BOUGHT: Batman: The Caped Crusader Vol. 6 (DC Comics)
This sixth volume of early '90s issues of Batman
collects nine issues of the title—plus one of Detective
—as it was in something of a transition, the Bat-office gearing up for "Knightfall" and a new era of Batman comics. There are therefore issues from writers Alan Grant, who was writing his last few issues of Batman
before the launch of Shadow of the Bat
, Dough Moench and John Wagner, who returned to the character for a two-issue fill-in arc. Art was provided by classic Batman artists Norm Breyfogle, Jim Aparo and, for the two-issue fill-in, Cam Kennedy.
I read almost all of these in comic book-comic book form when they were originally released, the lone exception being #483, a Moench/Aparo issue that didn't look that great (and, indeed, didn't turn out to be that great after all, even though I've now learned to appreciate Aparo's work; I wasn't a fan of it as a teenager, preferring the more expressive and expressionistic art of Breyfogle).
Let's take a closer look at what we've got here, shall we?
• Three-issue arc "The Return of Scarface" included two issues of Batman, #475 and #476, plus an issue of Detective, #642, all written by Grant, with pencil art duties divided between Breyfogle, who drew the issues of Batman, and Aparo, who drew the issue of 'Tec.
The thoroughly insane Ventriloquist has been sprung from jail by a very talented lawyer, and his mob boss puppet Scarface, the "grains" behind the operation, is apoplectic to find his nightclub closed and his turf taken over by biker gang the Street Demonz. In a face to face, the bikers fill the puppet full of lead, seemingly "killing" Scarface and freeing the Ventriloquist...for a bit.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne struggles with the fact that on-again, off-again girlfriend Vicki Vale is pulling away from him, and wonders if he should reveal his secret identity to her or not—something he does in a dream sequence, and on the cover of #476, an undoubtedly strong image from Breyfogle. (Bruce Wayne will ultimately decide against it when he sees Sgt. Essen almost rush into an exploding building to try to save the man she loves, Commissioner Gordon).
It's a pretty great examination of the character of The Ventriloquist and what makes him so neat, going still further than before in teasing that The Ventriloquist and Scarface are two completely different personalities and, as giant henchman Rhino seems to believe, Scarface lives completely independently of the guy whose arm he's usually perched upon.
It is also a great showcase of Breyfogle's skills at drawing his Batman, a liminal figure that exists on a spectrum between a human being and a blot of jagged, angry shadow. There are a few panels in this that I still remember clearly from reading them the first time, some 30 years ago.
•"A Gotham Tale" is a two-part fill-in arc is by John Wagner, who was Alan Grant's original co-writer when Grant began his collaboration with Breyfogle on Detective Comics, and artist Cam Kennedy. It takes its name from The Canterbury Tales, which provides some loose form of inspiration for one aspect of the story.
That story involves a pair of scientists who discovered an ancient alchemical formula to turn human beings into "the stone man," a hideous yellow, bat-winged gargoyle. The gargoyle went on a killing spree, and despite the best efforts of Batman, who crossed paths with it several times, the creature's reign of terror continued...until the culprit was seemingly found dead.
Wagner employs an extremely interesting strategy for telling the tale, however. Batman attempts to foil a robbery of a museum, and, when the robbers take a hostage, he surrenders, and he and two others are locked in a safe with an elaborate time-lock. Without enough air to support three living people for as many hours as it would take to have the vault broken into, Batman makes a drastic—and, yes, rather un-Batmanly—suggestion. He pulls out a couple of tranquilizer darts, notes that anyone poked with all three of them would die, and then says they should all tell a tale, and whoever "wins" gets to live.
The tale of the gargoyle thus emerges in the stories told by the pair, the daughter of one of the scientists and the other scientist.
It's a pretty compelling, genuinely suspenseful story, thanks in large part to the unusually complex structure, even if one aspect of it will seem rather immediately apparent to readers.
As good as the script is, as compelling as Kennedy's artwork, colored by Adrienne Roy, is, I confess it was the extremely cool covers by Tom Taggart that drew me to these issues when I bought them off the rack decades ago, and still somewhat overshadow the story.
Is it possible for comic book covers to be too
cool...? Perhaps, because as great as Kennedy's artwork is, it's hard to look at the covers and not at least imagine a whole comic book story told in that style.
•"Pagan" finds Grant returning to writing duties, but working with guest-artist Tom Mandrake rather than one of the regular Bat-artists. I've discussed this in pretty great detail rather recently
, so I'll be brief here. It's a typically-strong done-in-one issue from Grant in which Batman encounters a new, brutal, feminism-themed vigilante in Gotham who is targeting a couple of rapists. This is the first of a couple appearances of the character, as Grant apparently tried but failed to make her catch on in the way other, similar creations of his—like Anarky, for example—did.
I remain curious as to how Twitter would react to the character were she introduced today.
•"To The Father I Never Knew..." pairs Grant with Aparo again, and is focused on the ongoing Batman story in a way some of the previous stories were not. Jack Drake, father of Tim Drake, is finally out of the hospital, and wants Tim to move out of Wayne Manor and into his city apartment with him, as well as start working for his company. That, paired with the attention the wheelchair-bound Drake will need, seems to threaten Tim's activities as Robin.
The issue, then, is built around a letter Tim is writing to his father, about how he felt always being second-place to business growing up, and how he's now found a role in life that he doesn't want his father to jeopardize.
Meanwhile, Tim asks Batman if he should tell his dad his secret, which would, of course, inadvertently reveal Bruce's secret as well, and the Dynamic Duo take on a street gang.
Alfred ultimately saves the day when he shares a real estate listing with Tim—it looks like the stately manor right next door to Wayne Manor is for sale.
Aparo's Batman is, of course, one of the definitive Batmen, but I didn't care for his take on Tim Drake, in his Robin costume or out of it, and I still don't.
•For "Messenger of Zeus", a two-parter, Moench takes over as regular writer for a time, while Aparo sticks around as artist and, curiously I thought, letterer. Maxie Zeus is stills safely imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, where he was committed after his relatively recent appearance in Batman #470 (which was collected in the previous volume of this series), but stays in touch with the outside world through Iris, a woman who works at his club, The Cloud Room as an aerialist.
Zeus tries to call off a planned crime, but his gang decides to go ahead with it and cut their boss out of the proceedings. Iris tries to stop them and takes a blow to the head for her trouble, one which seems to reinforce her belief in Maxie as the actual Greek god. Sharing in his mania, she sews a costume and becomes "The Harpy," his avenger.
Her costume isn't the greatest or anything, but I'm still a little surprised that we never saw her again after this outting.
•"Crash & Burn: A Love Story" is the final story in the collection, a done-in-one by the Moench/Aparo team. Essentially a modern day riff on Bonnie and Clyde, it features a bank robber whose M.O. is to crash a car into the entrance of the bank (that's Crash) and Janice Byrne, a teller struck by immediate onset Stockholm syndrome who becomes his off-panel lover and accomplice (she's Burn). There's lots of the sort of wordplay that Moench likes to engage in, although I found most of it on the groanier side of the spectrum here than it sometimes is.
The pair eventually make their way to Gotham, where Batman and Robin thwart their plans to go out in a blaze of glory.
These two seem like characters that could have ben recurring ones, but I don't think they ever reappeared.
So, will we get a Caped Crusader Vol. 7? It's hard to guess. There's just four more issues of the Moench/Aparo team—featuring Black Mask and new villains Metalhead and Headhunter—before Azrael and Bane start appearing on covers, and only seven issues total until the Arkham Asylum breakout that kicks off "Knightfall." I suppose it's possible there could be one more volume, although it might need an annual or something to fill out its page count.
Hitomi-chan is Shy With Strangers Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
I picked this up on a whim, mostly because the title echoed that of my favorite current manga, Komi Can't Communicate
. As it turns out, Komi and Hitomi couldn't be more different, and, if there's anyone that Hitomi resembles in Komi
, it's probably Katai, whose scary exterior is in direct contrast to his shy, sweet and sensitive interior.
Manga-ka Chorisuke Natsumi presents Hitomi as something between a bombshell and an ogress. She's super-tall and busty, but when she smiles her face contorts into a wicked, angry-looking grin full of triangular, pointy, shark-like teeth (She's often drawn with sanpaku eyes
, too) Thus, rather than being shy with strangers, as the title suggests—she actually seems rather bold and outgoing—she scares strangers away.
That's certainly how Usami Yuu reacts when he first meets her on the bus to school one day, literally running away from her as she chases him. Of course, it turns out that she just recognized his uniform and wanted to walk with him to school, as she's new there and, it turns out, Yuu is her senpai...despite how much tinier than her he is.
Yuu and his sister, who is in Hitomi's class, get to know their new neighbor and fellow student in these first handful of stories, which hint at the very beginnings of a possible romance between Yuu and Hitomi, and the somewhat strange girls attempts to fit into a world that is sometimes too small for her, and always misreads her.
Peacemaker: Disturbing The Peace #1 (DC) In his film The Suicide Squad, director James Gunn played the old Charlton Comics acquisition as something of an insane admixture of Marvel's Captain America and The Punisher, zeroing in on the character's hypocritical love of peace that's so strong he's willing to commit any violent act to achieve it.
It is therefore if not inevitable, than at least predictable that the newly-popular character would fall into the hands of Garth Ennis, one of super-comics' most talented writers, a specializer in stories of violent men and, of course, perhaps the best writer of Marvel's Punisher character. (Coincidentally, Ennis had previously written a 2006 Nick Fury series entitled Fury: Peacemaker).
The loudly superhero-skeptical writer, working with artist Garry Brown and colorist Lee Loughridge, turns out a Black Label (read: mature readers) prestige format one-shot in which the character never once appears in costume, unless you count (some of the) covers for the issue. Ennis also finds a new, slightly different angle for the character's codename and raison d'etre, with the character bringing peace to troubled people by killing them; the peace he makes, in other words, is the peace of the grave.
The book has the format of a one-act play, with Christopher Smith—that's Peacemaker's real name—meeting with a psychiatrist in a lonely graveyard, where she goes over his history with him. While the two never get up from the bench they share, the art flashes back to events of Smith's life to dramatize them visually. So while the book is essentially 38 pages of two people talking, it doesn't quite read that way.
Smith is, of course, a complete psychopath, and has been surrounded by death his entire life, from his parents' murder-suicide that claimed the lives of his younger siblings, to the time he spent kidnapped by a redneck, modern-day Bonnie and Clyde ("I saw it on TV," Smith deadpans when the psychiatrist asks, "You do realize what this sounds like?") to his career in the military, where people around him often seemed to die terrible, suspicious, but always plausibly deniable deaths.
There's a...I don't want to say laziness, exactly, but certainly an artificiality to the structure of the book, but Ennis does manage to imbue the proceedings with some degree of suspense, and even a twist or two, in addition to an insight about the nature of the character, which I have, of course, already spoiled here.
As a character study of a minor character, one often used as something between a bad guy and an anti-hero in other, minor books goes, it's quite well-made.
Superman and Robin Special #1 (DC)
There have been a lot of changes to the both Robin Damian Wayne and Superboy Jon Kent since the last time writer Peter Tomasi and pencil artist Viktor Bogdanovic paired them together in a Super Sons
comic. The former had a falling out with his dad, got a new gray-heavy costume and started starring in his own Robin
series again. The latter hyper-aged into young adulthood, dropped the name "Superboy" in favor of "Superman", got a new, sorta lame-looking costume, and started starring in his
own series, Superman: Son of Kal-El
In fact, that's basically the point of the Superman and Robin Special, a 40-page, $6.99 one-shot in which the two characters essentially just get together after some time apart to catch up and share another adventure, being superheroes as they are. This involves Robin breaking into the Kents' apartment to tell Jon something's up at the Fortress of Solitude, and the two going to investigate, where they find something is indeed up; a maguffin from previous adventures has brought a fast-growing monster into the fortress, followed by Nazis from The War That Time Forgot.
There's actually not much more to the book than that. Just as it shows the heroes taking the opportunity to catch up and hang out with one another after some time apart, it also offers readers a chance to hang out with the creators and characters as well, now that there isn't a regular Super Sons book on the shelf (their latest miniseries, Challenge of the Super Sons, will be released in trade this spring).
As such, it's a lot of fun for those who have read many of those past Super Sons comics (and/or Tomasi's past Superman or Batman and Robin comics), and if any reader starts here for some reason and likes what they see, well, there's a small library of Tomasi-written comics featuring these characters together and apart that this can be followed up with, much of which stands the test of time (some of the Superman material will be...weird, given the contortions it went through to make sense of post-New 52 Superman continuity, all of which is now more or less moot, right?)
Bogdanovic wasn't my favorite-ever Super Sons artist, but there's a Jorge Jiminez cover of the the guys, looking all grown-up now.
BORROWED:Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 9: World War She-Hulk (Marvel Entertainment)
Although sub-titled "World War She-Hulk," as much as this volume is devoted to the 82-page Avengers #50
, according to weird Marvel numbering math, which basically amounts to them doing an anniversary issue almost whenever they feel like it) as is devoted to the four-part story arc name-checked (a nine-page "coda" to the arc is also included in the massive final issue/chapter of the trade).
"World War She-Hulk" seemingly wraps up another pair of long-running sub-plots in writer Jason Aaron's ongoing series—specifically, the threat posed by rivals to the Avengers, Russia's Winter Guard and Namor's Defenders of the Deep—in much the same way that the Heroes Reborn series brought the Squadron Supreme of America plot to a boil and then climax.
In that regard, it can't help but seem a little disappointing. Sure, it's presented as a big turning point for Jennifer Walters, moving her back to her more familiar She-Hulk portrayal from that of the Hulk, but female version Aaron has used thus far (likely dictated by outside events, like an upcoming She-Hulk TV series that will necessitate a more familiar iteration of the character in the comics). Aaron (and Marvel) made the climax of the Squadron Supreme sub-plot into a mini-event series, complete with extraneous, superfluous tie-ins. But the Winter Guard/Namor sub-plot? It just gets an arc of the regular series.
For what it's worth, the Winter Guard kidnap She-Hulk from Avengers Mountain—Gorilla-Man's status as a double-agent for the Russians finally reaching fruition—and imprisons her in a "Red Room," the assassin-making program that the Black Widow and this book's Red Widow came from. This is meant to brainwash her into a Russian assassin of some sort and, in the process, turns her skin from green to red and her hair from dark green to blonde. I can sorta see a silly sense in the skin-color as an anvil-subtle sort of comic book symbolism that she's under Russian control now (she's so communist, she's literally red!), but as for the blonde thing, I don't know.
Anyway, they sic her on Atlantis as a sort of patsy, as they also intend to detonate a gamma bomb on the underwater city.
The plan doesn't work, of course, but we get some typically cool shit out of the sequence, like Thor creating an underwater thunder storm, for example, and Jen sucks in so much energy and releases it that she resumes her earlier, Sensational She-Hulk look and personality...and penchant for covered nudity.
The over-sized #50/#750 is all over the place, in terms of time and space, but it includes a time-traveling then space-faring Ka-Zar, the B.C. Avengers, a new, multiversal Masters of Evil and new recruits in the form of Deathlok, Valkyrie and maybe Namor (I certainly hope so!). In other words, Marvel's biggest, craziest run of Avengers comics continues to be big and crazy.
Javier Garron drew the majority of "World War She-Hulk", while five artists including Garron and on-again, off-again Avengers artist Ed McGuinness contributed to the final issue/chapter. That final issue includes a weird back-up that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything, in which The Mighty Thor teams-up with pre-sword-in-the-stone Arthur to fight some Brood for 11-pages, courtesy of Christopher Ruocchio, Steve McNiven and Frank D'Armata, and a rather neat two-page, cutaway map of Avengers Mountain.
Chainsaw Man Vol. 9 (Viz Media)
(Some of) our heroes are still reeling from their battle with the Darkness Devil in this volume, with Hayawaka missing an arm and Power so traumatized she's afraid to do anything alone, including eating or bathing. There's a revelation about the true status quo of The Gun Devil, and then an appearance by the same, and a major character loses his life. In fact, the character who dies is so major that I began to wonder if Chainsaw Man
is winding down, as it seems like it will necessarily be quite a different manga without that character.
Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 17 (Viz)
This was a remarkably intense installment of the long-running series, which actually allayed my fears that perhaps it was starting to wind down due to what seemed like the resolution of a ongoing plot point in the previous volume. With these sorts of sitcom-like manga, resolution is often a sign of an impending conclusion, so as a fan of the series, it was actually quite a relief to see that resolution un-resolved here.
Komi and Manbagi have a long heart-to-heart discussion, probably the most free Komi has been with her emotions throughout the series, as they discuss the fact that they both have a crush on Tadano and what they can do about it to maintain their friendship with both him and with one another. I was actually surprised how moved I was by some of it, and impressed with Tomohito Oda's skills when it came to conveying more serious emotions than the sort the characters usually cycle through in the typical, comedic situations.
The resolution they come to is perhaps a little melodramatic, eventually deciding they will just have to be rooting for one another and jealous of one another in equal measure, as it wouldn't be fair for Manbagi to give up just to spare Komi her feelings, but it does keep the comic going more or less indefinitely without changing the dynamic between the three.
While their talk takes up the bulk of the book, which all occurs over the course of the school's cultural festival, it's broken up with the usual silliness, much of which involves Tadano having to dress like a girl for a variety of reasons.
I love this comic. As you can see, I read (relatively) a lot of comics this month, but this was the one I enjoyed the most.
Mao Vol. 3 (Viz)
In the third volume of Rumiko Takahashi's new time-travel/supernatural manga, elements of the mysterious origins of both turn-of-the-last-century exorcist Mao and 21st century school girl Nanoka are revealed, as well as hints as to their connections to one another and to the powerful cat demon Byoki. Intriguingly, as Takahashi gives us more information, further questions are raised.
Transformers Vs. The Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy (IDW Publishing)
I'm inclined to say that this is, on its face, a rather strange crossover, but then I realize that in itself would be a rather strange statement, given that the Transformers have previously shared crossovers with The Ghostbusters and My Little Pony. Sure, one franchise may have started as an R-rated horror movie and the other as a line of children's toys, but they both feature robots, and they both trace their beginning to 1984, a fact that helps this crossover write itself, to a certain extent.
Which isn't to say human hands weren't involved, as there were actually a lot. David Mariotte, John Barber and Tom Waltz all share a "story by" credit, while Mariotte and Barber share a "written by" credit. The art is handled by Alex Milne, with colors by David Garcia Cruz.
In the now not so far-flung future of 2029—a date that obviously seemed much more remote in 1984—the world is wracked by an unlikely war between human-created artificial-intelligence Skynet and its army of killer robots and another group of killer robots, this second faction coming from beyond the stars. A lone Skynet robot, designated a "Terminator", is disguised as a human being (Milne doesn't draw him like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger exactly, although one supposes that's how we're to imagine him, as Sarah Connor refers to him as a "German" guy at one point) and sent back in time to the year 1984 with a singe mission: Destroy the Cybertronian invaders that had crash-landed near Mount St. Helens before they can awaken, and launch their war on Earth (Human beings, it seems, are completely out of the equation by 2029).
In the first issue, the Terminator encounters a put-upon waitress named Sarah Connor—again, not really drawn to look anything like Linda Hamilton; she's just a generic lady with some rather '80s-style blonde hair—and drafts her to help navigate him to Mount St. Helens. Once there, on the last page of the first issue/first chapter of the trade, we see exactly how the nightmare future came to be. Megatron and the Decepticons awoke on the Ark before Autobots, and Megatron has his arm-cannon to the head of the unconscious Optimus Prime. In the future of this series, then, the Autobots were eliminated upon the Transformers' awakening, leaving the Decepticons unchecked to launch a war on Earth. Humanity developed Skynet to help thwart the Decepticons, but the AI outlived its masters, leading to the machine vs. machine war of the twenty-first century (The climate crisis? Irrelevant, although I guess that's a good news/bad news kinda situation).
The Terminator, which seemed so threatening in that original film when menacing a handful of human beings at a time, is now tiny to the point of negligible, but it and Sarah are able to save Optimus Prime and the Autobots, presumably changing the future in that act alone—but there's still three more issues to go.
The Decepticon faction is actually pretty small, consisting only of Megatron, Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp, Soundwave, Ravage, the three original Insecticons and, somewhat surprisingly, Refraktor/Reflector (a combination of three robots that turn into a camera). (I would have expected more cassette robots, as they are more to scale with the Terminator and Sarah and would make for more interesting fights, although the focus of this comic seems more on plot than action).
Same goes for the Autobots. Prime and Bumblebee get a majority of the panel-time and lines, the few other characters who survive include Arcee and Velocity, neither of whom were actually around in our 1984, but are presumably here to diversify the otherwise all-male robot cast (Wheeljack and Ratchet make brief appearances).
Essentially the rest of the book involves the Terminator aligning himself with the Autobots to stop the Decepticon faction of Transformers, although this goes somewhat against his programming (and he keeps to his programming better than his more trusting allies would assume). Mariotte and Barber essentially "play the hits" with their riff of the basic stories, seeding quotes and plot points from Transformers lore and attempting versions of jokes from The Terminator.
As is far too often the case with IDW's licensed comics, the writing component is far stronger than the artistic component. Milne's art is fine, perfectly readable, but only just, and there's little attention paid to the source material, so that the book doesn't look like, say, a crazy mash-up of an after-school cartoon commercial meant to sell kids to toys and a slick, action-horror movie for adults. Rather, everything is blended together and seems to be made of the same...stuff; the discordance of the crossover ends at the concept...or, perhaps, the title.
After having read the book, I can't think of a single image that really stays with me, even some of the crazier moments—like the Terminator insisting that the Autobots throw him at and into Megatron—are rendered in unmemorable fashion.
As Terminator's five sequels—plus a television series and lots of comics!—proved, it's relatively easy to change the future around the edges, but not so thoroughly that it can't still send killer robots back in time on a regular basis. And so this series ends with a promise of more comics to come—complete with the interrogative "The End?" in the last panel—as Sarah segues her familiarity with killer robots into a position with the newly-created Skywatch, and we see within its bowels an exploitation of the dead Megatron's parts into what looks like a new Terminator factory.
These proved to be interesting toys to smash together, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a sequel series at one point. If so, I hope it's a better-drawn one.
The United States of Captain America (Marvel)
Captain America is not a character I'm necessarily a big fan of nor one I have a whole lot of experience with, but I found this miniseries exploring his legacy and potency as a symbol to be both engaging and an awful lot of fun, thanks to writer Christopher Cantwell's abilities to sell the somewhat artificial thoroughness of the characters included, and the host of new characters created specifically for the outting.
Cantwell, working primarily with artist Dale Eaglesham (Ron Lim, Cam Smith and Scott Hanna fill-in for Eaglesham on the fourth issue, and no, I can't imagine why Marvel didn't just wait another month or two to start publishing this so Eaglesham could have drawn the whole dang thing himself) presents a conflict that gradually grows to sweep up every man who carried the name "Captain America" at one point, and, in the process, uncovers the "Captains Network," a loosely affiliated group of people who have taken their inspiration from the real Cap (or Caps, really), and become the defenders of their own communities, like "The Captain America of The Railways" Aaron Fischer (or the "Woody Guthrie version of Captain America", as Sam calls him; I prefer Hobo Captain America) or "The Captain America of Harrisburg" Nichelle Wright.
All together, four such "Captains" are introduced and assigned their own back-up stories by different creators (the other two are the Captains America of The Kickappoo Tribe/Joe Gomez and of Campus/Arielle Agbayani. There's also an army captain who will become one of the "Captains", and a mess of others who appear at the climax in a pretty glorious, imagination-firing two-page spread that answers the Hate-Monger's question of "Mein Gott in Himmel, how many Captain Americas are there?!"
There's an element of the Spider-Verse stories to this, of course, but rather than involving alternate dimensions, Cantwell and company focus on how inspirational a figure Captain America is, and just as "America" contains multitudes, so too are there multitudinous iterations of a hero symbolizing it.
As for that plot, Captain America is at home alone polishing his shield one night—seriously!
—when he's attacked by a speedster in a Captain America costume who makes off with his shield. He calls Falcon for back-up and as his eyes in the sky, and the pair team-up to stop the faux Cap from wrecking a train, a train that happens to contain the hobo Captain America.
Whoever is behind the shield theft, and it will ultimately be revealed to be some very bad actors with designs on freeing the Hate-Monger and tearing the United States apart (or, more apart, I guess I should say), their immediate goals seem to be a high-speed, cross-country campaign of terrorism that also targets the Captains Network. The Falcon will switch to his old Captain America costume and he and Steve Rogers will hop on their motorcycles to give chase, with Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes intervening to stop an assassination at one point (and, reluctantly, suiting up and showing off his own, all-blue shield) and they will, at Steve's insistence, even recruit USAgent John Wallker, along with some of the Network.
It's a fun and fast-paced action comic with quite a bit of intentional humor, some stray bits of unintentional humor (like the shield-washing scene) and a large cast of characters, some past but with plenty of life in them, and, of course, a handful of new and exciting characters.
Wonder Cat Kyuu-chan Vols. 1-3 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
This darling manga by Sasami Nitori centers on the relationship between a young man named Hinata and a cat he rescues from a box labeled "Please take me home", the titular wonder cat Kyuu-chan. Each page is divided into a neat stack of four long, horizontal panels, and tells a story or joke of its own; even when there are longer story "arcs," each page functions as its own, standalone narrative unit.
The pleasantly blank-faced Kyuu-chan is a charming protagonist, and Nitori toggles back and forth between gags about fairly typical cat behavior (being afraid of water or the vacuum cleaner, wanting attention when Hinata is on the computer) to extremely unusual behavior (Kyuu-chan's quest to bring Hinata his lunch when he forgets it one day, or his attempts to buy a gift for Hinata, which first requires him getting a job). There's even some occasional fantastical elements, as when Kyuu-chan is visited by a cute little ghost that only he can see.
I think it was somewhere around volume three where it occurred to me that Kyuu-chan is similar to Baby Yoda in that almost everything he does looks cute.
Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)
This particularly horny entry in the harem comedy genre features teenage psychic and exorcist Kogarashi coming to stay at a rundown, haunted hot springs resort Yuraki-sou, with only a handful of other boarders. The owner promises him free room and board if he can exorcise the resident spirit, a task Kogarashi is sure he'll be able to accomplish with the one ghost-fighting skill he's managed to master: He can literally punch ghosts.
The plan hits an immediate snag when he meets Yuuna, the ghost who is also to be his roommate: She's a girl, you see, and it's not like Kogarashi could hit a girl, even an undead one. Plus, she's super-nice and the two begin a somewhat fraught friendship, one complicated by the fact that she tends to snuggle up to him in compromising positions while sleeping, and her ectoplasmic yukata tends to open and fall off regularly. When she gets embarrassed, she explodes into a fit of poltergeist activity that sends poor Kogarashi flying out the room and into the spring.
The other boarders can also all see Yuuna, and are nonchalant about her being, you know, dead, as they are all extraordinary in one way or another, ranging from a demon-slaying shinobi to a powerful ogre. Despite their various supernatural backgrounds, all are, of course, attractive women who come in a variety of shapes and bra sizes...and familiar character types (In fact, this first volume read a lot like a supernatural answer to Love Hina to me, with some of the boarders seemingly being one-for-one analogues for some of those in Ken Akamatsu's superior 1998-2001 series...That said, perhaps it's unfair to compare the two more than that; it's been a long time since I read Love Hina Vol. 1, and I'm unsure if the quality of its narrative was apparent immediately, or if it came from spending time with the characters over several volumes.)
Just as there's a promise central to Love Hina, there's one here too. Kogarashi promises Yuuna he will do whatever it takes to help her pass on safely to the next life, and thus foregoes using his ghost-punching powers on her.
In the first volume, he meets Yuuna and her housemates, saves Yuuna from a monk, watches the girls reveal their extraordinary abilities when they fend off an army of monks, and begins his first day high school, a major milestone for him that is complicated by Yuuna coming along and inadvertently causing problems.
The comedy often revolves around Kogarashi accidentally being perverted, and suffering the wrath of either ninja housemate Ameno Sagiri ("If you do anything that corrupts the public morals of Yuraki-sou... I, Ameno Sagiri, will rain divine punishment down upon you!") or Yuuna's poltergeist powers. It's the sort of manga where when a boy falls down, he inevitably lands on top of a girl, whose top and skirt will usually be pushed up in the fall.
It must be fairly popular, as there are some 16 volumes of it available in my local library, and I see it's been adapted into an anime series.
Star Wars Adventures: Ghosts of Vader's Castle (IDW Publishing)
I want to say this is the fourth Vader's Castle
outing, and the third that is a full series (Shadow of Vader's Castle
being just a one-shot). As such, the formula should now be pretty familiar: A series of short, scary stories, many of them taking their inspiration from various scary movies, starring Star Wars
characters, told within the context of an adventure centering around the late Darth Vader's empty-ish castle on Mustafar. This time, the scary stories are presented as nightmares, which allows for scarier endings, as the heroes need not survive them. Star Wars
prose and comics writer Cavan Scott is once again the writer, while the artists include Francesco Francavilla, Derek Charm, Robert Hack and others (Sadly, no Kelley Jones this time). More here
Teen Titans Go!/DC Super Hero Girls: Exchange Students! (DC Comics)
The Teen Titans and the DC Super Hero Girls have met repeatedly in their animated forms before, but this is the first time they've done so in comics and so they have no memory of one another from those cartoon meetings. The Titans discover one of their villains is in the Super Hero Girls' universe, where heroes have secret identities, and so they pose as exchange students, one of them assigned to each of the girls, with Wonder Woman spared the fate of having to babysit a disguised Titan. Hijinks ensue. I'm far more familiar with the Teen Titans side of the team-up, but I think this worked quite well. More here
The Book of Boba Fett
What an unexpected show this turned out to be. The only things we really knew about Boba Fett for a generation or so from his brief appearances in two of the original three Star Wars
films were that 1) He was a bounty hunter, 2) He never removed his mask and 3) He barely spoke. And so here comes a TV show in which he stars that features an unmasked, talkative Boba Fett who has given up bounty-hunting. Part of the reason the show was seemingly made in such bold defiance to what we know about the popular, if minor, character is likely due in large part to the pre-existence of The Mandalorian
, which gave us a taciturn, always-masked bounty hunter in the Boba Fett mold—heck, so in the Boba Fett mold was The Mandalorian
's lead that he looks like a slightly shinier version of Fett.
Whatever the reason, I sort of appreciated the show's makers for zagging so hard when it would have been easy enough to zig. It's not as high-quality a TV show as its immediate predecessor, The Mandalorian—which it is essentially a spin-off of, Boba and Ming-Na Wen's Fennec Shand appearing in sizable roles in the show's second season—a fact that it seems to acknowledge when it, bizarrely enough, becomes The Mandalorian for about two-and-a-half episodes of it's seven-episode season. It's as if, determined to be the best Star Wars show, it decides to literally also be The Mandalorian.
The extremely simple and loose plot follows Boba, played here by a probably too-old for the role Temuera Morrison (cast because he played Jango Fett 20-years-ago in Attack of The Clones, and Boba was a clone of Jango) as he kills Tatooine gangster Jabba The Hutt's replacement Bib Fortuna and seizes Jabba's throne for himself, setting himself up as the new crime lord of the city...and/or planet. It's a really small galaxy, this one far, far away.
The early episodes are divided between the severely understaffed Boba and Shand's quixotic efforts to be crime bosses and extensive flashbacks detailing how Boba survived Return of the Jedi
's sarlacc pit (Personally, I always thought Star Wars: Dark Empire
's line "The Sarlacc found me somewhat indigestible
, Solo" was sufficient), lost his armor and got his groove back after being forcibly adopted by a tribe of Native Americans, er, Tuskan Raiders...a long sequence of events that felt rather Dances With Wolves
-y, but did
include a fairly awesome new desert monster, which was either prsented in stop-motion or at least looked like it, which is almost as cool.
Power abhorring a vacuum, others seek to take Jabba's place, others with a great deal more staff then Boba can manage, despite some fun recruits from unlikely places. Ultimately, they hire the Mandalorian just in time for the final episode's gigantic, rather ridiculous battle (As ridiculous as elements of it were, however, it felt right and pure; I would not be at all surprised if Jon Favreau and/or Robert Rodriguez and/or anyone else who had both a Boba Fett action figure and toy Rancor monster didn't do that very thing, that was Cekov-gunned earlier in the season, when Boba talked to the new Rancor wrangler, Donny Trejo).
Some additional thoughts:
•Jennifer Beals is in it for some reason.
I say "for some reason" because I can't quite understand what she's doing there or why they cast her, although I am certainly glad they did. (I suspect she just really wanted to be in a Star War; one of the great strengths of these two shows has been how great and quirky the casting has been).
She plays a Twi'lek, and so she's painted pink and given an elaborate prosthetic headdress meant to represent her species' head-tails, or "lekku," as I am semi-embarrassed to admit that I know. She seems like a pretty big star and the role seems to have involved an awful lot of time spent in a make-up chair, especially considering how relatively little screen-time she has in the series, appearing for, at most, a few minutes and getting a couple of lines in a few episodes.
Tragically, her character is seemingly killed in the final episode of the show, so it doesn't look like we'll be seeing much more of her in future seasons—if there are future seasons—but, then again, the show has a weird idea about how death works (see below) so maybe we'll see a resurrected Jennifer Beals cyborg Twi'lek in a season two episode.
Anyway, as I said on Twitter, my main criticism of the show was that it didn't have enough Jennifer Beals in it.
And this is a criticism I level at every show.
•The evil Chewbacca from the comics is in it.
Okay, his actual name is Black Krrsantan, but I had to look that up, because Shyriiwook isn't my first language (Yeah, I know the real name for Wookie-ese too; I'm hopeless
). He originated in Marvel's Darth Vader
comic series (as did an evil astromech and evil protocol droid that were basically evil analogues to R2D2 andC-3PO, who I look forward to seeing appearing in some Disney+ series eventually), and it's still pretty rare, even in these IP-reinforcing times, to see a Star Wars
character leap from the comics to the screen, rather than in the traditional direction (I am fairly certain the Jan Duursema-created Twi'lek Jedi Aayla Secura, who appeared in the Dark Horse comics and then had a cameo in Attack of the Clones
, was the very first to do so).
Evil Chewie, er, Black Krrsantan
's role was actually pretty minor. He just showed up to kill Boba, failed, got told by Jennifer Beals not to tear a lizard guy's arm off but did so anyway, then got hired by Boba. Still, it was neat to see a comics character appear in a...well, not a film, but in live-action anyway. It gives one hope that we might sees Jaxxon, the giant green Star Wars rabbit,
in a future episode of Book of Boba Fett
or The Mandalorian
•I sincerely love The Mods.
When we first meet "The Mods," so named for their habit of body modification and not because they hail from 1960s England, it's because a local water salesman complains to Boba about these damn kids today with their hover bikes (that look like cherry 1950s cars turned into Star Wars
bike-like vehicles, or, perhaps, something I would have ridden, swinging from chains, at a travelling carnival in my youth) and their modifications (they get droid parts; essentially they are like what some turn-of-the-century artists would refer to as "transhumanists) and hanging out all night on the street, raising a ruckus.
When Boba confronts them, they are very much like, "Whatever, Old Man." He likes their gumption, and hires them as muscle.
I liked their gumption too, and the fact that they basically looked like the kids I would see at any concert I've ever been too...except instead of tattoos they have droid parts. The also have dumb names like Skad and Drash (Those are the two pictured atop this portion of the post; and I should say "dumb" for a regular show, not dumb by Star Wars standards, as there is no name too dumb for a Star Wars character).
Because they are working for Boba, that means they are involved in some weird fights, including having to defend their naked, soaking wet boss from an attack by B.K., where the girl with the bangs shivs the giant wookie bounty hunter.
Anyway, I just think they're neat, and they were my favorite part of the series. Or, at least, my favorite part of the series which wasn't actually Mandolarian Season 2.5.
•Seriously, it was weird that it basically turned into The Mandalorian for a few episodes there.
It's honestly not that weird that The Mandalorian appeared in the series, or even that he played a significant role in the last three episodes. It's not even that
weird that episode 5 abandoned Boba Fett and the series' cast and setting completely—seriously, Boba doesn't even appear in the episode—in order to follow The Mandalorian on the next phase of his post-Season Two
, post-Baby Yoda life. But it is
weird that so much of so much significance in the life of the character happened in an episodes of Book of Boba Fett
instead of an episode of The Mandalorian
Not only do we see him hunt a bounty and touch base with the blacksmith lady that seems to lead his tribe of Mandalorians, but we also learn a bit about the dark saber and what it means that he now wields it, we see him attempt to visit Baby Yoda, we see Baby Yoda's training, and we also see plenty of characters from The Mandalorian, including Amy Sedaris' eccentric ship-fixer, Rosario Dawson's Ahsoako Tano, de-aged Mark Hamil as Luke Skywalker, R2D2 and even the relatively minor character of Timothy Olyphant's marshal Cobb Vanth.
There are also major milestones in the character's life, and that of Grogu—which Sedaris' character rightly points out is a terrible name—as Grogu ultimately decides to abandon his Jedi training in order to be with The Mandalorian, and the pair reunite.
Essentially, if you skipped Book of Boba Fett and went right to a theoretical first episode of a third season of The Mandalorian, it wouldn't make any goddam sense.
•I thought Cad Bane was pretty cool.
I never watched The Clone Wars—
I mean, I watched the awesome 2D "micro-series" that was on Cartoon Network between Episode II
and Episode III,
but I never watched the one fans generally mean when they say "The Clone Wars
". So I think this was my first real exposure to the character Cad Bane—now there's a proper dumb Star Wars
name!—unless he appeared in some comics I read but forgot, which is likely the case (He looked vaguely familiar, so I'm pretty sure it is
Therefore, I had no real attachment to the character or preconceived notions about him, but I think he came off pretty well. He certainly fit the space western look and feel of the show (and of Star Wars in general), and the big eyes, nose-less face and pointy teeth all made him a downright scary-looking character.
As badass as his appearance in the show was and as intimidating a look and feel the character bore, he went out pretty quickly and easily—not unlike the Boba Fett of the original trilogy, come to think of it.
•Baby Yoda jumping! So yeah, not only is Grogu in this series, but there is significant Grogu content, including his training on some planet under the tutelage of de-aged Luke, who carries him in a back-pack like he once did Yoda and uses the Force to help him "skip" while the two go walking together. Grogu learns to jump! He uses the Force to feed himself frogs! He gets all tuckered out after exerting himself and has to take naps! And his little baby-sized shirt of chain mail! I laughed so hard when Luke unfolded it and held it up for Grogu to see (Sadly, we don't get to see him actually putting it on).
The best Grogu-is-so-fucking-cute content was probably the hug he gives Mando when the two are finally reunited, however. It basically looks like a stage hand through the puppet at Pedro Pascal. It's awesome.
•The Jedi are still sticking with the tenet regarding inter-personal attachment, huh? Can I go off on a bit of a tangent here? Of course, I can; it's my blog! (Good thing, too, as I don't know where else I could share my Star Wars opinions that no one wants to hear. Like, even my friend who texted me to ask if I thought Black Krrstan was as sexy as the Internet said he was wants to hear my thoughts on Star Wars).
So in a somewhat odd scene, Luke sits Grogu down and first holds out the little chainmail shirt that The Mandalorian had made for him out of beskar, the metal Mandalorian armor is made from. Then he ignites a little Yoda-sized light saber and says it was, in fact, Yoda's light saber. He then lets Grogu choose only one of the two gifts. If he's ready to forsake attachment to all others and learn the way of the Jedi, he can have the light saber. If he wants to rejoin his friend Mando and the world at large, he can have the armor.
I was...surprised by this scene, for a couple of reasons.
First, Ahsoka seems completely down with it. In fact, she warns The Mandalorian that for Grogu's own good, he should stay away from him. Now, isn't one way to read the entire prequel trilogy, and thus the tragedy of Darth Vader, which obviously had major ramifications for the entire galaxy, that the Jedi policy of no attachments is a bad thing, and that if they hadn't insisted on Jedi Knights being celibate priest warriors the whole trajectory of Anakin's life, which Ahsoka saw pretty up close and personal, would have been vastly different? If his relationship with Padme were open, might he have never turned to the dark sides in the first place?
Second, shouldn't Luke, who is essentially reinventing the idea of what a Jedi is at this point in time, be familiar with the basic outline of his dad's life, even if he didn't witness it in the same way Ahsoka or Obi-Wan did? Didn't his own life teach him that inter-personal attachments are more important than Jedi monasticism, as when he abandoned his training on Dagobah to go help Leia, Han and company on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back—where would the galaxy have been if he hadn't?—or when he managed to convince his dad to side with him, his son, over the Emperor at the climax of Return of The Jedi...?
Anyway, it just struck me as weird to see Luke upholding the weird, old, seemingly rather objectively wrong ideas of the old Jedi Order he didn't personally know anything about or have any real connection to that I know of.
Of course, I guess we know from the sequel trilogy that Luke sucks at resurrecting the Jedi order anyway, so maybe this is just an early indication that he's going to fail in a few years when he attempts to train his nephew Ben and a few others.
•Finally, the show has a sort of weird idea about the way "death" works. Granted, I don't know much about the modern medical miracle that is a bacta tank or how putting droid parts in corpses works exactly, but, according to the show, the dead can be brought back to life if they have the proper parts. That was what happened to Fennec Shand, who died in the first season of The Mandalorian but came back to life at some point with robot guts; Book shows how that happened and, basically, Boba took her body to the Mod tattoo parlor where they get their modifications and the dude who works there brought her back to life (Stevenson is just slightly exaggerating in this neat little fan cartoon).
Likewise, Olyphant's Cobb Vanth seems to be pretty thoroughly and definitively killed when Cad Bane blasts him in a shootout and, later, the townspeople reiterate that the marshal is totally dead. But, as the show ends, we see Vanth's body in a bacta tank, and the mod shop guy standing above him with a golden tool, as if he's ready to work his magic and bring him back to life.
It's...kinda goofy, but then, on the other hand, it gives me hope that even if Beals' Fwip didn't escape the explosion that gutted her nightclub, she can still be resurrected with some replacement parts
Slumber Party Massacre (2021) When I was in college I watched all three of the Slumber Party Massacre films (1982-1990), each rented as a VHS tape and watched on the little combination TV and VCR unit that didn't get any channels that I shared with my roommate at the time. Almost 30 years later, I only remember the very basics of the premise—the killer's weapon of choice was a drill, he targeted slumber parties of some sort in each one—but the only specific scenes I remember were the hornier ones.
It didn't seem like the kind of franchise one could actually make an installment of in a post-Scream world, the films were so rooted in 1980s exploitation, and it is honestly hard for me to imagine a Slumber Party Massacre movie existing outside the peculiar ecosystem of a video rental store's horror section, the other lurid covers making it somehow more acceptable when it was one entry in a particular genre.
So when I saw a DVD of a remake of the Slumber Party Massacre come into the library, I was intrigued. I was fairly certain the things that would need to be done to make it make-able today would be at the expense of the exploitive nature of the original, and that, with only the plot and characters of the original to respond to, it would be terrible. But a particular kind of a terrible, a terrible without even the redeeming—if sleazy—elements of the original trilogy which were, make no mistake, terrible, terrible films.
In fact, because this remake was made for SyFy Channel, it seemed it couldn't have female nudity in it if it wanted to and, well, what's a slumber party massacre without any nudity? This had to suck, right?
Writer Suzanne Keilly and director Danishka Esterhazy craft an oddly feminist response of sorts to the original films which, and it may be hard to believe based solely on the titles and what made it onto the screen, were also all written and directed by women (The male gaze in those movies was thus translated through feminine eyes).
They start by staging their own "original" Slumber Party Massacre, at a lake house in the '90s. Only one young woman survives the rampage of "driller killer" Russ Thorn, and, decades later, the one-time "final girl" is a mother with a daughter the same age she was when she knocked a serial killer's head sideways with an oar and he plunged into a lake to seemingly drown (his body, however, was never recovered).
That daughter, played by Hannah Gonera, and her friends are on their way to spend a weekend together, when a seemingly strange series of coincidences and bad luck finds them staying at a cabin on the same lake where the original "driller killer" killings took place. Soon, the cabin full of four girls, and a neighboring one full of boys who were brought their because they were fans of true crime podcasts focused on the original killings, find themselves in the still-very-much-alive Thorn's hunting grounds.
There's a mid-movie twist that I don't want to spoil—one of several twists actually, some of which are harder to see coming than others—but suffice it to say the girls aren't as naive as they originally appear, and, to extent, several of them at least are playing "roles" of horror movie—well, Slumber Party Massacre—types for a reason. It is therefore not just post-Scream in that it came out after the first four Scream movies, but post-Scream in that it learned the lessons of that film's self-awareness.
Another surprise, which I will spoil, is the way in which the film not simply eschews exploitive imagery of the girls, but, in fact, transfers it to the cabin full of guys, all of whom are almost suspiciously good-looking. There's a scene where the guys are trying to rip a pillow in half as a show of strength, and when one succeeds, the air fills with downy feathers, and the film slows to slow-motion, showing them all jumping around and atop one another, shirtless, spilling their beers, as they gradually become covered in feathers and beer droplets, the filmmakers inviting the viewers to ogle them (The girls, who had come across the lake to warn them of the danger of the killer, temporarily freeze, staring in the windows, before one asks, "Are they out-slumber partying us?")
There's a shower scene later in the film that occurs at an unusual time—that is, when a viewer might question whether or not it is really the time to strip off one's clothes and take a long, slow-motion, close-up shower if there's a killer on the loose. Here again, the script is flipped: The showerer is one of the guys, and the camera takes its time looking him up and down and zooming in on his muscles. A show of his ass, which the camera arrives at after literally looking him up and down, proves to be the film's only nudity.
Whether removing the male gaze to replace it with the female gaze is "fair" or not is of course besides the point, particularly in this franchise and this genre, but one scene stands out as out-of-place because of it. When the girls find their car has suffered some extreme damage and needs overnight repairs, one of them—the one designated as "the slutty one"—pulls the stop of her shirt down slightly and presses her breasts together to reveal the tiniest amount of cleavage. "Will this help?" she says, to which he replies, "I can't see how it would." It's pretty clear from the context that the original intent was for her to flash him, but either because it was made for SyFy or because of the decision to only ogle the boys—even the girls' sleepwear, at both slumber parties depicted in the film, is incredibly conservative and, well, realistic, rather than what one might expect to see in a movie with this title—that doesn't happen.
One wishes the scene wouldn't have occurred at all, then. The only cost would have been a joke, which doesn't quite land successfully anyway due to the weird nature of the not-really-a-flash (Heck, if she would have flashed her bra it would have been more natural, or even just asked, "Would it help if I showed you my tits?").
This all points, intentionally or not, to a weird aspect of modern American culture, where acts of incredible violence are deemed A-OK to depict, but where nudity is not. I mean, what do we make of a film that includes a scene where a girl flashes a mechanic and they can't/won't show her bare breasts, but they will show victim after victim impaled on drills, having their faces chopped up, their heads sawed by spinning engine blades or their eyes carved out? There is a significant amount of gore for a made-for-TV, even a made-for-cable, movie, and the filmmakers seem okay with showing that.
Which isn't to blame them, of course. That's a problem with film-making in general, particularly when it comes to matters of ratings. One nipple will always be more forbidden than piles of gory corpses, no matter how mutilated they might be.
One might wish this were a film then that could find a proper balance in its horniness, or find a rational sense of proportion between sexual content versus violent content, but really, why pick on the Slumber Party Massacre remake for that? (The not-really-flashing scene and the implied but never confirmed lesbian relationship crush aside) It does provide plenty of surprises, a couple of solid gags (I thought those involving the fact that there were multiple guys named "Guy" were pretty good, personally), and a game sense of feminist correction to one of the more exploitative franchises in a sub-genre that's all about exploitation.
The new Slumber Party Massacre is much, much more fun, and much funnier, than it has any right to be, and a surprisingly better a film than anyone could have expected.
It did make me want to revisit the originally trilogy, however, as there are several elements that were clear references to those films (the "Space Baby" shirt, the weird guitar and the insistence that it would make a good weapon), and some that I suspected were (that weird-ass song that plays over the shower sequence; that had to be taken from one of the original films, right) but would need to rewatch to confirm.