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Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism

Mike Mignola has been one of my favorite comic book artists for decades, and I have also fallen in love with his writing and storytelling skills through his Hellboy universe of comics, which Mr. Mignola has guided for twenty-five years (and which consistently tops my annual Best Comic Book Series of the year lists, as it did this year).  Mr. Mignola has collaborated with author Christopher Golden on many of the best Hellboy comics (most notably an extended series of B.P.R.D. miniseries).  The two men have also co-authored two amazing and wonderful illustrated novels: Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire and Joe Golem and the Drowning City.  I highly recommend them both!!!  I recently discovered that the two had collaborated on a third novel — actually, a novella, published in 2012, called Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism.  How had I missed this??

In the final months of World War II, a new priest arrives at the convent of San Domenico in a small town in Sicily.  The town has been battered by war, and the nuns at the convent have become the overseers of an orphanage, caring for the dozens of children left orphaned by the war.  The young priest, Father Gaetano, wrestles with his responsibility to teach these traumatized children about God.  How can he convey God’s love to these kids, who the horror or war has left angry and lost?  Inspired by the clown puppet that nine-year-old Sebastiano clings to as his only and best friend in the world, Father Gaetano decides to use puppets to teach his young charges their catechism.  And then, well… I will spoil nothing!

This novella is phenomenal.  I think its is Mr. Mignola and Mr. Golen’s finest collaboration!!  (And that’s saying something.)

Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism reminded me, in the best possible way, of the Spanish-language work of Guillermo del Toro, especially his film The Devil’s Backbone.  The novella, like that film — and like all of the best fantasy stories — has a fantasy element, but the story and the characters are so strong that the story could conceivably be compelling and interesting even without the fantasy element.

I was immediately captivated by the strong sense of setting, of time and place, that Mr. Mignola and Mr. Golden were able to create, and by their wonderful characters.  They do a delightful job fleshing out the various children (especially Sebastiano) as well as the various nuns.  And I was particularly taken by the attention paid to Father Gaetano.  I loved how they explored this man and his humanity, attempting to step into his role, not just as Father and leader to the nuns (many of whom were much … [continued]

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Ragna Rok: The Hellboy Saga Draws to a Close!

For twenty-five years, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics have been one of my very favorite comic book series.  This series has expanded from an occasionally-published series of mini-series and short stories to a vast universe of stories, with multiple interconnected stories chronicling over 100 years of the history of these characters and this universe.  This is my favorite currently-published comic book series!  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  (If you’re new to the Hellboy universe, you can dip your toes into the water with the Hellboy Omnibus vol. 01: Seed of Destruction, a relatively inexpensive lengthy collection of the first several Hellboy mini-series.)

Several years ago, I spent a long time re-reading the entire saga from the very beginning, and writing about it. In 2017 I checked in with the saga again, and in early 2019 I did the same.

In recent months, Mr. Mignola and his collaborators shocked me by, well, apparently bringing the entire twenty-five-years-long shebang to a conclusion!  In today’s age of hype-hype-hype, this ending caught me very much by surprise!  (Hellboy fans who aren’t all the way caught up: please beware SPOILERS in this blog post!)

B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know “Ragna Rok” #14-15 (2019) — Well, wow.  The whole Hellboy saga finally comes to an end, and events that have been hinted at in prophecies and visions for almost the entire twenty-five year run of this saga (so far) finally come to pass.  It’s a shockingly downbeat ending, in which most of our heroes die, and in fact almost every human being on the planet dies!  Yowza!

I’m conflicted, because on the one hand it is incredibly cool and satisfying to see this long-running story-line reach an ending.  As I have written about on this blog beforehand, there are precious few examples of when a long-running fictional saga is able to be brought to a strong ending, at a time and place of the creator(s)’s choosing.  It’s special when it happens.

I am impressed that Mr. Mignola and co. stuck to their guns and followed through on the long-running hints that this story was not going to end well for most of our characters.  In most stories like this, you’d expect the heroes to find a way to save the day in the end.  But not here.  It’s impressive to me that they delivered this dour ending.

On the other hand, I wish this final run of issues hadn’t felt so rushed.  The combination of Laurence Campbell’s scratchy writing and Scott Allie’s occasionally staccato writing style didn’t quite work for me as well as I’d hoped.  HUMONGOUS, series-shattering events happened in these final issues, but none of it landed as … [continued]

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“And Now Our Watch is Ended” — Josh Bids Farewell to Game of Thrones

Looking back on eight seasons of Game of Thrones, I am in awe of what creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have been able to accomplish.  They brought the novels of George R. R. Martin’s to glorious life, hooking me deeply into the stories and characters.  It’s been a while since I have been so emotionally invested in a TV show.

In the early seasons, I wondered how long the show could sustain itself.  But the series grew and grew, becoming emotionally richer as it went on, not to mention ever-more visually impressive. The show smashed every expectation I ever had for what a fantasy TV show could deliver on a TV budget.  Game of Thrones gave us a visually stunning movie every single week.  Having not read George R. R. Martin’s novels, the show continually blew me away with its total disregard for storytelling conventions, killing off characters and having the good guys defeated and humiliated and destroyed at every turn.  Again and again and again, this series surprised and shocked me, and I loved it for that.  And I loved the (surviving) characters more and more with each passing episode.  Here in the final season, I was deeply invested in what would happen to these characters, hoping that some of them would find a happy ending.

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this final season, even though I think the show has stumbled in some of its storytelling choices.  These final six episodes have each been HUGE, filled with series-altering events, both small-scale interpersonal moments and enormous fantasy sequences of armies and zombies and dragons.  To say I was gripped would be an enormous understatement.  Watching this final season has ben a rollercoaster, and I mean that as an enormous compliment.  What a ride this has been.  Rarely have I been this captivated by a TV show.  The week-long wait between episodes has been torture.

The biggest failing of this final season was that, despite the extra-long episodes, it feels to me like there was far too much story jammed into these six episodes.  My favorite episode was episode #2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which was entirely focused on our characters at Winterfell, waiting through the night for the final battle with the Night King’s forces.  I loved that the show took the time to pause and let us enjoy these characters.  That episode was filled with scene after scene of amazing, wonderful character beats that paid off years of storytelling.  It was amazing.  But often in the other five episodes, I felt that events blew by too fast for them to have the impact they should have had.  This was most problematic in terms of … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

A blu-ray of the amazing documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which I reviewed on Wednesday, is now available for pre-order at Amazon!

Have you heard about the kids at North Bergen High School in New Jersey who adapted Alien for the stage?  The full recording is now available to watch, and it is so fun:

Wait, Avengers: Endgame ISN’T actually the end of the MCU?  Heh.  Here’s a new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home:

That looks great.  I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I’m eager for more of the MCU’s Spider-Man.  I’m intrigued by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, presented in the trailer as a good guy!  It’d be fun if the film does something different with Mysterio, but since I’m not seeing evidence of another villain in the film, I’m assuming he becomes evil by the end… we’ll see what surprises the film has in store.  (I’m intrigued by the references to the multiverse, which suggests the film is somewhat based on how Brian Michael Bendis used the character in his Ultimate Spider-Man comic-book series.  This also, of course, makes me think of the phenomenal Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  Is it possible that Far from Home will connect to Spider-Verse somehow?  That’d be fun.)  The film, thankfully, seems like it won’t ignore the events of Endgame, though I remain worried, as I wrote in my Endgame review, as to how this and other future MCU films can possible deal satisfactorily with the fallout from the “five years later” jump.  Far From Home director Jon Watts has good things to say about being excited to explore the fallout from Endgame in his film… so we’ll see how this all plays out…!

Here’s our first trailer for It: Chapter Two:

That’s a great trailer!  I love the choice to present that long scene.  I loved It: Chapter One and this sequel has a fantastic cast, including Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy.  I can’t wait.

I’m not sure the new Watchmen series for HBO, overseen by Damon Lindeloff, is anything close to a good idea.  But I must admit to being intrigued by the notion of carrying the story forward beyond the events of the graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.  This first trailer is interesting, even though I don’t have much of a clue what’s going on:

I’m disappointed that Angie Tribeca has been cancelled.  I’m not shocked, as this show seems to have been flying completely under most everyone’s radar.  Personally, I loved the first three seasons (click here for my review of season one) and I’ve been enjoying season 4 so … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Amazing Documentary About Star Trek Deep Space Nine: “What We Left Behind”

On Monday night I had the pleasure to see, on the big screen, the extraordinary documentary What We Left Behind, looking back at my favorite of the Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr, who was the show-runner of DS9 for most of its run, and David Zappone.  It’s a glorious love-letter to the show, to the men and women who worked so hard to create it, and to the fans who loved it (and love it still).

Deep Space Nine is easily my favorite of the Star Trek shows.  I realize it’s hard to argue that any Trek show can top the Kirk/Spock/McCoy Original Series, and if I was ranking the Trek shows in order of importance, clearly the Original Series would be on top.  I love the Original Series.  And I love TNG (Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first spin-off) dearly.  But Deep Space Nine is my favorite.  To me it is by far the most interesting and complex of all the Trek series.  The show was unafraid to feature complicated storylines and complicated, morally grey characters.  The show delved far more deeply into its characters than any of the other Trek shows.  (As someone in the documentary astutely notes, the least-developed DS9 character was far more developed, by the end of the show’s seven-season run, than any character on TNG.)  Many fans were turned off by DS9′s being set on a space-station rather than a starship like all the other Trek shows (before and after).  But that unchanging location quickly became a virtue.  Rather than jumping to a new planet and new characters/situations each week, DS9 stayed in one place, and so was able to dig deeply into its setting and its characters, developing an extraordinarily deep bench of beloved and richly-developed supporting characters and long-running storylines.  The show’s characters were complex and messy and flawed, and it developed a long-running story of interstellar conflict (the Dominion War) that was thrilling and complex and unlike any story Trek had ever told before (or since).  The show was groundbreaking in its continuity in a way that many (fans and the studio) found off-putting at the time, but that I always loved, and that laid the path for all of today’s heavily-serialized shows.  And it is almost always overlooked (a point Mr. Behr makes at one point in the doc) for how groundbreaking it was for having an African American in the lead role, and for its deep bench of characters played by African American men and women.  The show was great back when it aired and it holds up remarkably well today.  (Sadly, no subsequent Star Trek[continued]

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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones: “The Bells”

Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode came close to greatness, which makes the places where it fell short all the more painful.  Let’s dig in.  Obviously, SPOILERS below, so for the love of the old gods and the new, don’t read if you haven’t seen the episode!

“The Bells” was as humongous and epic as the show has ever been; it was a triumph of visual effects, special effects, costuming, set decoration, editing, directing, and more; the culmination of eight seasons of ever-more-impressive production values.  Amidst all the spectacle, this episode was also filled with a number of tremendously powerful, emotional character beats, many of which paid off arcs going all the way back to the very beginning of the show.  It was exciting and gripping and heartbreaking.  I watched white-knuckled from the first second to the last.

This episode also had several enormous flaws, most critically that I simply do not buy Daenerys’ sharp turn into madness.  It’s just not working for me that the show took this character who we’ve been following and rooting for since the series premiere and suddenly turned her into a murderous maniac.  Now, Dany has never been perfect.  She has made mistakes, and she has shown a ruthlessness and viciousness throughout the run of the series.  But while perhaps her singleminded belief that her destiny was to rule Westeros was egotistical or even fanatical, Dany has always seemed genuine in her desire for justice.  That’s why Dany was so successful at amassing so many followers who loved her and were willing to die for her over the years, from Ser Jorah to the Dothraki and the Unsullied.  In the last week, I’ve seen some people mention her execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly as evidence that Dany has always had these mad tendencies.  But I don’t buy it.  Yes, ordering the roasting-by-dragonfire of those Tarlys was cold and even cruel.  But killing the heads of a house that had stood against her is a far cry from the total massacre of a city-full of innocents that we witnessed in this episode.  That Dany, a woman who has always been particularly concerned for the plight of the common people oppressed by uncaring rulers, would so callously butcher all of the civilian inhabitants of King’s Landing is unfathomable to me.

If they were going to try to convince me that this turn for Daenerys was justified, then having her vanish from the entire second half of the episode was not the way to do it.  We see Dany’s angry face as she decides to ignore the bells launch her dragon into city-destroying action, but then we never return to her again.  What a bizarre and disappointing … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Two-Part Finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season Two: “Such Sweet Sorrow”

Well, I’ll give them some credit, the folks behind Star Trek: Discovery did their best to pull out all the stops for this two-part season finale.  There were huge spaceship battles and hand-to-hand combat sequences, there were big emotional moments, and attempts made to not only answer all of this season’s long-running questions but also to tie up some of the continuity issues that have been present since the start of the series.  Unfortunately, as seems to usually be the case for this show, the things that worked were, in my opinion, vastly outnumbered by all the things that didn’t.

Let’s dive right into the big stuff.  (I’m going to dig deeply into spoiler territory here, folks, so beware.)  The core mystery this season was of the seven signals that appeared simultaneously across the galaxy.  That’s how things were set up in the season premiere.  But then, as the season progressed, new signals kept appearing.  That was a contradiction that never made sense to me.  Were there the seven original signals plus the new signals the Discovery kept encountering?  In this episode, we go back and retrace the steps of the signals that Discovery encountered: four in previous episodes and three more over the course of this two-parter.  That’s seven total, so the original set-up of seven mysterious signals that all appeared at the start of the season has been totally contradicted.  It’s shocking to me that the show could fail so completely on even being consistent and clear with its set-up at this most basic, can-you-count-to-ten level.

We learn in the finale that it was Michael Burnham herself who set the signals.  In theory I like the idea that the events we’ve been following this season are a loop, and that the source is one of our characters and not some made-up external new antagonist or protagonist.  But think about this for even just a few seconds and it all falls apart.  How could Michael create these enormously powerful signals (so powerful that they could be detected from across the galaxy) with just her tiny little suit?  Even if I accept the idea that a human in the years before the Original Series could create a perfectly-functioning time-travel suit (and that Michael could build a new one and learn how to operate it in less than a day), how could this time-suit move Michael, not just through time, but also through space, allowing her to journey back and forth across the galaxy in an instant?  The finale explains that while it was Michael’s mother who traveled through time to interact with Spock as a young boy, it was Michael herself who was behind everything else this season and all … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones: “The Last of the Starks”

“The Last of the Starks” was a very solid episode.  There was lots of great character stuff, some heartfelt goodbyes, and a death that landed more powerfully than any of the ones from the previous episode.  It also had some weaknesses, notably more of the lack of attention to any sort of sense of geography and/or actual military strategy that we’ve seen too often in the post-novel seasons of the show.

As I’d expected, it looks like somehow there are still lots of people still alive in Winterfell, even though last week it looked like almost every last fighting man had been slaughtered.  (I’m happy there are more than ten people left alive in the North.  My criticism is really with the staging of last week’s episode.)  There were a few references to the “surviving Dothraki”, which is weird since last week it looked like they were totally annihilated (and we didn’t actually see any remaining Dothraki onscreen this week).  I was glad that we did get some sense, throughout this episode, that Dany’s forces were seriously depleted (rather than being magically restored to full strength).  When they arrived for the parlay at King’s Landing at the end of the episode, it looked like there were only about 50 Unsullied there with her!

The opening funeral sequence was poignant, with a moving speech by Jon.  I’m pleased the show didn’t fast-forward too immediately past the horrors that everyone went through in the previous episode.

The dinner that began silent and solemn and that gradually escalated into rampant debauchery was wonderful.  This is the type of masterful sequence that I have truly loved in the show’s later years.  I love that they took their time with this sequence, showing us one wonderful character moment after another.  I loved Gendry’s becoming a Lord.  I loved Tyrion and Davos’ conversation.  I loved Sansa’s showing kindness to the Hound.  (Though, while I like that Sansa is strong and not spending time weeping over the tragedies that have befallen her, there was something a little unsettling about her suggestion that getting repeatedly raped by Ramsay Bolton was good for her, in the end.)  I loved the drinking game between Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, and Podrick.  I loved Tormund’s joyful camaraderie with Jon, and his lovesickness over Brienne.  I loved all the tension at the head table between Sansa-Arya-Jon-Dany.

I like that the show has made me unsure who to root for, as the secret of Jon’s true identity quickly spread.  Dany isn’t perfect, but as a viewer of this show I like and trust her more than Sansa and Arya do.  While Jon has many great qualities, we’ve seen his failings as a leader, too.  … [continued]