With interest in Star Wars at one of its peaks thanks to the release of Rise of Skywalker and the success of the Disney Plus series The Mandalorian, it was only a matter of time before a humble blogger like myself dug up the long-forgotten tale of Fenn Shysa.
Who’s Fenn Shysa, you ask? Well, Mr. Shysa is one of 212 warriors whose mission of protecting the planet Mandalore got sidetracked when the Emperor commandeered those warriors to fight on his side in the Clone Wars. Only three survived, with the most senior officer, named Boba Fett, disenchanted with fighting for a cause, went into the bounty hunting business. That left the other two, Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala, heading back to Mandalore and fighting the slavers who had infested it.
They eventually ran into Princess Leia in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars #68-69 (Feb.-March 1983), who was searching for clues to whereabouts of Fett and Han Solo. The roguish Shysa was not an unappealing man, with his Irish brogue and handsome features, and he helped Leia find a clue to Solo’s location while defeating the slavers and setting back the Empire on Mandalore. It was not without its costs, however, as Tobbi Dala sacrificed himself for the cause.
Shysa later returned in the comic series post-Return of the Jedi as a member of the Alliance of Free Planets and Han Solo’s semi-serious romantic rival for Leia’s affections.
These comics are a bit pricey when it comes to originals, but interesting not just for the story, by comics veteran David Michelenie, but the art by Gene Day and Tom Palmer. Day’s breakdowns on 68 and pencils on 69 in particular were excellent and brought some real visual energy to the story.
Obviously, Shysa’s backstory for the origin of Boba Fett now clearly falls into the non-canonical Legends category, but he remains one of those memorable characters from that old Marvel run who wouldn’t be out of place getting a revamped or revival of some kind.
The Report is a good movie facing an uphill battle to find a wide audience and awards glory. The latter is pretty unlikely for anyone except for Adam Driver, who’ll be recognized far and wide for his role in Marriage Story before The Report. The former is a shame, because writer and director Scott Z. Burns does a solid job of turning pretty difficult material into a compelling narrative.
The Report dramatizes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the CIA’s use of what it called enhanced interrogation procedures and came to be more correctly labeled as torture. Driver is, as usual, terrific as lead investigator Daniel J. Jones, while Annette Bening pulls off a believable Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The cast also features a who’s who of top TV talent from the past five to ten years, including Jon Hamm, Matthew Rhys, Jennifer Morrison, Michael C. Hall, Corey Stoll and Maura Tierney. I really liked the casting of Ted Levine (best known as serial killer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs) as CIA director John Brennan.
Technically, it’s a very well done movie of the story everyone says they wish there were more of. It’s well-written, well-cast, well acted and effectively evokes both the grit and grime of anonymous black sites with both slick and merely functional bureaucratic settings. It lacks the melodramatic sweep that made, for example, Oliver Stone’s awesome JFK a riveting tale of investigation and government corruption, but it also sticks to a much more conventional version of the truth.
The movie covers material that ranges from recreations of some of the most egregious and offensive acts committed by American government officials in the name of protecting the nation from the next 9/11 to committee meetings and detailed and excited discussions in a sealed subterranean investigation room. This is Driver’s movie and he makes Jones a surprisingly likable bureaucratic protagonist fighting to get the story both correct and out to the public.
The real problem the movie has is a dramatic one. Yes, the material uncovered by the report is dramatic and shocking. But the report also came and went in real life, without making the impact on policy that it warrants. Which raises another problem in terms of seeking a wider audience as it plays so neatly into the extremely polarized political divisions of American society that there’s no way it could change anyone’s mind. Its portrayal of Democrats as the good guys and the Republicans as willingly and completely complicit is only countered by a few jabs at former President Obama and his desire to avoid extreme and impractical political battles. It ends up portraying Jones’ dive into the truth as impotent — in the end, it doesn’t matter that he’s right, that he’s documented horrible things. He never had a chance to spark change.
And The Report meets the same fate. Driver makes it worth a watch, and it is smart and intelligent — it’s just a question of how many people really want that.
I have strong memories of seeing this teaser trailer playing many times in late 1988 and early 1989 at the Gallagher Theater in the Student Union at the University of Arizona. It was the first time I recall hearing of people paying full admission to a theater just to see the trailer.
(Side note: When I was a kid, we called these previews, not trailers. I know why they're called trailers, as they used to run after the movie back in the old, old days. But why we still call them trailers when previews makes more sense eludes me. I can't even remember when the term trailer came back into fashion.)
I was not yet much of a DC or Batman reader at that time, and therefore only tangentially aware of the controversy around casting Michael Keaton. So this trailer was really the first look anyone had at this movie and it sold it completely and totally.
The importance this movie had at the time for comics is easy to underestimate in this day and age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there was a time in the 1980s when comics fans knew the medium was full of storytelling gold while the general public still thought of comics as kid stuff and the Biff! Pow! Sock! of the Adam West series defined the idea of comic book adaptations. This was going to be the movie that got comics noticed! That proved to the world that they weren't just kid stuff! And then everyone would flock to comics shops to get in on the hobby, making all those collectible issues the die-hards had been hoarding for years worth a literal fortune!
Some of that came true, some of it didn't. But I still think this is one of the best uses of a teaser trailer in modern movie history.
Mr. and Mrs. X is something rarely seen in the X-Men universe: a romance comic. (X-Force: Sex and Violence doesn’t count in my book, but Pryde & Wisdom I would say does.) The execution doesn’t always live up to the hype here, but at it does have its charms.
scripts on issue #s 1-8 are good, but I don’t think she’s doing enough to play
up the personalities of Rogue and Gambit and give them some way to spark off of
each other. The Rogue and Gambit miniseries that preceded this one was better in
Plus, the use of a
power dampener collar on Rogue so that she can touch and be touched by Gambit —
a necessity for newlyweds — really undercuts the forbidden nature of their
attraction that made their relationship so interesting. “Solving”
Rogue’s major problem like this feels like a cheat.
As for Gambit, he’s
lost a bit too much of his scoundrel quotient here. He should be more trouble,
one step ahead of everyone (at least he should think so).
I love the covers.
It’s Terry and Rachel Dodson, so of course they’re terrific.
The interior art is by Oscar Bazaldua is solid, but he tends to use the same facial expression over and over for Rogue — and it’s one that doesn’t really look like the way she’s been drawn over the past 38 years.
A little editing
would help too. Wasting panels and pages for setup shots is a writer and artist
issue that’s too common in comics — stop trying to be a movie, folks.
Bobby Drake has always been a bland character, all the way back to 1963’s X-Men #1. But, boy howdy, there’s been no shortage of writers who’ve tried to rectify that, with often strange results. Roy Thomas sent him off in suit with his pal Beast to haunt 1960s coffee shops full of beat poets and pretty girls. Chris Claremont sent him off to college to study accounting, not even bringing him back into the X-Men fold for the death of Phoenix in X-Men #137. Louise Simonson gave him a bunch of girlfriends in X-Factor, including Opal Tanaka, which began the first of many plots about how much of a bigot Bobby’s father was. And Scott Lobdell amped up his powers, had his body taken over by Emma Frost, and then gave Bobby’s dad redemption when he was nearly killed by the Friends of Humanity.
But nothing’s raised Iceman’s profile as much as Brian Michael Bendis revealing Iceman to be gay in 2015’s All-New X-Men #40.
That brings us to Iceman #1 and #3, part of a five-issue series following up the 11-issue 2017 run, both from writer Sina Grace and both focusing on Bobby sort of learning to live life as a gay man who’s also a superhero. The problem with these stories is they’re way too on-the-nose. You can almost line up the expected plots and watch them get knocked down one by one: How does Bobby find a date? How does he introduce his boyfriend to his parents? Does he move out west to be with his new beau? Of course, there’s some superheroing in the mix, but the focus is clearly on the personal drama, which unfortunately reads like Bobby’s got a new job and has to figure out where the lunch room is.
Issue #3 offers a bit of fun in that it brings in the amazing friends of long-ago Saturday mornings: Firestar and Spider-Man. There’s a superhero thing to do, but it’s more about the three friends all dealing with the dates they’re on when the villain attacks. Maybe it’s just me, but everyone is so interested in getting along that none of the characters feels like a real person. The art is okay, but stiff — it feels like something a fill-in artist would have done in the 1980s.
If Marvel’s going to
stick with Iceman being gay, it needs to come up with better stories that don’t
hinge just on the fact that he’s gay. While I know there are fans who will eat
this up right now as being very in the moment, it’s too one-dimensional to be
remembered for any thing but that.
Domino never stood out as character worthy of her own series, but Gail Simone has changed my mind after reading Domino #1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and Annual #1.
Most of the Simone-scripted comics I’ve read were from DC; I’ve never really read her Marvel work, and it’s clear from this she’s a much better fit at the House of Ideas. I actually want to read more about this character, whose previous most memorable comic book moments involved her being Cable’s sidekick in the early days of X-Force and the unfortunate X-Force: Sex and Violence miniseries, for the final scene in issue 3 involving Domino agreeing to give Wolverine a blow job after they successfully saved the day. (Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.)
Here, Domino is much more interesting: she gets a dog, goes on missions with her pals Diamondback (formerly a villain in the Mark Gruenwald run of Captain America in the 1980s) and Outlaw, who’s so much of a hoot that I’m amazed I missed her completely until now.
Together, these women are fun, funny and get into a really solid superhero story involving some nasties from Domino’s past. (Not sure I knew Domino’s origin, but it’s recapped nicely here, so I got everything I needed to know without the story slowing down.) The art by David Baldeon is terrific — light, funny, nicely rendered and it tells the story.
I really like this version of Domino and look forward to filling in this collection and reading more as it continues in the upcoming Domino: Hot Shots miniseries.
Astonishing X-Men #13-17 is a very flat story with some nice covers. Check ’em out.
Matthew Rosenberg does something here that is increasingly common: He’s focused more on the bits and on trying to write flashy dialog than he is on telling a clear story. It’s a bit of a disease, one that I think you could lay at the feet of Joss Whedon. There must be a lot of Buffy fans out there wanting to write comics.
This series wraps up this series of Astonishing with a limp tale about Alex Summers, recently freed from being falsely turned into a bad guy in Uncanny Avengers, trying to form a new team of X-Men. Of course, he can’t call them X-Men because Kitty Pryde owns the trademark to that name with Xavier dead, and explicitly tells him not to use it. They try to make that a recurring joke, but the artist’s limited ability to draw human facial expressions gets in the way.
The threat this time out is O.N.E., a generic government agency out to do something bad to mutants. Havok tries to recruit Beast, who’s teaching at Harvard until the Reavers show up and wreck the place. Also, Kitty has Warpath follow Havok to keep him out of trouble — and to keep him from calling his group X-Men. (Still not as funny as it wants to be.)
They all crash Dazzler’s third-rate anniversary tour for Sounds of Light and Fury looking for Forge, who’s running her light show and, I assume, doubling as her roadie. He says no to the offer and vanishes from this arc, but Dazzler is desperate for something to and signs. Then, the group finds Colossus drinking away his pain in a dumpy apartment after Kitty walked away from him at the altar. Piotr is easily the most interesting character in this weak bunch, which ends up with a strange showdown at the Xavier Academy that resolves nothing and has no impact. This is five issues of treading water at the most basic level and it’s pretty depressing to read.
A brand-new era? Not quite.
Bonus comic: Dazzler: X-Song #1 (2017) by writer Magdalene Visaggio and artist Laura Braga. This issue ties into the Astonishing X-Men run, with Dazzler going on tour incognito as part of a band with the groan-inducing name Lightbringr, that brings out fans in both the mutant and inhuman communities — often with conflicts popping up at the club venues. There’s some mutant jerks who are showing up at the concerts to buIly the inhuman fans that show up. And of course, Alison has to step in and stop it. There’s some strange scenes with Colossus trying to get Alison to come back to the X-Men. And if there’s a story in here, it’s very slight.
The art fares slightly better, but the interior is sketchy in that storyboard style and doesn’t match the promise of the cover, by Elizabeth Torque and Ian Herring. Dazzler remains a tough character to crack.
Lot of people love the character’s premise and look, but solid stories for Ms. Blaire have been hard to come by, with Chris Claremont’s run with her in X-Men from 1986 to about 1990 standing out as the real exception.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, which always makes me think of my early days in Arizona in 1986-1987.
Just weeks after moving from the Great White North to the Grand Canyon State, a Mormon car salesman named Evan Mecham was elected governor. He was a Republican who had won the election with some 40 percent of the vote because a third-party candidate split the Democratic support between them. Mecham was a very conservative candidate, but also a political novice. One of his first acts was to cancel the Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday, citing improper political procedure used in creating it by the previous governor, Bruce Babbitt. He defended his action with words that did not serve anyone’s best interest, saying to supporters of a King holiday something along the lines of: You don’t need a holiday, you need to get a job. This immediately became a lightning rod in Arizona politics of the sort that seems so cute and quaint in the age of President Trump.
Welcome to Arizona, pal.
The result was predictable: Boycotts, and lots of them. Stevie Wonder said he wouldn’t play Arizona. Harlan Ellison, one of my favorite writers, said much the same. You could hear the echo of Little Steven Van Zandt’s anti-Apartheid anthem Sun City — you know the words! “I! I! I! I! I! I! Ain’t gonna play Sun Citaaayyyyyy” — took on a second meaning because one of Arizona’s most conservative towns was a sleepy, seniors-only, “I don’t want to pay taxes for other people’s kids’ schools” municipality called — you guessed it — Sun City. Plus, that record featured the original version of Silver and Gold, by Bono and Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Ron Wood.
The MLK issue presented a potentially big problem for U2, which was preparing to release its now-classic album The Joshua Tree in March 1987. The album heavily evokes the Southwest desert as a place of, alternately, despair and escape. The supporting tour was set to open with multiple dates at Arizona State University in Tempe, and a few more down the road in Tucson.
Clearly, U2 had to do something to address the Arizona MLK situation. Since the release in 1984 of The Unforgettable Fire album, which included two King-praising tracks in the hit Pride (In The Name Of Love) and the elegaic album closer MLK, the band was heavily associated with Martin Luther King. There was no way they could play Arizona without addressing the controversy, but the band had found a lot of support for its music in Arizona and not playing for them was no solution.
Instead of backing down, U2 followed King’s example and stood up for what it believes in. The band donated $10,000 to the recall effort against Mecham and made a strongly worded statement that was released the day the tour was to start and read on the radio and by promoter Barry Fey to the audience at the ASU Activity Center just before the show. (You can see this statement being read on the documentary U2 – Outside, It’s America, which aired through 1987 on MTV and can be seen online and on the DVD included in the deluxe edition of the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree.)
As for Mecham, he had a penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth. He obliviously referred to African Americans as “pickaninnies’ and I think he was truly stunned to find that was not considered a term of affection. He also insisted the press was out to get him, and that laser beams were monitoring his brains. Garry Trudeau turned him into a two-week running gag in the Doonesbury comic strip. One of the local radio stations turned all this into a novelty song done to the tune of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.
When U2 returned to Tempe for two nights in December 1987 to shoot a concert movie at ASU Sun Devil Stadium for the upcoming feature film Rattle and Hum, things got a little weird. This story I did not know until a few years back, when I was reading issue #281 of the U.K.-based music mag Mojo, which put the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree on the cover.
The feature inside begins thus:
“Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona, December 20, 2987. It is the final night of the Joshua Tree tour and, on-stage, in the hyper-alert minds of the four members of U2, the air is bristling with danger. The FBI are here, scanning the 55,000-strong crowd for a potential gunman who has issued a death threat against singer Bono, declaring that he will be shot tonight if he dares to sing the third verse of Pride (In The Name Of Love), which directly addresses the assassination of Martin Luther King, 19 years before.”
The story, written by Tom Doyle, recounts the story so far and then tells us what happened next:
“Seventeen songs in, U2 launch into Pride. In the third verse, Bono crouches at the front of the stage and closes his eyes to sing. ‘I looked up at the end of the verse and I clearly wasn’t dead,’ he laughs. ‘But not only that … Adam Clayton was standing in front of me.’
“Astonishingly, U2’s bassist had protectively stepped between Bono and the audience, ready to take a bullet or disuade the shooter. ‘It’s weird what goes through your head,’ says Clayton now. ‘Or maybe not even through your head. Maybe it’s just an instinctive thing of daring someone to carry out a threat like that.’
“The Edge, with the guitarist’s habitual gift for understatement, says, ‘I just thought, That’s a mate …'”
I love this story, but it’s not 100 percent accurate. There’s video of that night’s show on YouTube, and it doesn’t go down the way Doyle describes. Check it out below; the third verse starts at the 2:42 mark.
I doubt everyone was making this up, which means they were likely talking about the previous night’s show, which happens to be the first U2 show I attended and the one that made me an instant fan of the group’s music. Now, I can’t find video of that night’s show (if you know of one and you’re reading this, let me know!), but I do have audio of it, which you can check out below.
That night, Bono introduced Pride by saying: “There’s two words that aren’t allowed into this stadium; there’s six words that are. This is Pride (In The Name of Love).” Well after the third verse, Bono says at the 3:53 mark, “The two words: Ev Mecham.” Of course, he botched the pronunciation and said “Mee-chum” instead of “Mee-kam.” But whatever.
Ev Mecham was eventually impeached for violations of campaign finance laws and the Arizona Legislature removed him from office on April 4, 1988. Exactly 20 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. I was amazed no one at the time seemed to mention this.
The aftermath of Mecham’s removal lasted for years. Secretary of State Rose Mofford stepped in as governor and became the first woman to head Arizona’s state government. She had a rockin’ white beehive hairdo, to boot. Various propositions were floated, one changing the electoral system to prevent another gubernatorial candidate from being elected without a majority. That was put to test in the 1990 election, when the thin margin of write-ins and obscure third-party candidates left Republican J. Fife Symington III and Democrat Terry Goddard with just under 50 percent of the vote. That required a repeat of the election with only those two candidates on the ballot. (Side note: It was around this time that Symington’s son had a minor fender bender with me and my 1980 Toyota Celica one morning on the way to class at the University of Arizona. He paid for the damage to my car, but wasn’t nice about it.) Symington won, but was forced to resign in his second term after he was convicted of bank fraud and Arizona law forbade convicted felons from holding office.
The Martin Luther King holiday became a constant source of political idiocy. Arizona’s strong conservative bent meant many people objected to establishing a new holiday in which state employees got the day off with pay because it was a waste of government funds. So attempts were made to eliminate another holiday so MLK Day wouldn’t reward slacker government employees with an extra day off. But they picked Columbus Day for elimination, and the folks descended from Italians took offense. There were competing and especially confusing propositions on the ballot in nearly every election. The result was all the support for an MLK day was split up. I remember covering elections in November 1990 as a journalism student and going to bed rather late on election night with the various MLK propositions leading comfortably, only to wake up and find that the rural results kept any of them from passing. Strangely enough, it was the promise that the NFL would bring the Super Bowl to Phoenix — the city got its team in 1988, when the St. Louis Cardinals relocated to Sun Devil Stadium — that eventually made MLK day official starting in 1993. The Super Bowl was played in the Valley of the Sun in 1996. (I will someday blog about the horrors of seeing Billy Ray Cyrus “singing” the national anthem at a Cardinals’ preseason game and then climbing the rafters during a post-game “concert” in 100-plus degree heat for a marathon rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart.”)
As for Mecham, He continued to rattle around Arizona politics for a while. He was acquitted of criminal charges of campaign fund misappropriation. He tried and failed to create a conservative daily newspaper to counter what he saw as bias against him on behalf of The Arizona Republic. He made some efforts to run for office, including U.S. Senate, but he was a no-go. When he died in 2008 at the age of 83, the obits revealed a lot of facts that weren’t as well known during those pre-internet days when he was a big controversy, including his service in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. He earned the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.
I’ve rarely heard U2 talk about Mecham and MLK in the intervening years. I do remember Bono saying something like “We’ve been here before” during the Zoo TV Outdoor Broadcast concert at Sun Devil Stadium in October of 1992. But perhaps that’s for the best. They still play Pride, and it still rocks. I haven’t lived in Arizona since 1996, and it’s not as weird as it used to be. But it’s still weird, and I can’t imagine it ever being not weird.
Vice purports to tell the tale of how a largely unremarkable man from Wyoming rose to the heights of power in Washington, D.C., eventually expanding executive powers to unprecedented levels to wage war, pad the pockets of loyal supporters and undermine any attempts to expose those deeds to the people. Starring such reliable comic talents as Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, along with the always-excellent Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell (never thought I’d write that sentence) it’s not unreasonable to expect a mix of comedy, drama and satire along the lines of director Adam McKay’s rather-good previous film, The Big Short.
But despite a few good laughs about Cheney’s weak heart and a really fun faux finale about halfway through, Vice overall falls short as a comedy and a drama. Some of that comes from the subject matter, with the filmmakers admitting at the very start of the film that Cheney is famously secretive and little is publicly known about why he’s done the things he’s done. Personally, I found it odd to be watching a portrayal of events that I paid close attention to as they happened (I worked at various newspapers through the 1990s and continue to follow the news) and seeing little added to events by the film that would shock or surprise or change the perception of someone with even the most cursory understanding of those events.
Bale is, as always,
great. Yeah, there’s the great makeup that makes him look exactly like Cheney.
But it’s the mannerisms, the body language and the voice (remember, Bale’s
natural accent is Welsh) that really make the performance remarkable. It’s just
too bad he didn’t have more to do with it.
I’m sure McKay and his collaborators debated heavily the correct balance of comedy and drama for this project. The comic moments leave the biggest impact, so it’s a shame they didn’t just play up those points more to expose the Cheney’s career for the comedy of errors history has revealed much of it to be.