Categories
Comics

Human Remains #1: Spoiler Free Review

Human Remains might be the scariest Vault series to date, and not because it’s the goriest Vault series to date, which it totally is. Seeing some guy get ripped apart by a giant skeleton bug in the first few pages isn’t even the thing that made me anxious. Instead, it was this face he made like “What have I done?” right before the unspeakable horror appeared. 

In Human Remains, the world has been under attack from scary monsters appearing out of a void to rip apart anyone being too emotional. Everyone is trying desperately to keep their emotions bottled up, with varying degrees of success. There are parallels here to living under the threat of COVID, of course. Peter Milligan perfectly captures the anxiety and stress of what happens when A Very Bad Thing has been happening for a really long time. It also captures the small moments that keep us going despite The Very Bad Thing, even though these might be used as tools to break our hearts later on in the series. The introductions to the characters (even the ones who die immediately) are brutally intimate as they confront the other issues in their lives, compounding the horribleness of the time after the life-forms arrived. 

All of that is to say, Human Remains is really really good. You pick it up and won’t be able to look away from this emotional jackhammer of a story. A lot of horror stories will keep their monsters hidden because what you imagine is probably worse than anything they could portray. Not here, though. The monsters are every bit as terrifying as the atmosphere would have you believe. Having full knowledge of this threat leads to everyone walking around the comic book world looking very tense and ready to lose it on the next guy that mansplains something to them in a meeting, but also knowing that losing self-control for a moment would be bad for everyone around.

As a last note, I think this comic would be well served to have a trigger warning at the beginning. There’s a portrayal of domestic violence⁠—it’s only one page in the first issue but I think it’s the beginning of a storyline that’s pretty dark, and even by itself could be pretty upsetting to readers with previous trauma.

* Credit to Bobby @EmperorBojira for this great word

Categories
Television

Titans: Season Three, Ep. 4 “Blackfire” Review

GateCrashers’ Titans coverage returns with myself (Bree) and my partner, Jon! We’ll be covering each episode release as they drop. The show has a lot of sentimental value to us on a very personal level, our coverage will be what is essentially written conversations with two sections; a very spoiler-free approach followed by a spoiler centric one (with a few jokes and memes, as Titans S3 is headed towards very meme-able territory). Without further ado, our spoiler-free segment begins here; 

Bree: This episode splits into 2 different sub teams to follow essentially 2 different stories. Dick is off to uncover more information on Crane and Red Hood, while Kory and Garfield work together to try to figure out the source of Kory’s mysterious blackouts. Fans of other pieces of Titans-related media are likely to see right through the hint the episode title gives, and it is exactly as it seems.

Jon: Kory is finally getting some additional backstory and purpose, outside her Season 1 introduction in which she was either amnesic or knew she had been sent to ‘deal’ with Rachel. 

Bree: Crane is beginning to become more fleshed out as his own character, and the bones of a deeper connection between him and Red Hood are emerging.

Jon: This is also clearly a Jonathan Crane who has had extended experience with Batman and Robin and is no longer on the means of trying to figuring out who they are but rather what makes them tick which is a nice departure from the usual source material

ON TO SPOILERS AND OUT OF CONTEXT MEMES

Jon: Watching Conner scrub bits of ash and who knows what else off of him was…a lot. I would press many F’s to pay many respects.

Bree: Seconded. Dawn leaving was incredibly anti-climatic for me personally, perhaps because the only person that said goodbye to her was Dick. They’re also going all in on a Miller Batman, which wouldn’t have been my first choice but I’m surprised by how well it works overall. 

Jon: I’m fine with a Batman that’s at the end of his rope since the show isn’t supposed to be about him at all. As much as I like Iain Glenn as Bruce, I appreciate that he trusts Dick to do things better. Especially after he notices for himself that what he is doing is clearly not working anymore.

Bree: Blackfire is absolutely the star of this episode though, I must say. Kory and Gar’s dynamic was fun and Kom’s flair for the dramatic plays off of them well. A much-needed comedic break from the intensity of Crane and Dick’s interactions. 

Jon: Not to mention the absolutely amazing chemistry between Starfire and Blackfire. While arguing or even trying their hardest to get along, you get a genuine feel that these two have a genuine history and are in every which way, siblings which only adds to the story.

Bree: Titans knows siblings are not afraid to beat the sh** out of each other.

CLOSING REMARKS

Bree: Overall, the show loses no steam after the dramatic conclusion of the 3 episode initial drop. It’s also doing a better job of balancing the edginess of Bat characters and the campiness fans have come to expect a degree of with Titans properties. 

Jon: This is just capitalizing on the amazing conclusion that Season 2 eluded to and is only growing into a better story with every following episode.

Categories
Television

Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season Two, Ep. 1 “Strange Energies” Review

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. I spent most of my childhood watching reruns of The Next Generation as well as new episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager with my dad. Despite the fact my dad is the absolute least nerdy member of my immediate family, he is the big sci-fi buff and because of that my brother and I were satiated on a steady diet of all things Rodenberry, which in the 90s, was about as big as any sci-fi franchise could be. With that in mind, I was hesitant about Lower Decks. So much of it screamed red flags to me, and yet, here I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Season Two. How exactly did I get here?

Suffice it to say, I quite enjoyed the Season Two premiere. Season one ended with some very huge moments for our motley crew of lower decks ensigns and I appreciate that the premiere starts off pretty much right where we left. While I still don’t love this particular animation aesthetic, it’s grown on me and I find that it often works to reinforce the show’s sincerity in a lot of ways. Something about the lines and colors being very flat and simple works with the overall theme of our protagonists being the bottom of the food chain, oft forgotten crew members aboard the Federation starships whose bridge crews Trek fans have come to know and love since the shows’ inception. I think the best thing Lower Decks has going for it is a combination of its faithfulness to the universe (and time period) it’s in and ensuring that in not taking itself too seriously, it stays genuinely endearing and heartfelt. 

The following section of this review will contain spoilers for the Star Trek: Lower Decks Season Two premiere. Read at your own risk! 

While it felt odd not having any Boimler action until the very end of the episode, I thoroughly loved how laser-focused it was on Mariner, specifically with regard to her new relationship with her mother. We left Season One with everyone finding out Mariner’s mom was none other than the Cerritos’ own captain. I was very curious to see how this would play out beyond the immediate repercussions of it prompting Boimler’s departure to adventure with Riker aboard his ship, Titan. While the episode primarily deals with Mariner’s tenuous-but-faking-everything-is-fine newfound partnership with her mother, it also makes it very clear that Mariner is feeling a bit untethered without Boimler to be her straight man. 

I also thought the b-plot with Tendi and Rutherford was incredibly charming and I truly love how steadfast the writers seem to be with ensuring that their relationship is an incredibly intimate friendship and nothing romantic (although I’ll be eating my words if this happens in the future, I suppose). The juxtaposition of Tendi’s heartfelt pleas to Rutherford regarding her feeling like he could easily decide she is no longer his best friend as easily as he has decided to have a relationship with a fellow Trill crewmate he’s recently started seeing again (or liking pears) with the visual gags of Commander Ransom’s literal godlike transformation as his disembodied head lays siege to the Cerritos is the exact kind of humor this show employs so, so well. 

Ultimately, the jokes and both A and B plots in this episode really worked for me, and it made it feel like not much time has really passed since Season One ended. Every gag landed and got a hearty chuckle or full-on guffaw from me. I’m excited to see where this season goes and I hope that episode two gives us more insight into what appears to be Boimler’s living hell aboard the Titan with Riker and his crew. All in all, I am absolutely delighted to have this extremely fun addition to the Star Trek universe back to tell us more stories about the unsung heroes of the lower decks of a Federation starship. 

Categories
Comics Film

Batman: The Long Halloween – Part Two Review

So this was fucking great.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Long Halloween: Part One but was trepidatious that it would not make the landing and close out the story in a satisfying way. They did hit that superhero landing, however, and I could not be happier, as this has quickly jumped up high in the list of best films DC Animation has to offer. While still following the basic outline of Jean Loeb’s comic plot, it takes enough deviations to keep those who have read the book interested. In the end, I think, from a story perspective, I enjoyed this a lot more than what Loeb delivered back in the 90s.

While not as stylized as Tim Sale’s art, the animation comes into its own here, delivering some truly stunning imagery and expressive character animations throughout. There’s a fight scene in the third act that is a standout. Its use of a large cast of characters, all with varying abilities, while keeping the action clear throughout is worthy of praise. It will go down as one of the standouts of the current era of DC Animation.

When it comes to the cast, Jensen Ackles ends up being a great Batman, one I hope continues in the role. He has the right kind of voice to switch between the gravelly undertones of the Dark Knight and the carefree playboy veneer of Bruce Wayne. The greatly missed Naya Rivera kills it as Catwoman, balancing the various facades of her character perfectly. It’s a damn shame we won’t get more of her Selina Kyle, especially as it seems these versions of the characters will be returning. And then there’s Harvey Dent. It’ll come as no surprise given he’s on the poster, but Two-Face rears his burned face this time around, and Josh Duhamel rises to the occasion, bringing just the right amount of menace and tragedy to Dent.

As I’m writing this, I realize that all three principal characters deal with dual lives, personalities, the side they show in public, and the side they keep private. Symbolism folks, it works.

If you’ve been on the fence about this given prior animated adaptations of classic Batman stories not meeting the mark (looking at you, Hush), rest assured in knowing you’ll walk away very happy you took the time to experience The Long Halloween.

Categories
Comics Television

Titans Together: Discussing the Explosive Premiere

Spoilers discussion for Episodes 1-3; “Barbara Gordon,” “Red Hood,” and “Hank and Dove,” is clearly marked.

GCer’s Titans coverage returns with myself (Bree) and my partner, Jon! We’ll be covering each episode release as they drop. The show has a lot of sentimental value to us on a very personal level, our coverage will be what is essentially written conversations with two sections; a very spoiler-free approach followed by a spoiler centric one (with a few jokes and memes, as titans S3 is headed towards very meme-able territory). Without further ado, our spoiler-free segment begins here; 

Bree: Episodes 1-3 of season three kick off an amazing introduction to Gotham and the new players on the board, while giving a little more time to recurring characters that they’d neglected in Season 2.

Jon: The Team finally felt like a team! The suits are really great, especially Nightwing’s. They broke up some of the plating that had originally been a single piece on the prototype reveal. The music feels like an upgrade as well, very fun and dynamic. I find myself humming bits and pieces often. Oh, and they didn’t have to show Brenton clip the escrima sticks into his belt, but they did that for us. Lastly, Red Hood makes for a good antagonist after Deathstroke’s exit. 

Bree: What is it about Curran’s approach to Red Hood that stands out to you?

Jon: The intensity, from the way he speaks to the way he moves. The choices in his fighting style compared to Dick are so interesting to watch. The scenes in which he switches to using a knife are some of my favorites, there’s an intent to inflict as much damage as quickly as possible in those swings. This is a person who tries to make every blow a killing stroke. Dick by comparison feels like there’s more intent to distract and subdue. 

Bree: I gotta talk about Crane too. I have never wanted to smoke with someone so badly. All the choices they’ve made thus far in regards to deviating from the books have been good, but everything about Crane has been gold. Also, a very interesting way to set up Jason’s origin in this universe as opposed to how it was set up in Hush. Any comments on the new additions of Barbara and Tim?

Jon: The casting choice for Babs is perfect! It’s nice to see a Barbara with some experience under her belt, rather than another year one story. The little bits of Tim thus far are promising. 


ON TO SPOILERS AND OUT OF CONTEXT MEMES

Bree: Why did Dick walk into that interrogation room and his back half walked in 5 minutes later.

Jon: Conner needs to register his chest as a lethal weapon. Man of Steel tiddies. Also Jason with the bag of heads. Literal chills.

Bree: Yeah, I’m warming up to the edits they put on Jason’s voice when he dons the helmet. I also very much appreciate that Conner is allowed to be smart, I dislike when he’s treated as just a pile of muscle. And Holy Heck his reaction to Hank’s death really got me.

Jon: Losing Hank made me tear up a little bit, really made me realize how integral he was to each member of the team. He may have been an asshole, but he was their asshole. The bike shorts and porn stache were short-lived but oh so memorable. OH! And Jason’s belt as Red Hood was the same as his Robin belt, they just painted it black. How did no one notice?

Bree: Your brain? Wow.

Jon: Deeply surprised that Bruce actually put the Joker down.

Bree: Yeah, me too. It’s a very Miller Batman. Overall, the approach feels like an almost “Elseworlds” take. If the 80s Titans books are the greatest potential of good the team can achieve, what does a Titans team look like when Dick is paired with a Bruce that never gets a complete handle on his trauma? How does that trickle-down affect the whole team? Lots of interesting potential from that angle, I think. Oh! And the hints at Carrie Kelly, Stephanie Brown, and Duke Thomas? I screamed.

Jon: I didn’t think I’d see a live-action Carrie even hinted at in the year 2021.

Bree: To be honest, I personally have a hard time liking Barbara in most things. She’s just never been a character “for me” – I do appreciate her as very important rep for disabled folks though. Titans’ approach to Babs is perhaps one of my favorites, the actress has a great presence and her keen ability to zero in on exactly what Bruce and Dick are lying to themselves about is great. I also appreciate that there is no cattiness between her and Kory, as certain books have done in the past.

Bree: Lastly, I want to touch on Gar in season 3 thus far. He’s still very much in a supporting role and is often used to play off of other characters. Which, I’m personally perfectly happy with. I can understand the criticisms about him not having his own arc per-se, he’s often used as an “errand buddy”. Ryan Potter is so fun and has such great rapport with everyone that I don’t mind. He and Conner in particular are nearly attached at the hip and get in some great jokes between the two of them. To conclude our coverage of Episodes 1-3, here’s a lil Con/Gar meme I drew. See you guys next week for episode 4!

Follow Bree for more artwork and Titans takes @agreeablepossum on Twitter and Instagram!

Categories
Books Uncategorized

Rainbow Bridge: A Spoiler Free Review

Not much is known about what happens to us when we move on from this plane of existence. Outside of the traditional theological debate, it’s fair to say there is one unique acceptance amongst all; the existence of the rainbow bridge. For those unfamiliar, the rainbow bridge is a transitional step for animals. Their own great beyond, similar to a Valhalla where they are deservedly praised as adored heroes. As an owner, it allows you to feel like everything is okay because they are going somewhere better and perhaps you will see them again one day. Losing a four-legged friend is an undecidedly morbid topic when considering how beloved they are, but Rainbow Bridge is now the educational gold standard on the matter. While reading it through quiet sobs and laughter, it became clear that care and love was put into this visually charming graphic novel and many lengths were taken to ensure the reader comes out with a soothing cognizance of their fur baby’s final resting place.

            In Rainbow Bridge, written by the team of Steve Orlando and Steve Foxe with illustrations by Valentina Brancati, we see our young protagonist Andy meet up with his recently deceased pup Rocket in his new pet-utopia. We quickly learn that Andy is the son of two animal-rescue owners, and his life revolves around the compassionate care of those who have been severely mistreated by an unforgiving society. Andy’s journey to the rainbow bridge is an unexplained one as humans are not part of their companion’s hereafter, a thought that this reviewer adamantly hopes is false. His journey has him meeting with a pun-tastically named feline, Pawdrey Hepburn, who was once the pet of his parents at the rescue. Andy’s escapade has him facing many tough feelings that even full-grown adults struggle with, as nothing ages someone like the weight of grief and the absence of closure. Meanwhile, Rocket is trying to find his way in this new reality, while also escaping the grasp of the in-between creatures known as the wraiths. Sticking to our adherence of a no-spoiler policy, it’s prudent we now turn our attention to the bigger mysteries at hand that Rainbow Bridge attempts to uncover. What happens to those who have unfinished business, or in this case, what happens to those who left this world unloved?

For Andy, the lack of closure with the death of his furry best friend and his apprehensiveness of continuing on in this world without his faithful companion is what drives this narrative. Perhaps learning that saying goodbye and the more important realization that it’s not as final as you think. The Steves do a transformative job in relaying these difficult and at times, indescribable emotions by packaging them so neatly into this vibrant graphic novel. It’s a story that will draw tears from those who have had the unfortunate relative experience to go along with the plot. We are then comforted by Brancanti’s exuberant use of color, allowing the reader to be left wondering if the magic that is brought to the page is as wonderous as the real thing. More importantly, we get a glimpse at an oversized dog that is able to be ridden as a horse, and that alone made this entire thing worth the read.

         As an owner who has experienced this grief with the loss of my dog Chase, this was such a tough, yet rewarding piece to read. I was right beside my good boy when he was called to the rainbow bridge, and my only hope was that whatever was on the other side would show him the love that he deserved. There are not many moments in your life that are so solidified as seeing something you consider being a constant in your life, one day just cease to exist. If this graphic novel were to be taken to heart, its message is clear. Show love to everything while it’s here, for when they truly are gone, there unfortunately is no connection to the other side to relay the message. I commend the creators for eliciting such strong emotions, and keeping it light-hearted enough that I expect to re-visit it for future readings. I’ve always envisioned access to the rainbow bridge for a human similar to the test of Mjolnir. Are you worthy, are you still the human that was so worshipped by this animal, that you may play with them forever?  

Like Andy with Rocket, I can live this life knowing I was selflessly loved by my good boy, and will greet him in paradise, I just hope it’s as fantastical as the one I’ve already seen in the Rainbow Bridge.

Categories
Comics Uncategorized

Fun-Size Roundtable: M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1

Welcome to this week’s Fun-Sized Roundtable review, this time for an extra-sized book! (40 pages of gorgeous art, to be precise.) M.O.M.: MOTHER OF MADNESS #1 is a psychedelic trip through a richly satirical 2049, narrated by our hero Maya from her perch on top of the fourth wall. 

Writers Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett spin the tale of a single mom and (literal) freak of nature juggling a dozen responsibilities and even more superpowers, and virtuoso artist Leila Leiz renders it with expressive characters and endlessly inventive layouts. Colorist Triona Farrell sells the vivid acid-tinged look of the book, giving it a signature visual identity, and letterer Haley Rose-Lyon makes several standout choices that shape readers’ perception of the dialogue and characters.

But don’t take my word for it, because we’ve put together several insightful panelists to give you their take on the madness.


José Cardenas (@nowayjosecarden)

While it would be fun to make jokes about the likeness between Maya Kuyper, the titular Mother of Madness, and Emilia Clarke, actress and celebrity writer on the project, it would also be inappropriate.

On its own, M.O.M. is a really enjoyable comic, obviously made with passion from all involved and full of recognizable quirks from the individual creators. It is a comic made by women and as a result has a very unique perspective on the world.

Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett build a very exuberant character in Maya, whose disastrous fashion sense ties in with her very unpredictable powers and haphazardly made life. The satire on the female experience male-dominated office culture also brings the laughs. Even the most innocuous of interactions are tinged with a strong dose of cartoonish misogyny. In real-life parallels, a recent lawsuit against Activision Blizzard proves the exaggerations depressingly true to life.


Ashley Durante (@ashleyacts)

M.O.M. was a fucking trip for this feminist mom to read. Women superheroes are routinely drawn for men. Their costumes have been designed for male consumption; their poses perfected to show off assets, adding another heaping of self-loathing to the average female reader.

That’s not to say the genre hasn’t made strides, but M.O.M. absolutely subverts that segment of comic book culture and farts in its face. Literally, did you guys see that panel, too? I want to kiss Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett for birthing Maya into this medium, and for giving her a baggy jumpsuit that can realistically allow her to kick everyone’s ass.

M.O.M. #1 is an origin story at its heart, setting up to become one hell of a feminist manifesto. The all-female team behind M.O.M. shines, but a stand-out is artist Leila Leiz, who treats her panel dividers as an additional part of the story, using every bit of page to bring us further into Maya’s “crazy” world.


Katie Liggera (@kataloupee)

M.O.M. is a frenetic, feminist, fantastic comic. The comic medium gives Emilia Clarke autonomy over a female character! Assisted by Marguerite Bennett, Clarke pens a story about a woman deemed “crazy” (sound familiar?) by the male masses. Enticingly, Mother of Madness herself, Maya Kuyper, gains powers and flips the script on the “mad woman”  trope. Clarke writes M.O.M. as a love letter to women who feel demonized, ridiculed, or stripped of control due to sexist stereotypes. Along with illustrator Leila Leiz’s gorgeous panel layouts and rendering of raw emotion, M.O.M. exudes power.

Besides the density, my main qualm is personal: The hyper-realistic misogyny is exaggerated, but still triggering. Misogynistic behavior is real and (personally) hard to read when I am reminded of disturbing parallels to my own experiences. Nevertheless, I want to thank this woman-created comic for existing — and including essential hotlines on M.O.M.’s final page.


Jordan Edwards (@IamJordanZoned)

Okay I’m gonna preface this by saying that voice is irrelevant, I’m a straight white dude and this isn’t meant to resonate with me in the same way it does for some of my fellow GateCrashers. Unfortunately I didn’t gel with it as much. Stylistically it’s incredibly fluid, vibrant and energetic. Perfectly suits the tone of the story and Laila Leiz and Haley Rose-Lyon have put forth an incredibly impressive piece of work. 

But for me I just didn’t connect with this character or story. I think part of that is just how frantic this was. There’s a point where it moves back in time and then back forward again only to go back again and I had to keep turning back the page to keep track.

It felt like it had so much to get through but had very little time to breathe and by the end I learned a lot about this character but not as much about her goals, her aspirations or why she does what she does. But first issues need to grab your attention and it certainly got that, with a colourful charm and a much needed story. 


Adam Henderson (@krakoa_customs)

Mother of Madness starts with a very set-up heavy first issue, that struggles to balance a lot of background information for our protagonist, Maya Kuyper and the near future world she inhabits with the story itself.  The future setting of the story feels like an afterthought, and meshes strangely with the more present day pop-culture references throughout. 

Its strong, feminist vibe shines through though, and the book is something very unique and interesting when its focus is on that.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous book thanks to the incredible work of Leila Leiz and Triona Farrell, whose dynamic layouts and stunning colours are the book’s real strength.  The duo do an outstanding job of representing Maya’s emotions, especially in the flashbacks.  Overall, it was an interesting start that could potentially turn into something really special if future issues gain a clearer focus.

Categories
Comics

Brace for War in Sinister War #1

As we get closer to Ben Reilly’s huge return as the Amazing Spider-Man in Issue #75 as part of the Beyond era, I wanted to take a look at Nick Spencer’s last big event for Pete. Can this mishmash of various Sinister Six teams fighting leave a huge impact in the grand scheme of things? I’m betting no, but who’s to say.

For context, I originally hopped onto Spencer’s run around the #850 landmark and the Sins of Norman Osborn one-shot. I had a fun time with both of those but Last Remains quickly lost my interest, although I do love the Order of the Web’s involvement. That’s to say I’ve heard all the critiques with this run being too drawn out, not getting to the point with Kindred in time and not making any lasting resolutions to One More Day. 

If I’m being honest though, I think I liked this issue. Is it a top-tier Spider-Man story for the ages? No, and I wasn’t expecting it to be. Is the craft from a comic storytelling perspective really that good here? Also no. What it does do is have fun; it’s just teetering on that goofy 90’s Spider-Man animated series vibe. Mark Bagley and the colorist Brian Reber are able to pull off some impressive stuff here with the various teams crashing the film premiere. Everyone wanted to go all out here. 

Some other positives here include some of the interpersonal relationships. Pete gets to support MJ as she walks the red carpet and it’s a genuine feel good moment. Carlie Cooper & Harry get some interesting back-and-forth interrogating as they have their own mystery to figure out, then whatever is going on in Mysterio & Vulture’s feud. Now it’s time…to address the octopus in the room.

Technically the return was in Amazing Spider-Man #70, I get that, but this felt the most insulting. I am of course talking about Doc Ock, formerly known as the Superior Spider-Man. We get a brief moment of Pete reflecting on the events of Superior plus Mephisto actually being in the issue. Something more artistic could have been done here rather than starting with a punch to Vulture from one of his arms. He’s doing his whole spiel you’d expect. I hope the later issues of this event will have any ounce of reflection from him. 

The Kindred and Mephisto & Strange moments were just flat-out boring. You would want to see the various villains fighting because that’s the promise of the event; instead we get this mystery almost laid out to Pete but not quite just so it can be dragged out bit more. I am intrigued by what the second issue is going to bring with the smaller Sinister Six groups showing up at the end but again, I’m also dreading those pointless Kindred speeches and Mephisto/Strange talks. I’ve always felt Strange just gets tacked onto Spidey stories for no reason and this is no exception. If the meat of the event can just focus on the action and let Bagley do his thing, this can be a decent one.

Categories
Comics

Review: Ninjak #1 Slices Deep With Breathtaking Art

Words and Art: Jeff Parker and Javier Pulido

Letters: Dave Sharpe with Javier Pulido

Pulido.

If you are at all familiar with comics, I only need to shout that name from the rooftops like your average soccer commentator and that would be the entire review right there. However, that would forsake the best opportunity I’ll ever have to celebrate why artist Javier Pulido is so great. 

Through poppy colors and effective cartooning tricks, artist Javier Pulido, with co-creator Jeff Parker, takes a simple spy story and enhances it through.

Ninjak is a Valiant Comics character created by Mark Moretti and Joe Quesada in 1993 and another resident in the surprisingly active genre of “White Guy Appropriating Asian Aesthetics.” Colin King, the wealthy son of two British Intelligence officers, underwent intense training to join the secret ninja operative program of MI-6 because James Bond has to be a weeaboo as well as an alcoholic. 

Problematic genre trappings aside, Pulido and Parker put that lore to the back end, quickly establishing a premise where Ninjak has nothing but his swords and wits when his spy identity is exposed to the world. 

The first scene immediately shows us the artist’s skills in storytelling. A meeting between two old guys in a pub turns into a brain-scanning sequence told through split faces and an immediate color shift. Instead of making things literal, Pulido chooses to consistently ground us into a single place, a London pub constructed through muted red colors, before two new and younger characters enter. Through contrasted coloring, the reader immediately knows that these two characters are “bad guys” as their entire bodies are lighter, clashing with the muted red colors of the pub. 

It is when these two new characters become the focus of this scene that the brain-scanning occurs and readers are hooked into the story through visuals instead of standalone word balloons. 

The magic of Javier Pulido isn’t just that his mode of storytelling is unconventional. His storytelling is always beautiful to look at, combining Steranko graphics with Hernandez Bros. cartooning. The shades of turquoise, bright yellow eyes, and green expressions of horror make for an effective double shade spread, especially with the simple line-work. 

The craft on display is undeniable and easily elevates what would have been a more standard and over-rendered page in different hands. 

Another scene that showcases Pulido’s assured choices and bold style is the next scene, which takes place in Istanbul. 

From the reds of Britain, we immediately transition to the oranges and yellows of the Middle East through a single page turn. We follow a spy named Myna, whose primary function is to introduce us to the titular character and the world, providing a backstory for new readers as she watches a journalist get attacked by thugs. The smallness of the journalist contrasted with the bigness of the approaching thugs easily communicates what is happening, even without words. 

My favorite sequence on the first thought is when the thug activates a saw blade. The lines on the blade in the first panel disappear as the blade in the next panel is activated and becomes a full circle with lighter colors. The lighter colors assist with the pop and rise of the threat level. The interesting “zZZZHHZZ” sound effect only enhances the panel.

With Pulido, simplicity is powerful, and the fight that happens when Ninjak enters the scene is even more proof of that. Extra props must also be given to the beautiful shade of purple that Pulido chooses for Ninjak’s design. 

Writer Jeff Parker is no slouch either, providing snappy dialogue and an overall sense of fun that is usually absent in the modern spy genre. The quick look we have at the dynamic between the down-on-her-luck Myna and the quippy Ninjak proves that any reader is going to have a good time. 

Overall, NINJAK #1 is a great showcase for the storytelling talents of Pulido, and I highly recommend it if you want to see what makes comics such a unique medium. 

After reading it and immersing yourself in the visuals and action, there is only one word that should be on your mind. 

Pulido. 

Shout it like a soccer commentator to make it more fun.

Categories
Film Music

In the Heights (Review)

I saw the Tony award-winning musical, In the Heights, twelve years ago. It was 2009 and I was 16 years old. It was the first piece of media my parents and I could remember seeing that featured people who looked and sounded like us since West Side Story (1957, 1961).

My grandparents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York when they were barely twenty, so Lin-Manuel Miranda has become something of a hero to my family in the years since In the Heights opened among the likes of Grammy award-winner Marc Anthony and retired New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltrán.

In the Heights is a story that knows exactly what it is, and it tells you so in the first ten minutes: “We’re takin’ a flight / To a couple of days / ​in the life of what it’s like / En Washington Heights.” To get to Washington Heights from Brooklyn, where I was born, you take the A train an hour uptown, get off at 181st, and take the escalator.

In the Heights follows Usnavi, a Dominican bodega owner working to survive as he puts his pennies away to hopefully make it back to his island one day. Everything changes for him, however, when he finds out his bodega sold the winning lottery ticket for a jackpot of $96,000 just before a multi-day blackout sweeps the streets of Washington Heights.

Along with Usnavi, there’s Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the block they live on, who immigrated from Cuba in the 1940s; Nina Rosario, the first to go to college, who’s recently come home from her first year at Stanford with a big secret; Benny, who works at the car service dispatch Nina’s father owns and dreams of attending business school and making it big; and Vanessa, who works at the local beauty salon and is trying to move downtown, with little luck.

As with anything adapted from a popular source material, there have been some changes. Storylines have either been tweaked, condensed, or completely rewritten; familiar songs and some secondary characters have been changed or cut; and the actors’ interpretations of beloved characters (with their own stylized vocals) are much different from what the privileged few who have seen a stage production may remember.

Luckily, Lin-Manuel Miranda (producer), who wrote the music and lyrics for the stage production, and Quiara Alegría Hudes (screenwriter), who wrote the original book, joined forces with director Jon M. Chu to breathe new life into a story that—while timeless in its themes of family, community, and home—needed some updating.

Beyond a few lyrical changes that thankfully stepped away from cheap shots at other marginalized groups for the sake of a laugh (like the Tokyo joke in “96,000”, which was swapped for an Obi-Wan Kenobi pun), Hudes beautifully captures what it means to be Latinx in 2021, a stark contrast to what it meant back in 2008. Along with imbuing characters like Nina and Vanessa with some much-needed agency, Hudes introduces an issue left relatively unexplored in the stage production, but that still plagues Latinx communities to this day: being an undocumented immigrant in our fraught political landscape.

While I won’t spoil who this affects and how they work the storyline into the overall narrative, I will say that it’s an incredible and insightful addition to the journey of a character who, at the best of times, was simply considered comic relief.

Chu—who’s been tapped to direct the screen adaptation of Tony award-winning musical Wicked and who’s success with Crazy Rich Asians skyrocketed him into the public eye—brings his flair for the visually dramatic to Washington Heights, an already colorful neighborhood that they were lucky enough to film on location! But it’s Chu’s experience with the Step-Up franchise that serves him best here.

From its flashy, heavily-choreographed numbers like the titular “In the Heights”, “96,000”, and “Carnaval del Barrio”, to its more intimate and nuanced songs like “Paciencia y Fe” and “When the Sun Goes Down”, Chu doesn’t miss an opportunity to get up close and personal with his actors. All the while, he never forgets that this is a movie-musical adaptation, bringing with it its own set of expectations from newcomers and musical theater buffs alike.

What struck me the most about Chu’s interpretation, however, is his use of magical realism, a staple of Latinx storytelling. While the conceit of a movie-musical is magic in itself, there’s a special brand of magical realism inherent in all Latinx media (particularly its literature–shout out to Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez!) and Chu pulls out all the stops to make sure it’s represented on the big screen. Whorls of fabric unfurl over the rooftops of Washington Heights in Vanessa’s “It Won’t Be Long Now”; hip-hop and Graffiti Pete’s murals come to startling life in “96,000”; and Benny and Nina dance up the walls of their apartment block in “When the Sun Goes Down”, just to name a few breathtaking instances of movie magic.

And while every single cast member poured their heart and soul into this movie, Anthony Ramos—who takes up the mantle of Usnavi from Miranda himself—and Leslie Grace—who plays Nina Rosario—steal the show. Miranda himself has been quoted saying that Ramos is, and has always been, a movie star, and it’s a hard claim to deny. Ramos’ performance as Usnavi is explosive, magnetic, undeniably sexy—a trait the character of Usnavi has never been known for but that works exceptionally well here. A triple-threat if there ever was one, Ramos will have you on your feet.

Grace, in comparison, is a quiet, raw, and dynamic powerhouse as Nina, a character that seems to belong to many first- and second-generation immigrants bearing the weight of their families’ hopes and dreams on their shoulders. Her performance in “Breathe” will leave you speechless and the believability of her romance with Benny in the movie is, dare I say it… better than the musical.

I’d be remiss not to mention the absolutely stunning portrayals of Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Benny (Corey Hawkins), Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and Abuela Claudia, played by Olga Merediz, who originated the role on Broadway.

Miranda, who conceived of In the Heights when he was still in college and worked on it through his twenties, has proven himself as a creative force to be reckoned with. From his conception of Heights, to his blockbuster of a musical Hamilton, to his directorial debut adapting Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) for Netflix, Miranda continues to propel himself—and Latinx culture—onto the main stage.

I saw the movie, In the Heights, on opening night. It’s 2021 and I’m 28 years old. Very few of my family members still live in Puerto Rico, having evacuated here, to Nueva York, after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island back in 2017. I am a New Yorker. I am Latina. This show meant so much to me as a teenager and the movie is no exception.

I implore you to go see In the Heights, streaming now on HBO Max and in theaters. You will not regret it. Regardless of whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the stage production or are just looking for a good time, this movie is a grand spectacle that will leave you breathless—I know it left me cheering so loud and raucous, they could hear me across the bridge in East Secaucus.

96,000/10