Monday, December 5, 2016

Anime Observations: Nanoha ViVid and ViVid Strike!

Welcome to Anime Observations, a new column on JiH where I take an anime series I've watched and point out a theme or idea that might (or might not) have passed you by on first viewing, and expound on it.  Or if you haven't seen the series, hopefully by reading this you'll take an interest in it and give the show a try.  I tend to pick less popular series, and I'm always happy when a show I liked a lot gains new fans.  For our first installment, we'll be looking at the magical girl series Nanoha ViVid and it's sister spin-off, ViVid Strike!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bottom of the Pile - November 30th, 2016

Since this week is short, I figured I'd take care of it first and go back and knock the others out later.

Batman Annual

I've never been a fan of dogs.  Some can be cute, downright adorable, but I'm still more of a cat person.   Still, this new origin of Ace the Bat-Hound in this year's Batman Annual is the kind of thing that makes you type in all caps 'cause the story is just so cute you can't stand it.

Found after one of the Joker's...weirder escapades, Ace was one of many attack dogs Joker was using until he got bored of them...and stopped visiting, or feeding any of them.  By the time they were found, they'd all attacked and killed one another with only Ace surviving.  Because amongst other things Batman is chiefly a story about taking in broken things and making them less broken, Ace gets adopted by Alfred, who ends up training him to be more obedient and taming his violent instincts.  Over the course of several months, Alfred tirelessly works with Ace---even after the point where freaking Batman gives up on the dog.   But finally, he pulls it off...and weeks later Ace is so nice he's licking Batman's wounds after a particularly nasty night. 

BAM!  Turns out, it's been a gift from Alfred the whole time!  When you really think about it, Alfred's an adoptive father who could only keep Bruce from losing it entirely by indulging this insane crusade of his.   He's not just a dutiful butler--he's been the guy who kept Bruce human.  Long before there was a Lark or a Nightwing or a Robin, there was Alfred--making sure he ate, making sure he slept, making sure there was someone that cared about the man behind the mask.  So what do you get the Man Who REALLY Has Everything for Christmas?   Well.  You've never gotten him a puppy.

I've said it before, but: Tom King GETS Alfred.  And that might sound like a small thing to some of you, but fuck that.  Alfred fucking rules.

Direct Currents
DC Direct Currents is a free magazine meant to update everyone on the status of the post-Rebirth DC.   And it's a genius idea done in the style of the old Wizard comics that you should totally pick up if you wanna see where your favorite characters are and what they'll be up to in their source material.  Just a thought.
Inhumans vs. X-Men
Do not buy this.  I just wanted to point out that the wa they've been written lately, the Inhumans are terrible, awful people.  They aren't anything less than villains at this point, and none of their story has unfolded in a logical fashion since the second Marvel decided these guys should replace the X-Men.   They're trying to normalize something that would've totally been a villainous plan in any other story: a group of super-powered individuals releasing a potentially dangerous cloud onto the ENTIRE PLANET that will forcibly change you into one of them if you have even the tiniest trace of shared DNA with them?   Isn't this the plot of some Avengers story?  And shouldn't the Avengers be punching them in the face, like as we speak?  They're even a militarized monarchy, so no matter how they try to spin it this looks like an act of aggression.
Moreover, any argument that they deserve the right to keep the Terrigen cloud goes out the window the second it's proven (and it's PAST proven at this point) the cloud is utterly fatal to mutants.  I'm sorry, but you don't get to increase the standing of your own people at the cost of another. Emma Frost might be a little insane right now, but it seems like she was a hero for wiping one of the two clouds out in Death of X. 

This prologue to Inhumans vs. X-Men sees Hank try to discover the cure to M-Pox, the Terrigen-originated virus du jour that's killing mutants, but with this issue we discover the only way to cure it would be individual cures for each mutant--a near impossibility to create.  After revealing this to Medusa, she further confirms her villainy by pointing out eventually the X-Men will want to *do* something about the fact that the Terrigen clouds are sterilizing and murdering them, and wants to make sure the Inhumans are united in attempting to crush them for it.  So....yeah.  Awful, unreasonable dicks that I literally just realized are either directly or indirectly responsible for killing my two favorite Marvel characters.  

Ms. Marvel
This is on the pull list because Ms. Marvel is consistently one of the best cape comic books on the stand--G. Willow Wilson has done an excellent job of making Kamala Khan into one of the most likable new characters in the post-Civil War era of Marvel, placing her on a path of fairly constant, consistent progression that's seen her grow from taking down D-List villains to being bad-ass enough to do triple duty between her family, her school life, and being an Avenger.  She knows exactly when to show Kamala succeeding or failing, so things never grow stale from too much success or depressing from too much failure. 

That said: This issue is the kinda on the nose storytelling that's all too common lately and frustrates the crap out of me.  Allegorical stories are usually thinly-veiled ways of talking about a political issue...but at least there's a veil.  This is literally an issue where Kamala learns a member of Hydra is tampering with votes through gerrymandering and expecting to win because most people won't care enough to vote, so she goes out and beats the streets to achieve a (no seriously) 100 percent voting rate to save New Jersey. 

 She goes around and lectures people and explains how voting works in a fashion that feels so rehearsed, I'd almost think it was a two-page ad in the style of the old superhero Hostess mini-comics. If I didn't have an idea as to how comics worked, I'd be weirded out that someone basically came up with their fantasy of how Donald Trump should've lost...except I do, so I know this was scripted out months in advance.  It's cute that they kept rhetoric to a minimum but...ugh.  Even as a liberal this comic made my head hurt--it just felt less like a story and more like being lectured to.  But this isn't common for the comic--Ms. Marvel (and Ms. Wilson) are both much, MUCH better than this--it's usually a much more nuanced comic.  Everyone has an off month.

New Avengers
Writer Al Ewing is one of those creatives that has kinda been around forever but didn't really make an appearance onto the main stage until a few years ago--but from the moment he's been here dude has made an impact.  His Loki was genius meta storytelling, while New Avengers and Ultimates have both been the kind of next-level super-science insanity that cape comics DESPERATELY need in order to stand at the forefront of creativity in comics.

This particular incarnation of Avengers was the result of former X-Man/New Mutant Robert DaCosta buying out AIM and re-purposing it into Avengers Idea Mechanics.  Employing a variety of young heroes including Wiccan, Hulkling, the new Power Man and Max Brashear (the Blue Marvel's formerly evil son) as well as a number of scientists like Toni Ho (granddaughter of Yinsen Ho, the man who helped Tony Stark build his armor)--New Avengers was mostly about the various plans and back-up plans and side gambits played between multi-billionaire entrepreneur Robert DaCosta and an evil version of Reed Richards known as The Maker, along with trying to outmanuever SHIELD, who still believed A.I.M. was just as evil as before, simply with a different Supreme Leader. 

But The Maker was taken out last issue, which just left them with convincing SHIELD once and for all that none of them had turned traitor.  So this issue features DaCosta enacting the ultimate plan for the series' final issue: faking his own death to lure out the final members of the old AIM and shut them down once and for all.  The issue has a lot of hilarious moments as each member of New Avengers finally chooses to go their own separate ways (while beating up left-over factions of SHIELD) as we set up for the next incarnation of DaCosta's team, the USAvengers.   

This was actually one of my favorite comics from the ANAD era for including so many lesser-known new AND old characters--the plotline that saw Robert DaCosta (Sunspot) and his buddy Cannonball become the new Beast and Wonder Man of the Avengers pre-Secret Wars was one of my favorite, and to have this comic pick that up was great.   All too often, the A-List heroes like Cap or Spidey or Iron Man can never really experience that much growth and change, but the B and C-Listers have plenty of freedom for that...if they can ever get the focus.   The growth we've seen from DaCosta from his stories in the late '80's until now is incredible, and I hope they let him keep a title for the forseeable future.

Totally Awesome Hulk
When Bruce absorbed a fatal dosage of radiation as the Hulk, it was Amadeus Cho who found a way to both relieve him of that radiation and his powers as well, choosing to take on the powers of the Hulk himself.  And we've been following the adventures of Amadeus Cho over the past few months as...the Totally Awesome Hulk, as Cho and his sister Maddy tool around America fighting monsters and putting them under control, helping to make everyone see the Hulk as the hero he's always been.

If you've been keeping up with Civil War II, you know that recently Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye after a vision by the Inhuman Ulysses "revealed" that Bruce was going to Hulk out in the future and murder most of the superhero community.  Empowered by the abilities of the Hulk, for the last few issues Amadeus has been hunting for Hawkeye/Clint Barton, only to have SHIELD, Captain Marvel, and the Black Panther get in his way--though to little effect.  There's also a story about a monster that feeds on emotion and Cho being abandoned by his sister in this issue, but the first one's just so we can get a little bit of superhero punchy-punchy, and the second thing is something that will play out in later issues.  The real meat of this issue however, is Cho finally getting to confront Banner's killer. 

As unconvincing as it's sounded over in the actual mini-series, Barton was indeed told by Bruce that if he were to ever lose control again that he needed to be stopped, and Clint was the only one of the heroes that would've had both the ability and the guts to go through with it.  Setting aside whatever problems you'd have with the plot behind that--Clint's not a heartless dick, and Banner was his friend.  So he maybe has the steel to go through with it, but what does taking the life of a close friend of yours do to you in the aftermath?  And the very existence of Cho as Hulk is a sign that your judgment might have been wrong and you killed a normal human can only compound the guilt. 

As for Cho--earlier in the issue, after his ego gets the better of him and he rushes off against his sister's cooler head, she points out rightly that he's not a bad person.  When he found Hawkeye he was never going to kill him--but this page came as a bit of a shock to me.  Two men bonding over the loss of a friend.  And yeah, how the whole thing played out is twisted and fucked up, but the life of a superhero is often twisted and fucked up.  I just appreciate Greg Pak for allowing the bombastic actions of Civil War II a stage for the emotional conflict that should follow to play out.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Bottom of the Pile: November 9th, 2016

I'm two weeks late, but given this is supposed to be the "pull list" month, I can't skip any weeks.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bottom of the Pile Reboot: November 2nd, 2016

Hello and welcome to a new version of Bottom of the Pile.  For quite some time now, BOTP has gotten away from its core design: to talk about the comic books I saved for last every week because they were so damned good.  Probably a lot quicker than I care to admit, it went from talking about my favorite comics to just going off about whatever was most popular or whatever was making the biggest "waves" in comics whether it was good or bad.  I wasted time talking about comics I barely even enjoyed, and as much as I'd like to say the intent was to gain popularity that's just not true. 

The truth is it's easy.  It's so impossibly, stupidly easy to rail against something you DON'T like.  Largely because, not to get overly high-minded, we've created a society that is about tearing things down rather than building them up.  Some of the most sardonic people online, known for writing 2000 word diatribes about something they hate, will admit its more difficult to say why something is good rather than eviscerate something for being bad.

But this year I've decided that I want to fail more, with the intent of becoming a better writer because it's better to overreach than to stay within one's comfort zone, and the more you reach beyond your limits the more you grow as a person (and hopefully, a writer). Keeping all of that in mind, the primary focus of Jumping in Headfirst is (and has always been) for me to inform anyone who reads it about whatever I think the dopest thing is in whatever medium I'm following.  So even if its clumsy, even if I fuck up a lot along the way, I hope anyone who reads my work going forward understands what I'm shooting for.

Along those lines, Bottom of the Pile SHOULD be about the books I happen to think are the best done from week to week.  Comics you could make into a pull list.  Comics that are essentially MY pull list.  So the list is going to get a lot shorter, but there'll also be a lot less garbage on it.  If something just NECESSARILY grabs my attention you might see it, but more often than not whatever pops up here will be a thing I think is worth paying money for.  So with all that said, let's kick things off with the first week of November's comics.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

CW-verse Flash: Monster

Jeez Caitlin, why you gotta be so...nah, I can't do it.

This week's Flash sees the plotline about Dr. Alchemy continue to take a backseat, instead choosing to focus on Team Flash, with Caitlin visiting her mother to learn more about her powers, the team discovering the "truth" about Harrison Wells, and Barry finally figuring out a way to make peace with his new CSI partner Julian. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

CW-verse Supergirl: Survivors

Cocky with a nonchalante disdain that isn't her, Roulette is the perfect foil for Supergirl

"Survivors" balanced a story between our two primary alien characters dealing with coming into contact with aliens all too similar to themselves--with J'onn J'onzz it's a fellow martian, and with Supergirl it's Mon-El, while also having to deal with lesser-known illegal fight club organizer Roulette after finding the dead body of an alien who lost their life in one of the battles.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Anime Weekly: Tiger Mask W

Tiger Mask W is a series that I likely never would've noticed if I hadn't gotten into wrestling, and while my enjoyment enhances the show, it's still actually quite a well put together series.  It starts out with two young wrestlers--Naoto Azuma and Takuma Fujii--watching Takuma's dad and their mentor, Daisuke Fujii, get destroyed in the ring by a rival team's wrestler, Yellow Devil.  As Daisuke finds himself seemingly permanently wheelchair bound by his match, the two young men set down two opposite paths with the same goal: defeating Yellow Devil, "ace" of the foreign wrestling company, Global Wrestling Monopoly.

I won't pretend like this is anything deep--it's a simple story that's told effectively, operating on the pretense that kayfabe (the staged events that occur in wrestling) is real, and that each wrestler is winning their matches based on their own strength and techniques rather than putting on the best athletic performance for a match with a predetermined ending.  And while it would've been fascinating to do a show that goes into detail on why matches are booked behind the scenes for the reasoning they are for a wrestling geek like me--it makes sense that on a broader scale they didn't want to ruin the spectacle of puroresu for the younger fans that are most likely watching this.

In the five episodes I've watched thus far, they've explained how Daisuke Fujii's son Takuma chose to take down Global Wrestling Monopoly (obviously a parody of the real-life American company WWF, even down to its 80's like promos) from the inside--joining their training group Tiger's Den, and training until he became the top of the new rookie division and awarded the prestigious title and mask of "Tiger the Dark".   Meanwhile, Naoto was forced down a different path.  The match that let Daisuke wheelchair bound was a part of an event that pitted the fledgling gym Jipang Pro Wrestling against Global Wrestling Monopoly, and after their devastating defeat the wrestlers of the gym all left, causing it to collapse.  As Naoto was figuring out what to do next, he met Kentaro Takaoka, a former member of the Tiger's Den who decided to help him defeat them before they rose again by forcing him to undergo rigorous training, after which he was awarded the mask and title of Tiger Mask, the wrestler who originally shut down Tiger's Den.

Tying itself to the original Tiger Mask series from the late 60's/early 70's as well as utilizing some wrestlers from the real-world New Japan Pro Wrestling company, Tiger Mask W has built up a unique universe that's fun to watch as they explore and develop it further.   It's real-world connection makes me hope we see more wrestlers from NJPW, while it's connection to the original series leaves me constantly wondering how much the former series will end up affecting the current one.  All in all, I find myself thinking about this story's plot a lot more than I should a "dumb wrestling show".

Speaking OF the wrestling, while the matches have been mostly fairly short so far there's definitely been a reason: mostly they've all been INCREDIBLY brutal.  Wrestlers find themselves unceremoniously tossed on their heads onto the mat or into metal ring posts, certain wrestling moves have left limbs dislocated or broken, and my goodness the blood.  Even as someone who watches violent anime all the time, the amount of blood that finds itself into even the more comedic matches is always shocking--perhaps because in modern day real matches, blood is more often than not seen as taboo or a sign that the match has gone wrong.  (Though it wasn't always so.)

With another 34 episodes to go, I look forward to this series keeping me company throughout the Winter and Spring seasons.