Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights (2019)

Amazons Abolitions and Activists  2019There are a sea of faces in Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists. Sea of faces, sea of names, which is the point. The book is a history of women ignored in history books, though not always. Writer Mikki Kendall doesn’t avoid the awkward subjects, like Susan B. Anthony’s White supremacy or the significant racism of her contemporaries. Other problematic figures get their asterisks too, with Kendall never giving the impression she’s avoiding tough subjects. They just get asides. Other topics get asides too. The “plotting” of the book is excellent, especially since it’s 194 very dense pages.

More or less chronologically, the book looks at women in history. The ones whose names and faces aren’t familiar but should be, though—again—Kendall does a great job balancing it out so there are also the folks whose names you might now but not their stories. I’ve been aware of Josephine Baker as a historical figure since I was twelve, but I didn’t learn until Amazons she was a spy during World War II for the Free French. And I did World World II history in undergrad. Like, either I really forgot it or I really missed it. Amazons is probably best kept around and read casually, not so much a summary history text but a sourcebook. Also maybe because the framing device is a necessary chore. I get the need for it, I get why it makes sense given the book’s target audience, but it’s a bit of a drag.

The frame is a future class of girls and their hologram AI teacher going back through historical events, allowing artist A D'Amico some very fun panels amid the very powerful ones. The AI’s expository history lesson is well-written and rather affecting. Kendall’s found a great voice for the history, it just gets interrupted and the narrative makes it feel less like you can pick it up and put it down. Because there’s a lot in the book. It can be read with a search engine nearby to look up women, it can be read with a cat on the lap.

The most important part is it should be read. Kendall does a fantastic job covering the hundreds of subjects, D’Amico does good work visualizing them all. It’s a big success. It just feels like, with the future frame, it’s a very special episode of an animated series where you don’t care about the characters.

Also D’Amico’s panel of a Black woman trying to fight the monster of White racism while the White woman hugs on to it is awesome. Makes you want a whole book of panels like that one. The too political stuff. The stuff Random House gave the thumbs down.

For its target audience, Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is great. For everyone else, it’s still great. Actually, when you think about how ignorant the average person and even the more informed person is about women’s history… it’s more essential for its non-target audience.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e06 – Mortal Khanbat

Not sure why Dominic Purcell isn’t in the episode save a scene—he’s still off nursing catching feelings for an ex-girlfriend with lots of beer–but Caity Lotz uses her time off camera to direct this episode. She’s pretty damn good. The episode’s split between a series of John Woo homages in 1997 Hong Kong and John Constantine (Matt Ryan) doing a horror show, but one with frequent comic relief. Unlike last episode, which also had Purcell and Lotz too busy with their offscreen obligations to play, this one doesn’t focus on Jes Macallan taking over the captain role. Macallan’s still in charge and she gets some good moments, but it’s really Shayan Sobhian’s episode. Also Maisie Richardson-Sellers’s, but more Sobhian because he’s the new guy. And he’s still a guest star, not regular cast.

See, Richardson-Sellers and Sobhian hooked up after last season finale and hadn’t had the chance to talk before the Crisis crossover, which screws up the way Richardson-Sellers fixed something in the past. We get her origin story at the end of the episode. It’s solid enough stuff. The part’s okay but Richardson-Sellers basically just fronts her way through it. Sobhian holds up their scenes, which are frequently played for laughs, even though Richardson-Sellers’s always delivering the punchline. Again, good directing from Lotz. She gets how “Legends” works best.

Some of that working best is the straight comedy in the resolutions to both story lines. Yes, Ryan having his last supper with Brandon Routh and Adam Tsekhman has some sincere moments Ryan’s able to both sell and make funny, but it gets even funnier once it’s all resolved. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong pot about Genghis Khan (Terry Chen) coming back and trying to take over the world… it’s got a nice fun finish too. With some great action in addition to the obvious Woo nods. And it goes heavy into humor for its finale too.

Good material for Courtney Ford and Tala Ashe, though not a lot; keeping them on simmer levels of material.

It’s a very successful episode. And also because it seems to have gotten the pieces in place for the rest of the season.

Shadow of the Batgirl (2020)

Shadow of the Batgirl  2020Shadow of the Batgirl is a bit of a bummer, though I’m not exactly sure why. It’d be nice if it were good. It’s not bad… not if you’re getting it from the library versus spending the sticker price. And there’s a big library subplot in the book so it’s appropriate. It just feels stretched out. The chapters are very contained and the break between them messes up the pacing. There’s also a lack of immediate danger in the middle chapters, which is kind of… a lot to accept given the protagonist is a teenage girl experiencing homelessness living in a crime ridden city’s public library while her father the international assassin sends agents out to find her.

The tone writer Sarah Kuhn and artist Nicole Goux is fine but… only if you forget how dang traumatizing being in that situation would be. It wouldn’t be cute and Shadow of the Batgirl is often pretty cute. Cassandra’s a likable protagonist, even if her character development arc is sort of spotty. It never seems like the character is going to realize around other people—because she’s such a loner—but Kuhn and Goux always make it happen. The book’s got its successes and they can be impressive.

They can also be Cassandra’s sidekicks, Barbara Gordon, librarian, and Jackie, tea shop owner, who aren’t particularly impressive. They’re fun. They’re sometimes really fun. But they’re not particularly complex characters. Even if you ignore the nagging questions about how Barbara got in the wheelchair and what happened to the previous, retired Batgirl. The book even has some thoughtful exploration of heroism in the superhero world. It’s just for a bit and it’s not too deep, but you can tell Kuhn’s thought about a lot of it.

But also about how to make it aspirational, which shouldn’t be such a concern. It makes Shadow feel methodical. And, after a certain point, something’s always going wrong with Cassandra to move the plot forward. Just anything to get her to run away, spy on Barbara and Jackie, come back and be forgiven, everyone understands she’s a confused teen assassin. It would actually be a great structure if the comic were at all psychological but… it’s not.

Kuhn’s dialogue is good and she can get to heartfelt scenes, but the plotting always seems forced. Goux’s art is solid. Nice changes in style depending on the distance. No real fighting stuff—it’s not a kung fu comic—but it’s professionally executed.

It just never feels like it isn’t product. It’s competent and inventive, but it’s brand product.

Weird Melvin (1995) #5

Weird Melvin  1995  5Weird Melvin #5 is a flashback issue. Only, not really.

There’s clearly some publication history trivia to the series; the cover says this issue has the first two Weird Melvin comics in it, previously unpublished. They present a new origin story for both Melvin and the Kid, who have much different histories in the first issue of this series. But we do finally get to see what an in-world Weird Melvin comic book looks like… generic fifties superheroes.

The issue opens with a framing device as Melvin is teaching the Kid to be a monster hunter, so no resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhangers, hard or soft. Just the Kid doing well learning how and why to crush monster heads. He’s even got to write a theme on it; Melvin requires written assignments in addition to the on-the-job training. It’s funny… even if the comic isn’t really what Hansen promised last time.

Then comes the origin story. The Kid goes to a comic shop and finds an old issue of Weird Melvin #1, which the shop owner doesn’t know anything about and just wants the Kid out of his store. Again, funny. Not as funny as the series usually gets, but funny.

See, the Kid has a monster under his bed and his dad doesn’t want to hear about it. Good thing he got the comic because it’s all about a kid in the fifties who’s got a monster under his bed and how Weird Melvin comes along and saves the day. Turns out Weird Melvin—in this original origin story—comes out of in-world Weird Melvin comics to help kids in need. As long as they’re in need of saving from various monsters.

The second part of the origin story has the Kid discovering a haunted house and the cursed creator of the original Weird Melvin comics. Complications ensue.

It’s an okay issue, with some good, creative art, just none of that wonderfully nimble Hansen plotting. Again, no doubt there is some publication trivia to explain it, but it’s still feels like filler.

All Rise (2019) s01e16 – My Fair Lockdown

This episode of “All Rise” has this super juicy White man part for guest star Ben Browder. Survivalist holds courtroom hostage; the cops came to kick him out of his home, which is apparently somewhere in the County of Los Angeles but remote enough you don’t see people and no one pays attention when you don’t pay your property taxes for twenty years. I mean, California’s big. Sure, let’s go with it. Let’s even go with Simone Missick at one point telling Browder, who doesn’t believe the court has any jurisdiction over him, he’s going to get a chance to “speak his truth.”

Of course, Browder’s truth is objectively false and if he really hadn’t been off the farm for twenty years or whatever, he’d be in for astounding culture shock and be suffering from that problem too but… whatever. Don’t like the dismissive use of “truth” there. Not cool.

But then all of Conway Preston’s script is bad. The dialogue, the plotting, all of it. The only things wrong with the episode he’s not responsible for are the casting and the direction. David A. Harp’s direction is fine except the opening when he tries to do this lengthy fake tracking shot of Lindsay Mendez coming into work and walking past all the regular cast to introduce the episode’s ground situation. Worse, it’s peppy and upbeat while the episode is anything but. It’s a tonal bait and switch and “All Rise” isn’t worth a tonal bait and switch. Regardless of me preferring the latter tone to the former. The peppy stuff is obnoxious. The downbeat stuff isn’t great or even good, but it’s not obnoxious.

Though it’s not like the show challenges its cast. Actually, “All Rise” is a bait and switch in and of itself; here’s this great opportunity for Missick and Wilson Bethel and the show wastes them. They get less so Jessica Camacho gets more, even though she’s not part of their dynamic best buds duo (which is missing from the show, almost as obviously as Missick’s husband, Todd Williams on FaceTime, who’s either dying or cheating by the end of the season). But then Camacho gets a truncated part this episode so everyone else in the supporting cast can get more.

It’s a mess. The show’s got way too many regulars and not enough for them to do. It really needs better writers. And better guest stars. I didn’t think Browder had done anything. I thought they couldn’t get anyone to play such a poorly written juicy White man part—seriously, if well-written it’d be Emmy-bait—but Browder was actually the lead on “Farscape.”

Note: continue hesitating to watch “Farscape,” regardless of Henson Company involvement.

There’s a really solid moment or two for Paul McCrane in this episode though. The action takes him out of his regular—well, it doesn’t actually take him out of the courtroom—basically, it’s a new way to see McCrane. He gets to act opposite Bethel and J. Alex Brinson and talk about Brinson dating Camacho and you realize how great it’d be for McCrane to really get good material and not a souped-up caricature for once.

The show also wastes a Jason Dohring guest spot. I seriously don’t understand how Dohring can’t get a shot outside “Veronica Mars” projects. Though maybe it’s better to be on the periphery of “All Rise,” out of the middling’s blast radius.

Weird Melvin (1995) #4

Weird Melvin  1995  4There is a very good chance Weird Melvin might gross me out next issue. Hansen gets pretty close in the cliffhanger, which features two lady monsters (a mother and daughter) pregnant with half-mutated giant insects, half-monsters. What’s most surprising is the grossness isn’t in Hansen’s detail but in the action and implications of the action. So gross.

The issue has some of that great, unpredictable Hansen plotting. The imminent dangers of the previous cliffhangers get delayed or dispelled as the Swamp Witch, magically masquerading as a buxom bombshell (alliterations unintentional), can’t seal the deal on killing the Kid with her poison comic book because three Trekkies mistake her for a “TOS” bit player and stalk her. Hansen gets to make fun of both comics fandom and “Trek” fandom, going a little harder on the latter. The Kid is just obsessed with his collecting; the Trekkies are all in on terrorizing their autograph targets (or worse). It’s real funny.

Meanwhile, Melvin and his (unknown to Melvin) treacherous sidekick Shag are trying to get Melvin’s power levels back up with a moonbeam ray. But Shag’s got it out for Melvin and tries to zap him wrong; unfortunately—and leading up to the eventual potential gross-out—Shag zaps a couple bugs, who turn out to be horny male bugs. They grow to fifty feet tall or something and break out looking for love. They find it with the monster ladies. Thank goodness Hansen doesn’t show the copulation, just the aftermath.

So Hansen manages to resolve both his cliffhangers, get his characters out of the most immediate danger—while putting them in new, unexpected danger (Melvin feels bad about growing giant bugs who impregnate lady monsters and then drop dead instead of taking care of them so he’s going to take care of the monster ladies in their pregnancy)—and turn in a really funny issue full of great new supporting characters.

I get why Hansen’s not better known but it’s damned unfortunate.

Interrogation (2020) s01e10 – I.A. Sgt. Ian Lynch & Det. Brian Chen vs Trey Carano

The last episode. Finally the last episode. One could come up with the best order to watch the show, which isn’t the episode number order but also doesn’t work entirely randomly because some episodes jump ahead six years and whatnot—also there’s no point in making the order because you shouldn’t watch the show—but the finale’s really a follow-up to the ninth episode. It’s finally Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s episode; it’s 2003, Moss-Bachrach is dying from AIDS, he wants to set the record straight.

See, it turns out Kyle Gallner and Moss-Bachrach had a deal with Hells Angel drug dealer Blake Gibbons to rob Gallner’s parents house. Even though Moss-Bachrach wasn’t there, he’s got a pretty good idea of what happened, which he tells Vincent D’Onofrio and Tim Chiou, who’s back from a few episodes ago. Chiou’s there to keep D’Onofrio from playing detective too much. Given the show opens with text explaining how cold case detectives approach a case, maybe it also should’ve noted there aren’t any cold case detectives in “Interrogation.” None of the cops—save D’Onofrio—is trying to figure out who killed Joanna Going.

Because even if the cops think Peter Sarsgaard is dirty, they don’t care about solving the case. If the show had any stones, it’d be a condemnation of the Los Angeles police department. Instead, it shrugs.

Then there’s some more stuff with Andre Royo getting some evidence under the table and how it leads to Gallner eventually getting out of prison. Sadly Eric Roberts is only in it for a scene.

The big finish is obnoxious—hopefully “Interrogation” won’t be the last thing director Ernest R. Dickerson ever does because it’s not a good capstone for anyone—and leads to the not big but ostensibly emotionally momentous showdown between Sarsgaard and Gallner in the “present.”

Gallner does the rounds on true crime podcasts, then drives around L.A. reminiscing. Some really bad reminiscing; Dickerson does a terrible job with it.

But as a reminder to who the real bad guy and the real reason for all this tragedy, “Interrogation” ends demonizing Joanna Going as a bad mom again in the postscript. She didn’t want to hold the baby her husband fathered in an affair. What a bitch. Obviously she deserved to die.

It’s kind of amazing how poorly the show treats her. But only kind of, as “Interrogation”’s always doing one thing or another amazingly poorly.

Interrogation (2020) s01e05 – Det. Dave Russell vs Chris Keller 1983

Still the eighties, still the investigation. Though we do get to see David Strathairn and Peter Sarsgaard facing off after the murder. Sarsgaard is very whispery with Strathairn, who’s telling him to investigate Kyle Gallner’s friend, third-billed but rarely onscreen for very long Kodi Smit-McPhee.

This episode—eventually—has Sarsgaard interviewing Smit-McPhee in order to rule him out as a suspect. Unfortunately for Sarsgaard, Smit-McPhee seems really guilty. He lies about visiting Joanna Going—wow, she really gets the crap work in the flashbacks, time and again—and then there’s a goofy knife fight as Smit-McPhee self-aggrandizes in his interview with Sarsgaaard.

Is it an interrogation? Not really. But it seems like there’d be interview tapes or a transcript to dramatize. For a while it seems like Sarsgaard might actually be giving a better performance when his shady cop is actually doing his job—Frank Whaley’s back, playing the voice of reason and good cop here—but it doesn’t last long with Sarsgaard.

He’s bad again before he gets home and the show reveals why he doesn’t pursue valid second suspect Smit-McPhee. See, Smit-McPhee was in another state so good family man Sarsgaard had to abandon pregnant wife Ellen Humphreys to go interview him. In the other state—New Mexico, I think; doesn’t matter—there’s a female detective, which has some unspoken subtext, played by Roberta Colindrez. Colindrez lets Sarsgaard know pretty early on if he wants to play it dirty on this case, she’ll help him. He gets indignant about her suggestion he’s not going to do his job well.

So why does Sarsgaard let Smit-McPhee go after lying and go all in on Gallner—who spends the episode a juvenile in county jail, in the “Snitch Tank,” where Sarsgaard sends him to try to gin up a jail house witness—Sarsgaard goes all in on Gallner because Humphreys has a miscarriage and she’s really needy about it and so he’s not going to neglect her just to get the right killer.

Kind of a wow reveal, kind of an icky, passively misogynistic reveal—see, Sarsgaard would never have been a bad cop if it weren’t for his needy wife and her female problems—but, hey, on par for “Interrogation.”

Given the kid gloves the show usually takes with Sarsgaard’s dirty cop, it’s a bit of a surprise to see them go all in on the miscarriage explanation.

Interrogation (2020) s01e04 – L.A. County Psychologist Marjorie Thompson vs. Eric Fisher 1984

One of the few benefits of watching “Interrogation” in a non-linear fashion is initially missing out on certain trope episodes, like this one. This one is the trial, with a very poorly exposited look at Kyle Gallner’s trip through the criminal justice system as a minor.

Albeit as a thirty-four year-old playing a minor.

See, Gallner initially went into juvie, with psychiatrist—third “Wire” casting and totally wasted—Sonja Sohn showing up for the episode to try to decide whether or not Gallner should be tried as a minor or not.

Obvious spoiler—and not just if you jump around the episodes—is Gallner does end up tried and convicted as an adult and, although Peter Sarsgaard still has it out for Gallner… Sohn never gets to really give her take. She’s just supportive in the therapy sessions, but apparently thought Gallner was a stone cold killer the whole time.

Would have been interesting to get her take, as her name in the episode title almost suggests the sessions would be based on… actual psychiatric sessions but… sealed or something? Again, “Interrogation”’s abject lack of concern for historical accuracy—all in the name of “non-linear” “cold case” investigating (by the viewer)—becomes yet another reason not to take the show very seriously.

Other reasons not to take the show very seriously? Kyle Gallner’s wigs. He gets a special wig for trial this episode and it’s a really, really bad one. Though I suppose it goes well with his oversized eighties suit.

Pat Healy plays Gallner’s lawyer. Healy’s a little better than the norm on “Interrogation.” But he doesn’t get a showcase spot like Sohn, so the show’s not setting him up for failure.

There’s a little more with Sarsgaard’s dad, Michael Harney, being crappy to Sarsgaard; Frank Whaley’s around for a bit. Lots of the episode is David Strathairn’s, which isn’t great. There’s no great or anything good for more Strathairn in this show. This episode we find out Strathairn pushed Gallner into making the deal for a juvie conviction, which backfires. Of vague interest is how Strathairn already has wife number two—Melinda McGraw—so soon after the murder of the first wife.

Makes you wonder why no one ever looked into the dad as a suspect. Not even the show.

Also… Ray Santiago as the jailhouse snitch who helps put Gallner away? Another person who should have a talk with their agent about how not every job is necessarily a good one.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e05 – Stardust City Rag

I wonder if the “Picard” producers tried to track down Brian Brophy to appear on this episode. He originated the Bruce Maddox role on “Next Generation” Season Two, in 1989. I don’t have particularly good memories of his performance but whatever. Did they at least ask? Though he doesn’t have a credit since 2011; he was on “Southland.” “Southland” was a great show.

“Picard,” five episodes in, is not a great show. It is not a good show, it is not a middling show. It is a bad one. Five episodes is enough for the series to find its footing and its footing is poor. Jonathan Frakes directs once again and, once again, it’s not well-directed. It doesn’t quite look like a “TNG” episode shot on CG-enhanced locations like the last one. It doesn’t have anywhere near that amount of personality.

It looks like they tried ripping off a Star Wars location for the episode’s Las Vegas planet location—what happens in Freecloud stays in Freecloud—only with the giant holograms from Blade Runner 2. There are also hologram advertisements beamed into visiting starships, which seems to imply the planet hacks all the arriving ships. Guess they don’t worry about Cambridge Analytica in 2399.

On the planet is the new Bruce Maddox, played by John Ales. Doesn’t matter because he’s barely in the episode. He’s a red herring. Once he tells Patrick Stewart about how Isa Briones is on the Borg cube, he’s expendable. We also find out he and Alison Pill weren’t just colleagues, they were lovers. He was, of course, her boss and sixteen years her senior.

Because let’s not forget men are still men in 2399?

The Pill romance thing is just to get her some added burden throughout. Doesn’t matter. Might matter later, doesn’t matter now. Actually, it doesn’t seem like Pill’s going to matter at all on “Picard.” She too appears to be a red herring, which I wasn’t expecting. Silly me, I thought they wanted someone who could act. But based on the writing, it’s clear it doesn’t matter.

As such, when Jeri Ryan comes back to do a Seven of Nine appearance—the episode is “The Seven of Nine Show with Special Guest Star Patrick Stewart” (in a flipping eye patch at one point because in the future arms dealers are flamboyant like they’re all Peter Allen)—it’s not like Ryan’s good. She’s actually quite bad, but still leagues ahead of reptile bad guy alien Dominic Burgess, who’s so bad I might remember his name to avoid him.

Necar Zadegan isn’t bad as Ryan’s nemesis, but her part’s still poorly written and the episode’s still bad.

No Briones in this episode, incidentally. I hadn’t realized how much the questionable Borg fanfic was keeping the show afloat.

Michelle Hurd has her big scene—she’s going to Space Vegas to see her son, Mason Gooding, who feels like she abandoned him because she’s a drug addicted conspiracy theorist. The show tries to tug the heart strings as Hurd—in a startlingly bad monologue—tells Gooding how she’s clean now and wants to be a mom. Except… she was getting high in the first or second episode, so… how long she been clean? And was she addicted to something without withdrawals? And isn’t addiction treatment better in 2399? Gooding rejects her, which puts Hurd back on Stewart’s ship, which is good because Ryan’s not sticking around. They just really wanted a bad guest star spot.

Interestingly enough—not really because Kirsten Beyer’s writing isn’t good—Stewart and Ryan talk about being ex-Borg and how it’s a struggle to be human every day, which kind of seems like addict recovery talk only they weren’t addicts, they were Borg.

Stewart’s got some really bad moments this episode. Like… really bad. Maybe the show never had any charm to it, just the potential for it; the charm’s all gone now. It’s almost anti-charm.

Maybe the whole thing is just intended to prove resetting the timeline with J.J. Abrams was the best idea.

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