Originally posted on PopWatch:
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really been on a roll these past few episodes, and “The Only Light in the Darkness” was no exception. It was an episode that I had been looking forward to for awhile thanks to the inclusion of Coulson’s mysterious cellist, but after last week’s development, I was also super curious to see what would happen now that Ward had rejoined the team with his Hydra cover intact.
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I am so sick of superheroes, always “saving the day” right before the real heroes get a chance to flatten one overpopulated rat’s nest or another, like Metropolis or Los Angeles or somewhere with a lame-ass name like “Star City”.
Seriously, can’t these high-and-mighty assholes just lay off and let some baddies do some slaying? Who asked them to save a group of cynical hipster jerks right before they made a snide comment about our so-called “villain’s” supersuit? I’d like to see one of them try to find a decent electricity-conducting outfit that hugs the hips that well and comes in purple.
I mean, if you think about it, sometimes those murderous psychopaths are doing the rest of us a favour – or at least they would, if it weren’t for Captain Courageous and Mistress Magnanimous busting in and screwing it all up. But I guess it’s fine; I’ll just tolerate another unavoidable streetcar polemic about the amazing musicianship of Animal Collective.
But I think the worst part about these self-righteous blowhards is how they steal all the thunder. You’re gonna try and tell me that every hero defeats their villains single-handed? What about the innocent bystanders, whose screams are the only reason they get the chance to smite evil; or the police who fill out all the paperwork, handle the trial reports, take the statements and make sure the bad guy doesn’t just run off again at the first opportunity?
And what about the villains themselves? Let’s face it: if your idea of a fun Friday night is to dress up in spandex and a cape, give your hair a little gel treatment and head to the rooftops to search for a chance to “dish out justice”, that villain in your path is the only thing keeping you from trading your supersuit for a McDick’s uniform and giving up your slick one-liners for “would you like to supersize that?” and “sorry, but we’re currently out of Shamrock Shakes”.
If you ask me (which you’re not, but … well, tough), the real heroes are the ones who get the shortest end of the stick – usually the pointy end, too. They’re the ones who mend up the suit and hammer the dents out of their arrogant mentor’s armour in between skull-crackings; they keep the Whatever-Mobile clean, gassed up and full of washer fluid; they get kidnapped, beaten, used as bait and then sent back out the next day, only to be kidnapped, beaten and used as bait all over again. They’re the overworked, under-appreciated grunts who take all the shit and never get a gram of glory, like being the weekly contributor to an up-and-coming website on all things fandom –
I’ll stop there. I think Julian knows my address.
My point is, it’s not the heroes we should be rooting for; it’s the sidekicks. I think it’s about damn time that those staunch protectors of our … um, protectors … got a few words written in their honour. Lord knows there’s enough of them – sidekicks, that is – to go around.
And so, for this, my first foray into the realms of sidekickery, I’ll be delving into one of my favourite comics of all time – Deadpool.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the man known affectionately as “the merc with the mouth”, a sadistic headcase with an irreverent, sarcastic wit that only an irreverent, sarcastic son of a bitch such as myself can truly love. And I’ve gotta say, for a guy who prides himself on being a lone wolf, this guy’s got a pretty decent list of sidekicks.
I’ll start things off with a man who, to any true Deadpool fan, needs no introduction. Actually, an intro wouldn’t be very helpful anyway, since his name is Bob.
Yep. Just Bob.
Well, not just Bob. For us comic geeks, his full name is Bob, Agent Of HYDRA, but for my purposes, I’ll keep it simple.
Bob got into the terrorism business for the same reason most people do: his spouse. Tired of listening to constant bitching about how he could never keep a job, Bob decided to apply to the world’s fastest-growing industry – mostly because the pay was decent and there was talk of dental benefits. Of course, HYDRA didn’t offer full dental, but by the time Bob discovered that it was far too late, on account of the brainwashing and the complimentary uniforms.
Of course, it wasn’t until Deadpool coerced him into defecting through some extremely effective torture techniques that involved a security card (don’t ask…) that he joined the ranks of the … not quite evil, but … sort of good … when it suits their purposes.
Anyway, since then, the man with one name has had quite the illustrious career: member of Agency X; time-traveling teammate of Captain America and Bucky (a sidekick for another time); dimension-swapping savior of reality at the side of Doctor Strange; and Deadpool’s scurvy-inflicted parrot when the manic mercenary decides to try his hand at piracy.
Yeah, that was all Bob. And he still doesn’t have his own comic.
See what I mean about sidekicks? All guts, no glory. Hats off to Bob.
And hail HYDRA.
Keep kicking sides, Extremites.
Bob was first introduced in Cable &Deadpool #38. He can be found in Deadpool #6-15 and the World War Hulk series.
Decoding DC - Part 11
Shadows West spans 3 issues unlike the last two arcs.
Shadows hits the ground running.
Jonah Hex is defending himself in front of a court for shooting down some roustabouts who attacked him for soliciting a whore. After he is found innocent, Jonah is beset by the gun toting relatives of the whore. After a gunfight, he is saved by a diminutive fellow with a huge hat called Long Tom. Long Tom brings Jonah over to an Old West Show headed up by a Buffalo Bill knockoff called Buffalo Will. Jonah joins the show where he meets up with an old Cree friend called Spotted Balls. After some characteristic Hexian repartee, including an allusion to Two Gun Mojo, Jonah finds himself embroiled in another supernatural plot with a squaw who has a half bear/half human child.
This Jonah Hex feels different from the ones who have come before. In Two Gun Mojo, Tim Truman and Joe R. Lansdale’s take on the character was brooding and dark. In Riders of the Worm and Such Jonah became a wise cracking swashbuckler. He was without the burden of Civil War experience that coloured his world view in Two Gun Mojo.
In Shadows, Jonah’s personality has been pulled back and he is almost witty. For the first time Jonah Hex feels three dimensional.
Tim Truman is no longer concerned with the brooding world view that peppered Two Gun and Riders. The dark backgrounds are replaced by whitewashed frames. The character creation is different as well. The faces are rosy and pink. Turman even embraces facial aspects like freckles and dimples instead of scars and scowls
What has changed in Jonah Hex from 1995 to 1999? Why is Jonah’s world brighter?
The tail end of the 90s was a very tough time for comics. The rise of independent companies like Image and Darkhorse were cutting into the popularity of the mainstream lines. Even these startups posted losses when Shadows West premiered. As a result, the mainstream lines focused on simplicity and gimmickry to attract readers. Some critics in this period referred to this new direction as ‘Disneyfication.’ Tim and Joe must have decided to modify their perspective to better resemble the Disneyfication of comics. The brutality of the earlier Vertigo titles is still present but is clearer and crisper.
I have qualms with the new aesthetic. Jonah’s scar and mangled eye are as iconic as Batman’s mask or Superman’s cape. The way Truman has downplayed the scar in this issue just doesn’t seem right. On top of all this, Sam Parson’s colouring of the eye with a vibrant red makes it look bionic. In the night panels, Jonah looks more like a cowboy version of Marvel’s Deathlok than19th century grizzled bounty hunter. These are minor qualms and could be the result of new publishing demands.
Shadows West brings us a brighter, happier, clearer Jonah Hex. This could be the result of tighter publication limits or of a change in the direction for Vertigo. Later articles will investigate this closer.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Part One: Long Tom” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1 Feb. 1999)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Finally, a three dimensional Jonah Hex. Some great lines. Crisper story telling. Less meandering. The overall simplicity.
Cons: The art feels more a cartoonish and often I have to remind myself that this is not a DC mainstream comic.
Previous Review: “Chapter Five: Cataclysm in Worm Town” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #5, Jul. 1995)
Upcoming Review: “Part Two: Gathering Shadows” (Jonah Hex: Shadows West #2 Mar. 1999)
Last night’s Arrow had some stunning stunts, great battle sequences, and Summer Glau. Summer Glau is always a plus. (Sorry to get all teenage boy you.) Anyway, this was a great episode but Laurel is the worst! She knows about Ollie and says nothing. Come on, Lance, I’ve had it with your pious waffling!
Originally posted on PopWatch:
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the April 16 episode of Arrow, stop reading now!
Well, that was an action-packed welcome back to Starling City! We have a lot to talk about, but first, I have to say that the moment I’m still hung up on from this episode was that maneuver where Oliver successfully flipped Felicity over the stairwell and they somehow both landed on their feet like they were cats or something. Is that weird? I mean, I know a lot just happened and major stuff is going down, but was that not incredibly impressive? Am I the only one stuck on this? That’s cool. I’ll move on.
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Originally posted on PopWatch:
Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D… well, let’s just say trust is a little hard to come by these days. S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen. The team itself remains wary of whom they can actually count on, thanks to the events of last week. Hydra, which has been quietly infiltrating the organization for far longer than anyone can really comprehend (pawning a little background from Zola and Winter Soldier here) has finally prevailed. And just when we thought we had everyone figured out, Ward — Ward, of all people! — has gone to the dark side.
Or has he? There’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not Ward is actually as Hydra-brainwashed as he seems to be, and we still have a handful of episodes to get through before the end of the season, so this should be a fun ride. (Though something tells me…
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Journey Into Marvel - Part 47
Extremites, the 1950s were a period of great film. Every writer, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg in their formative years ,strolled down to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and took in a matinee B-Film. The crazy plots, full of monsters eating hapless hot-rodding teenagers and invasions of aliens wearing lycra suits, washed over their eyes and infected their minds. The creativity that flooded the 80s was seeded in the darkness of the 50s movie house. B-Films embrace two dimensionality, juvenility, and action over substance, to entice an army of kids to populate the movie theatres every weekend.
Likewise comics, once a medium that focused on the exploits of legendary comic gods like Superman, Batman, and Captain America, were forced to headline schlocky ‘monster of the week plots’ to bring in the 12 cents from the 10 year olds. This problem halted comic book creativity for years.
At Martin Goodman’s comic book company: Atlas Comics, times were hard for Stan Lee’s team. Lee was forced to reject the far more satisfying plots of Captain America and the Sub-Mariner for tales of mole creatures and marauding mindless aliens to make ends meet. Even after this change in creative direction, Stan had to fire most of his staff because of poor sales.
Atlas changed to Marvel.
The Marvel Age of Comics was born.
This issue of the Fantastic Four is when Stan Lee said ‘no more’ to Marvel Comic’s 1950s B-Title exploitative ways. (Well, until everyone got lazy, circa 1969.)
When the Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, their entry was greeted with some criticism by the few who read them. They were unlike any characters that had come before in that they were selfish, prone to squabbling, and ignorant of the higher goals of the superhero. Though these characters had balanced moral compasses, they often allow their baser instincts to govern their actions. Thing would rather spend time beating on his favourite punching bag, the Human Torch, than devote his mind to saving the world. Many people who read the comic thought Fantastic Four, while novel, was a passing fad and comics as a whole were empty-headed nothingness. Kurggo represents this narrow opinion of the comic book’s pointless B-title past and the derision that ‘discerning’ people had for comics.
Coming off the victory of defeating a tag teem of villains, the Fantastic Four are receiving an award from congress when a space ray assaults the Earth. The laser beam turns every human against the team and the Four become outcasts. Kurrgo, Master of Mysterious Planet X is behind this attack and he’s doing it so he can capture the Four. At introduction, Kurrgo with his furry demeanour and campy planet scream 1950s B-Titles. As he espouses his plan to turn Earth against the team in an extended soliloquy one can imagine a great B-Movie face like Sterling Hayden behind the words.
The whole defamation and kidnap plan turns out to be a plea by Kurrgo for Mr. Fantastic to return to Planet X and help the Xians stop an asteroid from demolishing their planet. On top of this it seems that the planet has two spaceships with which to vacate the furry race. The Xians “have no interest in space travel.” After a ploy by the captive Reed Richards and a shrinking elixir, Kurrgo’s race is shrunken to fit on a diminutive space ship. Kurrgo is left out of that ship to die in the oncoming asteroid impact. In this act, Stan Lee through Reed Richards has abandoned Fantastic Four’s B-Title association.
Kurggo is a name that has appeared a few times in the history of Marvel. During the 1950s, the name belonged to a subterranean monster who terrorized people by opening his gullet and gobbling them into oblivion. Kurrgo is now the Master of Planet X. It is no coincidence that the Master and monster share the same name.
Two B-plot monsters have now been done away with in the short tenure of the Four. The Moleman’s monster, which looks like many 1950s prototypes, was abandoned on an island to be destroyed by a blast. Kurrgo was left to die on his doomed planet. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have said ‘no more’ to tired B-movie plots.
And so begins the more satisfying plots of the Fantastic Four.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “It Came from the Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Jack Kirby’s art is colourful and detailed, All characters are treated with a deft hand and feel developed, there is some good humour in this one. Reed Richards is finally allowed to headline a title.
Cons: Campiness of Kurrgo. The defamation plot seems like page filler. The whole plot seems haphazard.
Upcoming Review: “Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief!” (Journey Into Mystery #85 Oct. 1962)
Former Review: “The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner” (Journeu Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)
Now, isn’t that a ridiculous statement? Of course it’s changing – change is the only certainty in this temporal world. It seems pretty redundant to even use the sentence anymore; perhaps it belongs in the pile of other permanently-useless cliches, like “it’s deja vu all over again” (thank you very much, Yogi Berra) and “the Lord works in mysterious ways” (so does the wind, but I’m not about to give it credit for narrowly-missed car accidents or the Leafs missing the playoffs … again).
The fact that the world is changing is no more noteworthy to us than the fact that fire is hot. It’s the type of change – the rate, direction and, most importantly, the outcome – that are of the greatest relevance. And as I look around at the world today, the change I see is fast, aimless and largely terrifying.
But in some ways, we’ve barely changed at all. Sure, the trappings around us are flashier and make cooler noises, but as a people – as a civilization – we’re still pissing in corners to mark our territory and calling the smell “progress”.
Of course, this doesn’t account for everywhere in the world, but frankly the worry I have is not for certain towns and cities (although … Rob Ford…): we live in the first ever planet-wide community that has ever existed in our history, and we choose to focus on the grass growing in our backyard – or worse, the brown patch in our neighbour’s.
Despite mass communication, increased worldwide literacy, a growing social consciousness and revolutionary technological breakthroughs – and I’m just talking since I was born in the early ’80s – Christians are still being murdered in Pakistan, Central Africa and Syria for their beliefs; Palestinians are still hiding from missile strikes; ethnic groups in Spain and the Ukraine are struggling to have their voices heard; and the Supreme Leader of North Korea is shooting missiles at the ocean like it’s giving him the stink-eye.
Forgive me for believing too much in the species I’ve been born into, but aren’t we a little too old for this? It seems to me – and this is coming from someone who is considered by my culture to be entering the “the new 20s” – that the trouble isn’t coming from the changes of today, but from the morass of our history.
Despite our best efforts over the past century of conflict, protest, and mass production, we are still living in the shadows of our forefathers, those men (and I’m being very gender-specific right now) who claimed dominance over everything that didn’t look, dress, talk, and goosestep like they did.
We never truly escape the sins of our past, this much is true; we all know the distress that follows our youthful mistakes coming back to remind us what stupid little shits we used to be. But must we pay for the mistakes of those who never felt the sting of their own hubris and foolishness? Is there a way to wipe the slate clean, a way to return to innocence?
Sadly, I think the only way to put the past to rest is to face it in its entirety – right from the first clubbed skull on the plains of North Africa to the most recent one in the streets of Kiev, or Madrid, or Athens, or Kabul, or … well, name a fucking city.
If we’re really going to be able to move forward, if we want to actually change – not just our city, vocation, or political party, but our direction as a species – it’s going to happen when we start cleaning up our parents’ mess.
The trouble with that whole idealistic concept is that it’s not the things you know about your parents that make for a fucked-up childhood … it’s the skeletons in the closet. We must remember that the most horrific, unconscionable events in our history were discovered after they occurred, whether we’re talking about smallpox-laden gifts to the First Nations of North America, gulags in Soviet Russia, the Holocaust, or Edward Snowden‘s recent revelations (if you didn’t know, those NSA wiretaps began in 1997!).
And make no mistake, the worst secrets are surely yet to be revealed. There’s no shortage of hateful people with mobs of support behind them, and there aren’t enough cameras to keep track of it all … unless you count CCTV, which is a whole other conversation.
The point is, our history is fairly self-explanatory at first glance. It’s when we take a microscope to it, when we really dig deep and investigate the sources of our troubles, that we see who our predecessors truly were – and how much scrubbing we have to do before the dirt’s all gone.
You may remember Rahsan Ekedal’s techno-military think piece Think Tank, a series that is still holding strong and getting more impressive every issue. The art in Echoes shares a similar style – both are black and white – but while Think Tank portrays strong, solid lines and intense, almost schematic-style design to the machinery, Echoes is blurred, sketch-like shades of grey – appropriately so, considering the themes involved in the story.
As for Fialkov, this fellow has a list of award nominations longer than his bibliography, most of which were directed at this particular series – Harvey noms for Best New Series (2011), Best Graphic Album previously published, Best Continuing or Limited Series, Best Writer, and Best Single Issue or Story for the fifth and final issue (2012).
Now, I know I’m usually focused on emerging or currently-running series, but I felt that this work deserved some notice. The series crossed my vision last fall when I was gearing up for these articles, but with such a long list of comics that deserved to be reviewed, it slipped right past me until now. Even though the comic finished in 2010, I still feel that certain comics deserve a return to the spotlight, if only for a moment – especially if the story has such a unique story that inspires more questions than it answers.
Brian Cohn is a mostly-functional paranoid schizophrenic. While still struggling with every day, he’s keeping an even keel; assisted by medication, his loving wife, and the exciting knowledge that he’s only weeks away from becoming a father.
Then, a phone call from the doctor: his own patriarch, the man from whom he inherited his mental disorder, has taken a turn for the worse. It’s a matter of days before he slips away, and this will be Brian’s last chance to say goodbye.
It’s during this final farewell that Brian’s father whispers a frightening confession to his psychologically-disturbed offspring:
“Thirteen thirty nine Haymaker. The bodies … the girls bodies…”
Thus begins a journey into the mind of a man who slowly spirals further and further away from sanity, while each twist of the road reveals more of the truth about his father … and himself.
And that, of course, is why we unearth our pasts; as unnerving or fearsome as it is, the story of our predecessors is but a part of our own tale, as the tale of our lives will be to the generations that follow us.
As Brian discovers – and as we all do, eventually – we must face our past – nay, we are compelled to face it, to learn from its failures and atrocities.
Or, as Winston Churchill warned us just as Stalin’s gulags filled with innocents and the smoke of Auschwitz’s incinerators filled the air, we are doomed to repeat it.
Until next week.
Trek Through Trek – Part IX
Extremites, when I sat down today to watch the news I was bombarded with coverage of the Ukraine crisis. I have been following this event with great interest; being a political nut, historical fanatic, and Russophile, this conflict plays on my chords.
The news coverage of the Crimea conflict shows just how off base Western Culture is when talking about Russian people. If you are a Western Child, you grew up with a stereotype of Russians as bad guys who live there lives in the soul purpose of destroying everything the West holds dear. This stereotype has led to an oversimplification of Russian relations; making it a black and white scenario.
Nothing is black and white.
No piece of literature, no piece of cinema, no television show, has illustrated that more than Star Trek.
Today’s Trek TroughTrek focuses on one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time: Balance of Terror. This episode is a prescient and important piece that is more import now than it has ever been.
If you read this blog on the regular you are aware that I love to talk about the Cold War. It is near impossible to discuss Silver Age comics without a rudimentary understanding of what made up that period in history. What is astounding to me about this time is how close the Earth was to thermo-nuclear holocaust. This is not hyperbole. The leaders of both sides entertained nuclear weapons as a viable military option; an idea that seems less prominent today.
Diplomats in the period had a death scenario that hang in the back of their minds like a cobweb. Called the ‘single soldier scenario’, it went something like this: in a period of heightened tensions, one soldier lets loose a bullet which kills an enemy soldier. This then butterflies into a larger scenario that forces both governments to retaliate with armies and major war actions. The actions would snowball to the release of nuclear weapons, ending in complete destruction.
Lots of works of the early Sixties were obsessed with this possibility. Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb took that scenario to a frightening end. Multiple books and plays capitalized on this fear as well. Balance of Terror takes influence from this scenario and extrapolates it into an intense military nightmare.
Balance of Terror was not coined as an allegory for the Cold War. It was an adaptation, by Paul Schneider — in space, mind you— of the 1957 film The Enemy Below, which concerns a destroyer battling a German U-Boat in World War II. Paul Schnieder says that it was his intention to make this episode of Star Trek feel like a sailing epic: “like two Master and Commanders duking it out in full blindness.”
Balance of Terror is a very simple premise compared to some of the other episodes. A Romulan Commander leads his Bird of Prey across the borders of the Neutral Zone, a boundary between Federation Space and the Romulan Star Empire, to destroy a series of star bases. Why he does this is never discussed. The Enterprise is tasked with maintaining peace along the border by any means necessary. Because the Romulans have no warp capabilities they have created something called ‘a cloaking device,’ which hides the ship from any screens. Kirk must use his ingenuity to catch the ship without being able to see it. Over the episode Kirk and the Romulan Captain — played by Mark Lenard, who later went on to play Spock’s father Sarek — gain a mutual respect for one another as they tilt lances in a mortal struggle.
Imagine the Federation was the Ukraine and the ‘Neutral Zone’ was Crimea. Putin, being the Romulan Commander, has crossed the border under the pretence of protection and the Enterprise, being the West, must protect the boundary between the two sides. What is different about our situation than the one posed in the show? One major aspect. Respect.
I can hear you saying that Putin does not have respect for the West. I’d submit the exact opposite: the West does not have respect for Russia.
I think Putin has great respect for the West. This is why he works his life, and many other Russian politicians as well, to always get the upper hand. This is why he and his administration are so terrified of the Ukraine, and Georgia before it, forging closer ties with the West. When Russia makes a complaint, whether it be a noninterventionist plea or a political ask, the West shrugs it off as a byproduct of a ‘little people trying to restore the former glories of a superpower past.’We don’t look at these actions and wonder why Russia is calling for them. We have never been able to look at diplomacy from Russia’s point of view and understand why they act the way they do.
This is what Balance of Terror suggests we should do in a period of heightened tension. Kirk spends the episode trying to think like his opponent. He assumes the Romulans are acting under orders and all they want to do is return home unscathed. Knowing that the Romulan Commander would go to drastic lengths to escape, Kirk never once believes the surface clues. Kirk is holding onto his weapons, wondering why the aggressor aggresses, and uses these conclusions to determine his next action. Imagine if the West did that with Russia instead of chanting “destroy an ‘evil aggressor.’”
War is never the answer.
War is never going to end without mass death and devastation.
Our military and political leaders need to think more and posture less.
Thinking is not weakness, it is strength. Star Trek teaches us this.
What a heck of a show Star Trek is.
Until next time, Extremites,
The Episode We Are Watching: Balance of Terror (Episode 8 of Season 1 of The Original Series: December 15, 1966)
My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 5 Tribbles Crossing the Neutral Zone, incognito.
My After Episode Thoughts: “What a powerful episode… How do they rectify the Mark Lenard thing?”
Pros: The concept is simple, yet, powerful. All performances are top notch esp. Mark Lenard. It all feels very believable. The score is some of the best music in the The Original Series.
Cons: I don’t have any.
—> Part X
‘Agents of SHIELD’ postmortem: Jeff Bell and Jeph Loeb on what [spoiler's] new role means for the series
Originally posted on Inside TV:
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