Monster Noir

Things are still really busy, and they’re just going to get worse. But I think I do have the time to knock out a quick review of this old-ish graphic novel. Let’s take a look at Weird Detective: The Stars Are Wrong by Fred Van Lente and Guiu Vilanova.

This mystery/horror comic came out in 2017, and its plot focuses on Detective Sebastian Greene, the weirdest officer in the NYPD. No one likes him, and he talks like he learned English from a Speak-and-Spell, but he has the best clearance rate of any detective in the city.

He’s also not human. He’s not even a little bit human.

And he’s in the middle of investigating a series of gruesome murders that he needs to solve if he wants to save the world. Not our world — the world he originally came from. He doesn’t particularly care what happens to our world.

And even worse, the brass is insisting he start working with a partner. Detective Sana Fayez has her own secrets and her own agenda — namely, figuring out what’s up with Greene.

Can Greene and Fayez keep their secrets from each other? Can one horror from beyond the veil of time stop another horror from beyond the veil of time?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The book is full of lots of great characters, very few of them entirely virtuous, but all of them, even the monsters, full of personality. Motivations are clear and sensible — no one is evil strictly for the sake of evil. Even the most horrific creatures are motivated by things like survival, hunger, protection of family, etc.

The central crimes being investigated — the murders of the Juice Box Killer — are excellently creepy, which is a great way to bring readers in and to keep them interested. It’s fun to see Greene and Fayez interact and scheme, but watching them track the real killer is great fun.

Looking for a cool horror story blending Lovecraftian horror with the police procedural? You’ll want to pick this one up.

Leave a Comment

Kids in Capes

The next few weeks are probably gonna be crazy busy for me, but I feel like taking care of a fast review a nice superhero prose novel, right? Let’s take a look at Capeville: The Death of the Black Vulture by Matt Mikalatos.

John Ajax is a normal kid looking forward to a normal summer. Playing video games, hanging out with friends, all the usual stuff. But things never turn out the way you want.

John certainly didn’t expect to deal with an attack by a duplicating supervillain. He didn’t plan on meeting a talking dog. He never thought his parents would start a massively destructive fight with the police or that they would ship him off to stay with his cranky superhero-hating grandfather on an island full of superheroes.

And he sure didn’t expect to meet a lot of new friends with superpowers of their own. He didn’t expect to meet up with a robot who claimed that John himself was the Black Vulture, a superhero who died years ago. He didn’t expect to meet up with the maniac who murdered the previous Black Vulture. And he didn’t expect to learn that someone planned to detonate a doomsday device to kill all the superheroes on the island.

That’s an awful lot of stuff to do during one summer vacation.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The plot is big and fun and wide-ranging and frequently hilariously loopy, but the big joy you’ll get out of this book is the characters, particularly the supporting cast. John is a nice enough character, but I actually kept wishing for more time with all his friends — the Gecko, Lightning Kat, Pronto, and Jupiter Girl. Frank Hydra is a wonderfully weird villain, too.

But even the minor characters have cool names and powers and personalities — and leave you wanting to learn more about them. I’d love to read a book — or a comic! — about the gloriously weird Avant Guard or Chrononaut and the Time Skippers or Dogface or the Muck. I am, frankly, keeping my fingers crossed for all of these things.

Looking for a fun novel about young superheroes with a lot of excitement and tons of incredible characters? Pick this one up.

Leave a Comment

Green Beans

Yeah, I’ve been remarkably lazy with blogging this month. I mean, I’ve had lots of interesting things to keep me occupied, like work, and eating and sleeping, and um, video games and… umm, well, I’ve basically been very lazy. And I will probably continue to be lazy. Huzzah for sleep!

Anyway, here’s something I noticed the other day I thought was interesting…

The other day, artist Alex Ross released the latest cover he’d made for the “Immortal Hulk” series (and holy cow, do I ever need to review that series, right?), depicting the Hulk and the Thing sitting down in a diner for some chow.

Hopefully, their waitress is about to inform them that they’re going to have to pay for the booth they’re wrecking — and to remind them about the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign they apparently ignored when they came in.

But the other great thing about the cover is the little detail of what the Hulk is eating. ‘Cause the thing a lot of people forget is that, ever since the ’70s, the Hulk has really, really loved eating beans.

And he’s loved making other superheroes eat beans, too.

So be like the Hulk and go eat a nice, big bowl of beans. Hey, it’s the weekend, and you don’t have to worry about stinking up your office, right? Plus you don’t have a gamma-powered digestive system, so whatever you do in the bathroom, you’re probably not going to completely destroy the toilet…

Leave a Comment

Smashing the Klan!

It’s a great day to review a comic, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru.

There is, first of all, some actual history behind this, and you can read some of the details in this old review of mine right here. Back in the 1940s, the Anti Defamation League and the producers of the Superman radio show hit on the idea of using the character’s vast popularity to make a difference in some of the nation’s social ills, including racism.

The result was a storyline called “The Clan of the Fiery Cross,” with the Man of Steel battling a stand-in organization for the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK was infuriated about the program, but it was still basically the most popular show on the radio, and it helped significantly reduce the Klan’s power across the nation.

And that brings us to this comic, which is an adaptation of the radio show. It’s got some new or altered characters, some new or altered storylines — in other words, it’s an adaptation, not a transcription.

So our main characters — aside from Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen — are the Lee family, recent Chinese immigrants, particularly the two kids, popular and athletic Tommy and brainy but nervous Roberta.

The Lees’ first days in their new Metropolis home start out rough, with all too many reminders of the racism that plagued anyone who wasn’t white in the 1940s. Besides the occasional slur and rude remark, there’s also the rising threat of the Clan of the Fiery Cross, a hate group that burns crosses in people’s lawns, sets bombs in community centers, and tries all too hard to assault and kill as many innocents as they can.

But luckily, Superman is on the case. He saves plenty of lives, but is dogged by his own doubts and fears, including the strange alien ghosts that only he can see and who claim to be his real parents. Is the Man of Steel losing his mind?

As the attacks by the hate group grow bolder, more desperate, and more destructive, can Superman and the Lees come together to smash the Klan once and for all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story is energetic and engrossing, the art is absolutely glorious, and the message is desperately needed nowadays.

My lone criticism is that the story is really episodic, almost random, with the Klan repeatedly hatching various schemes and putting people in danger, just for the danger to be foiled in the nick of time before the next scheme is hatched. But of course, that’s very true to the story’s origins in the radio dramas of the 1940s, which were obviously episodic and often ended with a cliffhanger that would be resolved in the next day’s broadcast. Still, it can take a little time to get used to it…

I feel like the star of the comic is Roberta Lee, who carries most of the weight of the story. She gets to start out nervous and queasy, and she gets to grow in lots of ways, showing off more bravery and much more cleverness and wit.

And Superman is portrayed very interestingly. He has his Golden Age powers — leaping but not flying, less strength, no heat vision, etc. And he also has his first exposure to Kryptonite in this story — another nice nod to the radio series, where Kryptonite originated. And his doubts and fears are well articulated through the weird alien ghosts he starts seeing everywhere.

And Gurihiru’s artwork is just so dang great. The Japanese artistic team always does a great job, and their artwork in this book is just as fun, as beautiful, as wildly charismatic and engaging as ever.

And if you needed another reason to get this book? Listen, you love to see people smashing the Klan, right? Everyone loves to see the Klan get smashed! Smashing the Klan is what America has always done best — and we can continue smashing the Klan today! Huzzah! Klan smashing!

In other words, go get this book for great art and characters, for a fun throwback to classic tales of yesteryear, and for getting to watch hatemongers repeatedly getting beat up.

Comments (1)

Long Live the King

I’m hesitant to write much about Chadwick Boseman at all. I only knew him from his movies, and his costars, directors, and friends have already written about what a brilliant actor and great man he was.

Still, I’ll say this: I’m not sure there’s any actor whose loss is going to be felt so greatly. Not just in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where “Black Panther” was very much considered the best movie in that entire series, but in Hollywood and pop culture, too. Boseman was a powerhouse actor, and his personal charisma meant that he was incredibly well loved, even if he wasn’t the best-known actor in the world. His death is going to shake us for a long time.

And yes, it’s yet another example of why 2020 is just the goddamn worst.

On Saturday night, right after I’d heard the news and was thoroughly wrapped up in discouragement, I felt like this should be the final nail in the MCU’s coffin. They’d lost a number of their most popular actors after “Endgame,” and the next phase of sequels were looking fairly aimless. Surely now would be the best time to let the series walk off into the sunset?

But I was wrong, for a number of reasons. First, the Marvel movies have been just too popular, and Disney isn’t going to let them disappear without a fight. But Boseman meant so much to so many people. He was deeply loved by his costars and directors, and his fans absolutely thought the world of him.

Some quick examples:

Basically, I don’t think you could stop the “Black Panther” sequel now. The cast and crew would demand it be made. The fans would demand it be made. The same likely holds true for the rest of the MCU. Everyone’s going to want to make a new film in the series just so they can add their own tributes to Boseman.

And it’s a powerful reminder that no other Marvel film inspired more devotion than “Black Panther.” No other movie empowered Black creators — in every art form — than “Black Panther.” And it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if Boseman’s passing encourages a new surge in groundbreaking works by BIPOC creators — filmmakers, artists, writers, you name it — and offers a timely reminder to studios and publishers that diversity in entertainment is an unalloyed good.

Comments off

Flea Caller

It’s been too long since I wrote a post here, so let’s try to get back on schedule. We’ll start out with a novel I read a couple years back — Flea in the Dark by Devon Stevens.

Our plotline: Teresa Manzano is a pretty typical teenager — she just wants to hang out with her friends, smoke some pot, and not have to deal with her irritating half-sister. Felicia — or as everyone calls her, Flea — is a weirdo, obsessed with insects and scary movies, and she’s too young, and worst of all, Teresa is going to have to babysit her over the weekend when she’d rather be out partying with her friends on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

And even when Teresa drags her out to her party in the country, Flea still manages to get into trouble — kidnapped by La Llorona herself!

What, wait a minute! La Llorona? The horrific Weeping Woman of Mexican folklore? The ghost who prowls rivers and waterways abducting and drowning children? She’s real?! This is way out of Teresa’s league, isn’t it?

Soon enough, Teresa has an encounter with a horrific witch, who grants her the abilities she needs to try to find Flea, and Teresa takes a trip to the secret side of Albuquerque, a constantly shifting city populated by dangerous animal spirits where the architecture of the modern city coexists with long-gone landmarks.

Can Teresa navigate the familiar but bizarrely altered Albuquerque, challenge the spirits blocking her way, and still manage to face off with the most dangerous ghost of all to save her half-sister’s life?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This was Stevens’ first novel, and I very much want to see him publish some more books soon. This book is a thoroughly grand read. We get to watch Teresa make her way back and forth across the ABQ, making friends and enemies among the spirits, and slowly turn herself from a self-centered teenager into someone willing to take colossal risks and make smart sacrifices for the sake of her loved ones — even her irritating half-sister loved ones.

Using a combination of her temporary magical weapons and her own natural guile and sass, Teresa puts the hurt on enemies and makes many desperate, narrow escapes. She’s an unforgettable heroine.

Some of the greatest pleasures in this book are likely the vast collection of great characters, from Teresa and Flea to Teresa’s high school friends all the way to the wild variety of spirits infesting Albuquerque’s spirit realm.

Even minor characters — like the spirit owl reading a newspaper, the pack of playful coyote pups running loose on the bus, the devious mountain lion mayor, and the dancing kachina spirits directing traffic — are interesting and well-realized characters who you wish you could spend more time with.

The book is likely a must-read for anyone who’s lived in Albuquerque or wants to know more about the city. The Duke City is a character in the story just as much as it is a setting, as Teresa criss-crosses back and forth, into and outside of the city limits, and pays visits to well-known local landmarks — as well as old landmarks in Spirit Albuquerque that have been demolished for years.

If you’re looking for a fun novel with fantastic characters and settings with great action and plenty of adventure, you’ll certainly want to pick this one up.

Comments off

NO TIME FOR BLOGGING

Seriously, I ain’t got time for nothing this week. So you’re getting a post full of weird nonsense. Brace yourselves!

NOW GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU CHEESE MOLESTING BASTARDS!

Comments off

The Bad Times Ahead

Well, if you haven’t been paying attention to comics news this week, you might have missed this scary piece of info — AT&T, the new owner of Warner Entertainment and DC Comics, laid off about a third of their staff, including a ton of editors and their entire merchandising department.

This got immediate comparisons to the infamous DC Implosion of the late 1970s, with Mike Sterling talking specifically about some of the similarities, as well as his thoughts on what it may all mean.

But I want to direct y’all’s attention to a Twitter thread by none other than Gerry Conway, one of comics’ Grand Masters, outlining what he sees as the causes (AT&T has no clue what to do with any of its content-producing subsidiaries and basically wants to treat them the way Bain Capital treated Toys R Us) and the likely future results (very, very little good):

What happened at @DCComics yesterday was probably inevitable once @WarnerMedia became a subsidiary of a tech company uninterested in creating new creative content, and planning only to strip mine existing IP for streaming.

It should have been clear when the incoming AT&T management told the management of the highly successful and profitable @HBO that they needed to upend their corporate culture in order to feed the AT&T cable pipeline with continuous streaming content a la Netflix.

It should have been clear when AT&T replaced the successful management team at @HBO that AT&T didn’t see value in @HBO’s content— only value in @HBO’s *brand*.

The content currently produced at @DCComics or @dcuniverse is of no interest to the tech bros of AT&T— only the brand. Publishing comics is a low profit margin business— the value lies in the IP, and only the IP.

Expect AT&T to do the absolute minimum necessary to keep the

@DCComics brand alive for its IP value. Some of the decisions AT&T will make are probably long overdue for a business model that’s been marginal for decades; this will be brutal and bloody.

This time next year, I predict @Marvel will own about 90% of the new monthly comic market— in which case, retail comic shops are done. @DCComics will probably publish reprints and a handful/dozen of new digital-only monthly series intended for graphic novel release.

When the comic book retail market collapses, @Marvel too will have to turn to a digital monthly/print graphic novel format for a reduced number of titles. It’s simple economics. The business has relied too long on a fragile distribution model. COVID-19 and AT&T have broken it.

In the long run, despite the tremendous personal loss of the people affected by this— and my heart breaks for them, it really does; these are good, worthy people who deserve better— this may be for the best, creatively.

Storytelling in superhero comics has been in a creative, market-driven straitjacket for decades. Pandering to the tastes of a diminishing comic shop readership, relying on marketing gimmicks like variants, reboots and bi-annual “events” to temporarily boost sales—

It’s all had a cost, creatively. A long time ago, in my naïf youth, I once argued with Marvel’s head of production at the time, Gentleman John Verpoorten, that some production decision he’d made would have a negative effect on the creative value of the book I was working on.

At the time Marvel was publishing 40 titles or more a month. John gestured at the wall of covers behind him in his office. “Hell,” he said. “If you want to talk about creative value, from a creative point of view we can justify maybe six of these.”

It was true then, and it’s true now. Maybe a diminished superhero comic book market would be a more creative one.

Guess we’ll see in 2021. Till then…

F**king 2020.

So there’s our grim portent of the future. I’m a natural pessimist — or as I like to remind everyone, a realist — so this all makes dreadful sense to me. On the one hand, it would be great for the Big Two to get away from annual crossover events. On the other hand, really can’t say I like the idea of killing off comics shops and original superhero comics as a sacrifice to AT&T’s profit margins…

Comments (1)

Heroes Wear Masks!

Well, good day, comic book fans! How’s your day going? Mine? Almost no one in my town wears their masks like they’re supposed to, so I’m mostly livid these days!

Granted, some days are better than others. Sometimes I’ll go in the grocery store, and no one will be wearing masks; some days, everyone is. But it’s deeply discouraging that so many people aren’t taking this virus seriously. And that’s going to hurt us all down the line.

We need to be more like our favorite superheroes.

Okay, not all of them. Superman and Wonder Woman don’t wear masks at all. Batman and Captain America wear masks, but the wrong kind. No protection for the mouth, nose, lungs. But plenty of superheroes and even a few villains put their own safety and the safety of their fellow citizens above the need to show off their chins.

We’re not going to be able to list all of them, because even I don’t have that much free time. But we’ll try to hit a nice mix of ’em, okay?

Here are the ones doing the best job with their masks:

Azrael!

Black Panther!

Cassandra Cain!

The Confessor!

Deadpool!

But only when he doesn’t get his mask all ripped up.

Doctor Doom!

Even when it looks like his mouth is open, it’s still covered up by a funky mechanical grill!

Iron Man!

All of his modern armor is sealed, even when it looks like the mouth or eyes are open!

Moon Knight!

The Question!

It may look like bare skin, but it’s still a mask!

Rorschach!

The Golden-Age Sandman, Wesley Dodds!

He’s wearing a freakin’ gas mask!

Sensor Girl!

Spider-Man!

Plus most of the other Spider-heroes — Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, and plenty of others. But not a number of Spider-Women, who often don’t have full-face masks. And definitely not Venom. My god, he puts his nasty-ass tongue on almost everything!

White Tiger!

The Winter Soldier!

The version in the comics has typically worn a domino mask, but the movie version had his mouth and nose covered. And with that haircut, he’s been avoiding hair salons, too! Nice work, Bucky!

A few points for effort:

Doctor Fate!

The mask appears to be open at the bottom, but shouldn’t be much trouble to cover up better, Doc.

Casey Jones!

Sorry, Casey — hockey masks don’t do a good job at all of keeping mouths safely covered.

Grifter!

Masks that hang from the bottom of the face aren’t effective enough, because air and germs can still make it to the mouth pretty easily.

We’ll cover the next four together.

Blue Beetle!

The Mask!

Mister Miracle!

Steel!

Now seriously, how do these even work?! They’re wearing masks, right? They’re clearly wearing masks. But their mouths are completely uncovered. Right? Or are they covered, and we’re just somehow able to see their mouths? MASKS SHOULD NOT WORK THIS WAY, AND CONTEMPLATING THIS FURTHER IS JUST GOING TO REDUCE MY SANITY SCORE.

And finally:

The Shadow!

Come on, pull it up over your nose, Mr. Cranston.

Comments off

Shadow Theater

It’s been ages since I reviewed any comics! Let’s jump back into things with a look at Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux.

We start out with Cassandra Cain, brainwashed teenaged assassin, whose conditioning is unexpectedly broken when one of her victims leaves a brief final message for his daughter that shocks her out of her murderous programming. She spends a night in an alley before she’s taken in for a meal by Jackie Yoneyama, an old woman who runs a restaurant. Cass isn’t even able to thank her properly — she was trained by her father solely as an assassin, and she isn’t even able to talk.

Cass runs away and finds herself confused and frightened by the noise and chaos of modern life — and being pursued by the other assassins in her father’s employ. Soon she finds shelter in the Gotham Public Library, where she’s able to hide, learn to read, practice her fighting skills on stacks of books, and eventually start making friends, including a wheelchair-bound librarian named Barbara Gordon and a boy closer to her age named Erik.

Can Cass learn more about the world around her? Can Jackie, Barbara, and Erik help her come out of her shell? Can she defend herself against her father’s villainy and discover what happened to the long-vanished Batgirl?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Sarah Kuhn’s story is fine — a tad slow around the middle, but it picks up wonderfully well before the end. Besides, the slower portions of the story are where the character building comes in — and there’s so much great character detail in here. Lots of comics fans love Cassandra Cain, but this is a graphic novel for younger adults who might not be as familiar with Cass as everyone else is, and this comic gives her space to become a heroic character and a character who readers can love. That’s a great gift — not just to readers, but to Cass as a character, who now gets a new generation of fans.

I’m also a big fan of Jackie Yoneyama. She’s a new character created just for this book, but she was wonderfully realized. And she’s the kind of character who should be present in more comics, and particularly in more Bat comics — a street-level civilian who isn’t a victim, isn’t a crook, isn’t a future hero — just a connection to keep our main characters grounded as part of Gotham City. Even better — a character who runs a restaurant, because superheroes need somewhere to stop and get a bowl of ramen while fighting crime.

And let’s give big props to Nicole Goux’s stunning artwork, which rocks its way across every single page. And colorist Cris Peter really makes this book sing — shadowy libraries and rooftops, brilliant sunsets through windows, gloriously colorful clothing. The art and colors really make this book come to life.

Do you love Cass Cain, brilliant characters, beautiful artwork? You’ll definitely want to pick this up.

Comments off