship gets do-overs.

It’s hard to believe this book is only three issues in. Even with two all-action issues, Trondheim, Zep, and Bertail created a substantial story.

Awesome comic.


Infinity 8 (2018) #2

4/22/18

This issue of Infinity 8 is all action. It’s a chase. Yoko is trying to save the ship from the hungry aliens–everyone’s an alien but the hungry aliens are the ones who eat dead bodies and realize if they kill everyone, they have dead bodies to eat. Only she trusts the wrong alien.

He gets her gun and chases after her. It’s terrifying. Not just because the alien–when hungry for dead flesh–has octopus tentacles hanging out of its mouth. He’s a relentless villain, Yoko’s a sympathetic protagonist (even if she’s too mean to the not hungry dead flesh eating alien who has a crush on her–he’s just a softie).

Lots of gorgeous art from Bertail. Terrifying space aliens and relentless chase sequences and gorgeous art aren’t mutually exclusive in Infinity 8.

The whole thing moves so fast, it doesn’t even feel like anything’s missing at the end of the issue, even though there’s just been a chase sequence. And the reader is left at the cliffhanger having no idea what to expect next, which is awesome.

Infinity 8 #2 is how you do an all-action comic. Bertail, Trondheim, and Zep deliver.


Infinity 8 (2018) #1

4/7/18

Infinity 8 is a joyful bit of European sci-fi comics “for beginners.” The pacing is very modern, the way writers Lewis Trondheim and Zep use dialogue, the way Dominique Bertail introduces new characters and does visual reveals–all very accessible. The design is similarly joyful (down to a smiley faced alien; a big one). It’s pleasant and it’s funny.

It’s also sexy and bloody. It’s gory. It’s a dangerous, disturbing gore but Bertail never breaks mood. It’s an uncaring universe, it just happens to be a preciously illustrated one.

The pacing is particularly phenomenal. Trondheim and Zep set up the protagonist–security agent Yoko Keren–in the first few pages; she’s looking for a mate (she wants a baby) and she can kick ass. None of her potential mates–at least to start–are human. Few are even humanoid. They all want to play baby daddy. It creates a very interesting dynamic.

And then the story moves on. Turns out there’s a very definite plot line, not just Keren’s life aboard ship. Trondheim and Zep do a first act, second act, third act, perfectly paced. And they come up with a fantastic cliffhanger–which they’d been gently foreshadowing for over half the issue; Infinity 8 is great.


Halloween H20 (1998, Steve Miner)

3/7/13

Halloween H20 is a mishmash. It’s a sequel to a seventies slasher movie, it’s a post-modern slasher movie of the Scream variety, it’s a thoughtful sequel, it’s a somewhat successful rumination on redemption and the cost of such redemption.

Director Miner’s composition is, appropriately, more John Carpenter homage than mimicry. He and cinematographer Daryn Okada hold the picture together; while pieces occasionally spill out, they keep it pretty well solid throughout.

Without Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, H20 wouldn’t work. The plot could work without her, but not the scenes. Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg’s script has these great scenes–particularly Curtis’s relationship with son Josh Hartnett and beau Adam Arkin. Those are the “real world” things. The writers also produce a striking horror sequence involving a child in distress.

For the teenagers being in danger, the script doesn’t do as well. Some of it is just bad acting. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is bad, Michelle Williams is mediocre–though Adam Hann-Byrd is good. O’Keefe butchers her witty dialogue.

H20 isn’t a scary movie in the traditional sense. It toys with the whole idea of inevitability as it relates to the genre, whether in the opening “scare” or the boogeyman’s arrival.

Curtis is utterly fantastic. Hartnett and Arkin are both good, though in some ways neither get enough story time. Janet Leigh has a nice little part and LL Cool J is amusing.

The Marco Beltrami (with some John Ottman) score is usually effective.

It’s an unexpectedly excellent film.


WILLIAM GIBSON’S ALIEN 3 (2018) #1-4

3/4/19

I’m really impressed with Johnnie Christmas’s Alien 3 from Dark Horse. No doubt they’ll lose their Fox licenses to Marvel, who should just have Disney buy Dark Horse at this point, since it would simplify reprints and give Marvel a better back catalogue.

Because someday Disney and AT&T having a big back catalogue of mainstream but indie genre comics will be important.

Anyway, Christmas is doing an adaptation of the William Gibson A3 script, which has probably been floating around the Internet since Usenet. I know I’ve downloaded it a couple times and never read it, separated by large swathes of time, getting it the second time because I was nostalgic for being a teenager who thought he’d someday have time to read unproduced screenplays, like it would be important.

Crying emoji.

But it’s not a bad story. Elements have come through in the subsequent sequels, though Christmas also appears to be doing some knowing homage, which is cool. Christmas never gets lost in the homage, just the occasional nod. It’s well-executed.

Unfortunately I read the first four issues without realizing it was a five issue series. I would have just waited. But depending on how it wraps up, I’m considering doing a focus on it. I watched about half of that “Alien: Isolation” digital series and so maybe I’m just more aware of how easy it is to do this kind of thing poorly—this kind of thing meaning to insert breaks into a narrative to serialize it—Christmas’s adaptation is more impressive.

I imagine it’ll all hinge on how it wraps up, but so far it’s all very character-focused. Christmas isn’t doing an Aliens comic so he can do a lot of Alien drawings. He always works with the characters, making it far more like Aliens than one would assume. Depending on that last issue, who knows… maybe I’ll finally read that Gibson script. Though I would need to download it again.

If this adaptation ends up being one of Dark Horse’s best Aliens comics… well, the best Robocop comic is the BOOM! Robocop 3 so….


The Seventh Sin (1957, Ronald Neame)

10/16/07

If only it weren’t for Bill Travers… his performance drags the film into the realm of absurdity. It isn’t just his inability to act, it’s also his utter lack of charisma. It’s unbelievable anyone could like Travers the movie star (I’m thinking there must be or have been Victor Mature fans and George Raft fans, though I think Mature’s probably a better actor than Raft or Travers), so his having a role in an MGM picture with so much merit otherwise is puzzling.

Travers’s lack of a performance does everything it can to turn The Seventh Sin into a debacle, but it’s not quite enough to overcome Eleanor Parker and George Sanders. The film’s also well-paced at ninety-four minutes, but it’s Sanders and Parker who really give the film life. There are some problems, therefore, with the plot, because it centers around Parker and Travers’s broken marriage, except Travers is so bad, the real meat of the film is Parker’s friendship with Sanders, which opens up in to her altruism for the Chinese orphans. The Seventh Sin would have also been immeasurably helped if Miklos Rozsa hadn’t turned in an “Oriental” score. It’s rather annoying.

Until the end, when the film gets cheap in its happy resolutions (I’m wondering if the cheapness comes from the Maugham novel or if it’s a screenwriter’s invention… my only other experience (in memory) with a Karl Tunberg script has been a bad one, so it was a pleasant surprise he provided a framework Sanders and Parker could excel in filling), it’s a gradual, building experience about Parker. It’s a little too eventful to be a character study, but it comes really close and, as such, provides her with a great role. The film is filled with easy contrivances her performance makes not only believable but good.

Without Sanders, however, the film would be that debacle. It’s a perfect role for him–drunken, lecherous English businessman in China who is deeper than he appears–and it’s an essential element to the film… The Seventh Sin is set in 1949 and, to some degree, it really resembles a 1949 handling of the story. The Westerners in the Orient genre had slowed down by the late 1950s and the film follows a lot of the genre standards. Sanders’s character being one of those standards (as a comic foil, however, not as an actual character).

Unfortunately, Turner Classic Movies only plays a pan and scan print (IMDb has, in addition to lame user comments for the film, a seemingly incorrect aspect ratio of 2.35:1 listed… the titles are in 1.85:1 and the panning and scanning–and shot framing–suggest that aspect ratio), so it’s hard to say for sure how well or how poorly Ronald Neame does composing… but it seems like he did a fine, mediocre job. He has a definite understanding of how to shoot to best utilize the actors (Sanders and Parker take an excellent walk), but it’s not like he could have fixed Travers’s performance.

As unappreciated as Parker is an actress, I imagine Sanders (even if he is in a number of famous films) is even more so and a film with them together, giving such great performances, is a nice find.


DETECTIVE COMICS 464 (OCTOBER 1976)

06/12/13

Really, really bad figures from Chan. Just awful. There’s one page recapping the previous issue in ten or so panels and Chan mangles the miniatures even.

It’s an ugly story.

There’s not much to the writing either. Conway hasn’t got any real subplots–the Commissioner Reeves thing goes nowhere. Batman having a hooker snitch is a little amusing, especially since she’s dressed like a chaste flasher.

And then the villain. Got to love seventies comics–the Black Spider is, you guessed it, black. I didn’t, as he has a mask so who’d know.

Conway doesn’t even seem to be trying. Some sensationalism would help.

The Rozakis Black Canary backup is terrible. Grell and Austin do okay enough on the art, but the writing’s awful. Both in the dialogue and thought balloons. There’s not a single well-written moment.

It’s a bad comic. One should avoid it if at all possible.


DETECTIVE COMICS 463 (SEPTEMBER 1976)

06/11/13

Ernie Chan leaves a lot to be desired on the pencils. His figures are bad but his composition’s worse. He fills his panels with this terribly distended Batman. The legs move unnaturally and it looks like Chan puts in the feet last, wherever they’ll fit.

Gerry Conway’s story concerns the Black Spider killing drug dealers. Batman’s out making busts, but the collars keep getting murdered.

There’s some investigation, some brawls, a fight with the Black Spider. The most interesting aspects are Gordon quietly resenting mopping up after Batman and Bruce taking a timeout to get patched up before heading right back out.

With a different penciller, it’d probably be serviceable.

On the other hand, The Atom backup is awesome. Mike Grell and Terry Austin’s art isn’t perfect, but they handle action well. Bob Rozakis sets up the story in half a page, then just has great miniature-sized action throughout.


Gattaca (1997, Andrew Niccol)

10/13/05

I guess I forgot about Gattaca, because I was worried about it….

Which was stupid.

Gattaca is, in my non-brother-having opinion, the best film about brothers ever made. East of Eden was about fathers and sons and I can’t think of any other good examples right now. I’m transferring over a bunch of old Stop Button reviews right now for the planned site upgrade (which is probably pointless, since none of the site counters report any readers) and I came across a review for THX 1138. It said something along the lines that I couldn’t talk about THX 1138 properly, so I wouldn’t even try. I also came across my Superman review, which was brilliant, so maybe I’ll say some more about Gattaca….

Rarely can you point at a film and say, “Look, that’s his brother then and that’s who’s become his brother now but there’s his real brother and it’s all about these relationships between men and the beauty of them.” I got teary at Gattaca and I can’t think of another film about men I’ve gotten teary about. Heat, maybe? I can’t remember.

I’m not going to waste energy talking about Niccol’s directing or the film’s style–it’s perfect, but lots of films have perfect direction and style and fail (and lots have neither and succeed… to some degree, anyway). Niccol’s created a situation where one can appreciate the truly beautiful things people can do for each other. And, hey, if you have to set it in the future in a genetic engineering thingy, I’m with it. I haven’t seen a human being do a beautiful thing for another human being in my entire life (that’s why there are movies and books). The real world just doesn’t have the Michael Nyman score going for it.

This is the point when all those blogs I think I’m superior to but actually have readers say things like: discuss. Well, for now (don’t know about the upgrade), don’t waste your time discussing, just go see this film.


Kill or Be Killed 5 (January 2017)

1/22/17

I predict this issue of Kill or Be Killed will show the problem with the book is it’s about a millennial Punisher set in present day. The art’s modern, but Brubaker’s handling of the character is basically Reality Bites. It should be set in the nineties.

Drumroll please (i.e. after reading the comic).

Okay, yes and no. This issue has way too many other problems for it to just boil down to Brubaker not having a handle on it. Phillips has lost his handle on the art. This issue’s art is not up to his usual work, but at least it eventually shows some personality. At its worst, it doesn’t show any. Phillips always has some. Until a few pages into this comic. It’s like he runs out of energy for it, which is concerning.

It’s really got a bunch of severe problems and it’s not even amusing to make fun of it because I love Brubaker and Phillips and Betty Breitweiser’s comics. But Kill or Be Killed is–well, with the exception of Breitweiser–it’s kind of like the pod people have gotten them. I’m done. It just upsets me.


Kill or be Killed 4 (November 2016)

11/19/16

Brubaker’s really unclear on what he wants to be getting across with his now-masked vigilante emo white guy. The comic raises questions, which Brubaker then ignores to let Phillips do a decent but hurried rushed fight scene or two. It’s not good but better than usual.


Kill or Be Killed 3 (October 2016)

10/21/16

Kill or be Killed is cringe-worthy. Not a page of narration goes by where there isn’t something dumb or awful in Brubaker’s writing. He doesn’t have a story–the protagonist goes to wintery Coney Island with his best friend, the girl who’s dating his roommate and pity makes out with him. There’s the story. The rest of it is the lead getting Unbreakable powers from the demon to see the evil men and women do.

There’s occasionally some decent art from Phillips, but even it’s not enough to keep the comic going. Maybe because the characters are so bad; I mean, Phillips draws the protagonist like a tool but Brubaker writes him like a white savior character. There’s even a panel where some cute girl admires his studiousness. Because chicks think it’s hot when you’re all banged up and studying.

As for the best friend, she’s so poorly written I’m beginning to think Kill or be Killed is either a drawer script from when Brubaker was eight or he’s just putting his name on it and has some really lame friend who wants to write comics but Brubaker owes the guy a lung or something.

The only reason to read Kill or be Killed, with the occasional art exceptions, is to be mortified. I don’t read Brubaker comics to be mortified. I’m having a difficult time justifying giving this one any more of my time.


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