content by

Alex Brown

Pull List: The Vision

I absolutely adore this trend in comics of showing superheroes off duty and dealing with day-to-day issues, where it’s less about physical prowess and more about the ramifications of using their abilities. It’s more interesting to me to see the powerful confront their powers and the effect their powers have on the powerless. Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is hard to beat, but Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision comes close. This isn’t a story about Vision kicking ass and taking names but a smaller scale tale of ethics versus morality, family versus friends, interlopers versus denizens.

[“Vision thought he could make a family. A happy, normal family.”]

Ants. Why Did It Have To Be Ants? Chuck Wendig’s Invasive

Ok, so there’s this guy and he’s dead, killed by a horde of ants. And not just any ants, no, these ones have been Frankensteined together into a devilish hybrid, one that swarms its victim, stings it into paralysis, then cuts off pieces of skin while the victim is still alive. Agent Hollis Copper, last seen recovering from the events in Zer0es, is tasked with sorting out the who, when, where, and why. He brings in Hannah Stander, a futurist consultant for the FBI with a penchant for anxiety attacks and a doomsday mindset. Hannah was raised to fear the future by her apocalypse prepper parents, but now instead of preparing to weather the end of times she aims to defend against it.

Hannah leaves the study of the little formicidae monsters to her BFF, entomologist Dr. Ez Choi, who discovers a connection to Arca Labs, a company owned by billionaire Einar Geirsson. This sends Hannah off to Arca’s secret biotech lab off the coast of Hawai’i. Nothing is what it seems at the lab, and the more holes Hannah pokes in the scientists’ stories the more terrors crawl out. It’s up to Hannah to save the world, but first she has to survive the island.

[“The dead man on the floor has no skin.”]

Is Pete’s Dragon an Uninspired Remake or a Modern Children’s Classic?

I never would’ve expected a movie like Pete’s Dragon to be so divisive in reviews, but here we are with many critics lavishing it with praise and a few grumpy stalwarts like me far less impressed. While there was plenty of enticing adventure, beautiful cinematography, and winks to the original to keep even the most uninvested viewer interested, the combination of underdeveloped characters, fizzled out action sequences, and not enough story to span a nearly two hour running time left me unimpressed.

[“You don’t have to run anymore, Pete. You can stay with us.”]

“A Dragon! A Dragon! I Swear I Saw a Dragon!” The Magic of Love in Pete’s Dragon

In a few days time, Disney is releasing a remake of the 1977 movie Pete’s Dragon. While it’s a stretch to call the original film a classic, it’s definitely endearing in its own clunky, inoffensive, cheerful way. I’ll be reviewing the remake, but before I line up to have my childhood plundered I wanted one last look at one of my all-time favorite movies.

[“You sure changed my life. I didn’t think I’d ever be happy until I met you.”]

A Walk In The Woods: Drew Magary’s The Hike

One afternoon Ben wanders off to take a hike in the woods, a decision he quickly regrets. A spontaneous turn down the wrong trail draws him away from the seedy hotel his company put him up in on his business trip, away from the picturesque Pennsylvania countryside, away from everyone he’s ever known or loved. What was supposed to be a leisurely loop becomes a harrowing journey through the darkest recesses of his psyche. As he is pulled deeper into the nightmarish, two-mooned alternate dimension where physics are merely a suggestion, men with the skinned faces of Rottweilers stitched over their own hunt him down, a giant woman threatens to turn him into stew, and monsters enslave him until he’s little more than callouses and sinew.

In his new book The Hike, Drew Magary tells the story of how Ben is ripped from his suburban Maryland family and forced onto a path he cannot veer off of nor escape. The past, present, and future fold together until time has no meaning. It’s all Ben can do to keep his sanity intact as he recreates and rectifies his worst memories and personal demons. Along the way he befriends a snarky Crab who dispenses words of wisdom and a hopeful 15th century Spanish sailor with dreams of glory and honor. Sinister cohorts of the Producer, the man who set this whole play in motion, attack, derail, and imprison him while taunting him with all-too-brief moments of joy and respite. The Producer has grand plans for Ben and Ben better pray he survives long enough to confront the manipulative bastard.

[“They were all gone. Everything…everyone…was gone.”]

Are You There God? It’s Me, Jesse. Or, Deconstructing Preacher Season 1

If you looked up “uneven” in the dictionary, Preacher would be one of the first entries, right next to The Walking Dead. Developments that feel organic to one viewer come off as forced plot necessities to another. Where one character moment may seem powerful and heartbreaking, someone else only sees a sudden out of character shift lacking prior groundwork. Sure, there’s a lot of great work coming out of the writers’ room, but there’s also an increasing number of troublesome issues bogging down the story. No one seems to have figured out what sort of show Preacher is supposed to be, to the detriment of the characters, narrative, and series arc.

[“So, what do we do now? You fancy a shag?”]

Pull List: Kim & Kim

I think it’s fair to say that 2016 sucks. It is a year that is dark and full of terrors and getting worse by the day. There are a few bright spots scattered through the hellscape, however, and Mags Visaggio and Eva Cabrera’s Kim & Kim is one of them. Not only is it one of the best ass-kicking, patriarchy-smashing, queer-rocking comics since Midnighter, but it’s an indie comic to boot.

[“Score another for the Fighting Kims.”]

I Want To Believe: Flying by Carrie Jones

Mana is not having a good day. Her crush turns out to be an acid-spitting alien, her mom goes missing, her house gets trashed, the Men in Black are after her, oh, and she discovers she can fly. One day she’s a down-to-earth cheerleader with a helicopter mom and two over-achieving best friends and the next she’s being debriefed by an alien and teaming up with China, her mother’s secret government agent partner, on a massive alien hunt. Everything she thought she knew about her life and the world is wrong and about to get worse. Soon she’s caught in the crosshairs between benevolent aliens, malevolent monsters, G-men, and rogue agents, but with the help of her potential new beau, Lyle, and her BFF, Seppie, she just might manage to save the world.

Carrie Jones’ Flying was a light, easy, and pleasant read. Personally I tend to prefer my YA with more meat on the bones, but there’s nothing wrong with a little candy. Think season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with the soapy teenage romance of Roswell. And, again, those aren’t cons. I loved the fun, flirty tone of early Buffy and was recently pining over Roswell so much that I started a Netflix rewatch binge. Actually, those retro comparisons are more apt than I initially thought. After spending a good half hour trying to think of contemporary shows, I realized that most teen series now are spicier, darker, and sexier. Even the upcoming Archie show on the CW has gotten on the grimdark wagon. Flying’s tone and style fit perfectly with late 90s/early aughts teen dramas, and that’s a very good thing.

[“My whole life is a lie, a story.”]

Chains and Darkness: Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines

In an alternate history where the Civil War never happened and the Crittenden Compromise was passed, there exists a divided United States. The North abolished slavery but African Americans are still redlined into ghettos and slums. They are free by law but oppressed by social convention, with white people satisfied with the bare minimum of compassion and Black people shamed for being unable to break out of a system designed to subjugate. Sound familiar yet? The South held onto slavery, although its reach became smaller and more consolidated. By the time Victor sets out on his mission in Underground Airlines, there are only four states left holding onto slavery, but they’re making the most of it.

Victor escaped slavery as a child but was captured by the US Marshals. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Marshals were tasked with capturing runaways, and in this fictional world that’s become their main duty. Victor is pressed into service with the Marshals and ends up being eerily good at his job. The toll it takes on his psyche is extreme, and by the time he’s sent to recover a young man named Jackdaw being hidden by a manipulative priest and his cop lackies the lockbox where he hides his anguish is beginning to crumble.

[“I was black. I wasn’t there.”]

The Cure to End All Cures: Panacea by F. Paul Wilson

When three dead bodies in perfect health turn up in Dr. Laura Fanning’s morgue, she’s more than a little confused. Not only were the victims in pristine physical condition at time of death, two of them died of no discernible causes at all while the other died in a tragic accident shortly after a miraculous recovery from a terrible disease. Something weird is going on in Suffolk County, and Dr. Fanning finds herself suddenly and inextricably involved, whether she likes it or not.

Elsewhere, a fundamentalist G-man named Nelson Fife and his murderous associate Bradsher are on the hunt for members of a pagan cult brewing up what they call a panacea and what he calls a blasphemous act of Satan. For fifteen centuries the panaceans have doled out their cure all in secret to those chosen by the All-Mother while the Brotherhood acts as inquisitioners, executing panaceans in horrific Old Testament ways for using witchcraft in defiance of God.

A dying billionaire sends Dr. Fanning and her bodyguard, Rick Hayden, off on a wild goose chase around the world to find the source of the panacea, if it even exists. As Fife and Dr. Fanning circle in on their mutual goal, the fatalities mount up and illness strikes the innocent and guilty alike. Through his connections in the CIA (aka the Company), Fife begins isolating Dr. Fanning and Hayden from the outside world and formulates a sinister plan to kill them and steal the panacea for himself. Whoever controls the panacea determines the course of the future, but the cost of securing the concoction may be a price Dr. Fanning is unwilling to pay.

[“Got a crispy critter for you, Doc.”]

[Insert Sheep Pun Here]: Robert Kroese’s The Big Sheep

It all starts with a missing sheep and a paranoid celebrity. Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a private dick who insists on being called a “phenomenological inquisitor.” The two men live and work in Los Angeles in 2039, several years after a devastating economic collapse that resulted in the city being divided into LA proper and the Disincorporated Zone. During the Collapse, crime ran wild and more than a few businesses and labs took advantage of the weak enforcement to conduct morally bankrupt and ethically dubious projects. During this period of chaos, Fowler’s girlfriend Gwen disappeared and was never seen again.

When one of their experimental Lincoln Longwool sheep disappears, Esper Corporation hires Keane and Fowler to track it down. In a seemingly unrelated case, young celebutante Priya Mistry believes someone is trying to kill her and hires the investigators to figure out who is sending her cryptic messages. Priya is freaking out over seeing herself in commercials she doesn’t remember making, but when Fowler and Keane run into her later on and she claims to have no memory of ever meeting them, the detectives realize something big is amiss. Things get complicated when the Case of the Lost Sheep and the Case of the Concerned Teddy Bear turn out to be less unconnected than previously thought. There is a conspiracy afoot and victims piling up and Fowler and Keane must root it out before it gets them, too.

[“Stop spooking the sheep, Keane.”]

Of Exiles and Fairy Tales: The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

For Oblivion Ethyl(ene), aka Oblivia, the future is a world of suffering, imprisonment, and isolation. In Alexis Wright’s devastating novel The Swan Book, humans have pushed the earth to its breaking point. “Mother Nature? Hah!…People on the road called her the Mother Catastrophe of flood, fire, drought and blizzard. These were the four seasons, which she threw around the world whenever she liked.” Humans lost contact and connection to the land and so the land punished them for the betrayal.

Bella Donna of the Champions, a white woman from Europe, the sole survivor of a massive floating refugee camp attempting to cross the ocean from north to south to escape the worst effects of climate change, rescues an Aboriginal girl from a deep sleep within the hollow of a gum tree. The girl has no name, no past, and no voice, but as the story unfolds we learn she’d been the victim of a terrible sexual assault and was abandoned and forgotten by her people. Bella Donna names her Oblivia and fills her mind with fairy tales from her homeland of swans. Together they live on an derelict warship on a desolate swamp behind the fence set up by the Army to segregate the Aboriginal people from the rest of Australia.

[“Ignis Fatuus = Foolish Fire. That’s you Oblivion!”]

Pull List: Saying Farewell to Constantine and Midnighter

June is Pride Month, but you wouldn’t know it if DC anything to go by. This month marks the end of the publisher’s only titles headlined by queer characters: Constantine: The Hellblazer, Midnighter, and Harley Quinn. To make matters worse, once the “Rebirth” faff is done and dusted, only two queer characters, Harley and Constantine, will have a solo series, and we’ll have to wait until August for those. While there’s a new crop of characters of the LGBTQ variety coming up, most are being relegated to minor roles or team members. DC actually has a pretty decent back catalogue of LGBTQ+ characters to choose from, but it’s like DC has either forgotten they exist or simply don’t care.

[“Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is likely yes. But with punching.”]

Wicked Pigs and Magic Knives: The Insides by Jeremy P. Bushnell

Divorced, biracial butcher Olive “Ollie” Krueger thought she left her magic days behind her. As a teenager she and her best friend, a gay Colombian kid named Victor, were recruited to magic by a charming warlock, but once Ollie used her prodigious talent to secure a family of her very own she abandoned her trade for a quiet country life. Some personal sabotage in the form of vengeful, mystical Possible Consequences later, and she finds herself working at a trendy Manhattan restaurant, living in a crummy apartment with Victor, and daydreams about reuniting with her ex-husband and estranged son. She’s living half a life, one with few responsibilities and little inertia, that is until her coworker, a Haitian butcher named Guychardson, turns up with a magic knife and upends everything.

Not far from New York, Maja, a young northern European woman, is also after the knife. Maja uses magic to see the histories of everything on earth, meaning she can trace and track anything. She’s hired by a group of white supremacists who dream of subjugating the world with Martin aka “Pig,” a creepy candy-aholic ex-Marine with a fetish for murder, as their gunman/liaison. As they slaughter their way through everyone who crossed paths with the knife, Ollie gets in their crossfire and is pulled suddenly and inextricably back into the worlds of magic. As the the fabric of reality begins to tear, Ollie goes on the run. Her past, present, and future collide as space-time folds in on itself and her teenage mistakes exact revenge on her future self.

[“Hold onto the shard. Keep running. Stay alive.”]