Tuesday, January 19, 2021

REFLECTION

I've been doing quite a bit of self-reflection as I ease my way back to work. Something occurred to me yesterday and it may point to why the Big Two editors and publishers aren't interested in working with me. Alas, it's not something that's likely to change.

Here it is...
 
I write about good (sometimes flawed) super-heroes. My heroes are unselfish. They triumph over overwhelming challenges to help people and bring evil to justice. 
 
Many of today's Big Two writers - I won't say "most" because I'm not currently reading many of their books - are content to let the heroes barely survive their generally self-involved battles while allowing evil to escape without consequence and to return to do more evil over and over again. Ordinary people are little more than statistics in their stories, extras without spoken lines or back story who exist merely to die horribly at the hands of the villains.
 
When I took this sabbatical to work on some personal issues and matters, I thought I would achieve clarity about my path going forward. That hasn't happened.
 
Even today, part of me wants to throw in the towel. Stop writing cold turkey. Read all the books I haven't read and watch all the movies I haven't watched. Leave social media. Downsize my Vast Accumulation of Stuff to as little as 10% of what I own. Work on being able to move to a smaller house in a hopefully progressive liberal community where I don't have to worry about some insane Trumper taking a shot at me. 
 
I've struggled with depression all my adult life. I know I'm far from alone in that, especially in these times of Covid-19 and domestic right-wing terrorism. We've lost so many good people and pets. We've seen treason supported by elected officials who took oaths that they would defend our country and Constitution. Even now, they work to destroy America and democracy. It's soul-crushing.
 
But...
 
I will write today. I will write tomorrow. And hope that there is light as the journey and the struggle continue.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

ARMY OF ONE (2020)

                                                         


Readers have asked me how I can watch, much less enjoy, some of the movies I write about here. They don’t understand how someone with my impeccable taste in comic books is so forgiving when discussing movies. I shall endeavor to explain.

I know how to write great comic books. I have written great comic books. To me, it’s not all that difficult. Which is why I shake my head in disbelief when writers write and publishers publish crappy comic books.

Movies are different. I think I could write a great movie, but, as I’ve never tried to write one, I don’t know that I can. Indeed, I’d more likely shoot for an entertaining movie or a fun movie than a great movie. Not that great movies can’t be entertaining or fun. I know they can. I simply don’t hold movies in the same regard or to the same standard that I hold comic books.

All I ask from a movie is that it entertains me for ninety minutes or two hours. It can have a silly plot or dialogue that falls flat or bad acting as long as those things are all good enough to give me that relaxing ninety minutes or two hours.

When I started in comics, many of my fellow writers wanted to get into movies or television. I just wanted to write the best comics I could write. That was my grail.

Great comics are my gold standard of entertainment. Movies are just there for fun. I don’t expect as much from them. This is reflected in the movies I watch and write about.

Army of One [2020] is not a great comic book. It’s not even a very good movie. But it was good enough for the ninety minutes it took to watch it. No more, no less. Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

Out hiking, Special Forces Brenner Baker stumbles onto a Cartel's compound. Her husband's killed and she's left for dead. The Cartel made two mistakes, killing her husband and leaving her alive. They won't live to make another.

That’s pretty much the entire movie in three sentences, but I will still throw up the usual warnings.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Actress (and one of four writers) Ellen Hollman is the best thing about this movie. What she lacks in the actual acting, she makes up for with her assortment of defiant faces, gritty determination and excellent fight scenes. There’s an extended one-shot fight scene that was filmed in one take after only an hour of preparation. That is impressive.

Hollman’s Brenner doesn’t face any moral quandaries as she takes out the bad people. Her foes are cold-blooded killers, conscience-less rapists, human traffickers, gunrunners and religious hypocrites. I make no claim of biblical scholarship, but I’m fairly confident Jesus would do none of those things.

Geraldine Singer plays Mama, the head of this crime organization, though she tries to portray her evil as somehow serving the Lord. Her assortment of henchmen all meet their expected and satisfying  ends at Brenner’s hands. On her part, Brenner only takes a hit when she’s betrayed or when she sacrifices herself to save someone else. Yes, she takes the law into her own hands, but I’m very comfortable calling her a hero.

My biggest disappointments are that Brenner fails on two occasions to protect women she’d promised to protect, that she fails to bring down Mama until a final scene that takes place several months after the main action and that she seemingly never remembers to tell the local sheriff that his dispatcher is working for Mama.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


The movie was written by Mary Ann Barnes (who was a staff writer on Last Man Standing), David Dittlinger, Stephen Durham (who also directed) and Hollman. I watched it on Amazon Prime.

Do I recommend this movie? If you’re someone who likes movies with bad-ass women, definitely. Someday I want to write a comic book or maybe a movie featuring bad-ass women. If you like movies wherein villains are slaughtered thus putting less pressure on our justice system, you might enjoy it as well. Outside of those demographics, I won’t presume to say who else might enjoy it.

I’ll be back soon with more book, comic and movie reviews. I have other bloggy things in the works as well.

Thanks for visiting today. Stay safe and sane and be excellent to your fellow humans who aren’t cold-blooded killers, conscience-less rapists, human traffickers, gunrunners or religious hypocrites. It is okay to have standards.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

COMICS STUFF

                                                                                  


I started writing this bloggy things several months ago. My review columns are often what I call “modular” columns. I add to them as time permits. In this case, it’s taken me until now to get back to the three reviews I had already written and add another review to the mix. Here we go...

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Trips [Marvel; $39.99] collects over 400 pages of stories featuring the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Modok is a character I like a lot. However, reading stories I hadn’t read before and re-reading the earlier Modok tales, I came to realize I like the visual of the character more than most of what’s been done with him.

The original Lee/Kirby stories from the Captain America series in Tales of Suspense are terrific, as is most of what came from that most talented of creative teams. After that, the Modok tales just don’t have that zing. They are readable, even entertaining in some cases, but they don’t live up the character’s awesome visual.

Super-Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 #1-5 is an exceedingly odd but interesting caper/heist adventure. Modok is the Danny Ocean of the series with various super-villains filling out the roster. Lots of twists and turns along the way. Modok is no Frank Sinatra or, if you prefer, George Clooney, but I was amused.

Better and more insane was M.O.D.O.K.: Assassin #1-5, which takes place in one of those Marvel crossover events that make no damned sense. That said, the Modok in this series was fun in a murderous sort of way. When he falls hard for a female Thor, hilarity, albeit  murderous hilarity, ensues.

I read this trade paperback via my local library, which is probably the most budget-conscious way to read it. Amazon currently has it at 34% off; you might find similar bargains elsewhere online.

ISBN 978-1302920746

                                                                                



Courtesy of my local library system, I read Green Lantern: Legacy [DC Kids; $9.99] by Minh Lê with illustrator Andie Tong, colorist Sarah Stern and letterer Ariana Maher, Editors are Jim Chadwick and Lauren Bison. The target readership for the DC Kids graphic novels is 8-12 years.

Here’s the back cover skinny on this book:

Thirteen-year-old Tai Pham lives in the apartment above his grandmother's store, where his bedroom is crammed with sketchpads and comic books. But not even his most imaginative drawings could compare to the colorful adventure he's about to embark on.

When Tai inherits his grandmother's jade ring, he soon finds out it's more than just a piece of jewelry. Suddenly he's inducted into a group of space cops known as the Green Lanterns. He is about to learn that being a superhero takes more than just a ring. Does Tai have the willpower and the imagination to uphold his ba's legacy.


There’s a lot I like about Green Lantern: Legacy. It’s not part of  whatever is currently passing for the real DC Universe in current DC comic books. Tai is a likeable if somewhat headstrong youngster.His grandmother is a very interesting character. We even see some familiar Green Lanterns in a story that is well-written and well-drawn. I don’t think it’s an award-winner, but it’s a fine way to spend a couple hours.

ISBN 978-1-4012-8355-1

                                                                                


After reading Doomsday Clock Part 2 [DC Comics; $24.99] by Geoff Johns with artist Gary Frank, colorist Brad Anderson, letterer Rob Leigh and original editor Brian Cunningham, I gripped that handsome hardcover in my hands and asked myself “What the heck happened in this series?” I was lost.

The writing was first-rate and the art even more so. I thought the final issue of the series was one of the best Superman tributes I had ever read. But, somewhere along the way, I lost the thread of what was surely meant to be an epic tale. I have no clue as to how it fits into the current DC Universe continuity or even if it does fit into that continuity. I am lost.

Somewhere down the line, possibly when all the issues of Doomsday Clock are collected into a single volume, I’ll reread this series in a single sitting. I’m hoping I’ll grasp what I’m missing at this time. Because I really want to love this story.

ISBN 978-1-77950-118-9

                                                                                   


I was a fan of Frank Robbins from his first Batman stories for DC Comics. When he started drawing some of those stories, I became a bigger fan. When the sorely missed Menomonee Falls Gazette started running his Johnny Hazard newspaper strips, well, I couldn’t have been happier. Until...

I actually got to work with Frank Robbins. I was very instrumental in his coming to Marvel Comics. We worked together on Ghost Rider and Captain America. To this day, he’s one of my favorite artistic collaborators. He’s a giant to me.

And today, published by Hermes Press, we have these great hardcover collections of Johnny Hazard. I just finished Johnny Hazard The Newspaper Dailies Volume Six: 1952-1954 [$50]. Reproduced entirely from original King Features press proofs, this volume contains a half-dozen exciting stories.

Hazard rarely gets any time off. Just as he finishes one adventure, the next begins. We start with Countess Destina, who claims to be nearly 500 years old and who has mentally enslaved a young English lord. From there, we get a scheme to steal the crown jewels before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation...an assassin targeting a young lad who took his photo by accident...French pearl smugglers who frame Johnny...a scam involving forged paintings...and an exciting Roman holiday that turns very dangerous. Our boy Hazard has the stamina of a Superman.

If you have not already discovered Johnny Hazard, you should make that a 2021 priority. The volumes aren’t cheap, but I’ve been able to read them through my local library system. You might be able to do the same, Highly and incredibly recommended.

ISBN978-1-61345-138-0

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Friday, January 8, 2021

BOOK TALK

                                                                              


Wonton Terror: A Noodle Shop Mystery by Vivien Chien [St. Martin's Paperbacks; $7.99] is the fourth novel in the series. There are a couple of things I’ve learned from reading this books. Lana Lee, the manager of the Ho-Lee Noodle Shop, has never met a murder she didn’t want to investigate, even though her investigations are sure to put her in mortal jeopardy. That’s the first thing. The second is that not even murder stops Cleveland’s Asian Market from whatever events the business community has planned.

In this book, the Asian Night Market starts with a bang as Wonton on Wheels explodes, killing its owner. Lana and her chef Peter are not seriously injured, but Lana is determined to uncover who killed the competition and why. Naturally, this concerns Detective Adam Trudeau, but, to his credit, the man is accepting this is part of the woman he loves.

In addition to the murder mystery, we get some Lee family drama as Lana’s aunt comes to visit. Her mom and her aunt have been picking at one another all their lives. It almost makes risking one’s life seem like the safer option.

Wonton Terror is an enjoyable read. I’m wondering how long it will take for some television studio to realize these books would make a great series.

ISBN 976-1-250-22834-5

                                                                            



Harry Bliss is one of my favorite cartoonists. I get a kick out of his covers and interior cartoons for The New Yorker and his single-panel syndicated feature “Bliss.” That he is a comic-book fan just adds to my delight. In fact...

SIDEBAR. Bliss is the only New Yorker cartoonist who’s ever showed up in one of my dreams. We were chatting at some convention. He looked like he had drawn himself. I looked like Sergio Aragones had drawn me. Bliss asked me to write a weekly panel called “Bliss’s Heroes” in which he would draw his favorite comics characters and I would write gags for his drawings. END OF SIDEBAR.

Bliss does have a well-known collaborator who many consider to be even more hilarious than myself. I didn’t know this until I read A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection by Harry Bliss and Steve Martin [Celadon Books; $28]. The 272-page hardcover contains lots of cartoons by the delightful duo.

The way this team-up works is that sometimes Bliss draws a cartoon for Martin to write and sometimes Martin dreams up with a cartoon for Bliss to draw. Some of the cartoons are dryly humorous and some are laugh out loud hilarious. It’s a nice mix of cartoons and short strips with a wonderful cover design by Chip Kidd. I read about 20 gags a day and it was always a nice break for the insane pandemic and political world in which we live.

Bliss is a treasure and I recommend this book highly. And, should he see this review and he’s not repulsed by working with a writer who looks like a Sergio Aragones drawing, I’d be absolutely up for working on that comics character feature with him.

ISBN 978-1-250-26289-9

                                                                                  


I have mixed feelings about Personal Pronouns, a 2017 mystery novel by Ohio author David Allen Edmonds [Snowbelt Publishing; $15.99]. Protagonist Joe Lehrer, a German high school teacher grieving the horrific death of his wife in a auto accident, is very interesting as he wrestles with that grief, his return to the classroom and an insane plot involving sinister school board members, prostitution, various political plots and too many murders to be believable for this reader.

Lehrer strives to be moral, but he is sorely tested by the madness of the plot unfolding before him. He is the high point of the book. The writing itself is inconsistent, though I give Edmonds props for two truly chilling scenes. In the first, Lehrer recounts the death of his wife before his very eyes. It’s gut-wrenching.

In the second, he and a woman he is becoming involved with, return to her home to find all her furniture has been rearranged. That’s a creepy and unusual intimidation technique. Edmonds makes what is happening clearer when she walks into her bedroom to find all her family photos and such slashed and laid out on the floor.

The more I read, the less I cared for this book. The crimes seemed unlikely and the reasons for them even more so. Nor did it end on a satisfying note. It came off like the first half of a book. Given there’s a sequel, that may well have been what Edmonds planned from the start.

I’ll read the sequel, hoping for a more satisfying conclusion, but I can’t really recommend this novel.

ISBN 9780998546605
                                                                                    

Julián Is a Mermaid [Candlewick; $16.99] is a charming kids book by illustrator and stage actress Jessica Love. This is her first book. Here’s a summary:

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

Recommended for ages 4-8, this book will likely be a hard sell for conservative schools and libraries because it is such a wonderful celebration of acceptance. They should get over their close-minded ways. Maybe putting this book on their shelves will make them more open to the changing world around them. This is an award-deserving work and I recommended it without reservation.

ISBN 978-0-7636-9045-8

******************************
While I’m working on several more involved bloggy things, I’ll be bringing you all sorts of reviews. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

If you want to comment on these bloggy things, which I would love for you to do, be aware that all comments have to be approved by me before they post. I do my best to get to them as soon as possible, but don’t be concerned if your comment doesn’t appear right away.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.
 
© 2021 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2020: Part Three



I’m continuing my reviews of 2020's Free Comic Book Day giveaways. Every year, my pals at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey send those FCBD comics to me so I can read and write about them in the bloggy. Only twice have I actually reached my goal of reading and writing about all the FCBD comics available in one year. Maybe this year is a year in which I three-peat that achievement. I think I can do it, but it’ll likely take me until sometime in early 2021 to complete this particular mission.

When I read and review FCBD comics, I look at three areas.

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want and be able to buy more of the same?

I score FCBD offerings on a scale of zero to ten. Each category is worth three points with the tenth point coming from my interest in seeing more of what’s ever in the book.

First up is The Boys #1 [Dynamite]. It reprints the first issue of the long-running series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, which led to the popular TV series on Amazon Prime.

QUALITY: Top-notch. This series is as grim and gory as it gets, but it’s brilliantly written and drawn. Ennis and Robertson are among the finest comics creators of our time.

ACCESSIBILITY: Since this giveaway is essentially a first issue, a new reader can get into the series from the start. That new reader won’t learn everything about the world of The Boys, but they will be intrigued by what’s here.

SALESMANSHIP: The best I’ve seen this year to day. There are lots of Boys-centric or Ennis-centric house ads, including a double-page spread that shows the covers (comic and photo) of all the trades. There’s also a checklist of Dynamite’s Ennis-written titles. Just the thing to hook anyone who loves this first taste.

SCORE: Ten points out of a possible ten points. This is a standard to which other FCBD giveaways should aspire.

                                                                                 



Canuck Beyond and Captain Battle [Chapterhouse] features ten pages of the former, ten pages of the latter and a three-page interlude of Captain Canuck. I confess I winced when I saw this in the FCBD pile. I’ve never been a big fan of Captain Canuck, feeling that the seemingly countless reboots of the character made the history more trouble than it was worth. However, that said, I’d love to see good modern adaptations of the various super-heroes and other characters from the “Canadian whites” of olde.

QUALITY: Mediocre. None of the excerpts were engaging in writing or art. The franchise needs an experienced editorial hand, which would probably mean yet another reboot.

ACCESSIBILITY: Adequate. There’s some hard to read “what has gone before” copy on the inside front cover. It was enough information that I wasn’t entirely lost.

SALESMANSHIP: Surprisingly good. There are house ads for a variety of Charterhouse publications.

SCORE: Four points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                                 


Critical Role Vox Machina Origins [Dark Horse] also features Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Going into this comic, I’m not sure what Critical Role is. Role-playing game? Video game? Animated series? On the other hand, Norse Mythology is clearly an anthology comic with this first story adapted by P. Craig Russell. Each excerpt is ten pages long.

QUALITY: The “Vox Machina” excerpt is dull stuff centered around a group of tavern patrons exchanging tales of gods and/or heroes that may or may not be true. The “Norse Mythology” excerpt is your basic mythological creation tale, adapted beautifully from the original prose novel.

ACCESSIBILITY: Not good for “Vox Machina” and excellent for “Norse Mythology.”

SALESMANSHIP: As good as it gets. There are a lot of house ads for a lot of Dark Horse comics and products.

SCORE: Six points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                             


Dark Ark: Instinct [AfterShock Comics] features a 16-page story by Cullen Bunn (creator/writer) and Antonio Fuso (artist), backed up by a five-page preview of Sympathy for No Devils by Brandon Thomas and Lee Furguson.

QUALITY: Not great, not bad. “Instinct” is a stand-alone story that didn’t offer much in the way of background. “Sympathy” introduces Winston Willis, who seems to be a private eye of some sort with an uncanny knack for not dying when things go south as they apparently always do with him. No background here either.

ACCESSIBILITY: Poor. Which it didn’t have to be. If AfterShock had not gone all design-y with the inside front cover, there would’ve been ample room for a “what has gone before” on Dark Ark. Dropping one of the issue’s not very effective house ads would have allowed the same for “Sympathy.”

SALESMANSHIP: Good, but not good enough. Plenty of house ads, but none that really offered decent information on the comics they were selling. Plus house ads devoted to telling the reader how wondrous
various creators and titles were without offering any information on the titles.

SCORE: Four points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                             


Brandon Sanderson’s Dark One #0 [Vault Comics] features the first 32 pages of a modern fantasy series created by and with a story by the Hugo-winning, New York Times bestselling author. It’s written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly with art by Nathan Gooden and colors by Kurt Michael Russell. Fantasy has never been a favorite genre of mine, but the modern real-world elements of this and its intriguing characters hooked me.

QUALITY: The story, the writing and the art are all first-rate. One of the better FCBD issues I’ve read this year.

ACCESSIBILITY: Though this opening issue doesn’t answer a lot of my questions, there’s more than enough here to get me into the story and keep me there.

SALESMANSHIP: This issue is a come-on to the hardcover and original graphic novel. It’s a limited focus but it succeeds.

SCORE: Ten points out of a possible ten points.

Look for more Free Comic Book Day comments in the near future as I see if I can cover all the issues before the next Free Comic Book Day. Place your bets now.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Sunday, January 3, 2021

THINGS THAT MADE ME HAPPY IN DECEMBER

 

If you are reading this bloggy thing, it means that, against all odds, I survived 2020. I didn’t get Covid. I didn’t get gunned down by radical right-wing extremists. I had the worst financial year of my comics career, but did manage to pay bills without having to go going to loan sharks named Big Augie and using some of my favorite body parts as collateral. On the minus side...


The callousness, criminality, incompetence and insanity of Donald Trump and his Republican Party put our country and our democracy at risk to an extent I never thought I’d see in my life. We have lost hundreds of thousands of American citizens. We have seen crushing hardship inflicted on people and small businesses. We’re witnessing an actual attempt to overthrow the will of the people who voted to
replace Trump with Joe Biden. It’s scary.

Our country and our world did not magically get better when we hit midnight on new Year's Eve. We have a lot of work ahead of us and way too many Americans see no value in that work.

On a personal note, I have no idea if I will be able to attend any conventions in 2021 or hold my summer garage sale. I have no idea if I’ll be able to make decent money as I enter my 49th year in the
comics industry. All I can do is hope for the best and keep working on books and comics and other projects. I know I’ll have good days and bad days.

I also know that every day, one way or another, I’ll find something that will bring me joy. Here are the things that made me happy in December...

December 1: Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3 and Jamal Igle. What if only Black people had superpowers? I finally got around to reading the first trade paperback in this intriguing series. I am 100% on board for future books.

December 2: Life Under Kaiju #1 by Johnny Craft and Edgardo Granel-Ruiz. A promising start to this series about a world destroyed by giant monsters. Some rough edges, but I hope to see future issues.
                                                                                



December 3: Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi. I’m rereading this tale of a struggling college student and the widowed manager of his apartment in the Viz Signature editions. It’s as heartwarming and hilarious as I remember. Highly recommended.

December 4: Pearle Vision in the Medina Shopping Center. They were incredibly helpful in ordering my new glasses. Because they looked for every way to save me money, I was also able to order prescription sunglasses, something I’ve long wanted.

December 5: I tested negative for the Trump Virus, also known as the coronavirus. I tested positive for being a really swell fellow. I tested inconclusive for whether I’ll ever write Black Lightning again. I suppose two out of three ain’t bad.
                                                                                

December 6: Commanders in Crisis by Steve Orlando and artist Davide Tinto. Universe-destroying epics are not my thing, but I absolutely love the concept of super-presidents from destroyed parallel worlds teaming up to save their new universe.

December 7: The Steak 'n Shake in nearby Brunswick has reopened for take-out. We got lunch there yesterday. Maybe it was absence making our hearts grow fonder, but Barb and I really enjoyed our burgers and fries. Best of luck to the new management.

December 8: Trevor Noah and Method Man talking about Marvel Comics on the December 7 edition of The Daily Show. They even kind of sort of collaborated on a new super-hero (or super-villain) character.
                                                                                


December 9: The Holiday Heroes subscription box from World’s Finest The Collection is the best box ever. I’m already wearing the cool Green Arrow hoodie and every other item in the box is wonderful as well.
                                                                                  

December 10: Marvel Comics sent me a copy of Marvel Masterworks: Ghost Rider Volume 2. It has a new introduction by me and reprints all my Ghost Rider tales plus some by Bill Mantlo and Marv Wolfman. I got a kick out of it and I think you will do.

December 11: Devil’s Highway by Benjamin Percy and Brent Schoonover is a chilling revenge thriller. My only quibble is that the fifth and final issue could have used more pages. But I still recommend the series and look forward to the follow-up.
                                                                              

December 12: RetroFan #10. David F. Walker’s article on Shaft makes me want to read/watch all things Shaft in 2021. Plus great articles on Kathy Garver, cartoon preview specials, “Big Daddy” Roth and so much more. One of my favorite magazines.

December 13: Being informed of a 2019 interview with Marvin Jones III - Tobias Whale on Black Lightning - in which he says all kinds of nice things about me.
                                                                                  


December 14: When a Black family in Arkansas received an anonymous racist letter about their Black Santa inflatable, their neighbors showed their support for the family with Black Santa inflatables on their own lawns.
                                                                            

December 15: In Killer Kung Pao, Vivien Chien’s newest Noddle Shop mystery, amateur detective Lana and her detective boyfriend relax by binge-watching Supernatural. This put a smile on my face, even though I’m unlikely to ever find the time to follow suit.

December 16: DC Comics Cover Art is a nice gathering of 350 mostly great covers from the publisher’s long history. Not every cover is one I’d have chosen, but the hardcover book still delivered big fun and historical value.

December 17: Received a “makes my day” e-mail from a fan wanting to know what they could do to convince comics publishers to hire me. If I knew that, I’d be doing it. But I appreciate the affirmation and will give it further thought once we’re through the holidays.

December 18: My CBPA (Comic Book Professional Association) set of mini-screwdrivers from who knows what decade. I use it every week, most recently replacing batteries in our vast collection of musical snowmen.
                                                                             


December 19: The Prom. What a great night at the home-theatre with this schmaltzy Broadway musical starring Meryl Streep and James Corden. It gave me laughs and feels and tears with wondrous multi-character redemption tales. Realistic? No. But wouldn’t it terrific if our world was more like this?

December 20: Saturday Night Live’s Alex Moffat takes over the role of Joe Biden. I liked his slightly lower key impression better than Jim Carrey’s. Carrey brought too much Carrey to his performances.

December 21: Saintly Wife Barb and our kids gave me a new chair for my office. My old one was literally flaking apart. The first thing I wrote while sitting in it was a bloggy thing.
                                                                                  

December 22: Directed by Emma Jean Sutherland, SyFy’s Letters to Satan Claus was a delightfully twisted Christmas movie. Sort of the anti-Hallmark Christmas movie, but with delicious humor and a warm gooey ending. I loved it!

December 23: Barb and I saw my mother for the first time in months, albeit through a window and talking on cell phones. We went to her senior apartment building and brought her some Christmas presents. Mom looked good and, given these pandemic times, as happy as anyone could expect.

December 24: Comic Book Creator #24. Great interviews with Timothy Truman, Scott Shaw and Janice Chiang plus a great short article by Rich Arndt on Covid-19 chaos in school libraries.
                                                                                      

December 25: Wonder Woman 1984. It wasn’t as tight as the first, but it still ranks as one of my favorite recent DC comics movies.I would love to see more DC movies like it.

December 26: A wonderful Christmas with just Saintly Wife Barb, Ed and Kelly. Great meals. Terrific presents all around. Watching the new Wonder Woman movie. A safe and sane celebration.

December 27: Beware Terror Tales Volume 2 [PS Artbooks]. The tales in issues #5-8 of this 1950s Fawcett series aren’t classic, but they are fun. Also included: a faithful adaptation of the movie The Man From Planet X with nice art by Kurt Schaffenberger.
                                                                             


December 28: Paying the Land by Joe Sacco, comics anthropologist, historian, political commentator. His works are not easy reads, but he tells his tales with frightening detail and blinding truths. I came away from this one a whole lot smarter...and angry over North America’s history of injustice.   

December 29: Two publishers are doing black-and-white mags (Creeps, Eyrie, Vampiress Carmilla) aping the look of the old Warren titles. Some are angered by the homages. I get a nostalgic buzz from them. They ain’t classics, just fun. Sometimes that’s enough.

December 30: My ancient vibrating back massage pad, which attaches to my desk chair, is still working. I need to replace it, but, for now, when I’m experiencing some nasty back pain, I’m thrilled it’s hanging in there.

December 31: It’s the last day of the damnable clusterfuck that was 2020. I know there are still grave challenges ahead, but I’ve never in my life been so ready to be done with a year.

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If I were going to make New Year resolutions, one of them would be to bring you more bloggy things than I did in 2020. I’ll definitely do my best.

Here’s wishing you a happy and safe and successful new year. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2020 Tony Isabella



Sunday, December 27, 2020

PANDEMIC MOVIE MARATHON

 

PANDEMIC MOVIE MARATHON

I wasn’t feeling exactly old as I drew closer to my 69th birthday, but I was feeling somewhat off my game. Which is why I watched five movies between Friday, December 18, and Monday, December 21. There was no prior planning beyond wanting to watch the two new Christmas horror movies debuting on the SyFy channel. All other choices were made by simply surfing Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Max.

First up was The Prom [2020] on Netflix. Directed by Ryan Murphy, Adapting the Broadway musical written by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin and Matthew Sklar from an original concept by Jack Viertel - Martin and Beguelin wrote the screenplay - it stars Meryl Streep and James Corden. Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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This was outlandish in the best possible ways. Streep and Corden play the self-obsession broadly and it works, leaving no doubt as to why their popularity has tanked. Chorus girl Nicole Kidman and failed actor Andrew Rannells aren’t as famous, but they complement the quartet’s bigger stars.  

Jo Ellen Pellman’s small-town lesbian got my heart from her first scene, playing tough and wounded with equal skill. Ariana DeBose as Pellman’s deeply closeted girlfriend also tugs at the feels. Kerry Washington plays DeBose’s mother, a bigoted wolf in PTA clothing. Filling out the main cast is Keegan-Michael Key, the principal of the high school and a man who believes in the magic of the theater.

My regular readers know I’m a sucker for redemption stories. This movie has them by the fistful. The theater stars discover empathy they didn’t know they had. Bullying high school students figure out their actions are hurtful. There is even a surprise reunion for one of the stars.

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The characters are wonderful. The music is often corny, but never wrong for the scenes. The ending is utterly satisfying, no sequel necessary. If you’re looking for a movie that, despite some harsh scenes, will leave you smiling at its conclusion, The Prom is well worth viewing. I recommend it.

                                                                            



Toys of Terror [2020] was the first of the two new Christmas horror films that made their debuts on the SyFy Channel. Written by Dana Gould, whose writing credits include episodes of The Simpsons and who also works as an actor, the movie was directed by Nicholas Verso. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Just before Christmas, young Zoe, her brother Franklin and their family move into a secluded mansion with a dark past. While the adults focus on renovating the place, the bored kids find a toy chest hidden in the attic, and are delighted when the toys inside magically come to life. But bizarre events soon begin to take place - events that threaten the family's lives. As the special day dawns with gifts piled under the tree, the body count rises and the blood starts to flow. This original "scary-tale" will have the kids screaming for the holidays!

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Hannah [Kyana Teresa] has dragged her challenged blended family to a secluded spooky mansion which her, husband David [Dayo Ade] and contractor Emmett [Ernie Pitts] are renovating with an eye towards selling it for big bucks. What she hasn’t told them is the mansion used to be a children’s hospital where a grieving mother murdered all the kids. The rest of the seven-character cast: Hannah’s kids Franklin and Zoey, David’s grumpy older daughter Alicia, and nanny Rose [Georgia Waters]. Unless you count the previous hospital murders and the evil toys, the body count is low and predictable. That said, the movie has some scary moments.

The older actors are all at least okay in their roles. Teresa does a good job playing the mayor of Amity. Alicia [Verity Marks] shows  believable teen angst and genuine moxie. Waters is the stand-out of this cast with her character’s sympathetic back story and her brave but haunted demeanor.

The ending? It is heartwarming and satisfying. No last minute “Boo! The toys are still alive!” Just an unexpectedly nice conclusion for one of the characters.

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This isn’t a movie for multiple viewings, but it’s definitely worth watching once.

                                                                           


Anna and the Apocalypse [2017] came highly recommended. My friends weren’t wrong. It is an excellent film, except that it’s not a film I ever want to watch again. Here’s the IMDb summary:

A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.

The movie was directed by John McPhail. Based on a novel by Barry Walso, it was written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


Ella Hunt is wonderful as the title character, a rebellious young woman whose dad [Mark Benton] is the custodian of her high school. The school’s authoritarian and fussy headmaster is played by Paul Kaye. Nice acting all around.

Anna’s fellow students are best-friend-who-wants-to-be-more John [Malcolm Cumming]; Chris [Christopher Leveaux] and Lisa [Marli Siu], who are boyfriend and girlfriend; activist and lesbian Steph [Sarah Swire]; and Anna’s rough-around-the-edges one-nighter Nick [Ben Wiggins]. More good performances.

The musical numbers are fun, even after Anna’s oblivious song-and-dance as zombies start slaughtering her neighbors. But things get depressingly serious. After a time, I can’t even really call this movie a dark comedy. It’s just dark.

John sacrifices himself to save the others. We last see him sitting against a wall and looking at a phone photo of Anna before he drops the phone and loses every last trace of his humanity. We get almost the same scene before Anna’s dad loses himself.

While we get some “relief” of sorts that Chris’ grandmother dies of natural causes before being killed by a zombie, the transformations of Chris and Lisa are heartbreaking. They touch hands for a moment before shambling off in opposite directions. Like all of the other zombies, what they were is gone forever.

Anna, Nick and Steph escape, but there’s no indication of any safe place anywhere. It’s a logical conclusion, but it’s not an ending that lifts my spirits in any way. This is simply not the movie that I wanted to see the night I watched it.

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Zombies have never been one of my go-to entertainments. If I were to count the zombie comics or movies I’ve enjoyed on one hand, I would not get to my thumb. I’m sure many, perhaps most, of you will like this movie. Mileage varies.

                                                                             


Superintelligence [2020] stars Melissa McCarthy, James Corden and Bobby Cannavale, all of whom are excellent therein. It’s directed by Ben Falcone and written by Steve Mallory. The summary from the IMDb goes like this:

When an all-powerful Superintelligence chooses to study average Carol Peters, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. As the A.I. decides to enslave, save or destroy humanity, it's up to Carol to prove that people are worth saving.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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There’s not much to spoil about this pleasant movie. Corden voices the A.I. and he’s perfect for the role. While I can’t see its logic in characterizing McCarthy’s character as average, I was impressed by its manipulating all sorts of things to achieving the laboratory conditions it seeks. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I plan to take one of those ideas and change it slightly for a story I’m writing. Finally, Cannavale is fun as Carol’s romantic interest.

The government, scientists and computer geniuses tend to bungle a lot, but that’s because they are clearly outmatched by an A.I. that is playing a dozen moves ahead of them. All of the above are very likeable, which surprised me.

I was impressed by how the crisis was resolved. It was heartwarming and logical. I was also delighted by some of the guest voices that are heard in the movie.

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Superintelligence isn’t a bad way to spend 106 minutes. Sometimes, especially in the middle of a pandemic, you need to watch a movie that leaves you with a warm glow.

                                                                           


Letters to Satan Claus [2020] was the second new Christmas horror movie aired on the SyFy channel. I have praised it online as sort of the anti-Hallmark Hallmark holiday movie. Directed by Emma Jean Sutherland and written by Michael Zara, the movie stars Karen Knox as cynical reporter Holly Frost and a bunch of delightful character actors. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Holly returns to her hometown to make an Xmas special with a cameraman before promotion to TV anchorwoman. She'll have to face Satan Claus and horrible childhood memories of him.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
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When Holly was a child, she was a self-centered brat. When told her parents can’t afford the present she wants, she writes an angry letter to Santa asking for them to be gone. Except she misspells “Santa” as “Satan.” Whoops.

Satan dismembers her parents and wraps them as Christmas presents.That was not a great Christmas for Holly and older sister Cookie [Perrie Voss].

Years later, the adult Holly is still toxically self-centered. She is an unlikeable big city reporter who wants the anchor job. Which she can get if she does a sappy holiday broadcast from her hometown of Ornaments. Her cameraman is a typical handsome Hallmark single father with a daughter. Holly tries to bang him in the back of the newsvan. Holly is frequently horny.

When Holly impulsively sends a letter to Satan telling him to eff off, Satan decides to bring his special brand of holiday gore back to Ornaments. The body count is impressive.

Here’s the thing about this movie. It’s funny and gory, but never disgustingly over the top gory. It mocks Hallmark holiday movies, but it’s got its own warmth. It’s a redemption story, but doesn’t give us the usual Hallmark resolution for Holly. It also features a non-binary Satan and Santa, both played by Jana Peck. That’s not remotely a plot point. Just something I thought was cool.

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I absolutely love Letters to Satan Claus. It’s one of the best movies I have seen turning this pandemic. I recommend it to all. If it comes out on DVD, I’ll buy for future viewings.

That’s all for today’s somewhat lengthy bloggy thing. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2020 Tony Isabella