Monthly Archives: October 2012

Shadow Annual and #6

Gentle readers young and old! We’re coming up on almost twelve months of blogging here at Roll For Relevance! That in mind we’re going to ring out the month of October with a dynamic duo of plus-sized posts! First up, a double helping of The Shadow!

So Dynamite’s scheduling is a bit off (surprising approximately no people) and we actually got Shadow Annual before Shadow #6, so before we continue our thrilling serial we have a slight digression for an additional umbral adventure. Despite another fantastic cover by Alex Ross it looks like this sidebar is coming to us courtesy the team of Tom Sniegoski and Dennis Calero. Much as I’m still swooning over the Ennis/Campbell combination on the main title I’m not opposed to seeing someone else tackle the fedora and scarf. Let’s check it out!

This avenging tale is taking place in the Shadow’s home stomping grounds of New York City. Considering the oriental inclination of the regular series this is a change of pace, though we do have an early scene in Tibet with a wayward missionary unleashing some terrible ancient evil. You know, like you do. There’s something of a mystery afoot in the Shadow’s city, and when it involves the intersection of organized crime and apparent mentalism there’s really nobody better for the case. The investigation itself is pretty linear and the who-done-it isn’t really even concealed but the book’s additional length affords it some time to simmer.

Margo Lane, bless her heart, ends up getting used as bait  to draw out the extradimensional antagonists. Really breaking the mold there, fellas. What were we honestly expecting though? To her credit, Margo doesn’t take it completely sitting down either. Ultimately while there’s some tension in the resolution its outcome is never really in doubt, but creepy children will never lose their effectiveness as a plot device. The nature of this particular foe is a little more grandiose than the Shadow typically combats, but it’s portrayed in such a way that it feels more or less at home in his universe.  I’m honestly a little constrained in that since the story has a mystery structure I’d feel a bit awkward spoiling it, even if it is pretty straight forward.

Taken together it’s a nice diversion before moving on the final act of the central Shadow storyline, and while Ennis still has the character pretty much on lock I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Sniegoski could get into with a longer narrative. Calero’s art has this almost surreal impressionist quality to it at times, and I think it sets the mood for this kind of caper just about perfectly.

That brings us around to our main feature, the final installment of the Shadow’s first story arc! Things pick up where we left them, with General Akamatsu about to commit seppuku, an act which will salvage the honor of his mission’s apparent failure. Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and Agent Finnegan watch from a nearby hideaway while Cranston explains the proceedings for the other two and for the audience. The scene itself is actually rather graphic but it drives the point home. Before Taro Kondo, acting as Akamatsu’s second, can decapitate him though he whispers a terrible revelation in his ear. The minerals were not fake, rather Kondo forged the test. Now with no one the wiser he will sell them to the highest bidder. After a few more unsavory words Kondo kills him, having completed his role as an apparent pawn in Kondo’s scheme. The double crosses in this book are getting dizzying. Kondo then begins the return trip with his soldiers and treasure in tow, suspecting he is being tailed by the others after recovering the Shadow’s .45 slugs from Buffalo Wong’s body. Of course he is correct, and Cranston plans an ambush of Kondo’s men over Finnegan’s increasingly vain protests. Cranston finally puts the blowhard in his place with some inspired acidity and goes about making the final play.

Kondo’s men are stopped along the night road by the Shadow, whom Kondo recognizes as his former underworld brother Kent Allard. The Shadow draws the soldiers into a close charge and springs the trap, attacking them with the same mines they used to sink the American marine vessel previously. Only Kondo escapes alive, the Shadow permitting his flight unpursued. With the minerals safely in hand, revealed subsequently to be Uranium-235, the three make their way to British India and safety. The epilogue reveals Kondo’s fate, seen through the Shadow’s prescience, and how he is ultimately reunited with the Uranium he spilled so much blood for.

It’s a pretty satisfying ending, but I can’t deny having a couple of hangups with it. By this point Finnegan just seems like a kind of strawman, an intellectual punching bag for Cranston to show how smart he is. He has no depth, and as much as we’re meant to dislike him it’s hard not to feel like he’s starting with a handicap. Margo also had very little to do in this arc, but her portrayal has been nuanced enough to make me hopeful for things to come.  Then there’s the climax of the conflict. There’s really no reason for the soldiers to have charged the Shadow rather than, you know, shooting him. With their guns. You can argue that the Shadow’s provocation combined with his powers of suggestion overrode their better judgment, but we don’t get a real clue of that in the story itself. Also, let’s talk about that provocation a little bit. Cranston’s language discussing the Japanese in this issue (and a couple previous ones as well) is kind of inflammatory, even bordering on racist. Condemning the writing on this though is complicated by a couple of factors. The first is that the Japanese ‘were’ responsible for abominable atrocities during the war, particularly in China. Not saying this makes prejudiced speech justified, but it is important to understand the context of characters’ words and actions. The second wrinkle is that these kinds of racist attitudes were commonplace in the time period, even among students of Asian culture like Lamont Cranston. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make everything alright, but it’s another important piece of context to comprehend. My only concern is that this context might not be adequately clear to readers not already familiar with its background. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know, what do you think?

In sum total the series is still awesome. All the hagiography I’ve laid on it before is still valid. Pick it up etcetera and so forth.

This concludes your first two-fisted Roll For Relevance! Before I go I figured I’d drop this little Halloween gem on you. I’m the one on the right…

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Godzilla: Half Century War #3

I really wish James Stokoe did more work, or even that this current giant monster book were an ongoing rather than a miniseries, because he is just hitting it out of the park with Godzilla: Half Century War  (on the subject of baseball James Stokoe’s Sullivan’s Sluggers is similarly the bees’ knees).

So, let’s get ready to rumble!

Despite Hedorah being featured on the cover he doesn’t really have a prominent role in this issue. Not that he isn’t there, just that he’s sharing the stage with six other kaiju! The stage in this case is Accra, Ghana. The year is 1975 and Ota Murakami, like the city of Accra, could be doing better. You can tell he’s starting to get beaten down by two decades of losing fights with Godzilla. Hid monolog through the book is tired and cynical, driving home the point with his very own angst beard. The Anti-Megalosaurus Force (I ‘need’ one of those patches…) has diversified to combat and even broadening array of kaiju, using fringe science and a hell-for-leather attitude in a desperate struggle to stay one step ahead of Armageddon. Unfortunately nothing in the A.M.F. arsenal can handle a monster melee of this scale, and the remains of Murakami’s unit are found in a crumbling building waiting out the disaster around them. The machine revealed at the end of the last issue turns out to have been a psionic transmitter which acts as an attractor for kaiju, this explaining Godzilla’s strange behavior in Vietnam. The inventor of the device was a rogue A.M.F. scientist (who’s name is a subtle dig at the writer/directors of the much-maligned American Godzilla film), and it is obvious that he is the mastermind of the mayhem in Ghana. The pieces of Murakami’s command set out across the urban warzone to track him down, and not all of them will come back alive.

Most of the action in this issue is focused on the human protagonists of the A.M.F. with Godzilla and his friends forming the backdrop. While I wish we’d maybe been able to see a little more of it, Stokoe still treats us to some tremendous splash pages of the free-for-all that totally make up for it.  It’s got the operatic quality of an classic Toho film with the driving momentum of a punk rock ballad. I could gush some more about Stokoe’s art… so I think I will.  Even though I just complained about not having more Stokoe, I understand that might be a labor-intensive request. Every page is exploding with visceral detail. The hyper-real cartoon chaos of every panel is what makes this absurdest exercise so much fun. You can’t just read it once. If you do you’re only cheating yourself. There’s so much to linger over and chew on, and every facet of this world is imbued with its own unique character. You get the feeling that Stokoe has constructed far more of this vision than we’ve been able to glimpse. Everything teases at a deeper wellspring of characterization. The time jump between issues is less jarring in this volume, possibly because Murakami looks noticeably aged between installments. On the other hand Kentaro feels like he has even less to do in this issue than the one before, becoming more or less sublimated into the growing cast of background characters.

Despite the great collection of monsters in this issue, I’m still waiting on some of the big guns. Neither King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla have yet made an appearance, though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if those two were being saved for the big finale in issue five. In the meantime the teaser for issue four pretty plainly lays out the King of Monsters’ next challenger.  Even if you’re not a hardcore giant monster aficionado I think you’ll find this series very entertaining, I really cannot recommend it enough.

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Earth Two #5

Confession time. To this point I’ve been kind of ambivalent about whether I wanted to continue reviewing Earth Two. As much as I wanted to enjoy it, I just didn’t have much to say about it. Well, I’m pleased to say that this issue seems to be turning that around. I’ve had this written out long-hand for a while and I’m planning on taking this last full week of October to get caught up.

Things get started on a high note by giving us the first onscreen appearance of Wesley Dodds! That excites me more than it should, but everyone plays favorites. On that subject, is it weird that I’m way more argumentative about them making Wesley Dodds a Canadian than I am about them making Alan Scott gay? We also get to see more of the “World Army” that seems to be the foremost multinational actor in the wake of this earth’s alien invasion (also it’s counterpart to Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D.). Moreover as the situation worsens we see the reintroduction of the nefarious Terry Sloan to events, because bringing in one supervillain to stop another always totally works…

On the ground it seems that The Atom’s unceremonious flattening of Solomon Grundy did not in fact finish the undead menace. This new version of Grundy is honestly pretty terrifying, both in what he can seemingly do and in the awful sickening detail with which Nikola Scott renders him. It is legitimately hard to look at a couple of these panels.

In an interesting turn it becomes apparent that defeating Grundy simply won’t be possible by fisticuffs alone. Rather, Alan Scott must explore the limits of his uncertain new powers to commune with the forces of Green and Grey alluded to by Grundy and the mysterious flame which granted him his abilities. Of course, since he will be defenseless while doing this there’s still plenty of zombie-bashing to be had while the others protect him. Once Scott enters the Grey discovers it to be less malevolent than had been supposed. The Grey simply views itself as performing a primordial function, the purging of a dying race so that planet earth may begin life anew. The simplicity of this goal is matched only by its implacability, and its about as easy trying to reason with a sentient embodiment of death as you’d imagine. The Grey is another area where Nikola Scott really pops this issue, weaving designs that are just unsettling to stare at for too long. Matters are given a final pair of wrinkles as Terry Sloan orders a nuclear strike on the battlefield (he’s fond of those it seems), and the Grey presents Alan Scott with a final temptation: the ghost of his dead fiance…

Unfortunately I keep finding myself pulled out of the story by Jay Garrick’s atrocious Flash outfit. I’m sorry but its just bad. I’ve not warmed to it the way I have the others, and it direly needs a redesign. I’m also not sold on the characterization. I realize that this isn’t the hard-headed elder Jay I’m used to, but he just seems saccharinely sincere in this issue. Maybe the teams needs to have that niche filled, I don’t know, but right now its not doing it for me. That all being the case it doesn’t really disrupt the action or the tension, which there is plenty of and which I feel has been the central missing ingredient of the series so far. I’ve been waiting patiently for Robinson to hit his writing groove, but I feel that I can tentatively say we’ve arrived. We’ve at last got some good momentum building here, and I’m probably the most psyched I’ve yet been about this book.

Now, to see just how many posts I can crank out before the end of the month…

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Halloween

I love October. I love Halloween. It’s probably my favorite season and time of year. In that same thought, it occurs to me that I haven’t subjected you to much bad poetry in a while. Didn’t think you’d gotten off easy, did you? Don’t worry, there’s some legitimate stuff coming down the pipe,  but in the meantime let’s trick or treat…

Welcome, welcome, ladies and damned
It’s a packed house but there’s room to stand
You’re about to witness the most amazing thing
The phantasmagorical terror it brings
Will chill your bones and rot your soul
Eating at you ’till you can’t be made whole
He’s the final wonder of the world
Men will weep and flesh will curl
After you see him there’s no point to living
Forsake all you are in the spirit of giving
To convince yourself you aren’t for the noose
In the terrible raving he will set loose
It’s good news for all, the rat race is through
Couldn’t outrun him, nothing to do
Are you prepared? Have you steeled your spirit?
Or could it be that you already hear it?
The wailing of things thought long forgotten
With feral cries and voices rotten
Avert your eyes, it will do you no good
Already you wear the hangman’s hood
Tight in the throat or light on your feet
That’s just his hosannas clanking beat
Sing along if you know the tune
Join in and embrace your doom
Are you prepared? Have you steeled your spirit?
Or could it be that you already hear it?
The awful gnashing, chattering chorus
Of unclean children that calls out to us
His many abandoned, orphaned throng
Now weaving their world killing song
Their rhymes that lash and chords that bleed
It’s far too late, you wouldn’t take heed
The warnings came to you in dreams
Feverish nightmares that glimpsed through the seams
To where he waits behind this stage
For you only to turn the page
Are you prepared? Have you steeled your spirit?
Or could it be that you already hear it?
Time is short, his hour draws near
There’s no refunds, or exits, I fear
So turn down the lights and strike up the band
Ladies first, just take my hand
Draw back the curtain so all can gaze
At this, simply this, the end of your days…
 

Happy Halloween!!!

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One Hundred Foods

So this is a little different from what I usually do (if whatever it is I do can be described as “usual”). In addition to having a preoccupation with matters of history, politics, culture, movies, comic books, and other nerd obscura, I also love food. Food as a thing which is eaten, food as a thing which is prepared, food as a folkway, the whole nine yards. I came across this list on another blog and figured I’d see how I stack up. It’s “100 foods you should eat before you die.” It runs the gamut from the exotic to the everyday and I’d recommend taking a gander at it if you have ever, you know, eaten anything ever.

  1. Abalone
  2. Absinthe
  3. Alligator
  4. Baba Ghanoush
  5. Bagel and lox
  6. Baklava
  7. Barbecue ribs
  8. Bellini
  9. Bird’s Nest Soup
  10. Biscuits and gravy
  11. Black Pudding (made from cooked blood)
  12. Black Truffle
  13. Borscht (Ukrainian soup made from beetroot)
  14. Calamari
  15. Carp
  16. Caviar
  17. Cheese fondue
  18. Chicken and waffles
  19. Chicken Tikka Masala
  20. Chile Relleno
  21. Chitterlings/Chitlins
  22. Churros
  23. Clam Chowder
  24. Cognac
  25. Crabcake
  26. Crickets
  27. Currywurst
  28. Dandelion wine
  29. Dulce de leche
  30. Durian (southeast Asian fruit notorious for its ordor)
  31. Eel
  32. Eggs benedict
  33. Fish Tacos
  34. Foie Gras
  35. Fresh Spring Rolls
  36. Fried Catfish
  37. Fried Green Tomatoes
  38. Fried Plaintain
  39. Frito Pie
  40. Frog’s Legs
  41. Fugu (pufferfish)
  42. Funnel Cake
  43. Gazpacho
  44. Goat
  45. Goat’s milk
  46. Goulash
  47. Gumbo
  48. Haggis
  49. Head Cheese
  50. Heirloom Tomatoes
  51. Honeycomb
  52. Hostess Fruit Pie
  53. Huevos Rancheros
  54. Jerk Chicken
  55. Kangaroo
  56. Key Lime Pie
  57. Kobe Beef
  58. Lassi (Indian yogurt drink)
  59. Lobster
  60. Mimosa
  61. MoonPie
  62. Morel Mushrooms
  63. Nettle Tea
  64. Octopus
  65. Oxtail Soup
  66. Paella
  67. Paneer (a cheese)
  68. Pastrami on Rye
  69. Pavlova (meringue cake)
  70. Phaal (curry dish)
  71. Philly Cheesesteak
  72. Pho
  73. Pineapple and cottage cheese
  74. Pistachio Ice Cream
  75. Po’ boy
  76. Pocky
  77. Polenta
  78. Prickly Pear
  79. Rabbit Stew
  80. Raw Oysters
  81. Root Beer Float
  82. S’mores
  83. Sauerkraut
  84. Sea Urchin
  85. Shark
  86. Snail
  87. Snake
  88. Soft Shell Crab
  89. Som Tam (spicy salad made from shredded unripened papaya)
  90. Spaetzle (German dumpling or noodle)
  91. Spam
  92. Squirrel
  93. Steak Tartare
  94. Sweet Potato Fries
  95. Sweetbreads
  96. Tom Yum
  97. Umeboshi (pickled ume fruits common in Japan, similar to a plum)
  98. Venison
  99. Wasabi Peas
  100. Zucchini Flowers

All told 66/100. Not too shabby all things considered. If I had to pick a few foods I’d add to the list I’d probably go with scrapple, halupki, pepperoni rolls, and stinky tofu (though all but the last might just be my regional bias)…

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The Id, The Ego, And The Superhero

So with news of Iron Man 3 swirling about the vast series of tubes, as well as the growing number of spinoffs and sequels the franchise has spawned, it seems like as good a time as any to get out some stuff that’s been rolling around my braincase. I want to take us back in time to the halcyon summer of 2008. The idea of comic book blockbusters this big was still something ephemeral and fanciful. While it was The Dark Knight that shattered all the records and became the movie everyone remembers from that year I’m going to focus instead on the frontrunner of the also-rans. Iron Man was pretty hot on Batman’s heels, and I would argue that over the last few years it is Iron Man that has had the greater cultural penetration. Some of this is due to Iron Man having having an additional sequel over Batman and several spinoffs bearing its imprint, but I don’t think that accounts for all of it. The Dark Knight was a sequel to the successful Batman Begins, and the sixth Batman film adaptation in twenty years. I’m not saying The Dark Knight wasn’t good, just that it wasn’t starting from square one either. Iron Man was a freshman effort with a protagonist not all that well known outside the comics readership, in contrast to Batman’s longstanding icon status. This in mind, Iron Man‘s own towering success is not only more impressive but also raises the question of how it managed to get its hooks in the popular culture the way it did. Well, I think I can tell you.

Heroes resonate with people in times of crisis. Superman was two Jewish boys’ vision of the tzadik-hador amidst the Great Depression, the transformative New Deal, and the approaching Second World War. Four years ago things may not have been as apocalyptic, but with an imploding economy brought on by decades of excess and foreign wars in need of clarity and direction Americans were ready for a hero. I don’t think its a coincidence at all that later that same year Americans decisively acclaimed Barrack Obama to the White House.

Still, why though? Why Iron Man? Why Tony Stark? Well, as presented in the film Tony Stark in many ways an avatar for the American sense of self. In the first part of the movie Stark is narcissistic, insensitive, greedy, hedonistic, and revels in the callous calculus of war. In essence, Tony Stark is what America at some level fears it has become. We fear we have squandered our moral mandate from the promise of the post-war years, just as Stark has squandered his father’s legacy. We secretly fear we are the fatted, self-absorbed sybarites that anti-American propaganda portrays us to be, just as Stark flagrantly disregards the needs of others for his own comfort and gratification. We fear that we have become trapped as Stark has by the blowback of our own excess, and like Stark we have to wonder if we deserve it.

It’s not all dark though. Tony isn’t an indictment of American identity, he’s a redemption of it. He realizes how he got where he is and understands not just that he needs to change, but that he ‘wants’ to change. This is only part of it though. Important also is ‘how’ Tony Stark changes. He doesn’t simply renounce his works and become a hermit. Rather, he accepts what he is and chooses to use that to do the right thing. He isn’t ashamed of his wealth and success, but he opts to channel it into something worthwhile. He doesn’t destroy the weapons he’s made, but he takes responsibility for them. He doesn’t become a pacifist, but attempts to become a more conscientious warrior. As Iron Man he returns a moral agency to war that had too easily become lost in the haze. He fights the way we want to fight; with the strength of an army, the precision of a laser, and the clarity of a single righteous conscience. Iron Man is our idealized America, the other side of the coin to Tony’s (and our own) flaws.

In Iron Man Americans saw a cross section of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we could be. It spoke to something we didn’t even know we were searching for. People like to pigeonhole Iron Man into either a conservative or a liberal label, but the truth is it’s not either. It neither condones nor condemns the American self image, merely articulating it with warts, aspirations, and all.

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Ouraboros

We’re going to talk about Looper. As you might expect with a film like this it is very difficult to discuss the things I want to without some pretty egregious spoilers. So, you’ve been warned. This is a spoiler warning. A warning of spoilers. Go see the movie before reading this, because despite everything I’m about to say I still recommend the movie and want you to form your own opinion of it. That all being established, let’s tuck in.

I want to like Looper. I want to like Looper more than I do. I’m ‘trying’ to like Looper. I can’t reconcile it though. Looper doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. The pieces that construct it are all very interesting and dynamic, but the fact is they don’t fit together to make a total picture. The math doesn’t work.

Here’s my problem. When a movie uses time travel as a central plot device it has to have rules. Continuity only becomes more important the less linear your plot becomes. It’s like synchronized swimming; the components can all be chaotic as long as at that crucial moment everything lines up just so. Looper doesn’t really have that. It tries to, but in so doing it only succeeds in tripping over itself.The moment I’m talking about is when Young Joe has has his epiphany before sacrificing himself. The implication of this scene is that Old Joe’s attempt to kill the boy Sid, to prevent him from becoming the Rainmaker, is precisely the event that sets in motion Sid’ eventual transformation. A paradox. A loop that Joe can only undo by removing himself from it. This is all fine… except earlier we see that original timeline where Old Joe was killed and Young Joe’s journey back to that moment. In that timeline the Rainmaker still exists, despite Old Joe being dead in the past and unable to initiate the events of the film. This can’t really be reconciled. There is a token effort to do so, but its flimsy at best. Certainly one can come up with any number of fan theories that make the script work (I’ve come up with three just since last night) but that fact is nobody should ‘have’ to. I’m not saying movies shouldn’t make people think. Far from it. What movies shouldn’t do though is make the audience cover for their lazy storytelling. That’s the heart of it. Looper is kind of lazy. For having such a clutch premise Looper seems content to sleepwalk through it. Really the problem keeps coming back to those two scenes I mentioned. They cannot coexist in the same film. Remove one, either one, and the gears stop grinding (or at least don’t grind nearly as loud).

The thing that frustrates me so much about Looper is that its so close to being great. I wanted it to be as good as it could have been, and its painful to see it shoot itself in the foot with such lackadaisical and easily correctable stumbles. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected more of it. I’ve been told that I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I did and I am. I need Looper to show its work on the exam, and for that I’m docking points.

All that said and done though, you should still go see Looper if you didn’t heed my warning and haven’t already. I’m extending to Looper the same consideration I gave to Prometheus. If a movie gets you talking about it after the lights come up, then at some level it was successful. It wasn’t All You Zombies, or La Jetée, or even Brick, but I can’t say with any conviction that Looper is “bad.” You might love it, you might hate it, but I don’t think you’ll want your money back.

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