I read a manga!

I’ve said this before— the clearest line of distinction between people who are very late Gen Xers and people who are very old Millennials is Pokémon. If Pokémon played a role in your childhood (or a role in the childhoods of people your age) chances are you’re a Millennial. If you made it to college without ever having heard of Pikachu, you’re Gen X. Along with this comes the idea of being into manga. I can assure you that I was into every nerdy hobby available in the Midwest in the 1990s and I never even heard the word “manga” despite being deeply into Western comic books. It just wasn’t a thing over here yet. Anime, much the same. And while I’ve had plenty of opportunities, I’ve never really gotten into either. Something about the style of most anime (and the weirdly wordy way Japanese seems to translate into English a lot of the time) has always just sort of repelled me, and I’ve never had a good explanation for why I don’t like the stuff, I just don’t.

I bought the collected edition of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki earlier this week for no clear reason– like, I learned it existed and that it was “horror manga” and I bought it, and I’m not sure why– and I seem to have broken that streak finally, to the point where last night I ordered the collected editions of this dude’s other two series. Or, at least, two of his other series? I’m not sure how much he’s actually done. Uzumaki is kinda random and goofy in parts but it’s creepy as hell throughout, and it reminds me of Scary Stories to Read in the Dark in the absolute best way possible and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The idea– and this is kind of a “roll with it” scenario– is that a town is cursed, and the curse manifests itself in spirals. The first eight or ten chapters are all standalone, where some character or another is affected by the spiral psychosis in some way, and then everything knits itself together very satisfyingly over the last several chapters. The whole thing is six hundred pages plus, so it’s pretty beefy, and it’s big enough that the art has space to shine and for all that it’s a quick read anyway. If you’re a manga person you’ve probably already encountered this, but if you’re not and you want an entry point in the genre, this one roped me in, so give it a look.


I didn’t post yesterday, breaking a 200-plus day streak. Why? No good reason, I just didn’t feel like it, and after a while I get tired of the ceaseless WordPress notifications that I’ve blogged X days in a row. My cold isn’t quite gone yet although today was better, so hopefully this will be gone in the next day or two. We’ll see.

FINALLY

I have been so, so down on the Marvel Cinematic Universe lately, but there are still a couple of projects coming that I’m genuinely excited about: specifically, the Disney+ series for Moon Knight, She-Hulk, and, of course, Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is one of my favorite comic book characters– there are two of her on my desk– and while they appear to have made some substantial changes to her powers and her origin for what mostly seem like reasonable reasons, the core of the character seems to be there. That “I’m a superhero!” dorky running away moment at the end there? That’s Kamala Khan. I don’t mind the look, at least, of the crystalline new power set, although I do hope they find some way to make her powers intrinsic to her and not something that’s triggered by those bracelets she puts on in one shot. I don’t have a problem with making her not an Inhuman, since the Inhumans are dumb not part of the MCU yet anyway, but I don’t want her powers to be part of her costume. Make ’em sparkly, whatever; she’s gonna be tricky for TV budgets anyway. Just make them her powers and make her her and I’m on board.

(I can– and have— bitch for hours about how the movies have fucked up Superman and Batman. I really don’t have any of those moments yet for Marvel characters. Once they got Tony Stark and Captain America perfect, I knew the characters were going to be in good hands, and I’ve not seen reason to back off on that initial assessment.)

Just … please, please, please, can we get through this series without the word “multiverse”?

#REVIEW: Peacemaker, Season One

So. Um.

I gotta admit; I’m really surprised to be writing any of this. I’ve seen … four James Gunn projects, I think? The two Guardians of the Galaxy movies and his Suicide Squad movie, which introduced Peacemaker as a character. I understand he’s in the comic books; if I’ve ever encountered him there, I don’t recall it. Most of Gunn’s projects have landed in the same spot in my head: that was entertaining, and I’m done thinking about it now. He tends to over-rely on music to drive his emotional beats forward, which it turns out is way more annoying if you’re watching with closed captions on so that all the lyrics appear on the screen, but that’s not a huge thing and it’s literally my only general gripe about his work.

Peacemaker is the best thing he’s ever done, and it’s not close, and — and this is the part where I’m really surprised to be writing this– it’s mostly because of John Cena’s literally unbelievable, as in “I don’t believe he’s really this good,” acting talents. I don’t know much about Cena, really; I know he (used to be?) a pro wrestler but that’s not something I really follow, and he made no particular impact on me in The Suicide Squad. But his charisma and his incredibly malleable face carry this show. I think the best thing to compare him to is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool; it is so obvious that he loves playing this character that his enthusiasm is infectious and it carries through on every frame of the show that he’s in. He is not exactly surrounded by acting slouches– the only two I’m familiar with are Robert Patrick who has a grand old time playing Peacemaker’s racist-as-fuck evil supervillain father and the awesome Danielle Brooks playing Leota Adebayo, otherwise known as Amanda Waller’s daughter, but everybody is doing solid work here. Freddie Stroma, whose real name is Frederic Wilhelm C.J. Sjöström, is a particular standout as Vigilante, a character I’d be perfectly happy to see another spinoff for.

But back to Cena. He is playing a big dumb douchebag, and that’s probably being kind to the character. But he manages to play the big dumb douchebag in such a compelling fashion that not rooting for him is inconceivable, and he’s in control of himself enough that every time Peacemaker feels the slightest twitch of an emotion you pick up on it. I don’t think that I’ve ever said this about an actor before, but the ways he uses his eyes and his mouth to convey emotion are just amazing. I know that probably sounds weird, but watch the show. I swear, he’s doing something different here, and to find this performance in the middle of this violent, profane, shouty middle-school testosterone-fest of a comic book show is really something special. It’s getting to be very rare for me to make it through any kind of TV or movie nowadays; I regularly will watch an episode or two of something, proclaim it to be something I really like, and then never watch it again– so the fact that I was eagerly looking forward to watching the entire season is really worth reinforcing. If you have HBO Max, definitely check this out, and if you don’t have HBO Max, if you have any other reason to pick the service up for a month, go for it.

#REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m going to try to write this review without whining about Avengers: Endgame, which … nope, finishing that sentence would be whining about Endgame. And I’m not doing that. This is an interesting movie; it simultaneously feels more stand-alone than a lot of the MCU’s recent product and is pretty thoroughly tied into the universe, to the point where I keep rewriting this sentence because I can’t come up with a version of it that I feel makes sense. There are a lot of characters in this movie from other MCU films, several of whom we haven’t seen in a long time, and the movie actually reaches back to the MCU’s earliest films in some ways, but the bulk of the film explores a distant enough corner of the MCU that it feels like its own thing.

We finally got around to streaming it last night; we still aren’t doing movie theaters, and it just became available to stream last Friday, when we were out of town.

(stares for ten minutes)

… holy shit, I don’t want to write this.

OK, super short version: this is a good movie. Its ties to the wider MCU only annoyed me twice, both with mentions of that other movie that seems to have completely killed my desire to invest any further emotional energy into this franchise that I used to love. Simu Liu and Awkwafina (who I think I’m not supposed to approve of, but I don’t remember why?) are both delightful, and Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh are awesome. It takes a good twenty minutes before a white person gets a line, and it’s like four words long, and I think the guy who has the line is the only white person in the entire movie who ever speaks, which is super cool.

(If you’ve seen the movie, you might be thinking “what about that guy,” who I’m not naming because spoilers, and he’s not white. Look him up if you need to.)

(Okay, there are two cameos at the very end of the movie of other MCU people in the stingers. They count, I suppose.)

This movie does a lot of cool things, and moves in a lot of unexpected ways, to the point where my wife paused it at the halfway point and said, with more than a trace of awe in her voice, that she had not been able to predict even a single thing that had happened in the movie to that point, and that she had no idea where the hell it was going, which was a hell of a thing, especially for a superhero movie. It manages to be a very small, personal movie and have the main character save the world at the end, which doesn’t happen all that often.

And, like, okay, I just said I didn’t want to write the review and then wrote four paragraphs after the words “super short version,” but I can’t escape the feeling that no one really needs anyone else’s opinions on Marvel films anymore. Like, are there people out there who only watch some of these? People who saw, like, Iron Man 2 and Doctor Strange and Black Widow and that was it? Maybe watched the middle two episodes of Loki but otherwise haven’t dipped into the TV shows? You already know you’re going to see Shang-Chi, or you know you’re not going to; there’s no one out there who is going to be, like, “Oh, Luther liked the 30th Marvel movie, so I guess I’ll check it out too.”

I mean, I guess if you aren’t into superheroes but you like martial arts movies, this is worth a look? I don’t think I’d actually call it a martial arts movie despite the main character, but I thought the action was pretty damn well shot– the director has a good sense of space and you can always tell what’s going on and where everyone is relative to everyone else, and there aren’t any scenes where the action is dark and muddled so that it looks Cinematic, which is an absolute plague on moviedom. The movie looks really good, and everyone is very pretty, and ok maybe some of the CG is a little dodgy here and there– there are some lion-things that, frankly, look stuffed– but whatever. And I spent the entire movie wondering if I should have some idea who the character on the far right of that image up there was and never figured it out. But that’s the best I can do in terms of criticisms. The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and the best thing about this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and yes those are both true at once, and I’m heading back into being tired again so I’m going to bring this to a close.

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, and in observance of our ancient traditions, I close by presenting you with this:

Two unrelated things

I’ve been thinking about an Iron Man video game lately. Now, to my knowledge, there’s not one currently in development; my point is there should be, and after the huge success of the Spider-Man and Miles Morales games, I would love to see Insomniac take a whack at it. I’m watching a playthrough of the new Guardians of the Galaxy game (which I don’t currently intend to play) as well and that seems to have captured pretty well what a team-based video game ought to be.

What’s got me excited is the prospect of customizability. Imagine a game where you’re constantly unlocking or finding or inventing (call it what you want) new modes and upgrades and powers for your armor, and then give you the ability to swap those pieces out at will, then skin everything however you like so that you can use whatever classic Iron Man colors you want, from the classic red and gold to the Silver Centurion to the short-lived-but-gorgeous black and gold suit to the Superior Iron Man white suit. Ideally you’d end up with something similar to Ghost of Tsushima where there are tons of reason why you might swap out a suit or a few pieces for a specific purpose. I loved how that game never let you get comfortable with a suit of armor; some would be better for stealth, some were straight-up dueling armors, some were more suited for archery and so on. And if the character is Iron Man, someone who could literally be fighting in dozens of different environments? C’mon.

There has not, to my knowledge, been a really good game yet featuring a character who can fly. The Spider-Man games have come the closest (and yes, I have played the Xbox 360 Iron Man game from 2008) and obviously Spider-Man doesn’t actually fly but they nailed the way he moves. C’mon, y’all, make this game happen so I can play it for a thousand years.


On the way home from my dad’s house this evening it crossed my mind that I’ve been stuck at 42 followers for my YouTube channel for a minute now. I am putting a lot of work into this channel, and (and this is not just me, for the record) it is significantly more difficult to pick up followers on YouTube than any other form of social media I’m aware of, and frankly right now the only strategy I have is “make good content and wait for people to find it,” which … well, that’s certainly not a bad strategy, but what it also isn’t is fast. Ironically, I realized just after getting home that that elusive 43rd follower had found me– and, as it happens, he’d left his followers open, so I could see who he was. Typically YouTubers keep their follow lists private, so most of the time when someone follows you only know because the little number ticks up by one and you don’t get any information about who’s followed you.

And he appears to be a middle-school-aged black kid, which immediately brought up the obvious question of whether he was one of my students. And here’s the fascinating bit– I don’t think he is, but I’m not 100% sure despite the fact that he’s posted a couple of videos where his face is visible. Why am I not sure? Because I don’t really know what most of my current students look like, since they wear masks all the fucking time. Especially given how fast these kids’ faces change at this age, if the video I’m looking at is more than six months or so old it’s entirely possible that he’s one of mine and I just don’t recognize him.

Fucked-up, that.