Is Our Writers Learning? Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho (with spoilers)

Continuing to study urban fantasy in response to that feedback … I enjoyed Zen Cho’s BLACK WATER SISTER (cover by Tiffany Estreicher) but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with it (and didn’t like it as much as Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen). Part of that is that it’s a New Adult book: Chinese-American protagonist Jessamyn is an Ivy League graduate whose career dreams have crashed and burned (I never quite got why) so she’s moved back in with her parents. She’s also a lesbian with a girlfriend bit hasn’t come out to her folks yet. Now she’s heading back home with them to Penang in Malaysia where her father, recently recovered from cancer, is getting a job with his Chinese-Malaysian family.

Much like coming-of-age novels, the mid-twenties crisis is a turnoff for me. Things pick up as it turns out Jess is haunted by Ah Ma, the ghost of her maternal grandmother whom she never met. Ah Ma was a medium and servant of a local deity, Black Water Sister. A local big-shot developer with mob ties is planning to pave over the temple where the goddess’s altar sits; Ah Ma wants Jess to help derail this.

This, of course, proves much harder and more dangerous than it looks. The developer has no qualms about having obstacles like Jess rubbed out. Ah Ma is a nasty piece of work, a criminal in life herself, with no qualms about using her granddaughter. Jess has medium abilities herself and Black Water Sister wants Jess as her new high priestess (not how they phrase it in Malaysia, but that’s the concept).  And Jess’s girlfriend is convinced by Jess’s sudden lack of communication and reluctance to leave her parents that it’s all over.

The Malaysian elements are absolutely fascinating, particularly the rhythm of people’s speech. I really like Jess’s parents as characters: a lot of first-generation Americans get stock types for parents (traditionalist mother, affable father) but this couple feel like individuals, not generic. The developer’s son is a good character too, a seemingly nice guy but not strong enough to be genuinely nice when Daddy needs him.

On the negative side, Jess’s girlfriend is virtually a cipher, much less fleshed out than the parents. Jess herself is too passive, either threatened by the bad guys or used as a tool of Ah Ma and Black Water Sister. There’s one point where she forces a meeting with the developer that she shows some drive to control her own fate, otherwise she just keeps telling Ah Ma “no” while slowly wearing down. Black Water Sister’s fate — free her from the trauma she carried over from when she was a mortal — is a stock ghost-story trope and it left me unsatisfied. So did the ending in which Jess finally decides to out herself to her parents, but we don’t see their reaction. I get the point — the book starts with Jess completely adrift and ends with her finding direction — but I really hoped her parents would be able to deal and I’m disappointed not to know.

What I learned: This novel doesn’t start with much at stake, but it makes up for it by Jess’s emotional state. She’s frustrated, full of doubt, thrown into a culture she doesn’t know (her parents left Malaysia when she was very small) and generally miserable. Which is certainly true of Maria in Southern Discomfort (she’s also pushed around but tries harder than Jess to get away), but she doesn’t come in until Chapter Two. I’ve considered making that the start, but I’m not sure the novel would work without the backstory and the relationships established in Chapter One. I’ll think about it again, though.

Then there’s Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The opening has some life-and-death stuff going on, but then it slows down quite a bit, as some of my writing group have pointed out when I read parts of it. As it isn’t finished yet, this may be easier to fix than to rewrite Southern Discomfort.

So a useful read, and, overall, a good one despite the bits I didn’t like.

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Links about science and tech, plus some paperback covers

When coming up with new ideas or solutions we think of adding features and increasing complexity — not enough about simplifying.

The wheelie suitcase is such a great idea, but gender stereotypes — men don’t need no stinking wheels and women will always have a man handy to do the lifting — meant it took decades to become a thing.

I’ve never seen Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, but it’s still startling to realize global warming could destroy it this century.

Last month I reviewed Weapons of Math Destruction, about how relying on AIs doesn’t make us rise above human failings. Here’s one example, how reliance on AI to parcel out funding for the sick took away needed care. This article, however, argues that broader fears of AI taking over are wildly incorrect.

In a related topic, companies and government officials say electronic visit-verification apps prevent fraud and waste in government funded homecare programs. Instead they just make it harder to get paid.

Microbes could produce 10 times the food as plants, at little environmental cost.

Anti-vxxers are continuing to spread anti-science.

Social science: why are competitors on The Price is Right game show worse than the last century’s players?

“There’s a bias in our culture towards assuming that the written word is by definition enduring. We quote remarks made centuries ago often because someone wrote them down – and kept the copies safe. But in digital form, the written word is little more than a projection of light onto a screen.” — the BBC on the problem of lost digital information.

Hospital are making increasing use of medical chatbots. The article looks at what they can and can’t do.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t alive to participate in a new documentary about him. Bourdain’s wife isn’t happy the director’s solutin was to deepfake his voice.

As the sixth great extinction continues, a UN plan proposes to cut the extinction rate by a factor of 10.

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Total depravity in the United States

Not what it sounds like. Slacktivist, some years ago, explained that in Calvinist thought, total depravity means everything is corrupted by original sin. This is different from utter depravity, the belief that we are rotten all the way through. We’re not; there’s good in us everywhere along with our dark side. But the dark side is there, much as some people want to deny it.

For example, Traverse City in Michigan. The Washington Post reports kids in school toss around the n-word as an insult and recently held a mock online slave auction. Nevertheless, many of the white adults are adamant there’s no racism in their town.

Since 2015, nooses have shown up at multiple construction projects throughout the U.S.

There’s now a shadow industry devoted to spreading disinformation online.

“We are not the only democracy to have had a corrupt, would-be authoritarian in high office. But we have had a hard time holding that person minimally accountable, much less keeping him out of contention for future office”

QAnon convinced the father of a Parkland shooting survivor that Parkland was a false flag.

“I promised myself to never love a job again. Not in the way I loved Google.” — a software engineer who filed a harassment complaint and discovered Google didn’t return her love like she thought.

Nashville pastor Greg Locke claims the Trump Virus is a hoax and bears false witness against his neighbor.

“I believe had they done so or had they accomplished that, they would have trampled us to death,” — one officer’s testimony about the Jan. 6 anti-American mob. But the new talking point on the right is, the terrorists couldn’t have succeeded in overturning the election, so no big, right?

Toyota has a vested interest in supporting supporters of the Jan. 6 attempted coup — their bottom line.

Even back in the 1950, there were some Republicans who thought the Democratic plan to provide polio vaccine for free was socialism.

Colleges’ core revenue increased from $280 billion to $511 billion between 2009 and 2019, according to LGM. By a strange coincidence, college presidents and administrators have seen a big increase in pay while faculty get next to nothing.

Taking wolves of the endangered species list wasn’t the worst thing Donald Trump did. But given the irrational hatred many rural folk harbor for wolves (check out the book Wolf Wars for details), the opportunity to butcher them is proving irresistible.

During the Clinton impeachment trial, I read and believed articles that said Ken Starr’s pursuit of Clinton was partly because he was an old-fashioned moralist, shocked at Clinton’s adultery. His record says otherwise.

Right-wing pundit Michael Medved wants us to know that even though many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, they were totally opposed to slavery.

Mario Batali, super-star chef and restaurateur, built a company rife with sexual harassment.

If the FBI did in fact entrap the defendants in the Governor Whitmer kidnapping case, that would be extremely unjust. At this point I have no opinion on who’s in the right.

Journalist David Neiwert has argued that Rush Limbaugh pumped far-right rhetoric into the mainstream by toning down the worst parts (e.g., far-right attacks on the government rather than the “Zionist-occupied” government). It’s still a popular right-wing tactic online.

The United States treats rebels and revolutionaries differently depending whether they challenge or support the existing social hierarchies.

I am not at all shocked that the Arizona “audit” of the votes was not only full of shit, it was full of sexual harassment.

I am not at all shocked that right-wingers are declaring Simone Biles is weak, but I am disgusted.

Even when the government makes aid available it’s damn hard to get it, except for rich people.

The prison system has allowed Larry Nassar to spend thousands of dollars on himself while he sends a pittance to his victims.

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Jetpacks, Hulk and Supergirl: books read

As a kid, it seemed as inevitable we’d be flying to work on jetpacks by the 21st century, just like we’d have a lunar colony. Thus I was thrilled to order JETPACK DREAMS: One Man’s Up and Down Search (But Mostly Down) For the Greatest Invention That Never Was by Mac Montandon … and much less thrilled to read it. While this covers the history of jetpack as real-world tech adequately enough, along with appearance in TV, comics and movies from Gilligan’s Island to Thunderball to The Rocketeer, Montandon devotes far too much of the book to talking about himself.  How it was inspired by a mid-thirties crisis, his family’s experiences at a jet pack convention, his road trips to talk to jet-pack designers (people are still hopeful) …

This works in a book like Catch and Kill where the work to get the story becomes part of the story, but here it’s just tedious. And he makes one sloppy error, referring EE Smith’s The Skylark of Space as a person, not a spaceship (minor in the context of this topic, but still annoying). I wish he’d written more about the problems with jetpacks — while he covers the big ones (a pack with enough fuel for a long flight is heavy), one former pilot mentions in passing the problems with avoiding mid-air collisions — more on that would have helped. As is, a pretty feeble book that I’ll give away soon (not the first time I’ve regretted an impulse purchase).

IMMORTAL HULK: Or Is He Both? by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett opens some time after Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner in a crossover event (unlike so many TPBs that leave me guessing about this stuff, the ending includes the relevant backstory); now he’s somehow alive, wandering the country and trying to only hulk out when there’s someone who needs smashing. But there are things about the Hulk that Bruce has never fully understood, like the reasons he can never die forever …

When I read V3 of this run I wasn’t impressed, but V8 worked a lot better for me, so I decided to start from the beginning. Ewing says he grew up with the Hulk cartoon of the 1980s and was quite stunned to read a collection of the first Hulk series and realize Hulk could also be a figure of horror. While most reviews describe the book as horror, as I said reading Hulk in Hell, it’s not that different from the stuff superheroes deal with on a regular basis. But it’s well done, even though I’m not a Hulk fan, so I’ll continue with the series.

SUPERGIRL: Daughter of New Krypton by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle is a good example of not providing context: this is part of a big Superman event involving New Krypton (the Kryptonian survivors had set up a new planet in our Solar System) and several key events take place between the issues collected here. On the plus side, Gates writes a good Supergirl, decent but still a little insecure, and unsure how to balance her Kryptonian and human lives. Unfortunately  it didn’t take as DC’s kept rebooting Supergirl over and over (they did that pre-Crisis too, but only to the extent of changing her job, her supporting cast, etc.). I haven’t seen a better take since Gates’, though.

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A speedster, a trickster and superhero girls! Movies and TV

Wow, this season of the CW’s FLASH was really disappointing. It started off well with Team Flash wrapping up last season’s battle against the female Mirror Master despite Barry losing his speed. Then we launch into the main plot of the season and things tanked.

It turns out that in reviving the Speed Force, Barry also created the Strong, Sage and Still forces, all of which have hostile avatars. A minor flaw is that the names make no sense: the avatar Psych makes people face their worst fear, which hardly fits “sage” and “still” for a Time Force (because he can stop time and make things still, get it?) isn’t much better. A bigger problem is that the arc never really had any juice. Neither did the B-plots. Kramer (Carmen Moore), a hardline anti-meta cop, brings in Killer Frost despite her having reformed. The show makes a big deal about Frost getting a life sentence, but a couple of episodes later she performs some heroics and presto, out of jail.

The final plotline, with an army of Godspeed clones terrorizing the city, might have worked if it had space to breathe (due to the pandemic, this was a truncated season). Then again, Karan Obaroi as Godspeed simply can’t pull off megalomaniacal rants about his absolute power the way Tom Cavanaugh as Thawne can; I honestly don’t care what’s going through Godspeed’s head, as he’s a pale clone of the comics’ Savitar. The final battle with Godspeed, Thawne and Flash using light-sabers made out of Speed Force is just silly. And Cisco’s replacement Chester (Brandon McKnight) so far doesn’t have the same sparkle. “We are here to celebrate the greatest sequel since The Empire Strikes Back!”

TRICKSTER was a 2020 Canadian show about Jared (Joel Oulette), a teenage Native American living on the “Rez,” and struggling to support his shiftless, prone-to-bad-decisions Mom (Crystle Lightning). Weird things start happening, the weirdest being that Jared’s birth father turns up (Kalani Queypo) turns up, claiming they’re both Tricksters and Jared might have inherited his powers. And Dad is far from the only supernatural force moving through Jared’s life … I enjoyed this, though I wasn’t hooked on it. However the reveal the show runner had lied about having Native American ancestry seems to have made the show toxic; it ended after six episodes and nobody’s picking it up. “The purpose of life isn’t to share it with someone — the purpose of life is simply to survive.”

DC SUPERHERO GIRLS is a series of animated web shorts that has also broadened into graphic novels and some movie-length toons. In Intergalactic Games (2017), Superhero High hosts an interplanetary athletic contest against the snotty students of Sinestro’s Korugar Academy (Blackfire, Lobo and Maxima among them) only to have the Female Furies of the Apokalips Magnet School demand a seat at the table. A further complication is high school IT tech Lena Thurol’s desire to go on an anti-meta crusade (“I’ve tried everything to be one of you — radiation, chemical baths, mutation drugs — none of it worked!”). Suffers from having a bland set of voices compared to the Dini/Timm films, but still fun. “We Female Furies called earworms ‘ear snakes’ — because better you be bit by a snake than Granny catch you singing!”

Legends of Atlantis (2018) has dimensional exiles Mera and her sister Siren stealing a Mystical McGuffin from the school that Siren assures Mera will let them make a home in Atlantis — but leaves out that it will also let Siren conquer the world. As a result Wonder Woman has to face her worst fear, Supergirl and Batgirl switch powers and skill sets and Harley tries convincing new student Raven to have faith in herself. “May I be excused from class so that I can draw up a plan for keeping this book from falling into evil hands and contributing to our total destruction?”

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Another productive week without craziness

—So a good week, but not terribly exciting to write about. Next week I have a root canal and an unrelated doctor’s appointment so that may change.

I wrapped up my Leaf writing for July on Monday.

To my pleasant surprise I finished the last chapter and the afterword of Undead Sexist Cliches. In my head, I’m tentatively setting a publication date in early November, which allows me to think about publicity and promotion and stuff (more on this later). Of course, I have a shit-ton to do on Alien Visitors which has a firm deadline at the end of October, so I still wonder if it’s possible. But if I commit, I’ll have to deliver.

Speaking of Alien Visitors, I did a thorough rewrite on the introduction and a good second draft of the chapter on alien invaders (focus: the George Pal and Spielberg War of the Worlds). Being able to look at them and say that yes, people will actually find this interesting, is a huge booster. Much to do yet, though.

And of course, I watched movies and TV for the book. Memorably, but not pleasurably the Day the Earth Stood Still knockoff Cosmic Man (1959) –— which is still more watchable than the Keanu Reaves remake of Day. And then Atomic Submarine (1960)I suffer for my art.

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Photos of food, before I ate it

So last Saturday, TYG and I went out to lunch at Ted Turner’s Montana Grill. It’s the first time either of us has had French fries in over a year.It’s also the first time in over a year that we’ve had a chain restaurant maximal calorie dessert, the kahlua chocolate brownie.Okay, that one was partially eaten when I photographed it.

Very enjoyable but in hindsight we should have split the dessert.

Fingers crossed the Delta variant and anti-vaxxing won’t end up cutting short our opportunity to do more of this.

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The Republicans have an edge in branding

I’ve often thought Republicans have an advantage in the media because their brand is known to be “shitty, bigoted authoritarians.” Democrats, by contrast, are supposed to be decent people. When Republicans act like scum, there’s a sense of shrug; when Democrats do it, there’s a sense of shock. We’re supposed to govern well, and clean up the mess Republicans make when they have power.

Republicans want to discriminate against gay? Well, of course. But stories about Trump supporter Alan Dershowitz not getting invited to parties or liberals saying they won’t date conservatives? Then suddenly intolerance is a big issue. If anyone on a Biden task force had suggested letting the Trump virus flourish in red states for political gain, it would be front page news. That someone on Jared’s task force proposed it? Hey, they’re Republicans, what do you expect?

Columbia Journalism Review makes the same point discussing coverage of the Jan. 6 commission. Republicans refused to cooperate unless coup-supporters such as Jim Jordan and Jim Banks were on it. Pelosi wisely shut that down, which the media portrayed as a Dem failure: Pelosi has doomed the chance the commission will accomplish anything (as if having two anti-American extremists on the commission would fix that). The article concludes that “‘Republican bad faith… is just a feature of the landscape,’ whereas a given Democrat is ‘an actor with agency, and subject to scrutiny.'” Republicans gonna Republican, that’s just the way it is.

Likewise the right-wing would pillory any Democrat who didn’t Rah Team for our Olympic competitors. We won’t see the same outrage against the Newsmax host who’s happy America’s losing. No surprise: I remember during football season last year, a bunch of FB posts said we should tune out football so we didn’t have to see players supporting Black Lives Matter.

That said, let’s look at what the American Hating Party has been up to:

Pro-coup Sen. Josh Hawley, meanwhile, has introduced a bill that bans federal funding for schools that teach the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were “the product of white supremacy and racism.” Just because the Constitution said Congress couldn’t ban the slave trade until 1808 and introduced the three-fifths clause to preserve the slave power I can’t see any reason to think slavery played a role in our founding. Comrade Hawley, as I’ve said before, would have fit well in the old USSR.

Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers wants us to know that “I like Indians and I like Redskins. I like Aunt Jemima and I like Uncle Ben. I like Robert E Lee and I like Stonewall Jackson. I don’t like traitors who hate America. Stand up for our culture!” Nothing says hating traitors like supporting the Confederacy — and she’s also a big supporter of stealing the White House from Biden.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is suing Pelosi because mask mandates are segregation. By amazing coincidence, the website her tweet links to is a fund-raiser for her. It’s part of the proud right-wing tradition of grift.

Rep. Elise Stefanik isn’t as batshit as Greene. But these days even mainstream Republicans blame Pelosi for Jan. 6.

And these days, Candace Owens is in the Republican mainstream by suing because Facebook fact-checked her Covid posts and said they were wrong.

If colleges provide medication abortions (which is currently legal), a Republican bill would strip their federal funding.

Trump wishes he’d lowered the flag for Ashli Babbitt, dead anti-American militant. Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde says the Jan. 6 mob were just tourists. And Tucker Carlson, of course, thinks cops traumatized by the attack are just big babies.

Matt Gaetz’s fiancee’s sister says he’s creepy as hell.

 

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The shape of Things to come

For my ET monster chapter, I think I’m going to go with 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982) and the 2011 prequel that mashes them both together.

The seed of them all, of course, is John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” This opens with a crew of scientists at an Antarctic research base debating whether to defrost an alien body they’ve found in the ice (Alec Nevala-Lee later unearthed an earlier draft that starts with the discovery of the ship). They’re confident the alien can’t still be alive, but they’re wrong. Now they have a shapeshifting creature lurking among them, able to kill and replace any of their sled dogs or themselves. If it escapes, it can populate the world with itself, much as Jack Finney’s pod people). Can they find the duplicates first?

This is part of a long print tradition pitting humans against a superhuman alien threat. It was a nail-biting thriller the first time I read it and would probably be again if I wasn’t thinking critically foremost. I can’t help noticing its very heavy on dialog, much more than action or even movement — like the recap of the opening discovery, it’s more people talking about what’s happening than it actually happening. It has a larger cast than the movie adaptations, but there’s logic to that; more people means Campbell can have a high body count and lots of takeovers and still end up in a better place than the end of the 1982 film. The story is also an excellent example of the Othering I’ve noticed in alien invasion movies. There’s no suggestion the alien might be reasoned with or negotiated with. Just looking at its face convinces most of the scientists it’s innately evil. All of that said, let’s move on to the movies —

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is an alien invasion movie, a horror film (it will probably go in my Monsters chapter) and a story of tough guys fighting alone and under pressure, a staple set-up for producer Howard Hawks (while Christian Nyby got the director credit, multiple accounts credit Hawks as the guiding hand). There’s constant banter and crackling dialog (I disagree with Nevala-Lee that the film is mostly “a series of images“), and a woman, Nicky (Margaret Sheridan) who can hold her own with the men. She isn’t the screamer of the poster though she doesn’t get much to do in the struggle.

USAF Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew fly up from Anchorage to help out Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) whose science team have discovered a flying saucer that recently crashed in the Arctic ice. Attempting to melt the ice with thermite destroys the metal of the ship, but it turns out the pilot ejected before the crash. Trapped in a block of ice, he gets taken into the lab — and due to an error, the ice melts. The creature is loose. Can Hendry and his men stop it? Can he and Nicky get over their really disastrous first date?

Rather than a shapeshifter, the monster is just a Frankensteinian-looking James Arness. He’s an intelligent plant (“You sound like you’re describing a super-carrot.”) who feeds on mammal blood. His plan is apparently (he never actually talks) to use blood of living creatures to grow seeds and colonize Earth. He shows little concern for humans; as Carrington puts it, he’s no more interested in a dialogue with us than we’d have a discussion with a cabbage.

Despite that insight, Carrington comes off a nasty piece of work. Like Zellerbee in Village of the Damned, he respects the alien’s superior intellect and doesn’t want it harmed. Unlike Zellerbee and similar movie scientists, he actively undercuts the fight, interfering with some of the men’s efforts and providing blood to grow new seedling Things. He’s often been interpreted as Communist figure (ruthless, emotionless, threatening the good people of the world). However, as Keep Watching the Skies points out, the military high brass take the same view that Hendry should avoid hurting the alien. The cluelessness of military higher-ups is a running gag; it’s the people on the front lines who see things clearly (a right-wing film by Peter Biskind’s standards). The film is tense, scary and deserves its rep as a classic  (I’m amazed the best DVD I could find isn’t full of special features). “I doubt the thing can die as we understand dying.”

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982) harks back to Campbell’s original by making the monster a shapeshifter. We open with a husky fleeing a Norwegian Antarctic base, a Norwegian following, trying to kill it from a chopper, only to crash and die. By the time the American base — where staff include Kurt Russell, Donald Moffatt and Wilford Bromley — realize what they’re dealing with its too late: any one of them could have been infected and transformed. Who’s who? Can they figure it out before the monster gets away and infects civilization?

This got a resounding critical slapdown when it first appeared: gory and graphic (the transformation scenes, probably influenced by Alien, are pretty gross), the men’s casual drug use, the fact it’s an all-male cast. Forty years later, it’s become a classic; as Nevala-Lee says, it’s probably better known than the Campbell story. While I prefer the Hawks, the 1982 movie is a solid horror film though it suffers the common logic gaps of the genre. There’s no real attempt to watch each other and ensure they’re not turned, nor do they try grilling each other for memory gaps (maybe the Thing duplicates memories, but they don’t even try). That said, I think Carpenter, a big fan of the original, did a good job. “The chameleon strikes in the dark.”

THE THING (2011) is an attempt to hybridize the two films by remaking the Hawks version and setting it up as a prequel to the Carpenter. Scientist Mary Elizabeth Winstead travels to the Norwegian base where they’ve discovered a ship in the ice, and the ice-preserved body of the pilot. Once again it thaws out; once again a scientist suggests they keep it alive, even as it’s killing them, but now there’s the added possibility it could be any one of them.

This one didn’t work for me at all. It has none of the wit and rough humor of the Hawks version, nor the horror of the Carpenter, even with louder, more graphic F/X. It doesn’t help that we know how it’s going to end, but they fudge even that — Winstead survives almost to the end but we never actually see the Thing take her down. My biggest take away is how determined Hollywood is to keep mining its intellectual property over and over (pre-pandemic, there was talk of remaking the Carpenter version). As I mentioned five years ago, it’s true Hollywood has always been into remakes, and it’s also been into series, but it’s much worse now. Strip-mining old movies is both safe (they’re a known property) and economical (why buy something new when you already have the rights to something old?). Of course the box-office flop of this film shows remakes/prequels/reboots aren’t a sure thing, but I doubt that will shatter the paradigm.  “This may be the first and only time Earth has been visited by an alien life form.”

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Wonder Woman: The first year of William Messner-Loebs

Following the end of George Perez’ acclaimed run on Wonder Woman, William Messner-Loebs stepped in and wrote the book from #63 through 100. I remember this as a great stretch, and the first ten issues, through #72, live up to my memory. This run stays true to Perez version — ambassador of peace, warrior when necessary — but WML adds his own touches.

The run kicked off with a Special issue (cover by Jill Thompson), in which Diana learns the Cheetah has been taken prisoner by the sinister dictator of a small European nation. Never mind that Barbara Minerva’s a mortal enemy, when a woman’s in trouble, Wonder Woman’s going to act. She recruits Deathstroke and Indelicato (who grumbles throughout that he’s nothing but a fifth wheel next to them). It turns out the dictator is an occultist who likes sacrificing women to his dark lord, and Diana works just as well as Dr. Minerva.

While by-the-numbers at times (Wonder Woman locking horns with Deathstroke over his ends-justify-means approach), this was a fun kick off. Diana shows a greater sense of humor than during the Perez run and a love for excitement; she enjoys combat as part of that, but not as the enthusiastic killer she’s been written as more recently. For the first time since the reboot, she adopts Diana Prince as a secret identity, courtesy of Proteus: here he’s the spirit who provides the mortal avatars for the Olympians, who never really manifest here (“If they’d really stepped foot on Earth, it would be a cinder.”). Which is a good idea, but doesn’t at all fit the portrayal of the mythological gods in DC or Marvel.

Then comes a one-shot in which Diana goes looking for a little girl abducted by her father and taken into Boston’s most crime-ridden neighborhood. Indelicato thinks she’s just too naive to cope with the harshness of street-level violence, but he is, of course, wrong. Next WML launches the first big arc. Thomas Asquith, a Boston Brahmin once famous as the White Magician, offers to help Diana rescue Tasha, a Russian cosmonaut trapped in space. Asquith, however, has a hidden agenda and Diana winds up drifting in space with Tasha. She manages to jury-rig the engines of Tasha’s ship — she can’t get them home but she steers them to a distant planet, laughing in excitement as she holds the ship together (which makes her as much an adrenalin junkie as Doc Savage).

They end up shackled on a slave planet, as on Brian Bolland’s cover. Women of multiple different species and worlds are in chains with them; while Diana could break free and take Tasha with them, she’s not about to leave other women in that position. She carefully hides her power until she’s ready, then launches the resistance. Even that’s not enough — taking her fellow ex-slaves into space, she begins to wage war on the empire itself.

When everything is over, even if the peace is tenuous, Diana finds a way for herself and Tasha to make it home. Unfortunately after months away, everything’s changed. Julia’s rented out her room. Worse, the Amazons have once again vanished. This leads Diana to ponder the Amazons origin, with WML working a few changes on Perez’ reboot (cover again by Bolland). The Amazons are not the Amazons of myth — those are apparently just a myth — but took their name in kinship. Hercules captures the Amazons briefly and there’s no suggestion of rape as there was in Perez’ retelling. And rather than Hippolyta being pregnant when she died (he Amazons are the reincarnated spirits of women murdered by  men over the centuries), Diana’s spirit is that of Diana Trevor’s (Steve’s mother, who died fighting alongside the Amazons after crashing on Themyscira) unborn child — she and Steve are literally siblings.

With the Amazons gone, what happens next? Would you believe the world’s mightiest woman goes to work as a wage slave at Taco Bell? Details when I’ve read a few more.

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