Monday, June 18, 2018

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories (2012) by Julia Wertz: Three pieces make up this comics collection from Julia Wertz. 

The first, entitled "Industry," chronicles the jobs she's had over two decades and two coasts, from a lot of waitressing and bartending jobs to her later days as a professional cartoonist who doesn't have to hold down another job.

The second, the eponymous "The Infinite Wait," covers Wertz's move to San Francisco from Napa in 2002 and her subsequent diagnosis of having the auto-immune disease Lupus. The third, "A Strange and Curious Place," is, in Wertz's own words, "basically just a love letter to my hometown library and everything it taught me."

"Industry" probably has the most laughs per panel, even as Wertz starts to lose jobs because of her incessant drinking. The publishing success of her first two books, Fart Party I and II, moves "Industry" to an often hilarious evaluation of how Hollywood tries to adapt work, and specifically autobiographical work. 

"The Infinite Wait," Wertz informs the reader, was a title chosen for its pretension and "seriousness" as a joke related to the decidedly unpretentious tale of Wertz vs. Lupus. This is certainly one of the funniest comics stories ever created about an incurable auto-immune disease. Well, any disease, any sickness. It may catch at the heart, but the story never stops presenting situations of high wit and low comedy.

Then there's "A Strange and Curious Place," the shortest piece in the book. It is indeed a paean to Wertz's hometown library, and to the joys of reading for a child. The depiction of Julia and her brother's excitement at the annual library book sale is a gem of humourous, pithily observed sentiment. The book, too, is a gem of autobiographical self-evaluation and often raunchy, sometimes obscene brilliance. Highly recommended.

Drinking At the Movies

Drinking At the Movies (2010/ This edition 2015): written and illustrated by Julia Wertz: Julia Wertz is one of a handful or so of the funniest cartoonists currently working, and has been since she began her career on the Internet back in the mid-oughts. Mid-oughts? Whatever.

It's a trick to make autobiography funny without avoiding the horrors of being alive. Wertz has got that trick. Her autobiographical works deal with her alcoholism, her brother's drug problems, and her life with lupus after being diagnosed with same at the age of 20 (in 2002).

This volume was Wertz's first full-length 'graphic novel,' coming in at a dialogue-dense 200 pages or so. Drinking At the Movies covers Wertz's first year in New York City in the late oughts after a move from San Francisco. Her comics career has begun to take off. That doesn't save her from dead-end jobs and squalid apartments. Wertz is a comic commentator on urban life at the edge of poverty, all of it alcohol-soaked in this volume. Sobriety would come later.

Wertz is a deceptively simple cartoonist. She can draw complex representations of the real when she wants to, as her renditions of the various apartments and streets of Brooklyn shows throughout Drinking At the Movies. The characters are much simpler, in the tradition of comic strips, with a simple six panels per page for much of the volume. It all works beautifully. Also, there's something really funny about the way Wertz draws arms when people are sitting at a table with arms bent.

Through four apartments and seven apartments, Wertz drinks a lot, comments a lot, and worries over family problems back on the West Coast (one brother is a drug addict). She gets shingles, manages her Lupus, discovers that being a bike courier sucks, teaches comics to kids at a library in the Bronx... well, many things happen.

Moments of self-evaluation and sorrow burst forth throughout. But Wertz is a fabulous entertainer at heart with the critical eye of the jester. I don't recall when I've laughed so much at a volume of anything, comics or writing or whatever.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race


The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (2016-2017/ Collected 2017): written by Brian Azzarello and Frank Miller; illustrated by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Frank Miller, Eduardo Risso, John Romita Jr., Brad Anderson, and Alex Sinclair: Rumours are that Frank Miller had very little to do with the writing of this follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns (1986-87) and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001-2002). His art duties involve the inking of a few covers and drawing inter-chapter 'mini-comics' that contextualize portions of the main story. 

The main story is credited as 'Story by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello.' Penciller Andy Kubert and inker Klaus Janson (inker of The Dark Knight Returns) do a fair job of maintaining their own styles while also paying homage to Miller's art style circa 1986. Miller's art in the mini-comics is sort of awful at points, reaching a nadir when he hinges the Atom's legs backwards, having apparently forgotten how knees work.

Taking up three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again and six years after The Dark Knight Returns, DKIII again features aging versions of DC's major superheroes in a near-dystopic future. Events conspire to team up Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and many others to oppose a new global threat. One of the signs that Miller may not be writing much of the book is that Superman comes across pretty well for once, even saving Batman's life at one point. It's a shocker. 

Azzarello, if he scripted most of this, supplies lots of tough-guy and tough-girl introspection alongside all the fist fights and explodey-ness. Kubert and Janson give us suitably over-sized heroes and villains, innocents and grotesques and all that jazz. The whole thing goes down smoothly and way, way faster than the original The Dark Knight Returns and its intermittently densely packed pages of dialogue and exposition set off by full-page spreads. There's still satire here, particularly of both Obama and Trump, but it's pretty boilerplate stuff. 

Azzarello, not really known for writing superhero punch-ups, has written a giant superhero punch-up. It's enjoyable, certainly far more enjoyable than the clumsy and misanthropic Dark Knight Strikes Again, though no touch on the original. Miller's far-right politics seems to manifest in the idea of Kryptonian cultists who look and act a lot like stereotypical Muslim fundamentalists, but the comparison is never pushed too far (and these fundamentalists appear to believe in gender equality). In all, lightly recommended.

The Ultimates Volume 1: Superhuman

The Ultimates Volume 1: Superhuman (2001-2002/ Collected 2002): written by Mark Millar; illustrated by Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie: Long ago when the millennium was new, Marvel's Ultimates line rejuvenated Marvel's place in the comics marketplace after bankruptcy and creative stagnation. The Ultimate universe was a grittier, darker place than the 'normal' Marvel universe. And it was made with one eye towards movies.

The Ultimates was the new line's version of the Avengers. It was really, really pointed towards movies, with Samuel L. Jackson being paid so that Marvel could use his likeness as Nick Fury. Yep. Seven years before Jackson's first onscreen appearance as Nick Fury, he'd already been pen-and-ink Nick Fury for seven years!

One can see a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in The Ultimates, obviously in Nick Fury and the idea that the Avengers were assembled by the government. Iron Man/Tony Stark is closer in personality to his movie version than the regular Marvel universe version. Hulk and Thor, not so much.

Oh, right. This is rapey, cannibalistic Hulk! Creepy stalker Bruce Banner! Wife-beating Ant Man! Mutant Wasp! Captain America is pretty much Captain America, though steroids now played a part in his creation. Indeed, the Hulk is also the accidental result of Bruce Banner's pursuit of a super-soldier formula.

Bryan Hitch's art is, well, widescreen, though there's also a lot of standing and talking. Writer Mark Millar, fresh off a popular, ultraviolent run writing DC-Wildstorm's The Authority, pretty much does the same thing here -- ultraviolence, snarkiness, and somewhat unlikable heroes. The comics readers of the time loved it! It all seems a bit dark and dreary now, especially all the stuff involving creepy Banner and cannibal rapist Hulk. What fun! Lightly recommended.

The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech (2010): written by David Seidler; directed by Tom Hooper; starring Colin Firth (King George VI), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth), Derek Jacobi (Archbishop Lang), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), Michael Gambon (King George V), and Guy Pearce (King Edward VIII): Colin Firth certainly is good in his Oscar-winning Best Actor performance as King George VI, afflicted with a stammer and stuck with a whole lot of public speaking gigs once he assumes the British throne after his brother's abdication. 

The whole thing is about as rock-solid a BBC sort-of production as one could want -- indeed, it really plays like a Very Special Episode of Masterpiece Theatre. Geoffrey Rush is fine as the eccentric speech therapist who helps Bertie overcome his speaking problems and Guy Pearce is subtly wormy as Edward VIII. 

One can understand the Best Actor Oscar. Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture testify more to how much Hollywood loves a certain type of Presitgious British Cinema (and movies about real people who have to overcome physical and/or mental problems) than to the movie's quality. Recommended.

The Beach (2000)

The Beach (2000): adapted by John Hodge from the novel by Alex Garland; directed by Danny Boyle; starring Leonardo di Caprio (Richard), Virginie Ledoyen (Francoise), Guillaume Canet (Etienne), Paterson Joseph (Keaty), Tilda Swinton (Sal), and Robert Carlyle (Daffy): Promising riff on Lord of the Flies, if Lord of the Flies were gene-spliced with Club Med, sputters out in the last 30 minutes. 

A bunch of almost universally white pleasure seekers travel to a hidden spot on an isolated island to enjoy the titular beach, located in the interior of the island around a hidden cove or possibly lagoon somewhere near Thailand. Leo di Caprio, a disaffected young America, narrates his search for something interesting, which he finds on the beach, travelling there with two French tourists, one of whom, Francoise, he has a crush on. 

Because this movie is at least somewhat about White People's Problems, the beach colony is led by Tilda Swinton, the whitest woman in the world. Things eventually start to go badly. But not that badly. Timeless' Paterson Joseph plays the only black guy on the island. Spoiler alert: he doesn't get killed! 

The whole thing is very watchable, but seems pretty weak tea given the credentials of director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), whose novel is adapted here by John Hodge. Lightly recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Solo (2018)

Solo (2018): written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan; directed by Ron Howard; starring Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Woody Harrelson (Old Muley), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), British Comic Who Sounds Like Tilda Swinton (Sexy Droid), Emilia Clarke (Space Mafia Princess), Paul Bettany (Annoying English Guy), and Thandie Newton (I'm Not Doing six months of reshoots!):

Solo... A Star Wars Story... hmm. Spoilers ahoy!

1) The movie tells but doesn't show Solo as a young street punk on Corellia, making one wonder if an opening montage establishing this was left on the cutting-room floor some time during the process of scrubbing all of Phil Lord and Chris Miller's influence from the movie and reshooting 70% of the movie.

2) Boy, the first 20 minutes on Corellia are clunky and boring.

3) Hyperfuel/Coaxium. After fuel wasn't mentioned in 40 years of Star Wars movies, suddenly it's a major plot point in The Last Jedi. Now, fuel gets mentioned in the opening "scroll" (OK, it wasn't a scroll) and becomes the driving force of the plot. It sort of feels like the creators were backfilling the role of fuel in the Star Wars universe so that some day, when someone watches these things in chronological narrative order, Solo will have set up The Last Jedi. That's retroactive continuity!

4) Ditto for Han Solo's golden dice. As an original viewer of Star Wars, I don't even remember the dice. I mean, I assume they're hanging from the Millennium Falcon's rear-view mirror, but nope... no memory. Now they get more close-ups than Chewbacca. Feels like more narrative backfilling for Last Jedi. Maybe the dice will now get their own spin-off movie.

5) Thandie Newton dies blowing up a railway track that doesn't need to be blown up unless the objective is to piss off the Empire as much as possible. Maybe Newton didn't want to do reshoots and requested that her character be killed off as quickly as possible because she wasn't doing any more Star Wars acting.

6) Coaxium. Sometimes you need a train car, sometimes you need a garbage bin, sometimes you need a suitcase. Was there just one garbage bin worth of coaxium on the train and the rest was, um, packing material? Snow? If they only needed a suitcase of refined coaxium, why did they need to steal an entire train car worth? Why is refined coaxium less volatile than raw coaxium? More importantly, if Crimson Dawn works for/with the Empire, why do they need to steal coaxium? Wouldn't the Empire just, you know, SELL IT TO THEM??????? Thinking of this last was when my brain broke. The entire plot of Solo is... pointless.

7) I guess the revelation is that Dark Helmet turns out to be a girl. And good rather than evil, but primarily a girl. As a revelation, it falls flat because I was sitting there going, "Am I supposed to recognize her? Was she on Star Wars Rebels too? And do these Rebels travel the galaxy on speeder bikes? Because if so, that's definitely some hardcore star travel!

8) Wow, the set-up for the Kessel Run was laborious, wasn't it? On the bright side. Han accidentally kills Cthulhu. Nice work, boys!

9) Jesus, Chewbacca's Wookie pal on the Klingon Penal Asteroid of Rura Penthe looks a lot like Chaka from Land of the Lost. Distractingly so!

10) Is there a Coaxium refinery on Kessel? I don't think so, given that robbing it would make more sense than stealing unrefined coaxium. But if not, getting coaxium to a refinery must be the most dangerous job in the universe given how quickly it turns explodey.

11) Wait, all the Coaxium in the area is located... under the spice mines? Hunh? Kessel: home to spice and Hyperfuel! You'd think they'd fix the place up a bit!

12) This card game doesn't seem that difficult.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed it. Sort of. Lightly recommended.