Comics

Flimsy’s Mewsings (2020)

Flimsy s Mewsings  2020Flimsy’s Mewsings is approximately thirty-seven single page comic strips—there’s one two-pager, a recipe—of adorable kitten Flimsy offering life advance. Gentle stuff like be kind to yourself, remember the lesson and forget the mistake, be genuinely interested in other people, email the friends you haven’t in a while, drink wine, try to remember “guys” is a gender-exclusive term (as in “hey guys”), drink some more wine, take twenty-five minute naps, and be happy for your friends when they succeed and you aren’t currently succeeding.

Artistically, the book is accessible for all—creator Rachael Smith doesn’t do a lot of detail in the strips, but when she’s doing splash pages she’s got some excellent detail. Where she’s really got it down is the coloring. Well, lettering too, but the way the colors give a page emotional weight is fantastic. Mewsings art is of the deceptively simple variety.

But content-wise—and not just because, for a kitten, Flimsy can get her wine on—it’s aimed at a somewhat older readership. At least out of high school. Flimsy’s problems aren’t the problems of someone in constant social situations; in fact, Flimsy’s Mewsings has some great unintentional tips for spring 2020 as it turns out. The kinds of things you forget and need to remember to tell yourself… well, Flimsy’s there to help.

Smith and Flimsy never come across as, well, flimsy. Even the simplest observations are sincerely expressed with a great sense of humor. Flimsy’s recounting of her father’s obvious inspiring one-liners and Flimsy’s obvious reactions come across perfectly thanks to Smith’s sense of timing, as the panel compositions and the color choices convey.

Mewsings gets a smile fast and keeps it going until the end.

The Punisher Presents Barracuda (2007)

The Punisher Presents Barracuda  2007Barracuda is one of Garth Ennis’s… what shall we call them… NC-17 action comedy limited series. He’s got a bunch of them at Vertigo, a few a handful of other places. The difference with Barracuda is it’s for Marvel (it’s the only Punisher MAX spin-off, which is something since Ennis loved spin-offs for Preacher and The Boys) and it’s maybe a little more… edgy as a pejorative for that thing White guys do edgy. Bad Tarantino and Tarantino knock-offs. Every twentieth word or so from series hero Barracuda is starts with ni- and ends in -ga. I wonder if you counted them you could figure out how many the editors at Marvel let Ennis have each issue….

Then there’s the main villain, Big Chris (as in Christopher Walken—Barracuda works best when you read Chris’s lines in Walken’s voice, which the lettering actually works towards, and Barracuda in JB Smoove’s, though you’d never really want to see Smoove play Barracuda as Barracuda’s a vicious sociopathic cannibal and Smoove’s really likable). Starting with Big Chris’s return to the story—he hires Barracuda in the first part, then Barracuda betrays him in the second, and Big Chris is back in the third issue and calling Barracuda a different racial epithet at the end of every sentence. Because Barracuda buys into brothers in arms—Airborne, crime, etc—over racism. Because it’s funny to have a racist sheriff hang out with Barracuda and call him slurs. It’s the kind of post-racist thing you’d expect to see after Obama was president but Ennis is a trailblazer so it’s a couple years early.

It also doesn’t add up to anything so it’s kind of pointless to look at it so hard.

Ennis fills the five issue series with eclectic, funny but unlikable characters. There’s Barracuda, obviously, who—at least in this series—only sexually assaults men; the women are all willing. He puts together various plans throughout, which keep changing based on his inability to successfully predict how his machinations will play out. We don’t get a lot of the plans. Occasionally Ennis showcases them with a monologue or two, but more often we hear the adjustments when Barracuda’s telling other people about them.

The biggest subplot in the series are these two FBI agents, one old, one young, who are trying to use Barracuda’s plotting to arrest Big Chris. It all takes place in a fictional South American Reagan Republic, where Barracuda and his team of military advisors slaughtered the existing socialist government to put drug-runner Leopoldo in charge. Lots of great real American history stuff here, though it’s just garnish. Oddly, Goran Parlov’s art is best on the FBI guys, just for their expressions. The older one’s in sunglasses but the curve of his lips, you can see what he’s thinking. Great work from Parlov.

So Leopoldo’s the drug-running dictator, Wanda is his ex-porn star wife who’s sleeping with Barracuda, there’s the child molesting priest hiding out with them—I forgot for how long “adult” humor just meant directly targeting Howard Stern listeners. Barracuda’s there because Big Chris has entrusted him with Oswald, his only son. Oswald’s supposed to kill Leopoldo. Barracuda double-crosses Big Chris for Leopoldo, then will try to double-cross Leopoldo to take both him and Big Chris out. Plans within plans.

Oswald’s a hemophiliac and, therefore, can’t be touched or in any way injured.

Fifty is Barracuda’s fellow military advisor from the eighties who went to work at the Pentagon but is a closeted trans woman, which Barracuda somehow knows about but maybe has never seen Fifty dressed for her gender. It’s unclear. Ennis’s take on it seems to be so transphobic it’s no longer transphobic? He also throws in some homophobia but… again, is it through the looking glass and circular? Doesn’t matter, because there’s no reason to read Barracuda. Not even for Punisher MAX completists. It’s not great or even good really, but it’s not incompetent or bad. Ennis just doesn’t have a story and tries to mug his way through it. Parlov’s art is good but it’s not particularly interesting stuff. It starts in Florida, which is basically just as tropical as the South American city-state; actually, Barracuda’s adventures in Florida seem more interesting than his attempted coup with an eclectic supporting cast.

Can’t wait to see what Disney does with the property.

Weird Melvin (1995) #6

Weird Melvin  1995  6Weird Melvin #6 gives the series a conclusion, but definitely not the one I’d been hoping for. The story title is something like part five, so—for whatever publishing reason—last issue’s fill-ins were really fill-ins. This issue opens with Melvin and the Kid headed back to base with some stolen diapers. Melvin’s going all in on taking care of the incoming monster infants, which the Kid can’t figure out—isn’t Melvin’s job to crush monsters into goo? Why would he want to care for their babies?

Turns out Melvin does have a plan or two to resolve the world’s monster problems and the Kid is just going to have to get with it.

Back at base, Melvin’s reformed monster sidekick Shag is playing doula to the pregnant lady monsters. This portion of the issue is probably the best, just because it engages with the gross factor. I wasn’t the only one queasy at the idea of two monster babies being born, Shag isn’t really into it either.

As he steels himself for the eventual birthings… Hansen starts zigging and zagging from the forecasted zags and zigs. It’s always quick—the issue feels a little rushed and often seems to be decelerating, whether with the pregnancy resolve or with Melvin not duking it out with the inbred grotesque cop who comes after him for the stolen diapers. It all makes sense in the end, when Hansen works his way to a nicely tied up finish, but just because it makes sense doesn’t make it entertaining or engaging or the right move. Leaving Weird Melvin on a never resolved cliffhanger seems a much better choice than giving him a lackluster finish.

And the issue’s grand finale is most definitely lackluster. I was hoping for more, expecting more, but it’s also competently enough executed it’s not a severe disappointment. It’s a well-executed comic, a solid series, just one without a successful finish, which puts Weird Melvin in very sturdy company.

A clean ending would’ve been nice though, just for recommending the comic.

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.

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.

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.

Jonah Hex (2010, Jimmy Hayward)

If you ever find yourself not believing in the idea that White people of wanting talent can fail upward, watch Jonah Hex. Every one of the principals from the film worked again when, based on the film as evidence, maybe John Malkovich should’ve gotten another job. Sure, Josh Brolin isn’t terrible in the lead, but it’s not like he acts enough you’d think there’s something to him as a talent. Michael Fassbender and Megan Fox are just plain bad, though Fassbender’s failing at a part, Fox isn’t even acting a part enough to fail at it. Of course, she is sympathetic because Hex really likes victimizing Fox, the only woman in the cast with a speaking part.

At least, with multiple scenes and a speaking part.

The film runs an indeterminable seventy-five minutes (eighty with end credits); it feels closer to a couple hours just because it’s so boring in its badness. The only times Hex gins up any energy is when it’s being surprisingly bad in some way or another, like when Black man in 1876 Lance Reddick has to tell Brolin he knows he wasn’t racist when he was a Confederate soldier, he just didn’t like following orders.

Hex is a heritage not hate bunch of nonsense from 2010. It’s a very lazy film and could have just as easily not had the sexism, the racial optics, some ableism, and given everyone less work and based on everything else in the picture, they’d have embraced it, but screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor had some very definite places they wanted to go with the film. Ick places.

It’s a stunningly bad lead turn from Brolin. Yes, it’s clear director Hayward has no idea to direct actors—or even whether or not he should be directing them; I swear in a couple scenes it looks like Fox is glancing off screen for some kind of guidance. Or editors Kent Beyda, Daniel P. Hanley, Tom Lewis, and Fernando Villena just do bad work. Yes, all four of them for a seventy-five minute movie. Hex reuses at least three minutes of the same footage, bringing the “original” footage runtime down to seventy-two, then throw in another couple for the opening animated sequence, which Brolin narrates and recaps what happens between the prologue and the present action, and you’re down to seventy.

And for a seventy minute “intense Western action” adaptation of a comic book… Jonah Hex is still surprisingly bad. Incompetent might be the best word, but no worries, both producers failed up.

The only reasonable performance is Malkovich, who gets through it without any exertion or ambition, but without any failings either. He’s perfectly fine as a Confederate general who fakes his death so he can come back and firebomb the U.S.A.’s first centennial celebration with a steampunk super weapon. Sadly it’s about the only steampunk thing in the film, outside some explosive crossbow guns Reddick makes for Brolin; steampunk might at least be interesting.

Hayward’s a terrible director. He’s not good at action, either with explosions, guns, horses, fists, knives, or whatever else. Jonah Hex makes you realize what truly bad ideas Hollywood producers have about what makes something good.

Maybe the only thing I’m grateful about with Hex—other than the runtime—is not recognizing Michael Shannon, who seems to have a cameo and I do remember seeing someone who looks a little like him but thinking it was Neal McDonough. Wes Bentley’s quite recognizable and quite bad. One has to wonder what Malkovich thinks of acting opposite people who can’t make bad material palatable.

Will Arnett and John Gallagher Jr. have small parts I hope they talked to their agents about recommending.

Jonah Hex is a crappy movie and not in any interesting ways.

Oh, and Aidan Quinn. Poor, poor Aidan Quinn. He too hopefully had a long talk with his agent.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jimmy Hayward; screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, based on a story by William Farmer, Neveldine, and Taylor, and the DC Comics character created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Kent Beyda, Daniel P. Hanley, Tom Lewis, and Fernando Villena; music by Marco Beltrami and Mastodon; production designer, Tom Meyer; costume designer, Michael Wilkinson; produced by Akiva Goldsman and Andrew Lazar; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Josh Brolin (Jonah Hex), John Malkovich (Quentin Turnbull), Michael Fassbender (Burke), Megan Fox (Lilah), Will Arnett (Lieutenant Grass), John Gallagher Jr. (Lieutenant Evan), Lance Reddick (Smith), Wes Bentley (Adleman Lusk), Tom Wopat (Colonel Slocum), Michael Shannon (Doc Cross Williams), and Aidan Quinn as the President of the United States.


Queen of the Sea (2019)

Queen of the Sea  2019I spent the first ten minutes of Queen of the Sea underwhelmed. The book’s set in the mid-1500s—maybe—it’s unclear because creator Dylan Meconis isn’t doing a straight historical fiction thing. Meconis is sort of doing Elizabeth versus Mary but not exactly. The world is a lot like fourteenth century England, but it’s not exact. Everything’s got different names and for a while it seems like there’s some point to it, the fake history lesson. There’s not. There are other real history lessons, which are great and interesting, but the fake history exposition at the beginning… big yawn.

And Queen of the Sea is geared fairly young. It ends up getting really complicated but the first fifth of the book seems like Meconis can’t get the engine started.

The opening scene is a problem. It’s the Elizabeth stand-in, Eleanor, only we don’t know her name yet because it’s just her and some dude talking about how she’s got to go because the enemy has arrived. They make plans. The dialogue’s iffy. The art’s… okay. It’s not a catchy opening at all. Then Meconis introduces protagonist Margaret, a tween living on an island in the something something itsh-Bray Channel in a convent. The convent’s the only thing on the island. Margaret’s an orphan.

Then comes the exposition dump, where Margaret explains everything to know about the convent and the island. The supporting cast, the geography. It’s a bunch and, while it often looks great, it’s a slog to read through. Because besides the main nun, none of the rest have much of an impact on Margaret’s character development or the story in general. And Queen’s got a big story. One day two new residents arrive on the island—a fellow kid, albeit a boy, named William and his very serious mom. They’re political prisoners, exiled to the island for safe keeping (of sorts).

Margaret and William become friends and make all sorts of discoveries about their lives, including how it just so happens all the nuns in the convent are nuns because they’re political exiles too. Margaret’s there for a similar reason, even if she doesn’t find out what exactly. The arc with William and his mother and how they change Margaret’s life is fantastic. It’s where I stopped wondering if I was wasting my time with Queen. Meconis has very pretty art with a great style, but the art’s not challenging. It’s welcoming. I’m uncomfortable with how often Queen interrupts the comic to insert a prose block, which doesn’t negate the book being incredibly successful with that device. And once Meconis gets more comfortable about Margaret’s narration and we’re done with all the fake place names, the pauses in the comic narrative get to be a bonus. When Meconis and Margaret explain how the nuns’ day works—eight hours and what’s done during those hours—it’s this fantastic double-page perfectly executed infographic. It’s awesome.

It just took the book a while to get there through some rough waters.

But then it turns out the William stuff is just prologue. He’s how Margaret learns to be around people who aren’t nuns or the convent servants; she’ll need to learn to apply those lessons once the Queen from the first scene shows up on the island. It doesn’t take long before Margaret is ex-Queen Eleanor’s bestest friend, even if Eleanor doesn’t want one; a big part of Margaret’s character development is how she internalizes the teachings of the convent order and how to help those in need. Eleanor is in need, Margaret is bound to help her. It’s fascinating character stuff.

Especially once the secrets, adventures, and romances start playing out.

Meconis is always able to ratchet up the stakes, without ever losing sight of how to best make it work for Margaret’s character development. Queen’s got a very strong lead character and Meconis is very deliberate with her. Great work.

Queen of the Sea isn’t short. Approximately 400 pages. The first 85 or so are maybe tough, the next 150 are great, the final 165 are even better. The weird not historical fiction but also not exactly ahistorical fiction takes some time to work itself out. Also very weird is how Meconis handles religion. It’s too cute, especially given the convent angle.

But it’s a good graphic novel. Very impressive work from Meconis.

There’s a sequel tease at the very end, which seemed a little too forced but I’m also very interested in reading said sequel.

Weird Melvin (1995) #3

Weird Melvin  1995  3Hansen introduces a whole new character—or two, actually—but one with history with Weird Melvin; his sidekick, reformed monster Shag. Shag hangs out in Weird Melvin’s abandoned headquarters. Seems like he’s been there a while… but he’s finally ready to walk out. But Shag doesn’t come into the comic until the third-ish act. I’m not sure if Weird Melvin has acts. Kind of but it’s hard to tell given the sequential narrative.

The issue opens with Melvin, in his Wimpy Melvin, de-powered state, still a prisoner of his new girlfriend, Vampuh. He meets her father—a monster with a runny nose—who decides not to eat Melvin after Melvin gives him a hanky, which will come up again later for Hansen’s grossest sequence in the comic. But the action then shifts to the kid, who’s decided—having lost his entire comic collection—to give up comics collecting and go out and be a regular kid.

Of course, being a regular kid who has a past of comics collecting… the neighborhood bullies beat the crap out of him.

Little does the forever(?) nameless kid realize he’s got some more trouble in store as the swamp witch has a plan to overtake him as the world’s biggest Weird Melvin fan, which involves making herself irresistible to the tween comics fan. The plan has her transforming herself into a supermodel… a supermodel with a complete run of Weird Melvin comics.

Again, it’s another full issue, with the plotting just as imaginative as the grody visuals. At one point there’s the Mucus Monster, preying on an unsuspecting Weird Melvin, and it’s amazing how Hansen’s able to do dripping repulsion palatably. It’s a very strong mix of art and story. The art’s obvious—you can seen Hansen’s technical chops during with the swamp witch supermodel, when Weird Melvin all of a sudden has panels out of a Gothic horror comic—and the story’s subtle. The plotting’s so precise. So well done.

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