Stuff in Steptember 2020

Alright, that was a bit of a tough Summer. It started with my cat getting sick and requiring multiple ER trips to receive fuzzy diagnoses on the back of very not-cheap medical procedures and ended with me going to the ER for a maddening fever caused by an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. We’re both better! But damn, let’s hope this American Autumn is only slightly vicious. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

Comics

My reading energy comes in spurts and ebbs. I’ll go weeks without reading much outside of news periodicals and essays on classic sci-fi movies or whatever, then I’ll have a month where I’ll read a couple of prose books, then I’ll reacquire a steady habit of reading weekly comics for a string of months then fall off again. My level is on the low end now, basically catching up on the floppies, but I have a read few notable things recently, like the current run on Avengers by Jason Aaron and company.

Via some otherworldly flair, Aaron has become one of Marvel’s most crucial scribes, with notable works in just about every corner of the universe. If you’re familiar with his bibliography and general grind then what’s happening with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes makes perfect sense. It’s a mix of classic wrapped in ribbons of dread, oddity, humor, occult and meanness. So yes, very Jason Aaron. The writer, who boosted his career with works like Scalped and Wolverine, totally gets the pop aspect of a title like Avengers, and its need to appeal to a wide base. But he doesn’t skimp on the deeper Marvel lore. Yeah, you got Iron Man and Captain Marvel, but you also have Blade and Ghost Rider. It’s all tied together with Ed McGuinness (style) art, big and bouncy and fluent. The book’s true power is derived from the litany of villains, from the Winter Guard, to Dracula, Squadron Supreme and now, as of issue #33 (art Javier Garron and Jason Keith) the guardian of night travelers, Mr. Moon Knight. It’s a comic series that’s very easy to dismiss, commercial in every way, but it succeeds because of how the creative team and editorial play off of the mainstream expectations.

I was reading Dr. Strange: Surgeon Supreme and was alarmed to find a eulogistic afterward on the final page of #6. I guess I’m not that surprised, Strange went like two decades without a title before this recent entended run that spanned multiple writers. Aaron, Donny Cates, and finally Waid. It’s definitely a neat era, with Aaron recalibrating Stephen to sync with the movie version, Cates having a short go with a lot of neat guest starts and Waid bringing it home by taking the character faaar away from home. I wobbled through a lot of the resurgence, I mean magic-based stories can be a little boring for me because plot can be overly bendy with lack of rules, but I really thought Waid’s efforts were generally delightful. Dr. Strange visiting alien planets, or trying to figure out how to kick Galactus out of Magic Town took a problematic character archetype and presented it with new challenges. This last arc, with Kev Walker, a vastly underrated talent who excels at doing the normative superhero thing and slamming it against eccentric characters and locales, brought a nice thrust and swerve. Ah well, that’s comics, I guess.

One of my all-time favorite horror comics unleashed a sequel in Nailbiter Returns. It’s just starting out, and I’m not sure I love what’s been done so far, but the general atmosphere of the plot and setting is kind of a guilty pleasure. You’re really not supposed to make light of murder in the way that the Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson do, but they navigate with a certain grace and guffaw that feels kind of like that friend that makes messed up jokes you can’t help but smirk at.

Movies

I watched Gemini Man (Ang Lee) last night and pretended it was a Deadshot movie.

For the first time in a long, long while I actually sat down and paid attention to Star Wars. It was sort of educational, as my eye for film, script and all that higher art jibber-jabber is more refined. The only thing I really have to say is that it cemented for me that The Force Awakens is one of the weakest entries in all of the canon, because not only does it mimic the plot, dialogue and scenery of Episode IV, it also employs the same relentless editing and pacing style. I’m not really all the down on the Sequel Trilogy, it’s just that you basically trace all its problems back to TFA.

TV

Way back when, in the time of preteen, Eerie, Indiana was a show that absolutely delighted me. For much of my life, it’s occupated that ill-defined space in my mind of something I remember fondly but also not too well. There was a kid, his town was weird af and it was funny but also suspenseful and mysterious. I figured I’d never really get to understand why I liked it so much — who would have time to watch a children’s show from the ’90s, and how exactly would I watch it??

Then Covid-19 plus Amazon Prime teamed up and gave me a venue and means to re-enter the extraordinary town of Eerie.

Predating X-Files by about two years (though I guess I watched it around ’97 or so) the show is about a malcontent named Marshall (Omri Katz) investigating the strange and supernatural occurrences of his new midwest town. The premise is wide and the plot is episodic, but there’s a snappy continuity to the show that makes for wonderful worldbuilding. Anything can happen in Eerie, from alien visits, to deals with demons, warped alternate dimensions, sentient tornados and erranding for Old Timey Ghost Tobey McGuire. The show starts to crackle once The Kid with the Gray Hair (Jason Marsden) shows up about halfway in, and the first season ends with one of the very best episodes of I’ve ever seen, of anything, across all TV (seriously), “Reality Takes a Holiday.”

Then, apparently, Eerie, Indiana got canceled.

That’s the most interesting part of my binge watch, I suppose. For a decade or so I thought I had just stopped watching the show because the timeslot had changed or maybe I just watched less TV one year to the next and fell off, but no, the reason my memory of it stopped so abruptly is because the show did as well. What a shame though, huh? The adventures of Marshall and his sidekick Simon (Justin Shenkarow) operate under a formula that grounds the viewer but promotes ingenuity in plot. Nothing ever gets too serious, and there’s a tenor to it that allows the main duo to travel all the way to the edge of insanity and safely back. There are creative choices in this show that amaze me, like when a movie mummy is accidentally pulled out of the TV, but instead of a shuffling monster Mars and Simon find themselves saddled with a really confused actor. An episode in particular that I must shoutout is “The Lost Hour” which stuck with me for two decades. It’s a time-travel adventure with a bold twist that expanded my sense of story and possibility. I’m glad I got to come back around to Eerie, Indiana. It’s not next-level good good, but without a doubt one of the better single season shows out there.

So I fell into an unintentional Garth Ennis Television (Slow) Marathon. Slightly after the start of all…this I started to watch Seasons Two of Preacher, and boy, it took me until this month to get done with Season Four. It was a slog at times, which is upsidedown because I loved the performances from the trio of leads (Ruth Negga; Dominic Cooper; Joe Gilgun) and the set pieces were grandiose, ruthless and the good kind of terrible. Yet, after a solid first season, the story sputtered, and it all got a little incoherent for the sake of being edgy and gross. What’s goofy is that I only read the first trade of the source material (art by the great Steve Dillion) and I had a similar experience with it: took me forever to get through, crafted very well, and I had a hard time caring.

The Boys is another Ennis thing that I watch but didn’t read. It’s an avalanche of brutality, but it has a splattering of soul and kindness as well. There’s work to be done in terms of character arcs and plot tension, but it’s got me interested. I do need to bestow praise on Antony Starr as Homelander, one of the pinnacle villains of the times. A savage, scary character wrapped up in a flag and a smile, and you love to hate it.

Finally, I’m just starting to get back into the Netflix Marvel batch (which I thought I’d have to abandon). I decided on The Punisher because I heard very positive things, and it fell a tiny bit behind my expectations. Just a tiny bit. This show is decidedly NOT Ennis (though it nods to his work [with Steve Dillion again] very occasionally). Frank’s a little too rounded I guess, showing actual emotions. I guess I’m just very locked into the “Welcome Back, Frank” period of Punisher — a too-stoic killing machine that is more vessel than man. That would be a difficult protagonist to write and create around for a show, especially in the depicted style of Netflix series. Still, Berthenal is truly great, and the action scenes are intense and vivid. There’s a sly superhuman element to Frank Castle’s feats, which does just enough to make The Punisher better than say any other show or movie about a military-trained revenge guy.

Video Games

No new games, generally, but as mentioned in my Arkham post the two games announced at DC Fandome, Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, pretty much guaranteed that I’m getting a new system sooner than I expected. Those two are pretty much locked in as my big game buys in ’21 and ’22.

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