BOUGHT:Batman Secret Files: The Signal #1 (DC Comics)
This Tony Patrick-written comic was supposed to be a one-shot, but it reads more like a random issue of an ongoing series. It ends with a dramatic cliffhanger, and a caption reading "To Be Continued..." (although there's no indication as to where it might be continued). It's also filled with characters and plot-points from earlier comics featuring Duke Thomas, aka The Signal, including the Patrick co-written Batman and The Signal
miniseries and, if I had to guess, Batman and The Outsiders
As a more-or-less random comic featuring the character, it's fine, I suppose, and readers picking it up will get a sense of who Duke is, what his story has been so far, what his deal as the day-time Batman is and who his friends, family and enemies are, but it doesn't seem particularly targeted toward new readers (I still couldn't explain Duke's super-powers to you, for example).
More problematically, it's not a complete story, which one might expect from a one-shot (Future issues entitled Batman Secret Files have different stars and different creative teams; maybe Patrick will pick up on this cliffhanger in the pages of Batman anthology Urban Legends at some point? Or a back-up somewhere...?)
I suppose this is what I get for trying to read a serially-published super-comic. You'd think I would have learned to wait for the trades at this point.
The artwork, by Christian Duce, is quite good, particularly during a two-page action scene in which Duke spars with his Outsiders partner Cassandra Cain (and, remarkably, not only beats her but boasts that she's too slow; I guess he does have home-book advantage, but even that doesn't really explain why she didn't knock him out faster than we could read it. I am fixing the scene in my head by assuming she was going slowly for his benefit, as a way to teach him to be a better fighter, given how little combat training Duke has had for a bat).
All in all, it's quite competently made, it's just been sold to us oddly. If I wanted to find out what happens next, and I kind of do, I literally have no idea where to do that. That's...not how comic should work.
Swamp Thing #5 (DC)
I had more than a bit of trepidation about picking up the fifth issues of a maxi-series having missed the first four, particularly since this latest Swamp Thing series written by Ram V apparently features a new character in the title role, but, well, DC did
go and hire John McCrea to draw it, and this is hardly the first time I've bought a comic book just because John McCrea drew it. Throw in a Brian Bolland cover and, really, how am I supposed to resist?
It turns out I really rather lucked out, as whatever's happened in the previous few issues, this is more-or-less a done-in-one that reads an awful lot like an old issue of a Vertigo series (in ways that are mostly good but, I suppose, one could also say are somewhat trite; I mean, V is hardly breaking new ground by scripting a short, thoughtful horror story about dreams, magic and London that is evocative of a line of comics from 30 years ago, you know?)
The new Swamp Thing, who appears to be a man named Levi Kamei, spends the majority of the issue big and green, to the point that it hardly matters that the Swamp Thing leaks out of a new character's body instead of Alec Holland's body on the second page.
In London, a magic-user's boyfriend has disappeared and her building seems haunted. She summons her old friend John Constantine to help her, but The Green has already sent a different savior of sorts, in the form of The Swamp Thing. It turns out the building is being haunted by the ghost of an old, unexploded bomb, and so Constantine and Swamp Thing both tackle the problem form different angles, with Swamp Thing carrying away the idea of a bomb, which, naturally, wants to explode.
It's quite a complete story, although far all I know V will follow up on it more next issue, as this seems to be the first meeting between this Swampy and Constantine. No matter, this issue works fine as is, and it proves a pretty great showcase for McCrea's work, which is both sharper and a bit more abstracted than the last time I saw it (in Dead Eyes). McCrea either inked his own work or it went straight from pencils (Or I don't know, pads, the way comics are made these days) to colors, which are here provided by Mike Spicer. The art awfully Vertigo-like, as there's a fuzziness that mutes the blacks, a gauzy look to the pages that provides a degree of moodiness, I suppose, even if I'd personally prefer to get a better look at the linework, myself.
Who Says Warriors Can't Be Babes? (Seven Seas Entertainment)
This was a total impulse buy, as July was a rather light month for me, in terms of comics bought and/or read (as you can probably tell by the relative brevity of this particular post). The premise here is a fun one, briefly set-up in the first few pages.
The handsome hero, named Hero, tells a little girl not to cry because he's leaving, that they will see one another again some day and, in fact, that when she grows up to be a warrior herself, they will travel the land together. The little girl takes Hero seriously, so seriously that she trains super-hard and ends up becoming a super-powerful warrior who does indeed end up joining Hero's adventuring party (along with a pair of other women, a mage and a priest).
The only problem is she might have over done the training. Warrior Woman is now super-strong, dwarfing Hero and the others in terms of hit-points—the book never pretends to be about anything other than characters in a role-playing game—so that instead of seeing her as a woman, Hero tends to think of her as a warrior first, foremost and only.
There's also the small matter that she's so strong she has trouble interacting with Hero; if she punches him in the arm, slaps him or even tries to rub his shoulders, she inevitably ends up killing him, and it's up to Priestess to resurrect him with one of her spells.
Each chapter of the volume finds Warrior Woman attempting some new scheme to get Hero's attention, her ultimate goal being to marry him, and each attempt goes horribly awry, often as a result of her outsized strength, her lack of understanding about things that don't
have to do with fighting or killing monsters, Hero's obliviousness to her desire, or some combination of all three.
Primitive Boyfriend Vols. 1-2 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
God, I love manga. For whatever reason, stories that would seem completely ridiculous in Western comics—or any other form of Western media, for that matter—seems to work in the infinitely game world of manga. And even a series that sounds like an obvious joke, like that of Yoshineko Kitafuku's Primitive Boyfriend
, can be told with complete, honest, infectious
Kamigome Mito is the most desirable girl in her school, we are told, blessed with flawless skin from eating all the fresh produce grown on her family's farm and a perfect physique sculpted by farm work. Despite being surrounded by and often pursued by lots of cute boys at school, each of them has some character flaw or another—arrogance, timidity, laziness, etc—all born of what Mito sees as their one essential, shared flaw: weakness. The type of man she's interested in just doesn't seem to exist in today's modern world.
One evening, despairing of this fact, she declares that if there is no man for her in the world, she will just marry farming instead, a declaration that catches the ear of Spica, goddess of the harvest. So Spica sends Mito 2.5 million years back in time to meet her soulmate, an Australpithecus garhi, seen on the cover above.
Garhi, as she names her new friend—luckily for Mito, she's been studying the evolution of humanity in her history class—isn't anything at all like she expected, and certainly isn't much to look at. Nor much of a conversationalist. But he gradually wins her over with his kindness and attentiveness to her needs, as he helps he survive the prehistoric savannah and protects her from all manner of threats. When he ultimately saves her from a saber-toothed tiger, she finds herself flung back to the present, suddenly nursing a broken heart and guilt that Garhi might be dead because of her.
In the second volume, Spica hears Mito's prayers to see Garhi again while her class is visiting a natural history museum, and she again finds herself hurled back in time, this time to a jungle populated by Homo Erectus. As she desperately searches for Garhi, she's helped by a local she names Erec, who seems to have a lot in common with Garhi and, well, it shouldn't take readers nearly as long as Mito to figure out what Spica is doing.
While there's a lot of humor in the story, what amazed me most about Primitive Boyfriend was how straight it plays its romantic plot, and how it manages to work. The silliness of the premise and the cover drew me in, but I got pretty swept up in Mito's emotions, and the earnestness of her quest.
The series concludes with the third volume, which I suppose I'll have to buy if I want to see how it turns out, as I can't find a copy to borrow.
Kirby Manga Mania (Viz Media)
Not mentioned in my review
? The cover is really shiny, which you can't tell from the images of it that appear online.
But trust me, it's shiny.
Exploring Gotham City (Insight Kids)
I know this will sound like hyperbole on my part, but when I finished reading Matthew K. Manning and Studio MUTI's Exploring Gotham City
guidebook, I thought it might be the ultimate Batman book. At the very least, by being about the Gotham City setting, it was about, or at least it referred to, pretty much every big Batman storyline (particularly in post-Crisis
continuity, although there are references to plenty of pre-Crisis
stories and status quos too), as well as profiling almost every ally and enemy of some import.
It's a rare feat that manages to make all of Batman continuity, reboots and relaunches be damned, all seem like one big, long, continuous story, but Manning pulls it off here. I can't remember the last time I read a Batman anything
that so fired my imagination and excited me about the character. So naturally I was curious about the book, and thought it might be more interesting to chat with Manning about work on it than simply review it, which is how this interview
It's a pretty thorough book, but I would love to see a longer or supplemental version of it in the future, covering Batman-related sites outside of Gotham City (the various Justice League bases, for example, or various Titans Towers), Gotham City settings there wasn't room for in the book, like Gotham Academy or Hitman's The Cauldron neighborhood, for example, or the various Gotham analogues to real-world places that used to appear in old comics, like the Statue of Justice that Manning mentioned (I feel like the Silver Age was lousy with such neat places to profile).
Shark Summer (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)
Cartoonist Ira Marcks' summer adventure comic Shark Summer
is a really, really good comic. It honestly has one of the most effective double-page splashes I can remember encountering in a comic. But it wasn't its overall quality that made me want to interview
Marcks about the book. Rather, it was the peculiarity of the setting: Shark Summer
is set during the filming of Jaws
, or, at least, the fictionalized version of it that Marcks has come up with, Shark!
(with an exclamation point).
I've only seen Jaws
once some years back, so I missed quite a few of the references to the filming that Marcks packs in the book, up to and including using some of the same shots of the same places in town and putting background characters from Jaws
into the backgrounds of panels of his own book. If you're interested, Marks shows you where all the Jaws Easter Eggs are hidden
on his rather fun production blog
|My favorite part of Black Widow was that, when designing Taskmaster, they decided to go with a skeleton...dressed as a racecar driver...wearing sunglasses. |
I wrote previously on this blog—though I've no idea when and where exactly, as I've been at this such a long time now—that I doubted we would ever see a Black Widow solo movie. Because the character came to the Marvel comics universe in 1964 as a super-spy inspired by a film genre, making a Marvel Cinematic Universe film seemed redundant, and something of a waste of time, akin to Marvel Studios making a Rawhide Kid or Shang-Chi film which, um, just goes to show you probably shouldn't listen to me...? The only way I thought a MCU Black Widow starrer would work was if they embedded the super-spy elements into superhero universe ones, by, for example, using villains like MODOK and A.I.M. to play off of Natasha.
Well, I was obviously wrong, as they did eventually get around to a Black Widow film, even if they did wait so long that the only female Avenger was beaten to the race of headliner by newcomer Captain Marvel...and that the film had to be set in the past, as they had already killed the Widow off in the film universe's timeline.
They did use a Marvel Comics villain, although they went with Taskmaster—a cool villain who might have worked better with more Avengers to fight, although I suspect some Tasky fans will be disappointed by his film turn for multiple reasons, including the rather Matrix-y way his powers seem to work here—and, somewhat frustratingly, replacing Nat's humorously bickering supehero family of The Avengers with a new humorously bickering superhero family consisting of a couple of fellow widows (Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz) and the Soviet answer to Captain America, Red Guardian (David Harbour, playing a gone-to-seed version of the character).
That all helps keep the film feeling like a Marvel Studios movie instead of, say, Red Sparrow with callbacks (or Atomic Blonde without the soundtrack), as does giving the perfectly Me Too-era Big Bad, the personal space-ignoring Ray Winstone as the head of the reconstituted widow factory "The Red Room" a flying fortress HQ, perfect for an over-long, stunt filled superhero movie showdown.
It also means we don't get a whole lot of Black Widow in our Black Widow movie though, and Scarlett Johanssen's long-awaited star turn finds her playing the same role as in various Avengers movies, the hyper-competent, plot-advancing factotum eclipsed by a wise-cracking entourage of more colorful characters.
It is, of course, fine. Marvel has so perfected their blockbuster machine that even their lesser films now operate within an acceptable, expected range of slick, dependable quality. Their is obviously an element of disappointment that accompanies it, one stoked by the studio's own foot-dragging on making a Black Widow film, the cinematic universe's storyline (with Widow killed off in the Avengers films, this is positioned as her final time in any sort of spotlight*) and, of course, the pandemic's delaying of the film, which means fans have lived in direct expectation of this one for far, far longer than most (final trailers having been released before it was delayed) and that this is likely the film many people will be returning to theaters for the first time to see.
It's perhaps too bad there won't be a second one, now that Marvel Studios is comfortable with Black Widow starring in her own blockbuster, as opposed to propping up others...at least, not unless she comes back to life, as dead superheroes have a tendency to do in the Marvel comics universe. (I for one would like to see the rest of the Winter Guard on film...particularly Ursa Major).
|A copula foxes.|
I so infrequently see real movies these days, meaning films not based on superhero comic books or starring former professional wrestlers, that I'm always at risk of over-praising the ones I do. Take, for example, The Green Knight
, writer/director David Lowery's dreamy adaptation for the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.
So unused to any amount of subtlety or restraint in film-making am I at this point that even a little bit can hit me like thunderclap. And there's a lot of subtlety, and even large dollops of equivocal storytelling, in The Green Knight, which leaves large passages open to interpretation and argumentation, particularly its ending, which I took great delight in, thanks, in no small part, to all of the groans I heard around me in the theater.
Dev Patel is Gawain, here a novice, wannabe knight and nephew to an elderly King Arthur, in line for the throne, but seemingly unworthy of it. A holiday game by a supernatural knight finally gives him a story worth telling, but will also end his life. Unless his nameless witch mother (Morgan La Fay, maybe?) and her coven's enchantments can protect him...just as they summoned the green knight in the first place. Regardless, he bravely takes up his quest, and follows it through to the ending, even though, as he's repeatedly told by various characters, not all of them human, that he need not literally let someone behead him in search of vagaries like greatness or honor.
It's easy to see how the film could frustrate viewers, the narrative seemingly stopping, rewinding and starting over more than once, offering potential endings for the "real" story and possible futures for the character. But for all it's occasional showiness—and as subtle as some bits are, there are others that are as overblown and overwrought as anything in a comic book blockbuster—the film retains a meditative quality throughout, offering quite a bit to think about.
It's not a quality in a film that I'm used to anymore. But I like it.
|Spoiler alert: The film's happily ever after involves the heroes in matching fancy suits tooling around in a new-fangled horseless carriage in London.|
The filmic inspiration for Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride was reportedly the 1951 African Queen, but the movie that the new Jungle Cruise film most resembles is probably the 999-2008 Brandon Fraser Mummy movies, and, of course, those movies' inspirations, like the Indiana Jones franchise (and the films and serials that inspired it). That's not a criticism, and, in fact, the movie is on its surest footing when it seems to be in that modern Mummy realm, as opposed to trying to live up to that other, still more obvious predecessor, the Pirates of The Caribbean film, with which it shares its amusement park ride-turned-film origins and, on imagines, Disney's hopes for a similar, multi-film franchise.
The Pirates inspiration is most obvious in one set of the films antagonists (and, perhaps, that it has multiple sets of antagonists), a handful of CGI undead conquistadors that have bonded with the Amazon jungle over the centuries, so that one is a living bee hive dripping honey, another is full of snakes, and so on. They're creepy, but, like too many of the CGI creations of the Pirates films, whoosh by in cloud of pixels in their poorly lit, incomprehensible action scenes.
In other areas, Jungle Cruise probably could have used more Pirates inspiration, as it lacks a catchy ear-worm musical motif, and as incredibly charismatic and affable as stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are, they lack the sexiness that Johnny Depp and company brought to their films; it's weird how little heat the two generate, and how sexless the film feels. It's not because the filmmakers were more concerned with something more family-friendly—certainly the film doesn't ogle either good-looking star as it might have, not even letting The Rock take off his shirt for a Marvel Studios-like three-seconds of beefcake—as there is a painfully long routine in which they cast talks about removing a sword from a wound as if they are all talking about jerking Johnson off that goes on a bit too long (and flirts with a bit of gay panic in a way that seems unfortunate, given the otherwise fine portrayal of a gay character in a four-quadrant summer blockbuster from, historically, one of the less progressive film studios).
The relationship between the star seem so familial, in fact, that I almost wish the filmmakers had chucked the romantic sub-plot, and kept the two leads as bickering best friends (that, or made one of them gay).
Still, while imperfect, and clearly derivative of many earlier film, the movie is a lot of fun. There are maybe a few dozen too many jokes about how Blunt's character isn't a traditional woman of her era, and the film might have been better served by sticking to showing this rather than bleating it constantly, but she's a fun character, a Lara Croft-like adventurer some eight or nine decades before the first Tomb Raider video game would have been around, and she and her foppish brother visit the Amazon on a quest for a mysterious, magical healing tree.
There they hook up with The Rock, who is almost literally giving Disneyland Jungle Cruise-style jungle cruises to tourists (the basic set-up, animatronic hippos and all, taking place in the actual Amazon). Together they race through the river and assorted threats, pursued by Splatter Girl's pal Jesse Plemons as a German prince, who wants the medicinal tree for the the kaiser's war effort, and the Pirates-like CGI villains,
It's great fun, even if it's easy to see places where it might have been greater, and there are a couple of sequences that likely could have, maybe even should have
, been chopped. At any rate, it's quite easy to envision a Jungle Cruise
sequel in a few summers, perhaps this one set on the Nile, and I'll happily see it in theaters.
Kevin R. Cox's Boomtown Columbus: Ohio's Sunbelt City and How Developers Got Their Way (Trillium; 2021)
is honestly something of a slog, a modern history of the city's development that I suppose I should have expected to be on the drier side. But I was curious about what Cox had to say about how Columbus came to be the city that it is, even if paying attention to the city of Columbus is not longer my day job, and hasn't been for quite some time (One of the things I did once devote a lot of time and energy to in 2000 or so, a long-form article about how minor league baseball stadiums can help revitalize flailing downtowns, has since come to pass, I see).
I found some interesting insights into the book, particularly how the city is somewhat young or new when compared to sister cities Cleveland and Cincinnati, and how that new-ness, as well as the peculiarity of its geography, has allowed it to grow as much as it has in the last 50 years or so, or to, well, boom, really, making it an Ohio city that bears greater resemblance to a sunbelt one.
Much attention is spent on the Blob-like way Columbus has grown, absorbing, consuming and replacing neighboring communities, using sewer and water as a lever to push its own sprawling development, and the results of that growth.
I found myself most interested in the section on Columbus' pursuit of becoming a "major league" city, via acquiring a major league sports franchise, and how that has always been thwarted for various reasons, the city having to settle for a NHL hockey franchise and a soccer team, without ever being able to acquire a MLB or NFL team. This, and a few other parameters Cox mentions, deal with Columbus' chafing against it's "cowtown" image (not a phrase Cox employs), and it was interesting to read about it from the developers and city leaders' point of view, as I was always seeing that same conflict and desire to become a more respected national city from the point of view of artists and musicians (Cox doesn't talk much about art or music, although the gentrification of areas influential to those scenes, as they once existed, is covered).
I was also kind of shocked to discover the real estate interests of the old owners of the Columbus Dispatch; I wish I knew more about that, and understood the way it potentially drove coverage (or at least presented a potential conflict of interest) back when I was writing for a Columbus altweekly (which only gets two brief mentions; I think the other altweekly, the rival to the one I worked for, gets a single mention; the overwhelming majority of the media reports Cox sites are from the Dispatch itself).
Anyway, I remember covering the start-ups of an indoor lacrosse franchise (The Landsharks) and an indoor football team (The Destroyers) and hearing over and over what a great sports town Columbus is; Cox diagnoses parts of the city's problem with ever truly becoming a "major league" city as not simply that it's so close to Cleveland and Cincinnati, both of which have both NFL and MLB teams, but also because of the hold Ohio Statue University seems to have over Columbus. I guess it is hard to outgrow the idea that you're anything more than a college town when so much of the city pays so much fealty to that one college, you know?
Anyway, if you're not super-interested in urban development, but you are interested in the city of Columbus, and you've got an at-times masochistic stick-to-it-ivness when it comes to reading non-fiction, Cox's book is probably well worth a read. I would have loved to interview the dude circa 2000-2005; I think a Q-and-A woulda made a hell of a cover story in our pre-bought-out-by-the-Dispatch days...
Editor Jack Hunter's Greening The Paranormal: Exploring the Ecology of Extraordinary Experience (August Night Press; 2019)
seems like the sort of unusual book I would have wished into existence if I could wish books into existence, it's so perfect for me personally, chronicling as it does two of my greatest interests among the books I read: The paranormal and the environment. A collection of essays, anthology rules definitely apply here, with the quality of the work and the relevance of each chapter to my own interests varying rather widely. I was definitely interested in Hunter's introduction and Susan Marsh's essay about how the changing environment might influence cryptozoology (I still want someone to write a book about how the mass extinction crisis might impact the hunt for cryptids). Those were the two parts of the book I focused on most when I reviewed it for my secondary blog
author Brian Alexander set up shop at the Community Hospital and Medical Center in the small town of Bryan, Ohio and began interviewing people in and around the hospital, as well as researching and, occasionally, just hanging out. His reporting resulted in The Hospital: Life, Death and Dollars in a Small American Town (St. Martin's Press; 2021)
, a fairly depressing, but eminently readable book about the state of health care in modern America. I interviewed Alexander for Toledo City Paper.
I confess I was originally drawn to the book because of its small town Ohio setting (it's on the other side of the state from me, about 50 miles west of Toledo, and has a population hovering around 8,500, making it less than half the size of my hometown of Ashtabula). But Alexander's writing quickly won me over, and as little as I knew about the subject matter before reading, it was easy to follow along, and I felt like a learned a lot. Sadly, a lot of what I learned is just how damn hard life is for people in towns like Bryan, and the American medical system doesn't make it any easier.
I reviewed The Loneliest Polar Bear: A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World (Crown Publishing; 2021)
, a somewhat unusual book on climate change that takes the interesting angle of exploring the issue through the prism of a single polar bear's biography, for The Cleveland Review of Books
. (The Loneliest Polar Bear
might be of additional interest to some of my readers because of where much of it is set; the polar bear whose story the book tells was born at and spent her formative years at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium). I'd definitely recommend CRB
to readers, and not just because they published a piece of mine
; the site fills what I consider a notable and unfortunate gap in book coverage in the Cleveland and Ohio media markets.
Writer and pastor David Williams' Our Angry Eden: Faith & Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet (Broadleaf Books, 2021)
is another in the growing genre of Christian books about the climate crisis, a genre I am somewhat fascinated with because I remain convinced in the potential for Christianity (and other faiths) to make a huge impact, should enough people of the faith (and/or other faiths) become properly engaged and motivated. Williams is a hell of a writer, and his book fast-paced and fun, despite the severity of the problem that serves as its subject and the often blunt way he discusses it (in short, the world
is going to end up being just fine in the long run, while it's humanity
that is in real danger from climate change). It may be worth noting for many of you that while Williams is obviously Christian and approaching the subject from a Christian point-of-view, there's a great deal for the lay person in the book as well. I have a short review of it up at Built By Glaciers.
*I've been of the opinion that The Hulk's earlier, failed attempt at a "snap"
did bring Natasha back to life, and that she was simply resurrected far away from him, and out of sight of the other Avengers and then, for Black Widow-y reasons, she decided to stay off the grid. That, or Marvel included the scene so they could use Scarlet Johansson's Widow in future films if they wanted to. Of course, that was before the recent legal action, so maybe the studio would like to keep Johansson's Widow dead and focus on Pugh's Black Widow II form here on out...