Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: Betty and Veronica Vixens #1

Betty and Veronica: Vixens #1 is part feminist critique of the patriarchy values of traditional (and some) Archie comics and part an excuse for artist Eva Cabrera (Kim and Kim) to draw badass girls on motorcycles beginning with breathtaking double page spread featuring plenty of black leather from colorist Elaina Unger. Writer Jamie Lee Rotante begins her tale in media res with a face-off between Betty and Veronica’s girl gang and the Southside Serpents before plunging into the origin story of how the rich girl and girl next door ended up becoming badass biker chicks.

By starting with bikes and attitude, Rotante, Unger, and Cabrera give readers a hook into the world of Betty and Veronica: Vixens before going back to the more traditional, pastel-y colors of the Archie universe where Betty keeps getting stood up by Archie, and Veronica escapes her privileged lifestyle by riding motorcycles with Reggie. However, the boys don’t really matter compared to Betty and Veronica, who drive the story unlike the previous book co-starring them, which had some nice pinup art, but mad the unfortunate choice of having Hot Dog as the narrator. Betty and Veronica: Vixens truly has a sleek modern style of storytelling with spare dialogue during action sequences and clean choreography with Rotante saving her words for enjoyable tete-a-tete’s between Betty and Veronica trying to find their identity in the white patriarchy of Riverdale and eventually deciding to take matters into their own hands.

Rotante plays with and challenges the traditional stereotypes of these two characters, and by extension, women in the Western world, and I can’t wait to see her take on the other women of Riverdale. (And Greendale: fingers crossed for a Sabrina appearance.) The traditional Archie narrative has been Betty and Veronica vying for the ginger goofball, but he’s dead weight in this comic and a wannabe poser, who can barely start his hog. (So many double entendres to unpack there, and in this comic in general.) They are the ones taking the active role against the Southside Serpents while the guys of Riverdale just make a lot of noise verbally and vehicularly, which is dismissed by Betty as “mating rituals” like they’re apes, who happen to wear clothes. This is definitely the Betty and Veronica show, and for once, the cold open and then crazy flashback structure doesn’t annoy me as I’m intrigued how two high school girls recruit and train a gang of badass motorcycle riders that talk trash and back it up with the aid of some handy brass knuckles because Rotante and Cabrera like to indulge in all the tropes.

The icing on the cupcake of the fantastic comic that is Betty and Veronica: Vixens is Eva Cabrera’s fantastic eye for fashion and aesthetic as evidenced by her previous work on the two Kim and Kim minis. Her styles are the comic book equivalent of “ready to wear” with the sleek, black styles of the girl gang fitting in with the fluid opening of the book, and her starchy late-80s teen movie look for Betty and Veronica working with the flashback, forced into gender roles part. Elaina Unger’s accentuate the styles with pastels for Betty and darker, earth tones for Veronica until they go all black everything in the motorcycle gang.

Towards the end of 2017, it seems like Archie Comics is going the “Elseworlds” approach with their non-flagship books, and Betty and Veronica: Vixens is a shining example of how this type of philosophy can be successful with quick one-liners and feminist critiques from writer Jamie Lee Rotante,  easy to read and stylish storytelling from artist Eva Cabrera, and a varied color palette from Elaina Unger that ranges from Rebel without a Cause to the suburban bits of Edward Scissorhands.

Story: Jamie Lee Rotante Art: Eva Cabrera Colors: Elaina Unger
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

Archie Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Doomsday Clock #1

To put it bluntly, Doomsday Clock #1 is what many comic book fans (And Alan Moore wherever he is.) have feared: a direct sequel to Watchmen. The story is set in an alternate version of 1992 about five years after the events of the original series. An actor (Robert Redford) is president, the world is on the brink of nuclear war, Ozymandias is a fugitive and pariah, Dr. Manhattan is missing, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are still happily retired and don’t appeared, and the book focuses on the new Rorschach in town. With the exception of the final scene, Doomsday Clock #1 isn’t so much a crossover, but Watchmen II. It takes its times and gives readers a flavor of Moore and Dave Gibbons’ even more dystopian universe and kicks the plot into gear in a way similar to the back half of the original series than the initial investigation into the Comedian’s death. (Edward Blake would probably appreciate the opening riot scene though.)

Writer Geoff Johns does a pretty fair impression of the smelly, ink blot mask wearing vigilante and adds a few wrinkles of his own like his willingness to compromise and throw his lot in with criminals “in the face of Armageddon”. Having a writer, who is mostly known for writing straightforward superheroes and space cops, go into a twisted not-so-Randian psyche, is a little awkward though, and seems like a kid in his father’s clothes than the ruthless prose of crime writer Brian Azzarello in Before Watchmen: Rorschach. This clumsiness fits into the story as Rorschach II has some of the same abilities as the original character like the ability to pull off a pretty decent prison escape, a prodigious stench, and paranoia (He’s one of the few characters in this universe who uses a “gas guzzling” car.), but he “breaks character” a lot and acts like an empathetic human being even to murderers. His secret identity is pretty obvious too thanks to a diversity deficiency in the original Watchmen

Artist Gary Frank’s pencils are incredibly detailed, and he doesn’t use a nine panel grid every page although he sticks to the three row setup of panels with the exception of the title. However, he creates the occasional symphony of juxtaposition like when the US government finally goes nuclear, and Rorschach does his prison break thing. Frank’s work is strong and unwavering, like the original Rorschach’s conventions, and for the most part, colorist Brad Anderson stays out of his way and lets his pencils shine. Anderson does have a couple tricks up his sleeve like color coding some panels to different characters, such as brown for Rorschach, gold for Ozymandias, and alarm red any time there’s a nuclear threat.

Johns’ use of alternate history elements in Doomsday Clock #1 are fairly on-the-nose as he turns President Redford into President Trump of the early 90s with his incessant golfing, ties to Russia and North Korea, obsession with a single news network, and polarization of political discourse in the United States. His sheer ineptitude (and invisibility) turns Ozymandias into a sort of sympathetic character even though he was responsible for so many deaths in the original Watchmen. Ironically, Ozymandias has the same mission: saving the world.

Gary Frank’s super close-ups of frightened human faces in the opening montage of Doomsday Clock #1 do a much better job at showing world that was already hell plunging into a deeper, darker circle of that hell than any faux Rorschach voiceovers and tacked on worldbuilding from Geoff Johns. You can see the slobber in the mouth of a rioter as he goes at a police officer with a broken bottle and shatters the glass in one of Ozymandias’ old buildings. In a clever twist, the bank of TVs with endless channels in Ozymandias’ lair is turned to one showing that his actions didn’t lead to a utopia, but a dictatorship. Frank is one of the rare photorealistic artists that doesn’t have any stiffness to his work finding a sweet spot on Scott McCloud’s “picture plane” and bringing humanity to characters that would be action figures or distant gods in other artists’ hands. This skill comes in handy when a certain character appears in the last several pages. He’s also fantastic with gestures, and Johns realizes this by including a mime themed supervillain in the story that is fairly grounded and very violent in the Watchmen tradition.

Doomsday Clock #1 shows that for better or worse, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Brad Anderson are taking their time with their DC Rebirth/Watchmen crossover and spend time reestablishing and tearing down the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic before having Superman punch Dr. Manhattan or having Ozymandias and Lex Luthor swap plans for world domination over vodka sodas. Johns’ writing is awkward, but his plotting is focused and gets the proverbial clock ticking while Gibbons’ art is a real treat. Some parts of Doomsday Clock are pretty groanworthy, but others are pretty damn cool.

Story: Geoff Johns Art: Gary Frank Colors: Brad Anderson
Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Read 

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

TV Review: Broad City S4E8 “House-Sitting”

Even though it featured the return of wealthy, privileged youngster Oliver (Of “Yas kween” fame.) for a short cameo, guest stars Mike Birbiglia, and has an amazing running laundry gag, “House-Sitting” is probably one of the worst episodes of Broad City ever. Writers Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz, for the most part, move away from the political comedy of the previous two episodes while keeping the fish out of water theme from “Florida”. The plot of the episode revolves around Abbi, Ilana, Jaime, Lincoln, and Abbi’s high school English teacher-turned-Bumble-date Richard (Mike Birbiglia) housesitting one of Ilana’s very wealthy, former employers while she goes off to the Hamptons with her son in an Uber helicopter. (Apparently, that’s a thing.)

But “House-Sitting” isn’t all negative. When director Abbi Jacobson isn’t extending a fart noises as hand guns gag to an unbearable length, she, Barnett, and Rabinowitz find some sweet and funny moments in the relationship between Lincoln and Ilana. (After a little bit of hesitation, she calls him her boyfriend.) Hannibal Burress and Glazer have great chemistry and share some fun moments, especially trying on fancy golden outfits and tuxes from the spacious rich people closets. They get to be part of the episode’s best gag, which is various characters losing their damn minds that the super fast and spacious multiple washing machines in the house’s basement that apparently the owner herself doesn’t even know about. Broad City is at its best either when it’s in “It’s funny because it’s true” mode or doubling down on Abbi and Ilana’s friendship, and this running joke with a twist ending definitely fits into the first categories for users of weird, shaking washing machines or have had one too many quarters eaten at laundromats/rooms.

The bad (and gross) comes from Abbi’s plotline, which has her going on a really awkward date with her old English teacher, Richard. Birbiglia plays the role of sleazy wannabe intellectual very well, especially in his tweed jacket, making the most of an uncomfortable part where he admits to masturbating to his students. He still sees Abbi as his student and not a woman in her late 20s, and did I mention that Jaime is watching the whole thing behind stuffed animals in Oliver’s bedroom. Obviously, Barnett, Rabinowitz, and Jacobson portray Richard as a terrible person, but seeing the whole ingenue/mentor forbidden romance thing for the millionth time isn’t really funny.  They really lean into some darkness in Ilana’s long monologue where she basically says that teachers jerking off to students is better than having sex with them. Ilana has said plenty of problematic stuff in Broad City, but this is honestly one of her worst moments.

The way Barnett, Rabinowitz, and Jacobson handle the end of the Richard/Abbi storyline is just plain weird as they start by Abbi telling him off and then turn into a half-assed Breakfast Club parody complete with the most overused 80s teen movie song of all time. (At least, they use the original and not the bad pop punk cover like Easy A did.) The storyline comes across as gross and pointless and just an excuse to give Abbi something to do while Lincoln and Ilana define their relationship and healing from adult circumcision Jaime tries to avoid getting a boner, which is adorable as much the Abbi B-plot is disgusting. I guess it reinforces that Abbi isn’t relationship material, but it’s mostly just frightening.

A bottle episode inside a palatial New York City mansion is a fun premise, and Abbi Jacobson seems to have a good time playing with the opulence of the interiors while Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz’ bidet setting jokes really cracked me up and fit the characters of Abbi and Ilana. However, this fun and some sweet Ilana/Lincoln material is unfortunately overshadowed by the appearance of a creepy pedophile character played by a pretty good comedian that also takes down Ilana with him in a painful bit where she hopes that Lincoln and her theoretical children are jerked off to by their teacher.

After writing that last sentence, I have to take a shower in the opposite of the setting of this episode…

Overall Verdict: 6.0

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #33

“Are you a demon or a fucked up girl?” is the question posed by Urdr to Persephone in a pivotal scene in The Wicked + the Divine #33, and in true WicDiv/real life fashion, there is no clear answer to this query. The “Imperial Phase” comes to a close in with a flashback/plot twist, a harrowing conversation that doubles as a character defining moment for both Urdr and Persephone, and let’s just say, one hell of an ending. Visually, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson continue to embrace the shadows and show another Pantheon transformation sequence with an eight bit twist. In his writing, Kieron Gillen does a “Once more we return” and dives into the connection between fans, artists, and fame with a healthy helping of death and sacrifice

Unlike certain formerly-known-as-prestige TV shows, Gillen connects both his twists and character deaths to WicDiv‘s overall themes. David Blake is one of the few non-Pantheon members, who has stuck around/lived throughout the series, and it makes so much sense that he has been Woden all along.  He is also the ultimate fanboy of the Pantheon and willing to do whatever it takes to be connected to that power including his own, honestly super nice and curious son as both a free labor force and a power battery. There are shades of manipulative stage parents, like Joe Jackson, Joe Simpson, and in the sports world, Lavar Ball, in the way that Woden is disappointed in Jon while using him to have the kind of power and fame to be in a very exclusive club that he’s always wanted to be in. Gillen goes deep cut with Norse mythology and makes Jon, Mimir, a god whose head that Odin carries around to see other realms and get wisdom. Mimir’s Well is located by the World Tree Yggdrasil so hence the weird connection between Urdr and Woden.

The fan/artist/power conflict also extends to Persephone whose conversation with Urdr while Jon is basically hanging is the heart of WicDiv #33. Persephone has been all action, recklessness, and rebellion in year 3 of WicDiv and in some ways is trying to forcibly be the Destroyer. But she’s really wracked with guilt about her family’s death, which she blames on her desire to get anything to be in the Pantheon. Jamie McKelvie’s talents as an artist of empathy and character acting comes in handy during this sequence. He depicts Persephone from the side holding her knees as she tries to process what has happened to her during the past few arcs and uses a lot of close-ups in subsequent panels. McKelvie’s take on Urdr has a lot of anxiety as she swings from being afraid of the possibly Destroyer, Persephone and trying to be a good friend to the young fangirl, Laura. This is WicDiv so their conversation doesn’t end in hugs and reunions, but with an aphorism type line from Urdr and a little side head turn from Persephone. It’s a real of point of no return moment when Urdr calls her Persephone and not Laura, which results in tears and a tense beat panel.

In the context of the whole series, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson codify sacrifice again as a big theme of WicDiv. Instead of the old preying on the young like Ananke killing Luci, Inanna, and Tara in previous issues or more recently, Woden completely draining Dionysus: a young person is the one making the sacrifices. Minerva has been through some shit throughout “Rising Action” and “Imperial Phase”, and her new role as the head removing Ananke is sad, yet wonderful payoff for her character as she looks to take a more active role in the series going into its fourth year. She understands the idea of “necessity” in warding off the Great Darkness even if that means the death of someone close to her. But it is incredibly sad to see the one, real innocent member of the Pantheon be corrupted like this.

In the spirit of Urdr, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson get to the truth about who Woden is and the Great Darkness in WicDiv #33 using the shadows and claustrophobic spaces of Valhalla with splashes of eight bit menace to provide an emotionally draining reading experience. There are a decent amount of cards still on the table, but the chess board has turned into a pit of hot lava lorded over by an entitled abusive fanboy as Gillen and McKelvie cross the proverbial Rubicon and make Woden the literal patriarchy.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 9.2 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.3  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

9 Ideas for Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ Show

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Unless you’ve been chilling out in your hobbit hole smoking a couple bowls of Old Toby with limited wi-fi connection courtesy of the Hobbiton equivalent of Time Warner/Spectrum, you may have heard that Amazon Studios now has the rights to make television shows based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself tweeted about the acquisition, which some see as a power move to try to have a big fantasy show to compete with HBO and Game of Thrones. And if you’re trying to make a “prestige” fantasy universe, you can’t go wrong with playing in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original high fantasy sandbox even though Peter Jackson’s 2001-2003 Lord of the Rings trilogy is a modern film classic and basically my generation’s Star Wars. (The two too many Hobbits not so much.)

In related news,  J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, who has been the director of the Tolkien Estate since the author’s passing in 1973 has stepped down and is retiring. Christopher Tolkien compiled his father’s posthumous works, including the Silmarillion (1977), which features the creation myth of Middle Earth and sets up many of the events of Lord of the Rings. (Characters like Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond even cameo in it.) However, he wasn’t a big fan of the film adaptations and refused to sell Warner Bros the rights to any books other than Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

This could all change with his retirement, and Tolkien geeks could look forward to The Silmarillion trilogy to go with unending Star Wars sequels and Harry Potter prequels. But for the sake of this article, I’ll be limiting the possible TV shows to stories and characters that appear in The Lord of the Rings, it copious appendices, and The Hobbit even though a show about the rise and fall of Numenor would dunk on Game of Thrones while stealing its lunch money and making out with its romantic partner.

All these stories take place before Fellowship of the Ring just like the potential show mentioned in the Amazon press release.

YayAragorn

9. Young Aragorn Show

This show was the first one that came to mind for many Tolkien fans so let’s get it out of the way first. Even though he looks like he’s in his mid-30s, Aragorn is actually in his 80s during Lord of the Rings, which earns a laugh from Eowyn, who has an unrequited crush on him. He has been around the block a little bit: riding through the wild with Elrond’s sons, fighting for both Gondor and Rohan, and even going on a solo man hunt for Gollum. (The subject of a solid, violent fan film.)

The Aragorn prequel show definitely shouldn’t go the Gotham route and have Aragorn be a kid with the exception of flashbacks featuring him in Rivendell and not being a fan of his foster father Elrond pushing him towards becoming king of Gondor. It would work best in the vein of the 2013 Tomb Raider game, Casino Royale, and Batman Begins showing how the orphan Estel became the hardened, badass ranger, Strider, and a king in exile. Hell, you could probably come up with a whole part of a character arc from one of Viggo Mortensen’s long, smouldering looks in Lord of the Rings.

Besides being a cool lone wanderer fantasy adventure show, like Xena with stubble, the young Aragorn prequel has a wealth of relationships to develop from his father figures Elrond and Gandalf to younger versions of Theoden and Denethor when he fights as a mercenary for Rohan and Gondor and especially his romance with Arwen. Honestly, I could watch a whole season of them fighting the forces of Evil in the North and doing a lot of smooching.

ElrondIsildur

8. Isildur and Elrond Show

This show would take place 3,000+ years before the Fellowship of the Ring, but it would be fantastic and could lead into the epic battle, cold open in Fellowship. It would focus on the characters of Elrond and Isildur and provide an inside look at the legendary “Last Alliance” between humans and Elves from the POV of their two young leaders. The show could flesh out Isildur’s father, Elendil, and Elrond’s commander, Gil-Galad, who barely appeared in Fellowship and show what kind of personalities the men who stood up against Sauron had.

Isildur, his father, and brother are also some of the last refugees from the Atlantis-like island of Numenor, which was destroyed by the Valar (Gods of Middle Earth) after their last king struck up an alliance with Sauron. So, the main conflict of the series wouldn’t just be good versus evil, but also personal. It could also show how Elrond went from an optimistic Half-Elf warrior to a cynical, misanthrope after Isildur decides to keep the One Ring and not destroy it. Speaking of the Ring, it already has a built in climax as Isildur chooses power over peace and allows Sauron to survive. (Honestly, Elrond should have pushed him in the lava and saved a lot of trouble.)

If Amazon is serious about being competitive with Game of Thrones and wants to do a real high fantasy show, they couldn’t go wrong with adapting the story of the first war against Sauron featuring the characters of Isildur and Elrond. Plus it’s a chance at seeing the Elven rings in action, having flashbacks featuring Sauron in a sexy, deceptive, Milton’s Lucifer form, and also exploring the interesting topic of religion in Middle Earth. Because Isildur is probably pissed off that his homeland is thousands of feet underwater.

Haradrim

7. Rhun or Harad-Focused Show

Although not as bad as his frenemy C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien’s treatment of race in Lord of the Rings was quite problematic. You could play a drinking game with how many times he refers to “non-Western” humans as “swarthy” in the book. Sauron’s allies, the people of Rhun (Who are referred to by the basically racist sobriquet Easterlings),  and Harad, don’t fare much better in the film and are just face mask and turban wearing enemies for the main characters to cut through or sneak around.

Even though they get zero characterization in the books and films, both Tolkien and Jackson saw some potential in the people of Rhun and Harad in a monologue delivered by Sam in the book and Faramir in the movie where he asks, “You wonder what his name is… where he came from. And if he was really at heart.” I think a serious fantasy war drama about a young Rhun or Haradrim would be fascinating and go into the motivation behind banding together with someone really evil in Sauron and Mordor.

In Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, he mentions a resistance movement to Sauron in Rhun, and this footnote could turn into an entire TV show. I think it would be more powerful to show the life of a Rhun or Haradrim soldier, who fought for Sauron and their daily life and emotions.

While HBO is doing a fantasy/alternate show about the Confederacy winning the Civil War, wouldn’t it be cool if Amazon did a revisionist take on the Tolkien mythos and gave people of color agency and robust character arcs to go with the cool armor designs and giant elephants?

TombofBalin

6. Mines of Moria Show

Players and ex-players (Like yours truly) of The Lord of the Rings Online should definitely know that the Mines of Moria is easily one of the coolest and scariest places in Middle Earth. It’s the ultimate RPG dungeon, and unfortunately The Fellowship of the Ring could only show audiences its main quest line. This is why a show centered around Balin’s failed colonization of Moria would be a very entertaining and horrifying show.

The show could begin with Balin (Ken Stott reprising his role from The Hobbit films) feeling restless in a peaceful Erebor and deciding to reclaim the dwarves’ ancestral homeland and mine the beyond precious metal mithril. There would be plenty of gruff humor, axe swinging action, and all kinds of creepy critters either from Tolkien’s mythos or twisted original creations.

I was sad that Guillermo del Toro didn’t get to direct The Hobbit films so it would be really redemptive for him if he directed the pilot, executive produced, and helped design some of the monsters for this Mines of Moria show. It could provide a longer look at one of the cooler places in Middle Earth and also tell a story from the POV of the dwarves, who are supporting players in both the Middle Earth books and films. Plus it would make the Tomb of Balin scene even sadder.

TheodenBoss

5. Young Theoden Show

Rohan is one of the most fascinating countries in Middle Earth because they’re basically Vikings, who ride horses. J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay The Monsters and the Critics  is pretty much responsible for you reading Beowulf in AP English or Lit 101, and you can see a lot of his passion for the 9th century Anglo-Saxon epic poem in the honorable warriors and people of Rohan. Plus “shield maiden” is seriously a job you can have there until Grima Wormtongue decided to bring the patriarchy back.

As played by Bernard Hill with a fantastic wig, Theoden is one of my favorite characters in The Two Towers and Return of the King. He has strong emotional connections to his niece, Eowyn, his late son, Theodred, and even the hobbit, Meriadoc Brandybuck. Theoden also has a passive aggressive relationship with the people of Gondor, which he kind of takes out on Aragorn. (The whole “Where was Gondor?” scene.) His empathetic approach to kingship would be a unique wrinkle in a TV drama landscape filled with assholes and anti-heroes

A Theoden TV show would also be a chance to explore the relationship between the Rohirrim and people of Dunland, who were allies of Saruman in The Two Towers and utilize a fantasy setting to look at political imperialism. Theoden might be a nice guy, but he perpetuates the oppressive status quo, oops.

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4. Tauriel/War of the Ring “Northern Front” Show

While the Lord of the Rings was focusing on the events in Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor, there was a whole war being fought in the North. Remember the dwarves, people of Dale, and Elves of Mirkwood from The Hobbit? They had to deal with hordes of Orcs and Sauron’s allies from Rhun decades after liberating their people from a giant dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The valiant effort of Legolas’ fabulous father Thranduil and the dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills misdirected resources that could have been used to hunt down Frodo and the One Ring or besiege Minas Tirith.

The setting of the War of the Ring’s “Northern Front” would be a prime place to reintroduce the unfairly maligned character, Tauriel, who was played by Ant-Man‘s Evangeline Lilly in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of Five Armies. With Legolas traveling with the Fellowship, she’s the top warrior of Mirkwood and also has interesting connection to the dwarves because of her relationship with Kili from The Hobbit. Most of the leaders in Lord of the Rings are male so it would nice to see the War of the Rings from a female POV and get a real arc for Tauriel instead of just being a cog in a forced love story.

This show would also provide an opportunity for Lee Pace to come back as Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, and I could definitely use some more fantastic eyebrows and moose mounts. An interesting subplot could be centered around the Elves of Lothlorien deciding to help at Helm’s Deep instead of their relatives’ war in the North, which probably made Thranduil furious.

WitchKing

3. Rangers of the North vs. The Witch King Show

This show idea completely comes from my personal love for the “Shadows of Angmar” quest line in the Lord of the Rings Online MMO. Before he chased down hobbits with magical rings, the Witch King was responsible for the decline and eventual demise of Arnor, the kingdom in the North that Aragorn is the heir to. The attack on Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring is the Witch King basically talking trash to Aragorn and telling him that the North still belongs to him.

The battle between the Witch King and Arnor is interesting because with the help of hobbits, Elves, and Gondorians, the Rangers of the North eventually defeat him, but they’re scattered and have no real political power. This is why Aragorn looks like he hasn’t taken a bath ever (And still looks hot.) instead of looking like royalty in Fellowship of the Ring. 

The war between Arnor and Angmar spans five centuries and involves Arnor splitting into three separate kingdoms. (Game of Thrones is not original.) A good way to tell this long story would be to pick a family of Rangers and tell their story over the years and using the framing device of Aragorn telling the story to the hobbits by the camp fire. They didn’t have much food so they had to do something to pass the time. The show’s setting in the North could also lead to cameos from fan favorite characters, like Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-Wights, and Old Man Willow as well as the occasional hobbit and familiar places like the Prancing Pony Inn.

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2. A Dark Comedy About Orcs, War, and Their Feelings

With the exception of  Saruman and Gollum, the forces of Evil in Lord of the Rings aren’t really well-sketched out. The glorified flashlight Eye of Sauron that pops up throughout the three films is certainly no Hannibal Lecter, Anton Chigurh, or even Jason Voorhees. Sure, Weta Workshop’s designs for the various Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-Hai in Lord of the Rings is very cool and grotesque, but Peter Jackson didn’t have time to dig into their inner feelings in his film trilogy.

This is where this unnamed show about Orcs and their feelings come into play. It should be a war story about foot soldier on either the Gondor or Rohan front and be a dark comedy in the vein of Full Metal Jacket, MASH, or most recently, Four Lions finding the funny side of fighting for the forces of evil. The main character should be either a foot soldier or non-commissioned officer with occasional cameos from named Orcs/Uruk-hai from the books and films, like Lurtz, Gothmog (The puffy, white faced guy from Return of the King) , and Gorbag, who did a cool crane kick move before getting stabbed in the back by Samwise Gamgee.

I am here for latrine digging humor and jabs from regular Orcs about how the Uruk-Hai are pretty, but dumb as well as finding out what the ordinary, lunch pail, er, scimitar wielding foot soldier thinks about Sauron and his war against humans, Elves, and the “free people”.  A good showrunner for this project would be one of Middle Earth (Aka New Zealand’s) finest comedic directors Taika Waititi if he’s not too busy making every future Marvel movie.

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1. The Great Bilbo Bake Off

In the terrible of year of 2017, who wouldn’t want a show featuring cakes, pies, pastries, and all matter of hobbit treats judged by Noel Fielding, Paul Hollywood, and company. Plus since this competition technically takes place in a fantasy world, why not bring back Mel, Sue, and everyone’s favorite Commander of the British Empire, Mary Berry from previous seasons of the Earth spinoff of The Great Bilbo Bakeoff.

Yes, because he’s one of the oldest hobbits, Bilbo (As played by Martin Freeman, duh.) should definitely be the main judge of his show. It would also give him a much needed break from his hobby of map flipping, ring fondling, and generally being a weird loner hoarder. Plus his 111th birthday is coming up, and you definitely need a tasty cake if you’ve lived that long.

Just be wary of the Sackville-Bagginses taking your Baked Alaska out of the freezer…

TV Review: Broad City S4E7 Florida

In a solid, yet unspectacular episode of Broad City with the amazing stunt casting of Fran Drescher as Ilana’s Aunt Beverly, Abbi and Ilana travel with Ilana’s mom (Susi Essman) and brother Eliot (Eliot Glazer) to Florida to pack up and divide her grandmother Esther’s worldly possessions after her passing. “Florida” is also Ilana Glazer’s directorial debut, and her greatest contribution to this episode is using a handheld camera to slowly puff, puff, pan between each member of the Wexler extended family and smooth out all tensions, including Ilana’s aunt and mom fighting over a family heirloom or Eliot being on the phone.

“Florida” is also proof that Broad City isn’t afraid to get political two episodes in a row as Glazer and writer Jen Statsky spin a fish out of water tale of blue state millennials visiting a red state. After dealing with frizzy hair and community Abbi and Ilana become true suburban kweens and  immediately fall in love with the low rents, green grass, and orange trees of Florida and are even okay with grannies toting assault rifles and “Make America Great Again” because the rent is so damn low. ($425 a month to rent a spacious condo halved between two roommates, please confirm this Floridians.) However, by the end of the episode and after some racist and homophobic slurs (The good, elderly folks at Darling Estates think Abbi and Ilana are a couple.), they realize that maybe the Florida life isn’t for them, and they’re better off braving the frozen pipes of New York that the hot, bigoted sun of the “dangling dick of America”.

I liked how throughout the whole episode that Statsky had Abbi and Ilana try to adapt to life in Florida and think old people are adorable with their tennis matches, white fish salads, and casual racism, but then realized how alien this world is to theirs. There is a golden bit of writing when Abbi and Ilana talk to two separate old ladies about having sex with JFK and realize that this wasn’t achievement for either of them, and he was a creep. They are old tennis rivals and a possible reflection of Abbi and Ilana when they grow up. The whole campaigning to be the newest, youngest residents of these condos is frankly hilarious if filled with the undertone of systemic racism as Abbi and Ilana realize that the only people of color at the condos are gardeners, nurses, and paramedics. It’s super awkward.

The B and C plots of “Florida”  have great comedic potential, especially with the annoying nature of airline hold lines,  Eliot Glazer’s willingness to rock old lady fashion, and the verbal sparring between Susi Essman and Fran Drescher. However, they kind of just sizzle out, and don’t get the nurturing of Abbi and Ilana running around the Florida suburbs with MTV style cuts to them rolling in Grandma Esther’s Cadillac. Drescher and Essman are super believable sisters, and the logic of their arguments are quite humorous with Beverly saying that Grandma Esther’s ring is the closest she’ll ever have to an engagement ring. But Glazer cuts away far too often to the suburban shenanigans as Drescher continues to make the argument for her getting an “auteur style” sitcom like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None or Donald Glover’s Atlanta. We definitely need more hilarious, middle aged women like her doing comedy TV. (Also, shout out to The Nanny for being one of the greatest Nick at Nite shows ever.)

Jen Statsky and Ilana Glazer mine the deep romantic subtext between Abbi and Ilana in “Florida” as they fleetingly consider living together in a world that hates and fears them. This episode is good for a few painful, fish out of water laughs, and Broad City hits the guest star jackpot again with Fran Drescher. But it’s greatest development is the possible reunion of Ilana and Lincoln (Hannibal Burress) with a gender reversal of the classic “big gesture” romantic comedy trope that is too adorable to spoil here.

Overall: 7.7

Review: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26

SquirrelGirlCoverUnbeatable Squirrel Girl takes a little break in issue 26 for a special in-universe zine comic written and drawn by various heroes, villains, and denizens of the Marvel Universe. In real life, they are all written by Ryan North with Erica Henderson switching roles with her Jughead collaborator Chip Zdarsky to pen a surprisingly sultry Howard the Duck story. It’s a fun sampler that mostly hit and very little miss from the much vaunted series of three panel Galactus gag strips by Garfield‘s Jim Davis to Anders Nilsen and Soren Iverson’s poignant story of Wolverine befriending a Sentinel and shotgunning a beer with his adamantium claws. The series Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has a lot of fantastic action, jokes, and the occasional superhero parody, but it’s a book where Doreen listens to both her opponents and allies and tries to work things out with eating nuts and kicking butts. S

So, it’s fitting, we get this comic that is written by a wacky range of POVs beginning with Squirrel Girl herself who stutters through the intro about his being a fundraiser zine. We get to listen to Kraven, hear Spider-Man’s retort, and see the world through Tippytoe’s eyes, which is drawn and colored in an adorable manner  Madeline McGrane’s art and colors make this frame story definitely look like a zine you might pick up at the local coffee shop or one of those fancy schmancy zine stores in bigger stories. It’s followed up by Chip Zdarsky going the closest he’ll ever get to his work on Sex Criminals in a mainstream comic with Erica Henderson doubling as a film noir director, but more awkward. They use close-ups and small panels of Howard the Duck and his femme fatale/client like they’re egging Marvel editorial to linger on this scene more while adding a funny caption. Zdarsky doing Big Two interiors is a big treat, and he barely holds back.

Tom Fowler’s Brain Drain story is a nice showcase of the underrated Unbeatable Squirrel Girl supporting character and hews the closest to Henderson’s usual style on the book. His take on Brain Drain is philosophical, adorable, and structured like the computer science programs that the character loves. It’s oddly motivational too and worth a reread thanks to its erudite writing style. Speaking of rereads, Carla Speed McNeil draws a Loki comic that only makes sense forwards and backwards and is a great example of how the comics medium allows for flexibility of meaning using Loki as a litmus test. It’s a wonderful double page spread, and the best Loki story since Journey into Mystery.

After this, Michael Cho draws a Kraven the Hunter comic/Spider-Man diss story, which is a pretty fun riff off “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and features dead presidents. His art has a light hearted old school vibe while having a subversive take on superhero/supervillain relationships kind of like the main Unbeatable Squirrel Girl title, but from the bad guy’s perspective. It’s followed up by a one page retort from Spider-Man with some gorgeous, yet still funny digital painting work from Rahzzah, who teams up later in the book to do Nancy Whitehead’s photo collage comic with the help of North, who channels Dinosaur Comics in the strip. It’s a well-designed remix story that will make the non-artists reading this comic smile and the kind of mash-up that you would find in a real zine.

NilsonWolverine

But the heavy hitter of the bunch is Anders Nilsen and Soren Iverson’s Wolverine story that is fitting for an artist who had done a comic called Poetry is Useless. Anders Nilsen has a minimalist Euro style perfect for a comic about Wolverine getting talked out of killing a Sentinel, who challenges him to look past his shiny mutant killing exterior and team up with him to beat up some kaiju. (Sadly, this part of the story is off panel.) Wolverine gets a big epiphany moment when he realizes that he’s “hating and fearing” the Sentinel just like the X-Men have been treated for most of their career. This story is proof that more Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly guys should draw superhero comics.

Following this weighty, yet fun story is a couple of candy confections. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl colorist Rico Renzi draws an adorable and faux edgy Batman parody starring the one and only Tippytoe. It pokes fun at Batman’s angsty backstory as well as the fact that Tippytoe always plays second banana. Renzi’s art style is similar to the cartoon The Amazing World of Gumball with lush digital backgrounds and colors. Finally, Jim Davis, whose work I was familiar with eons before I ever opened a Marvel comic, transposes the classic Garfield and Jon relationship to Galactus and the Silver Surfer. It’s the same dad-ish, three panel punchline jokes, but told in a more cosmic key, and Davis has a lot of fun showing Galactus doing his planet devouring, face stuffing thing. His literal eye popping Silver Surfer has a similar manic energy to Robin Williams’ Genie in Disney’s Aladdin.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26 is a real treat as independent cartoonists, the creator of Garfield, and even the book’s colorist get to take a stab at some of the more familiar faces in the Marvel Universe while also giving Squirrel Girl’s supporting cast a moment in the sun. It’s sometimes poignant and always funny.

Story: Ryan North, Erica Henderson Art: Madeline McGrane, Chip Zdarsky, Tom Fowler, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Anders Nilsen, Rico Renzi, Jim Davis Colors: Madeline McGrane, Chip Zdarsky, Rico Renzi, Rahzzah,Soren Iverson
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.0 Overall:9.2 Recommendation: Read

Review: The Wonderful World of Tank Girl #1

The first issue of writer/co-creator Jamie Martin and artist Brett Parson’s new Tank Girl series The Wonderful World of Tank Girl #1 is breezy, violent, a little too reliant on scatological humor, and best of all, a standalone story. Unlike the past few Titan Tank Girl books, Martin and Parson lose the convoluted time travel narratives or emotional beats featuring supporting characters like Jet Girl and Sub Girl and just cut loose with action caper spoof where blood and shit literally hit the fan. Martin plots a basic story about Booga the kangaroo’s old, actual pirate buddy Bart Anchor getting released prison and planning a heist against a rich jerk, who keeps all his money at home because of an accident with a bank vault and his groin area. This guy also covered Tank Girl’s face with her knickers back in grade school so the heist/vengeance spree/armed robbery is “personal” too.

But from anyone who’s watched enough Johnny Depp movies, trusting an eye patch wearing pirate is a bad idea, and Tank Girl ends up a captive of a rich, torture obsessed Trump-ish looking fellow, who resents her from back in the day.  And it somehow becomes a possibly unneeded Die Hard parody even though the vaguely Eastern European henchmen commenting on each other’s almost perfect hair and feebly swearing revenge are pretty hilarious. Jamie Martin throws in one really funny plot twist and peppers the story with plenty of violence and hit and miss jokes that go off like bullets from Tank Girl’s friends’ automatic clips.

No one will really be able to top Jamie Hewlett’s art style except for perhaps Philip Bond, but Brett Parson’s sexy zany anarchic pencils and inks certainly comes close. He draws very attractive, stylish characters that can sure rock the ol’ undercut, but also has a real knack for the ridiculous and Garbage Pail Kids gross out gags that are perfect for this story, which climaxes in a giant plumbing related explosion. Parson also has never met a running visual joke that he didn’t like, and the one for this issue is Tank Girl’s friends wearing underwear on their heads to go with their Mission Impossible/every turn of the millennium action movie ever jumpsuits in solidarity with her grade school bullying. My favorite scenes that he draws are when he isn’t trying to be cute and clever with homages and just goes a little apeshit. For example, when Tank Girl’s friends barrel through a 20 mile per hour zone in a giant tank to rescue her, or mow down nameless goons with assault rifles on surfboards in a scene that probably didn’t to be a double page splash, but somehow totally worked.

Even though it relies a little too much on bathroom and fart jokes reminiscient of late period Dana Carvey or Adam Sandler movies, The Wonderful World of Tank Girl #1 fully embraces its new anthology style, genre spoof format, and Jamie Martin and Brett Parson cut loose with the outrageous personalities of Tank Girl, Booga, Jet Girl, Sub Girl, Barney, and a character whose only purpose is to randomly quote Shakespeare. Also, Parson is a dirty, sexy, funny, and violent artist, and his mastery of all these characteristics makes this book worth picking up even if you’re not a die hard Tank Girl fan.

Story: Jamie Martin Art: Brett Parson
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

Titan Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Archies #2

If The Archies #1 was the band’s origin story, The Archies #2 is all about life on the road, and writers Matthew Rosenberg and Alex Segura, artist Joe Eisma, and colorist Matt Herms nail the intrinsic drama filled dynamic of The Archies in the issue’s title page. Archie is driving the van and narrating at the audience, Betty is actually doing the work and looking under the hood, Jughead and Reggie are arguing, and Veronica is on her phone. One image, and we get the band’s dynamic that Rosenberg, Segura, and Eisma play off for the rest of the issue as the journey to The Archies’ first gig isn’t a smooth one.

However, like classic Archie comics, The Archies #2 is pure wish fulfillment albeit with stylish art and classy colors from Eisma and Herms and some references to cool bands and artists like Father John Misty. And honestly, it was kind of be boring if Veronica’s dad bailed them out all the time and gave a band that should be sleeping in their van or scrimping to get a fleabag hotel, five star accommodations. Rosenberg and Segura spend the whole first half of the comic milking the dramatic potential of five teenage frenemies sharing close quarters after kicking it MTV Cribs style in a double page spread of them enjoying the fruits of Mr. Lodge’s AmEx. But Rosenberg, Segura, and Eisma are wise to not have them experience too much fame too quickly even though they coincidentally keep getting breaks because this is truly a fantasy comic. It’s the pop rock daydreams of you and your friends and maybe that guy you hate on bass starting a band, playing dive bars, and getting famous somehow.

In The Archies #2, Joe Eisma goes for more silly physical comedy with his artwork than the immaculate style and melodrama of his work on Archie with Mark Waid. However, Veronica still has a fantastic wardrobe, and there’s an entire panel dedicated to her picking out an outfit for the gig. But Eisma gets smiles and giggles from the Archies just reacting to the brave new world around them like a super tired Betty rubbing her eyes after practically willing their fan to get to New Jersey, or Veronica practically exploding Then, there’s Reggie strutting and preening in the mirror and wearing a Blur shirt that I seriously need. (Although I pegged Reggie as more of a Liam Gallagher fan.)

The plot of The Archies #2 is a fairly standard young band’s rise to glory story, but Joe Eisma’s gesture cartooning and Herms’ flashes of colors give each band member a fun, quirky personality. Also, it definitely feels like that this comic was made with love for indie music and bands out there living the struggle so The Archies #2 is a book you can give to your grandma, who grew up chuckling at the Archie comics back in the day or to your hipster friends, who might smirk at it and then longingly remember when they though they could be the next post-synth-indie-dream pop sensation. (That’s my not so professional approximation of The Archies’ sound.)

Story: Matthew Rosenberg and Alex Segura Art: Joe Eisma Colors: Matt Herms
Story: 8.2 Art: 9 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

Archie Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Iceman #7

Iceman #7 has Bobby making an Ice-kaiju to use in battle with his old Champions teammates and also has many character defining moments for him. Writer Sina Grace combines the quick banter and pitched fights of old school superhero team fights with some relationship bits like Iceman going a little further in a sexy way with Judah and chatting with the Champions about his overcompensating, macho ways back in the day at a Russian bakery. Robert Gill’s art is serviceable, and he does something interesting things with spacing like making the new X-Men headquarters in Central Park seemed very crowded compared to Judah and Bobby’s nightly walks in L.A. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors are much the same way even though she makes Bobby’s ice powers look extra badass.

Even though the story is chock full of superhero guest stars, Grace and Gill manage to chisel out an image of Bobby as a hero and man. Iceman is comfortable in team settings, making the jokes, and teaching the younger heroes, but he also wants to strike out on his own, date a new cute guy, and knows that the X-Men are in capable hands. The “villain” in this issue are special effects designers who are hoping to impress a Hollywood studio with their almost lifelike Sentinel replicas. Some heroes would throw these women in jail or in The Raft or somewhere, but Bobby realizes their mechanical talents and desperateness to be significant somewhere and helps find them professor jobs. He can make dad jokes and be honest, empathetic, self-aware, and sometimes impulsive like the end of this issue.

Even though the Champions don’t have their own movie or TV show, like the X-Men, Avengers, or even the New Warriors, Robert Gill and Rachelle Rosenberg deliver on a monster setpiece to open Iceman #7 and cash in on the promise of last issue’s cliffhanger. Bobby displays so much swag, creativity, and leadership in this fight and basically wants to get it over with so he can Netflix and chill with his man. Gill also draws some close-ups of Angel because he is sexy and hell and also because he and Iceman have a close relationship. Later, Grace and Gill use him for innuendo and class consciousness purposes when his wingspan can barely fit in Iceman’s New York apartment. Tempting as it maybe to transform Iceman into a slice of life, romance book, Bobby Drake has been a hero since the 1960s (In comic book years.), and he’s not going to stop even if he goes solo for real this time.

It looks like the Champions team-up isn’t going to continue beyond Iceman #7 although Sina Grace did a nice job of using it to set up an L.A. setting, connect Bobby to non-X-Men related parts of the Marvel Universe, and also dig into why he acted like a macho wannabe flirt in older comics. Grace, Gill, and Rosenberg use Ben-Day dot flashbacks from Bronze Age comics to explore and critique Bobby’s toxic masculinity when instead of treating Black Widow like a powerful ally, he hit on her and was immediately cut down to size. However, he has learned his lesson over the years and is starting to come into his own as a gay man. And this whole freedom thing goes into overdrive towards the end of the issue. But not after he roasts each and every X-Man before movie night.

Iceman #7 is a real turning point issue for the series in both sexy and non-sexy ways as Bobby Drake shows that he can do both the self-realization and transforming his body into Godzilla ice shapes thing. Also, it’s nice to have the same artist on two (not so) straight issues.

 

Story: Sina Grace Art: Robert Gill Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Story: 8.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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