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From The Beginning: WildStorm Universe – Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade

It’s back, girls and boys!

I had so much fun reading and writing about the WildStorm Universe in November that I’m not quite ready to go back to just reading it, so I’m going to file the occasional continuing readalong post on a much lesser intensity and frequency because I so do not have the time or stamina to write about 126 WildStorm comics every month.

While I’m very eager to pick up all of the books exiting WildStorm Rising to check out their new status quo, I’m going to use the next few installments to review later WildCATs solo outings that fit into pre-crossover continuity – Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade One-Shot, the Spartan: Warrior Spirit mini-series by Kurt Busiek, Zealot’s three-issue mini-series, and some WildCATs anthology stories.

This makes for a fantastic moment to pause and call out a really phenomenal blog: Weathering WildStorm. The author is undertaking this endeavor slightly more slowly than I have been, but he is doing it with the benefit of having read almost all of these books before. As a result, he’s got a fairly well-reasoned reading order that explains how these various side-stories fit. It’s by far the best one I’ve seen on the web in the four years I’ve been getting books together for this read!

Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade was published in August 1995, a hair later than WildStorm Rising, but per Weathering WildStorm’s guidance it directly follows either issue #13 or 14 (and maybe explains why the team was so ready for a break in #14-15). It follows up on Steve Gerber’s strong story in WildCATs Special #1.

The issue begins with an intriguing (and beautiful!) opening scene of all women, including Providence and Destine from Special #1 facing each other down in the remains of Yurgovia.

The next page is an ass-shot of Zealot followed by she and Voodoo fighting while dressed in their best Vampirella outfits. Those art choices are not just for the benefit of one splash page – this issue takes its “Skin Trade” name literally and gives a heavy dose of T&A whenever possible courtesy of artist Michael Lopez.

I’m tempted to write this one off as pure wish fulfillment, but there is considerable plot content tangled up with all the skin. Skin Trade turns Voodoo into a bit of a Mary Sue murder doll at points, but it gives context to her more active role in her own psyche in #18 and then on the battlefield in #19 and WildStorm Rising. It also greatly deepens Zealot’s history, if not her character, and creates a (largely unfulfilled) plot hook.

And, if you can tolerate a heaping of cheesecake, Lopez’s art is truly remarkable throughout the book save for a few pages with one bad inker on a solid team effort.

Final verdict? If you’re going all in on a sequential WildCATs read you ought to include this, but if you’re simply revisiting the high points of WildStorm you can skip it.

Continue reading for a recap of Skin Trade‘s plot. Need a copy? Check Amazon and eBay. As for what’s next, I still need a bit more of a breather to work out a schedule for my my leisurely readalong. Continue reading ›

Song of the Day: “Head Underwater” by Jenny Lewis

Last month I wrote about my enduring affecting for Rilo Kiley, especially their final studio album, Under The Blacklight.

It wasn’t obvious at first that Blacklight was the end of RK, but when Jenny Lewis followed it with another solo record and then forming Jenny & Johnny, I despited. Her soulful, alt-country Rabbit Fur Coat and and Acid Tongue were both solid, objectively good records, but they didn’t have the magic alchemy of Rilo Kiley for me.

I chalked up all the propulsive catchiness, killer riffs, and Fleetwood Mac overtones to Lewis’s RK co-writer Blake Sennet and kept Under The Blacklight in my heavy rotation.

Thus, I wasn’t paying all that much attention when Jenny Lewis dropped her lead single for The Voyager, “Just One of the Guys,” in 2014. It had a clever, star-studded video and still had the alt-countryish tinge. I’d buy the LP out of dedication, but it wouldn’t fill the Rilo Kiley shaped hole in my listening habits.

Then, I heard the first song on the LP, “Head Underwater” and understood that I was completely wrong about everything.

I’m not the same woman
That you were used to

I put my head underwater baby,
I threw my clothes away in the trash

Somehow “Head Underwater” does almost everything that Under the Blacklight does in a single song in a tenth of the time. It accelerates from the soulful sunny pop of “Silver Linings,” passing the wistfulness of “When The Angels Hung Around” on its way to the breezy 80s Fleetwood Mac of “Dreams.” I half expect a sweep of wind chimes every time she says “magic.”

(I particularly love this live version because you can appreciate Lewis’s uncannily perfect voice, which rings clearly and powerfully like a church bell. It’s hard to believe she is singing this live.)

“Head Underwater” gives me crazy rollercoaster feelings in my stomach every time I hear it. I swing from euphoria to nostalgia to grief and back again. I feel the low click of a ticking clock suffocating me like a lungful of water.

It turns out that Jenny Lewis was capable of all of Rilo Kiley’s many sonic references all on her own. They’re a part of the same continuum as her alt-country leanings. When she was in Rilo Kiley there was no point in her recording yet more RK-sounding songs for her solo efforts. Seven years down the line, some of those songs were looking for an outlet and found it in The Voyager.

There’s a little bit of magic
Everybody has it
There’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass

The Voyager doesn’t have the booty-shaking elements of “Moneymaker” or “Breakin’ Up.” That’s part of the the titular voyage of the album. Blacklight was written around the time Jenny Lewis turned 30, and Voyager as she neared 40. She’s in the same reflective, cutting mood she was on Blacklight, but instead of reveling in the power of youth and sex she’s describing just how differently women (even mega-talented rock star women) are treated as they drift through the uncanny landscape of a childless middle age filled with the same ambition they had in their 20s.

That’s why “One of the Guys” – catchy, but not the best song on the LP – was the lead single. The same reason “Moneymaker” was the lead single on Blacklight.

Because it was the thesis statement.

Children’s Book Review: Nightsong by Ari Beck & Loren Long

One of the critical stops on every one of our trips to the zoo is bats. Fruit bats. Insect-eating bats. We’ve even added adorable little vampire bats who live in a dark room and drink blood from a wee little dish.

Perhaps some parents would be slightly alarmed to have one of their toddler’s favorite animals be bats (especially the blood-drinking kind). I’m not, and not just because the first book I ever read was Dracula. No, it’s more that two of EV’s favorite books are the previously covered Stellaluna and today’s book, Nightsong.

Whereas Stellaluna is a story EV loves, Nightsong’s little Chiro the Bat became a persistent character for EV. He is absolutely adorable. She loves fussing over his cheeks and his chubby belly while we read the book. After a few reads, she began to talk about what Chiro was doing randomly throughout the day. In turn, she became even more engrossed in the book, to the point that she could easily recite it for us with the pages for reference.

This forced my hand on allowing the first licensed character into our home, as we discovered there is in fact stuffed Chiro doll that one can acquire. Every day when EV takes a nap he flies up to a perch on the wall and hangs upside down, and each night he flights down to keep EV company while she goes to sleep.

Nightsong, written by Ari Beck and illustrated by Loren Long Amazon Logo

nightsong-berk-longCK Says:  – Buy it!

Reading Time: 7-10 minutes

Gender Diversity: Male protagonist (easily gender-flipped) and mother.

Ethnic Diversity: Not applicable

Challenging Language: frightened, girths, gleefully, threatened, errands, strand, kin, textures, blanketing, sheltering

Themes to Discuss: being afraid of the dark, sound waves and echolocation, independence, self-confidence and mastery of skills, predators and insectivores, testing boundaries

Nightsong is a book about discovery and boundaries that is beautiful in every way – from its flowing prose to high-contrast, nearly-3D illustrations to its supple, glossy paper. The warmth and trust between Chiro the bat and his mother provides an awesome opportunity to explain boundaries and when it’s the right time to test and push past them.

Chiro the bat awakens folded in his mother’s wings in their cave home. She explains that tonight is the night he will fly out alone and use his “good sense” to find his way – only to the pond, unless his song is sure. nightsong-loren-long-chiro-excerptAt first Chiro feels scared and disoriented, but when he begins to use his echolocation it lights up the details of the world for him as clear as day. After enjoying a breakfast of bugs, Chiro feels confident enough to keep flying. He explores as far as the ocean when he sees the glimmer of the rising sun and knows it’s time to return home to his mother’s warm embrace.

Of all the wonderful elements of this 2012 picture book, Loren Long’s illustrations are the most noticeable. He draws an animated, three-dimensional Chiro who pops off of the black backgrounds of the pages. The efffect is so uncanny that I was convinced that the book contained some computer-generated graphics until I read up a bit on Long, a mega best-selling illustrator. The flecks of acrylic paint that define Chiro’s face at times suggest the detail of blown up pointilist painting in their minute size and deliberate placement.

Other books I’ve read from Loren Long range from fine to great, but the beautiful prose in Nightsong is truly remarkable. That’s the work of Ari Beck, a YA author, folklorist, and doctor of Comparative Literature and Culture. Beck’s writing is easy to read but not simplified, descriptive but never florid. It possesses a natural rhythm that makes me smile to read it. I never get tired of reading this book – it’s a rare one that I can read daily without complaint.

“Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you’ll see.”

Out went this song over dark water then, again and again, each wave on the ocean rising up to greet him, each splash of sea foam becoming kin to him.

I am always cautious of books with adorable protagonists who like to misbehave. Even when a powerful moral ensues, it can take a while for it to sink in for a toddler even as they begin to emulate the silly or even dangerous behavior of the character they love.

Nightsong gracefully avoids this problem, although it’s so subtle that on my first few reads I was disappointed when Chiro extended his flight past the boundary of the pond that serves as his insect breakfast bar. nightsong-loren-long-interiorIt begin with Chiro’s mother explaining exactly when he ought to push the boundaries she’s set for him – only when his song feels sure. We never get a moment of Chiro thinking to himself, “my song is sure,” but we do have the sureness threaded into the language throughout the book as Chiro’s self-confidence grows. As a result, his boundary-pushing is not only with permission, but it feels entirely organic for the character.

There are few books in our collection that have been read as often as Nightsong, and none of them are in quite as pristine condition. This is simply a beautifully-built book, from the matte soft-touch cover to the weight, glossy pages. It’s especially impressive considering just how soaked in black ink the entire work is. I’d usually expect a book like that to fray and fade, but Nightsong remains just as inky and beautiful as the day we brought it home.

That darkness means these illustrations aren’t particularly bright, although they are high contrast and cheerful. Some kids simply may not warm up to all the black-backgrounded pages. Also, the charm of the book is very much in the richness of the language rather than any particular cleverness of plot, so if you’re not going to give it a spirited read I could imagine it falling a bit flat.

Ari Beck and Loren Long have created a flawless, timeless classic in Nightsong that is so enduring that my child talks about Chiro even when the book is safely shelved away. It is one of my go-to gifts for babies and toddlers.

35-for-35: 2016 – “Mountains” by Dirty Holiday

This post is part of my month-long "Blog of Tomorrow" celebration of the launch of Crushing Krisis's Patreon. Learn more or become a Patron today!

This is actually a post about the 36th song from 35 years of my life.

I’ve never understood how “Best of the Year” lists can come out in December. There’s a whole extra month of things that might be the best! There’s more year – more context – that hasn’t happened yet!

The lists should come out in January. I blame Christmas. Some might say I have declared a war on it.

I think “Best of Year” lists should come out in the following January, or maybe even March or April. Who can even know the shape of the year without a little time and hindsight? How many of these 35 songs would I have chosen right at the end their years rather than after? In many cases, I hadn’t even heard them year.

I don’t know what hindsight will tell me about 2016. It was tempting to pick “Blackstar” or “Lazarus” as a reminder of those brief first 10 days of 2016 when it seemed everything was possible before the sad, awful mess of this year set in. Maybe in hindsight one of those will be my song of 2016.

For now, my pick is a song from just two weeks later. Actually, it was the first thing I heard other than David Bowie after his death. The song is “Mountains” by Dirty Holiday, a moniker for one of the many projects of Philly singer-songwriter Katie Barbato.

It also happens to be EV’s favorite song of the year.

This will forever go down as the first song I discovered and loved at exactly the same time as EV. She was sitting at our dining room table the first time I played it from my laptop, and as she requested Dirty Holiday’s Nobody’s Sober EP again and again it grew to be our favorite song amongst a strong crop.

There’s something about how the song picks up from a bluesy, acoustic strum to something larger .The arrangement and production is a perfect fit for this tune. In particular, I’d describe those organ parts as “lurid” – so swirling and colorful that there is almost something prickly and sinister about them, lending a different meaning to Barbato’s tossed off “da dut da” above them.

One Wednesday over the summer I brought EV to the Academy of Natural Sciences to see the dinosaurs for the first time. However, in documenting the story on the blog this summer, I skipped my favorite part.

EV and I reached the intersection of 19th street and Walnut, where 19th is interrupted by Rittenhouse Square. As we crossed from the west side to the east, we very literally bumped into Katie Barbato and her husband Matt. We hugged hello, and then I leaned down to introduce EV.

“EV, this is Miss Katie.” Then, it dawned on me that EV knew exactly who Miss Katie was. “EV, it’s Katie Barbato.

Here is an artist’s rendering of EV’s face in that moment:


Katie, Matt, and I chatted about Katie’s record and my purple hair for a few minutes while EV hid behind my legs in awe. There we were in the middle of Center City, and her papa was talking to A ROCK STAR FROM THE IPOD. She did not say a single word to Katie or Matt, but as soon as we said our goodbyes the only thing she could talk about for the rest of the day was, “Did you know that I met Katie Barbato?

Requests for “Mountains” saw an uptick after that, which I didn’t even think was possible.

You can buy the entire Nobody’s Sober EP at BandCamp for $4. It is five songs long and each song is way better than a dollar, so that is a steal.

From The Beginning: WildStorm Universe – WildStorm Rising

This post is part of my month-long "Blog of Tomorrow" celebration of the launch of Crushing Krisis's Patreon. Learn more or become a Patron today!

It’s the grand finale of my daily read of the first three years of WildStorm Comics – WildStorm Rising!

WildStorm Rising is the first direct crossover between any WildStorm books. Just like here at CK the WildStorm crew doesn’t do anything halfway – their first crossover hits every one of their eight ongoing titles, adding a prologue and a pair of bookends for wildstorm_rising_tpb11 total issues:

  • Team 7: Operation Hell #1
  • WildStorm Rising #1
  • WildC.A.T.s #20
  • Union (1995) #4
  • Gen 13 (1995) #2
  • Grifter #1
  • Deathblow #16
  • Wetworks #8
  • Backlash #8
  • StormWatch #22
  • WildStorm Rising #2

The crossover is really only meaningful to a trio of them – dual flagships WildCATS and Stormwatch, and the debut of Grifter. Everyone else is merely a bystander in the culmination of a year-long plot launched in Stormwatch to alter the struggling status quo in WildCATs.

There are pros and cons to any linewide crossover, and WildStorm Rising is no exception.

On the pro side, the event manages to accomplish something that few Marvel crossovers could manage back in the 90s (and still can’t today): Each chapter worked well as an issue of its own book advancing some of its own themes. That’s despite the fact that many books weren’t written by their typical authors and many of them continued directly to the next title in the crossover sequence.

Plus, we really do get a new status quo for several books, none more so than WildCATs!

On the con side, WildStorm Rising squanders Defile’s long-running infiltration of Stormwatch in favor of him chasing a McGuffin of power just inserted into Team 7: Objective Hell. Many of the pillars of the crossover were built from Defiles machinations, but it still feels like a massive cheat to see his master plot lose steam just as WildCATs and Stormwatch come to blows. He almost literally says, “Screw my plans that have been built up in Stormwatch since issue #6, now I’m going to focus on this other thing.”

stormwatch_v1_022-textlessEven worse, it turns out the McGuffin has no real meaning in a hairpin final turn – it was merely a red herring to bring back a fan favorite character squandered too early in the life of the line!

What is this amazing McGuffin? It’s both a key and a symbol. It’s about the balance of power in the ruling class of Daemonites. When they arrived on a space ship chasing the Kherubim, there was a natural division of power between politics, military, and (sort of) transportation. A representative of each held a key to the ship that also signified their unquestionable ruling power. All three would need to align their keys to activate interstellar navigation technology so none could shift the balance of power too far towards government, military might, or (one would imagine) commerce and colonization.

The transportation key was lost in the ship’s crash, which left the political and military arms of the Daemonites stuck in a two-party struggle for planetary power for 2,000 years with no means to escape. Now, the two pieces of the lost key have showed up in possession of a rogue Daemonite and a member of Team 7, and both sides of the Daemonites are racing to collect them – while the assembled might of our heroes try to defend them while resolving their inter-squad squabbles.

Is WildStorm Rising worth a read? As a self-contained event it’s nothing special. However, if you plan to read any other WildStorm books from 1995-1997 – like Grifter’s solo series or Alan Moore’s WildCats – it’s a good primer. It’s far back enough from Ellis’s takeover on Stormwatch to be relevant there.

The rest of this post is split into two sections. The first reviews each issue of the crossover (w/links to purchase) with relatively few comments on plot. The second second offers a plot recap of each issue so you can fill in the gaps of your read.

Want to read the entire thing in one go? All of the material aside from the prologue is collected in a single TPB (Amazon / eBay).


Continue reading ›

From The Beginning: Dr. Seuss – McElligot’s Pool (Book #5)


This post is part of my month-long "Blog of Tomorrow" celebration of the launch of Crushing Krisis's Patreon. Learn more or become a Patron today!

Today is the fifth installment of my “From The Beginning” read of Dr. Seuss’s entire bibliography. Last week I reviewed the slightly odd, lesser-known Horton book Horton Hatches the Egg.

Dr. Seuss followed Horton with another silly rhyming tale, recycling Marco the protagonist of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and his wild imagination. However, this time around Marco didn’t seem to capture my toddler’s imagination.

McElligot’s Pool (1947) – Dr. Seuss Amazon Logo

CK Says:  – Consider it

Reading Time: 5-8 minutes

Gender Diversity: Marco and the farmer are male; some fisher are gendered as male. The one named women is out hanging her clothes (as most of Seuss’s early women are)

Ethnic Diversity: None

Challenging Language: pasture, croquet, connecting, whoofing, friskers, kangaroo, gristle, acrobat, thrashing

Themes to Discuss: imagination, littering, evolution

McElligot’s Pool reunites us with Marco, the imaginative star of Seuss’s debut And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. On this occasion he’s not walking down a busy city street, but sitting at a fishing hole out in the country. His vivid imagination is not only intact, but it has grown.

That means the same is true for Marco’s author, Dr. Seuss. His fifth book is the first to dive deeply into his fanciful world of ridiculous made up animals  – here represented in meter by all the unusual fish that Marco can possibly dream up.

mcelligots-pool-dr-seuss-rooster-fishMcElligot’s Pool is a really just an overgrown puddle, a hole-in-the-ground filled with water and people’s junk. A local farmer says Marco couldn’t possible catch a fish there even if he fished for fifty years! Even without the junk, I’m not sure that any fish would want to live there.

Marco is undeterred, imagining the pool as an underground river that runs out under his little town to the sea beyond. And, while there might not be any interesting fish in McElligot’s Pool, the sea is full of them! He starts out picturing real (or, at least, realistic) fish he might catch, but escalates quickly to picturing rooster fish, cow fish, downhill skiing fish and people fish. (It’s pretty gruesome to imagine catching some of them with a hook!)

All of those fish are the reason Marco keeps fishing, even if they might not really exist to be caught.

Seuss feints in the direction of an environmentalist tale with the initial focus on all the junk littering the pool, but the theme doesn’t linger after its initial mention. Once the underground river flows out to the sea, the story is like an underwater adaptation of Mulberry Street fueled by extra imagination.

mcelligots-pool-dr-seuss-pg-32I found the book full of silly fish to be charming, but from the first read the toddler had found it to be boring. I wasn’t sure why at first. It has colorful illustrations and  zippy, easy-to-read language. After negotiating with her to read it a few more times, I think her disinterest is the result of McElligot’s Pool lacking the progression of Mulberry Street. Though the fish do get slightly bigger and more unusual as the story continues, there isn’t a clear “this replaces that” theme nor a sense of reaching a destination. It’s just a list of silly fish.

What interested toddler does have in the book are certainly the illustrations. This book features a fuller range of colors than the last few – delicate watercolors rather than the bold color fills of Mullberry or the flash of red in 500 Hats and King’s Stilts. The fish themselves are quite delightful. Seuss pushes each of Marco’s fanciful concepts as far as possible. Some of them definitely elicit a chuckle from me on re-read, especially the saw fish who can’t get around on his own because he’s poorly balanced and the skiing fish because why would a fish need to ski underwater?!

McElligot’s Pool is a silly book to borrow from a library to spur your child’s imagination, or perhaps a fun read to get them excited about a visit the aquarium, but it’s not a Seuss classic you must own.