#REVIEW: Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Pt. 1

First, let us be clear about a couple of of things: I could not be more squarely in the demographic this show was aimed at if I tried. I am a geeky male, born in 1976, who was seven years old when Masters of the Universe premiered in 1983. My brother and I were both hugely into the show, so much so in fact that we refused to share our toys and you therefore need to check the bottoms of their feet to see which ones my mother colored in with a black Sharpie, which indicates that they belonged to me. I still have the vast majority of them; my son played with a bunch of them while he was growing up, too.

The second thing to be clear on is that there is literally nothing you could do to or with the He-Man franchise that would anger me. Yes, these toys were a big part of my childhood; yes, there are still plenty of things that were part of my childhood that I may have Opinions on(*); He-Man is simply not one of them. I will resent the Cubs for the rest of my life for the way their baseball games used to pre-empt my He-Man cartoons but there’s not a damn thing anyone can do with the franchise now that’s going to get me sucking my teeth and muttering at them. It’s just not possible.

(It’s also worth pointing out that Netflix has already surprised me by making me a huge fan of their She-Ra series, so I would have been remiss if I skipped out on this one. The huge success of She-Ra meant that trying out Revelation was practically mandatory.)

That said: this is about as good as I could have expected a Masters of the Universe continuation to be, I think, and having watched the five-episode Part One, I find that I’m still in for Part Two. It’s hard to write in depth about this without spoiling some things, but in general, folks die, and the show in general is a hell of a lot bleaker than I remember the cartoon ever being, but for the most part it’s all still there, right down to Evil-Lyn actually continuing to insist on being called Evil-Lyn for a good chunk of her screen time. There are fanboys yammering about how the female characters, particularly Teela, Lyn and another named Andra who was supposedly in a couple of episodes but who I don’t remember, are in the show too much; those are bad people and their opinions are to be disregarded with swiftness and prejudice. My biggest complaint? Sarah Michelle Gellar voices Teela, and while I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and am firmly used to thinking of Sarah as a badass, her voice doesn’t fit her character. Teela’s drawn big, and should have a deeper, brassier voice than Sarah’s. The performance is fine with my eyes closed, but it just didn’t fit the character for me, particularly since I know Sarah’s voice so well and she’s not really trying to mask how she sounds.

Everything else? Good stuff, or at least as much as it can be given that this is Masters of the Universe we’re talking about. Tri-Klops is the main villain, as the leader of a technology … church … thing that … worships? something called Motherboard? And there’s a Holy Sprocket, because … that’s a tech word? I guess?

It’s completely fucking ridiculous, but again: MotU, so … whatever, and I did find it interesting that it set up a bit of a split between the characters who are mostly tech-focused and the magic wielders. This has always been a series where anything goes, basically, so it was kind of cool that when Eternia’s magic starts draining away the tech-focused characters step up and try to take over.

Also, I liked Orko, for the first time … ever? And I can’t believe that I’m actually typing this, but there are some character bits between him and Evil-Lyn that were actually really interesting.

Don’t pay for Netflix for this or anything, but if there was any chance you were going to watch it, follow through on that impulse.

(*) I tossed this question out on Twitter earlier today, tagging my wife: what is the most ridiculous thing that I have strong opinions about? Like, they can do whatever they want to He-Man, and I think the last decade or so has fairly adequately displayed my flexibility regarding comic books and Star Wars. Is it the DC movies? Is the murderverse the thing I get the most fanboy-irrational about? Maybe. Any other possible contenders?

#Review: Savage Bounty, by Matt Wallace

Middle novels in trilogies can be so Goddamn tricky. This is certainly true as a writer, but somewhat so as a reader and a reviewer as well. I have been super psyched to get my hands on Savage Bounty since I finished Savage Legion a little under a year ago. It jumped to the top of my TBR and I started reading it almost immediately. And I enjoyed it! I enjoyed it a lot!

I just don’t know what the hell to say about it, and I can lay that directly at the feet of it being the second novel in the series. Here’s the thing: Savage Bounty has strengths everywhere Savage Legion had strengths. The characters are fascinating and diverse. Wallace’s worldbuilding is stellar. His prose is clean and effective in a way I want to steal. I want to steal a lot of the things about this book, actually, and have I mentioned Click comes out next week, because it does!

What it doesn’t do is hang together especially effectively on its own. There are four PoV characters (three are women and one nonbinary, by the way) and none of them ever encounter each other, although two are on the same battlefield by the end of the book. The problem is, while I really enjoy these characters and want to know more about them, and I enjoyed the parts of their stories that got revealed in this book, I’m not sure Savage Bounty hangs together as a book as well as it should have. Savage Legion also told stories of characters that didn’t interact very often (moreso than this book, though) but each of them hit a crescendo at the end of the book, and while it was clear that more was coming, it definitely felt like a work in itself. Bounty definitely feels like the middle book; it feels like Wallace is moving his pieces on the map to get everything set up for the big finale, but I can see the gears moving a bit more than I want to, if that makes sense.

(It’s also a hundred pages shorter than Legion, which blows my mind and is not how these things work. We trilogy people like our doorstop books! This could have had more time to breathe, it’d have been okay!)

Now, of course, as a fantasy reader, I’m well used to trilogies; there’s realistically no chance that I’m not buying the third book in this series, and that’s no less true now than it was before I picked the second book up. And I still think Savage Legion is a stellar fucking book, and if you haven’t picked it up yet, you need to get off your butt and go do that. And as a fan of Matt’s in addition to Matt’s books I feel kinda bad that I can’t issue this one the same full-throated endorsement that I did the first book. You should still read it! It’s not like the wheels have come off the series or anything! It’s just that this is definitely the second book in a trilogy, and it has the weaknesses that lots of second books in a trilogy have. If you don’t know this series, go read Savage Legion. You’ll love it and then you will buy Savage Bounty on your own. Just don’t, like, pick this one up out of order and expect to be able to read it without reading the first one too. It’s not going to work.

#Review: Heartbreak Bay, by Rachel Caine

Under ordinary circumstances, I’d not have let Heartbreak Bay sit on my unread shelf for as long as it did. Unfortunately, as it turns out, this is Rachel Caine’s last book; she passed away from cancer last November, and this is her final new release. She does have one series that I haven’t touched yet, her fifteen-book (!!!) Morganville Vampires series, but … vampires. I am not a fan of vampires.

(I will likely get to them eventually, honestly, but not soon.)

One of Caine’s biggest strengths as an author is her ability to jump genre; the first series I encountered her through was urban fiction, and a lot of her books are tinged with the supernatural in some way, but her work has ranged from alternate history to rewriting Shakespeare to genies to zombies, and this series, which started with the absolutely superb Stillhouse Lake back in 2017, is pure contemporary adult thriller. And the series is scary as hell— the first one fucked me up something fierce, and while this one doesn’t push my Daddy Buttons as effectively as Lake did, it’s still probably the scariest thing I’ve read this year.

(And, uh, while it’s true that this book doesn’t push my buttons quite the same way as Stillhouse Lake, it does begin with an infanticide, and the story is about chasing down a serial killer, so, maybe a trigger warning is appropriate here? Probably, right?)

The story, before I forget: the series’ main character is Gwen Proctor, a mother of two who found out in the worst way imaginable that she was married to a serial killer. By the time the fifth book rolls around, her ex-husband Melvin is dead and her kids are both in high school, and she’s … well, not quite remarried, but certainly in a new stable relationship. She’s working as a PI and still occasionally fending off Internet trolls and stalkers who are either actual fans of her ex-husband or believe that she was involved in his killings and got away with them. Watching Gwen’s paranoia and sharp edges slowly get sanded off over the course of the series has really been interesting, and the character development here is excellent. The book bounces back and forth between her perspective, her partner Sam’s, and her best friend, a police officer named Kezia, as the infanticide that starts off the book turns out to have inexplicable connections to Gwen’s past, and assisting Kezia in solving the murders coincides with another spike in stalking and harassment. The whole book is effectively tense and creepy, and as is usual for one of Caine’s books I read it in a couple of big gulps. There’s not necessarily a Big Twist At the End, but there are a couple of moves the plot makes that I didn’t expect, and the ultimate villain of the story is … let’s say memorable and leave it at that. It’s good stuff, not that I didn’t know it would be before picking it up.

One thing I say a lot about reading is that I am never, ever going to get to a point where I run out of books to read. I don’t ever criticize anyone for not wanting to read anything, because we all have limited time, and while there’s not literally an unlimited number of books, as far as my human lifespan and my human amount of free time and processing ability go, there might as well be. But it’s super bittersweet to think that I’ve read a book or two a year by her since 2003 and that unless I get into this series that I suspect I’m not going to be into, there won’t be any more of them after this one. It made me put off reading it for a while, because I didn’t want to be done with Rachel Caine books and now I am. If you haven’t read Stillhouse Lake, I wouldn’t read Heartbreak Bay without working through the series, but the whole thing is worth a read, and if this has to be the last of Caine’s books I ever read, at least she went out on a high note.

#REVIEW: Black Widow

I think the best thing I can say about Black Widow is that I don’t have anything bad to say about it.

I’m pretty sure I’m about to be unfair to this movie. I’ve been burning out on the MCU lately, and Loki really didn’t help with that, and the notion that Black Widow was going to have to be … well, not a prequel, really, but set in the past at least, because Black Widow herself was killed in Endgame has always rubbed me all kinds of wrong. And I wasn’t in a hugely receptive mood for it when I sat down to watch. This usually isn’t a good sign for a movie! And yet. I mean, I have some gripes, but they’re just that– gripes; the movie itself is fine.

Good stuff:

  • The cast they’ve built around Natasha is great. David Harbour’s Russian accent is godawful and inconsistent but he is very clearly having an enormous amount of fun playing the character, and y’all probably know by now how far that can get you with me.
  • The story is pleasingly self-contained. You’ll kinda have a hard time if the phrase “Sokovia Accords” doesn’t ring any bells, but just knowing that she’s on the run from somebody because of something is probably good enough to get you through the movie. You don’t really need the details and the movie doesn’t get into the weeds with them either.
  • The main villain might be the biggest bastard we’ve seen in the MCU so far. Seriously: he’s Killgrave from Jessica Jones level, if that’s even still canon.
  • The good guys’ Big Plan at the end is also pretty good, especially since it seems to have been thrown together in something around three minutes of in-movie time.
  • The action sequences are solid, but see the next section.

Like, okay, that doesn’t sound like much? But to a certain degree it’s all you really need, right? Good actors in roles they’re well-suited for in a well-written action film that looks good and shows you some shit you’ve not seen before. That’s already a B or B+ movie, and remember I was in a bad mood watching it.

Less good:

  • I’m not sure how I feel about how the movie treated Natasha? She spends the entire film getting her ass beat and you’d think that since it’s her movie they’d give her an action sequence at least as badass as either her first appearance in Iron Man 2 or her introduction in Avengers. Sadly, that’s not the case. Again, the action sequences are pretty cool– the whole final falling-through-the-sky bit and the rescue at the prison are standouts– but she doesn’t get a moment anywhere that lets you know what a badass the character is.(*)
  • There’s a lot of unnecessary ass shots. I mean, I enjoy Scarlett Johansson’s ass as much as any other straight guy, but it was actually distracting. And the movie was directed by a woman!
  • I want more Taskmaster. I wanted more Taskmaster in this movie, and I want to see the character again. Not as much of a gripe as it could be, though.
  • There were some points where I was wondering about where she gets her money from. Like, she’s got a Guy, and this Guy seems to be able to produce whatever she wants on short notice in any country on Earth, and I feel like maybe we should have learned a little more about that guy.
  • The stinger at the end suggests that Yelena’s career went in a different direction after the events of the film than her character development during the film would imply. I’m being deliberately opaque to avoid spoilers, of course, but, c’mon, you ended the movie as this, and a few years later you’re doing that? Really?

So, yeah: I went in with a bad attitude and kinda down on the entire MCU thing and came out of it having watched a solid action movie. Call it a B, or a B+ if you are as entertained by David Harbour as I am. And the movie adds some texture to Infinity War and Endgame that wasn’t there before, which is cool. I don’t know for sure that you need to drop $30 for this on Disney+ right away, but you probably already have if you were going to, and I’m glad I didn’t go to a theater to see it, but it’s an enjoyable, competent piece of filmmaking and I enjoyed it.

(*) There’s a moment late in the film where Natasha does … uh, something to herself … that shows how impossibly tough she is, and she keeps getting up after each of the fights. She’s absolutely not portrayed as weak. But showing her toughness and a standout badass moment are not quite the same thing.

#REVIEW: Loki, Season One

The tl;dr version: I hate time travel stories, and I am so, so tired.

I keep threatening to actually review Avengers: Endgame, which I never actually did. I was hip-deep in family crisis at the time I saw the film, and the reason I’ve not written it since then is primarily because the post is going to end up being 12,000 words long, and it’s not going to be fun to write. The short version: I think that Endgame, for all of its fan service and plethora of holy shit moments, in the long run is easily the worst Marvel movie, and in a lot of ways ruined the MCU. Endgame chose the worst imaginable way to solve the story problems that Infinity War set up, and because of the choices made in that film every MCU product since that film has had to be about Endgame.

And now, every single post-Loki MCU product has to be about Loki, too. And this is not an improvement.

(I’m going to assume you’ve watched the show, but sort of talk around the details a bit? So spoiler warning, I guess.)

I’m still going to resist the urge to make this post ridiculously long. I’m supposed to be back in my training in fourteen minutes, and honestly I’m hoping to get the entire post finished before then. Let me get the positives out of the way first: the actual show itself, in a vacuum, is pretty good. Tom Hiddleston is, of course, an amazingly talented and charismatic actor, and they’ve surrounded him with a cast that doesn’t really have any weak spots. I thought the pacing for the program was great; I didn’t think there were any filler episodes (you wouldn’t think this would be possible in a six-episode season, but it is) and while it ends in a very cliffhanger fashion it definitely tells a coherent story, or at least it does once you accept that you have to have watched, like, 25 movies and two days of TV that came beforehand. Nothing in the MCU is really internally coherent any longer; you either accept that or you don’t as part of the product.

The problem that I have is that one of two things have to be true about this show, and neither are good: either I, someone who has been reading Marvel comic books for nearly four decades and is well-versed in the minutia of things like alternate timelines and multiverses, completely misunderstood what the deal was with Loki’s Time Variance Authority, or the entire concept of the Goddamn show doesn’t make a single damn drop of sense from start to finish.

It will not surprise you to learn that I am not blaming myself for this one. It’s possible that I Just Don’t Get It, but I really don’t think that’s the case. I think I understand It, to the degree that It can be understood, because the fundamental problem is that It doesn’t make any sense.

I can accept, begrudgingly, the concept that the Avengers were “supposed” to go back in time in Endgame and steal an Infinity Stone from themselves, but that Loki picking up that same Infinity Stone from where it was dropped and poofing away was not “supposed” to happen.

I cannot accept that a timeline where Loki is a fucking alligator is due to a single “variance” in a timeline, or that a variance that leads to Loki being a woman (strangely, called Sylvie; why does she have a different name from the other Lokis? No idea.) would lead to that variant Loki being culled at, like, eight. That problem definitely happened earlier than that.

This is already multiverse shit before the show creates the multiverse. A world where Loki is a Goddamned alligator is going to be different from our world in a whole lot of ways other than this one dude being an alligator. You can’t just prune the alligator and everything else is fine. And since this show happens before Infinity War or Endgame, and ends with the multiverse being created and Loki getting dumped into some other universe than the one he started in … is the MCU prime universe still the same? Did the multiverse get created before Infinity War or Endgame, or is that just another mess?

We already have Is This Person a Skrull or Not floating around as a universe-wide problem. I really don’t need Is This The Real Universe or Not dumped on top of it, especially when it’s done this sloppily.

I gotta get back to my meeting, but I think you get the idea. I’ll see Black Widow this weekend; we’ll see if that sets me off too.