Friday, 20 October 2017

DRACULA VS ZORRO "Zorro's Story"

...decades before the events chronicled in Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, the Prince of Vampires, prepares for a journey from Spain to France!
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Seduction of the Innocent!
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Review: Superman #33

Superman #33 came out this week starting the Imperious Lex story arc and I have to say I was somewhat tickled pink by this opening issue. There were a bunch of small little nods and mentions and interactions that really grabbed me a bit as a reader, especially an older reader. As usual, writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason also bring a nice look at the Kent family while weaving in some high adventure.

There are definitely a couple of things which I still am getting used to. The idea that Lex is a hero and working side by side with Superman is still odd to me. And this issue and this story has that in spades. I wonder if this story might be the tipping point to bring Lex back into the villainous fold. There also are some nods that maybe Lex is a bit starstruck by hanging out with Superman. And maybe Superman is the obnoxious popular high school kid who hangs with a 'loser'. The dynamic subtly permeates their interactions.

I also have to get used to the fact that Darkseid is a kid in Wonder Woman and not on the throne of Apokolips. As a result, there is a power vacuum on that world. You would think that now would be the time for New Genesis to attack! That said, between the 'Darkseid Is'-ness of Mister Miracle and the wackiness of Bug!, I realize that I need to put the continuity nerd inside my head away.

I will continue to compliment Doug Mahnke for his tremendous work. His work seems so effortlessly fantastic. His work just flows. And I am always impressed when an artist brings the same elan to quiet character moments and the action sequences.

On to the book.

The book opens with rebel forces storming Darkseid's castle on Apokolips. They are intent on putting their leader on the throne. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish that. We see Darkseid's lieutenants like Granny Goodness and Kalibak in battle as the rebels hope to put someone with iron will in charge again.

I hope we get more backstory here. We know this leader is going to be Lex. We saw those visions in the God Killer arc. But why do these folks want Lex? Or even know Lex? And how did this rebellion overwhelm to court of Apokolips? I need more.

But let's face it. The big thing here is that the woman's name is Ardora!!! Old school readers remember this as the name of Lex Luthor's wife on Lexor, a planet which revered Lex as a hero. Is this a reimagining??

 We shift to Metropolis where Lex and Superman are teaming up to stop a bank robbery. It is strange to see the two working together so seamlessly, so innocently. We see how in synch they are, portrayed  wonderfully in the second panel above.

And that line by Lex ... 'can you read my mind?' It has to be some nod to Margot Kidder's romance song when she flies with Superman in the Donner movie. Does this hint that Lex has something of a man-crush on Superman. He does seem almost giddy to be hanging out with the Man of Steel.

And then we hear Lex drop a Brave and Bold reference. Excellent! After all, that could be the ultimate team-up book for DC. So it brings an air of camaraderie to these two.

Even the cops call them 'Super-Guys' and there is a splash of Lex striking a pose next to his buddy Superman for pictures. It is just weird to see these guys be so chummy with each other. And I get the feeling that Lex is into it way more than Superman.

 We do get a smidgen of Lex's internal monologue.

He talks about how time has made people trust him again. And slowly he is becoming the hero of the people, a human who has achieved. Not an alien. That seems like 'old school' Lex. But he isn't wringing his hands in evil glee. He isn't snarling 'the fools will accept me as their hero! Hahahahahahah!' He seems to have changed.

While in mid-thought, the Prophet and Ardora from the opening scene arrive via Boom Tube, capture Lex, and zip away. They say Lex has his destiny to fulfill.

When  this happens, a hypersonic message from Lex gets broadcast telling Superman to rush to Lexcorp, a message only Clark and Jon can hear. But Clark isn't going to stop a family night from happening to  check in on Lex.

He even takes a jab at Lex saying that the last time the message was sent it was so Lex could show off his new chest shield. Doesn't that sound like the desperate unpopular kid trying to be cool and impress the big man on campus? And isn't Clark's rebuff sort of a bully putdown, ignoring his nerdy pal? He even looks smug. Maybe I am reading to into this.

But the fact that Superman didn't respond and Lex is kidnapped could come back to haunt our hero.

The family night included a viewing of 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' on the big screen. Take from that what you will. Is Lex the Lee van Cleef of this book?

The stroll home is interrupted by massive Lexbots who have honed in on Superman's 'Kryptonian Signal'. They aren't AI. They have a mission to bring Superman to Lex, a default mode should Superman not respond to Lex's coded messages.

This is the one thing I have a major problem with. If Lex could hone in on Superman somehow, wouldn't he have done it by now?? Superman does have a line explaining why Lex can't know because these things can't send information. But still ... wouldn't Lex have flooded the sky with these things to discover who Superman is??

Once again, Clark refuses to be brought to Lex and ignores the robots. He and Jon even get to team up a bit to fight these things. But in the end, the mecha transform into a Boom Tube Cube, designed to bring Superman to Lex's location.

One problem though. Lois and Jon were in the cube too. And the teleportation separated the family.

Very very nice cliffhanger.

This just what an opening chapter should do. We get a foundation for the characters and their motivations. The Lex/Superman lovefest was a very fresh sort of take on things. And this ending makes me want to read the next chapter now. But throw in a new Ardora and you have me! Fascinating.

Great stuff this issue.

Overall grade: A

Number 2117: Enter Calamity Kate

This story is for reader Darci, who asked  in a comment to a previous posting for another Calamity Kate episode from The Westerner Comics. So I am showing the first Calamity Kate, from The Westerner #26 (1950).

Calamity Kate is the masked identity of Miss Patricia Layne, the daughter of a deceased sheriff. She fakes being a stage robber, but in conjunction with Wild Bill Pecos goes in pursuit of the real bad guys. Something I noticed: Wild Bill knows who Miss Layne is, behind her disguise. In that way he is different than the hundreds of other comic book characters who don’t recognize the face under a domino mask.

Another thing about Wild Bill: his clothing style is...well, wild. He is color coordinated in purple pants with a matching neckerchief (which looks more like a shorty necktie), green shirt, cowboy hat and boots. No one else would look to see who Calamity Kate is, because their eyeballs would be too busy bouncing off Bill’s colorful outfit.

The story is drawn by Mort Lawrence.

Thursday, 19 October 2017


JORDAN CARVER really shouldn't lie down in the middle
of the road to sunbathe like that - she's liable to cause an accident.
And I don't just mean in my trousers.  (No, I don't know what I'm
  alluding to either.  I'll have to ask a grown-up.) 

Review: New Super-Man #16

New Super-Man #16 came out last week so forgive me for taking a bit to get to it. Of course, DC releasing 4 super books in the same week makes reviews tricky.

Writer Gene Luen Yang seemed to hint on Twitter that this book was going to be cancelled but then he sent out another tweet hinting that maybe it is sticking around. And that makes me happy because this book has been an utter delight. From the Kenan's mix of being sad and a bully and silly to the Chinese interpretations of the JLA to the exploration of Chinese mythology, it has all worked. And it has worked incredibly well.

This issue really focused on another aspect the book has been tiptoeing around, the misrepresentation of Asians in comics. And again, it is done so very well, leaning into DC's own history. We saw the dreaded Phuey En Yui earlier in the series. Here we head straight into Detective Comics #1.

The art is done by Brent Peeples. It isn't the smooth, polished look of Philip Tan but it is fine. Peeples seems to be improving with each issue. In particular, his aping the style from those early Detective Comics issues is spot on.

On to the book.

We start out with Phuey En Yui and Kenan dropped into the pages of Detective Comics #1 where he witnesses Slam Bradley beating up 'goblins'. Kenan doesn't realize that these are hateful caricatures of Asians at the height of the yellow peril era in American history. And he shouldn't recognize them as comics have, for the most part, been stripped of images like this.

But it hasn't been that long has it. Phuey uses his powers to strip this yellowed appearance of these characters. Suddenly, Kenan sees that Slam is just putting a beatdown on innocent Asian citizens. Seeing this as it truly is, New Super-Man punches Slam, defending his people.

Phuey stokes the fires of anger in Kenan telling Super-Man to access his heat vision and vaporize Slam.

And for a second it seems like Kenan just might do that. But then his Qi kicks in. He senses the right thing to do. There is no need for lethal damage.

In this day and age, in the USA, where every day conflict seems to be exploding on the streets, where both sides of arguments say that random violence is an effective deterrent, I am glad that Kenan holds back.

Yes, he freeze-breaths Slam into submission. But he doesn't kill him.

Kenan is then taken on a little tour. We meet Von Holtzendorff, a German businessman who made his fortune by looting China of its treasures, is seen relaxing in a posh suite. Phuey talks of the loss of the Red Jade Dragon, a powerful mystical artifact which seems to have some connection to Kenan's powers.

Perhaps we are going to get a deeper dive into Super-Man's power set?

With the Red Jade Dragon back story revealed, Phuey shows Kenan his true self - All Yang, the evil brother of I Ching. He has captured I Ching and will exchange Kenan's master for the Dragon.

But there is more here, hints of the future. Yang talks about how Kenan needs to master all the bagua, all the tri-grams, and activate his final super-power. What could that be?? Resurrection?

It all sounds a bit too easy ... or too suspicious. What does Yang need with the Dragon?

It turns out that all these visions occurred while Kenan was in the ministry, recovering in one of those healing giant test tubes. I love how this mirrors Superman's return from death in the classic Reign of the Supermen storyline. I love ... LOVE ... that New Super-Man is in a black costume, just like Clark.

Back on his feet, Super-Man tells the other members of his JLC that they need to rescue I Ching. Another great aspect of the book is just how much Kenan has grown in his respect and reverence of his mentor.

Before he can fly off, Kenan is stopped by his mother. It is a tender moment. She is so happy to see her son alive. Dr. Omen's character has probably changed the most in this book, going from angry, 'is she evil' scientist to hugging mom.

I am glad that Yang addresses some plot holes that need to be plugged. How can Kenan not have recognized Omen as his mother? That has bugged me since the reveal.

With her son healed, Omen isn't about to let him fly off into danger again. Proving she still runs this ship, she blasts Kenan with a blaster and throws him in a cell. She'll keep him locked up for his own good. Hmmm ... tough love??

She might think she can control Kenan ... but that is an illusion.

Kenan's friends break him out with the intent to head off on this mission. It is clear now. Super-Man is the leader. Even these heroes recognize that Kenan is the soul of this team. And if recognizing I Ching is important for him, it is important for them.

We end with a great cliffhanger with two Justice Leagues, one from China and one from America, facing off.

I don't know how much longer we'll have this book. But I am loving it. And this arc, confronting All Yang as well as comic history, feels like a nice coda. We'll see.

Hope everyone sings the books praises. It is a very good book.

Overall grade: B+

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Supergirl Episode 302: Triggers

 Last week, Supergirl season 3 started with a very solid premiere, sowing some plot seeds, introducing us to the big bads, and giving us excellent character moments for both Kara and the primary supporting cast. This week the second episode, 'Triggers', aired and built on that foundation. And we got old-school Supergirl villain Psi to come in to challenge the Girl of Steel. This season is truly off and running.

One thing that I very much liked about this episode was that the emotional anguish that Kara was feeling in the premiere is still present. Yes, she is working through her grief. But one night of apps at the alien bar (as last episode closed) isn't going to alleviate all her pain. This sadness and anger and (as it turns out) fear runs too deep to be so easily 'cured'. As usual, Melissa Benoist brings it, showing us all the emotions Supergirl is feeling. And as a bonus, we get extra Danvers sisters scenes. As I said last before, season 2 didn't  give us enough of these two. Benoist and Chyler Leigh have such easy, breezy chemistry. Why not take advantage.

But as much as I loved the character stuff, the fanboy in me squealed a bit to hear about Gayle Marsh from Skokie, Illinois. How far have we come as Supergirl fans that Psi and her particulars were on a television show?? And Yael Grobglas plays her with such a cold, calm, and cruel, observing all she does with just a hint of enjoyment.  It makes me happy.

On to the particulars.

We start the show with a nice montage of the early morning of some of the characters of the show. We get extreme close-ups of Alex and Maggie in bed, having breakfast, getting ready for work. We see Sam and Ruby doing the same. All these scenes have the characters filling the screen, both of them filling the camera.

And then, interspersed between those shots, we see Kara getting ready. In a nice contrast, the director gives us wide shots, showing Kara alone in wide spaces, highlighting that while others are starting their day with loved one, Kara is very very much alone.  In a 'see what we're doing here' moment, Kara finds Mon-El's copy of Romeo and Juliet with a line he underlined and wrote 'Kara' next to it. It wasn't needed! The establishing shots were enough. Nice use of contrasting shot approaches.

The workday eventually starts and in the biggest change of the season, Lena arrives at CatCo and announces she plans to be a big presence there. Someone else will run LCorp. She will be a roaming CEO at CatCo, taking a very active role.

You can tell by James' body language he isn't into this. He has run CatCo for a year. Lena isn't in the press. I guess he thought she would be a figurehead and she would still run things. This looks to be a very good plot for the season. James was the last one to trust Lena. He has the most problem with Luthors. My guess is some animosity will build. And throughout the show we see how icy this is becoming. Lena calls Miss Tessmacher 'Tess'. But James is 'Mister Olsen.'

And Lena being there also adds a layer of problem for Kara and her being Supergirl. Lena gives Kara a job to do but Kara says she can't because she is being called away (secretly for a Supergirl mission). Kara's constantly running off is going to be a problem.

At the DEO, we see a cute argument between Maggie and Alex where they debate DJ or band at their wedding. Hank weighs in on DJ. There is some snappy banter here.

Kara arrives to hear about a bank robber has been looting National City. She is a young blond woman who walks into banks, and the staff and patrons seem to fall to the ground cringing. Then she simply walks out. In a bit of coincidence, the bank robber strikes during the debriefing.

Kara streaks off and meets the villain Psi in the bank vault. Psi is cool and cocky. She tries to convince Kara to join her in these capers. But when it is clear it won't happen, Psi attacks Kara.

Suddenly Kara is reeling and clearly terrified. Again, in a nice shot, we get this sense of Kara being alone. We briefly see what she is seeing, a bright red sun.

Later at CatCo we hear that Lena is calling for meetings of departments without including James. This pressure is building. And once more Kara runs off for DEO business, ignoring Lena's requests.

Psi is once more robbing a bank. Kara had told the DEO about her claustrophobic feelings in that earlier attack (although Kara says those fears are 'human' problems, going back to last episode's issues).

Realizing Psi must be a psychic, J'onn sends Kara into action but will add some telepathic shields. But Psi blows through those shields, incapacitating Hank.

And then we see what Kara attacked again. We see what she is seeing. We relive her rocket taking off from Krypton. We see Alura saying goodbye to her daughter. The whole vision is shot in a first-person point of view. We see the rocket lift off. We see cities on fire. We see the planet exploding while the rocket spins. And in this shot there is no music. In fact, all you hear is the panicked breathing of Kara and explosions outside.

There is a different feel to this from those prior wide shots. This is very cramped and claustrophobic. But again, Kara is alone here. Just alone in a confined space.

I thought this was pretty cool, from the first person roller coaster ride feel to the audio choice.

Finally we hear the name Psi. J'onn says she is the most powerful telepath he has faced. Winn names her as Gayle Marsh from Skokie Illinois. We live in great times!

Away from the crowd, Kara confesses to Winn that Psi uses fear as her weapon. Kara discusses the quiet, about being cut off from everyone. It is probably doesn't help that Kara is probably living through that fear now.

And she doesn't want J'onn or Alex to know because 'they'll worry'. That seems a bit forced just to move the plot forward. Why would Kara hide that?

But seriously!

Gayle Marsh from Skokie! On the small screen!

Back at CatCo, Lena pushes Kara on her frequent disappearances. Lena assumes it is because of Mon-El.

In a line just loaded with potential, Lena says that she can tell when someone is lying to her.

While this conversation starts out with Lena reaching out, Kara ends up snapping at her friend. Suddenly Lena's defenses go up. She bristles and tells Kara that her behavior is unacceptable as an employee. This is a quick turn which reminded me that Luthor's don't like to be crossed.

Maybe we are going to get a some hints of a heel turn by Lena??

When Kara hears that Psi is robbing another bank, she runs into the elevator and gives is the classic shirt rip.

But in the confined space of the elevator, Kara panics. It reaches such a point that she has to bust through the elevator shaft to escape. (Hope she knows how to fix that stuff?)

It is an interesting scene. Psi isn't there. This is all Kara, a panic attack. It is triggered by the elevator, mirroring the small space of the rocket. That is fascinating.

At the DEO, Winn confirms that Psi wasn't responsible for Kara's reaction in the elevator.

When Kara leaves, Alex knows something is up. I love love love this scene. Without saying a word, Alex stalks Winn, staring at him, knowing Kara was saying something important to Winn in secret. Almost like a snake stalking prey, Alex burns her eyes into Winn until he cracks and spills his guts.

Seriously, I wish Chyler Leigh would get some Emmy notice. Just brilliant acting.

And part of that is her range.

Hearing about Kara's fears, she shows up at Kara's apartment. She hears Kara praying in Kryptonese. (Maybe it is a 'I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear' Atreides-like mantra?)

And then she gives Kara a little pep talk. Fears don't define you. Kara's actions define her. 

Kara talks again about how she feels this civilian life is broken. The Lena stuff is awful. And now if Supergirl is helpless, all feels lost.

Alex reminds her sister that they always have each other. They hug.

Oh my, I forgot how important these scenes are to the show. Thanks for bringing them back.

Eventually, Psi attacks again. A deus ex machina DEO telepathy shield doesn't work (thankfully! No easy answers here!).

And then we learn what Kara really fears. She fears that Mon-El is dead. She thinks she sent her love to his death. We head back into the rocket but now not in that first person view. We see Mon-El in the pod, battered by meteors, ultimately exploding. Benoist completely sells the anguish she is feeling.

Again, Alex arrives and tells Kara that she saved Mon-El. She didn't kill him. Armed with that knowledge, not fearing she killed him, Supergirl is able to face Psi, immune to those fear attacks, and headbutts the villain into unconsciousness.

I do like Psi's indulgent speech about how fear cripples everyone. Yael Grobglas really showed this restrained, smug malevolence. I hope we see her again.

Nothing left but the wrap-up.

I glossed over a subplot where Ruby thinks Sam has powers because of last episode's waterfront rescue. Sam shows she doesn't (at least not unless provoked). I wondered how the single, unemployed mother could afford an unbelievably spacious, impeccably decorated house in the burbs but it turns out she will be running LCorp while Lena is at CatCo. Lena introduces her to Kara.

I wonder if somehow Ruby is going to die and that will bring about the Reign transformation. I'd hate for a kid to die as a plot point.

Meanwhile, Kara and Lena patch things up.
James and Lena still act cold to each other.

And we see that Alex and Maggie have differing opinions about having kids. This is a big deal and something you would think they would have talked about before. It contrasts how the DJ/band argument from before ... played up as an almost deal-breaker ... is such small potatoes. I wonder if this is an excuse for Maggie to leave for a bit. Maybe she needs to think about things.

We end with another sister scene, this time watching the Wizard of Oz! I love that Kara loves old movies.

But the last shot is a great cliffhanger. J'onn gets a message from M'gann. He has to get his ass to Mars.

Overall this was another solid episode. There are great character moments. We have some hints about season plotlines, like James/Lena and Sam's powers. And Psi was delicious.

The big hook is the Kara character stuff, how she is still healing and still hurting. And the Alex stuff melds in just as well. These two need each other. I love their scenes.

Overall grade: A

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