Wednesday, August 31, 2016

There's always room for Dick

A normal Tuesday in Gotham...
I vaguely recall the trade paperback of BatmanA Death in the Family being capped with the introduction of Tim Drake, who insists that Batman needs a Robin in order to keep him from getting too dark and crossing moral lines he oughtn't. On that note, Batman issue #636 opens up with Batman hanging a mook upside down.

Oh, I guess I ought to supply some context. Today we are returning to the pages of Batman with issue #636, the second installment of the "Under the Red Hood" story arc. We have mostly the same creative team returning, with Judd Winick writing, Doug Mahnke on pencils, Tom Nguyen on inks, colors by Alex Sinclair, and this time Pat Brosseau providing lettering. Additionally, the cover art was provided by Matt Wagner.

Once again, the art is amazing on the cover, even if I do have some problem with the proportions and perspective. He is dominating one half of the page, Facing and pointing his handgun directly at the reader. The other side of the page features Batman's cowl affixed to the wall with a knife. Below we see the sub-heading "The KING of Gotham City!"

It's striking to say the least, but I can't help but wonder if this is supposed to be seen from the point of view of someone with depth perception issues. The wall is supposed to be behind Black Mask and yet the cowl actually about as close as Black Mask. In fact the cowl looks larger than his own head. Also, his body language is a little off. He seems to be slouching his shoulders, which are at an odd angle, or maybe leaning over with his elbow tucked back but his forearm cheating forward so that it is facing smack center of the page. I can't help but feel like the artistic direction of this cover was changed mid-stream. The arm feels like a hastily inserted afterthought and Batman's cowl feels like an idea that could have been better on a different cover, but here is a bit of a square peg in a round hole.

My biggest problem with the cover however, is that in general I believe that a cover ought to offer the reader a hint at what they are going to see inside a given issue. Yes, Black Mask appears in this issue, but there is no confrontation between Batman and Black Mask. In fact, he very much takes a back seat in this issue. His scene is more or less limited to a discussion with his office manager. Not exactly the most engaging of scenarios, understandably. Considering what other fun things this issue has going on (Batman teaming up with an old friend, a thrilling chase scene, Mr. Freeze-related hijinks), the fact that this cover very falsely advertises what's in store feels like a misdirect and a bit of a cheat.

If you'll recall from last time we checked in on this arc, Batman got into a hissy fit after the events of War Games and kicked every one of his associates out of the Bat Cave and put a moratorium on costumed vigilantes other than himself in Gotham. Oh, and some foreign company bought out the R&D department, cutting off Batman's access to all those wonderful toys. Factor in the fact that a mysterious new figure styling himself as the Red Hood is currently muscling in on current kingpin of crime, Black Mask's territory and Masky has sought out the assistance of chaos gamer-turned-villain, Mr. Freeze to rectify the problem and Batman might have a few problems on his hands.

But like I said before, Batman works alone.
Once he is done playing a rousing game of human yo-yo with our nameless mook, he dwells on this newly-reasserted solitude. However, being Batman and having a chronic tendency to sublimate anything resembling affection by doubling down on being a Type-A personality, a pathological strategist, and frequent paranoid (it could seriously be argued that he's as effective as he is because of these three traits), he instead focuses on how exiling Barbara Gordon from the Batcave from Batcave is a blow to the operation, but one he finds necessary since he no longer finds he can trust his close-knit network of costumed crime fighters.

I've only read 2/3 of the preceding story arc, War Games story, but I can tell you it does hinge on a severe breech of trust by one of his allies... that was arguably instigated by Batman denying trust in the first place. It's also a story where Batman pushes his cohorts to the breaking point, particularly Barbara, so I wouldn't be surprised if things were said that couldn't be easily taken back, though presumably will by the next company wide crossover event.

Despite how impersonally he frames it, focusing on Barbara, who still has a larger role as a hero independently of Batman or even the Gotham vigilante scene in general. Whereas, Tim Drake and Cassandra Cain, the current Robin and Batgirl, respectively, both have closer ties to the operation. They were both trained by Batman before they took their mantles (Barbara's Batgirl tenure was far more independent), were explicitly trained to operate in tandem and subordinate to Batman in the field, and have costumed identities that are inherently tethered to the iconography and mythology of Batman.

Although, Batman's inner monologue focuses only on what her absence means to his crime fighting. Because thinking about what it means to have alienated a long-time friend would mean having to deal with emotions and Batman really sucks at them, especially when he can't contextualize them in terms of the mission.

However, Barbara Gordon feels like the right fit for him to focus on because while Tim is probably a more central role as Robin, Barbara has a longer history with Batman, is the only one to have truly suffered loss on account of being part of the heroism machine and managed to come back stronger for it. (Prior to the New 52) Contemporary DC has a much better track record than Marvel about letting its Golden and Silver Age teen characters mature into adulthood and Barbara is about on par with Dick Grayson. No, she slightly edges him out. For not only does Batman acknowledge her as a peer, but she makes him acknowledge him as an equal. I guess that's the benefit of fighting alongside Batman all these years without being ward/adoptive child/primary protege/all of the above. You get to come into your own on your own terms without dealing with Bruce's senior partner/junior partner bullshit.

Now that I have gone off on a Barbara Gordon tangent (it probably won't be the last time on this blog), I really need to get this ship back on course. Like Batman said before. He works alone.

Understatement: Batman kind of has the tunnel vision thing going on.
Oh, wait. Did I say he works alone? Yeah, apparently I was just joshing you because apparently, Dick Grayson is exempt from Batman's injunction. There's always room for Dick. He's like Jell-o, that way. He's in his guise as Nightwing, with a knee brace on from injuries sustained during War Games.

He's clearly trying to reach out to Bruce, not Batman, but Batman turns the most neutral of weather-related small talk into a reason to talk about the criminal element. Dick comments how easily Bruce made the connection between "warm night" and crime, but he has the wherewithal not to point out that his former legal guardian tends to retreat even further than usual into the Batman persona when confronted with trauma and complicated negative emotions.

Both in-universe and from a publication stand-point, Dick has always been a presence who serves to soften Batman's more off-putting traits. He was expressly introduced with the intent to make Batman less intimidating and get more kids reading. Tim was onto something when he said that Batman needs Robin because Dick set a good precedent of Batman's sidekicks being the ones who keep him from getting too dark. Tim was something of a morality pet, Jason was a lost soul in need of saving, Damian tends to accomplish it by completely inverting the dynamic, but Dick Grayson was the Boy Wonder who kept things light He moreso than the other Robins would be the one prone to crack wise and pun during their adventures. He defuses something in Batman that doesn't necessarily make him lighter in tone, but does make him ever so slightly less of a hardass.

Just like old times...
Batman acknowledges that Dick is here to check in on his emotional well-being, but doesn't vocalize thanks or rejection of his presence. Instead, he tells Nightwing he's working a case and won't stop him if he comes along. As they swing away on grappling hooks, Batman makes a slight joke (and a reversal of their initial dialogue, but when Dick expresses his amusement, Batman tells him to cork it, and he immediately responds "yes, sir." Remember when I mentioned that Babs generally does a better job at making Batman acknowledge her as an equal. Yeah, immediately falling into the big brother/little brother dynamic is probably why he generally has to move to a different major metropolitan area in order to assert his autonomy.

Sassy office banter can only lead to one thing...
Across town in the Black Mask's headquarters at Hanover Tower, the lab tech assigned to equipping Mister Freeze with a new cryo-suit makes the mistake of insulting Freeze's intelligence when he expressed concerns about how thin the armor feels. And while his reaction to the unintended insult is humorous, it is also telegraphed to the reader that this nameless tech is not long for this world.

That being casual murder. 
Sure enough, while the scene cuts to the other room where Black Mask and his number two guy, David Li, hash out the pros and cons of keeping a volatile psychotic (who has a tendency towards indiscriminatory destruction) in their employ when they are interrupted with word that Freeze has killed the lab tech. He stabbed him right in the chest with his own tool (soldering iron? sonic screwdriver?). And he isn't the first. As far as I can tell, this can't have been too long since the previous issue, maybe a day or two. How many can he have gone through?

Mask is amused by this, and calls him "spunky." He's already defending the hiring of an undoubtedly unstable element, citing that Freeze brings down destruction on all sides of him and that includes them, but I think Black Mask is only half listening to him because while he acknowledges that Freeze is a problem, they just need to make sure he is someone else's problem. Of course, you can't fault him for not listening to what Li says, considering he doesn't have ears, as far as I can tell.

I feel like this is Winick's attempt at infusing some humor into the book, but there are some tone issues here that don't quite work. Especially considering just in the previous arc, Black Mask pretty graphically tortured and killed a member of the Bat Family, depicting him as this riff on Dr. Evil complete with a silly plan and unmanageable henchmen seems like a really poor fit.

Li isn't too pleased with this, but also has some information on the new thorn in their side in the red helmet. It almost seems like this is when we're going to check in on our C plot, but instead we check back in with the Bat and the Bird on a docked cargo ship at the harbor, who are easily taking down a small contingent on armed goons in riot gear, interrupting their delivery. Batman's narration tells us something big was coming. Sure enough, it does look like it's about four square meters. I don't know what it is about that crate that makes me wish it was a velociraptor in there, but my knowledge of narrative convention in the DC universe makes me fairly certain it's not. So anything in there can only be a disappointment.

Batman might be my spirit animal.
This is the one section in which we get some of Batman's more personal internal monologue. You get the sense of not just camaraderie with Nightwing but kinship. Dick was the only Robin (before Damian, anyway) that Batman treated not only as a protege but also a surrogate son/younger sibling. He has seen Dick grow up, and certainly molded him into the man he is today. Whenever the the two have a latter-day team-up, there is a certain magic in the atmosphere, seeing just how well they click together. It must be magic even for Batman because even he gets the twinge of the nostalgic, thinking back to yo

Sidenote: Like Oracle, Nightwing grew up to be one of the linchpins of the DCU, albeit instead of IT prowess, his is due to his ability to form lasting friendships and loyalties. Ma and Pa Grayson must have really taught young Dick how to be a person because he sure didn't pick that up from the brooding Batman or the delightfully sardonic Alfred.

Once all the goons are either knocked out and/or hogtied with gatling wire, they get the crate to the ground and sadly I'm horrible at eyeing up measurements because this thing barely comes up to his waist. My guess is that it it shrunk because having had multiple jobs that involve loading and unloading things on pallets I knew what the dimensions are and they are not lining up. Oh! New theory! This box was inside the box on the pallet. It's like a Russian nesting doll.

Inside they find a vast array of multiple supervillains' accoutrements. Dick jokes about having some new trophies for the cave (actually, that's probably not a joke, just him chattering to make up for Batman's lack of chatter) when suddenly a "BREEEEEEEN' comes from the crate and they know what time it is: Get the hell out of Dodge time! A bomb planted in the crate blows the cargo ship up just in time for them to reach the safety of the dock, wet, albeit unharmed.
Cue the Benny Hill Theme!

It seems that the bomb wasn't something they triggered it was set off remotely by a figure whom Batman spots on a nearby warehouse rooftop.

And the art makes no bones about who the star of this issue is. Red Hood is absolutely gangbusters in this scene. Without him having a line of dialogue, the sense of movement and dynamism in his depiction. At one point we see him do a somersault that is downright Kirbyesque. It makes me really feel like this is someone a cut above the usual costumed crook. Also, the Kirby approach to depicting movement shows in a single panel all the nuances of a character's movement by using partially rendered figures for each motion, almost the way
Simone Biles level skill

They grappling hook their way up there and begin a wild goose chase over the rooftops of Gotham. Just like the flash forward fight sequence from last time, the chase itself gives the reader a chance to see Red Hood in action. But whereas last time, it was very combat specific, this time we see him in motion. He's acrobatic, and a natural at navigating the rooftops of Gotham, even managing to prevent Batman from snagging him with a batarang snare by slicing the cord before it manages to go taut. Something about him is very familiar to Batman.
Red Hood is a B.A.M.F.

Sidebar: the script has the word "taught" instead of "taut." Let that be a lesson to you kids, Spellcheck is your friend, but even friends let you do stupid things if it sounds okay on paper.

They ultimately track Red Hood down crashing down through the overhead windows of a warehouse. Do warehouses actually have overhead windows or is this just a convention of the medium? I will make allowances for Rule of Cool because I know how impressive it looks when heroes descend upon us from above, but I just want to know what to expect if I ever find myself exploring a warehouse.

It's dark inside, but only for a moment until the lights flicker on and Batman and Nightwing find themselves face to face with the real delivery they wanted to obstruct. Except it seems Red Hood has already taken Black Mask's new toy out of the box and wound it up, leaving our heroes to deal with Amazo.
Did you know steroids work on Androids?

If Amazo sounds like a very stupid Silver Age name, that's because you have ears and taste. Amazo doesn't really do the character justice, but on the other hand there isn't much to him either. Amazo is an android. Visually, at least in this instance, he resembles Namor the Submariner if he were a 'roided up gym rat. What he's capable is pretty much something that you saw a lot of super teams face in the Silver Age. He's the character who can take on the powers of an entire team of powered superheroes, forcing the team to get creative and show some ingenuity, demonstrating how a group can use their powers in creative ways in order to win the day. However, in case I didn't make it clear, he possesses the super-powered abilities of seven Justice League members. And Batman and Nightwing, highly trained and skilled or not, are baseline humans. This might be a little beyond their ken at the moment. And that's where the issue draws to a close.

So, now that we are two issues in, I'm noticing that this is well written, but a fairly light meal. Maybe it's because I'm typically drawn to very character driven narratives, but I'm not getting a sense of a lot to really sink my teeth into. Granted, usually what I mean by "sink my teeth into" generally means either "deconstruct and analyze" or "heckle mercilessly."

I guess it's part of the problem with decompressed story telling and a protagonist who goes the extra mile to compartmentalize, but I do find it troubling that even when we are in Batman's perspective, he is still a bit too emotionally detached for us to connect with. I think there is a strong temptation when writing Batman to make him just unrealistically adept at all things.  I do like this that tendency, but only when it is mitigated by one of two things: The first is to play up the argument that Batman's perfectionist tendencies might be the by-product of being a bit of a psychiatric case. The second would be to show a contrast between what he says and how he acts. One of the narrative functions unique to comics is the ability to line up thoughts and deeds next to each other and create a more nuanced understanding of the character.

The Black Mask and Mr. Freeze story is coming along, but for such significant threats, the writing doesn't seems to be certain whether they are serious or comedic foes. Yes, Mr. Freeze kills at a hat drop, but the fact that Black Mask thinks it's a hoot. I'm all for having fun, comical villains, but I question whether this was the authorial intent. Or whether it earns its place in the narrative. They're not here to move their sub-plot along, just to remind you it exists. I'm honestly wondering how much of their scene we could cut without losing any narrative cohesion. My guess is quite a lot.

Overall, this issue keeps the ball rolling from last issue, albeit slowly. The story definitely took things up a notch with Red Hood, which I am all for. Last issue we saw how he one-ups the criminals, this time we saw just what a wild goose chase he can give our heroes. He's shaping into quite a classic trickster god figure, like Loki, or Hermes, or Malcolm Reynolds.

Next week, we're heading back to Marvel for another installment of mutant dinosaurs, evil cavemen, and girl geniuses in the pages of Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Past the X-Piration Date: Alpha

Gather round, kiddies. Let me tell you of a time when the Avengers were just barely members of Marvel's third tier titles and the X-Men ruled the mother-f#%&ing world. In 1992, with two main X-Men titles and no fewer than four ongoing concurrent spin-off titles (nowadays, that is considered a very lean X-line, but back then it was massive), the X-Men summarily crushed any other comic book property that hoped to compete with them. And this hegemony over the known universe reached its zenith when the X-Men finally made their way into people's living rooms with X-Men The Animated Series.

Based around the cast of the then-newly launched "adjectiveless" X-Men volume 2, it subbed out Psylocke (for reasons that probably included racial/cultural iffiness and having a backstory that could actually be explained in a 23 minute runtime without a flow chart) for Storm and Jean Grey and it was the best damn thing! Filled with many different, interesting, compelling characters both as protagonists and antagonists, it presented young viewers with a show that mirrored the vexed sociological minefield of real life and actively combined blatantly progressive social attitudes with kicking all sorts of ass with powers that made you both a wonder and an outcast. Being a nerdy little gayboy who on some level already could tell he wasn't quite in step with those around him, I imprinted on the X-Men for life. Yes, they were the greatest thing ever.

That is until they weren't. About halfway through season 4 they had a four-part epic called "Beyond Good and Evil" that could have easily been a capstone to an excellent series. And yet it continued. Nothing else in season four ever managed to match that amazing high point. And probably against common wisdom, they continued on for one last season after that.

Now, to be fair, their final season starts out more or less well. However, after the first half of the season, the show started to plummet like a stone.  Of course, it probably didn't help that they started it off with a guest character and antagonist who very much demonstrate just how far the animators' reach surpassed their grasp: Warlock and the Phalanx.

The two-part story itself, "The Phalanx," is actually fairly challenging and intriguing for a young mind. It's a story in which the Phalanx (which narratively is a rough merging of the actual Phalanx and the Technarchy) goes about attempting to assimilate the entire earth. In the process, all the X-Men save for Beast is captured. He meets up with the renegade heir apparent of the Phalanx, Warlock, and together the two basically have a life-or-death roadtrip trying to stay one step ahead of the Phalanx and making some unlikely alliances along the way.

And we arrive at why this story fails just so damn hard. Warlock and the Phalanx are techno-organic life forms. Warlock has always been depicted as physically very fluid being, constantly shifting form from panel to panel. The various circuits and mechanical bits that comprise him always in motion. He's less of a solid being than he is a metamorphic creature willed into roughly anthropomorphic shape. Granted, this Warlock can shapeshift like his comic book counterpart does, but he only does it as necessary. Moreover, his standard humanoid form, is incredibly static. The Phalanx is slightly better, but that's mainly because as the villains they can do weird and creepy things, unlike our guest-protagonist Warlock.

In some odd ways, the Phalanx have affects that seem like the story adapters were fond of Star Trek's Borg and Changelings. At one point the Phalanx literally say "resistance is futile." Resistance to what, you might ask? Why resistance to joining the Phalanx collective by merging into the big blob of Phalanx. This is best illustrated with Warlock's lifemate, who was forcibly absorbed into the collective prior to the start of the story. For the record, Warlock's lifemate an invention of the cartoon and he is largely depicted as asexual... unless you count his mergings with Doug Ramsey... up until very recently in continuity, at least 30 years after his initial appearance.

The funny thing about his lifemate though is that as an individual Warlock's lifemate seems coded as traditionally female. I kind of want to point out the oddity that a race of basically living circuitry has a gender binary, except that I keep referring the Warlock as "he," so I guess I don't have a leg to stand on. Once absorbed into the Phalanx however her default form becomes something that I feel fairly certain must be referencing, but I have no idea what. It strikes me as one of those Easter eggs Marvel animators would put in for the savvy viewer, but your guess is as good as mine.

One last nugget before we move on to the rest of the season. Early in the episode, the Phalanx implant themselves in the form of Sabretooth, who allows himself to get captured. Wolverine goes down to the cells to confront his adversary and that's when you notice the colorists just giving up on trying to find where Wolverine's uniform ends and his face begins. Yeah. That goes all the way up to his lips. He swallowed the zipper.

In "A Deal With the Devil," the animation is still relatively okay, but you'll notice that Storm will generally either have her hair in a ponytail or in a submersible uniform. Yeah, this was a shortcut the animators used a lot toward the end of the season. Having her hair pulled back and less vibrant and luscious meant that the animators didn't need to worry about animating all those loose flowing locks. To be fair, though, the art is not why this episode sucks. For that, look no further than the fact that it's trying to make Omega Red happen. It's not going to happen, Marvel. Note that he is effectively a Cold War Era villain... who was first introduced in 1992. For any younglings out there, ask Dr. Internet when the Berlin Wall fell. Yeah, Omega Red isn't a compelling villain in his best moments, but he bears the additional sin of being a villain without a purpose. In a series where all of its heroes and villains all stand for something greater than themselves, he's obsolete from the starting gate.

Next is "No Mutant Is An Island." It was supposed to air during Season 3 between the two Phoenix arcs. However the animation was so bad that they backburnered it and it wasn't for another two years before they both had it fixed and had room in their schedule for it. It's... fine. It's not all that great an episode, but for the standards of X-Men TAS it is presentable. In this one, a grieving Cyclops quits the team and goes to the orphanage he grew up in for... reasons... and rescues four of its current residents when they are adopted by the Purple Man as part of a nefarious plot. Those four orphans are Taki Matsuya (technopath), Tabitha Smith (energy-based "timebomb" creation), Skids (personal force field), and Rusty Collins (pyrokinetic), all members of the short-lived X-Terminators, the latter three later joined the New Mutants, and Tabitha Smith even has been on various incarnations of X-Force. Of course, the animators sided with recognition rather than common sense. In 1996, they have Boom Boom dressed like she just got back from see Tiffany and/or Debbie Gibson live on tour (hint: she looks like the 80s incarnate). Meanwhile, Taki, who is not a superhero, apparently wears casual apparel that would do Flash Gordon or the Rocketeer proud.

So, hilariously, at one point Scott attempts to gain the young Rusty's trust by demonstrating his abilities. He shifts left to right to see if anyone's looking, then instead of doing something small like simply shooting at the ground nearby he fires off a huge blast at an abandoned building. That's the X-Men's master strategist for you. Instead of embracing discretion, he does something that not only must have drawn people's attention but also could have caused a building to collapse and potentially fall on both him and Rusty. Nice going, Cyke.

The Purple Man is an odd choice for a villain, considering this story is begging for Mr. Sinister and Purple Man has no ties to the X-books, as far as I'm aware.

Not much else to say except that Rusty's voice actor sounds ten, but the art makes him look like a 29-year-old with a bad middle-part haircut. Oh, and Taki's powers are referred to as his wheelchair transformation powers, which is so ridiculously amazing that it deserves an award for how hard it fails.

In Longshot... the X-Men help Longshot against Mojo and Spiral. If that sort of thing floats your boat, more power to you. I was bored. But then I started noticing something sounded wrong about Mojo's voice actor. I checked the episode's IMDB page (and it won't be the last time I felt compelled to do so), but it lists the same voice actor as his last appearance in "Mojovision." My only conclusion would be that whoever has been editing the sound, especially on the actors' recordings have changed equipment and can't replicate whatever effect they used in previous seasons. He kind of sounded like a maniacal Bobcat Goldthwait. How he just sounds like a Bobcat Goldthwait.

However, the animation in "Longshot" can not be faulted. It's actually some of the best in the season. In a series where the animation can in hindsight be a little clunky at times, they make Longshot look as effortlessly agile as luck would have it. Of course, if I were a kid watching this (I think I watched it, but Longshot doesn't really hold my attention), I would have been really confused by his demonstration of psychometry. They don't even explain it in the episode. He just does it while they are trying to rescue Jubilee and everyone just accepts that he is speaking with authority instead of asking how he knows this shit. Years later, Layla Miller would just know shit, but everyone will give her grief about the why of it all.

Moreover, there are Warwolves. Okay, they aren't the verbose very anthropomorphic Warwolves of Excalibur, but I appreciate such a late-in-the-series episode is willing to not only bring a weird-ass villain like Mojo back, work in a narrative around Longshot's rebellion, but then even throw in the Warwolves, whom for a first time viewer would just seem like weird, scary metallic wargs. Throw in more of the weird shit, X-Men. More, I say!

"Bloodlines" is all about Rogue and Nightcrawler. At first, I thought I'd be too biased by their inclusion in primary roles to have that much of an objective opinion. Or that's what I thought until I saw the Friends Of Humanity's version of the KKK grand wizard get-ups. Oh, god(s). Fox Kids, what were you thinking? You should have quit when you were ahead instead of trying to pull a fast one on Broadcast Standards and Practices.
What what what are you doing, Fox Kids?

Think of your life! Think of your choices!

Anyway, what we are watching here is a spin on X-Men Unlimited #4, in which the biological relationship between Graydon Creed, Nightcrawler, and Mystique is revealed. Just throw in a dollop of Wolverine having mutant passing privilege issues and a pinch of Jubilee's abandonment issues, having grown up in the foster system, and you more or less have the same story in the broad strokes. Wolverine takes out his resentment of trick-or-treaters by putting on a Beast mask and scaring them. I think it's oddly hypocritical of Logan for begrudging baseline humans for dressing as mutants on Halloween when he made a mask of one of his own friends who is explicitly deprived of the same passing privilege he enjoys. Sidenote: it appears that the kids he scares off are dressed as the original Daredevil, an extremely off-brand looking Spider-Man costume (maybe it's a clone saga variant I'm blissfully ignorant of), and freaking Devil Dinosaur. Oh yeah!

 Of course, as much as I like the fact that this is an episode centering on two of my favorite X-Men, while Rogue is pretty much peak Rogue, TAS Nightcrawler is the genesis of "boring Priest Nightcrawler." He's basically Ned Flanders with a tail. Mystique tries really hard to balance out Kurt's high-handed forgiveness at all costs approach by being boss AF, but even she succumbs to his charms. Even when he's all preachy and priest-y, I'd still fuck Kurt. Though, I'd refuse to do the missionary position so he'll have to go to confession or something.

Holiday greeting cards from Raven are probably very hostile.
Arguably, that was the last of the good episodes. The common wisdom is that it is only the last six issues, but the two-parter that precedes them is such a raging POS that it earns its place. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh on it, but I have issues with a story that does such short shrift to a character by placing them front and center. "Storm Front" as the name might suggest, is a Storm-centric episode in which she is acting wildly out of character from the top. In the first five minutes alone, she's panicky, unable to maintain her composure, and is easily subdued and kidnapped. Granted she seems to do it in a histrionic "no indoor voice" style, which in retrospect is at least her TAS defining trait.

The  It does play into one of Storm's long-standing tropes: the more exalted the villain, the more likely they're going to be into Storm. Our villain du jour is Arkon, ruler of the alternate dimension of Polemachus. Note that those names, transliterations and neologisms aside, translate to "Ruler" and "Warrior Land."

Come, my land has tyranny and all the loin cloths
you can ask for.
He's basically Space Conan. He was even created by Roy Thomas, who is most notable for writing Marvel's Conan comics. As such, he's arrayed in a furry loin cloth and boots that he probably skinned himself, but also a gold chestplate and silly crown that kind of looks Viking by way of the Aztecs, a purple cape, and belts both across the chest and the waist with then-futuristic gizmos and laser pistols holstered on them.

And like any self respecting noble antagonist/warrior space-king, he wants an exotic-looking beauty with Amazonian proportions to be his bride. No, really, in the comics just under the pen of Claremont alone she is sought after by Dr. Doom, Dracula, Loki, and extra-dimensional space-emperor Khan, so this guy is... I don't want to say she has a type, but she definitely attracts a certain type.

Anyway, the reason he kidnaps her is because his world's environment has turned against them and they are in need of a weather manipulator to save the day. Of course, if he'd simply come and asked, I'm sure a compassionate woman like Storm would have acquiesced, but I'm fairly certain there is some psychic whammy going on here. I mean, look at her face. They make a point of having a close up of her early in the episode just to highlight how blue her eyes normally are and then for reasons that defy logic they display... this. I mean, changing her physical features ever so slightly is great visual shorthand to communicate that something is awry, but she just looks wrong. The face... the Animated X-Men, even the women always felt like they were lovingly, laboriously carved into the page, but now Storm's face has been drained of definition, making her look listless and more than a little like a chubby baby.  And her eyes? Those are dead, lifeless eyes, utterly failing to convince the viewer of the illusion that the sequence of 24 frames per second is a living, breathing character.
The animation has eaten her soul.

So, as the first half ends, Storm, probably within hours of being forcibly kidnapped declares her unending love for Arkon and declares that she will remain in the alt.reality as Arkon's queen. As we pick up in the next episode, every one of her rescuer teammates seems fine with this. The only exception being Wolverine, who seems to be the only character that remembers that mental manipulation is an actual thing that happens on the regular in their world. Storm has gone native to show how happy she is here. Also, there's the "happy accident" of her hair being in a ponytail and thus easier to animate. Jubilee is fully supportive, in love with the idea of Storm being a queen, and quite honestly reminds me of the dynamic between Susan and Barbara in the classic Dr. Who story "The Aztecs." Beast and Cyclops fall mainly in the camp of "respecting Storm's decisions." This would be excellent behavior from teammates who have her back if it weren't so clearly she is not in her right mind. Instead, they look like shmucks.

It isn't until it becomes increasingly clear that Arkon his a cruel and sadistic authoritarian who punishes his people at the slightest of perceived slights that his romantic whammy starts to wear off Storm. His people are so downtrodden that they don't even get irises and pupils. Either that or the animators were cutting corners again. Wolvie, Beast and Cyke  team up with freedom fighters while in the palace Jubilee is still in supportive little sister mode as Storm vacillates back and forth on her feelings about Arkon. Good God Get A Grip, Girl!

Even with Arkon's thrall weakened, her face still looks wrong. And what the hell is Jubilee wearing on her head?! From the front, it's a tiara, but in profile, it might be Halloween cat ears. I've heard people describe animated Jubilee as kind of a merging of her and Kitty Pryde, but I never bought it until I noticed how quickly and how badly she took to playing dress-up here. But at least she does have the virtue of telling Jubilee the obvious "he's not worth it," and that's that. Storm puts her hair down, which is shorthand for being all better and she peaces out. End credits.

Remove her rain slicker and she'll find amazing new ways to
be a fashion victim.
Just for a sense of perspective, this is still before the quality goes completely to shit. These last six episodes were ordered last-minute and were not originally budgeted for. In order to cut costs, they were made by a much cheaper, lower quality animation house.

You can immediately tell that something is deeply, wrong even in the opening credits. The traditional opening that highlighting each member of the main cast has been replaced by a sequence of clips from prior episodes. The clip show is one of those television staples that a show has run out of time or money or both, but this wasn't necessary. It's not as though the opening sequence has to be reanimated every single episode. Thus, my theory is that this was an intentional warning from the showrunners that they cobbled together after seeing what they had to work with just to give viewers a hint of the shitshow that laid before them.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and any multitudinous designations that do not fit a gender binary, welcome to "Jubilee's Fairytale Theatre." This is one of the show's many attempts to try to directly retell one of the classic Claremont stories, "Kitty's Fairytale." The problem being that premise aside, these are nothing alike. "Kitty's Fairytale" is basically a fairytale retelling (told to Colossus' baby sister as a bedtime story) of the Dark Phoenix Saga with a happy ending and included heroic swashbuckling pirates (pirates were fairly on-trend in the 80s) as its protagonists, Jubilee's Fairytale Theatre is quite the different animal, as we shall see.

As this episode begins, you might be wondering, "did I turn on Captain Planet by mistake? And how did Gi get her hands on Jubilee's signature ray-bans (remember ray bans, you guys)?" But no, you're still in the right show... technically. Yeah, the animation is drastically different, but hey at least we have a silver lining of having the animation actually making Jubilee look like her appropriate racial background. So progress...(?). Also, she seems to have grown 8 inches overnight. Yeah, the original airdates between this and the previous episode were a week apart, so this had to have been jarring as fuck. I vaguely remember young seventh grade David watching this and wondering if I was taking crazy pills or something.
The new animators must have never been given any visual
references for Jubilee. 
The rest of the team has gone out on assignment including the Professor who had made a commitment to a local elementary school to show a local group of elementary students the cave formations beneath the estates. So, being that Xavier is a jerk with a penchant for childhood endangerment, he saddles Jubilee with his responsibilities. Aside from the fact that he left a  group of kids in the hands of a minor who tends to accidentally blow things up when she's upset, you also need to take into consideration that their parents signed permission slips with the understanding that they were entrusting their children in the hands of mature adults... mature adults who have Act 33 clearances and experience leading tourists through potentially dangerous environments, such as treacherous caves that just happen to turn out to be seismically active. In Upstate New York. Just go with it everybody.

Jubilee is less than pleased to be here, naturally, so she's reading fairly listlessly from a guide book. Somehow, an earthquake happens in New York. I'm just going to let it pass because they needed some sort of contrivance why Jubilee of all people would be both trusted with children and willing to BS a fairy tale on the fly. If you need an example of how this episode dates itself, note the tone of wonder one of her young charges has at the sight of the cutting edge beeper she uses to contact her teammates.

Were these kids were bused in from Stepford, Conn.?
Jubilee manages to completely hide the fact that they've been caved in from them by suggesting that the kids all sit in a circle. And oh my god do these kids not exist in any feasible reality. They're just all so twee. There are the girls that immediately ask if there will be handsome princes and true love in the story only to be countered by boys who say "True love? Yuck." Oh and the boys are twins, so of course, they say it in unison. And I owe an apology to Storm's animator in the last episode. I thought her eyes were dead and lifeless. And then I watched "Jubilee's Fairytale Theater" and it totally reset the bell curve.

I've seen more effort in PowerPoint Documents. 
Jubilee's story has some pretty lazy exposition. Story book pages with cheap sparkly transitions that I could probably whip up after a five minute tutorial with Windows Movie Maker. It sets up Scott and Jean and the good prince and princess... who will have little bearing on the plot, the macguffin of the story is the MacTaggart crystal, and our villain is the unfathomably evil wizard Magnus the Malevolent. Yeah, Jubilee seems to be forgetting all the times Magneto has allied with the X-Men or at least been on uneasy truce terms with them, which I think actually outweighed his outright antagonistic appearances by the end of the series.
So we leave bad transition land and enter into a generic road in a forest. There we find that

The best mullet in all the Seven Kingdoms
Gambit is playing a rogue whose metal bo staff gives him +2 sexterity. He flees from metal suit henchmen with Magneto helmets for heads and could have been repurposed henchmen from the Felix the Cat movie. He happens upon some kindly peasants who resemble Longshot, and her adoptive parents who haven't been seen since "Night o the Sentinels." Something tells me a kid would need a keen eye to pick up on Longshot here, though how many four-fingered blonde mulleted characters could there possibly be? And it's only because I sat through multiple viewings that I'm about 75% positive about the other two being the foster parents. I'm guessing since we're plumbing Jubilee's subconscious in this story, it is only reasonable that guys she has recently crushed on and people who have treated her as family should work their way into the narrative.

Magneto's off-brand Doombots
The kindly NPC's attempt to hide Remy under the hay in their wagon but the "Clankers" catch up with them. At that moment, what should happen buytthey are rescued by a messianic hero that the Clankers think is a myth peasants tell themselves. And so we meet Jubilee's author avatar/Mary Sue character. She's the best of the best without any real struggle, instead of low level fireworks, her powers are treated like potent lightning bolts, and say, is it just my imagination or does she have hella large breasts that she doesn't have in real life? Well, I guess that's what middle-aged straight white men in a writers' room think a 15-year-old would include in an idealized version of herself. Of course, maybe it's just my imagination. I would go back and double check, but examining the cleavage of an underage girl in a children's cartoon sounds like a sketchy way to spend your free time.

Her greatest magical treasure is her wonderbra
She's so invested in making her self-insert character an unrepentant 90's hero protagonist that she speaks in nothing but quips (whether they are clever is up for debate) while she fights and even has her own lame catchphrase: "Getting out of tight places is what I do." Undoubtedly, it's intended to be Jubes' kinder, gentler version of Wolverine's catchphrase. Also, she seems to be an elf. I'm wondering if the writers were intentionally poking fun at fanfic writers in this episode. Or maybe they actually bought someone's fanfic just to save time.

Being a fanfic protagonist, she is the best, most perfect Jubilee elf playing as ranger that ever was and single-handedly takes down all the villainous clankers. Then the party is joined by Trollverine. And oh my god(s) this is amaztupid. He's green from head to toe, has tusks, wears tattered shreds of his usual attire rendered into a kilt, hood, and harness, which makes me think he's a submissive at Ye Olde Leather Bar, and has broken shackles on his wrists like my old My Pet Monster doll. It's fairly remarkable. Additionally, he speaks with an odd sort of lisp that makes him sound like a congested Bessie Higgenbottom. The stuffed up nose might be due to the giant ring pierced through his septum. Oh, and he's Jubilee's sidekick.
His day job is cage dancer at the popular troll bar, The Tannery.

Just for reference, this is his analogue in Kitty's fairy tale.

So it turns out Gambit is relevant to the plot because he was hired by the bad guy to steal half of the macguffin (it's kind of a triforce deal, so whoever gets both half is all powerful yadda yadda), but he hid it instead. Jubilee clearly knows what's what because not only is her story version of Gambit morally ambiguous and self-serving at best, but he's also a creeper, hitting on Jubilee as he offers to show her where he hid the crystal. Yeah, Jubilee is 15 in this series. Gambit: total creeper, habitual liar, AND a pedo. Yeah, if you're going to read my X-related posts, just accept and embrace the fact that I think Gambit is the worst of the traditionally accepted X-Men.

He leads Jubilee and Trollverine (he's called "Logan" in the story, but I'm sticking with my wording) to a poor man's cave of wonders-- no really, it's a cavern laden with treasures that has not one but two entries that resemble giant heads and I think the only reason they don't resemble tiger heads is to avoid a "cease and desist" letter from Disney -- where Jubilee immediately gets distracted by a gem encrusted diadem.

The Poor Man's Cave of Wonders has not one, but two
security check-points.
And oh my gods Sabretooth! I have no words! None. He looks like one of Sid's Frankenstein'd action figures in Toy Story. Creed's head was ripped off his action figure and stapled onto Grizzlor's, from Masters of the Universe. Just bask in the glow of this ridiculousness for a moment, everybody.
The head transplant was a success... after a fashion

Back in reality, even with with application of shaky cam, these kids still have no idea that they are in any kind of danger. These kids are a special kind of stupid. Is this what the story writers thought of children? If you were the target age demo when this aired, you should take it as an indictment. The area is destabilizing and Jubilee convinces the kids to go for a little walk up not an incline, but a fairly professionally installed-looking set of stairs in the cave just in time for an underground river to burst through the rocks and flood the area they were just in. The just left the chamber when the water rushes in. Believe it or not, showrunners, kids notice shit. And they're really good at picking up on things when adults don't want them to notice.

After the commercial break, Jubilee has led the kids into a dead end, but goes back and blasts some rocks down from overhead in order to stopper off the water level. I'm just not going to address the fact that she could have quite easily have accidentally caused the entire cavern ceiling to collapse on her and the children because the episode relies so heavily on Jubilee's fanfic insert character playing in god mode that we can only assume the writers were writing the actual Jubilee that way too.

The kids ask her to resume her paint by numbers fantasy story. Even if this hadn't been prior to the era of smart phones and portable devices, the kids wouldn't be getting reception down there and would simply be incapable of amusing themselves without external stimulation, since we've raised a generation of children who have had iPads instead learning to amuse themselves during long car rides, camping trips, etc. They'd be as desperate for something, anything to hold their attention that this stupid story is a point of focus.

After another cheap looking storybook page to remind us what was happening before the commercial break, we find ourselves back in the ye old Money Bin where we last saw Jubilee and company being confronted by a yeti wearing a Sabretooth mask. Jubilee singlehandedly takes him down with all the pathos of Sonic the Hedgehog and they get the hell out of dodge before his backup dancers, more of Magnus' Clankers (btw, they're animated suits of armor, which makes me really want to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks now) can do much other than levy some threats.

Having made it out of the cave with their half of MacTaggart crystal, Jubilee's party is joined by the floating disembodied head of Oz the Great and Powerful  Jambi  Xavier the All-Knowing. He announces that Jubilee is the chosen one destined to save them all. Ye gods, for such a departure from the original "Kitty's Fairytale," this episode is utterly devoid of original ideas. Then Xavier just disappears. Yeah, his inclusion in the narrative felt organic and motivated.
Meka leka hi meka hiney ho!

Anyway, the gang walks off-screen to actively fulfill Xavier's prophesy, then a rat scurries down and transforms into a mage and tells nobody in particular that he's off to inform his master of what he has heard. I think this is supposed to be Morph's analogue. I tried to figure it out on IMDB based on the episode's voice cast, but only four actors are credited in this episode. I guess it was either remove their names or let everyone list themselves as Alan Smithee.

The heroes break into Magnus' palace and find their way to Magnus' half of the crystal just in time for Magnus to shut them down. Magneto as a LARP sorcerer is a revelation. I kind of want to cosplay as this. No, really, I'm actually being serious. Most of the character designs go so hard for fanciful that they overshoot their target and land on silly, but Magnus' design is such a fantastic blend of things that seem like they should feel ridiculous that they work incredibly well together. The drape and flow of his cape is amazing, especially when he's in flight. His arch cowl brings to mind a lot of 80's high fantasy, his large grometed pauldrons are simply perfect. He's got pointed wizard shoes, guys! Plus look at that visage. Even just from the neck up, he's a wonder to behold. He's got long 80's metal band power hair, a goatee of evil, and they even worked the stylized horseshoe "hood ornament" of Magneto's helmet into his circle- crown. Let's face it, gentle readers-- I have a strong contender for my next Halloween costume.
Magneto's got swag.

Magnus takes both halves of the crystal, and fail fail fail. Okay, animators. Did you guys even read the script? These are supposed to be two halves of one precious stone. The script even goes so far as to refer to them as shards. And yet these are clearly two discrete precious stones, identical gems both of which processed into a baguette cut. Gem cutting wasn't even a thing that could be accomplished until the 18th Century, by the way.
Magneto loves man handling his stones

He only uses his Clankers to restrain Jubilee however because he needs her to enact his plan. Jubilee is the key to unlocking the power of the crystal and he threatens the life of her stalwart trollfriend in order to ensure her compliance, ensnaring him it what I think it supposed to be giant amoeba made of quicksilver that seems to want to strangle him. I feel like this specific is a plot point gets reused in the third act a lot of kids' animated adventures, but my mind immediately goes to the Care Bears Nutcracker. Yeah, I'm plumbing the depths of things I'm willing to admit I've watched enough to be able to cite them. So Jubilee basically uses her fireworks to power the crystal, delivering unto our villain his ultimate objective.  Now Magnus has no further need of his henchmen, he blows them to pieces. Yeah, it seems like we're supposed to read that as his cruelty, but they were suits of armor his own will was animating. It's like pulling your arm out of a hand puppet and expecting to be treated like he disemboweled someone.

He refuses to uphold his side of the bargain to free Trollverine, so she unleashes her powers on him at full voltage. He taunts her, declaring that she's only making her stronger, but it seems that was the idea. She has turned his suit into an electric magnet, drawing anything metal, even if it's bolted to the wall. Nuts, bolts, discarded armor, torch sconces, etc fling themselves at him, knocking him to the ground. I guess we're playing by "king of the mountain" rules because him falling on his ass is good enough for a conclusion.

We cut back to reality where apparently Jubilee used her actual fireworks to get the kids out of the cave (is the Xavier School open about their mutant status in TAS's version of continuity?). Cyke, Gambit, and Wolvie are there to meet them in their civvies. And for some reason it was determined that Gambit's idea of what to wear at a plain clothes rescue/excavation mission is strikingly similar to what he wears out on date night. Although considering Cyke is dressed for a night with his bowling league, maybe we can assume that they both would rather be somewhere else. Also, just in case you've gotten used to the cheaper quality of the animation, Logan, Remy, and Scott are here to remind you. The rest of the story looks positively photo-realistic compared to how they're rendered here. There is no effort beyond what is minimal. They didn't even draw in the blacks of Gambit's eyes. Maybe the animator was a "Third Summers Brother Gambit" truther and wanted them to have matching eyes. Regardless, this is how I'd expect to see them drawn in a tie-in activity book or maybe even on the back of a Burger King Kid's Club box, but not in something that a director/editor/showrunner/producer to look at and say, "yes, this is fit for public consumption.
Unfinished art that accidentally made it to broadcast
Somehow, despite being provided any visual aids or any reason to associate her story with reality, one of the kids identifies Wolverine as "Logan the Troll." I'm assuming Wolverine just let it roll off his back, but what the hell is that kid's problem? You just don't go around calling people you've just met trolls... I mean, unless you're dealing with an asshat on an internet forum.

With the kids waiting for their bus at the steps of the X-Mansion, Jean Grey seems surprised (disappointed?) that the kids don't seem to have mental states that reflect intense trauma. Jean Grey is a glass half empty kind of person. Wouldn't you be if you were stuck with Scott when you could be out consuming the cosmos?

The kids ask Jubilee to finish her story. Note that she completely skips over the actual end of the climax she was working on earlier. We just skip to the afterparty at the castle. Apparently a very shrill-voiced Jean is all a'twitter at the prospect of making Jubilee a princess and playing Julie Andrews to Jubilee's Anne Hathaway. As shrill as Queen Jean is, King Scott is so droningly bland that I'm fairly certain this is meta-commentary. Ye gods, what the hell is wrong with Scott's face? Where is his upper lip?! Is it hiding in his big ugly turban?
Is there no low point in the Uncanny Valley?
Jubilee slips out, stepping out of the gown she had been wearing with her elfin costume underneath it and runs off to have adventures with her buddies as we transition back to reality to see the vermin children driving off in their bus, eager to come again to hear another story. Really, kids? It didn't even qualify as "okay." Maybe they're all life model decoys of real kids who've been programmed to be impressed  by anything. Jean and the Professor, meanwhile are pleased with Jubilee's ability to manage a crisis singlehandedly, but probably nowhere near as much as Jubilee is pleased with herself.

Guys, this has been a lot of fun, but this article is massive and we still have five more incredibly badly animated episodes to go. I'm afraid we'll have to finish up this journey into facepalms another time.

Come back in two weeks for the next issue of "Batman : Under the Red Hood."

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Whirling Vortex of T-Rex!!

So who knew when I sat down to read a series about a little girl genius and a giant red T-Rex that I'd be squeeing over the dinosaur? Today we're looking into one of Marvel's newest offerings from the past year, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur. Written by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, it has Natacha Bustos as the artist and Tamra Bonvillain on colors.

There isn't too much essential continuity you need to know, but this is a surprisingly storied character. He is a rare example of characters created by Jack Kirby who isn't tied into the cosmic or straightforward superhero end of the Marvel Universe. In case the name didn't give it away, he's a dinosaur, but due to some plotty stuff in his origin which is a story for another time, he's actually a mutant dinosaur.

No, really, his being a mutant is actually a specific plot point in the Fallen Angels mini series, so despite whatever latter day retcons Marvel will assert to assert that he's actually an Inhuman or whatever, we know the truth.

But yeah, unlike your average T-Rex in the Mavel Universe, instead of being green, he's fiery red. Additionally, he's endowed with heightened intelligence (human or higher) as well as superior strength. Yeah, those flimsy little T-Rex arms are actually pretty mighty.

He comes from a place called the Valley of Flame, a prehistoric world which, depending on the era of publication and who is writing is either in Earth's prehistoric past, is in an alternate reality where dinosaurs are still alive, or is on another planet. Marvel currently stands by the multiversal designation of Earth-78411. This despite the fact that Marvel laid its Multiverse to rest last year. Way to commit to your decisions, guys.

The only other people of the Valley of Flame relevant to our discussion are the primitive race of men (homo habilis, according to the wiki) who are divided into two different clans: the Small Folk and the Killer Folk. Take a wild guess which tribe you should be rooting for. Devil Dinosaur's lifelong companion and fellow mutant Moon Boy is a member of the Small Folk and most all their appearances prior to this series were in tandem.

Okay, that's enough backstory: on with the show.

Our story begins with a quote from Dr. Gregory Stock, “humanity is leaving its childhood and moving into its adolescence as its powers infuse into realms hitherto beyond our reach.” Every issue starts with a passage like this from a luminary of the scientific community. I'm not sure how well they all relate to the book's human protagonist, but in this case it is markedly fitting. Presumably having such a young protagonist means that we are embarking on a child's version of the hero's journey, which places a heavy emphasis on the transition to maturity, learning to put the greater good above selfish desires, and "putting away childish things."

Meet Lunella Lafayette of Lower East Side Manhattan. She is a nine-year-old girl genius whose bedroom is wall to wall science. A solar system mobile hangs above her, while posters of Neil Degrassi Tyson and the Moon are hung on her walls. Models of molecular compounds are scattered on the floor and whereas most kids get nagged in the morning to wake up before school, we find Lunella hiding under the covers as she doing science. What is she cobbling together? Why does she feel compelled to hide head to toe under the covers with a flashlight cradled in the small of her neck as she performs presumably delicate mechanical construction? Not a clue, but odds are I wouldn't understand what that thing does without a flowchart.

Sadly, it seems Lunella has applied to quite a few of Marvel's supergenius schools, but has a cork board full of rejection letters. I'm assuming she stamped the huge red "rejected" marks on them herself. They're pretty uniform and I have a hard time believing educators would be that nasty to a nine-year-old.

Lunella's mother is calling from outside the bedroom for her to get moving and ready for school, but Lunella is a lot more interested in working on her device. She asserts that it is the key to solving the biggest problem, maybe even the city. However, Mother Lafayette has her daughter's number and mentions that the schools she has been applying to probably check attendance. And it is hilarious to see just how her eyes widen in terror as she speeds through getting dressed for school and out the door and taps a button on her tennis shoes transforming them into roller skates, helping her beat the clock.

Deployable roller skates? Meh. Next
time try rocket powered roller skates.
And this is our first full view of Lunella's character design. She's African-American and wears her hair, in one big frizzy floof of a ponytail (which defies logic, considering it's more wavy than curly when it's down). She wears  round purple glasses, a t-shirt with the moon on it, khaki shorts, and knee socks, and shorts. I won't lie, I think her design could do with a few more inches on those shorts. I ought to also include her backpack in that description, as any self respecting geeky little kid probably has quite a number of essentials in their backpacks that they cannot do without.

I think she is a little leggy for a nine-year-old. I think an inch further in that direction, I would have been worried that they're trying to sexualize a 9-year-old, but they manage to dodge that by emphasizing her sheer awkward body language as she rushes to school. Seriously, Lunella. You have two free hands and you are a literal genius. Why is that sandwich bag in your mouth?

Lunella arrives just as the bell rings, but her teacher is pretty mean-spirited to her anyway. Yeah, I have a hard time buying how venomously her teacher speaks. Even if a teacher is at her wits end trying to relate to a student, this is not how a teacher would communicate with a gifted-but-problematic student. This is how overly protective parents think a teacher would act. Or, considering we are deep in Lunella's POV, this is how a student with a superiority complex perceives her teachers.
Either this girl is hearing what she wants to hear instead of the spoken
word or this teacher is on the verge of a new career path.
Still, Lunella isn't exactly a prize herself. She may be a child prodigy, but she's still a nine-year-old and has a lot of growing up to do. She actively disengages in the class room, again to her teacher's chagrin, preferring to work on a design for a Kree detector. When the teacher, who calls her "Little Miss Know-It-All" (again, this is how helicopter parents think teachers treat their special little snowflakes), calls on her to answer the question of the theory of evolution, Lunella only begrudgingly responds and instead of answering the question asked, she delivers a small diatribe about why calling it a theory is inaccurate. Of course, she's the only one reveling in her intellectual superiority. The kids all laugh at and taunt her, calling her "Moon Girl."

That night, at the dinner table, her parents try to reach out to her, encouraging her to engage more with her classmates. Make friends. A friend. Then there's this little moment that I'm certain had to be deliberate. As her parents are trying to reach her verbally, her mother extends her hand and we see a panel of her hand not quite reaching her daughter's. It is just a moment of hesitation before she takes it in the next panel, but it makes me wonder whether there is a reason why we see that moment of their hands not connecting yet.

Suddenly, I realize that there might be grounds for an Aspergers reading of Lunella. She's hyper intellectual, avoids eye contact, lacks an ability to pick up on social cues, generally behaves unsympathetically to others, and now this little moment hints at an aversion to physical contact. Of course, this might just be me projecting and could totally be unintentional, but I'm kind of interested in having a protagonist with an Austism Spectrum Disorder, especially if it is eventually made textual and not just left up to the reader to interpret. Granted, I watched the Girl Meets World episode, "I Am Farkle" earlier this week, so perhaps this issue is just floating around my head lately.

Sometimes, having a gifted child isn't exactly a gift.
But she really doesn't see the point in her parents' plea for socialization. She doesn't expect to be at the school much longer and she has much more important objectives in mind, which takes us to later that night.

Almost assuredly past curfew, Lunella is out using her newly minted Kree detector. Her narration hints at the urgency of her project, saying that if she doesn't suss out her problem soon, she won't be human anymore. Juxtaposed against her tablet showing an article on the Kree and a news paper article about the Terrigen Mist and we start to get a clearer picture that she is worried about potentially being afflicted with Terrigenesis. Goddammit. I was really hoping to avoid dealing with the Inhumans after that abysmal Uncanny Avengers arc. Don't get me wrong, I love Ms. Marvel, but the Inhumans really need to get their proverbial peanut butter out of the rest of Marvel's chocolate.

While probably not what she was looking for, she does manage to find something of note in the form of a strange glowing orb with a criss-crossed pair of metallic rims orbiting it that emits a "kree-kree" sound. I'm not certain if it is a Kree artifact, but at least she detected a "kree."

Ladies and gentlemen:
The Main Event!
Ages ago, according to the narration (so we're ignoring the wiki's multiversal designation), we find ourselves in the  Valley of Flame, where the Killer Folk seem to be in possession of  the same glowing do-dad Lunella has found. They call it the Nightstone and they seem to worship it, intending to make sacrifices to it in order to "slake the Nightstone's bloodthirst." Yeah, wondering now what this thing is going to do to Lunella after prolonged exposure...

The Killer Folks' ritual sacrifices are put on hold when who should break up their holy rite but freaking Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy! Yeah, those blood sacrifices? The Killer Folk outsourced them and have a slew of Moon Boy's people lined up for the slaughter. While DD stomps his way through their foes, Moon Boy gets his hands on the Nightstone and intends to take it and bury it where the Killer Folk can't find it. But before he can make a getaway, he finds himself set upon by a bunch of Killer Folk who don't take kindly to Small Folk getting their fingerprints on their murder bauble.

Elsewhen, in the equally inhospitable realm of contemporary elementary school gym class, Lunella has abjured from the dog eat dog world in favor of marveling at her new discovery, which she has not-quite-subtly hid in her backpack. Remember how her homeroom teacher was kinda horrible to her? Well, her gym teacher is a whole lot worse. Not only is he vile to her, publicly shaming her for not joining in the game, but he violates her right to privacy by reaching into her bag and pulling out her "omni-wave projector." Not only does he infringe upon her privacy, but he shows no sense of remorse as he spins the strange device on his fingers, like a basketball, no doubt showing off to a bunch of 4th graders in the hopes of them not realizing he's a loser who has to pick on 9-year-olds to compensate for his own insecurities.

I'll go out on a limb as guess he has a small penis.
Again, I can't help but notice a disconnect within Lunella that might allude to a neuro-behavior disorder. Instead of getting upset about this clear infraction from her teacher, her inner monologue is fixated upon riddling out what exactly she has and what it might be used for. Considering I have a condition in which hyperfocus is certainly a part of the equation and happen to know it's also a symptom of Asperger's, it definitely caught my attention. It isn't until her teacher's actions have "comic book science" implications that we see her reacting to him.

Being both a bit of a bully and a show off, he spins her discovery on his finger like it were a basketball. However, this has some adverse effects as it causes a whirling green vortex to manifest. Nice going, jockstrap.

Back in the jungle primeval, the Killer Folk have Moon Boy surrounded, and he clutches the Nightstone with all his might as they beat him within an inch of his life. However, by the time they've finished with him, what a coinkidink, the Nightstone has vanished and there is another swirling green vortex, which they enter in the hopes of finding their precious totem. Of course, being chased into it by Devil Dinosaur was only a kicker in terms of reasons to enter a mysterious portal.

DD finds Moon Boy on the jungle floor, speaking with a quivering voice. Fairly certain that he is going to die, he beseeches his trans-species lifemate to avenge him, pointing up to the moon as he refers to himself in the third person. It is in this scene that we find what I expect will be the first of many panels (I read the first three issues at once as part of Marvel's Timely line, so I've been able to connect the dots a bit) that will make you look at Devil Dinosaur and say "aaaaaawwwww." His expression as Moon Boy says (presumably) his final words are as tender as any sad puppy's face,

Lunella manages to get her "omni-wave projector" to stop spinning, but is pretty shocked, as are her teacher and classmates, when she is almost jumped by a bunch of Australopithecines. Then she is even more surprised when a giant red mothafucking T-REX with fiery eyes rampages through the portal! There was a time when even I thought one Sharknado was laughable, then each sequel further chipped away my hope for humanity. But one film about a vortex filled with T-Rexes would totally reverse my esteem in the world we live in.

Devil Dinosaur chases the five of them down, tearing through the high chainlink fence of the schoolyard only for the Killer Folk to find refuge down a New York subway, where Devil Dinosaur is far too large to reach. Also, I think he might be a little tangled up in the remnants of the fence. Either that, or due to prior visitations to our time/reality/planet, he has learned only to cross the street at a crosswalk.
Look at those eyes. They'd be wet with tears if they weren't all fiery.

Lunella is apparently not down with his roaring because she yells at him to stop. Smart kid. A real genius. She's maybe 60 pounds soaking wet and she just caught the attention to, as far as she knows, a dangerous prehistoric apex predator (yes, I know paleontologists argue that T-Rex was a scavenger, but fuck that noise). He leans in and sniffs at her while she begs him not to kill her. He acquiesces and instead takes her by the backpack with his teeth and stomps away into the busy streets of Manhattan. Did he sniff something of importance from her? Do Marvel's child geniuses secrete a special pheromone that is catnip to theropods? Or did he make an immediate associate between her and Moon Boy from the moon on her shirt? Wait, didn't she wear that shirt yesterday? Is she like Doug Funnie and has an entire wardrobe of the same outfit? We need answers, Marvel!
And this probably isn't even the oddest think to happen that day in
Marvel's Manhattan.

So, this is exactly what I want out of a non-superhero book in a lot of ways. It has one of my favorite Marvel standards: a child genius who actually acts like a kid. Okay, she isn't exactly a ball of sunshine, but considering kids can be horrible, I think it works. She has a lot in common with Damian Wayne, who is one of my favorite current DC characters for exactly that reason. She's too intelligent to click with her age group, but she lacks the emotional maturity (read: humility) to have a place at the grown up table, either. I also like that despite the fact that her co-lead is a freaking mutant T-Rex, her problems seem smaller in scope than the average current stories I end up reading. This isn't a life or death story with impossibly high, Earth shattering stakes. It's wacky adventure with one very old character and one very new character, both of whom do not fit into the standard comic book protagonist mold. And I cannot wait to continue reading it.

Next Week: Grab a bowl of popcorn and fire up your dvd/bluray player as I take a look at the infamously, comically abysmal final season of X-Men The Animated Series. Bad animation fashion show, here we come!