The Shadow Magazine Vol. 1 No. 58 – Chain of Death (Review)

shadow_magazine_vol_1_58This is a solid middle-ranking Shadow story, so it’s an automatic 8/10. There aren’t many outstanding moments, and there is the inimitably incompetent presence of Harry Vincent (dude, your boss doubled back to rescue you, left you standing over an unconscious enemy with a gun in your hand, and still you manage to get knocked out and let him escape) which I’m petty enough to bump the rating down half a star for.  (Seriously.)

Nevertheless, that’s still eight out of ten. There’s still a grim, fire-eyed avenger in the night, laughing in the teeth of danger and the face of evil, with twin, mammoth automatics in each black-gloved fist; there’s still innocents to rescue and reputations to save; and there’s still sinister, dastardly, malicious and cunning villains to face and defeat, even though The Shadow must uncover, link by link, the hidden chain of death itself! And also (sigh) Harry Vincent.

So. The 80-page saga begins with young Howard Norwyn, a junior investment broker, signing in at the security desk to enter his employer’s office after hours. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches the office, his employer is dead and the actual murderer proceeds–with obvious, and perfect preplanning–to implicate Norwyn for the crime, and disappear. Fortunately, The Shadow arrives before the police do, susses out the scene, and whisks Norwyn away to safety. Norwyn, unlike some of his ilk, proves cooperative and listens quietly to Lamont Cranston, eccentric globe-trotting millionaire, at his offer of help–little knowing, of course, that, the hawkish, masklike face of Lamont Cranston is one of many that The Shadow sometimes wears.

Meanwhile, an old man dies and, as a reward for faithful (hopeful) service by his conniving young secretary, wills him not money but a secret legacy: original stock and a controlling interest in Crime, Incorporated….

You see, Crime, Incorporated (also nee: Aztec Mines), has a unique method of forming, carrying out, and avoiding consequences for, cunning crimes that might draw suspicion. Each shareholder in Crime, Incorporated knows only two others. They communicate by cipher–a cipher designed to confound the most expert cryptographer. They are men with education, means, and competencies. They are geographically widespread. They have nothing in common, save the penchant to acquire other people’s wealth by whatever means are necessary, and this complete disconnect allows them to assist or abet in crimes without bringing suspicion on themselves. And they have not yet been suspected.

Needless to say, Crime, Incorporated gets its board dissolved in a hostile takeover when The Shadow glides into the fray:

 I spoke of a menace, I shall name it. Crime Incorporated has finished its career. The menace that you face will bring destruction.

Again, this book doesn’t have any jawdropping reveals or astounding action beats; the standout scene is when The Shadow materializes on a smuggler’s boat in mid-ocean with an eerie laugh, and proceeds to completely dominate the fight and take over command despite being weaponless at the onset. The small-fry smugglers are so cowed that, The Shadow ashore with the recaptured loot, they nearly wreck their boat trying to get away again.

The bulk of the mystery plot is given to solving the cryptograms by which Crime, Incorporated communicate with each other. Each message from a stockholder is doubled: a trivial one in a code made of circles, and the real one, in a code made of blocks. The circled code can be solved easily with by frequency analyses, but the block code is much more difficult; in conjunction with a simple code, the harder one is meant to make experts think it is a blind. Nevertheless, there are experts…and The Shadow.

Since the villains end up dead and there’s not a huge role to be played by The Shadow’s agents (sigh), there aren’t really any standout characters in this one; Joe Cardona does his thing, as does Burbank, and they stay in the background.

All this seems like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. It’s a perfectly solid, perfectly-paced, perfectly-scripted, -drawn, and -laid out, compulsively readable pulp-noir novel.

Rated: I am the menace.

The Batman (2022) Movie Review

batman_ver3So much as it pains me to have paid money to do so, I went and watched The Batman. The first and most important things about this movie is that it walks a very fine line and doesn’t fall off it; and that it might actually have been written by an adult human being with a normal amount of intelligence.

That line? The ability to balance inherently ridiculous concepts (and resultant dialogue) with serious execution and sensibilities.

Does this movie “hate Batman?” Not so that I noticed; and for some of the things it did that are objectionable, you might as well criticize the comics themselves for (JUST KILL THE MASS MURDERING COMPLETELY IRREDEEMABLE PSYCHOPATHS ALREADY. JUST DO IT. Now bring back the electric chair treatment for their henchmen. There you go, that’s ALL OF YOUR RECURRING PROBLEMS SOLVED. Gahhhhhh.) Does this movie hate traditional heroism, masculinity, virtue, and the rule of law? Not really–it may even have been written by someone who actually knows what these things are. Is this movie painfully political and woke? No, and without extending too much of the benefit of the doubt, it might actually have a subtle criticism of the concept. More on this later.

Good stuff: The acting, the casting, the cinematography, and the action are all good, you’ve heard it before and in great detail; not arguing there. The semi-climactic fight in the Iceberg Lounge especially was really good, because it showcases “tactician Batman” along with “hand-to-hand combat tank Batman.” I also noticed some of the usual “We hate 100-pound women beating up stuntmen like it’s possible” suspects cheering Selina in this movie, because….of course they would, the choreography is neat and she’s wearing skin-tight latex.

There’s also the playing up of the terror factor to the Batman identity, which I liked immensely and which was stolen wholesale from The Shadow, but never mind.

So the line that everyone is going to point to is Selina accusing “White privileged people” of lacking sympathy for anyone who doesn’t share their particular circumstances. What this movie doesn’t explicitly do is point out that Selina entirely lacks sympathy for anyone who doesn’t share her own particular circumstances. What’s more, several people–the (useless) black lady mayor and the unhinged murdering pathetic psychopath–accuse Bruce Wayne of….well….hm. Privilege, and doing nothing with it. The fact that they’re completely and utterly wrong and the fact that they’re allowing their assumptions, jealousy, and lack of insight to dictate how they react to Bruce, doesn’t get explicitly called out to them…but it is demonstrated in the movie itself. The mayor lady comes across as entitled and stupid; the unhinged pathetic psychopath is an unhinged pathetic psychopath. Bruce Wayne is a man who puts his own life on the line to help others, personally, face-to-face, and it has an actual impact* on people.

(Also, try misappropriating Bat-funds. See where that gets you, HAH.)

(*’cause, y’know….punching…)

I will also give the movie this: while it does have lame dialogue, they did not jar me so far out of enjoyment that I was never able to get back in.

Oh! Also, Bats and Gordon had great buddy-cop chemistry. Also, Catwoman had great chemistry. Just, y’know, in general.

Middle stuff: Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne does pale in the shadow of his Batman, but that’s okay. The evolution of Batman from the darkness to the hero who leads people out of the darkness hasn’t quite begun, and it hasn’t included Bruce yet.

Snerk stuff: Batman walking heavily and loudly AND SLOWLY out of the shadows to impressive music gets rather old, rather fast….as, unfortunately, does the directors’ addiction to showing Batman standing still in the middle of a room doing nothing. (Even the Batmobile gets the same slow, to-music entrance, heh.)

Bad stuff: The last hour of the movie was clunky as hell. There’s no getting around that. Other than the fact that it’s not integrated into the overall plot well, there’s also the shift in tone from the villains being powerful and dangerous, but untouchable, to villains being pathetic…and untouchable. And there’s also the shift in genre from “I desperately want people to call this noir,” to “we’re doing it, we’re blowing it up, WOOO” and these things just don’t gel well together.

For a movie that celebrates Batman’s detective ability….half of Batman’s detective work in this movie consists of walking up to people and asking them if they did X….whereupon they will happily admit to X, reveal all the details about X, and offer to sign the affidavit about X. The other half can be summed up with the phrase “bat deductions.” So….

Rating: I will probably watch this movie again and enjoy it, but I sure as hell will not pay money to do so.

My notes:

bat-deductions

Hope his rabies vax is UTD.

They art-decorated the everliving HELL out of Wayne Manor.

Gordon you plugged the LITERAL THUMB drive into YOUR WORK COMPUTER?

OK motorcycles, I dig it.

CLOSE YOUR FRIDGE

Selina dun fell for tall dark and handsome. Already. Pwah.

Damn. Dat girl got some SLINK.

WOW these people want to spill the beans.

“Alfred, I don’t need your cufflinks.” = best line in the movie.

$10K? 10 measly K? REALLY?

“You think Penguin is the rat?” = close second.

DUKES OF HAZZARD RANDOM RAMP

BAT DEDUCTIONS

Shirtless RP is rather disturbing.

WELL WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF A HUGE CHARITABLE FUND WITH NO OVERSIGHT?!?!!!!!

DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN

YOU HAD BETTER BE UP TO DATE ON YOUR RABIES SHOT MAN

500 followers???

Really? Really? Things were THAT bad at the orphanage? Is this the Victorian era? You couldn’t import some Catholic nuns or something to run it?

I feel a crowbar would have done just as well there.

All those guys are 150% too slim.

Jawbreakers: G0d-King

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This pin-up scared the hell out of my three year old niece, I may add.

TLDR: I liked it, but comic books really aren’t my thing. 

So: as we may or may not all know, Jawbreakers is a comic book franchise created by Ya Boi Zack / Richard C. Meyer, and there was quite a bit of drama surrounding its initial publication. Short version: Ya Boi had an actual publisher lined up to print and publish the intro novel, Jawbreakers: Lost Souls, but due to enormous social media pressure by the SJW comics mafia, and potentially illegal interference by comic book writer Mark Waid, the publisher bowed out of the deal. Meyer turned to crowdfunding, and has been enormously successful ever since. I reviewed Jawbreakers: Lost Souls here. I thought it was almost excellent. 

The Jawbreakers (They’re superheroes who fight crime. By punching it in the face. Since they have super strength….geddit?) are an ex-superhero team now working as mercenaries in Africa. And it’s an interesting team of varied and colorful characters, from the mute ninja who lives for revenge against his own father, to the code-switching bulletproof black guy (“Kuffs! Get in front of the tank and shield it with your body!”) There’s also a blind priest, an ex-marine, and the tormented and grieving team lead/main hero, Silkworm. They are contacted by Autumn, a young superheroine whose team, The Millenials, has been treacherously murdered. She’s come to hire them, knowingly, to enact a suicide mission.

She wants them to save the city. She wants them to kill a being who has stolen himself the power of a god.

She’s also their leader’s estranged daughter.

Also, that godlike power? She wasn’t kidding. As soon as they set foot in New York, their weaponry turns to rose petals and drifts away.

Dun dun dun.

Book 2 develops the story a bit more….and kills off part of the team…revealing Mute Ninja Guy’s true (or are they?) colors, and setting the stage for the fight with G0d-King. Frankly, it’s been a while since I read this one (it was bundled in with my copy of Lost Souls, which currently resides at my parents’ house) and the only thing I remember is I didn’t like the artwork quite as much.

Book 3, which I finally had enough disposable income to buy, concludes the saga, with heroism, excitement, giant mechas, god-guns, ninjas!, pretty pictures, humor (Silkworm undercutting the villain’s villainous boast to his Lovecraftian masters is the most hilarious counter to a monologue ever played dead straight), and even a heartwarming conclusion. It….

It’s….great.

Except it’s really, really abrupt.

…see, the problem is, Meyer treats these characters as though they’re multi-year established characters that the audience is intimately familiar with, has followed through adventures, knows them, knows their adversaries–such as the ones that pop up for one panel, get punched in the face, and then limp off clutching their jaw and muttering–and understands all these nuances of the setting and plot without prior setup in-story. In this story. And this is a problem, because while these characters may have this rich history, it’s in Meyer’s head, not within the (admittedly, expanding, but I’ve only read Lost Souls and G0d-King) extant canon of stories.

The story hangs together fine, it’s logical and the characters are consistent. And the art was prettier in this one than in the second, so that was nice, because I actually slowed down and looked at it now and then.

So, yeah: my only problems with this book is that a) it’s not an actual book, it’s a comic book. If you wanted to be a real writer, why not write real books….but actually my real problem is: It’s very abrupt and there’s very little setup. This may be a comic book thing–but I get the feeling that mostly that it’s a “lack of gigantic backstory canon that is actually written down for audiences, Zack” thing.

Anyhow. Will I buy more Jawbreakers books? There’s a simple enthusiasm in this franchise that is very endearing. Like Correia at his best, you can sometimes hear Meyer giggling to himself as he writes out sound effects for action-comedy scenes.–or feel the lump in your throat at the serious ones. On the other hand, these things are expensive, they take about twenty minutes to read through (because I’m not some moron with no reading comprehension who has to look at pictures), and they’re not exactly infinitely re-readable. 

Rated: it was great, but comic books just aren’t my thing. 

Wolves (2014) – Movie Review

So a while ago I watched Wolves, which TVTROPES helpfully describes as a 2014 throwback to old-fashioned monster movies. It’s a throwback of some kind, but, and y’know what, it’s wins Best In Show to my eye. It’s got monstrous–but charismatic–villains, quirky side characters who are allowed to be characters, a heroic hero who matures and changes; a damsel who might need rescuing, but only once and only from the big bad, not the mooks, which I feel is a totally fair scenario. Also, I really needed something decent and non-brain-challenging to watch today.

Anyhow, in my book, a good movie, regardless of genre or ultimate letter grade does several things:

– Leans into it’s concept and lets the story build on the ideas inherent into it. Werewolf = super strength = I can throw these haybales into the barn loft single-handed. Compare and contrast this to Outlander (2008), which does do not a single stinking thing with it’s concept. You’ve got space marine plus vikings vs alien monster! And it did nothing with it! The space marine loses his space armor and space guns immediately; the vikings never go sailing, pillaging, or really get to do any effective fighting, let alone with bearded axes; and the entire movie could have been transplanted somewhere else, such as the modern day, with only changes to the dialogue–not the plot, not the characters, not the setup. Hell, it could just as easily have been Cowboys ‘n Injuns vs Alien Monsters. Admittedly, I’d watch that movie, but only if it starred Ben Johnson.

– Allows characters other than the main leads to have personalities. A lot of stories fall into the trap of having secondary characters exist only for the sake of helping and bolstering the hero’s story. Hero falls off a cliff? The mentor is hanging around at the bottom to pick up the pieces, for no other reason than the plot needed them to be there. Hero has lost clothes and guns in a freak boating accident? A kindly old couple by the lakeside have nothing else better to do with their deceased son’s clothes and guns than provide them to some naked rando who just swam ashore. Hero breaks into the vet’s office to steal medicines? The veterinarian stitches him up free of charge, and let me tell you that is the most unrealistic version yet. At best, you’re getting half off on the tranquilizers, and we had to wake up the tech for X-rays, so you’re paying full price for those. In this movie? When the heroine meekly asks if his wife might, perhaps, have a spare blouse, John promptly gives a squint-eyed grin and hollers for his wife to take off her shirt. Or the heroine’s drunk sister loudly declaring that she knew it, she recognized Cayden’s scent the first time she smelled it…okay, fine, we all did, but I DID IT FIRST! Or the town wolves’ subdued resentment against Cayden for…existing?

Lets things happen promptly. The very most basic thing that separates good of any grade, any genre, any kind or type, from bad is: the plot keeps moving along the correct path, without either random digressions or extraneous padding.

Then there are the more minor–but still important–things this movie does right. And all of these are worth expounding on, but I’m getting hungry, so suffice it to say that I really appreciate:

– This movie allows for the fact that your audience is human, and wants to see law-abiding / morally-sound humans win and dangerous animals (or criminals who look and act like them) lose.

– The mere and simple fact that rifles and ANFO bombs beat werewolves, and it’s without the kind of ridiculous escalation you’d see in a higher-budget movie or a Monster Hunter Nation story (GUN! OTHER GUN! BIGGER GUN! ANOTHER BIGGER GUN WITH BIGGER BULLETS! ANOTHER WEREWOLF WITH BIGGER JAWS! FLAMETHROWER! SMALLER GUN WITH SILVER BULLETS! MORE GUNS! And then by that time you have to beat the poor thing over the head a couple of times to put it out of your misery. Unnecessary and excessive.) I like this take a lot better. A healing factor is a healing factor, not a restore-life-from-last-save-point factor when you’ve just gotten a major artery punctured by high velocity lead injection, or your brain has been scrambled by a hollowpoint to the eyesocket. Or your arms and legs have been torn off and the stumps cauterized by explosives. (Note: this movie is rated, at most, PG-13. There is no excessive gore, nudity, or costly violence.)

– A heroic hero. Cayden starts out conflicted. He makes mistakes and hurts people–but regrets it and struggles against his darker nature. He also makes mistakes when he tries to fight without going all the way–and learns that sometimes, you have no choice but to fight to kill. And even then, being a hero, Cayden offers his enemies one last chance out. Caden is allowed to use violence, and he becomes, through the course of the movie, someone who can use it responsibly.

The miscellaneous: there’s smoking in this movie. Tollerman and Connor both smoke Cool Guy pipes and Wild Joe puffs on a wild-boy cigar. Somehow you don’t see that very much, these days.

The bad: honestly, the worst I have to say about it is that the transformed werewolves (humans in slightly-ripped but generally bicep- or midriff-baring clothing + furry wolf masks) look silly, and the fight scenes are correspondingly underwhelming.

The cast: Lucas Till and Stephen McHattie are both excellent. Till plays a square-jawed yet fresh-faced and cowlicked hero with enough conviction to make me mostly overlook the fact that he’s…not an actor with a great range. On the other hand, he’s well-written, and he’s got enough nuance in his voiceover / narration performance to pull it off. McHattie, though, steals the show in every scene he’s in. On paper, he’s the standard mentor/paterfamilias figure…in practice, he’s sly, cool, dignified, clever, and completely in command of both his pipe, the camera, and his southern drawl. Jason Momoa is his standard gruff-voiced alpha (huh) male. The guy might have good abs but you will not convince me he’s a good actor. Also, the guy who plays Wild Joe, whose name I did not remember to look up on IMDB before writing this, is very good, although honestly all he has to do is ham it up and go RRRAAA once or twice. He hams very well.

Merritt Patterson, as the female lead…doesn’t get as much from the script as Till does, as is therefore a lot blander. Still, she does her best at a moderately thankless damsel / love-interest, and as such isnt’t bad. Her semi-alcoholic sister was a lot more entertaining to watch and arguably cuter, but never mind. It’s bad show to have alcoholic love interests, and love interests don’t necessarily need personalities, anyway. And…honestly, that’s about it.

The plot: So things are good for Cayden Slaughter (subtle, movie, subtle.) He’s a football QB, aka local demigod, in a small town; has loving parents and a hot girlfriend–and yet things are somehow wrong. His parents are worried about his recurring nightmares; his flashes of inexplicable strength and dramatic rage cause outright injury to a football rival…not to mention that no girl likes being bitten full-on, in the face, or viciously clawed during a makeout session. The idea he’s losing his mind seems to be promptly proven right when he wakes up one morning to find blood on his hands and his parents….slaughtered. Oh, and a patrol car rolling up since his now-ex girlfriend reported him for assault.

It takes all of five minutes for this to happen. See what I said about things moving promptly?

Cayden is horrified, terrified, and grieving. But pragmatic. He goes on the run for an unspecified amount of time, trying to stay ahead of his terrible killer instinct–or abilities. This lasts for all of one scene, at which point we the audience are reassured that, yes, Cayden is the hero here. He wolfs out again–semi-voluntarily, to rescue a truck stop lot lizard from a couple of abusive bikers–leaving them dead, her alive and running away screaming, and himself with a new ride and leather jacket. (Also incidentally, we and Cayden learn from a TV broadcast that he was adopted.)

But we’re dealing with a young, clean-cut hero here. Cayden isn’t the kind of grizzled, weary anti-hero who can or intends to live this kind of life for his entire, well, life. We, the audience, get to hear his narrated thoughts. He has been looking for a solution….it’s just that there seems to be one way out: suicide.

Fortunately (or so it seems) for Cayden, at this point he meets Wild Joe, a loner werewolf who points him in the direction of Lupine Ridge (SUBTLE, MOVIE), where most of the werewolves live and the most vicious secretive pack on God’s green Earth are, before vanishing to the roof to watch him go. (I just noticed that Cayden apparently motorcycles through St. Louis on his way to Lupine Ridge. Okay, random way of showing he’s traveling through the midwest, especially since he’s supposed to be keeping a low profile on the run, but sure.)

So anyhow, Cayden finally arrives in Lupine Ridge and instantly finds himself the center of attention at the only bar in town. Which might be a good thing when the attention is coming from the hot bartender, but is less so when it’s also coming from the rough-looking type at a table in the back (Jason Momoa: Connor [wait for it] Slaughter), or from the calm old guy at a corner booth who smokes a pipe and watches what goes on without speaking (John McHattie: John Tollerman). Or the shifty guy who tries to pick a fight (some actor.) Or the other shifty kind of guy who just stares a lot (some actor: some shifty guy who will meet no good end. I think his arm gets bitten off.)

Tollerman offers Cayden (aka Danny) a job on his farm and things seem to be going well for a while (read: for the space of one scene.) A home is offered, no prying is done, and no questions are asked, even with Cayden hauling gigantic rocks out of the ground by hand and hurling 50-pound haybales into the hayloft without tools and scaring the animals just by walking past. Oh, and chopping wood shirtless. That’s always a good sign.

Cue Connor-Momoa showing up to ask said questions instead. Tollerman covers: Danny is his nephew, whom he originally didn’t recognize at first; and incidentally, Danny, stay out of Connor’s way.

The next morning, there’s a slaughtered (GEDDIT), gutted sheep in one of the pens. Tollerman, however, seems to blame hungry wolves from up in the hills…what else could it be, Danny boy? OH HAH, THEY’RE HAVING LAMB FOR SUPPER BUT CAYDEN CHOOSES TO START WITH SALAD LOL HOW DID I MISS THAT BEFORE. Good one, movie.

Anyhow, Cayden also pursues a closer acquaintance with the hot bartender (Merritt Patterson: Angelina), in defiance of the advice given him by the shifty-eyed guy–who warns him to get out of down before he gets them all killed. He doesn’t know who Cayden is, but he’ll figure it out and when he does, man….(cue both of them noticing that Connor is on the other side of the parking lot, smoking a pipe and watching, uh oh.)

Hot Bartender Angel and Cayden bond over both being orphans, as people tend to.

Meanwhile, shifty-eyed guy is executed by wolf after a brief interrogation. Honestly, I realize that running is really the natural reaction, but surely there’s a point at which someone is going to try and climb a tree…or put their back to it and try to fight. Oh well. Angel and Cayden stumble over the evil wolf camp in the woods, where the pack is, well, they’re eating him.

Angel reveals that, yes, she knows about it; she knows Cayden is a wolf; and the Tollermans also reveal that they (HAH) TiVo’d the news report about him. Mr. Tollerman is a wolf, too. In fact, most of the townspeople are, and Cayden really is his nephew. His mother, Lucinda, was his sister’s daughter–a pureblooded werewolf of the old lines. Connor raped Lucinda; the Tollermans took her in, faked her death, and then adopted Cayden out…only for Lucinda to commit suicide and Connor to run completely off the rails.

There’s been an arrangement for years: the wild pack runs in the hills (and has been steadily devolving, spending less time in human form and more time as animals); the town wolves tend to live totally as humans, intermarrying with them (“I just like men with chest hair”) and both sides are supposed to keep a low profile and maintain the secret. Problem is: Connor’s getting older, and he wants a pure-bred son. With Angel–the last remaining pureblood. And Angel, lest her remaining family be murdered, perforce has to go along with it.

Our hero and heroine bond some more over being orphans…Caden self-made, and Angel’s via murder-suicide. She and her sister have never managed to decide whether it was the wolf, the man, or the alcohol that did it. Angel tries to reassure him that he doesn’t have the soul of a killer, and also that being a wolf can be kind of a sweet deal, actually. Especially if your girlfriend is also a wolf as well. (Tollerman is very careful to announce his presence before he enters the barn, one discrete timelaps later.)

Next on the agenda is a council of war….but the town wolves aren’t very sanguine about their chances against the wild ones–especially if Connor finds out that his destined babymama has been fooling around with the stranger from out of town. Some of them are basically fully human and haven’t changed shape in years. (“Yeah, I can barely grow my sideburns anymore. Just a little fuzz. Hic!”) They’re totally willing to overlook livestock going missing, children going missing, and Angel being given to Connor…

…Cayden isn’t. “Stay in your homes tonight. And lock your doors.” See what I said above, about heroes. I like this one. [Oh boy, I’m visualizing my next attempted watch party…]

Unfortunately, since we’re only about halfway through the movie, what happens is a) Connor finds out that Cayden is Lucinda’s son, b) doesn’t care, c) Cayden gets his ass kicked and d) barely manages to throw himself off a cliff to presumed-certain death but actual safety. In his defense, he’s fighting an entire pack of people in biker vests and fuzzy masks sorry, wolves. Also, e) Caydenwolf has a poofy cowlick just like the human form does, lol.

Anyhow, who should turn up at this point but Wild Joe, a barely less undesirable alternative to the actual pack of veral wolves. But he does provide Cayden enough impetus to get up and limp back home to Angel and Tollerman, and, once Cayden regroups (seems that wolfing out + vigorous wolfy exercise is the secret to instant healing), the council of war reconvenes. It’s a council of two, and they’re the only people who can or will fight. They have no choice but to, at this point! But at this point, they’re going to fight smart.

Cue ANFO and shotguns, and needless to say, I officially love this movie. Mind you, this movie doesn’t appear to actually know what ANFO is, because the bombs appear to be made of cow manure and gunpowder from shotgun shells stuffed into burlap sacks, but at least they tried.

But Connor moves faster than expected, snatches the home folk, and leaves a cordial wedding invitation written in what’s either blood or very smeary red ink. Huh. Which is it? I consider this a decent question because all parties, when we see them that night at the, uh, party, appear to be in one piece–including Clara and John. So…where did the red ink come from? Were those invites printed off ahead of time or written ahead of time? I mean…that would kind of make more sense than carrying around a bottle of liquid ink, right? Or did one of the pack wolves cut themselves and write it?

Anyhow. Party. Connor, it might be added, is wearing a gigantic pimp coat + hat. One wonders if that’s what Momoa showed up in and they just had to roll with it, because it looks even stupider than his usual outfits. ConnorMomoa is playing this off a bit weirdly, too, actually–he’s been fairly intense and straightforward so far, but at this point he’s going for a bit of broad comedy and it’s weird. Funny, but weird. I guess he’s supposed to be drunk and playing to the crowd. Nevertheless.

(Angel is dressed up in a strategically-shredded white dress and she’s also tied to a tree and drugged.)

So, by the way, remember that shifty guy from the beginning who I thought got his arm ripped off? My bad, he actually gets his throat cut when Cayden takes out the sentries. Nice.

Anyhow, Cayden arrives in time to object to the wedding, fling Connor’s delusions of wolfhood in his face, and then….not get his ass kicked, because this time he’s fighting the way a hero should fight when the time comes to fight: all-out. No, that’s not the point of this scene. The point is, BIG FIGHT, MUCH RARRR, and this time even Angel gets in on the action. She breaks Tollerman out of the cage–to go enact part B of the plan AKA things go explodey down at the farm–but stays with the human Clara and her almost-human sister Gail to guard them. (That’s actually very smart play on the filmmakers’ part, since it allows for the heroes to run around and do hero menfolk things with the focus on the action, without crowding the battlefield and storyline with excess characters.)

Cayden, like a hero does, gives his enemies one last warning. Then some things go boom and a bunch of wolves get killed, including one who gets shot in the head while he’s standing in the middle of the front yard arguing with Connor, oh that was delicious. NICE. Then they get lured into the barn and the barn blows up all explodeylike, except that Connor leaps out of the flames and tears off his vest which would be a lot more interesting if he wasn’t all FurryMomoa at the moment, MOVIE.

Anyhow, FurryMomoa fights Cowlickwolf. Much GRR. Shwoosh arrrr vrrrr. Etc. And if you’re wondering why John Tollerman, with his rifle, isn’t just shooting the villain, it’s because a) Cayden tells him not to, b) he was reloading. Connor, with his dying breath (I presume it’s dying, anyway, because he turns back into a shirtless Jason Momoa, and OF COURSE THE CAMERA STAYS STEADFASTLAY ABOVE HIS CLAVICLE) protests that he actually loved Lucinda and had to take the fall for her getting pregnant so her father wouldn’t kill her.

At this point, Wild Joe turns up to taunt Connor a bit. Turns out, Wild Joe was exiled from town by Connor’s father (for being too wild…the mind boggles)…and now, poetic irony, the son destroys the father whose father destroyed the son and also who ate the brother, how the table turns, best served cold, etc, except that in Wild Joe’s case he probably just bashes it against a rock so it quits wiggling and blows on it a couple of times. Joe is, in fact, so busy gloating that he lets slip that he actually killed Cayden’s adoptive parents.

(“You did what?”
“What?”)

So Cayden attacks Wild Joe and gets punched in the face, at which point Connor attacks Wild Joe and Wild Joe rips his throat out. Joe then turns his attentions back to Cayden, but then Tollerman shoots him nonfatally a couple of times or at least until he runs out of ammo and Joe falls over. (“You were never too wild for this town, Joe–just too crazy.”)

Wild Joe then has the nerve to say that wolves–real wolves–only kill for food, or defense. Woooh boy, where to start with that one. a) not true, b) even if so, it doesn’t help your case, c) you’re a moron who just admitted you killed the hero’s adoptive parents in order to manipulate him, killed his biological father, attacked and brutalized him, twice, and then begged for help. And we get the most satisfying line in the movie: “I’m not a wolf, Joe. I’m a human being.”

It’s at this point Joe realizes he’s standing on a bomb, and Cayden is holding a lit match.

So now it’s all over but for burying the bodies in the soybean field and getting breakfast and loading up the motorcycle for a long ride, destination: Dunno, Uncle John, Angel wants to go ANYWHERE THAT IS OUTSIDE OF LUPINE RIDGE. Uncle John bids them goodbye and warns them to be careful of sequel hooks, uh, I mean, werewolves.

So, yeah. That’s this movie. It’s actually pretty good.

Rated: AWOOOOOOOOO

Book Review: Elf Defense – Esther Friesner (repost)

Elf Defense is a 1988 novel by Esther Friesner that…technically…counts as Urban Fantasy. Or more precisely, Suburban Fantasy.

Amanda Taylor, the mortal lover of the King of Elfhame Ultramar (aka America), has fled from him along with his son, Prince Cassiodoron (and Cass’s talking assassin cat) and concealed herself in a sleepy Connecticut small town. Godwin’s Corners, home of quite a few Mayflower-descended snobs, a really fearsome PTA association, and more lawyers than you can shake a stick at, is surely the last place on Earth anyone would dream of looking…
Yeah, he finds them in about three chapters.
But that’s where it gets interesting for Kelerison, King of Elfhame Ultramar, because Amanda Taylor has availed herself of this new mortal thing called a divorce lawyer…

Pros:
– This book is really funny.
– This book is really well-written.
– This book is not YA. This book contains, instead of hormonal teenagers written by a hormonal twenty-something, actually sentient beings acting in a rational manner. And, my God, was it refreshing to read.
– Slight spoiler: the characters are interesting and the novel is cleverly structured to a) slowly diminish the presumed threat, and b) subtly build up the ultimate villain with clever foreshadowing. (well…I thought it was clever, since I didn’t see it coming, anyway.) 
– Shut Up Elves! This being a novel of the 80s-90s Fantasy Boom, the elves hit all the basic elf checkboxes: handsome, inhuman, glamorous, enchanting, powerful, manipulative…but, refreshingly, they aren’t worshipped by anyone, least of all the author. Cass is unflinchingly called on his bullshit by everyone involved, including the talking cat and the girl wholeheartedly in love with him; Syndovar is recognized as a cold-hearted fanatic (even if people are rather too scared of him to, y’know, tell him off about it); and the entire freaking plot, to repeat, is suing the King of the Elves for a CC Dissolution W/Out Children.
And yet, at the same time, elves are credible as fantastic beings of knowledge and ancient power….and, yeah, are kinda sexy. Even if Cass hasn’t gotten any since 1843. (SNERK)
– And then there are just some bits that are downright funny. I mean, appart from the premise of suing the elf king for a divorce. Dracophobia gravis and all its diagnosed permutations. “Elfhame Ultramar is not paradise, but it does have a balanced ecology. Fools are always at the bottom of the food chain.” The sentient hedge-maze deciding that an unplanned trimming is not worth keeping the party separated….
– Cesare the artistic assassin cat is worth a star all unto himself.
– The fact that the freaking king of the elves was a hair metal rock star…with a single that was number thirty-seven for two whole weeks…called “Demon Lover”…had me in stitches.

Cons:
– Elves in America is always kind of a tricky one. These aren’t bound by the old compacts; they are by (SPOILER!) the Latin Law….meh. EF should have gone whole hog, and, as they are as much American immigrants as the Mayflower families, have based their society on, wait for it, the Constitution. Give me some freaking Second Amendment elves with a tacticool obsession. Give me Federalist-obsessed elves who quote Cato. Say their whole society has based itself on human society, circa 1790. Say they contrast themselves haughtily with the old-guard stratified courts back home. What about Confederate elves?? COME ON YOU KNOW stuck-up aristocrats would have totally identified with the Confederates. How’s that for problematic?

Anyhow, this is all a bit heavy for a suburban fantasy starring a married, Jewish lawyer with a five year old daughter and a history professor husband, but the fact remains that the elf society isn’t very fleshed out, and the shocking reveals that are, uh, revealed, are kind of…empty and underwhelming.

– I really liked the villain, even though he was in the wrong, and was upset that he went down like a chump. He was kinda badass and deserved a better end.

-…um….that seems to be just about all of the cons to it.

Rated: simply because few things are perfect, nine poisoned mice out of ten.

Jim Butcher is on thin ice, whether he knows it or not

If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.

When a fan of a book series decides to publically take offense, in a forum comprised of other fans, at a single line depicting a character’s thoughts, the chumming has already begun. And this is just the one place that I know about. Undoubtedly there are other cesspits where the discussion is proceeding likewise. I predict that he’s going to get avalanched if he so much as sticks a toe out of line whenever the next blowup happens. He’s too big of a public figure–a known figure–to allow him to not bend the knee.

Reading through the rest of the thread is kind of eerie. There’s one (1) call for sanity; there’s a lot more casting around for other topics to be offended at. Once upon a time, I would have said, for other topics to mock. (remembering being able to spork terrible and even semi-terrible novels? Those things were vicious, but I don’t recall anyone getting cancelled because of them). The most notable character of melanin being an honest-to-possibly-God Paladin, that’s something to be offended by. Police being depicted as mostly well-intentioned and hard-working at the street level, with a generous sprinkling of rotten bad apples and incompetent leadership? Very much not Current Year-acceptable.

The line in question is from Side Jobs. Murphy’s monologue reflects:

“Stop arresting Marcone’s most profitable pimps.” Instead, we get a long speech about racial and socioeconomic profiling. We get screams from political action committees.

The slightly longer quote is (yeah, I went and dug out my copy to transcribe it):

THE POLICE KNOW where Marcone can be reached. Finding him doesn’t do diddly to let us nail him. The fact that he has his fingers in so many pies means that not only do we have to work against Marcone and his shadowy empire, but we have our own superiors and politicians breathing down our necks as well. Oh, they never say anything directly, like, “Stop arresting Marcone’s most profitable pimps.” Instead, we get a long speech about racial and socioeconomic profiling. We get screams from political action committees. We get vicious editorial pieces in the newspapers and on TV.

We mostly stay quiet and keep plugging away at our jobs. Experience has taught us that hardly anyone ever cares what we think or have to say. They demand answers, but they don’t want to listen.

Or Harry’s bird sanctuary speech from Cold Days. 

“Uh,” I said, feeling somewhat off balance. “What do I think of gay guys?”

“Yes.”

“Boink and let boink, more or less.”

Enough to hang a man for?

You decide.

I wonder if they’re coming for Jim Butcher next

Reddit doesn’t seem to be the top hub of cancel culture (that seems to be Twitter), but it’s close enough, and when your own fan subreddit is talking about how your/their fandom is infested with redneck hillbilly Trump supporters, you’re treading on thin ice. So far, at least in the linked thread, there’s a little bit of pushback, but not much. There have been a couple of attempts to accuse the Dresden Files/Jim Butcher of racism and Nazi-ism (“Harry” starts with an H. So does Hitler. QED), but so far they have been slapped down and/or ignored.

That was before cancel culture accumulated the momentum it has now. I wouldn’t be surprised if an attempt wasn’t made in the near future.

Notice how everyone focuses on the “description”–not depiction–of female characters.

That’s because Jim Butcher actually writes well-balanced, interesting, complex–and not always completely likable–women. Murphy: an officer of the peace and lady knight who has to be on multiple occasions told to pick on people her own size (lol). Luccio: a woman who has been the commander the Wardens–the White Council’s military arm–for centuries, and as such has sent teenagers into battle. Charity Carpenter: a suburban homemaker and mother who arms herself with a warhammer and storms the castle of the evil queen to rescue her children, and also uses iodine and an equally stinging tongue on our hero.

No one ever points out that these women are viewed through the lens of a well-intentioned, scrupulously chivalrous but generally very horny male.

Everyone always complains about Harry Dresden, a fictional character who draws on the film-noir archetype of the penniless and sex-obsessed private dick eye yeah no sorry I couldn’t resist that one where was I, ogling the supernaturally-beautiful and even just plain average women in his orbit. No one ever seems to mind that he’ll also open the door, buy flowers, and pay for dinner. No one ever seems to remember that when there’s a monster to be killed or a child to be rescued, a bullet to throw himself in front of, Harry’s at the front of the pack.

It’s almost as though he’s a complex character with real motivations and failings.

Jim Butcher himself, as far as I can tell, is pretty discreet whenever he speaks about politics, religion, or social issues. But he’s dropped enough hints that it’s pretty clear he’s somewhere east of the wrong side of history.

And the cancel mob is putting out feelers.

Review: The Dark Archive – Genevieve Cogman

9781529000603
Irene is not a great heroine, Grauniad.

This book was physically painful to read.  

I’ve read all the Invisible Library books so far. I’ve been patiently waiting for them to Get Good. I’ve been waiting for Cogman’s editor to get better at it. I really, really, want to like these books! They’re about people who love books and would walk to the ends of a different Earth to acquire them….right?

They haven’t, she hasn’t, and the dirty secret is that they aren’t

I’ve already written at length how Cogman a) can’t write action, b) struggles with characterization, c) has far too much dialogue. (GOD, you don’t know how much I am not exaggerating with the dialogue. There are maybe two pages in this book which are not comprised of people talking to each other); Cogman demonstrates a positive genius for taking large-scale action setpieces and then disposing of them in a couple of paragraphs; and nobody has a discernable personality. She’s even shuffled the one character who does have a distinct personality offstage for the duration of the book! What the hell, Gen? 

c) is even more of a problem than usual here, because there are two new major characters: Librarian-trainee-hopeful Catherine, and dragon prince Shan Yuan. And the thing is, for BOTH of them, the building blocks were right there. Shan Yuan is a collection of vaguely arrogant and moderately unhelpful actions. He does things and it’s for his own reasons which are annoying and sometimes harmful to the protagonists. That’s actually good, and he’s actually fairly consistent. Problem is, once he’s been set up, a little bit of time was needed to set up why he does the things he does (not, dear God, by talking about it): that is, OTHER than “to be annoying to the protagonists;” and maybe show that he has a reason and the reason is, his personality is that of an arrogant, prejudiced dragon prince who is used to doing this his own way and has no respect for his younger brother’s/the human way of doing things. 


But the really fatal problems with this series, which I finally put my finger on in this book is:

It’s not clever. It’s not imaginative. And it’s not literary. 

This series is supposedly about people who go to different worlds–from the fantastic to the technological–for books. This series started out as straight-up fanfiction, which allowed the author to slip known worlds, characters, and settings in and do fun, off-the-cuff, funny, clever things with them. This by all rights, should have continued when the books actually got published. The process is simple: file the serial numbers off the world, change the names and a few details of the characters you’re stealing borrowing reimagining, give setting and people a few twists–you know, the sort you’d have liked to see in the originals–and write a fun charming story in a world that is almost recognizable but different in a clever and fitting way.

It can be done, it can be done legally, and it can get published, believe me. There’s the Rachel Griffin books by L. Jagi Lamplighter, which riff off of everyone from Narnia to Battlestar Galactica. There’s the Mageworlds series by Debra Doyle, which is Star Wars sequels with the serial numbers filed off and very satisfying they were to read indeed. There are countless opportunities for cameos not only of literary but also historical figures to pop up!

Cogman doesn’t do this. She doesn’t use varied worlds, fresh new settings. Everything is set in a smoggy but weirdly feminist-friendly but still tea-guzzling but racially tolerant but fucking steampunk pseudo-Victorian England. With goggles. Oh God, there are actual goggles in this book and they do nothing except irritate me. And here’s the thing. Cogman doesn’t even use the really easy and helpful cheat of adapting genuine literary characters to her own ends–which would solve her problem of not being able to write people with actual personalities. You don’t need to invent what you can steal! 

At their core, these books were written by someone entirely lacking in imagination. I’d be nasty and say “in familiarity with the fantasy genre,” but that’s an unwonted personal attack. 

But. The real problem. 

The REAL problem is. 

For a series focused on Librarians. Who go to great lengths to acquire new books. Who fetishize books. Who have plot-relevant reasons for wanting to keep books, read books, and acquire knowledge.

No one ever seems to have read a book in their life.

New character Catherine is a teenager who has grown up isolated and lived primarily through reading stories. She wants to be a librarian: you know, one of those ladies who tells you about new authors and helps you find them and discusses them with you and wears glasses on a string. We know this: because she says as much to Irene. Not because she talks about books incessantly. Not because she’s ever got her nose in a book. Not because she’s entirely bored with the “someone’s trying to assassinate us” plot and keeps trying to wander off and buy books. And definitely not because she changes her mind at the end and decides that being a spy-book-thief type Librarian is much better.

At one point Kai mentions Irene always has a book in her nightstand. Irene never mentions anything she’s read in a book; never refers to book-learned knowledge; never thinks about book plots that are similar to this one; never wonders how a favorite hero or heroine would  handle the situation….throughout this entire series…once. The closest she’s ever come to it is complaining that action heroines are generally taller than her own 5’9 (….you moronic bitch) and follows up by whining that it’s hard to kick people (in the shins, presumably) while wearing full skirts. 

I’m legitimately angry at this point. I could write better stories about Librarian Spies, the Library of Babel, dragons, Fae, debauched ambassadors, bookworm trainees, the Language of Truth, super-powered, vengeful bodiless spirits. Maybe I freaking will.


And after all that, is there anything to say about the plot? What plot? Well….I could talk about what there is of plot, but I’d just lose my temper at how stupidly drawn-out this series is. It’s book 7. Irene has just finally found out that the villain whom she has faced in every single book and easily defeated each time is her

(dUn DuN duN)

(DuN dUn DuN)

(dUn DuN duN dUn DuN dUn)

….father.

As if it wasn’t bloody fucking obvious in book 1 and serially reinforced in each book after that. 

And then there’s an epilogue with a fucking mysterious hooded council of mysteriousness that runs the Library except the final line of the book implies that the Library actually runs itself and WHY DID WE SPEND SEVEN BOOKS RUNNING AROUND VICTORIAN STEAMPUNK GOGGLED LONDON, NOT RIFFING OFF OF OTHER BETTER STORIES, IF YOU HAD MAYBE TWO BOOKS’ AND I’M BEING GENEROUS THERE WORTH OF ORIGINAL PLOT YOU COULD HAVE JUST WRITTEN ABOUT INSTEAD?

What the fuck, Genevieve?