Monday, April 19, 2021

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE STRENGTH OF THE SUMO

 

 

Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1 [Marvel; $125] has been part of my morning routine for a couple weeks now. I read one story every day, glorious reminders of how exciting it was to be a Marvel Comics fan in the mid-1960s.

The Captain America solo strip, which launched in Tales of Suspense #59 [December, 1964], was different from most super-hero strips in that Cap didn’t have supporting characters. It was mostly all him, the most human of the Marvel super-heroes, battling criminals, evil organizations and heartbreaking memories of having his late World War II sidekick Bucky Barnes. The only comparatively lonely hero was Dr. Strange over in Strange Tales and even that master of the mystic arts had Wong.

Some readers complained about the lack of a supporting cast in the letters pages of Tales of Suspense, clearly favoring Iron Man with its Tony Stark/Pepper Potts/Happy Hogan romantic triangle. I loved both strips, but something about that breakneck Jack Kirby action art put me firmly on Team Cap.

Speaking of the letter columns, there are familiar names among the fans representative in those pages. Names like Margaret Gemignani, Pete Von Sholly, George Haganauer, Derrill Rothermich, Don McGregor and more. Like many Marvel fans, I made friends through the letters columns and fanzines of those bygone days.

Tales of Suspense #61's “The Strength of the Sumo” is a story that caught my attention when I reread it. Captain America goes to Viet Nam to rescue an American helicopter pilot taken prisoner by the Communist forces. The pilot’s brother rescued Cap during World War II and Cap is looking to repay that debt.

Many comics tales featuring Communist villains are problematic when viewed through modern sensibilities. When Cap defeats a couple of muscular soldiers, their major bemoans that Cap “has caused him to lose face” before sending Cap off to face the general holding the pilot prisoner.

The general turns out to be a giant sumo wrestler, who enters the store behind a parade of masked dancers that would have done Cecil B. Demille proud. I didn’t get that reference in 1964 and I doubt any readers under the age of 50 would get it today.

The fight between Cap and the Sumo is outlandish and enormous fun. Cap maneuvers his opponent into dropping a statue on himself, but since we’re just panels away from the end of this story, all we see are big chunks of rocks behind the escaping Avenger. Cap and the rescued pilot steal the general’s small private jet, which the Sumo could not possibly have fit into, and fly to safety.

What makes this story special? The helicopter pilot is a black man. Sure, because of the coloring of that time, he does look more like a grey man, but this is still a pretty neat thing and an example of how Marvel was starting to make their comics more diverse.

What makes this story even more special? The pilot’s race is never mentioned. Not once. That he’s black is not key to the adventure. He just is. Good on Stan and Jack.

Looking at the story through my 2021 eyes, I do see some timeline problems. Given that it takes place two decades after World War II, the pilot would have more likely been the son of the man who saved Captain America.
 

If I ever wrote Captain America again, it would be tempting to use the helicopter pilot in a story. But I wouldn’t. The Viet Nam war was half a century ago and bringing it into a modern-day tale would be jarring. I don’t want to remind readers that, if you go by the dates these stories were originally published, Cap has been out of the ice block three times longer than he was in it. That is a detail better glossed over.

Two months after “The Strength of the Sumo” was published, Captain America’s series went in a new direction. Starting with a retelling of his origin, World War II would be the setting for his stories. Some tales would be retellings of stories originally published in the 1940a. Sidekick Bucky Barnes would be in most of these wartime adventures. Amusingly, issue #68's “The Sentinel and the Spy!” had Cap charged with recovering a stolen secret super-weapon, a secret weapon that seemingly every one, including rank-and-file American soldiers, knew about. Loose lips...

The World War II tales would run through issue #71. Jack Kirby did the layouts for the three-part finale with finishes by Dick Ayers,  George Tuska. Joe Sinnott inked Tuska’s second outing and, as you would expect, the combination looked great.

When Cap’s series switched back to the then-modern era, it was with a multi-issue story that excited me as a youngster. Indeed, had I been allowed to write more than a handful issues of Captain America in the 1970s, I would have done a sequel to it.

Alas, you’ll have to wait to learn about my planned contribution to the “Sleepers Saga” until I do another bloggy thing on the wonders to be found in Captain America Omnibus #1. I’ll try to make that happen before the end of the month. In the meantime, stay safe and sane. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Sunday, April 18, 2021

WATCHING AND WAITING

 

 

Perhaps there’s some minuscule bit of truth to the charge I watch too much TV and too many movies. On the other hand, these are not just part of my life but of the lives of a majority of my readers.Finding a balance between watching and writing is always difficult. However, by writing about what I watch, I combine these interests and claim my cable bill and my Bluray/DVD purchases as legitimate business expenses. Right, IRS?

Marvel Studios just keeps knocking it out of the park. My son Eddie and I have been getting together every Friday to watch The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, just as we did with WandaVision. The six-episode Falcon/Winter Soldier series is as amazing as WandaVision, albeit in a more down to earth manner. Five episodes in, we eagerly await the conclusion. I’ll be devoting a full blog to the series, but, for now, I want to talk about one aspect of it, an element I wish future Marvel productions would devote more time to.

Half the Earth’s population and heroes disappeared between the end of Avengers: Infinity War and the climatic epic battle in Avengers: Endgame. They disappeared for five years, a period that came to be known as the Blip. The planet, its nations and its people moved on from their incredible loss. The planet, its nations and its people were changed by that event and the welcome but challenging return of those thought gone forever. 

Gosh darn it, I want to see stories of those five years and of the new world the missing people returned to. Such an incredible event needs to be chronicled. I would love to see Marvel Comics address these years and their aftermath in a new imprint featuring comics stories from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which, to me, is a no-brainer. The MCU is more relatable than the increasingly convoluted standard Marvel comics universe. I’d love to read those MCU tales. I’d love to write some of them.

I’ve been told such an imprint is something Marvel Comics isn’t at all interested in doing. That’s a shame. But, at least, we have a great many Marvel Studios projects to look forward to.

Loki is next up, making its Disney+ debut on June 11. The premise as reported on Wikipedia is:

After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Loki is brought to the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA) organization and their Time-Keepers, and is forced to fix several timelines he broke, while traveling through time altering human history, ending up trapped in his own crime thriller.

With the terrific Tom Hiddleston reprising his role as Loki, this looks to be an exciting and wacky series. Like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, there will be six episodes released one per week. Clear my Fridays.

                                                                                   



When I was ranking the DC/CW shows last season, Batwoman got third place after Black Lightning and Stargirl. It had a gritty feel not unlike Black Lightning and Gotham. The story of Kate Kane [played by Ruby Rose] was compelling. The fascist nature of the Crows was a nice commentary on police excess. The supporting cast was great. But that was last season.

Rose chose not to return to Batwoman for the second season. Which left the series without its lead, even though every since story line derived from Kate Kane. The logical path forward would have been to recast Kate Kane. Logic is hard to come by.

Ryan Wilder, innocent felon on parole living out of her van, became the new Batwoman when she recovered Kane’s gear from the wreckage of an airplane. Actress Javicia Leslie has done an amazing job in the role, but the plotting of the series has gone down in flames as hot as those in the plane wreckage. 

The convoluted manner in which Batwoman has connected the Kate Kane storylines to Wilder is painful to view. Crazed sister Alice/Beth Kane [Rachel Skarsten] flays around the series like an angry bird. Existing characters do the same. Incredibly boring new characters  like Safiyah, Enigma and Angelique rose to prominence in desperate attempts to plug holes in the leaking dam that is Batwoman. And, as good as Leslie and returning players Meagan Tandy, Nicole Kang, Camrus Johnson and Dougray Scott are...along with Leslie, they are why I’m still watching the show...they can’t stop the flood.

The addition of Black Mask is a decent move. He’s been a dangerous force in the Batman comic books and has the potential to move the series beyond Kate Kane’s stories. Except...


SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


...Kate Kane is still alive. Disfigured in the plane crash, given a new face and brainwashed into being the enemy of all she used to fight for, Kate is alive and will be played by Wallis Day, formerly quite good in the short-lived Krypton series on the Syfy channel.Wilder will continue as Batwoman for the foreseeable future. 

Understand this, I love Leslie as Batwoman/Ryan Wilder. I like that a gay person of color from a challenging background is continuing that legacy, this from a guy who would much rather see characters of color and gay characters in original super-hero roles instead of becoming existing super-heroes. But there were all sorts of way to have Wilder become Batwoman without this new Kate Kane development. A disabled Kate could’ve become an inspiring character and another kind of role model in the series. Instead, we get cheesy melodrama. I’m officially on the fence re: Batwoman.

However, if Batwoman wants to get back in my good graces, and I’m assuming nothing is more important to them, they could always give radio talk show host Vesper Fairchild [Rachel Maddow] some actual screen time. Nothing major, just an occasional appearance. I think that would be great fun.

The response to these “watching” columns have been very good, so I plan to continue them. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Saturday, April 17, 2021

GODZILLA VS. KONG

 

 

My son Ed and I saw Godzilla vs. Kong at the Cinemark Strongsville at Southpark Mall, less than a half-hour from Medina. This was the first time I went to a actual movie theatre in over a year. I’ll be talking about that after my review of the eagerly and long-awaited battle between arguably the two greatest monsters in movie history. In case you’re wondering, I was on Team Godzilla.

Directed by Adam Wingard, the movie ran just under two hours. Story credit goes to Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields and the screenplay was by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein. Some films need more than one writer, but this one wasn’t one of those. After all, there’s only so much room on the Academy Awards stage. Which isn’t really a concern in this particular case. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but it’s not Oscar material.

One of the things Godzilla vs Kong has going for it is its monster battle effects are better and more clear than in previous Legendary creature features. Another is that there is actual winner in that Godzilla/Kong match-up leading to a satisfying conclusion whoever you were rooting for. A third thing going for it is that there are some good performances from the human cast members.

The Internet Movie Database summary: The epic next chapter in the cinematic Monsterverse pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another - the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong - with humanity caught in the balance.


MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
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MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
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MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD


The movie opens with Kong on Skull Island, but he’s really living in a small part of the island that’s covered by a giant dome. The island is on its last legs. Kong is monitored by Monarch. He has a young friend in Jia [Kaylee Hottle], the last member of the island people. Jia is deaf and communicates with Kong thru sign language. Kong is quite fluent in this, but only Jia knows it. The great ape asked Jia not to reveal this to anyone else, including her adoptive mother and Kong expert Ilene Andrews [Rebecca Hall]. The nine-year-old Hottle, who is deaf and comes from an all-deaf family, gives an outstanding performance. I’m hoping I get to meet her at Pensacon in Pensacola this May.

Speaking of Pensacola, that’s where Godzilla makes his appearance. He attacks the Apex Cybernetics compound. Because he senses Apex is trying to replace him. Godzilla reacts instinctively when he thinks anything is challenging his position as the most alpha creature on the planet. I’m not going to give you a scene-by-scene recounting of the movie, but I’ll mention those scenes that have a key bearing  on the events taking place.

More characters are introduced. Some are cliches. Some are silly. Some are good characters not given enough screen time. The afore-mentioned Hall is excellent. She realizes Godzilla will come after Kong as soon as the big lizard senses Kong.

Alexander Skarsgård as Monarch geologist Nathan Lind has multiple levels. He lost his brother when Monarch attempted to reach “Hollow  Earth,” the supposed birthplace of the Alphas. He’s been ridiculed for believing Hollow Earth exists and for writing a non-bestselling book about it. He’s often fearful, but always steps up when people are counting on him.

The villains are the main cliches. Walter Simmons [Demián Bichir] owner of Apex, is determined to prove he’s Godzilla superior, even if he must accomplish this via a Mecha-Godzilla constructed in part from the remains of Ghidorah. His daughter Mia [Eiza González] just plain worships her father, will do whatever he asks and isn’t at all concerned about collateral damage. When they meet their fates, you can see that coming a mile away.

Apex scientist Ren Serizawa [Shun Oguri] is one of the most wasted characters in the movie. He’s the son of the late Monarch scientist Ishiro Serizawa. He operates Mecha-Godzilla via a man-made psychic link with the robot. Here’s a son going in the opposite direction as his father. I would’ve liked to have seen some background as to why he took this ultimately unwise career path.

Also wasted is Dr. Mark Russell [Kyle Chandler] who was the lead in Godzilla, King of the Monsters. His daughter Madison [Millie Bobby Brown] plays a much bigger role in the movie, but we get virtually no interaction between them. Which is a shame since Madison’s late mother was such a dangerous figure in that earlier movie. None of that was touched on in this movie. Chandler’s big line is “Godzilla is hurting people and we don’t know why.”

Conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes [Brian Tyree Henry] is seeking to expose Apex wrongdoing. He has tragedy in his past and is a wee bit off his nut, but he proves useful when Madison, a big fan of those podcasts, tracks him down. The third member of the “Apexbusters” is basic nerd Josh Valentine [Julian Dennison], played almost entirely for not particularly funny laughs.

Apex wants the powerful energy to be found in Hollow Earth, the better to power Mecha-Godzilla. It bankrolls Monarch moving Kong to the entrance to that weird world within our world, figuring the ape can show them the way to said location.

A fleet of ships head for the entrance to Hollow Earth. Kong expert Andrews fears Godzilla will sense Kong before they get there and attack his alpha competition. Which is exactly what happens. The epic battle at sea is stunning. With most of the fleet destroyed, Kong and the remaining humans only escape doom by pretending to be dead in the water. Satisfied that he has proven himself the alpha, Godzilla heads for his other challenger.

Mecha-Godzilla is in Hong Kong. Doc Russell goes there to make what amounts to a cameo appearance. Madison and crew also end up there. So does Kong (now armed with an giant energized axe), Andrews, Gia and Lind. Let’s get ready to rumble.

Godzilla is instinct and rage. He will tolerate no rivals for his supremacy. Kong is smarter and more reasonable. Mecha-Godzilla is an enormous kaiju take on the Terminator. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow for the big fights because I want you to experience them cold. I will say this much.

The advance publicity for Godzilla vs. Kong promised a winner and it delivered on that. But it did so in a way that showed the loser was an alpha in his own right. The movie ends with the two natural combatants still standing, though each has pretty clearly decided they are done with making this an ongoing war. My own take is that, on another day, the battle might have ended differently.

If you don’t count the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of humans who died during this movie, or the destruction of a large chunk of prime Hong Kong real estate, the movie even gives us what I considered a happy and satisfying ending.

SPOILERS OVER
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Overall, I think Godzilla, King of the Monsters was a better movie but that Godzilla vs. Kong has superior monster effects. For those whose main interest in movies like this are the monster fights, you will be well pleased by this movie. For those of you who think the human stories are as important, you will find some of those stories  lacking. Don’t let my negative comments keep you from seeing this movie. It’s well worth your time.

The Cinemark Strongsville did a good job of opening in this time of pandemic. Masks were required except when eating or drinking, even when you were seated.

There was a whole lot of room between groups in the audience. Eddie and I had a row to ourselves with no one in front of us or behind  us. The theater was very clean.

All that said, and with big thanks to the Cinemark for doing such a great job on all fronts, I think it will be a long while before I return to it or any other theater. I wasn’t comfortable having to wear a mask for over two hours. Sure, I suppose I could have bought so much food and soda that I was eating and drinking all the time, but that would’ve been a very bad choice for a 69-year-old type 2 diabetic. Going forward, I’ll stick to watching movies on our large flatscreen TV at Casa Isabella.

I’m not an absolutist on this. I needed to see Godzilla vs. Kong on a big screen, though it was almost as enjoyable when I watched it a second time at home. I’ll likely go to a theater to watch Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Maybe Suicide Squad 2 as well. My choices will be based on conditions on the ground at the time these movies are released. I’m not confident that my impatient fellow Americans won’t move too fast to “get back to normal” and so create new wave after wave of increased Covid-19 infections.

Talk about your folly of man.

That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying my bloggy things, you can always make a Paypal donation to this blog using my e-mail address. Your support would be most welcome.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.


© 2021 Tony Isabella

Friday, April 16, 2021

STILL WATCHING

 


Continuing my series of blogs commenting on the movies and TV shows I have watched recently. Or, if you prefer, my ongoing attempt to monetize my goofing off by declaring my cable and streaming costs to be legitimate business expenses.

I watched two episodes of Law and Crime Daily. This half-hour show reports on various ongoing criminal trials. The episodes I viewed were split into two stories. The main one was on jury selection in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd. The other one involved a woman in another murder trial who wanted the prosecution to refer to her by the last name of her co-defendant in the trial. The show was far less sensational than it could have been, but too tedious for continued watching.

I have been working my way through the final season of Duck Tales, which has been one long interconnected story featuring a downright breathtaking cast of characters. The quality of the writing and the voice acting is remarkable. The tying together so many other Disney cartoons into one universe is that kind of thing E. Nelson Bridwell and Roy Thomas did for DC and Marvel Comics. I have five episodes to go before getting to the extra-length series finale. Maybe I’ll give myself a binge holiday to watch them.

I also need to binge Superman and Lois. I watched and enjoyed the hour-and-a-half pilot episode, but haven’t returned to the series yet. Those un-watched episodes are waiting for me on my DVR, but, with the exception of Black Lightning, I haven’t been compelled to watch most DC/CW shows.

I’m watching Batwoman because I like some of the cast members, but the stories don’t work for me. I will doubtless discuss Batwoman in a future column.

I made the conscious decision to neither watch nor record Flash and Supergirl. I haven’t decided about Legends of Tomorrow. However, given that I didn’t even record the last several episodes of last season, it’s not looking great for Sara Lance and crew. On a more positive note, I am very much looking forward to the second season of Stargirl. After Black Lightning, it’s my second favorite DC/CW show. Kudos to Geoff Johns, the cast and the writers.  

I heart Bob Hearts Abishola, but I’m about three episodes behind. The unlikely romance between the head of a Detroit sock company and a Nigerian nurse is funny and heartwarming. The superior supporting cast adds to the enjoyment. There are some really good sitcoms on TV and streaming services these days, but, for my money, Bob Hearts Abishola is the best.

Saintly Wife Barb and I have been watching The Masked Singer since its debut. Now in it’s fifth season, the competition show suffers from a surfeit of gimmicks. While I enjoyed Niecy Nash filling in as host for an ailing Nick Cannon, other aspects of the series are just pitiful. That’s beyond my stomach churning whenever anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy opens her mouth. An mysterious masked rooster who gives clues to the contestant is just plain annoying. Adding a wild card contestant in later match-ups didn’t do anything for me either. I will give The Masked Singer props for being so audacious as to have Kermit the Frog as a contestant.

I tried to watch Game of Talents because of host Wayne Brady. Even he couldn’t get me to continue watching the unscripted variety show in which contestants try to guess performers' hidden talents, based on first impressions and clues. Appalled by the simplicity of the clues and, honestly, the concept of the series, I didn’t even make it all the way through the premiere episode.

My friend Martin Arlt mentioned Kim’s Convenience on his Facebook page. Although the series has ended, his obvious love for it made me check it out. I’m only four episodes into the first season, but I’m hooked.

Based on the 2011 play by Ins Choi, the series is about a Korean- Canadian family with a convenience store in downtown Toronto. The humor and family drama plays on multiple levels. There’s the day- to-day operation of the store. The rift between the father and son. The wife’s understated comedy. The daughter’s struggle for equality and recognition. The son’s boss who hilarious tries to conceal her obvious lust for the young man. Great cast and writing.

The show may have ended, but, at least I have five seasons to look forward to. I recommend Kim’s Convenience to one and all.

Amazon Prime kept recommending the 2019 movie Supervized to me and, eventually, I caved. In writing about this film, I must warn you there will be some MILD SPOILERS.

Here’s the IMDb summary: Four aging superheroes in a retirement home in Ireland come together for one last hurrah.

Directed by Steve Barron from a screenplay by Andy Briggs and John Niven with additional writing from Roger Drew and Ed Dyson, this is designated as a comedy. However, it’s dark and dire in places and movingly human drama in others. The cast is impressive with solid performances by Tom Berenger, Beau Bridges, Fionnula Flanagan, Fiona Glascott and Louis Gossett Jr.

Age has caught up with these retired heroes and the effect of that on their powers is often very funny. But there’s a shadow looming over the laughs. If the authorities deem the heroes’ powers pose a threat to themselves or others, they have the means to strip those abilities from the retirees. This treatment is rightfully portrayed as a terrible development, much like diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can diminish those who suffer from them.

IMDb gives Supervized five out of ten stars while Rotten Tomatoes grades it at 44%. My estimation of the film is a bit more generous. It’s got some fine moments, both comedic and serious. It makes you care about the retired heroes. It delivers a satisfying ending. I wouldn’t put it up for awards, but I do think it’s worth watching. It’s not a bad way to spend ninety minutes.  

Since I’m still watching way too many movies and TV programs, you should can expect to see another one of these “watching” columns in the near future.  

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

STILL WATCHING

 

 

Here I am once again, trying to justify the amount of time I spend watching movies and TV shows by writing about them. I keep telling myself it’s not goofing off. I think we all know otherwise.

My regular must-watch TV includes The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Four times a week, the South African comedian brings a very funny and very smart examination of what’s going on in the United States and the world. Since the pandemic, the half-hour show has expanded to forty-five minutes and is shot in Noah’s apartment. That extra time generally goes to a second interview with someone Noah finds interesting. Even with the awkwardness of talking with these guests remotely, I find most of them interesting as well.

I do miss seeing the Daily Show correspondents as much as we used to. They are an immensely talented group: Ronny Chieng, Michael Kosta, Desi Lydic, Dulce Sloan, Roy Wood Jr., Jaboukie Young-White and, on rare, welcome occasion, Jordan Klepper. Only Klepper gets  out of his home with regularity, often covering insane Donald Trump supporters. I worry about Klepper’s safety as he walks among these foaming-at-the-mouth zombies. I don’t worry that they might try to eat his brains. They clearly have no interest in brains.

The weekly Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is another must-watch TV show. She’s a delicious combination of sweet and acerbic, but she leaves no doubt that she’s smart, snarky and passionate about the news she covers and the issues she is passionate about. Beyond that we don’t see Bee every night, my only complaint is that she often devotes precious time to musical acts. I’d rather that time go to more news and commentary on that news. One half-hour of Bee isn’t near enough. I resent it when we get less of her because of these musical acts.

I stumbled across The Misery Index while channel surfing. Just one episode was enough to convince me it was my kind of show. I’m gonna go to Wikipedia for a description/history:

The Misery Index...developed for TBS premiered on October 22, 2019. The show, based on the card game "Shit Happens," is hosted by Jameela Jamil and stars the four members of The Tenderloins comedy troupe who also star in truTV's Impractical Jokers.

The show features two competing teams, each composed of a non-celebrity contestant and two members of the Tenderloins, who will "attempt to determine the ranking of hilarious and miserable real-life events - from getting fired to accidentally sexting your grandfather - on a scale of 1–100."


The card game was created by Andy Breckman, who also created/wrote the TV shows Monk and The Good Cop. He also developed the TV show. I am in utter awe of Breckman’s genius. Trust me on this. You need to watch The Misery Index.

Thursday night has three sitcoms I watched regularly. I wrote about B Positive recently and mentioned Young Sheldon in passing. I also watch The Unicorn, which is a big favorite of Barb’s.

Young Sheldon is always good for a few laughs and, sometimes, some updates on the life of Older Sheldon. Fans have remarked that what has happened in this show doesn’t match the continuity of what was seen in The Big Bang Theory. Some of the past history mentioned in the latter was dark so, if it does show up in Young Sheldon, it’ll be interesting to see how it’s handled.

The Unicorn starts the wondrous Walton Goggins as a widowed father of two daughters starting to date again. His daughters are really well-written. His neighbors are mostly well-written, but sometimes the humor there gets a little too needy.

Something not addressed (at least not to my satisfaction) is the effect of the father’s sexual activities on his daughters. He’s had several affairs over the two seasons of the show. They definitely know about one of them since the lady in question slept over. This is not a subject that should be glossed over.

The standout episode of The Unicorn to date doesn’t center around the father. In “It's the Thought That Counts,” a white neighbor gives a toy gun to the son of a black neighbor. The parents of the kid react in horror to this and it’s a fear the white neighbor does not understand because this isn’t traditionally a concern for white parents. It’s a powerful episode that teaches as it entertains. I recommend tracking it down and watching it.

I watched the series finale of WandaVision and thought it ended on a satisfactory note that allowed for further stories with, at the very least, the Scarlet Witch. Most of the complaints I read about it consisted of fans moaning about the show not delivering on the things they had wanted to see, like appearances by Mephisto and the X-Men. Things they were never promised.

SELF-CONGRATULATORY NOTE: I originally used a different word that “moaning” in the above paragraph. I changed it to a gender-neutral word that wasn’t gender-insulting. I may not always catch myself on stuff like this, but I’m trying.

Elizabeth Olsen deserves award nominations for her performances as Wanda, something that can also be said about Paul Bettany as Vision and Kathryn Hahn as Agnes/Agatha Harkness. In the hopefully near-future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would love see more of Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau), Randall Park (Jimmy Woo) and Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis).

One more note. The Scarlet Witch’s nom ne guerre (battle name) now makes perfect sense. Another reason I would love to read and write comic books set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  

The presence of Martin Freeman got me to watch the first episode of Boy Meets Girl, a four-episode British TV series from 2009. I came across it while surfing on Amazon. Here’s a one-line summary from epguides.com:

A freak accident causes two strangers, a man and a woman, to switch bodies.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll watch the remaining three episodes. There are many gender change movies and TV shows and few of them stand out. However, with this show, I’m intrigued because it’s also a social standing change movie. Freeman’s character is a a blue collar worker in big trouble with a loan shark. He switches with a well-off newspaper reporter (Rachael Sterling) who writes fashion/horoscope fluff and is living with her equally well-heeled boyfriend. Watching the other three episodes to see how their story plays out does interest me. If and how soon I watch them depends on what else is available.

I’ll have many more comments on movies and TV shows coming your way soon. I want to be able to continue to declare my cable/streaming payments as business expenses.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Monday, April 12, 2021

CHANG'AN FOG MONSTER


I’m working on what may be a long-ish blog about Godzilla vs Kong. For today, you’re getting some comments on a 2020 Chinese monster movie called Chang’an Fog Monster. I watched this movie on YouTube, sans English-language dubbing or subtitles. In other words, I’m not anywhere near sure what the film is about. Here’s a plot of sorts cribbed from Movies and Mania website:

During the Tang Dynasty, Chang’an City was suddenly flooded by a thick fog, and everyone fled in panic. Xiao Cheng was guarding the weak prince and was trapped with the civilians, waiting for the fog to dissipate. However, the thick fog did not disperse as expected, and the people who walked into the thick fog did not return. The sky-shaking monsters in the thick fog gradually revealed their hideous features. Xiao Cheng tried hard to protect Chang’an.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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The movie doesn’t take long to show us the main monster. We get a scene of the guard and the prince walking through town. Then that fog rolls in. Tentacles shoot from the sky, grabbing townspeople, knocking over carts and stands, scaring viewers easily impressed by decent special effects.

The main monster is a floating cloud creature that seems to command nasty birds and dog-like creatures that look like Gozer’s pooches from Ghostbusters. The guard, the prince and some temporarily lucky citizens end up in in some sort of temple or restaurant or tavern. Take your pick.

Those taking refuge from the monster include a stuffy young waiter, a lovely lady of easy virtue, a nasty drunk with some surprises up his sleeves plus the usual bullies, haughty elites and frightened members of the lower classes. Many manage to get themselves killed because they are too stupid to stay away from windows.

One of the more interesting characters is a warrior woman dressed in black. She’s fun to watch in action. As with many Chinese films, the wire work is pretty good. The filmmakers know how to stage some fine action sequences.

At one point, the guard, the prince, the warrior woman, some tough guys, some old guys and some citizens venture out into the fog in search of...I’ve no idea. Are they looking for a more secure place to shelter? Is there an escape route out of town? Is there a huge sale at the mall? Your guesses are as good and probably better than mine.

The group does pick up an adorable little girl who has been hiding in the bottom of a food stand since the fog creatures first showed up. The guard, prince and warrior woman take the young girl back to the relative safety of the temple/tavern where they enjoy a really nice looking meal. Until the monsters figure out that those paper walls are pretty easy to bust through.

Sidebar. Scattered throughout the movie, the guard has memories of a little girl who may or may not be his daughter. She does bear a resemblance to the girl they found. There seems to be a connection between the guard and the warrior woman. End of sidebar.

The drunk gets into arguments with pretty much everyone. He pulls out a vial of condensed fog, which allows the monsters easy access to the shelter. Even among the trapped humans, there are fights, murders and a suicide. The warrior woman sacrifices herself to make sure the battered guard, the prince and the little girl can escape into the streets. Which shouldn’t be any safer.

Except the sun comes out, the fog dissipates and a bunch of armored soldiers come marching into the town. I’m not sure how these guys knew there was a problem unless one of the other folks who left the tavern actually made it to safety.

We have established this movie confuses me. Its ending confuses me even more. Because I kinda sorta think it was a dream the prince was having until he was woken up by his guard. This is followed by some off-screen commotion that makes me think the carnage caused by the fog monsters is now happening for real.

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


Every now and then, I get the urge to watch a Chinese monster flick like this. Most of these movies come from Youku Tudou Inc., a video hosting service based in Beijing, China. They offer movies in lots of different genres. It’s a pretty big outfit.

I don’t think they make any of these movies. They distribute them and a surprising number of them are available on YouTube.

I can’t recommend Chang’an Fog Monster. It’s not very entertaining. However, if you’re so inclined, you can find it here.

I do recommend doing a YouTube search on “Chinese monster movies.” I’ve found some good films there and even many of the lesser ones are no worse than the Syfy Channel originals back when that network was fun. If you enjoy those movies as I did, it’s worth your time doing that search.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

THE JOKER WAR AND OTHER QUESTIONS

 

 

Every now and then, as I read praise for comic books that strike me as not praiseworthy, I ask myself what I am missing. Sometimes, I request collections of those comics from my local library system in the honest hope I’m missing something worthwhile. I’m such a crazy  optimist, I am.

It’s entirely my bad that I didn’t realize Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War by James Tynion IV, Jorge Jimenez and Tomei Morey [DC Comics; $29.99] was the second volume in the Joker War series. My library didn’t designate it as such online and I didn’t think to check for myself. As a new reader to the “event”, I found myself pretty much lost as to what had gone before. However, that doesn’t let DC off the hook because...

...there should have been a “what has gone before” summary in the front of this $30 hardcover. That’s not a low price. There was a bit of hype copy on the back cover, but it didn’t go into a whole lot of detail. So I was behind from the get-go.

The positives of this book are that the writing and art are good. Not great, but good. As readers know, I find “good” to be perfectly acceptable in my entertainment. Not everything can be the greatest of all time or even a contender for that.

One of the minor negatives is that several key events happened in comics not included in this volume. They happened in other titles tied into the main Batman titles. That’s storytelling surrendering to marketing, something that rarely produces good results.

The major negative is the story itself isn’t interesting. It’s just more of the ever grimmer, never-ending Batman/Joker battle. Bereft of imagination and originality, DC Comics keeps going to the same story over and over again. I suppose the company thinks that having the Joker succeed in stripping Batman of his wealth and reputation and making Gotham worse than before is groundbreaking. Really, it isn’t. It’s merely a continuation of DC’s lack of understanding of the super-hero genre.

The super-hero genre was created as an optimistic genre. Terrible situations and villains plagued mankind on small and large scales. The super-heroes made things better. They didn’t cure all the ills.
They just made things a little better.

What’s better after this “epic” story? Gotham’s is in worse shape than before. The Joker remains free, sure to slaughter innocents as he always does. Batman’s ability to help is diminished. He does promise to be less of a dick to the heroes who have followed him so loyally, but their ready acceptance of his promise is akin to some battered spouse convincing themself this time their abuser actually will change and never hurt them again. I’m not buying it.

Too many people at DC Comics and, in truth, almost every publisher publishing super-hero comics, appear to be ashamed of the glorious optimism of the super-hero genre. They seem to find it childish and make these increasingly dark attempts to elevate it into what they consider a more adult presentation. That sometimes works well for an individual series like Watchman or The Boys. It’s depressing as Hell when a company with dozens of connected titles drag every one of those titles into the darkness.

I do plan to read the Batman comics that preceded this collection and the spin-off issues that connect to it. If that makes this more palatable to me, I’ll write about that. I’m not optimistic, but I am open-minded.  

ISBN 978-1-77950-790-7

                                                                                 



I wanted to love The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage, a four-issue series from DC’s Black Label imprint [$6.99 per issue]. Written by Jeff Lemire, whose work I generally enjoy, with moody visuals by artists Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz and evocative coloring by Chris Sotomayor. All the elements were there.

Alas, this take on the Question fell afoul of something that bugs me about too many current takes on classic comics characters. It’s the idea that writers must enhance the characters somehow. They’ll make them more powerful, mistaking that for character development. They’ll clumsily weld aliens or the supernatural to the origins of the characters. And, really, as I see it, all they really have to do is tell great stories with these characters.

There was potential greatness in this series. A opinionated radio host struggling to help a city drowning in corruption and violence.Politicians using the situation to increase their own power. Those unwittingly drawn into the corruption and violence. The beleaguered citizens in need of a hero to show them the way to take back their city from their corrupt leaders. All of that was there, but pushed into the background by the mumbo jumbo.

Maybe my distaste for this is a generational thing, but I ascribe it to my firm belief that characters and concepts should have core values, and that those values should inform the stories featuring those characters. There’s a shock value to upending those values, but it fades quickly.

Creator Steve Ditko’s Question wasn’t a fully developed character. Denny O’Neil’s take wasn’t particularly respectful of Ditko’s work, but it was interesting and it did lay some groundwork for possible future Question series. I also found Renee Montoya’s assumption of the role intriguing, but liked her better as herself and not just the second Question.

Many of you will likely enjoy The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage. I don’t expect my readers to necessarily share my views on comics like this. I’m good with that.


                                                                                 



The Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021 is a terrific resource for comics fans and professionals interested in expanding their knowledge of that vibrant community. Published by Anyone Comics [$9.99], proceeds of the book will go to the Dwayne McDuffie Fund.

The book is divided into several useful chapters: Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Publishers, Comic Book Shops and Conventions. It’s not just a book of lists. A tremendous amount of information can be found in its pages. I know I’ll be referring it to it frequently. I hope my copy holds up until the next edition is published.

Kudos to publisher Dimitrios Fragiskatos, designer George Carmona 3rd and editor Joseph Illidge. They packed a lot into this 160-page book. I highly recommend it to all fans and serious students of the current comics scene because you can’t fully appreciate that scene without including the black comics community.

ISBN 978-163821920-0

                                                                                     


                                                                              

When I read Savage Avengers Vol. 1: City of Sickles by writer Garry Duggan and artist Mike Deodato [Marvel; $15.99], it didn’t float my boat. I couldn’t figure out if its weird roster of “heroes” were an actual Avengers group or not. Conan, Elektra, Punisher, Wolverine and some Venom symbiote who was confusing to me. This happens when editors and writers don’t give their new or returning readers a leg up as to what’s gone before. I did think bringing in the time-lost Conan’s ancient enemy Kulan Gath was sort of cool. I also decided these characters were not a branch of the Avengers. That seems to have just been a marketing tool.

ISBN 978-1302916657

I enjoyed Savage Avengers Vol. 2: To Dine With Doom [$19.99] much more because, once the Punisher and the others were written out, I was able to enjoy the absurdity of the crazy team-ups more. There was Conan, Black Widow and Daimon Hellstrom going up against human traffickers. Then there was Conan teaming up with Doctors Doom and Strange, which was good goofy fun. Especially when Doom put Strange into a special suit of armor.

Conan is a big goof in this series. That works for me. I’ve grown bored of typical Conan adventures, but Conan in a modern world that he imperfectly comprehends is hilarious. Don’t get me wrong. There was some solid super-hero stuff in this second volume. High marks to returning writer Duggan and artists Kim Jacinto, Ron Garney and Patch Zircher.

ISBN 978-1302916664

I’m not nominating this series for any awards, but I like it well enough to request the next volume from my library. And if Duggan is taking requests, I’d like to see Conan paired with Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

 
© 2021 Tony Isabella