Floods, mutants, vampires and more: comics and books read (#SFWApro)

NOAH by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel and Niko Henrichon shows the impulse to do Biblical epics didn’t die off with Cecil B. DeMille. This story of Noah getting his ark up and running despite the interference of a local warlord and his own doubts whether humanity should survive works well as spectacle (it’s apparently based on Aronofsky’s recent movie) — not great art but entertaining. Though I’m not sure switching out the usual portrayals of decadent civilizations for eco-destructive ones really worked.

THE SUNDERING FLOOD was William Morris’ last romance, in which a boy and girl on opposite sides of the eponymous river fall into long-distance love, then go off and have adventures, which in the girl’s case means getting captured a lot (disappointing given she starts out as something of a free spirit). This moves faster than usual for Morris, and I found it more engaging than much of his work. However Morris’s action scenes remind me of the long, inferior stretches in Malory where there’s nothing but endless tournament after endless tournament (i.e., not terribly interesting). Part of this is that as a historical writer, Morris dwells much more on details of medieval life that Malory didn’t bother with. Pleasant enough to read though, and what a lovely cover by Gervasio Gallardo (all rights to current holder)

WOLVERINE AND THE XMEN: Tomorrow Never Learns by Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar starts off well as the Jean Grey School gets seriously weird (Krakoa the living island is now Krakoa the Living School Grounds, there’s a supply of bamfs around to provide instant teleportation). Unfortunately the plot — Askani warrior hunts down Quentin Quire for the evil he’s going to do when he acquires the Phoenix Force — is stock X-book stuff, and very convoluted, plus the usual angst and guilt from Wolverine.

THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black has a teenager wake up from a wild party to discover everyone else has been victimized by vampires, which leads to her, her slowly turning ex-boyfriend, and a seemingly helpless vamp (“No-one has ever saved me before.”) journeying to one of the Coldtown ghettoes where vampires are quarantine, with the protagonist planning to wait there until she knows for sure if she’s infected. I like this much better than I expected — Black writes well, and in many ways this seems to undercut the cliches of the post-Anne Rice vampire fiction by showing that under the beauty and celebrity, vampires really are just disgusting corpses who feed on the living. The stretches of internecine vampire struggles, though, I largely skimmed. In a minor note, Fables writer Bill Willingham gets to be a vampire victim.

CHEW: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory has “cibopath” Tony Chu reluctantly recruited by the federal government to use his super power (psychometric flashes from anything he eats) to solve crimes (one nibble on a victim’s finger …). I thought the later volume I read was fun enough, but this is really gloriously, goofy fun with a lot of eccentrics and weird psionics (like a woman whose restaurant reviews make you actually taste the food when you’re reading her). Great job!

DC REBIRTH by Geoff Johns and various artists launched DC’s latest continuity-mangling Big Event, which while implying it will fix the problems of the New 52 will probably make them worse (as every reboot since Crisis has managed to do). This has the pre-Flashpoint Wally West warning Batman about what’s coming, Lois and Clark watching the New 52’s Superman die at Doomsday’s hands (“Perhaps he’ll recover as I did.”), Batman learning the Joker’s not one man but three (I can’t even guess where they’re going with that one) and we learn Dr. Manhattan is secretly behind the entire New 52. While I was never a fan of the New 52 reboot, I have no faith whatever’s coming will be an improvement, particularly as the same creators who thought the New 52 would be a great step forward are still running the show.


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12 Monkeys And Third-World Dreams: TV and movies (#SFWApro)

Although TIMELESS has been this season’s hit time travel show (and I like it myself), 12 MONKEYS (all rights to image reside with current holder) is by far the better show. The second season has Cole, Cassie, Jennifer, Katarina and the other players continuing their struggle against the Witness, the sinister prophet who founded the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. The Witness’s goal is the creation of the Red Forest, a strange altered reality in which time shall be no more, and therefore death shall have no power — in timelessness lies immortality.

What makes it great is that it’s well acted (Emily Hampshire’s cuckoo Jennifer is particularly funny), and puts a surprising amount of thought into characterization. Cassie becomes considerably more hardcase after the first episode of S2, often putting her and Cole at odds, but it never feels forced. The struggle against the time paradoxes unleashed by the 12 Monkeys are more interesting than the more Time Tunnel-esque adventures in Timeless.

I’m particularly impressed that just four episodes in, we learn about the significance of the Red Forest. These days it’s a basic principle that (as I’ve complained about Lost) TV shows hide as much of the truth as possible. It’s refreshing to see a show that doesn’t. Not that there aren’t still mysteries, but we learn something of substance too.

My only reservation is the reveal in the final episode. It’s cliched, and could easily reduce Cassie’s role in S3 in sexist ways. But I’m hopeful that won’t happen. “Hello egg — meet the chicken.”

Turning to movies, MARIA, FULL OF GRACE (2004) is a remarkably effective, naturalistic film about a pregnant Columbian teenager who loses her job, then opts for a gig as a drug mule to make ends meet (“We’re sending you to New Jersey, a small town near New York.”). A very good job of making events flow realistically while leaving me completely uncertain what was coming. “Be glad you’re small.”

THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN  (2007) is an award-winning French film that didn’t click with me at all. The story focuses on an Algerian immigrant’s struggle to open a couscous restaurant with the support of his extended family, but it’s much more of a slice of life than I expected — less about the struggle and more about slow, leisurely scenes of his family living their lives. They were well done, but the film didn’t hold my attention, particularly at 2.5 hours. “Wearing diapers at her age!”

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Here we go again

One of the first columns I did for And magazine was about conservatives objecting to “subsidizing” a woman’s sex life by having birth control covered in Obamacare insurance. Sean Hannity, for example, declared that as he’s not the one getting laid, there’s no reason he should pay for the birth control. My column pointed out that this is how insurance works: healthy people subsidize worse-off people. It would make just as much sense to argue that “I don’t smoke, why should I pay for the cancer treatment of people who do?” Or that policies shouldn’t cover prostate cancer, as women are never going to need that coverage. But of course that wouldn’t further the right-wing war on birth control and on women who have sex without  consequences.

But now Sen. Paul Ryan has taken the leap: his latest argument against the ACA and the individual mandate is that “The people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick.” As LGM and ThinkProgress point out, that’s how all insurance works. Health insurance. Ryan’s Trumpcare plan. Car insurance. Home insurance. E&O insurance (which protects businesses against the financial consequences of “errors and omissions” they might make). It’s how companies stay solvent. If insurers don’t get enough money from healthy people (or people whose houses don’t burn down or cars don’t crash), they go out of business. The purpose of the individual mandate is to ensure that doesn’t happen. Otherwise healthy people could delay until they need insurance and then take out the policy.

What Ryan is doing, of course, is reworking this simple fact to a)single out Obamacare and its mandate as some uniquely awful program; b)imply Trumpcare will fix it (it won’t — as noted, this is just how insurance works) and c)phrase it language Republican audiences are used to, about how the takers and moochers (someone else) are living high off the money paid in by hardworking Americans (themselves). Charles Pierce points out it’s much the same process by which Ryan’s family stayed afloat after his father’s death thanks to Social Security whereas Pierce (and others) were paying money in (Of course that hasn’t stopped Ryan from condemning supposed moochers who rely on government assistance any more than Rep. Steve Fincher receiving millions in farm subsidies stops him from condemning people who receive food stamps.)

While several takes have been “Paul Ryan doesn’t understand insurance” I’m pretty sure he does — it’s just not in his interest to acknowledge the facts.

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Perfect Balance? (#SFWApro)

Last weekend was surprisingly good.


I got a lot of little errands done, including buying replacement light bulbs, refilling prescriptions, buying replacement batteries. And I fixed the errors I found in Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast. But I also managed to spend a lot of time relaxing, reading and watching movies. I keep trying to organize my weekends to be all laid back, but it often doesn’t work. It actually felt a little weird during the down-time stretches — shouldn’t I be doing something productive? I thought I’d gotten over feeling like that, but it stuck back up on me again.

There will be no week-in-review post today, due to a crazy day ahead. Book and movie review posts for the weekend will proceed as usual.

All rights to Connery-as-Bond image reside with current owner.

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Miscellaneous Links (#SFWApro)

Why corporations began relocating to the suburbs, and the effect it has.

•Soviet Russia’s occult research program. Having read Heather Pringle’s The Master Plan, which chronicles similar efforts by the Nazis (like discovering the secrets of the Aryan electrical weapon remembered in mythology as Thor’s hammer), I’m not surprised.

•Where did the idea of sequentially numbering comics come from? I’d always taken it as a given, but as the article points out, many magazines do fine without them.

•A look at a forgotten black cookbook author.

•Christian Science Monitor looks at the professionals who hunt for vulnerabilities in computer systems.

•New Dead Sea Scrolls discovered.

•Archeologists have found ancient Roman coins in Japan, suggesting the possibility of a trade connection.

•Stone-age crystal weapons.

•How they cleaned the sewers of Paris with giant balls.

•Historic firsts (escalators, cash registers, big box stores) in American retail. And here are some more first for online retail.

•And just for fun, some great Jack Kirby cover art. All rights reserved to current holder.


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Well this is getting interesting

So the Republicans have released their Obamacare sort-of-repeal plan. “Trumpcare” includes lots of goodies for people with more income to put in HSAs or more taxes to write off, and make sure lottery winners are shut out of Medicaid. (Consumerist has some thoughts) It’s running into lots of opposition, not only from Democrats but Republicans who think modifying Obamacare is not enough — wipe it from reality or nothing! Plus those who know their constituents like having health care and don’t want to face the blowback from taking it away, and the bill does that: Jonathan Chait points out the tax credits to help buy insurance go down for the poor and rise for the rich (more here). And despite all the talk of cutting premiums, AARP says that for older adults they’ll go up under Trumpcare And it’s a bad deal for women too as it drops requirements plans cover maternity and prenatal care, among other things (showing again that right-to-life is more about forcing women to bear children than taking care of fetuses).

As this poses a serious challenge to passing “Trumpcare” people are speculating why Sen. Paul Ryan is backing such a long-shot bill — is this the best he can get? Does he overestimate his chances? Does he figure Republicans will be better off if repeal fails? Is it a case of “be careful what you wish for” as various Republicans realize the risk from taking away people’s healthcare. Rick Perlstein points out that conservatives believe cutting off government-supplied healthcare is a moral act. Sen. Jason Chaffetz seems to express the same view when explaining that the bill will require poor people to be responsible and buy healthcare instead of an iPhone. Because poor people are immoral unless they suffer. Roy Edroso suggests, similarly, that it’s catering to the angry, PO’d Trump voters who want those damn moochers to suffer! Jonathan Chait (at the link above) thinks Republicans backed themselves into a corner by their own tactics and rhetoric .

President Shit-Gibbon has informed America that “this will be a plan where you can choose your doctor,” but nothing I’ve heard from either side indicates this will happen. All health-care plans have in-network and out-of-network doctors — about the only people who gain more choice will be the rich people who can use their HSA to pay for any doctor they want.

In further loonie news, Trump HHS Secretary Tim Price says Medicaid takes away people’s health care … somehow. Ryan explains that it doesn’t matter that millions of people lose care, what matters is that it lowers costs! No explanation how it will do that, but it’s an axiom for free marketeers that allowing people to use “too much” health care is why health care is so high (like Rep. Bill Huizinga, who’s proud that he didn’t take his kid to the E/R until he was absolutely, positively sure the boy’s arm was broken).

So it’s kind of fascinating to watch as a train wreck … except that if the train gets to the station, millions of people lose health care or have to settle for inadequate care.I can’t really relax enough to enjoy it. Even the fact lots of Repubs think this bill is worth backing (and some object because it’s not vicious enough) is chilling.
But on the plus side, there’ll some satisfaction to watching the Shit-Gibbon freak out again when Trumpcare does not automatically become law.



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Abe Sapiens and an Exorcist: Updates from the Hellboyverse (#SFWApro)

While I have added all these to the Hellboy Chronology, I haven’t reviewed them yet, so here we go. Some spoilers.

25852939ABE SAPIEN: The Secret Fire by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and Sebastian and Max Fiumara (cover by the latter, all rights reside with current holder) was a disappointment for me. It’s mostly Abe dithering and worrying about his role in the end of the human race — something he’s been doing since the series started — and getting lots of advice from various mystical people. Meanwhile the sorcerer Gustav Strobl, who’s been hunting Abe all through the series, continues hunting him. It felt like filler that didn’t advance the story, didn’t stand on its own, but did stretch things out a few issues longer.

ABE SAPIENS: The Desolate Shore (same creative team) stars better as Abe discovers the BPRD’s Professor Bruttenholm knew all about Abe’s human past two decades before Abe learned his origins. Why did he stay silent? And what exactly did Abe’s former self, Langdon Caul, discover in the depths of the ocean. Having raised the questions, we get more brooding (apparently they’ll be wrapped up when Abe rejoins the BPRD for the mythos finish), which got frustrating. And while I like Strobl’s agenda (the mage believes he should be the template for the next age of man, not Abe), his final showdown is over so abruptly it retroactively makes Strobl pointless — why exactly were we wasting time reading about this guy? I hope the BPRD series wraps up better.

On the other hand I really enjoyed BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Exorcist (Mignola, Cameron Stewart, Chris Roberson, Mike Norton) which introduces almost-new BPRD agent Ashley Strode (she had a brief cameo in an earlier book). In the first story in this collection, she confronts a demon and becomes an exorcist as a result of her trials; in the second, she’s now traveling across country exorcising evil things in the old Hellboy manner (only with ritual rather than a right to the jaw). The stories were good, and it’s nice to have a relatively optimistic character in the spotlight for a change. I believe Strode is also the first gay protagonist in the mythos, but I can’t swear to it.

The Exorcist proved a slight challenge to the chronology as the two stories take place fifteen months apart. I’m guesstimating that the second one happens “now” or as close as we can get (as I’ve mentioned before, I think the rapid pace of events puts the timeline several years behind our own) and fitting in the first story based on that.

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