The Dinglehopper

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Comic Review: Cyborg #1

cyborg coverI’ve mentioned before how recently I’ve been drawn to diversity in my comic books. Earlier in the week, I started to hear some buzz about Cyborg, the new DC title focused on the titular character and written by David F. Walker (who also writes Shaft) and illustrated by Joe Prado and Ivan Reis. What I heard was that it addressed issues of race and disability. I was in.

Of course, Cyborg, Vic Stone, isn’t a new character to me. I know him as an ensemble player in Teen Titans and Justice League Unlimited. But he’s never been even as fleshed out as JLA’s Jon Stewart. The first issue first and foremost establishes Vic’s relationship with his father. It’s complicated. Dad was distant, but when Vic was mortally burned in a fire, his father Silas saved him by grafting him with machine technology, turning him into Cyborg, a being that Vic explains is more machine than man (you know, like Darth Vader). So Vic has some difficulty with those around him, especially his father, seeing him as a human being.

Here’s where the examination of disability comes in. S.T.A.R. labs, where Silas Stone works, is being protested by a group of people, some missing limbs or sitting in wheel chairs. Vic, through a kind of visual voice over with a light barcode in the background to suggest the computer machine aspect of Vic, states feelings shared by many with visible disabilities: “Some people stare. Some people look away in horror. I hate both.” I’m interested to see where this theme goes in future issues. For a superhero book, its ground that isn’t frequently explored, except in Batgirl.

As far as plot goes, there are two threads being woven. The personal one is that Cyborg’s body is doing new and strange things that he doesn’t understand, so he’s come to his father for assistance. The epic danger involves two alien races, one which has recognizable tech–it looks like Cyborg’s–and the other wants to acquire that tech. They’re certainly an enticing set of hooks.

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The art by Joe Prado and Ivan Reis is pretty fantastic. Their faces are emotionally evocative with nuances registering easily. However the true exhibition of talent is in their treatment of flashbacks which happen concurrently in a panel with the present character(s) grappling with their significance. The action of the flashback appears in the background in a translucent red toned image to contrast the pervasive blue of the present. It’s visually intense and artistically stunning.

Cyborg deserved some special treatment after being a team player for so long. Walker, Reis, and Prado are handling him like royalty.


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Comic Review: Jem and The Holograms #5

Jem05 coverIf you’re not reading Kelly Thompson’s Jem and The Holograms, you clearly hate fun. I’ll admit, I starting reading this comic for two reasons: 1) nostalgia, and 2) diverse body types. But that’s just the beginning of what this comic has to offer.

Issue #5 (Here’s a preview to entice!) picks up at the moment where #4 left us hanging–with sabotaged lighting falling towards a fear-paralyzed Jem on stage at The Holograms first performance. IDW describes the issue:

A disaster at the HOLOGRAMS’ first live show nearly ends JEM’s music career before it starts! Now KIMBER learns who’s behind the dangerous “accident”… and she’s out for revenge.

This issue, more than any other to date, feels like an episode of the cartoon. It opens with a “Previously on…” page that montages key panels from the preceding issues to remind readers of the important plot details. Then it jumps right back into the action. The pace has picked up from previous issues since all of the exposition has been established. Now we get to just watch the pieces come together–and clash. The quickness of the panels makes for a whisking ride through the action. You may actually hear yourself say, “Whee!”

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The art in the issue, courtesy of Sophie Campbell, is a delight. The characters are cute, but not cutesy. What struck me this time out was how much fun it was to see the different fashion variations for the characters. One of the comic’s song montages happens halfway through, and in it we see the characters in panels that depict different places and times. Kimber and Aja alone show up sporting three different hairstyles and outfits. Yet, each character has a clear style. Compared to the one-outfit monotony of most comics (are they afraid we won’t recognize a character if they’re not wearing the same clothes every panel?), the inventive variation of fashion feels FRESH. Campbell also does a wonderous job depicting the Jerrica/Jem transformation. The imagery melds different versions of her with ribbons of color floating around her to suggest the hologram morphing. And finally, the facial expressions are emotionally evocative and occasionally hilarious. A moment late in the issue takes the cake for depicting Pizzazz’s reactions–and she’s rife with fantastic reactions.

Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell continue to produce a comic that is a joy to read. Positive, colorful, light, humorous, and FUN. And I dare say this is the best issue yet.


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Comedians as Moral Detectives

detective louisAlthough humor is frequently dismissed as low entertainment, engaging laughter, seen as the shallowest of emotional responses, comedy actually functions in important ways for a society. Whether in the form of fools, clowns, or tricksters, comedians have played a role of defining moral boundaries since ancient times. In Pueblo society, clowns are often the only ones who can touch delicate issues within the community. For example, at a ceremonial dance, a clown might pull to the center of the crowd a married man of standing and the mistress that he is having an affair with, put a bike tire innertube around the couple, and perform a mock marriage ceremony to publicly shame the two.

Now Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak, has created a video examining this phenomenon. In it he astutely unpacks a joke Louis C.K. opened SNL with concerning pedophilia, looking at multiple responses to performance and establishing it as part of a tradition in which society gives slack to comedians to talk about delicate subjects in the interest of testing the moral walls of that society. The joke itself may initially seem in poor taste, but it ultimately reframes a conversation about a repulsive drive in some people that most people don’t want to think about much less examine.


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The Fringe Binge, Part II: Season 5

Fringe_season5poster_fullWhen Fringe was looking at cancellation late in season 4, a season that most people didn’t think they’d get, they presented a plan to their producers for a half season to finish the story. Then they teased that final arc during season 4 when they jumped forward to 2036, a time when the Observers have invaded and become fascist rulers. Two FBI agents are searching for the lost original Fringe team who have been discovered in amber.

This episode felt out of place in season 4, but it sets up the entire premise of season 5. The now reunited Fringe team, and the FBI agent who found them, are attempting to enact a plan to rid themselves of the Observers.

fringe_1I suspect this is a divisive season for fans of the show. I personally liked it, but the departure from previous seasons could alienate. The new style is different enough that the intro has changed entirely, keeping only the structure and the score. The show goes from being roughly a crime procedural to a hero’s journey adventure drama. There are no more “monster of the week” episodes–all the fat has been trimmed. Now there are only episodes that build to the execution of the plan. Episodes consist of a mini-mission to find a component along with character and relationship development.

The new setting is all concrete jungle or rural emptiness. There is a definite 1984 vibe with signs up that show an Observer and the phrase “The Future is Order”. Later on, counter signs showing the picture of a martyred rebel say, “Resist.” The future is a little bit retro–styles from the 1940’s seem to be in fashion, creating an allusion to WWII’s fascists as well as 1984. Furthermore, many of the Fringe team’s allies are still around, like Broyles and Nina Sharp, but they’ve aged 21 years while Olivia, Astrid, Peter, and Walter haven’t aged a day since 2015.

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Like with season 4, the threads of theme are strong and multilayered. At the forefront, the relationship between parents and children. Peter and Olivia become reunited with their daughter but then have to deal with losing her. Peter and Walter’s relationship continues to develop and open up. And there are new fathers and sons who continually expand the audience’s understanding of our core characters. But there are also themes of sacrifice and redemption.

The episodes of this season regularly reference back to previous Fringe cases, giving the final season a strong sense of closure through the circularity. While the team no longer investigates Fringe events, they are now forced to use evidence from those Fringe cases to move forward in their plan. They become the terrorists, now that they’re on the other side of the law.

Season 5 is definitely darker emotionally than the other seasons, but that enables an ending to the show that is deeply satisfying and bitter-sweet. Sure, the science of time travel gets all timey-wimey, but I’m not watching Fringe for the practical science.

 


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The Fringe Binge, Part 1: Season 4 aka The Best Season

FRINGE-Key-Art110901140313Four years back, we dropped cable in the interest of saving money, vowing to use much more affordable streaming services to keep up with the shows we watched each week, including Fringe. But the practical effect of that move was that Fringe got put on hold with a strong intention to catch up with it again someday. In the newborn phase after my second child’s birth this summer, that day has come.

Fringe has always had the reputation of being an aughts replacement for The X-Files, and certainly it did have the crime procedural married to tales of a supernatural or bizarre nature and an overarching “mythology” narrative, Fringe proved itself distinct from its ancestor.  Watching season 4 over the last few weeks brought home Fringe’s special recipe, and I dare say it has earned a place in the pantheon of great sci-fi television.

I do intend to write specifically about certain plot events, episodes, and moments, so if you’d like to remain naive on the season’s stories, stop reading now.

Season 3 ended with Peter getting in the Machine to create a bridge between the two universes to help stabilize both and allow the two Fringe teams to work together for more solutions. That meant that Peter was erased from the timeline as it got reset and 10-year-old Peter drowned in a lake, as he should have done without the Observer’s help.

fringe-peterreturns4So when season 4 picks back up, we return to the Fringe team we’re used to, but now they’re working with the other side, the other side is healing, and no one remembers Peter at all. But as the episodes add up, and Peter’s non-corporeal presence attempts to reach back into their reality, it becomes clearer and clearer what Peter’s presence meant to the team, especially Walter and Olivia. Olivia, without Peter in her life, has remained distrustful of everyone around her. She has remained the guarded, distant Olivia of the first season without the opening bond with Peter. Likewise, Walter stays distant from the world around him. He never leaves the lab and, in fact, sleeps in it. Astrid is his eyes and ears on the world through a camera she wears like a Bluetooth over-the-ear microphone.

What strikes me as a major difference between Fringe and The X-Files is the emphasis on the relationships in Fringe. This season largely explores the relationships between Peter and Walter and Olivia, but it also focuses on Lincoln’s relationships with his former partner and Olivia, Olivia’s relationship with Nina Sharp, and even Astrid’s relationship with her father. In fact, parent-child relationships are paramount. John Noble as Walter is a font of sympathy, pathos, and humor as he navigates the return of a Peter he didn’t know existed. Each Fringe event that the team studies directly mirrors the interpersonal conflicts of the team. The themes in both A- and B-plots are reflective in a way I don’t remember being as strong in the first three seasons.

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Of course, rather than The X-Files‘ obsession with aliens, Fringe deep dives into the concepts of time and alternate realities. In season 3, we met Olivia’s and Walter’s alternate universe selves–nicknamed Bolivia or later Fauxlivia and Walternate respectively. We also met the other side’s Astrid, Lincoln, and Broyles. Each of them is a plausible variation on the character we came to know in the first two seasons. Now, in season 4 with the timeline reset and Peter gone, we get slight variations on both sets of characters we got to know in season 3. Walternate in season 3 was villainous, but Walternate in season 4 is well-meaning but hard. The doubling down on the variations of character is fascinating. A highlight is when Astrid finally meets her doppleganger, who is on the spectrum, and they bond.

astridsmeet

I’m very pleased I decided to catch back up with season 4. The show antes up the relationships and concepts it built over the previous three seasons and creates what I would argue is the best season of the show.


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Old Favorites and Our Savior Appearing in New ‘X-Files’

gillian-anderson-and-david-duchovnyMultiple announcements concerning new X-Files cast members has come out in recent days, and it’s all very exciting.

First, THE LONE GUNMEN are back! Confirmed for the series are our favorite conspiracy nuts Langly, Frohike, and Byers – Dean Hagland, Tom Braidwood, and Bruce Harwood respectively. Now, these guys supposedly died in Season 9 of the show but were shown to have faked their deaths during the Season 10 comic book series. But they could also appear via any number of other fictional means: flashback, a found recording, dream sequence. But hopefully Carter and co. will just go with the faked death thing. It would be just like them–paranoid, intelligent, resourceful, and completely bad-ass.

lonegunmen

Second, OUR SAVIOR Kumail Nanjiani is guest starring. Nanjiani’s passion for The X-Files has been partially credited for getting this revival going. Nanjiani is an X-Files superfan when he’s not acting on Silicon Valley. He hosts Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files, a wonderful podcast that takes a look at each episode individually and discusses them with a guest fan, cast or crew member. He’s had many of the X-Files writers on, including his favorite Darin Morgan, as well as other comedians, actors, and television royalty like Dan Harmon, creator of Community. By raising awareness and affection for the show and also contacting the cast and crew for the podcast, Nanjiani got this ball rolling. If anyone deserves some love, it’s this guy. When he’s on the screen, it will be like all of us fanatics getting to guest star.

Finally, Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under and Robbie Amell from The Flash will be guest starring as new agents. Clearly preferential casting towards red-headed women and tall, dark haired men. I approve.

lauren-ambrose-robbie-amell


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Comic Review: Arkham Manor TPB

arkhamcoverMy 3-year-old really digs Batman, and I don’t get it. Why is it that Batman speaks to him in the same way as Spider-Man or Captain America, both much sunnier heroes with more earnest goodness and humor. Batman, at least as he’s been depicted in the past 25 years, is a hero of darkness. He lives in a cave, dresses in black, moves at night and in shadow, associates himself with bats. Why doesn’t he automatically come across to my toddler as a “bad guy”?

Arkham Manor, written by Gerry Duggan, exemplifies why Batman isn’t for children. In this gritty, disturbingly twisted and gruesome addition to the Batman mythology, Arkham Asylum has been destroyed, and the city is looking for a temporary home for the inmates until the new asylum can be finished. Their solution is to house them in the vacant Wayne Manor. When a murder happens within the new, temporary Arkham, Batman goes undercover as new inmate Jack Shaw to stop the killer. But what he finds is far stranger than he expected. manor2

The Batman of this collection is a cunning detective, but he allows himself to vent his anger and frustration in violent and destructive ways. In his frustration at having the Manor co-opted for Arkham, he purposes sets out to have an extra violent patrol. Though he has subdued two muggers, he beats them up just for sport, leaving one in need of reconstructive surgery. Grant Morrison, among others, has described Batman as “a rich guy who beats up poor people.” He’s not very sympathetic, and certainly this scene doesn’t want to make him so. He’ll have a bit of a change of heart later in the collection, but it becomes difficult to see Batman as a hero rather than another crazy character deserving Arkham’s cell.

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That’s probably the low spot of the comic. As it goes on, it amasses interesting twists, and the mystery Batman is investigating engages the brain and builds tension.

Furthermore, the conceit that Batman’s rogues gallery would all become housed in Wayne Manor’s walls with Batman disguised (or rather not) amongst them is a brilliant way to have their multiple personalities and relationships with Batman on display. My favorite of them was Mr. Freeze, who mostly interacts with the others via a glorified scooter with a screen attached, since he’s stuck in his cold-storage cell. Freeze has a wisdom and humor in his character and is the lightest part of the comic.
arkham-manor-1The art, by Shawn Crystal, fits the narrative well. Heavy lines, dominating black, a slight boxy quality to the forms. The art tonally evokes the darkness and madness of Arkham’s inmates now in Batman’s home. The covers are especially brilliant, frequently depicting the madness at the heels of Batman as he hides behind the identity of Shaw. In the example that follows, Shaw is Batman’s double, dwarfed by the ominous head of an inmate who has counted his time in Arkham with murders.ARK_MANOR_Cv2Arkham Manor’s not for the young or weak of heart. The narrative stares deep into the heart of psychosis’s most violent path. But if that sounds intriguing rather than off-putting, this is an interesting story-line with artistic flair. For fans of Shutter Island, Shock Corridor, and Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil.

 

 

 

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