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Cross-Hatchings for May 2016

by  in Comic News Comment
Cross-Hatchings for May 2016

Short one this week, because frankly I haven’t been reading a lot of new stuff. I wanted to point you towards a couple of the cool things I did read, give you a heads-up on a new podcast, and admit I was wrong about a couple of other things… and also, gloat about the thing I was completely RIGHT about. Join me, won’t you?

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People Send Me Cool Comics: Gary Scott Beatty sent along a nice review PDF of Indie Comics #1 a couple of weeks ago and it’s exactly the kind of anthology I always fall for.

Although I have to admit that left to my own devices, I tend to be a straight-ahead adventure comics guy, I always have a soft spot for these eccentric small-press anthologies that are full of young folks just getting out there and making their own stuff… and Beatty and his crew are bringing real craft to it. Moreover, there was a great adventure vibe running through the book; most of these stories were things that were interesting variations on old-school adventure stuff. SF, vampire, masked avenger. All of the stories were pretty good and a couple of them I thought were really excellent.

Here’s the blurb: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS when Rick Bonn asks “Why Did the Caveman Cross the Sea?” Brad Olrich’s mercenaries attempt a raid on Rectory VII, “At Galaxy’s Core.” Terry Cronin plunges three college students on spring break into an underground world of bloodsucking women. Gary Scott Beatty follows “The Maketch Girl” and elder gods into darkness. Michael R. Carr presents two aging adversaries converging for a final encounter. And diesel punk meets modern world in Paul Bradford’s “The Night Errant!” Mature themes, 48 pages, B&W, $4.99. Order from June 2016’s Previews catalog under Aazurn Publishing.

Probably my pick of the lot was the leadoff entry, Rick Bonn’s “Why Did the Caveman Cross the Sea?” Sadly, because it was the one I wanted to like the best, “Night Errant” from Paul Bradford struck me as the weakest entry– very by-the-numbers vigilante stuff. But even that was well-crafted. I’d go ahead and tell your retailer to get one for you. You’ll have to badger him about it, because I daresay it’s not something your average shop owner would take a chance on. Which is a pity, but that’s another column.

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People Send Me Cool Books: Somehow, and I’m not sure how, Titan Books took me off the review list for Hard Case Crime and instead is sending me books from their regular mystery line. I’m a big mystery fan and anyway the mission statement here is to try to review everything people send me, so I don’t mind this exactly, but in all honesty the latest two are not really to my taste at all.

They’re just solid, workmanlike mysteries with what I have always called the Perry Mason problem… there’s nothing particularly memorable about them. They’re very nearly generic procedurals. Gavin Scott’s Age of Treachery is much the better of the two– the postwar academia atmosphere of Oxford is kind of an interesting place to set a murder mystery and there’s a lot of cool history factoids folded into the narrative, and our hero, ex-soldier turned professor Duncan Forrester, is a role that would be tailor-made for Liam Neeson if it ever gets filmed. But it still feels a bit by-the-numbers to me. Nevertheless, it was still more memorable than Impure Blood by Peter Morfoot. Despite all the clearly meticulous research that Morfoot did on the French police, and the mildly interesting procedural differences French cops have with ours, there just wasn’t a lot here to make the book stand out. Captain Darac is about as memorable as any of the interchangeable cops on LAW AND ORDER, which is to say, not very. In fact the book read like an episode of LAW AND ORDER: FRENCH GUY UNIT.

I reread the above and I realized that I’m probably being meaner than I should. The books are extremely well-done. They just don’t do anything for me. I like my mysteries to open a little hotter and faster and, well, I’m just a pulp guy at heart. I suspect that’s true of most of the regulars here as well. If CBR readers are thinking of checking out the Titan Books contributions to the mystery/crime genre their best bet is still Hard Case Crime.

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Stuff I Had Nothing To Do With: It’s time for a new episode of Podcasta La Vista, Baby! It’s the bi-monthly offering from our friends at Radio Vs. the Martians celebrating the cinematic oeuvre of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why Mike and Casey feel the necessity of doing this remains a mystery to me but I have to admit that the episodes are always a hoot.

Case in point: the current episode is all about Hercules in New York, a movie I have zero interest in.

Nevertheless, I was entertained for the entire hour and a couple of times I was laughing so hard it panicked the cat. And it’s about damn time Arnold Stang gets his due respect. Check it out.

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Second Looks: Okay, I have to admit it. Fair is fair. On a whim I gave Gotham one more shot and, y’know, I think it’s really found a groove.

I’ve said before that the show is at its best when it’s about Detective Jim Gordon fighting a desperate holding action and winning the occasional skirmish against the underworld machine, and it’s weakest when it’s being all coy with a plot that practically trumpets, THIS IS GOING TO BE A BIG THING FOR BATMAN YEARS FROM NOW WE MEAN IT THIS IS A BIG DAMN BATMAN THING. The problem they had to beat, that I’d have sworn they couldn’t, is how do you build an interesting show around what most of us agree is its biggest flaw– there’s never going to be any Batman on it, so why keep calling attention to that?

The answer, which is one I would not have thought to try myself, is to attack it the way you would the problem of Superboy. Which is to say, teenage Bruce Wayne slowly beginning to take on the reponsibility of Batman, partnering with Gordon to take down this or that Gotham crime figure, and slowly realizing that the city is going to need something… bigger… than mere law enforcement. The episodes that absolutely won my heart were the ones wherein Edward Nygma stages a wonderfully old-school Riddler-style art theft complete with clues left behind, but then uses that to frame Jim Gordon for murder. I was already enjoying Hugo Strange and Azrael and Mr. Freeze, but it was the Riddler stuff that owned me.

I should add that my enjoyment was considerably enhanced when someone suggested to me that Gotham is not a prelude to the Batman of the movies, or of the comics, but rather, to the Adam West TV series– as envisioned by Tim Burton. Now, I’ve said for years that if you filmed the first season of Batman ’66 with a slightly darker, moodier lighting and slightly less-campy versions of Batman and Robin themselves, you’d have a pitch-perfect adaptation of MY Batman, the 1970s Bronze Age version. Gotham seems to be morphing into that show, just with no actual Batman in it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got problems, but it’s sneaking up on me. That Riddler episode with the exquisite web of clues and plot and counter-plot made me wish we were getting that kind of story in actual Batman comics still. Sigh.

On the other hand, The Flash….

–JEEZUS. What a MESS.

I’m not going to pick it apart piece by piece but I WILL call your attention to the column I wrote last fall and my exasperation with the show’s complete inability to arrive at any internally-consistent policy about its own time-travel rules and how they worked. Many of the commenters scolded me for being a big old meanie and clearly the showrunners had a plan in mind and I needed to just give them a chance.

Well, I did. I gave them all season and I even watched Legends of Tomorrow to boot.

And after all that, I’m sorry, but I was right and you internet scolds were all wet. In fact, said showrunners not only did NOT repay my patience, they managed to screw things up even worse than I could have imagined. Moreover, they fell into a formula wherein every episode must stop dead two-thirds of the way through for everyone to talk about their feelings, no matter how dire the current crisis might be. It’s getting really embarrassing, especially when you remember that Zoom knows all the ins and outs of STAR Labs and has super-speed, so there’s no defending the place against him. The show doesn’t even bother with a fig leaf “they still may prove useful” argument about why he doesn’t do a five-second lap through the place and snap the neck of every member of Team Barry. They just ignore it. This show is at a point now where even the crew of Irwin Allen’s Jupiter II would be shaking their heads and saying, “Guys, science doesn’t work like that.”

Never did I envision a television landscape where I liked Gotham better than The Flash, but they managed it.

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That’s all I have this time around. Back with another long-delayed appreciation… next week. See you then.

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