Friday, May 14, 2021

NEW BLOGGY THINGS IN THE WORKS

Hey, kids! I've got several bloggy things in various stages of completion. They will appear as soon as they're ready to go. The first up will be my Pensacon 2021 preview.

In the meantime, I'd love to see more comments from the readers. Yes, your comments have to be approved before they appear, but I do try to get to them as soon as possible. Why do they have to be approved? Anyone who's been online for five minutes knows the answer to that one.

Have a great day, my friends. Be safe, be sane and be good to one another.



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

MORE CREATOR CREDITS

 

 

We’re talking about creator credits for the second bloggy thing in a row. Because, when it comes to creator credits, one size doesn’t fit all. There are many cases when crediting the first writer and the first artist to handle a character is an accurate reflection of a character’s creation...and just as many times when it isn’t. I can’t and won’t speak to characters I didn’t create or co-create. What I can and will do is look at my creations and tell you what I think are the accurate creator credits.

My general position is that the person or persons who first came up with the original idea for a character is/are the creator of that  character. They should be referred to as the creator/creators. All others should be referred to as co-creators and, most of the time, given equal billing.

This is the second in a series of bloggy things discussing heroes and villains created or co-created by me. If I don’t get to those you most want me to write about, use the comments section to nudge me and I’ll move your request up on my list.


It! The Living Colossus!

I don’t think of myself as the creator of this series. What I did was come up with the concept of making a creature that appeared in pre-Fantastic Four issues of Tales of Suspense into the hero of an ongoing series and have him battle other monsters from those pre-FF  anthology titles. The human half of the man/statue hero appeared in the second of those Tales of Suspense appearances, but I gave him the last name of O’Bryan as a tribute to legendary special effects master Willis H. O'Brien. If I ever wrote a revival of this series, the credit line would read “Series conceived and written by Tony Isabella.”

There’s a text page in Astonishing Tales #22, written by me, which claims “Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman and Don McGregor all helped put this story together.” For the life of me, I can’t recall what Marv or Don contributed beyond being nice to and supportive of me. Back in my early days, I tended to be overly generous in sharing credit with people. I think this is one of those cases.

On the other hand, as my editor, Roy Thomas helped shape the “It!” series. In my initial pitch, Bob O’Bryan and Diane Cummings were married with two middle-school aged kids. Thinking of TV shows like Jonny Quest and Lost in Space, I figured any member of the family could inhabit and control the Colossus. I was definitely planning to write the book for a young audience along the lines of what Gold Key comics was doing in its titles. No reflection on Marvel there. I was simply looking to add some variety to our titles.

Roy nixed that pitch and reminded me how many Marvel super-heroes overcame physical or emotional problems to become heroes. Spider-Man had his guilt over Uncle Ben’s death. Iron Man has shrapnel in his chest. Daredevil was blind. I can’t be sure, but I think I was the one who came up with Bob losing the use of his legs. Roy and I both liked the idea that this seemingly helpless man could control one of the most powerful creatures on the planet.

                                                                             



Helmut Zemo

Helmut Zemo has been in the comics news lately because of his star turn in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. As the Phoenix, he came into being because the regular Captain America writer at that time was late getting a plot to Sal Buscema. If I’m recalling correctly, editor Roy Thomas came up with what he thought would be a one-off story and gave the plot to Sal over the phone. Though Roy intended to script this story himself, he only scripted a few pages before his other obligations necessitated him asking me to script the rest of the issue. Captain America? Sal Buscema? I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

There was no written plot, but Sal had written brief border notes which gave me the bare bones of what was happening in the story. I don’t think I added anything to the basic plot beyond fleshing out some details, especially in describing Helmut’s unhappy childhood. My contribution was considered significant enough that I received special thanks in the Falcon/Winter Soldier end credits.

If I wrote a Helmut Zemo comic today, my preferred creator credit line would be “Helmut Zemo created by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema with Tony Isabella.” I believe Roy and Sal deserve the lion’s share of the credit.

Some will correctly point out that Helmut was further developed by J.M. Dematteis, Kurt Busiek, Matt Rosenberg and other later writers of the character. But development, no matter how brilliantly done, isn’t the same as creation.  

This “creator credits” series is going to go on much longer than I anticipated when I started it. I don’t know when the next chapter will appear, but it will definitely include Tigra.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.  

 
© 2021 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

CREATOR CREDITS

 

After I posted my convention appearance requirements, I realized I might catch some flak because of my insistence I be billed as the creator of Black Lightning. Not co-creator. Creator. Since I have been wanting to write a column on creator credits, this seems like an apt opportunity to do just that.

The creator credits you see in the comic books and elsewhere are not always accurate. The comics industry, the fans and especially so-called comics journalists have adopted a writer/artist policy in listing credits. The first writer to handle the character and the first artist to draw the character inside the comic books. That’s an unfair simplification of the process. Even when the character’s publisher uses an accurate variant of this standard credit - such as “Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor von Eeden" - there are those who refuse to use that credit.

Why would anyone use an incorrect credit when the correct credits are being used by the publisher of a character and on a television series featuring a character? Because some people are lazy and some  are just dicks. For example, almost all the writers at Comic Book Resources fall into those two categories.

The simple writer/artist creator credit often leaves out folks who have created mightily to a character. I know from experience that Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas and art director John Romita had considerable input into new characters during my time working as a Marvel staffer. I’m certain the same is true of many other editors.

I won’t be addressing characters created by others today. Because I wasn’t in the room when those characters were created. But I will be discussing some characters I created or co-created. Not all of the characters I created or co-created just the better-known ones and ones who fall outside the usual writer/artist credits.

BLACK LIGHTNING

You knew I was going to start here. The Black Lightning credit has evolved over time and that includes my own perception of what that credit should be.

There is only one creator without whom Black Lightning could not have come into existence and that person is me. When I pitched teacher Jefferson Pierce to DC Comics, everything important about him was already in place. It was all me without any editorial input. They entered into an agreement to published my creation based on what I pitched. That the company viewed the agreement far differently than I did - as in not honoring it - does not change how the creation of Black Lightning was credited.

For the first two years or so of Black Lightning’s existence, the credit line read “Created by Tony Isabella” and no one disputed the accuracy of that credit line. Then there came a day when I inquired about buying my creation back from DC Comics. Pieced together from first-hand conversations with people, here’s what happened directly after that day.

Fearing I might sue to get my creation back, or maybe just to fuck with me, DC decided to name original artist Trevor von Eeden as a co-creator of the character. Trevor has told me of being stopped in the hall and told he was now Black Lightning’s co-creator. He did not question this. Why should he have?

One DC Comics wrote a credit line that read “Based on a character created by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden,” which I’ve always assumed was yet another corporate ploy to diminish any lawsuit to regain my creation. I objected so loudly to this that DC Comics backed off that usage. That was the closest I’ve ever come to suing them.

When I signed my most recent agreement with DC Comics - they have honored the letter of that agreement - I quite possibly could have gotten my solo credit back. But I wanted to honor Trevor’s artistic contribution to my creation and I also wanted to insure he continue to benefit financially from that. I wrote and DC agreed to what is now the official Black Lightning credit:

Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden

Black Lightning showrunner/writer/director Salim Akil put it better than anyone. When Trevor and I made a cameo appearance in the third season finale, Salim introduced us to the cast and crew. He said, and I’m going from my memory on what was an exciting and wonderful day here, Tony created these characters and Trevor showed us what they looked like. I’ve adopted that description.

Yes, the original Black Lightning costume was a team effort between Trevor, Bob Rozakis, Joe Orlando and myself, but Trevor pulled it all together. He designed the other characters from my descriptions in my scripts, descriptions which even included a crude drawing of the whale-shaped ring worn by Tobias Whale. We got a terrific look at that ring in the May 10 episode of the Black Lightning TV show. The “with” part of the official credit line recognizes Trevor’s work without denying I was the creator of Black Lightning.

I am the creator of Black Lightning. Not the co-creator. Trevor is the legitimate co-creator. Creator. Co-creator. I think those are our proper titles when it comes to Black Lightning. It’d be nice if everyone accepted that.

I went on longer than I anticipate with the above. We’ll pick this up in the next bloggy thing where I discuss Tigra, Misty Knight and some other Isabella creations. See you then.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Monday, May 10, 2021

CONVENTIONS 2021

 

 

I have missed attending conventions during this time of pandemic. I attended Pensacon 2020 in February of that year before such fun events were shut down. Things are opening up to varying extents and it seems appropriate that my first convention this year is going to be Pensacon 2021. It’s one of my favorite conventions, which makes attending it even sweeter. I’ll have more to write about Pensacon later this week. I’m just waiting for some additional information on my panel schedule.

Fully vaccinated, I hope to do several other conventions in 2021. I'd agreed to do two conventions in 2020 that were rescheduled for 2021, but I’m waiting for the promoter to confirm they are still happening and that our agreement for my appearances are still in place. I hope to learn the answers to those questions soon on account of I have an invitation in hand from another event on the same weekend as one of theirs.

I’m open to invites from other conventions and from comics shops, schools and TV shows. The sooner I’m contacted, the sooner we can work out the details of such appearances. The best way to contact me is through my e-mail.

Before anyone contacts me, they should look at my requirements for appearances. These requirements aren’t carved in stone. Knowing promoters had a rough go of it in 2020 and are still having a rough time this year, I am willing to work with folks to get me to their events. However, the bottom line is that I can’t afford to do the events on my own dime...and that won’t change until I start getting
good-paying work on a more frequent and regular basis. That said, here’s the standard requirements e-mail I send when I’m invited to conventions and other events...  

Appearance/convention materials must refer to me as the creator of Black Lightning. Never co-creator. Creator.

If I fly to an event, I require airfare for myself and a traveling companion. I need an aisle seat for myself. I have a Known Traveler Number.

If I'm driving to an event, you'll have to cover mileage. I charge fifty cents a mile each way.

Hotel (two beds).

A decent size guest booth or table for signing and selling.

Complete access to the green room for my companion and myself.

Assistance from your staff or volunteers at times.

I do charge a per day appearance fee. This fee is to be paid before the end of the event. If you’re doing a three-day show that starts on a Friday, I’ll waive the fee for Friday.

Except for items purchased directly from me at the event, I charge for signing. It’s a modest $5 per item...$15 per item if the person getting the item signed has this witnessed by a representative of a grading company.

Besides appearing at your event, I'm willing to do two panels a day as long as they aren't back to back. I can do a solo presentation. I can host a panel. I can appear on panels. I can do a performance of one of my stories, using audience members to “play” some of the characters. In the case of the last, I will need someone to prepare the story for projection on a large screen. The panels I appear on must be approved by me in advance of their announcement.

I will promote my appearance on my social media: Facebook (where I have three different pages), Twitter and my blog (Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing).

I will do pre-event publicity with your local radio or television stations...or with your local print media.

I realize I'm not an inexpensive guest and have no problem if your budget can't handle that.

Thanks for the invitation. I hope we can work together.

So there you have it. This is what needs to happen to get me to a convention or other event. If my fans want to see me at their local convention, they should let the promoters know how much they’d like to see me at that event. Once again, the best way to contact me is via my e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.              

    
© 2021 Tony Isabella

Sunday, May 9, 2021

ANSWER IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION

 

 

What does Tony think of the Jeopardy! guest hosts to date?

When last I wrote about Jeopardy! here, I said I thought either Ken Jennings or executive producer Mike Richards would make great permanent hosts for the popular game show. Given Richards is also executive producer of Wheel of Fortune, Ken Jennings would be the most likely choice of the two. I expressed dismay that lying sack of shit Dr. Mehmet Oz was given a guest hosting stint. I also opined journalist Katie Couric was pleasant enough, but lacked the chops of Jennings or Richards.

Since then, there have been three additional guest hosts: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and, from 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker. Rodgers was personable and did a commendable job. Right now, I’d rank him below Jennings and Richards and above the other guest hosts to date.

Cooper is someone I like, but he was really out of his depth as the guest host. He was slow in delivering answers and never quite got the hang of the gig.

Whittaker is a distinguished journalist, but he was also way out of his depth. His delivery, while excellent for a newscaster, was too measured for this hosting gig. I’ve only seen his first week, but I doubt he’ll improve in the second.

I don’t know when Jeopardy! will name a permanent host, but we have several more guest hosts coming up:

May 17-28: Buzzy Cohen, former Jeopardy! champion

May 31-June 11: Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist

June 14-25: Savannah Guthrie, NBC News’ Today co-anchor

June 28-July 9: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent

July 12-16: George Stephanopoulos, ABC’s Good Morning America co- anchor

July 19-23: Robin Roberts, ABC’s Good Morning America co-anchor

July 26-30: LeVar Burton, actor and former host of Reading Rainbow

Aug. 2-6: David Faber, co-host of CNBC’s Squawk on the Street

Aug. 9-13: Joe Buck, Fox sportscaster

The last five names on that list will only host for a week. I’m not familiar with Cohen, but former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennies did such a terrific job that I’m looking forward to seeing what Cohen does in his two weeks. I’m also not familiar with Faber or Buck.

The others all strike me as excellent choices. I’m a bit concerned about Bialik because her recent sitcom was such a train wreck, but I’m also sure she’ll do fine.

Burton is the guest host I’ve been most looking forward to seeing. He’s extremely personable with a combination of dignity and humor that would make him a good replacement for the late and legendary Alex Trebek.

More Jeopardy! guest host reviews to come.

****************************** 

Resident Alien is a terrific comic book by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. Cribbing from Wikipedia: it’s about an alien who crash lands on Earth, posing as a doctor while he awaits a rescue. He is pursued by a government agency and passes his time solving murders and other mysteries.

Resident Alien is a terrific TV series that differs from the comic book in many ways. Most importantly, the title protagonist wants to destroy our planet. However, despite the whole end of the world as we know it plan, “Harry” is actually kind of likeable. He’s sort of like a murderous Sheldon Cooper, committing faux pas after faux pas because...he’s an alien.

Alan Tudyk is wonderful as the alien pretending to be a man. He’s got an amazing supporting cast of interesting characters played by fine actors. Because the TV series does not follow the comic book, there are surprises in almost every episode. I love it a lot and it will be returning for a second season.

I still have four episodes to watch of the first season. As soon as I’ve watched them, I’ll give you an update on my feelings about the show. I don’t expect them to change much.

******************************

Most weeks, I don’t know why I watch Saturday Night Live. The best part of the show is the Weekend Update segment and I could/should fast forward to that. Some weeks, the show has a good guest host. On other weeks, it’ll be a host who overacts, mugs for the camera, always tries to steal the spotlight and doesn’t lose themselves in the characters they play. One recent host came close to getting me to swear off SNL for good. Except for Weekend Update.

What keeps me watching? A host like Daniel Kaluuya was perfect for the show. Most episodes have at least one good sketch. Some weeks, the musical guest is terrific.

SNL has been an American institution for nearly half a century. It has shown its age before and bounced back with new cast members and writers. I have stopped watching the show before, but I never stop wanting it to be brilliant. 


******************************  
 

I adore Queen Latifah. She’s one of my favorite performers. When I heard she was starring in a reboot of The Equalizer, I know I would be watching it. I’ve watched the first six episodes to date. While I do have a few minor problems with the series, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen.

Latifah plays former government agent Robyn McCall. Retired because the government did her wrong, she’s now raising a teenage daughter and, on the side, helping people who have no one else to turn to. The big plus for me is that McCall is a planner. It’s not that she rarely gets caught off-guard. Even Doc Savage got played on some occasions. But she reminds me of Doc in that she’s almost always a step or two ahead of her opponents. That and she’s got a great team working with her.

The minor problem I have with the series is that McCall is always lying to and disappointing her daughter and the aunt who lives with them. She’s setting a bad example for her kid and, while the show doesn’t shy away from that, I think it’s time for the former agent to come clean with her family. To be sure, it will cause problems. But I’m tried of smart characters making bad choices. Good choices can make for drama every bit as compelling.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Monday, May 3, 2021

THINGS THAT MADE ME HAPPY IN APRIL


I believe my bloggy thing readers and online friends are generally well-informed, so I won’t get into all the news stories - fake and otherwise - that are making 2021 only moderately better than that year we don’t want to mention. It’s still very hard for me to be as productive as I would like. However...

One bright spot is that, now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’m ready to hit the convention trail again. First up is Pensacon 2021, which will be held May 21-23 in Pensacola, Florida. Mike Ensley and his crew put on what has become my favorite convention. I’m excited to be attending for what I think is my sixth year in a row. I’ll have more to say about the event in a day or two, but, if you check out the show’s wonderful guest list, you’ll be just as excited as I am. You’ll find that list on the Pensacon website.

As for April, well, brilliant ray of sunshine that I am, I managed to find something to make happy every day of the month...

April 1: Entertainment Earth has become one of my favorite places to shop for Funko and Godzilla items. My latest arrival from them is Wanda Maximoff in her WandaVision Halloween costume.

April 2: April fools! The first public Herd Gathering in a year as Roger Price, Bob Ingersoll and I had lunch at On Tap in Medina. It was great seeing these guys again!

April 3: Godzilla vs. Kong. My son Eddie saw it on the big screen on Thursday night. I’ll be writing about it in a near-future blog.

April 4: The Last Blockbuster. Streaming on Netflix, this terrific documentary takes you to Bend, Oregon, the home of the one and only remaining Blockbuster Video. It brought back so many memories of my nigh-daily Blockbuster visits back in the day.

                                                                                        



April 5: Funko’s Golden Age Wonder Woman Pop figure. My answer to the valid question asking if I buy too many Funko figures for a 69-year-old man is...no, I do not. But I do need suggestions for the best display cases for them.

April 6: The Foods That Built America on The History Channel. This documentary series tells the stories of our nation’s iconic foods and those who created them. Meet my next obsession.

April 7: Godzilla vs Kong Sometimes Friends Fight (But They Always Make Up) is a counting book for children six years old and younger. It’s never too early to introduce little ones to the wonders of the greatest kaiju of them all.

April 8: Pensacon. My first convention appearance since February, 2020, will be Pensacon in Pensacola, Florida, on May 21-23, 2021. I’m excited to return to my favorite convention. Check out the con website for their fantastic guest list.

[NOTE: Yeah, I know this was discussed at the top of today’s blog, but some things are so cool, they demand repeat mentions.]

April 9: Marvel Comics The Variant Covers by John Rhett Thomas. I just got this big beautiful coffee table book yesterday. I flipped through it and WOW! It looks amazing. I plan to savor this treasure a few pages every day.

April 10: Fun facts about comics history. I just learned recently that Marvel editor and writer Ralph Macchio is related to legendary comics artist Wayne Boring.

                                                                                



April 11: Spending an evening with Barb and Eddie putting together White Mountain’s 1000-piece Candy Wrappers jigsaw puzzle. Despite a missing piece, it was still big fun.

April 12: Black Lightning’s back-door pilot for Painkiller. I liked it a lot and was mightily impressed by the performances of Jordan Calloway, Nafessa Williams, Chantal Thuy, Sibongile Mlambo and the other cast members. More please.

                                                                                     



April 13: Truth. I’m a Godzilla dad. Just like a normal dad but way cooler. Because I own this t-shirt.

April 14: Working on my first YouTube video. I’m writing the script today and tomorrow, recording it Friday and posting it on Saturday. If it goes well, I might starting making these on a regular basis. Watch for details.

[NOTE: This project got sidelined for a few weeks, but it should be hitting YouTube before the end of May.]

April 15: Remember the 1000-piece Candy Wrappers jigsaw puzzle that was shy one piece? Saintly Wife Barb found that missing piece under a chair. She completes us.

April 16: My kids Eddie and Kelly got their second vaccine shots. Once their new powers manifest, I will start coming up with their super-hero names.

April 17: Last year, U.K. comics digest Commando began to publish new stories of characters like Lord Peter Flint (from Warlord) and Braddock (from Victor). Though I wasn’t familiar with either, I’m loving these revivals.

[NOTE: Sadly, Commando didn’t publish many of these special issues, even though they were well-received by the readers.]

April 18: President Joe Biden has joined my Social Justice League of the world via this action figure. On one side of the box is the phrase “Truth Over Lies.” A worthy objective that.

April 19: I came up with a brilliant name for a comics series I’ve wanted to write starring a group of giant monsters. Now all I need is the right artist, a publisher to foot the bills and the time to write it.

                                                                                 


  

April 20: Satoko and Nada by Yupechika. The beautiful story of two young women from distant lands (Japan and Saudi Arabia) who come to the U.S. for college concludes with its heartwarming, hilarious and satisfying fourth volume. It’s a treasure!

April 21: Thunder Force: Octavia Spencer’s hero name is Bingo. It has nothing to do with her invisibility power. I love this so much I should create a whole team of heroes named after popular public domain games.  

April 22: Using my new mastery (i.e. basic competence) of Zoom, I was interviewed by Christopher Brown, the host of the Cross Border Interview Podcast. It went well and I remembered to wear pants. I call that a win-win.

April 23: Via Zoom, I spoke to John S. Hollemon III’s students at Hampden-Sydney College. I like sharing accurate comics history with  others. I am also available for live talks, convention appearances and really dull parties.

                                                                                



April 24: The finale of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier delivered the satisfying conclusion I was hoping for. No spoilers here, but look for my bloggy thing overview in the near future.

April 25: Captain America 4 is in development with Malcolm Spellman (head writer of The Falcon and the Whiter Soldier) at the helm. With the expected return of Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, my suggested title is Captain America 4: Justice.

April 26: Daredevil #9/620 [September 2019] by writer Chip Zdarsky with artists Lalit Kumar Sharma and Jay Leisten. Matt Murdock has dinner and a morality debate with a Hell’s Kitchen crime family. An engaging and thoughtful issue.

April 27: Watching teacher Laura Trammel become the first person to win a house in the Wheel of Fortune bonus round. The Margaritaville home is worth $375,000. What a thrilling and wonderful moment for Trammel and the viewers!

April 28: Jamon Allen Brown. My friend’s script for chapter four of Black Lightning’s “The Book of Ruin” was painful to watch. But it was also brilliant and gave the great cast so much to work with. I can’t wait to see what Jamon does next.

April 29: Discussing a character I’d never thought about writing, I quickly came up with a fresh take and a direction consistent with them. I’m beginning to think I can write any comics character. Even if I’m the only one who thinks this, it’s a nice feeling.

                                                                             



April 30: Across the Universe. What a beautiful movie! The romance of a well-off American girl and a poor Liverpool artist is framed in Beatles music and the turbulent 1960s. Thanks to Anthony Tollin for recommending it to me.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella



Monday, April 26, 2021

WATCHING THUNDER FORCE AND MORE

 

 

Among my too long list of obsessions is the urge to see every darn super-hero movie that has been made. This is not as dangerous as it could be. For example, I have no interest in seeing Zack Synder’s films or animated versions of such brutally soulless comic books as The Killing Joke. But, yeah, with those exceptions, if a movie has super-heroes in it, I’ll watch it.

Recently released on Netflix, Thunder Force (2021) was written and directed by Ben Falcone, the husband of Melissa McCarthy, who, with Octavia Spencer, is one of the two members of the title super-team. Other actors include such favorites of mine as Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale and Melissa Leo. Players who weren’t on my radar before this, but whose performances I loved were Taylor Mosby and Marcella Lowery. Falcone has a small role as an ill-fated henchmen with the appropriate name of Kenny. Here’s the summary from the Internet Movie Database:

In a world where supervillains are commonplace, two estranged childhood best friends reunite after one devises a treatment that gives them powers to protect their city.

I wasn’t expecting much from Thunder Force, but it was a whole lot more entertaining than I expected. Time is spent showing the leads as they grow up together and move apart. Those warm moments are a nice contrast to the broad and sometimes gross comedy. Some super-hero bits are hilarious. At its core, this movie is about heroism and friendship.

This is a shorter review than I had originally intended to write. I made the decision to avoid spoilers because I wanted you to come to this movie without knowing too much about it. As I so often say when I write about films, Thunder Force won’t win any awards. What it will do is deliver a fun and satisfying hour-and-a-half’s worth of entertainment. That’s good enough for me.

                                                                           



The Last Blockbuster [2020] is a documentary currently streaming on Netflix. It’s the history of the last remaining Blockbuster Video store. That store is still operating in Bend, Oregon.

Though I’d known of the existence of this store, I stumbled across the documentary while channel-surfing, an ever more time-consuming activity, what with the many streaming networks available here at Casa Isabella. Directed by Taylor Morden and written by Zeke Kamm, this was an absolutely riveting hour-and-a-half spotlight on what was once an icon of American pop culture. It transported me back to
my own frequent visits to various Blockbuster stores, visits which started almost as soon as I bought my first VCR.

Owner Sandi Harding is the star of the documentary and, through her eyes, we see how important this family business was to not just her family but her community. There’s a wonderful scene in which past employees come to the store for an annual dinner. I think I got a little teary at how special that must be.

There are clips from celebrities talking about their experiences getting videos from or working at Blockbuster Video. Kevin Smith.Brian Posehn. Adam Brody. Ron Funches. Ione Skye. Cranky naysayer Lloyd Kaufman is included as well.

My own Blockbuster memories went hand-in-hand with my watching this documentary. Before I got married, I used to come home with a half-dozen videos of all kinds. I used to buy dozens of used VCR tapes. My schedule didn’t allow me to go to actual movie theaters all that often, but those tapes and bags of microwave popcorn in a darkened living room was a reasonable approximation of that experience for the times.

The Last Blockbuster gets my high recommendation. It even got me to thinking about visiting Bend, Oregon in the hopefully near future. Maybe even rent a movie and a VCR or DVD player while I’m in town.

                                                                                   


                                 

Saturday night movies with Svengoolie is always a good time. While I don’t get to enjoy his show every week, I usually manage to watch a couple times a month. Recently, I watched his presentation of The Beast Must Die (1974), a British film from Amicus Productions and directed by Paul Annett. Written by Michael Winder and based on the short story "There Shall Be No Darkness" by James Blish, this movie is a, well, let me crib from the Internet Movie Database to set it up for you:

At the beginning of the film with narration. This film is a detective story--in which you are the detective The question is not "Who is the murderer?"--But "Who is the werewolf?" After all the clues have been shown--You will get a chance to give your answer. Said but not written on screen, directly after above quote: Watch for the werewolf break.

Wealthy big-game hunter Tom Newcliffe [played by Calvin Lockhart]  invites five people to his remote mansion and proclaims one of them is a werewolf. All the summaries say six people, but the only way to reach that number is to count Newcliffe’s wife Caroline [Marlene Clark] and there’s no indication the hunter considered her to be a suspect.

The actual suspects include archaeologist and lycanthropy expert Professor Lundgren [Peter Cushing], artist and ex-con Paul Foote [Tom Chadbon], disgraced diplomat Arthur Bennington [Charles Gray] and pianist Jan Gilmore and his wife Davina [Michael Gambon and Ciaran Madden]. Rounding out the cast we have Newcliffe’s associate Pavel [Anton Diffring]. With Pavel, the hunter has surrounded his mansion and its grounds with so much surveillance equipment that I thought it was unfair to the werewolf.

The Beast Must Die reminded me of a TV movie to such an extent that I was surprised to learn it was a theatrical release. The action is adequate at best with Lockhart going into overacting overdrive for most of the film. Lockhart is black, making for less than optimal for scenes shot in the day with special filters to mimic the night. There are a handful of chilling scenes throughout the movie, enough to make it worth watching once. Inserted against director Annett’s wishes, the “Werewolf Break” is laughably off-key.

Svengoolie makes the movie for me. Unless I was writing a book on werewolf movies, certainly a distant possibility, I wouldn’t have watched it otherwise.

                                                                         



One more movie for today. Courtesy of Svengoolie, I watched a swell movie called The Undead [1957]. Directed by Roger Corman, written by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna, the black-and-white horror movie stars Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes and Val Dufour. Here’s the IMDb summary:

A beautiful woman is sent back in time via hypnosis to the Middle Ages where she finds she is suspected of being a witch, and subject to being executed.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
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The Undead is a pretty good shock ending comic-book story. I could visualize the panels and pages as I watched it.

Duncan is excellent in the dual roles of modern shady lady Diana Love and her virtuous medieval counterpart Helena. Garland is the knight who loves Helena, despite her being pronounced a witch and
doomed to execution. Hayes is best known for being that attacking 50-Foot Woman, but she’s likewise excellent as actual witch Livia. Dufour’s scientist is the scariest character in a movie that also features Lucifer. 

Quintus Ratcliff is a soulless investigator who sends Diana back to her past life as Helena. He sends himself back in time as well. He wants to see if Helena will sacrifice her (for her) present life to bring into being all the other lives that she will live. Centuries of women with lives of their own. Ratcliff only wants to see what happens, not giving a rodent’s behind for Helena or the weakening Diana. He’s an arrogant son of a bitch who doesn’t even flinch at bantering with the Devil.

Helena does choose to die in her medieval time so Diana and all her future selves will live. In modern times, Diana recovers and is so moved by Helena’s sacrifice that she vows to turn her life around and be worthy of that sacrifice.

The shock ending? Since Ratcliff was mentally linked to Helena, he has no way of getting back to his own time when she dies. With the Devil laughing, the scientist realizes he is trapped in the past. He’ll live his life and die before he was born. A fitting fate for the arrogant man.

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I had never heard of The Undead before I watched it on Svengoolie. Now it’s a film I want to see again and which I recommend to all of you. And, yes, I’m available to adapt it into a comic book.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Sunday, April 25, 2021

X-MEN AND SUPERMAN

 

Since I’m not writing anything for Marvel or DC, I have little hope of ever becoming fluent with the current states of their respective universes. Should I ever resume writing for them, that won’t be a major obstacle. I’m a quick study, especially with editors who can bring me up to speed and elucidate what they’re expecting from me. Which is neither here nor there.

When I read comics from those companies it's almost always because a friend has recommended them to me. I gravitate towards collections because I prefer a great big chunk of story over individual issues, especially at a time when those individual issues seem like they’re merely taking up pages until the writers get to whatever big story they want to tell.

One of my transgender friends is a big fan of the X-Men, which is not surprising given the alienation and struggle for acceptance or survival that have been part of the X-Men since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created them. You don’t have to be a scholar to see how that appeals to any number of readers.

House of X/Powers of X [Marvel; $49.99] by the “visionary writer” Jonathan Hickman and artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva was truly a mixed bag for me. I’m not a big Hickman fan, but I recognize the quality and thoughtfulness of his writing. I very much liked this concept of sentient mutant island Krakoa becoming homeland for all the Earth’s mutants. I loved the political maneuvering attendant on Krakoa creating its place among the planet’s nations. And I loved the ramifications of this new global landscape. When a super-hero series becomes more than big punch-ups and destruction/death on a planetary scale, I’m gonna give it a chance.

What I didn’t like, and this is by no means all on Hickman, was the far-ranging “future of mutantkind” story running concurrently with what the modern story. I have rarely been a fan of future stories, except when they were never said to be *the* future of the heroes. I loved the “Superman of 2099" stories that ran in Superman comics in the 1960s. I didn’t care for the “Adult Legion of Super-Heroes” story that ran in the same era. Perhaps this future X-Men story is not meant to be canon, but it seemed like it was meant to be such. Why continue to read X-Men comics if I know what’s coming?

Oh, and, just to be even more grumpy, I don’t like the overuse of alternate universe versions of characters. I also don’t buy for an instant that Moira MacTaggert has been some kind of secret mutant
who dies and reincarnates over and over to help chart the future of mutantkind. That one made my eyes roll.

I plan to continue reading X-Men as my library provides me with the collections. I could never follow this ongoing story on an issue-to-issue basis. I’d previously read and enjoyed collections of the Marauders title and mostly enjoyed the one X-Factor collection. In the case of X-Factor, my experience was diminished by the presence of the always annoying Mojo.

My over-all take at this early stage of reading X-Men again is to applaud the big concept without buying into it entirely. If you’ve got the energy/patience to follow what is functionally a separate, multi-title Marvel imprint, you might enjoy these comics.

                                                                                


                                                                            

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the best writers in comics and has been for many years. I generally like his work and definitely like him personally. He’s a damn good man. Which is why it pains me that I don’t like his now-concluded work on Superman.

Yes, I know Bendis put in a couple years on the Superman titles and that he’s not writing Superman at the moment. For reasons unknown to me, I’m just getting around to reading his Superman stuff now, via collections from my local library system.

Why am I reviewing these Superman comics now? Because some of why I don’t care for them is worth writing about. As of this bloggy, I have read The Man of Steel [DC Comics; $17.99] and Superman Vol. 1: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth [$17.99].

Almost every time a big-name writer takes over the Superman books, they want to reinvent the character in some manner. Of course, the character can and needs to be brought into whatever modern era this is happening in. However, these writers need to consider what effect their “improvements” will have on the Superman legacy and on the DC Universe titles that revolve around Superman.

Back in the 1980s, John Byrne dumped Superboy, Supergirl and Clark Kent’s mild-mannered personality. His Superboy call screwed over the popular Legion of Super-Heroes. His Supergirl call led to the inevitable creation of a much more complicated and less interesting new Supergirl. I wasn’t quite as put off by Clark Kent getting more manly, but I was fond of what Jules Feiffer once pointed out as the main positive of the Superman/Clark dichotomy. That was the idea that, underneath our cheap suits, we could all be Superman. That idea has appealed to generation after generation of Superman fans. To a large extent, I think it’s what made Superman human and therefore relatable to readers. Sadly, I doubt we’ll ever see that dichotomy again. Its absence has become too ingrained with comics readers and media viewers of Superman.

What I disliked most about the Bendis run on Superman was his massive change to Krypton and its history. My favorite version of Krypton is the one where it’s a beautiful planet of tomorrow with amazing advances in science and, sadly, with the arrogance that comes when powerful people refuse to address potential dangers. This always reminds me of how mankind has largely dropped the ball on climate change. I don’t think Krypton’s leaders could have prevented the tragic destruction of their people and planet, but there’s a lesson to be learned from their hubris.

Breaking from that history, Bendis instead chose to have Krypton murdered by a powerful xenophobe. It’s an inelegant embrace of the Hollywood excess that prefers the eye-candy of mass destruction to more meaningful plot development. Krypton goes from being a tragedy to being a crime victim. Indeed, much of what I find fault with in the Bendis run is a devotion to Hollywood blockbuster theories of storytelling. Make it big and bloody.

While I’ll give Bendis credit for naming some of the thousands of citizens of Kandor who were murdered so he could show how brutal his new villain was, it wasn’t enough. Those characters were still reduced to faceless statistics.

As for the rest of what I read in these two collections, I liked that Lois Lane was treated with respect. I didn’t like the break-up of the Kent family as the hands of a somehow alive Jor-El who is just as arrogant as the Kryptonian scientists who failed to heed his warning.

Because it comes at the very end of Superman Vol. 1, I have yet to form an opinion of the surprise aging of Jon Kent into a teenager. I liked some previous stories featuring Jon as a pre-teen. I think there was untapped potential in stories of that type. I’ll reserve further judgment until I’ve read more tales of the older super-son.

That’s a wrap for today’s bloggy thing. Stay safe and stay sane as we deal with the enormous problems of the world outside out beloved comic books. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Friday, April 23, 2021

CITIZEN TONY AND THE MEDINA EYESORE

If you’re a new reader of this bloggy thing of mine, you might not know this comic-book writer and fan, cheesy monster movie devotee, avid reader and reviewer of all kinds of books, and guy who watches an awful lot of TV is also a progressive liberal. Some readers are triggered by progressive liberal Democrats. They like me best when I write about those other things.

Here’s the thing. My writing is rarely devoid of social commentary even when it’s not abundantly obvious. If there is value to what I write, it’s because it often connects to the real world around us. That real world has always been political. Just as our comic-book super-heroes have always been political.

When you see “Citizen Tony” in the title of a bloggy thing, it’s my way of warning you that particular bloggy thing discusses political and social issues. I’m attempting to spare you being triggered by that day’s content. I’d rather you read my commentary and perhaps get a new perspective on the day’s topic, but that is your choice. You can skip today’s bloggy thing and come back on a day when I’m writing about something more to your liking.

Today’s “Citizen Tony” column has a letter I wrote to The Gazette, my home town’s local newspaper. Medina is way too Republican and way too white for my personal taste, and The Gazette generally (but not always) reflects that. Honestly, I don’t expect The Gazette to run this letter. It’s bad manners to call out racists as racists. Which is why you can read it here.

After much adieu, here is the letter:

Sweets & Geeks on East Smith Road is one of my favorite places in Medina. I love checking out the wondrous assortments of candy, soda pop and Funko figures, and that covers less than half of what you will find there. Unfortunately, my most recent visit to this great establishment was marred by a despicable eyesore.

Across the street from the Sweets & Geeks parking lot was a garage with a huge Confederate flag hanging from its door. It was as big as the United States flag that hung next to it. I wondered why anyone would display and seemingly take pride in displaying such an odious symbol of racism, slavery, treason and white supremacy.

The Confederate flag is not “heritage” except in the most negative way. Does the person who flies this flag consider their heritage to be one of  racism, slavery, treason and white supremacy? Because, when you dismiss the obviously false talking points about states rights and such, that’s the reality of this symbol. Racism. Slavery. Treason. White supremacy. Those were the realities of the Confederate States of America as proclaimed in the very documents that brought it into existence.

I’ll never understand why any American citizen would embrace what the Confederate flag represents. I don’t believe that flag reflect the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Medina’s residents. Yet there it flies on East Smith Road, a reminder that evil exists and that we still have a long way to go to truly make our country what it should be.


I’ll let you know if The Gazette runs this letter. In the meantime, stay safe and sane. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2021 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

WHILE I WORK ON SOME OTHER STUFF

 Hey, kids of all ages...

I've been trying to bring you new bloggy things on a nigh-daily basis, even though I know there will be days when that doesn't happen. I hope you've been enjoying the content I'm posting and will post your comments on same.

Comments have to be approved by me, so don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't appear immediately. I check for comments several times a day and approve them as swiftly as possible. Those of you who have been on the Internet for, let's say five minutes, understand why comments have to be screened before they appear. 

I made a boo-boo a few days back and used the title "STILL WATCHING" for two bloggy things in a row. I'll try to avoid that in the future.

Eventually, when I gain a little ground on my outlandishly long "Things To Do" list, I'll be adding a  DONATE VIA PAYPAL link to the bloggy. We've talked about how woefully under-employed I'm on, so I'm looking for ways to bring in a few more bucks every month. I'll be doing some other things as well, but this appears to be the one I can do easiest. I hope those aren't famous last words.

If you're eager to show your financial appreciation for my content, you don't have to wait for the Paypal link to show up. You can always tip the Tipster through PayPal by using my e-mail address.

Coming up in the next several days will be the usual mix of news, views and reviews. I'll also be writing about my upcoming convention appearances, my upcoming garage sales and some other cool stuff. In the case of the garage sales, this is the year I am determined to make a huge dent in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. Saintly Wife Barb would like more of our house back.

Stay safe, stay sane and try to treat each other with kindness and respect. I'll be back soon with more stuff. 

Tony




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
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...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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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
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


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