Friday, February 26, 2016

Wynonna Earp

With Syfy’s upcoming television adaptation of Beau Smith’s monster-fighting US Marshall Wynonna Earp rapidly approaching, the time felt ripe to revisit the comics. I’ve been a fan of Beau Smith’s writing since his work with Tim Truman on the latter’s Scout series, his work on Guy Gardner: Warrior for DC, and his series Parts Unknown with artist Brad Gorby. He’s got a very down-to-earth, meat-and-potatoes, blue collar sensibility to his work, combined with a great deal of apparent love and appreciation for genre fiction, particularly, it seems, B-movie science fiction stories.

Having said that, while his name on a creator-owned project is enough to get my attention, I actually gave the 1996 Wynonna Earp series a pass when it first came out. (More about that in a bit.) It only lasted five issues, and then disappeared for like six years. In 2003, Smith revived the character with a different artist, Carlos Ferriera, at IDW Publishing. This version looked more to my liking. Sure enough, it felt very much at home with the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, and I got a huge kick out of it. Smith followed up that three-issue series with a graphic novel (The Yeti Wars), and that’s been it for the character, until her upcoming TV series was announced. Along with that comes a new comics series from Beau Smith.

In anticipation of the new series, I pulled my copy of The Complete Wynonna Earp off the shelf. The title is actually a misnomer; the book was published before Yeti Wars came out. For what it’s worth, IDW is publishing a new book containing the original Image series, the 2006 series, Yeti Wars, and the handful of short stories that have appeared featuring the character. There’s nothing there that I don’t already have in a bookshelf-friendly format, so I won’t be buying that.

Rereading the two series contained in this volume is almost like reading two different comics. As I said, I really enjoyed the 2006 revival, titled Home on the Strange. We meet Wynonna on a case that the US Marshalls would probably actually be involved with: mail theft. Only the perpetrators are zombies. Along with other federal agents, including the US Postal Service, she quickly moves in and takes care of the problem. 

However, on her way back to her home office in Arizona, her plane is attacked by goblins straight out of the Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, only they are drunk, redneck goblins. It’s all part of a plot by a number of Old West outlaws, all ostensibly killed by Wyatt Earp, back from the grave, immortal, and using supernatural powers to take over the world’s crime organizations. Only that’s something they can’t do if there’s still a living Earp descendant, apparently.

So that’s the main thrust of the plot: a tough blonde woman and her friends—including a werewolf bounty hunter—versus the undead, immortal cowboy outlaws of Western lore. It’s fast-paced and energetic, and the art—despite the fantastical elements—has more in common with classic adventure comics or European work than flashy American superheroes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with flashy American superhero comics artwork… if your comic is a superhero comic. Which this isn’t.)

While the 2006 story does make passing references to the then-uncollected-and-long-out-of-print original series, it stands very well on its own as an introduction to the character. Smith sketches out the world and the characters economically, showing who they are and what’s going on through dialogue and action, not long exposition. It’s high-concept fun, and even at the time, I remember thinking that this could easily be a Syfy or USA Network original series, shot for a low budget in Canada. Funny how things work out.

I should probably mention the original series, which I also reread. However, I don’t want to dwell on it too much. This blog is called This Makes Me Happy because I want to focus on things that do just that. The reason I skipped the original series in 1996 was the cover illustration, which made it look like this would be just another series about an unrealistically proportioned and clothed woman who is a bad-ass mainly because she’s got guns and fights monsters in her bra. There were a lot of comics like that in the mid to late 90s, and this looked like just another one.

In general, I would say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I was right to do so. The first three-issue story isn’t much more than Wynonna coming to a southwestern town and shooting up a bunch of redneck, drug-dealing vampire bikers. For three issues. There’s no character development, nothing personal at stake, no suspense, no complexity, nothing. The next two-issue story, about Egyptian mobsters trying to take over the New York crime scene using a mummy, adds a little more depth, but lost whatever points it had scored for me when it found an excuse to remove all Wynonna’s clothes. As much as I generally like the artwork of Joyce Chin, I don’t think the first three issues of this series represent her best work. And the second story, with art by Pat Lee, appeals to me even less.

The 2006 series has a lot more to recommend it than just the fact that Wynonna is wearing clothes throughout the whole thing, but that probably is the single greatest selling point that got me to give the series a second look. And I’m glad I did. I enjoyed Home on the Strange enough that I was excited to read The Yeti Wars. I’ll talk about that in the next couple of weeks, probably, once I’ve had time to reread it. 

And I thought that would be the entirety of Wynonna Earp. I didn’t really expect there to ever be another comic, and I certainly didn’t expect a TV series. I’ll reserve judgement on the show until I’ve actually seen it, but the trailers make it look like the same kind of B-movie fun as the comics. And we get a new comic out of it, so that’s something. As long as it’s like the 21st century version of the character, and not the 20th century version, they’re starting off on the right foot.

Friday, February 19, 2016

What's in the Box?!?: Kitnip Box and Marvel Collectors Corps subscription boxes

My wife and I aren't the only ones in the house who receive subscription boxes. Our cats also have their own subscription to the Kitnip Box, a monthly box full of cat toys and treats. (Okay, technically, the subscription is in Rumplestilskin's name, but all three cats share the spoils.) Since my subscription box round-up post turned out to be pretty popular, I thought you folks might be interested in what came in this month's Kitnip box.

Open opening, you can see that everything is packaged nicely in tissue paper, with a nice card summing up this month's theme. 

On the back of the card, we get a detailed list of this month's box contents.

Once we've broken the seal on the wrapping, you can see the treasure trove that is this month's haul. Normally, by the time I've gotten this far, Morticia has scented whatever catnip toys are in the box and has jumped up on the table to see what's what. This month, for whatever reason, she decided to let me look through the box on my own. (At least at first.)

The first toy out of the box was the Multipet Cat Toy. These little catnip pouches look like wrapped candies, which our cats always pounce upon when we have them in the house. To be honest, I'm not sure what makes these "multipet," except maybe the fact that there are two of them in the pack? The cats didn't get immediately excited by these, but the next day, I found that one had been carried or knocked across the room.

Next came the catnip beer bottle. Sadly, this is the perfect toy for our household, allowing our cats to imitate the behavior of their humans. (Kidding! We're not that heavy drinkers. Honest.) In general, Rumplestilskin seems to prefer these slightly larger toys, because he is able to grab hold of them and wrestle with them.

The next toy was the Feather Tickler Cat Toy. This one immediately held Gizmo's attention. He's a sucker for cat dancers. This one is basically a short wand with some feathers at the end of it. He found it fascinating. However, the wand is actually a little shorter than his reach, so at one point, while swiping at it, he clawed at my hand by accident. If we are going to play with this toy, I will definitely need to pay attention to make sure I don't get caught again. (It looks like the ribbon wrapped around the stick is just decorative, but I may need to reexamine it more closely to see if it's actually a ribbon to dangle the feathers off of.)

Following the feather tickler came the catnip chocolate bar. Again, as with the beer bottle, it may be a mistake letting our cats play with toys that so closely resemble things we eat and drink on a regular basis, but it's cute. 

I thought Gizmo would really be interested in the Mouse in Ball toy. He chases after it when I throw it, but I expected it to hold his attention longer than it has to date. Maybe he plays with it more when nobody is watching it, or maybe it's just a little too big for him. 

As I unpacked, Gizmo did show some interest in the Mint Ring, a chew toy ostensibly designed to freshen the cats' breath. I've not seen anyone chewing on it yet, though. I may need to get a bit proactive when it comes to playing with it, and see if they are more likely to chew on it if I'm helping them wrestle with it.

Finally, we got a bag of natural beef lung cat treats. We haven't opened this one up yet. My prediction is that Gizmo and Morticia will gobble them up, and Rumplestilskin will sniff at them and walk away. Obviously, I can't evaluate their flavor, but Gizmo and Morticia show no discrimination whatsoever when it comes to food, and Rumplestilskin tends not to like soft foods. So I'm more interested in the fact that they are supposedly all natural.

Overall, I thought this month's selection of toys were a lot of fun. As usual, some toys hold our cats' attention more than others, but there's always enough successes every month to justify continuing to get the box. If nothing else, Rumplestilskin got to relax with a cold beer, and that makes it all worth it.

I also received the new Marvel Collectors Corps box this week, featuring Deadpool. If I’m honest, Deadpool isn’t a character I’ve ever really connected with. But getting a subscription box means taking a chance, and while he may not be a favorite, I still got some cool stuff.

As usual, as soon as I opened the box, I saw this month’s collectible patch and pin. I wear the pins on my ID badge lanyard at work, and it makes me smile when kids recognize the characters when they see them. 

I haven’t done anything with any of the patches yet. Maybe I need to buy some kind of plain sweatshirt or jacket to sew them onto.

The next item to be revealed was this month’s t-shirt. As with the Smuggler’s Bounty, I get a kick out of these shirts featuring the Funko Pop versions of the characters. This is another cute one to add to the collection.

Next came the first issue of the latest Deadpool series, with an exclusive Collectors Corps cover. So adorable!

Speaking of adorable, I also received a push Deadpool Mopeez. It’s got a Collectors Corps tag on it, so I assume this is a Collectors Corps exclusive color scheme.

After that came the exclusive Deadpool Dorbz toy, featuring Cowboy Deadpool.

Finally, came this month’s exclusive Funko Pop, a leaping Deadpool. While I may not love the character, I love the leaping pose and transparent stand he’s on. It makes a nice change from the standard Pop pose.

The next Collectors Corps theme is Civil War, and I’m looking forward to that more than I was the Deadpool box. Still, I got some nice toys and a nice pin, and by subscribing to Collectors Corps for a year in advance, I knew I wasn’t always going to get all my favorite characters. I’m still happy to have these, and maybe this issue of Deadpool will be the one to win me over. Who knows?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ghostbusters International #1

One of my favorite comics being published today is Ghostbusters, by Eric Burnham and Dan Schoening, from IDW comics. I may have actually been a Ghostbusters fan even before the movie was released; when I was 12, my dad took me to see Stripes, starring the to-be-stars of Ghostbusters, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, cowritten by Ghostbusters cowriter Ramis, and directed by the man who would direct Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman. It wasn't that often that my dad took me to the movies on his own, so this was a special occasion, and it helped that the movie was not only hilarious, but that I was old enough to understand most of it.

I like Ghostbusters 2 just fine, and the animated cartoon is a lot of fun, but in recent years, my Ghostbusters interest has really been reignited by the Ghostbusters comic. Before the latest version by Burnham and Schoening, IDW had published a bunch of one-shots and miniseries by various creative teams that, while fun, didn't really grab my attention. But when IDW announced an ongoing series a few years ago, my interest was piqued, An ongoing series seemed to hold more promise than a series of individual stories, and I wasn't disappointed.

Unfortunately, last year, it looked like the ongoing series had finally come to an end after about three years. I eagerly bought the miniseries IDW published by the same creators, first teaming the Ghostbusters up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then their animated series counterparts from a parallel world, but I missed the ongoing subplots and character development. Fortunately, this month, Ghostbusters returned as a new ongoing, monthly comics series, still by Burnham and Schoening. This time, it' s called Ghostbusters International, and the first issue was great.

One of the great strengths of Ghostbusters as a comedy/fantasy concept is that, while it is full of humor, it doesn't make fun of the fantastical elements. The humor comes out of the characters, and of the concept of a likeable bunch of scientists taking on supernatural situations using methods more blue collar than HP Lovecraft or Dr Strange or Carnacki. The dialogue is funny and the situations are larger than life, but the threat and menace is real enough to give the story weight. That works in the movies, and Burnham and Schoening have captured that perfectly for the comics. (And I’m hardly the only one who believes the comic effectively captures and expands on the concepts of the movies; no less than Dan Ackroyd, co-creator and star of the movies, said so himself in an introduction to one of the comics collected volumes.)

I really love the style Schoening has chosen for the art. It's very stylized and distinctive, rather than trying to capture the actors' features in a detailed, photorealistic manner. Consequently, the more fantastical elements--the ghosts, obviously--fit in perfectly, without feeling overly-rendered and stiff. It's an aesthetic reminiscent of animated cartoons, without looking like the Real Ghostbusters cartoon (the differences are highlighted when the comics characters meet their Real Ghostbusters counterparts in the pages of Ghostbusters Get Real).

This first issue of this new series has a lengthy introductory page catching new readers up to the current status quo, but it's really not that different from the movies. Folks jumping onto the series with this new first issue will find a lot that is familiar, from the Ghostbusters trapping a monstrous spirit

to them reminding their clients that while they provide a unusual and unique service, they are still a business, run for a profit, and they are not amateurs at this.

Schoening also handles the quiet, character moments deftly. He reminds us that even a conversation between two people in an office can be visually interesting. 

This particular issue ends with a potentially interesting twist, and I'm looking forward to seeing where things go from here. Previously, it felt like the Ghostbusters comics had a pretty free hand to take things in their own directions, as long as the basic concept remained intact. The comic introduced new supporting characters with their own unique relationships to the classic quartet. I don't know if that's still the case, with a new, big-budget movie on the way to the screens, but IDW has done a great job with their licensed comics so far. (If nothing else, Ghostbusters Get Real has certainly established the notion of separate Ghostbusters in separate dimensions.) Hopefully, the new movie will bump up interest in Ghostbusters beyond nostalgia for a 30-year-old movie franchise, no matter how great, and reestablish the property as something contemporary. And hopefully, that will result in higher sales and a longer life for this comic. Either way, as long as this creative team is in charge, I'll be along for the ride.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Briskety Goodness

My wife bought me a smoker for Christmas, and a couple of weeks ago, I made my first smoked brisket.

Not quite sure what we were doing, we purchased a 5 lb brisket from the Butcher Block. They asked if we wanted an end cut or a center cut, and we chose an end cut because, honestly, I panicked. I don’t know if a center cut would have been any different, but I’m sure I will find out sooner rather than later.

I did some research online to figure out how to cook the thing. I had read that it should take in the neighborhood of an hour and fifteen minutes per pound to cook it, so we figured that if we wanted to have dinner when my wife got home from work at 6:30, I should start cooking it at noon that day.

About an hour before cooking—as per some of the advice I read online—I took it out of the fridge and trimmed some of the fat off. I then coated it in a commercial rub we also purchased at the store. In the future, I plan on trying to make my own rubs, but I’m just learning how to smoke things. I wanted to make it easy on myself.

I heated the smoker up to 225, and at noon, I put in a half cup of mesquite chips and the brisket, with a thermometer inserted. It heated up to 100 degrees even before my wife left for work, and I started to get a bit anxious. I had read that I should let it cook to 185 degrees, and then rested until the temperature was 200 degrees. 

At this rate, I was sure it would be done well before my wife left for work. However, at this point, we were committed, so we agreed that if it was done early, we could always just reheat it. At five pounds of beef, most of it would be eaten reheated or cold anyway.

I had read to expect the “barbecue stall,” where the thermometer shows that the temperature of the meat stops rising. I have linked to a detailed explanation, but essentially, this is the point at which the moisture evaporating from the meat starts to actually cool it. I had read that it tends to happen at around 165 degrees, but for me, it happened at 154 degrees.

Fortunately, I was prepared, otherwise I probably would have freaked out. I wrapped the brisket in foil, and it started to heat again, although a bit more slowly. (Probably, had I wrapped it when the stall actually started, I would have been okay.) Regardless, the cooking time had been severely slowed down, to the point that it was still cooking by the time my wife got home.

I had read to take the meat out of the smoker anywhere between 170 and 185 degrees. Because we were hungry, I split the difference at 177, expecting it to heat up more while it rested. We let it rest for about half an hour, but did not see the temperature increase. In fact, it started to go down. 

Since it didn’t look like this particular brisket was going to hit 200 degrees, and because at 177 degrees we knew it was cooked, we decided to go ahead and cut into it. As you can see from the photo, it was cooked just fine, and tasted tender and smokily delicious. We accompanied it with some instant cheddar mashed potatoes (because we’d devoted all our energy to cooking the meat). We also topped it with Daddy Sam’s Wine ‘Cue Sauce, since red wine goes well with red meat. The sauce went with the meat very well.

Overall, I consider this first brisket a success, but I’m looking forward to trying again and doing an even better job. Any tips?