Sunday, December 9, 2018

'I don't believe in ghosts': Six hot takes on the latest Love and Rockets

1. Gilbert is all about the love

Beto leans hard on the love side of the equation in the latest issue of the world's best comic. His vast and sprawling saga takes a break from all the usual craziness for celebration and reflection, and it's full of old friends and family and neighbors and everybody is having a good time.

Luba is getting married again, Venus and her lovely beta male Yoshio are there for the party, and Steve - fucking Steve! - has finally hooked up with the gorgeous Guadalupe. Even long-dead Gato gets to see how things are working out through ghostly eyes. After all the shit they've been through, they all deserve a little happiness. For a while.

There are still the usual family dramas, but they're all back in Palomar for a good time, and nothing is going to ruin that. There have been plenty of emotional rockets still to be fired, but this is time for love.

2. Jaime is all about the body language

Jaime Hernandez has long been a master of characterisation through body language, telling you everything you need to know about somebody from the way they slouch - you don't need Lumina to verbally explain her despair when she is thrown into space jail, it's all there in the slope of her shoulders.

The latest issue also has a short spotlight on the terrifically stumpy Frank Lopez and it's just a joy to watch him storm through a world that just doesn't get him.

Frank is part of the new generation of characters in the Locas saga, but is instantly as interesting as many characters who have been in the story for years, as he barrels around town head first, with his small legs in huge cargo shorts pumping furiously, or achingly making his way home after another stupid beat-down. Everybody is telling Frank Lopez to go home, but hopefully he will be staying around for a while.

3. We now return to a regular schedule

The return to a quarterly schedule is so good, and not just because the reader is guaranteed a slice of pure comics goodness every few months.

It means stories mysteries don't lurk and fester in the annual wait, and readers don't have to wait so long for any answers. Hopey doesn't know why Ray is calling her in the middle of the night, and who knows if Fritz and Petra will ever start talking to each other again, but there is only a few months to the next chapter in the story. It's a much easier wait.

4. All is right in the world, because Casimira has still got her arm

No matter how strange things get, no matter how scattered Luba's huge family gets, no matter how many walls they build up between each other over the years, some things never change, and there is some comfort in that.

All these years later, and Casimira is still there with her broken fake arm, carrying it around as a symbol of her defiance at normative behaviour, and of her own fierce independence, one arm and all. Some things never change, and some of them never should.

5. L&R's sci-fi comics still aren't like anybody else's sci-fi comics

The Hernandez Brothers have both been sci-fi geeks from the start - their real world tales get a lot of mileage out of small doses of magical realism, but they have also enjoyed letting their imagination fly off into space, to see what is out there.

Gibert's science fiction stories have their own vibe of freaky sexiness and insanely gross violence, and often are done-in-one short tales. But Jaime's stories of super-science and rocket ships have their own tone, that is still like nothing else being produced in modern comics. A tone that can be pumped full of excitement, seriously creepy, or just plain adorable.
Look at what is going on in the panels up above from the latest chapter in his Princes Animus story. Insanely cute aliens are pledging their affectionto each other, only to use that token to fight off some old bastard in a robot suit.

What is even going on up there? Other creators could get an entire saga in those two panels, but Jaime is already moving on. Space is too big to linger in one place for long.

6. Everybody should get a chance to play baseball

Especially if they're not that good at it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

All Star Avengers: Ends of an era

It doesn't take long for a superhero universe to get incredibly convoluted and complicated. When a shared universe is being created by multiple people with different styles, ideas and goals, and they are producing regular material that keeps piling up, it's no wonder that continuity can get so tangled and inconsistent.

The creators of superhero movies over the past couple of decades have learned this lesson for themselves - after 19 films the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already far too complicated for some (even if it's still pretty fucking basic), and the X-Men movies didn't even notch up half a dozen entries before they had to pull a complete reboot to clean up the sordid mess (and look like they're going to have to do it again soon).

But the universes seen and experienced in the original comic books get far, far more complex and intricate, with dozens of new stories adding to the overall saga every month, and things rapidly reaching breaking point. Things have to start over every few years, and everything has to be new again.

And sometimes, a comic series will end up standing as a definitive end of an era, even if nobody really intended it to be at the time.

All-Star Squadron didn't start out as the last word on DC's original superheroes, and began as a celebration of the entire Golden Age era when it first appeared in the very early 1980s.
Working with his talented artistic collaborators, writer Roy Thomas used the comic to tell stories of the earliest days of the DC superheroes, and delighted in piecing together all the inconsistencies and contradictions of Golden Age tales into something that actually made sense. The relief that Thomas felt at finally getting everything to match up, years and years after he first started to worry about the mismatches, can be seen on every page on All-Star Squadron.

It all got a bit tedious at some points, with Thomas sometimes going to great pains to fix something that literally nobody else in the world gave a damn about, but the comic was also a heartfelt appreciation of the first great super-heroes, and suggested they still had plenty to say, decades after the world war that spawned most of them had ended.

And it all worked well for a while - the first two years of the title are some tight comics, with Jerry Ordway's incredibly shiny art and the original superheroes barrelling from one adventure to the other, and even getting a glimpse of their heritage in the shape of the newly introduced Infinity Inc.

But then came Crisis on Infinite Earths, and all the worlds were smashed into one, and all that history had to be rewritten to fit the new status quo. A lot of DC's titles were left high and dry by this cosmic change, and reading All-Star Squadron now, it's easy to see the heart being ripped out of the book. None of it really seemed to matter as much anymore.

And All-Star Squadron really does now feel like the end of an era. The massive change from Crisis, which saw the big guns like Superman and Wonder Woman wiped from WW2 stories, happen mid-issue, with a photo of the heroes changing between panels as the timeline reasserts itself. The comic carried on for a year or so afterwards and skewed straight into the Young All-Stars sequel series, but the era when it was really important to figure out how the Golden Age stories slotted together was over.

It's a little bittersweet, and sometimes straight-up sad - there is a moment where the Freedom Fighters travel between worlds and it's meant to be triumphant, but it's more depressing when you realise they're heading off to decades of death and defeat. And then the clear narrative that has been going on ever since Superman hefted that first car over his head is over.

Even though those characters have reappareared over and over again in the years since - and for the past few years those original heroes have been reimagined in several Elseworlds-type reboot - All-Star Squadron really did feel like the end of the DC multiverse, far more than the actual Crisis comic managed.

Across the publishing divide, Marvel hasn't felt the incessant need to constantly reboot its universe like its distinguished competition - the Fantastic Four who are still appearing in their own comic are ostensibly the same people who stole a rocket ship to beat the Commies in 1961.

But the company has also had plenty of soft reboots, and there are definite periods where the whole line is moving in a particular direction, and the publisher has its own examples of stories that feel like an ending of that era.

One of them came along a decade or so after All Star Squadron wrapped up, and like that earlier comic, Avengers Forever is a celebration of the tiniest trivia of a superhero universe, while also putting a solid full stop on the period it is honoring.

Avengers Forever is a cracking classic-era Avengers story from the late 1990s, with Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco building up their tale on the previous 30 years of stories with remarkable clarity, and producing a slam-bang action saga that spreads across all of time and space, and finds room for the most esoteric characters with a connection to the world's mightiest team.

But like All Star Squadron, it's also one of the last of its kind. Not long after Busiek moved on from Avengers Mansion, Brian Bendis moved in, and started on some major renovations of the entire Avengers concept.

Since then, there hasn't been that kind of deep dive into Avengers lore that you see in this series, not without things getting ironic to the point of parody. There are still some comics that deal with this kind of  Marvel superhero trivia, but they are rarely played straight as Busiek and Pacheco's efforts.

And most crucially, any new stories that take this road are not seen as 'important' as Avengers Forever was, and while the team has become massive movie box office stars, this 20-year-old comic feels just as much as a capstone as All Star Squadron did. Plenty of Avengers comics before this one did similar things, but very few did the same afterwards, and this is where it all ends.

There is certainly some melancholy in reading these comics now, knowing that things would never be the same again. Comics, like life, goes on, and sometimes it's so easy to miss these eras once they're passed.

But putting a capstone on a particular era isn't a bad thing, even if it wasn't always intended that way. It's nice to have one last crazy adventure, one last run of stories, one last appearance of these characters at their best. Especially when the comics themselves are as much fun, and so delightfully dorky as All-Star Squadron and Avengers Forever.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Great Moments in Cinema History #30: Raising Arizona (1987)

"And it seemed real. It seemed like us and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved.

"I don't know.

"Maybe it was Utah."

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Great Moments in Cinema History #29: Border (2018)

But there's no point in being evil, says Tina. It's just a waste of time.

She has every right to lash out at the world, after being treated with contempt and outright aggression for her appearance her whole life. It's literally in her nature to cause harm to humanity, right down to the genetic level.

But Tina is also a good person, and all she wants is somebody to love and share her life with. She deserves it, and no rampage of revenge against a cruel, uncaring world will ever give her that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Great Moments in Cinema History #28: Bad Taste (1987)

There is no denying that Peter Jackson's films since (and during) the Lord of the Rings have suffered from severe bloat, with storytelling excess that could have easily been cut from the narrative. But it's the blunting of an exceptional sense of comic timing that hurts more.

The Hobbit movies, for all their length, were still overly crammed with action and characters and mad dashing, and moments of genuine wit and humour were lost in the cacophony. Nobody can hear a good gag over all the noise.

There wasn't anything as perfectly timed as the exploding sheep gag in Bad Taste, the film Jackson made with his munter mates for $6.50 on Sunday afternoons in the eighties. Even there, in the raw madness of the director's first film, he still takes a beat to get the moment when a sheep gets blown up by a bazooka just right.

Even among the gunfights and alien puke, it's one of the best bits in the film, and one of Jackson's purest pieces of perfect comic timing. The sheep just has enough time to look out an let out a bleat before exploding into a million pieces, and three decades later, it's still funny as hell.

Jackson isn't quite as funny anymore, but surely you can't lose that kind of timing forever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

Great Moments in Cinema History #26: Undisputed III: Redemption (2010)

If you're going to be The Most Complete Fighter In The World, you can't let a knee that has been shattered into a thousand pieces stop you, you just slam that knee against a hard concrete wall a million times until it's harder than rock.

And you aren't going to go lie down after a long day in hard labour at the quarry, you're going to carry on afterwards and hit the punching bag again until you can't stand anymore.

And, most of all, you're not going to whine about it when they ramp up the work in the quarry in an effort to tire you out before the big fight. Because smashing all these rocks and throwing them into a skip is not punishment, IT IS TRAINING.

I'm not saying you should live your life by the rules of Boyka. But we probably all should.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Great Moments in Cinema history #25: The Devil At Your Heels (1981)

The Devil At Your Heels is a car crash that take 90 minutes to happen. There is no way Ken Carter's rocket car is going to fly a mile across the Saint Lawrence River, just no way. He's dreaming!

But Big Ken is so confident that maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that he's actually going to make it. Maybe he'll pull it off.

The moment in the documentary that the rocket car finally sparks into life and heads down the ridiculously huge ramp that has been built for it is one of the most suspenseful things I've ever seen in my life when I first saw this is a theatre. I was literally on the edge of my seat as Carter raced towards his destiny.

It's a moment that I can not in all good conscience spoil here, you just have to see the whole thing for yourself:

Great Moments in Cinema History #24: Terminator 2 Judgment Day (1991)

Every time James Cameron is working on a new movie project, everybody starts talking about it as an expensive folly which is doomed to fail. Everybody knows there isn't a need for four more Avatar films, especially when he's given them the dopiest titles in movies.

Well, everybody can get fucked, because none of them have ever created something as monstrously cool as Arnold reloading his shotgun on his hand while chasing after John Connor on his motorbike. Cameron's films are smarter than they sometimes look, but that isn't why his films make all the money. The whole world goes to see all his movies just to see if he can do anything as cool as this bit in T2 again.