Sunday, July 29, 2012

A meditation on "Back to the Klondike"

I was eager to sample Fantagraphics' new entry in their Carl Barks library: Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man". It contains the first six issues' worth of Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge. Although I had already read the titular "Old a Poor Old Man," one story I was especially interested in sampling was "Back to the Klondike," a story which delves into some of Scrooge McDuck's past as he created his incalculable fortune.

The actual plot of "Back to the Klondike" involves Scrooge suddenly recalling he has a fortune in gold buried in the Klondike, so he hurries up north with Donald, Huey, Dewey & Louie to unearth the riches. The major complication in this tale is Goldie, a woman who once tried to steal Scrooge's gold and is now squatting on his one-time gold mine with her pet bear.

I understand there's a lot of interest in Goldie amongst Barks enthusiasts; apparently some fans consider her "the woman" of Scrooge's life (just as some fans consider Irene Adler "the woman" to Sherlock Holmes or Rebecca "the woman" to Wilfred of Ivanhoe). What I found most interesting about Goldie is a brief moment from the flashback scenes in "Back to the Klondike."

Goldie is introduced as a singer in the Black Jack Ballroom who takes a gander at Scrooge's goose egg nugget and forces her attentions on him, even though he has little interest in her (Goldie opens by offering coffee; presumably Scrooge accepts only because he won't turn down free refreshments). After learning about Scrooge's valuable claim, Goldie drugs Scrooge's coffee and steals all of his gold. Scrooge revives "six miles from town" and storms back to the Black Jack Ballroom, brutally pummels every man in his path, then reclaims his large gold nugget from Goldie. However, as the rest of his gold is gone, Scrooge demands Goldie write out an IOU for $1,000.

Even after obtaining the IOU, Scrooge isn't done with Goldie; he drags her out to his claim and forces her to work on his gold mine, declaring, "You're going to learn how hard a miner works for his gold!" Goldie works on Scrooge's mine for a month at just $0.50 per day. At the end of the month, Scrooge pays her off, but she throws the money in his face and storms off. "I dug more gold than you did, you tightwad!" she rages.

The difference in Scrooge & Goldie's reactions to valuables, crimes, rights and wrongs is what I find most interesting. Scrooge, for all his miserly ways, obeys the letter of the law (especially when it's to his advantage). He promises Goldie $0.50 per day and he pays her just so. Goldie, however, believes her work was worth more than what he promised as recompense; her pride won't accept it. Contrast this with the earlier gold theft: then, Scrooge is entirely a hapless victim (although his explosive reaction after the theft is probably partially enhanced by earlier attempted thefts of his gold, mentioned in passing); Goldie is completely in the wrong, robbing an innocent man. Thus, Scrooge will use the letter of the law to take advantage of others, but won't tolerate being anyone's sucker. Goldie thinks nothing of cheating someone of their property, yet she bristles at the notion of being cheated. The qualities Goldie hates most about Scrooge are those qualities she has in abundance in herself.

Say, perhaps there is something to Goldie as Scrooge's "woman?"

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three-in-One: some thoughts about Trio#1-3

John Byrne was the first comic book artist I could identify by name when I was a child. Why? It helped that his Fantastic Four was among the first comic books I read, but I became truly fired up about him when he was working on Superman. I haven't followed him to every project since then, but I like to check in now and then. In recent years, he's pitched his tent at IDW and I've sampled his work on Star Trek and Angel, plus served as a regular reader on Next Men and Cold War.

I wasn't certain about Trio when I first heard of it. Byrne writing & drawing a super hero comic about people named Rock, Paper & Scissors? What is it, a parody comic? I was further confused by the advertisement IDW ran in their titles (above). Take special note of the bottom text box: "Fans of Byrne's Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight especially, this is for you!" I wondered if anyone at IDW let Byrne see the advertisement, considering he's expressed some resignation about being identified with Alpha Flight; not that he dislikes his work on the series, just that he doesn't consider it one of his best assignments. I happen to love Byrne's Alpha Flight, but Byrne himself doesn't like to spend much time discussing his own past resume, preferring to look to the future. So, is Trio a step backward?

Three issues in, I'm still not certain.

Who are Rock, Paper & Scissors? Well, each one has powers which reflect the attributes of the popular game; Rock is made of stone, Paper stretches herself thin and Scissors turns his hands into razor-sharp blades. Where did their powers come from? Unknown. How did they come to be a team of super heroes? Also unknown. There are hints to some sort of shared origin behind the characters. They've been set up with an advanced headquarters manned by tiny robot drones ("widgets"), with said drones controlled by an unseen presence. We also learn Rock's transformation from human to stone and back again is painful, plus he can only maintain the transformation to stone for so much time. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these heroes is between the three of them you have an Asian-American, African-American, Arab-American and homosexual; no mainstream super hero book would have attempted this 30 years ago.

There's a strange sense of deja vu surrounding Trio. First, the team is attacked by Nautilus, an amphibious humanoid who commands a giant sea monster and wants revenge on the surface world. While he's an obvious stand-in for Namor the Sub-Mariner, the cover of issue #2 plants him in the place of a different Fantastic Four antagonist: Gladiator (himself a Superman substitute), as depicted on the cover of Fantastic Four#249:

...And homaged by Byrne again on the cover of Superman#8, with Superman in place of Gladiator and certain members of the Legion of Super-Heroes replacing near-matches from the Fantastic Four:

Just gaze at the debris in the background. Who draws better debris than Byrne? That's a rhetorical question, son.

The battle with Nautilus and his sea monster causes a massive loss of life, but before the threat can be dealt with, another villain enters the scene: Kosmos, a massive alien giant who collects water from other planets. Obviously, we're meant to think of the Fantastic Four's Galactus, but I'm also reminded of Terminus from Byrne's Fantastic Four run. In Byrne's Terminus story, Terminus was directed to Earth by an alien he'd forced to serve him, but the alien actually hoped Eath's heroes would destroy Terminus. While the alien seemed tiny next to Terminus, he was actually quite a bit larger than humans. Likewise, Kosmos has a stowaway aboard his ship, an alien who survived Kosmos' assault on his world. This alien seems tiny next to Kosmos, but is massive next to the human cast.

Before the threat of Kosmos can be resolved, the Nazi criminal Golgotha is brought to Earth from a parallel world. Green cape, armour... is he meant to be Doctor Doom?

I do find it interesting to note how ineffective the Trio are at battling their enemies and how these problems just continue to mount with each issue... like, it's as if Rock, Paper & Scissors are perpetually 22 pages behind the menace and never catch up. Byrne plays this series so earnestly I can't help but wonder if it's all a trick. I suspect he has some sort of twist in mind before the series ends; maybe the Trio will continue to muck things up until the Earth is destroyed. Perhaps it's all a fantasy going on inside the head of a Next Men cast member. Maybe he's having a laugh at his fans who have asked him to tell another Fantastic Four-like story, but intentionally sabotaged it. Then again, Byrne may just be having a grand old time telling a straight forward super hero adventure. My curiosity lingers on as I await the rest of Trio.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Amazing Race: Australia 2-09 recap

This week's Amazing Race: Australia brings the series to my own homeland, Canada! There's a bit of nice scenery, some tough breaks for almost every team and another elimination. Sadly, I have no screen captures to share this time.

We resume the Race in Cuba, although the location of the Pit Stop has moved from Australia back to Havana; perhaps this was an extended Pit Stop, the 24-36 hour variety instead of the usual 12? Workmates Paul & Steve depart in 1st place with instructions to fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada! Once there, they'll have to journey by taxi to Stanley Park and find a First Nations chief by the totem poles; he'll offer a blessing to the teams, then give them their next clue.

As Paul & Steve head to the airport, we hear some reasonably humble assessing of their abilities from Paul: "Our confidence levels are pretty good right now, we don't want to get too ahead of ourselves and brag about winning the Race until it's happened." Both are looking forward to Vancouver; Paul hopes for some winter challenges. Police officers Shane & Andrew depart next and note how nice it is to be racing from the top of the heap. Arriving at the airport at night, Paul & Steve discover the Air Canada offices are closed, so the other teams will be able to catch up. As twin sisters Michelle/Jo depart the Pit Stop, we hear how they'd like to be the first all-female team to win Amazing Race: Australia "We want to stay top three until the final and then that's when we're gonna push forward." Dating couple James & Sarah leave next; as Sarah reads the clue she assumes "totem poles are those things you have to climb up." Sisters Lucy & Emilia leave next; we receive an explanation for Lucy's "Running 4 Mum," detailing how their mother is battling cancer and they look to her struggle as an inspiration for their own competition. Siblings Joseph & Grace leave in last place.

All six teams buy their tickets first things, taking a flight to Toronto, Ontario with a connecting flight to Vancouver. Paul gets a little testy with Joseph when he tries to push forward in the lineup for tickets. There's no more airport drama as the teams make their way to Vancouver, arriving at 4:56 PM, with the sun beginning to set. There's a mad scramble as teams try to find taxis. James & Sarah try to jump the taxi queue (as Michelle & Jo did in the Philippines back in leg 1), but the taxi driver refuses to pick them up. Emilia calls Vancouver "the home of Anne of Green Gables and Bryan Adams." She's not even half right, but I'll charitably assume she means Canada is their home.

At Stanley Park, Shane/Andrew & Joseph/Grace arrive at about the same time. When they see the chief has men playing instruments and dancing in costumes they all decide to join in on dancing, until finally the chief gives them their clue: they're to pick up two oars and travel on foot to the Vancouver Rowing Club. Both teams head to the club and the other teams soon follow, but it turns out the club is closed until 8:30 AM. All the teams decide to find somewhere to spend the night, then return in the morning.

In the morning, only five teams gather to wait for the doors to open. James & Sarah accidentally sleep in, getting out of their hotel 1.5 hours late and they both start arguing about whose fault it is. At 8:30 the gate to the club opens and the five waiting teams head in; they find their next clue, which includes a Fast Forward; host Grant Bowler explains this will be the only Fast Forward this season. As usual, a Fast Forward enables one team to perform a task, then head directly to the Pit Stop, bypassing all other tasks. Paul/Steve & Shane/Andrew both like the sound of this and run out of the park, each team determined to beat the other to the Fast Forward. "They were like the robbers and we were chasin' them down." says Shane.

The other three teams finish reading the rest of the clue: they're to claim a two-person kayak and use their oars to journey to Harbor Green Park Dock, where they'll find a message displayed using nautical flags which they'll have to decode. Michelle & Jo get into their kayak first and head out into the water. Emilia gets into her kayak handily enough, but Lucy is very nervous about falling in the water and starts panicking as she tries to climb in. Joseph & Grace come over and help steady both Lucy and the kayak so they can get in.

Somewhere in Vancouver traffic, Sarah realizes she and James forgot to pay their hotel bill. James insists they should back and pay while they're still nearby, but Sarah disagrees. I know there are rules for teams to pay taxis and I suppose there must be similar rules about hotels. Paul/Steve & Shane/Andrew both have some difficulty catching a taxi on the street as several go past them. Finally, Paul & Steve catch a willing driver. Shane & Andrew see this and decide to go back to the kayak task, rather than risk being eliminated by competing for the Fast Forward.

Back at Harbor Green Park Dock, Michelle/Jo, Lucy/Emilia & Joseph/Grace begin trying to decipher the flags' code with little luck. James & Sarah arrive at the club and open their clue. They decide to go back and pay their hotel bill before starting the kayak task, but they realize their money for taxis is running low. Michelle & Jo are the first team to notice there's a line of 26 flags nearby the message they're decoding and realize it will help them crack the code. Joseph & Grace go to a nearby dock office and ask a worker for help; he Googles the exact nautical code being used by the flags and prints off a colour paper copy for them. Shane & Andrew return to the club and start paddling their kayak.

Paul & Steve arrive at the Fast Forward location, an art school in Vancouver. They're now given the full set of instructions and learn they'll have to pose nude for the art students! This prompts a lot of laughter from them. Paul reflects, "It was pretty funny because only one team could do the Fast Forward so we think, we'd better get naked as fast as possible in case the cops catch up and get naked before us!" Steve asks the school staff if they could raise the heat in the building before they undress.

Back at their hotel, James & Sarah pay their bill and, explaining they're low on funds, the staff grant them a discount. Being quite sharp, Sarah pulls out the clue concerning the nautical flags task and asks for assistance; the hotel staff print out a black & white guide to the flags. Shane & Andrew arrive at the dock and quickly realize how to crack the code.

Michelle & Jo finally decipher the full message: "Three sheets to the wind, splice the mainbrace, weigh anchor and set sail." They receive their next clue: Detour! Each Detour is lumberjack-themed and found in the Pine Forest. The first Detour is "Toss," in which teams must throw an axe at a target with enough strength to make it stick to the board; they'll have 40 attempts between the two of them, but they must make 10 successful hits to receive their next clue.

The other Detour is "Tumble." Team members must take turns logrolling and between the two of them, rotate the log 360 degrees 10 times. The Canadian champion logroller (such a thing exists?) will be judging their efforts! Michelle & Jo choose this latter task, despite not knowing what "logrolling" is! Back at the school, Paul & Steve disrobe for the class; Steve asks the students, "Do you have a good view?" as he and Paul lounge back in chairs and try to remain still... but they keep giggling.

At the dock, Andrew tries to finish the nautical phrase without actually decoding each flag; he's a little too eager and gets one word wrong. Lucy & Emilia finally realize where the key to the flags is and Joseph & Grace are quickly getting theirs deciphered with their cheat sheet. James & Sarah return to the dock and begin using their kayaks. Andrew corrects his error and departs with Shane to try the "Toss" Detour. Joseph & Grace finish the flags a little later and Joseph suggests "Toss" even though Grace will probably struggle at it - he notes they only need 10 hits with the axe between them, so he can try to get all 10.

James & Sarah arrive at the dock and begin using their cheat sheet, but have some difficulties because the lack of colour on the sheet makes it hard to recognize some of the flags. Before long, they're at each others throats and getting cross with each other, much like last leg's jigsaw puzzle task. Lucy & Emilia complete the flag task and decide to try the "Tumble" Detour. James & Sarah miss a single letter while decoding and have trouble getting back on track.

Michelle & Jo arrive at the Detour and don lumberjack gear. They're now face-to-face with the actual task, which is a little daunting. They note the water the log rolls in is amazingly cold; they start struggling. At the art school, Paul observes "I think it'd be awkward to describe our relationship as grown closer as a result of this."

Steve: "It's just fun. I never thought I'd say that. Sitting naked to Paul would be fun."

Paul: "Aw, it's always fun naked next to me."

They finish the task and are rewarded with directions to the next Pit Stop: Crab Park. "Take that, stupid cops!" says Paul as they depart. Paul & Steve's taxi driver is amused to hear his fares were just posing naked.

In the Pine Forest, Shane & Andrew dress in their lumberjack togs and sing the Monty Python Lumberjack song as they run to "Toss." Shane notes "as police officers, we're always looking at targets." When each man's first throw misses, a helpful judge says, "You want to hit that round thing there," indicating the bullseye. At "Tumble," Michelle & Jo finally start completing their rotations on the log; it's a slow and humiliating process, but it can be done. At "Toss," Shane finally scores a hit and soon he and Andrew are getting the job done!

Shane & Andrew strike their 10th hit and are rewarded with the next clue: Roadblock! In this Roadblock, teams journey to Grouse Mountain and the one performing the task must ride on top of a cable car as it journeys up the mountain. There are three flags resting along the path which the team member must collect to complete the task; they'll be given three attempts to gather the flags, if they fail the 3rd time, it will mean a 4-hour penalty. Shane offers to take the Roadblock and he & Andrew go to change out of their lumberjack clothes and get their taxi; they note it's "unusual" for them to be in the lead.

At "Tumble," Michelle & Jo finish the Detour and Michelle opts to try the Roadblock. Joseph & Grace arrive at the Pine Forest and begin "Toss." Grace decides the challenge isn't too difficult. At Crab Park, Paul & Steve hug their taxi driver farewell and run to the mat. "Grant! He'll be happy to know we did put our clothes back on," Paul observes. I notice now that Steve keeps making a dramatic "leap" whenever they reach a Pit Stop; Steve compliments the local greeter on her accent and Grant checks Paul & Steve in for first place and rewards them with $10,000 from Southern Cross travel insurance. They're still feeling pretty good about their chances for winning.

James & Sarah finally finish the flag task and head to the Pine Forest, deciding to try "Toss." However, they have very little cash left for the taxi ride. At "Toss," Joseph finally lands an axe and soon even Grace is succeeding at landing axes. Lucy & Emilia arrive at the Pine Forest and Emilia starts acting like a hillbilly, perhaps unaware the Ozarks are not found along the Pacific Coast. They're looking forward to "Tumble" until they discover the log is set in freezing cold water. Lucy recalls, "I wanted to run for the hills and find a bear to wrestle." Lucy has zero confidence in herself and believes she has no sense of balance. Emilia tries her best, but Lucy's spirit is very quickly crushed, despite the crowd of locals trying to cheer them on; Lucy collapses in tears and has to be comforted by Emilia.

At "Toss," Joseph & Grace finish the Detour and Grace offers to take the Roadblock. At "Tumble," Emilia finally starts getting the log to rotate, but Lucy keeps falling in the water and crying. James & Sarah arrive in the Pine Forest and tell their driver they have very little cash but will need his help when they're done the Detour; he agrees to help them. They begin "Toss" and Sarah asks if she can throw the axe sideways instead over her head; a judge replies no, "You'll take every one of our heads off." James starts hitting the target pretty quickly. "My secret calling," he jokes.

At Grouse Mountain, Shane begins the Roadblock, riding atop the cable car while Andrew waits within. The view from atop the car is oustanding and Shane appreciates it. As the first flag comes up, Shane manages to grab it, but has to jump to reach it, despite his height. The second flag is located on a ladder above the car; I'm not clear as to why the teams aren't allowed to collect the flag on the ladder first, but so be it.

At "Tumble," Lucy has failed to complete a single rotation, but Emilia keeps her spirits up and finishes the task for them. When Lucy sees a Roadblock is next she asks to take it: "I can! You've done too much today!" But Emilia knows it will involve heights, which she's better at. At "Toss," Sarah manages to land a single axe, while James hits the other nine. Sarah offers to take the Roadblock. James & Sarah run back to their taxi and start begging for money from locals to pay for the bill.

At Grouse Mountain, Shane collects his 3rd flag and is rewarded with his next clue: head to the Pit Stop at Crab Park. Michelle begins the Roadblock and quickly begins collecting her flags. As Shane & Andrew depart, Shane sees Joseph & Grace arriving; he wonders if Grace will be the one performing the task and thinks it would be too difficult for her, considering she's much shorter than him (she's the shortest person left in the Race). Michelle collects her third flag and performs a victory dance atop the cable car. Grace tries to grab her 1st flag but fails; they have go all the way back to the bottom of the mountain and take another car.

Emilia begins the Roadblock just as Grace prepares for her 2nd attempt. Grace tries her hardest, but misses again! Although Emilia is better with heights, Lucy thinks her "Go-go Gadgets arms" would have come in handy on the task. Emilia notes "I'm not Tomb Raider here." Man, suddenly the pop culture references are flying fast and furious! It's here I also note Lucy's nickname for Emilia is "Bella." Something Italian, one assumes. Emilia misses the 1st flag and they have to retry the challenge.

At Crab Park, Shane & Andrew arrive in 2nd place. They tell Grant they're disappointed to have been denied a chance at the Fast Forward and would have been willing to try anything. When Grant explains the challenge was to pose nude, Shane insists it was "right up our alley." Michelle & Jo arrive in 3rd place.

James & Sarah have only $25 for their taxi driver and already owe him about $45. He accepts this, so Sarah kisses him; he accepts that too. Sarah begins the Roadblock while Grace is on attempt 3 and Emilia on her 2nd. This time, Grace successfully grabs her flags. Emilia begins chanting "Do it for Mum," to bolster her confidence; she finally gets the 1st and 2nd flags. Sarah has a pretty good strategy, planting herself at the back of the cable car so the flags will be lower for her to grab.

Below, Joseph & Grace meet up with their taxi driver, who says he'd been watching them on the task. He's been running his meter the entire time! All they have left is $120 and it's not enough to cover the charges so far, much less a drive to Crab Park! When they ask the driver for a little leniency, noting they have no other money he just answers, "Well, you should have told me that before." The siblings start begging locals for additional money.

Above at the cable cars, Emilia is starting to enjoy the ride and sings Bryan Adams' "Heaven." As the 3rd flag nears, she chants "Do it for Mum" again; she catches the flag and yells triumphantly, "Mum, that's for you!" then crouches down and cries. The sisters sum up the entire experience with "This is a fun journey," despite the hardships they've endured. Sarah also finishes the Roadblock, but she and James are completely without money.

Joseph & Grace's driver finally takes pity on them after they've collected some (but not all) of what he needs. Lucy & Emilia find James & Sarah's former taxi driver, still hanging about. When they ask him for a ride to Crab Park he asks, "Do you have money?" Knowing nothing of James & Sarah's woes, the sisters respond, "Of course we do! I'll even show it to you!" One can only imagine what stories the taxi drivers of Vancouver told each other the day the Australians came to town. James & Sarah get another taxi, but are down to little more than pocket change; they hope the Pit Stop is close.

Joseph & Grace arrive in 4th place at the Pit Stop. James & Sarah arrive at Crab Park next, but their taxi bill is about $25 and they have less than $5. He asks them for a credit card instead, but of course they don't have one. "If you don't have money, why'd you take the cab?" the driver wonders. While they argue, Lucy & Emilia arrive and check in 5th place.

James & Sarah finally attract the attention of a police officer, who intervenes on their behalf with the cab driver. The policeman calls up the cabbie's boss and explains the situation; the boss claims James & Sarah will be let off the hook if they send him a case of Foster's from Australia! They agree to his terms and finally run to the Pit Stop. Of course, it's too late... Grant informs the duo they've been eliminated. Despite their arguments, they speak positively about the experience and believe they've grown through the struggles of the Race. "We will know each other 'til we're 85," says Sarah.

I'm not displeased by James & Sarah's elimination, but I certainly didn't mind them. Back when Sarah's "hunners" were introduced I was certain they'd be out sooner rather than later. They turned out to be pretty strong Racers, even winning a leg (which means now the only team to have won any legs and remain in the Race is Paul & Steve). They were pretty sharp about how to run the Race, but they bled a lot of time at the start of this leg and lost even more ground from losing their money. It's strange to see how many teams have been seriously deflated by lack of funds during this season!

Thoughts on the 5 remaining teams:

  1. Paul & Steve: They continue to be likeable enough. It's interesting to learn (via Lucy & Emilia's blog) that Paul isn't quite as bad as the program has made him seen - he's partly just a victim of editing. But it's been, what, four episodes since Paul's last bout of trash-talking?
  2. Shane & Andrew: It's interesting to see these two succeeding by their own efforts; if it hadn't been for the Fast Forward, they might've claimed first place! It's especially impressive considering how they fell behind the others from chasing the Fast Forward, then overtook everyone who had passed them! This is how I thought they'd be performing from the outset, honestly.
  3. Michelle & Jo: I definitely appreciate their hunger to win; I hope we get at least one leg with these two as the winners!
  4. Joseph & Grace: Fortunately, we were spared any reactions from Grace regarding James & Sarah's difficulties. They did well enough this leg, although Grace taking three attempts at the Roadblock sure didn't help their taxi bill! My interest in these two has waned since the Paris taxi incident, but at least they weren't upset with each other this leg.
  5. Lucy & Emilia: These two are exactly the kind of people I like to see on the Race. They seem more "real" than the others, having very natural reactions to their situations, an awareness of their shortcomings and having to push themselves to pass the challenges. Emilia crying atop the cable car was a perfect emotional moment, as was Lucy trying to claim the Roadblock to make up for her Detour performance.

Next time: In a double-length teaser, we see teams are now very determined to ensure Paul & Steve don't make the final three... not that it's made a difference thus far, even when six teams were aligned against them!

Review: Blacksad - a Silent Hell

According to statistics on Blogger, the top search term for Section 244 is "Blacksad." Hm. I would have thought "Amazing Race." In the interest of giving the public what it wants, I present to you my review of the new Blacksad graphic novel: A Silent Hell.

For those who have forgotten, John Blacksad is a private detective cat-man in a world inhabited by animal-people. Often assisted by his muck-raking journalist friend Weekly (a weasel-man). This new volume from Dark Horse contains the English translation of A Silent Hell, plus two 2-page stories and a feature entitled "the Watercolor Story" which explains how the art is created.

According to the back cover, this story is set in the 1950s; although the Blacksad series thrives on its period setting, it's hard to pinpoint when the stories are meant to occur (the animal-people interfere with some of the realistic touches). This is another grim, desperate thriller, with the only relief from its depictions of misery coming from the occasional humourous turn by Weekly and the attractive work of Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido.

In this tale, Blacksad and Weekly are in New Orleans, searching for the missing jazz musician Sebastian Fletcher on behalf of Faust Lachapelle, a famous record magnate. Faust is lying on death's door and has considered the lost Sebastian his surrogate son; this doesn't go well with the producer's flesh and blood son, Thomas. There's also another private detective on the case, hippo-man Ted Leeman, who's just a little sore at losing his case. Behind it all is a mystery dating back to Sebastian's childhood and how Faust made him who he is.

In the middle of this story, Blacksad is saved from drowning by another cat-man, who appears and disappears mysteriously. This figure hints at having some sort of connection to Blacksad's past; is he a hallucination, or a supernatural ghost? And how does a cat-man wind up with a tattoo? Did he shave his chest? Or is the image just inked into his fur? Some of these questions may be answered in future Blacksad tales, which would be the first real series continuity (outside of Weekly).

While the visuals in this story are outstanding and I can understand why the creators were eager to depict Mardi Gras, it is a little hackneyed to set stories in New Orleans "just in time" for a celebration which comprises about 4% of the calendar year.

As with the earlier Blacksad tale "Arctic Nation," race relations come to the fore as Sebastian is meant to remind readers of African-Americans (even though he isn't a black dog-man; in "Arctic Nation," the African-American characters had black fur or feathers). A Living Hell is another stylish, energetic Blacksad outing and hopefully there are many more to come.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bitter Fruit#11: "The Shadow Battles... the Brute!"

Welcome back to the penultimate entry in "Bitter Fruit," my story-by-story exploration of Archie Comics' 1960s Shadow comic book series wherein they transformed our hero into a spandex-clad super hero. Let's get right into it with the cover of the Shadow#7:

Note the top left corner no longer contains an "Archie Comics" label, instead placing an image of the Shadow within a triangle. This presumably helped customers thumbing through a spinner rack locate the title, but also meant the comic received no extra promotion from the Archie label. Next, check out our presumed villain the Brute: he wears a set of sunglasses with white frames and a red shirt with with a laced front. Who does he remind you of?

Woozy Winks, right?

I'm also entranced by the Brute's headphones. He won't even hear the Shadow's attack over the Sinatra blaring in his ears! Finally, I wonder how high the ceiling in this laboratory is; evidently it's high enough for the Shadow to crouch atop a desk and swing a giant lamp over the head of someone who's about 8 feet tall.

The opening splash page is very similar to the cover, only now the Brute's glasses and headphones are brown and clearly connected together. The Shadow indicates his hypnotism doesn't work on the Brute; perhaps the sunglasses are the issue? The blurb at the bottom right has some terrific garbled language: "See what astonishingly happens?"

The story opens in New York at a charity banquet, when waiters suddenly draw guns on the wealthy patrons to rob them. However, the Shadow steps out from behind a curtain and, via hypnosis, tricks the crooks into thinking he's backed up by an army of policemen. The gunmen surrender, enabling the Shadow to contain them until the police arrive. When the crooks are gone, the Shadow resumes his identity as Lamont Cranston and rejoins the dinner.

Elsewhere, we turn to... *sigh* ...Shiwan Khan's island. For the love of mercy, can't we have just one issue go by without Shiwan Khan? Amazingly, the series continues its newfound love of continuity as Shiwan reflects on how he and Attila the Hunter survived the destruction of his submarine by boarding a "shock-resistant survival bubble craft!" Well, that explains everything. I don't think we're going to see Attila this issue, though - he's restricted to a mere silhouette in the flashback. Having run short of funds, Shiwan needs to raise more money and begins by ordering his men to attack each other until only one stands; the last man standing is declared the greatest, so Shiwan gives him a special costume then subjects him the "Growth Ray" (where did this come from?).

The strongman is doubled in size and strength and tests out his power by smashing some of Shiwan's statues of the Shadow. Shiwan dubs him the Brute and supplies him with earphones to provide his instructions as Shiwan will send the Brute to rob locations. The Brute agrees, but being "brutally frank," demands one quarter of the final take (I rather like the "brutally frank" gag, it's like something Stan Lee's early Hulk would say). Shiwan sends the Brute aboard his (new) submarine and tells him to steal trillions; the Brute returns, "And to think my high school annual predicted I'd become a pharmacist!" Okay, now I'm just about convinced the spirit of Stan Lee has infected these proceedings. Days later, the Brute phones up a bank in New York and informs them they're about to be robbed. Five minutes later he bursts in, rips open the bank vault and steals all he can carry.

Next up, the Brute breaks into a beauty parlor and smashes up the Triple-Cross Gang, who run their operations in the back of the shop (who on Earth would trust the Triple-Cross Gang?); the gang surrender their money. Back on Shiwan's island, we see he not only speaks to the Brute via the headphones, but can see through the Brute's sunglasses. However, he's a little annoyed to see the Brute save the life of a child and chides his minion to "stick to infamous skullduggery." The Brute asserts himself, noting he's doing Shiwan's work; he sends the first shipment of Shiwan's loot aboard a rocket aimed at Shiwan's island (where did the rocket come from?).

"Later, at you-know-where..." all right, now we're past the point of Stan Lee-style playfulness and I begin to fear the scripter is just throwing up his hands and refusing to put in his best effort. The Brute smashes into a laboratory, but the Shadow is present! The Shadow orders the Brute to stop and the Brute obeys, but only as a feint; he's immune to the Shadow's mental powers and seizes an opportunity to slap the Shadow in the face. "Why don't you go shadowbox without yourself," the Brute notes, ever the joker. The Brute explains his goggles render him immune to the Shadow's hypnosis. The Shadow tries to smash him over the head with a lamp (as seen on the cover & splash), but the Brute's head is "stronger than even a third helping of garlic bread." The Brute is "ashamed" of the Shadow for ruining a "nice-looking" lamp and kicks our hero unconscious. Later, at Lamont's townhouse, Margo sees Lamont worrying about the Brute, not realizing he's the Shadow. Lamont realizes he'll have to invent some new way of defeating his foe. And thus ends the first chapter.

Our story resumes in "the Shadow's Amazing New Weapons!" The Brute has just sent another rocket of loot back to Shiwan Khan when Shiwan directs him to meet up with two of his men, who have just been ferried to shore from Shiwan's submarine. The two new henchmen, the Titan and Colosso, offer to help the Brute ransack New York. However, the Brute doesn't want their help and starts drowning Titan until Titan agrees to swim back to the submarine; the Brute grabs Colosso and catapults him to the submarine using a tree. Back at his island, Shiwan fumes over Brute's disobedience, but still wants him to collect money.

We turn now to the estate of Cyrus Galloway, a wealthy explorer who's collected many valuable treasures. A television crew visit Cyrus' home and ask if he's worried about the Brute robbing him, but Cyrus claims he has plenty of defenses and will donate $100,000 to charity if the Shadow foils any robberies. Lamont sees this on television and realizes the Brute is now certain to strike at Cyrus' estate, but since their first encounter he's been working on something to use against the Brute. The Brute sees the broadcast on the television set of some locals by peering in their window.

That evening, the Brute invades the estate. Cyrus sends his guard dogs to attack him, but the Brute contains them within a cage he found around the base of a tree. However, the Shadow appears, uttering his mocking laughter (hurrah! I've missed the laugh!). Before the Shadow can land a blow, the Brute steps into a trap set by Cyrus, falling into a pit. The Shadow's "Shadow-Gun" unleashes a spray of "weakness gas," a pink mist which causes the Brute to stop resisting; however, the Brute releases a green mist from his belt to counter the gas. How on Earth could the Brute have prepared for this? What is "Weakness Gas" anyway? This is exactly the type of comic book science which would be mocked a year later on television's Batman program.

The Brute grabs the Shadow and hurls him into Cyrus' crocodile pen, but the Shadow chases the crocs away by hypnotizing them to believe he's a giant crocodile. To get out of the pen, the Shadow uses springs concealed in the heels of his boots to launch him over the fence. Perhaps he bought them from Ant-Man? The Shadow asks Cyrus where the Brute is, but evidently during all of this, the Brute stole Cyrus' treasures and escaped. Cyrus mocks the Shadow's trademark phrase: "This is the Shadow! Ha-haaa-haaaa! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows! Phooie! Off my property!" He's either channeling the feelings of every Shadow fan writing to Archie to complain about the series, or transforming into J. Jonah Jameson. The Shadow melts back into the darkness, hoping he'll do better the next time he fights the Brute.

On Shiwan's island, Shiwan receives a rocket from the Brute containing Cyrus' treasures. Back in New York, the Shadow's belt-buzzer sends him a signal. Since when has he had a "belt-buzzer?" the Shadow's agent 29-F (since when does the Shadow have agents? he did in the original pulps but hasn't in these comics) has spotted the Brute heading toward the government's "super-secret Futuro-Lab." The Shadow is aware Futuro-Lab is the home of "Project Z," a device which can transmute objects into diamond or gold. If the Brute had simply gone there first, he could've given Shiwan a lifetime of riches!

Just as the Brute reaches the room where Project Z is found, he discovers the Shadow waiting behind the door. The Shadow activates another device from his belt, the "power-beam," which knocks the Brute to the floor. Next, the Shadow draws his Shadow-Gun (boy, where does the author dream up these names?) and it fires electro blasts (not gas?) at the Brute. However, the Brute activates a paralysis ray he finds in the Futuro-Lab and uses it to paralyze the Shadow. Seeing this, Shiwan orders the Brute to unmask the Shadow. However, the Brute refuses; he's not interested in knowing who the Shadow is and challenges Shiwan to solve the problem on his own.

The Brute leaves the Futuro-Lab, offering yet another brilliant jab at the Shadow as he departs. However, from overhearing the Brute's conversation with Shiwan, the Shadow realizes where the Brute's orders are coming from. Rigging up his "hound-mike" (what?), the Shadow transmits a perfectly faked copy of Shiwan's voice to the Brute and orders him to the "Jewel Museum" (again, the author has no imagination). When the Brute arrives at the Jewel Museum, the Shadow pulls out a special whistle whose "supersonic" note shatters the Brute's goggles (so why didn't the Shadow lead with this weapon back at Futuro-Lab?). Now the Shadow is able to hypnotize the Brute and starts to work on him, but the Brute is, once again, faking; he kicks the Shadow over a ledge into the river (the museum is on the river, apparently). The Brute was also wearing contact lenses to shield his eyes from the Shadow, plus has a spare set of goggles. Hey, if the Shadow can just keep inventing new gadgets as the story goes along, I suppose it's only fair.

The Shadow slows his descent to the raging waters below using "compressed air jets" in his boots' soles. How does he have room in his boots for his feet with all the balderdash and malarkey being used as lining? By the time the Shadow returns to the museum, the Brute has departed. The Brute's next location is Lamont Cranston's own townhouse, where only Shrevy and Margo are present to meet the attack! Shiwan sees this and orders the Brute to kidnap Margo, to which the Brute complies. As the Brute races across New York on the rooftops, attracting a crowd of onlookers, Shiwan orders him to kill Margo Lane for making a fool of him. The Brute refuses this order because Margo is "too pretty!" Instead, the Brute hijacks a yacht and heads to sea, intending to collect his 25% from Shiwan Khan then live with Margo.

Lamont arrives at his townhouse to find a wounded Shrevy, who explains how Margo was kidnapped. Lamont promises to alert his "friend" the Shadow. Soon, the Shadow is following the Brute's yacht from his own speedboat. It seems his earlier power-beam left a radioactive trace on the Brute, enabling him to locate the villain again (then why did he need to create the false Jewelry Museum trap earlier?).

Now for the final act, "the Showdown on Gargoyle Island!" The Brute's yacht pulls up at Gargoyle Island, a poor man's Easter Island where the statues have horns. The Brute, no longer wearing his goggles, is set to meet Shiwan Khan and receive his 25% here. Shiwan arrives via helicopter and presents the Brute with his quarter - only per his exact words, "one quarter!" The Brute is furious, but Shiwan pulls out a shrinking ray which he claims will render the Brute smaller than a flea. Fortunately for the Brute, the Shadow appears and covers Shiwan Khan's face with his cape, causing him to drop the shrinking ray. The Shadow then turns his Shadow-Gun on Shiwan, projecting "blinding total darkness" (because I guess it can do that too) to keep the villain from finding his weapon.

The Brute decides to move in and kill Shiwan, but the villain drops a grenade in the direction of the Brute's voice. This kicks up some debris which knocks out the Shadow, restoring Shiwan's sight and enabling him to flee back to the helicopter. To save himself, Shiwan notes one of the Gargoyle Island statues has been damaged by the grenade and will topple on Margo, crushing her. Margo isn't unconscious, so I'm unclear as to why she can't get out of the falling statue's path. The Brute is torn between his desire for revenge on Khan (plus access to Khan's fortune) and saving Margo's life. The Brute chooses to save Margo, but as he grabs the statue he finds his strength is ebbing away; suddenly, he clutches his chest and collapses.

By now the Shadow has recovered and turns with Margo to examine the Brute. The Brute shrinks in size to normal; it seems the Brute's powers suddenly wore off (why?) and the strain of holding up the statue was too much for his heart. Margo asks the dying Brute what his real name is; he answers Victor Hess. The Shadow promises to bury the Brute in the USA, which is a nice gesture. Then he remarks "it's appropriate that one of the world's most grotesque villains should perish on Gargoyle Island" which is less nice of him. The Shadow steers Margo back to New York in the yacht. Then, the Shadow enters a "pseudo-sewer-lid" on a deserted street, opening some sort of passage to the "Shadow Operation Base" which lies beneath his townhouse (because I guess the townhouse didn't have enough gimmickry? secret passages, training rooms with live lions, crime lab and so forth?). The Shadow notes he has machines his base to record message from his agents, but has come to deposit the shrinking ray weapon in his trophy room. The Shadow muses that the Brute must have removed his contact lenses and goggles to impress Margo Lane because he was able to hypnotize him on Gargoyle Island; it was because he was being hypnotized that the Brute chose Margo over Shiwan! Well, that's just... he claims he was "too weakened" to have saved Margo himself. Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night, Cranston... you sent that man to his death. Also, you failed to capture Shiwan Khan (again) and recover all the treasures, money and devices the Brute stole.

Once again we have a text feature story, "the Adventures of the Shadow." Last time, the Shadow had met Weston and began interrogating criminals by causing them to believe the Shadow was the Devil; the criminals revealed their master was Shiwan Khan. This time out, the Shadow isn't able to continue the interrogation because the men's minds are guarded against brainwashing; he was only able to get Shiwan Khan's name by flattering their egos. Say, then why has the Shadow been able to hypnotize Shiwan Khan's agents since then with reckless abandon? This is before the Shadow and Khan have even met! Weston asks the Shadow to join the ranks of C.H.I.E.F., but the Shadow declines, instead suggesting Weston recruit Lamont Cranston. The next evening, Lamont goes to Weston's cottage only to look "directly into the face of DEATH!"

As expected, this issue written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Paul Reinman, according to the Grand Comics Database. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, Siegel seemed to having a grand old time writing the Brute's dialogue, but in all other respects, he wrote just another bog-standard super hero story with no sense of style. The uninspired place names and sudden introduction of gadgets as needed speaks to an author succumbing to his inner hack. If every issue of Archie's Shadow read like this, then I would understand its reputation.

Next time: the final issue of the Shadow! To be followed by a look back at the entire series!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Amazing Race: Australia 2-08 recap

When last we saw Amazing Race: Australia, workmates Paul & Steve and twin sisters Michelle & Jo had arrived at the Hotel Nacional Pit Stop in Havana, Cuba, only for host Grant Bowler to provide them with another clue because this leg is a double-length leg! By the end of the episode, we hadn't learned what was in the clues Paul/Steve & Michelle/Jo received, nor had the other 5 teams arrived at the Tropicana, where the clues directing them to the Pit Stop awaited. It concluded over a scene of sisters Lucy & Emilia's car stalling over train tracks.

We resume as we finally learn what the next clue entails: teams must drive themselves in the beaten up classic Cuban cars they've been driving to the Marina Hemingway and sign themselves up for a charter boat service which will run in the morning. The boats will depart every half hour with a maximum of two teams per boat.

Police officers Shane & Andrew's car is still broken down but a local happens by and quickly fixes the engine, despite the man being seemingly unable to speak English. Elsewhere, siblings Joseph & Grace's is down, but they happen by a house party and one woman takes over repairs of the car, eventually replacing a wire. Shane & Andrew arrive at the Tropicana and receive the clue directing them to the Pit Stop. Lucy & Emilia's situation on the train tracks is quickly resolved as they get their car going again without too much trouble. However, Lucy notes: "We never, ever thought about giving up, but I certainly did think about abandoning the car."

Dating couple James & Sarah have made up terrific time, having been 5 hours behind the top 5 teams when they arrived in Cuba. Evidently because of the cab driver who started helping them on the previous episode, they arrive at the Tropicana just ahead of Lucy & Emilia. As both teams head to the Pit Stop, Lucy & Emilia assume they're in last place. At said Pit Stop, Shane & Andrew arrive and are pleased to learn they're in 3rd place, but then Grant hands them their next clue: the leg continues!

At the Marina, Paul & Steve are first to sign up for an 8:00 AM charter boat; Michelle & Jo sign up 2nd. Joseph & Grace arrive at the Tropicana and receive their clue, just as flatmates Sticky & Sam pull up. At the Pit Stop, James & Sarah arrive in 4th and receive the next clue. Lucy & Emilia are pleased to hear they're 5th, but are feeling worn out as they learn the leg isn't over yet; Lucy is particularly disappointed to learn they have to drive their Cuban car to the Marina. Sarah dubs the hotel a "Pit Pause," James a "Pit Continue." At the Marina, Shane & Andrew sign up for the 8:30 AM charter.

Sticky & Sam get lost en route to the Pit Stop and Joseph & Grace arrive ahead of them; however, Grant informs the siblings he can't check them in because back in Paris, they removed James & Sarah's possessions from their taxi, which is against the rules of the Race. I did expect a penalty for this, not on the halfway point. In season 18 of the US version, when one team incurred a penalty on the first half of a double leg, they were told they had a penalty at the halfway point, but didn't serve it until the real Pit Stop. Grant assigns Joseph & Grace a 2-hour penalty, which is at least harsher than the US equivalent; again, season 18 had a team penalized for moving another team's possessions, but only for 30 minutes. Joseph & Grace move to a nearby bench and begin to knock off the penalty. Grace just doesn't want to be beaten by James & Sarah: "We don't want to be eliminated over Sarah & James, that's for sure; I want them out of the game." I have no idea where this juvenile rivalry with James & Sarah came from; why has Grace decided to make them her enemies? Seriously, if you're eliminated over this then it wasn't James & Sarah's fault: it is your fault for breaking the rules.

As James & Sarah head to the Marina, Sarah notes she doesn't want to speak to Joseph & Grace again because of the taxi incident; they sign up for the 8:30 AM charter. Lucy & Emilia sign up for 9:00 AM and are a little surprised to see James & Sarah are ahead of them. Sticky & Sam finally get to the hotel Pit Stop after Joseph & Grace have served an hour of their penalty. After Sticky & Sam leave, Joseph & Grace's penalty ends and Grant holds them in suspense for a little bit before confirming they're still in the Race and will have to catch up; Sticky & Sam sign up for 9:30 AM at the Marina and are pleased they're at least within 1.5 hours of the other teams since they started out 5 hours behind at the airport. Joseph & Grace are last for the 9:30 AM.

8:00 AM: Paul/Steve & Michelle/Jo head out to their chartered boat and receive the next clue: it's time for a Roadblock! The team member performing this task must navigate the charter boat using a map and compass. If they lead the boat to the coordinates of another boat containing "the Old Man of the Sea," the old man will give them their next clue; otherwise, they can try to catch a fish and the boat's captain will give them the next clue. If they don't perform either task within an hour, they must endure a 4-hour penalty, the standard penalty for failing a Roadblock. Steve & Jo take the Roadblock as Michelle notes she wants Jo to "step up," since it's usually Michelle who takes the Roadblocks. Jo worries she'll let Michelle down because she doesn't understand how to use a compass (she utters the meme "Never Eat Soggy Wheatbix" while looking at it) and realizes the 4-hour penalty is almost certain to eliminate whoever receives it.

Steve, however, is pretty confident about using the compass and figures out where to start looking. At 8:30 AM, Shane/Andrew & James/Sarah begin the Roadblock, Shane & James taking the task for their respective teams, although James only takes it because he loses a game of paper, rock, scissors against Sarah; he can't use a compass. After passing one boat which isn't the right one, Steve finds another boat and approaches it: it's the Old Man of the Sea all right!

The Old Man of the Sea gives Steve the next clue: it's time for this leg's Detours! In the first option, "Che Puzzle," teams visit a courtyard in Old Havana where a giant-sized 90-piece puzzle has been laid out which will form an image of revolutionary soldier Che Guevara.

In "Daiquiri Guzzle," teams head to the El Floridita Bar in Old Havana, where they must each create six daiquiris then carry them one-handed on a tray to the Hotel Ambos Mundos and the room where author Ernest Hemingway stayed without spilling their daiquiris below a marked line on the glasses. Paul & Steve decide to try "Che Puzzle."

Jo sees Paul & Steve's boat leaving the Old Man of the Sea, so she simply guides her boat to the location and claims her clue; Jo is seasick by the rocking motion of the boat by now, so she vomits over the side while Michelle decides they'll try "Che Puzzle." Shane asks a passing boatman if he's the Old Man of the Sea; the boatman replies he is and keeps going, so Shane realizes it's not the right man. Rather than spend time looking for the Old Man of the Sea, Shane decides to set out a line and try catching a fish.

Paul & Steve head back to shore and load up their cars; all the teams have been given brand-new standard cars, it should be noted. Paul has no issue with running a double-leg since he'd rather just keep racing while they're in first place: "forget Pit Stops, let's just go all the way!" Michelle & Jo head to their new car, but they can't get it into reverse! At 9:00 AM, Emilia elects to take the Roadblock, but she has no idea how to use a compass. James is still unable to find the Old Man of the Sea. Michelle & Jo get a local to help them get their car into reverse and they head out.

Paul & Steve find the directions to "Che Puzzle" too confusing and decide to perform "Daiquiri Guzzle" instead. At the Roadblock, Shane catches a magnificent fish and reels it in, completing the task. Shane & Andrew decide to try "Che Puzzle." At 9:30 AM, Sticky/Sam & Joseph/Grace head to the boats just as Shane & Andrew come to shore, Shane proudly displaying the fish he caught. Believing this is a fishing task and knowing Sam is the best at fishing, Sam volunteers, however he doesn't know how to use a compass. Joseph takes the Roadblock for his team.

Emilia is getting seasick on her boat. While Shane & Andrew go looking for "Che Puzzle," they come across Michelle & Jo, similarly employed. They propose an alliance to find the Detour and the twins agree, noting they haven't worked with the police officers before because the cops are usually near the bottom of the ranks. Paul & Steve find the El Floridita, seemingly without too much trouble. Paul notes he doesn't drink alcohol, so mixing drinks is a little out of his element. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Paul, the world's only free-range non-drinking Australian!

Shane/Andrew & Michelle/Jo set to work building their puzzles; the outside border has already been built so it's not that tough (speaking as an experienced jigsaw puzzler). Back at the Roadblock, James asks his captain to visit two different boats; the captain replies James has only 10 minutes left on the Roadblock so he can only visit one. It's a dicey situation, but James chooses the right boat and receives his clue; he and Sarah decide to try "Che Puzzle." Emilia finds the Old Man next and decides with Lucy to try "Che Puzzle."

Paul & Steve finish making their daiquiris and start walking to the hotel, but the streets they walk through are crowded with passerbys, dancers, stilt-men and musicians, not an ideal locale to be keeping one's balance! Paul raises his left arm to help guard against people spilling his drinks. At "Che Puzzle," Michelle notes passerbys are interested in taking pictures of their puzzle so she invites them to help her and Jo assemble the picture. Shane & Andrew see this and begin asking locals for help. I imagine the locals were interested mainly because of the television cameras.

At the Roadblock, Sam finds the Old Man and they decide to try "Daiquiri Guzzle" because Sticky used to "run a nightclub" (like, as bartender?); Joseph sees them find the Old Man so he quickly snares the clue; Grace wants to try "Daiquiri Guzzle," despite Joseph's insistence it will be a very difficult challenge. Joseph finds Grace "has a listening impairment where she doesn't listen correctly," (which is probably more charming to hear if you're Grace; sibling humour isn't meant for outsiders) but she convinces him to perform the Detour she wants.

As James & Sarah begin "Che Puzzle," we learn Sarah doesn't know who Che Guevara is: "Che, Cha, Cho, what's the bloke's name?" Lucy & Emilia begin the puzzle next. Paul & Steve reach the Hotel Ambos Mundos and find they have to climb five floors up a crowded staircase with just barely enough space for two lines of people. They find Ernest Hemingway's room, where a man dressed up like Hemingway judges their glasses; finding them satisfactory, he presents them with their next clue: "Drive yourselves to Australia!" It actually means to drive to Cienaga de Zapata, Matanzas in the township of Australia, a locale founded in Cuba by an Australian. Once there, they'll have to feed crocodiles from the crocodile farm and capture a live crocodile.

Shane & Andrew are the first to finish the puzzle and a cigar-smoking woman gives them their next clue; of the directions, Shane muses, "how the heck do ya drive to Australia?" Michelle & Jo finish the puzzle just minutes later; Jo's "What?" upon reading the next clue is cute. The sisters propose another alliance with Shane & Andrew: they'll split the cost for a taxi driver to guide them. At the El Floridita, Sticky & Sam begin making their daiquiris, with Sticky immensely confident of his prowess. It's also worth noting having to carry a tray with one hand is something Sticky's quite capable of, given that's his standard operating procedure.

At "Che Puzzle," Sarah gets annoyed with the locals who are trying to help them, finding the locals are just mucking up their work. She also gets cross with James over the locals and with how James is assembling the pieces. Boy, imagine how they'd perform at a crossword puzzle challenge! "Why do you butt heads with me? Just go with it!" Sarah declares to James, "I know I always think I'm right, but if you don't prove me wrong, then I am right!"

At El Floridita, Joseph & Grace begin making their daiquiris, with Grace dancing about like a gadfly as she mixes drinks. James & Sarah finish their puzzle; James notes "You know that saying, 'a good leader first has to learn how to follow.'" but it sounds like Sarah wants all the credit. Joseph & Grace begin carrying their drinks. Sticky & Sam deliver their drinks to the hotel and receive their next clue. Sticky jumps to the expected conclusion when he hears "Australia" as the destination, but Sam jokingly notes, "DRIVE yourself, what you thinkin'?" Lucy & Emilia finish their puzzle and pass out hugs to all the locals who helped them. Lucy observes "The struggle is never between us and that's probably one of the reasons we're still here." It's true, there are only three who don't quarrel with each other at all: Paul/Steve, Shane/Andrew & Lucy/Emilia. Lucy recalls hearing the next destination as "Australia" prompted her to react, "Aren't there a few legs left before we go home?"

After just a few blocks, Grace's arm cramps up and she adjusts the tray; just a few steps later, she drops the tray and breaks every glass; they decide to abandon the challenge and try the other Detour. Joseph doesn't let it go without saying "I told you!" to Grace three times in a span of 10 seconds, along with "That's the last time that you make a decision! I told you! I told you!" They begin "Che Puzzle," knowing they're in last place.

Paul & Steve arrive in Australia ("It doesn't quite look like Australia!") and quickly load up a wheelbarrow from a provided cart of fish; messy, bloody fish. Filling up the barrow, they shovel it into the crocodile pen where the creatures happily chomp it up. Shane/Andrew & Michelle/Jo arrive just minutes later.

Paul decides he'll be the one to capture the crocodile. This is performed by using a rod with a noose on its end (and plenty of keepers nearby to protect the Racers). Paul fails on his first attempt, but eventually gets it when a crocodile accidentally panics and flings its head through the noose. With the crocodile captured, the keepers present the next clue: travel by speedboat to the next Pit Stop, lying at a nature reserve on the waters of the town. Paul & Steve head out to find the boat.

Shane & Andrew feed their crocodiles then Andrew elects to capture the crocodile; he gets it on his first attempt. Andrew observes, "Shane caught his fish, I caught a crocodile!" they make haste to the Pit Stop. Paul & Steve arrive first at the Pit Stop where Grant presents them with another prize: a trip to Queensland worth $10,000 and sponsored by Pump water. Shane & Andrew claim 2nd place; Shane notes "we're climbing."

Back at "Che Puzzle," Joseph & Grace finish the jigsaw and head to Australia. Elsewhere Sticky & Sam realize they've taken the wrong road and have to turn back; they've lost about an hour. James & Sarah arrive in Australia and get the food ready, although Sarah is grossed out by the experience. Michelle & Jo capture their crocodile, each sister claiming credit for the roping; they head to the Pit Stop. Lucy & Emilia arrive in Australia without getting lost on the way; "Finally!" Lucy notes. Both sisters fling themselves into shoveling up the feed.

Sarah hangs back while James ropes their crocodile, dubbing him "mini-Steve Irwin," a reference which was bound to turn up sooner or later. They head to the Pit Stop. They pass Lucy & Emilia as they head out and Emilia gives Sarah a friendly hug; it's nice to see James & Sarah have friends on the Race, considering their relationship with Joseph & Grace. Lucy is so determined to get the crocodile feeding done quickly that she flings it into their pen bare-handed. Dang, that woman is tough! Michelle & Jo arrive at the Pit Stop in 3rd place. James & Sarah are 4th.

Sticky & Sam arrive in Australia, but Joseph & Grace are ahead of them and already feeding crocodiles. Emilia snags a crocodile for her team, Lucy dubbing her "the Crocodile Whisperer," a reference which turns up in a lot of Amazing Race tasks involving animals. They head to the Pit Stop. Grace notes there's just one team behind them, so she carries on, determined to stay in the game. Lucy & Emilia check in at 5th place. Sticky & Sam notice Joseph & Grace are still performing the task and have some hope of staying in the Race. However, Joseph has already roped his crocodile as Sticky & Sam start feeding the crocodiles. They realize they're bound to be eliminated now, but Sam ropes a crocodile and they head to the Pit Stop, their hearts in their throats.

Grant checks in Joseph & Grace at 6th place; as they head to the rest area, they run into James & Sarah for the first time since the taxi theft in Paris. Grace immediately offers an apology and Sarah seems to want to get over the matter, saying, "we're not going to have any more bull****, yeah?" Joseph & Grace say they're sorry and Grace hugs Sarah. However, Sarah's not moved by this; "I think you're more sorry," she says to Joseph, "and I think you're not sorry and I found it a bit fake," to Grace. Grace insists she's genuinely sorry; Joseph steps in and offers to help out James & Sarah in the future if they're able to. Sarah agrees to see what happens. Afterwards, Sarah sums up to the cameras: "If you are sorry then that's fine, but I would like to see how sorry you are in your actions." Grace similarly declares to the cameras: "I don't want to make it up to them, I-I apologized to them and that it's, you know, she should accept my apology and move on, let's get to the next leg. I'm not going to do anything for them." It's not the words that count, Grace, it's the spirit in which they're given... and your spirit is somewhat lacking.

Sticky & Sam arrive last at the Pit Stop, where Grant, sadly, has to eliminate them. Sticky says he never had any doubts about his ability to run the Amazing Race and Sam declares how proud he is of Sticky. "We're probably going to be mates to the end now." Sticky suggests. "Without a doubt." Sam confirms. Grant tells them it was a pleasure to have them on the Race; I concur.

It's an extreme pity to say farewell to Sticky & Sam; this season has been rough on teams, with every team eliminated thus far being one which was normally at the top of the pack! The teams who were in the middle or back of the pack at the start of the Race have shown the most staying power. Sticky & Sam won two legs and I had hopes to see them continue to the end, but as with the other eliminated teams thus far, it only took one bad mistake to blast them out of the running. Well, two mistakes if you count the 5 hours they lost in Paris earlier in the leg. The real problem I have is with the penalty Joseph & Grace suffered; it should have been brought up at the real Pit Stop, not at the halfway point where teams were already waiting overnight for the next task. For that matter, why were there two charter boats at 9:30 AM instead of at 9:00 AM?

  1. Paul & Steve: Once again, these two behaving just fine now that they're the leaders. I'd like to see them play nice with the other teams to put aside some of the earlier trash-talking, but they tend to outpace most of teams so I doubt it'll happen.
  2. Shane & Andrew: This is their best showing yet and I'm happy enough to see them continue, even though they've never felt like the sharpest tools in the shed. Ever since Ross was eliminated two legs ago, they've been the oldest Racers on the show and you can see it in the way they treat each and the competition with respect. It's good to have a balance of maturity.
  3. Michelle & Jo: They're still running at the top, although a first place finish still eludes them. Despite the stress of the Race, they seem to work out their problems quickly and bounce back; I really want them in the final three.
  4. James & Sarah: They showed a remarkable hustle this leg and could still be in it to the end. Although I can't fault Sarah's strong feelings about Joseph & Grace, overall I don't find these two pleasant to see, what with all the arguments.
  5. Lucy & Emilia: If only there had been a Paris Pit Stop so they could have claimed third place! These two are my favourite team and I'm stunned to see how well they've done at gradually transforming themselves into a competitive group and enduring their hardships with good humour.
  6. Joseph & Grace: Although these two run the Race fairly well and are pretty honest at how they deal with each other, the needless feud with James & Sarah has devastated my interest in them; Grace's fake apology was far too obvious and ill-becoming.

Next week: The series heads to Vancouver, Canada! This is the first time I've seen a new Amazing Race set in Canada since I became a fan! It should be nice to see the teams wowed by the Canadian wilderness, but there are also clips of teams breaking down from the pressures of the Race, including Lucy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Seven thoughts about IDW's Popeye#1

Thought#1: My background with the Popeye franchise amounts to experiencing some of the animated programs, comic books and singular live action film while growing up. I'm not very knowledgeable about the Thimble Theatre comic strip he originated from. It was the name of writer Roger Langridge which brought me to IDW's Popeye#1, rather than any fondness for the characters. Certainly, a cover homaging Action Comics#1 doesn't hurt at implying the audience's familiarity/affection for Popeye by likening him to Superman.

Thought#2: Even so, I recognized characters including Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, Wimpy, Alice the Goon, Bluto, the Jeep and the Sea Hag. I'm not sure if I had ever seen Olive's brother Castor Oyl before, although I'm certain I had heard something about hhim.

Thought#3: With so many of the Popeye franchise characters present and bearing in mind IDW originally announced this as a limited series, I wonder if Langridge and artist Bruce Ozella wanted to maximize what they assumed was a time-sensitive opportunity to indulge in the Popeye universe. Consequently, they've placed their best foot forward in the first issue which is exactly what a first issue should be!

Thought#4: In spite of my limited background with Popeye, I knew enough to recognize his first line of dialogue in Popeye#1 ("D'ja think I'm a cowboy?") is a play on the first words he spoke in Thimble Theatre. The things I've retained from years of comic book quizzes!

Thought#5: Then there's the sequence where Wimpy devours a whole shark in a manner very similar to the infamous strip where Wimpy devours a whole cow. What's great about references such as these is they aren't necessary to enjoy the story but are immensely rewarding for those of us in the know. There are probably other references to classic Popeye characters and situations I know nothing about, but I was never made to feel like an outsider.

Thought#6: Speaking of Wimpy, it wasn't until I read Langridge's take on J. Wellington Wimpy that I suddenly realized the protagonist of his Boom! series Snarked - one Wilburforce J. Walrus - is clearly an homage to Wimpy. Both wield their vocabularies to ingratiate and deceive others, wear derby hats, dislike violence and are friendly, but ultimately self-serving.

Thought#7: Interest in Langridge was enough to secure a sale of issue #1; the stunning art by Ozella and fun dialogue by Langridge was enough to ensure I'd be back for issue #2; IDW's Popeye is now one of the most pleasant comic books I'm reading.