Dave's Capsules for May 2020

Still pretty scattered this month...while Diamond did ship in the last two weeks of the month, it was mostly stuff I don't get anyway.

Items of Note (Strongly Recommended or otherwise worthy): None

In this installment: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War BluRay, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn BluRay, Harley Quinn (season 1), Adventure Finders Book 2 Volume 1 Chapter 7, Kickstarter Free Comic Book Day 2020, Anti/Hero, Transformers the Manga 02, Barbarous vol 1-3, The Way of the Househusband vol 3, The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack, Jade Street Protection Services #1-4.

Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed to order): None, technically.

"Other Media" Capsules:

Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e. comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this section when I have any to mention.  They may not be as timely as comic reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two (or ten) to get around to. 

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War: DC - Sigh.  So.  This is the last movie in the long-running series of direct to video movies based on the "New 52" continuity.  One expects a Big Deal with a large cast and the end to some major threat.  Unfortunately, what is also all too common in wrapping up a shared universe is blowing up all the toys.  After all, there won't be any more stories in this continuity, so why not go out with a bang and kill off a bunch of characters before everything resets?  Yeah, this one does that.  With plenty of gore and body horror along the way.  Slapping the "Justice League Dark" on it is a thin excuse for levels of blood and guts that would dance on the edge of NC-17 were it live action.  All in all, it feels like the guiding hand on the story was that of someone who was sick and tired of superheroes and wanted to wade into a Marshal Law-style orgy of hero-killing.  It ends on such a pyrrhic "victory" that the only viable option is to tell Flash to go screw up the timeline again because he can't possibly make things worse.  There's a few good bits along the way (mostly involving King Shark in some way), but they're not worth wading through the rest of this dreck.  Oh, and there's an Adam Strange short, which is more of the same...including a character getting torn in half in the foreground, with their intestines flailing across the screen.  But it's been "crap on Adam Strange" time at DC in general lately...at least this exercise in gore and failure doesn't also make Adam out to be a war criminal.  Avoid.

In almost every scene with two men
talking, they're talking about a woman.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: DC/WB - Rarely have I seen a non-subtitled movie that demanded such total attention.  The storytelling is deliberately scrambled, with lots of flashbacks and "oh, right, I forgot to tell you about" scenes.  Since Harley Quinn is the narrator, this suits her to a tee.  The basic premise is that Harl breaks up with Joker for good, and suddenly all the people she'd pissed off (but who were too scared of the Joker to touch her) are out for her blood.  In trying to cut some deals to stay alive, she stumbles into a nexus of several other plotlines, getting tangled up with Renee Montoya (played very well by Rosie Perez), Huntress (whose actor does a great job of portraying as a traumatized kid who grew up so focused on vengeance that her social skills are...lacking), Black Canary (very different from other versions), and Cassandra Kaine (really no relation to the comics character save the name).  While it is technically the origin story for the Birds of Prey, it's really Harley's solo movie, with supporting characters in the form of the other women.  (The extras make it clear how much this was a passion project for Margot Robbie.)  Despite ostensibly being a setup for two different series (Birds of Prey, and a Harley & Cass vehicle), it really does feel like a complete story in itself with no real need for sequels.  The tags at the end are more like the "where are they now?" bits at the end of Animal House than actual sequel setup.  A good movie that doesn't really require knowing anything about other DCCU stuff (there's a couple of throwaway refs to Suicide Squad, that's about it), with a good variety of female protagonists.  The various "making of" extras are more interesting than such things tend to be, and are worth watching.  Recommended.  Cost varies by store and format, I got the BluRay.

Harley Quinn (Series): DC - I wasn't too impressed by this series when it started up a few months ago, meaning I wasn't going to subscribe to DCUniverse for it, or ask anyone to help me acquire it through...other means.  But May 26-28 the first season showed on SyFy (uncensored, late night slot), and I came in during the bar mitzvah episode, so I decided to catch the rest of the season (and maybe see if the first two are on OnDemand).  Anyway, this starts from the same basic place as the Margot Robbie movie, with Harley dumping Joker and striking out on her own.  But rather than being in constant danger from people who fear the Joker's retribution, the season's arc is about trying to prove she has what it takes to be a supervillain in her own right.  And it's pretty damn uneven.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to describe this take on the DCU, which verges on outright farce, with some subtle fourth wall breaking (events described as taking place decades ago show non-immortal heroes looking the same as they do today, a nod to Comic Book Time), some very unsubtle ultraviolence (slightly below the level of the JLDark movie), and a ****load of swearing.  Only one word gets bleeped, and that word is the core of a major plot point, as being beyond the pale even for the Legion of Doom.  In some ways it feels like a Mad Magazine parody, but with the names not changed.  Issues of sexism are presented with a sledgehammer at times.  Almost everyone other than Harley and Ivy is a caricature or a flanderization (e.g. taking "Clayface is an actor" and making that really his only character point...he's a bad, hammy, stereotypical Drama Major sort).  Probably the closest single comparison would be a cross between Venture Bros, movie Deadpool, and the extended version of "Seven Things You Can't Say On Television."  Now, there's some funny bits and interesting premises, as long as you're willing to accept that the writers didn't really worry about a setting that made sense (I mean, at least the Guild of Calamitous Intent has some fairly solid reasoning behind it...the Legion of Doom in this is really just a stack of "what not to do" corporate training videos).  And the cussin' rapidly reaches the "only a warning that a noun is coming" level of saturation.  All in all, I don't feel like I want back the time I spent watching it, but neither am I inclined to pay money for it. 

Digital Content:

Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so (such as a lack of regular comics), I won't be turning this into a webcomic review column.  Rather, stuff in this section will generally be full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay.

Adventure Finders Book 2 Volume 1 Chapter 7: Patreon.com - While it's been talked about in the past that the "United Crowns" isn't all that united, prior to this most of the internal conflict was tied to the Arao cult trying to carve out more political power for itself.  But this time, the protagonist band runs across what amounts to a "regular" unit of UC soldiers that isn't led by Arao priests...but are still unwilling to accept the superior rank conferred upon them earlier in this volume.  And who are despoiling a town that may or may not be part of the UC.  The chapter name is "An Empire Fighting Itself: What's Right Isn't Always Lawful," and the protagonists are almost definitely breaking some laws while fighting scum that fly the same flag they do.  Even within the group, they don't agree on where to draw the line, though...they agree that the scummy soldiers need to be stopped, but the vigor with which the stopping is pursued is under debate.  Of course, this may only be a prelude to the secret of the ancient ruins the town is built around, leftovers of an ur-culture no one really understands anymore.  Ethical struggles against a backdrop of ancient mysteries.  Recommended.  $1/month to read PDFs, Action Lab will eventually put this issue out in hardcopy if you're willing to wait.

Kickstarter Free Comic Book Day 2020: Kickstarter - Free Comic Book Day 2020 has been postponed indefinitely, and most of the online participants held off as well.  But Kickstarter put out their special on May 2.  Like many FCBD books, it's an anthology of short pieces.  In this case, pieces taken from various successful Kickstarter comics, most of which were themselves anthologies.  A few of the pieces are excerpts from longer stories, and even the ones intended as standalone pieces aren't always comprehensible...a bit heavy on the "arty" side of things.  Nothing inspired me to seek out anything further about any of the projects or their followups.


Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here.

Kinda sucks when your super
intelligence doesn't follow you
into another body.
Anti/Hero: DC - Before I get into the complaints, I should make it clear that I liked this.  However, putting it in any version of the DC universe felt forced...as if the script were mostly written, but got shopped around to publishers and when DC bit the writers tacked on a few Batman-related bits.  Like, it's in East Gotham...most versions of Gotham have ocean or lake to the east.  Bruce Wayne is there as a plot device, but any generic "rich guy who is secretly a superhero" would do, and the rest of the cast of characters is new to this book.  In short, every time the book reminded me that it was supposed to be in a DC setting, it was jarring and felt wrong.  The basic premise is that a wannabe tweenaged superhero with actual powers is having trouble establishing a reputation as anything other than a vandal (basic "doesn't know her own strength" problems), while a tech genius in her class is forced into villainy by her relatives.  And then they get hit by a body switch plot device.  The actual title has the "Hero" part upside-down, continuing the motif in the art.  The overt plotline involves trying to foil the plot of East Gotham's leading criminal mastermind, but the real plotline is what all good body-swap stories are about: appreciating what you have, as well as what others have to deal with.  A good YA story, and the intended audience probably won't find the Obligatory Batman to be as jarring as I did.  Recommended.  $9.99/$13.50Cn

Transformers the Manga 02: Viz - Wow.  This is just bad.  Volume 1 at least had plenty of over the top weirdness mixed in with the Writing Down To The Kiddies.  Despite being the same writer and artist as the first volume, this one is almost utterly lacking in the charming weirdness.  Maybe they were phoning it in for a while, or got told to stop being so bizarre by someone in editorial.  I know that volume 3 is gonna end on some high weirdness, but...give this one a pass unless you're a completist.  $24.99/$33.99Cn/#19.99UK

Barbarous vol 1-3: JohnnyWander.com - A Kickstarter project to get a webcomic into hardcopy form, each 48 page volume seems more intended as coffee table decoration than "thing to read," with blank spines, oversized (11.5" by 9") pages, and 32 pages of reprints mixed with spacer pages and a few pinups in back.  The irregularly-published webcomic is pretty good, which is why I backed the project, but three volumes all together are basically the first chapter.  And instead of artsy spacer pages, it'd have been nice if one of the volumes included the short story explaining the Mysterious Landlady's deal.  While I recommend reading the webcomic, unless you like using artbooks as a decorating option, I don't really recommend these collections.  $60 all together on Kickstarter, no prices printed on the books themselves.

The Way of the Househusband vol 3: Viz - To some extent, there's a lot of the same stuff as in previous volumes...and as fun as it is, it's starting to get repetitive.  However, there's a little bit of overall plot advancement as we see more of the fallout of the Househusband's final battle...apparently a big hole was torn in the underworld by direct and indirect result of that battle.  Not everyone gave up because they were tired of the life, some had no choice.  Leading by example, the Immortal Dragon may well change the nature of organized crime.  Recommended.  $12.99/$17.99/#9.99UK

The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack: Dark Horse - Perry Bible Fellowship is one of those ironically named webcomics (which has also been in a few alternative newspapers).  The art style varies, Gurewitch has several regular styles (the humans are usually very simplified, but not always), plus the occasional homage to some other style like Gorey's.  This isn't a complete collection of the webcomics, not even as of the time of the book was created, as it's not the first collection (a section of extras in back includes a few that he forgot to put in a previous book).  It does contain every strip that showed up in print, though.  And at the risk of burying the lede here, it's not a strip to read at work, as occasional breasts show up at varying levels of realism.  And some gore, but if you're in America that won't get you in trouble, just the boobs.  The humor is generally pretty dark, but with limits...the section in back shows a few that he felt were too dark even for him.  In terms of production values, it's a very well made book, hardback with good quality color pages throughout.  Recommended, but beware that it's dark and occasionally pretty offensive.  $24.99/$33.99Cn


No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they are floppy, yes? (And not all of them come out monthly, or on a regular schedule in general, so I can't just call this section "Monthlies" or even "Periodicals" as that implies a regular period.)

The cure is prettier than the disease.
Jade Street Protection Services #1-4: Black Mask - A trade was technically scheduled to come out this spring, but the pandemic may have interrupted that.  But Black Mask had all four issues still available on their web store, and was participating in the "send 50% to your comic shop" promotion, so I grabbed them as floppies.  The original books came out in 2017, and the sales rep I emailed had no idea if there would ever be a continuation, which is kinda a shame...because this whole arc is prelude.  It sets up the world and a lot of story hooks, but really just deals with getting the protagonists out on their own and ready to consider the rest of the hooks.  (They don't even establish the series title in-story until an epilogue scene at the end of #4.)  The basic premise is that it's a world much like our own, except that a tiny handful of humanity can use magic.  The protagonists are students at a school for Magical Girls, with the narrator being a student who is on the autism spectrum.  In the subgenre of "Being A Magical Girl Sucks" stories, but in this case purely because of the social aspects.  No "your powers will slowly drive you mad" or "demons are out to devour you and tend to succeed" stuff, just humans being crappy to each other like in the real world.  And it's implied that the unpleasant fates in store for them are not inevitable or hardcoded into the legal structure of the world...just a bunch of one-percenters exploiting the exploitable, like usual.  Storytelling is a bit rough in spots, but it's a promising start...hopefully not also an ending.  Recommended.  (Back) cover price $3.99 each, but since they're all a few years old you might find them for more or less.

Dvandom, aka Dave Van Domelen, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Science at Amarillo College, maintainer of one of the two longest-running Transformers fansites in existence (neither he nor Ben Yee is entirely sure who was first), got promoted to Associate Professor, is an occasional science advisor in fiction, and part of the development team for the upcoming City of Titans MMO.

"SP*RKLING FL*FF B*NNIES!" - Jade Street Protection Services #1
Dave's Capsules for May 2020 Dave's Capsules for May 2020 Reviewed by Dvandom on Thursday, May 28, 2020 Rating: 5
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