For this week’s column I have quite a few things that I want to talk and don’t really want to leave any of them out. So I’m going to do quick reviews that (hopefully) get to the heart of why they’ve grabbed my interest, and then hop right out. Like a thief in the night, except instead of stealing people’s valuables I’m leaving them wonderful treasures!
(Also, I just realized that there’s no antonym for “thief.” A guard prevents theft but preventing crime is not the opposite of stealing.)
And now that I have the linguistic oddities out of the way, here’s what caught my attention this week!
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As a fan of Richard Roundtree’s Shaft movies, I knew I would probably like Dynamite’s comic book take. I’d read the first issue the week it came out a couple of years ago and loved it, but as is my custom, it took me a little while longer to read the rest of the collection. Shaft: A Complicated Man is the man’s origin story, and one that packs a wallop. Writer (and letterer) David F. Walker deftly throws in a couple of callbacks in to previous Shaft stories without turning it into a series of winks to the audience, giving this younger version of John Shaft a fire and determination that I recognized in the older, more seasoned private detective. His artistic collaborator Bilquis Evely brings the world to life with a clean, steady line, and Daniela Miwa’s subdued colours fit the period and style like a glove. And the cherry on top are beautiful covers by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Ivan Nunes. With Shaft Dynamite delivers an unbeatable package that doesn’t coast on the character’s legacy, but rather adds to it in a powerful, meaningful way.
I will admit that I wasn’t entirely looking forward to seeing Lego Batman last weekend. I thought the Batman character was decently funny in The Lego Movie but didn’t see how his shtick could work as someone who carried a two hour movie. The solution to that problem, it seems, is to make a movie that highlights all of Lego Batman’s character deficiencies by embracing every iteration of the character that came before. Oh, and also improving on the visuals to paper over any other flaws. The movie’s a huge spectacle, visually stunning in nearly every scene, and while the story might be a little thin there are a ton of jokes that seem designed to hit every viewer in the demographic. The supporting cast shines, especially Michael Cera as Dick Grayson, so much so that I honestly want a Lego Robin movie for the Spring of 2019. Now I know what you’re thinking: who would be the antagonist in that movie? Two words: Lego Batman. Call me, studio executives.
I’ve been a fan of They Might Be Giants for over fifteen years but this week was the first time I’d listened to their 1992 album Apollo 18 the way the band had intended: on shuffle. The album is comprised of seventeen ‘regular-length’ songs (the term is loosely applied to TMBG’s whimsical blend of nerdy pop-rock) and twenty-one movements in the “Fingertips” suite, songs as short as four seconds long that were designed to sound like snippets of longer pop songs. While “Fingertips” is a fun journey to travel from start to finish, listening to Apollo 18 on shuffle — a brand new feature on CD players in 1992 — turns the album into an audio collage experiment. I absolutely loved it and (full disclosure) am listening to it again as I write this article. Even for people familiar with the band’s work or this album in particular, I can’t recommend the shuffle method strongly enough.
When news of a tribute to comics artist Mike Wieringo broke last week, in the form of two volumes of new stories based on his Tellos comics from co-creator and writer Todd Dezago and a slew of fantastic comics artists, I was thrilled. Mike Wieringo was one of my favourite comics artists of all time, who he died far too young and left a huge hole in the community. I immediately pulled my collection of Tellos off the shelf and dove into it, and fell in love with it all over again. Tellos is a fantasy adventure set in a world of swashbuckling and magic, and features a young boy named Jarek and his best friend, an eight foot tall tiger warrior named Koj. There’s also pirates, thieves, a gathering of slacker dragons, and a threat to the entire realm from dark magics. As much as I like Dezago’s script, the real draw for me (unsurprisingly) is Wieringo’s art. Assisted by a variety of inkers and lusciously coloured by the legendary Paul Mounts, each page is a gorgeous dream, whether it’s a thrilling scene of swashbuckling action or a moment of quiet drama. I am sure that the tribute volumes coming out in April and July will be great comics and well worth the price, but I can’t imagine that they’ll outshine the original.
I had actual goosebumps when I finished James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel about John, a young African-American man coming of age in 1930s Harlem, explores the relationship between John and his family as well as the role of the church in the community. I’ve always enjoyed Baldwin’s facility with language, how he takes short, musical phrases and strings them together in extended sentences that can sometimes overwhelm the reader. In Go Tell It on the Mountain Baldwin also uses the cadence and repetitions of the revival preacher to build the mood and emphasize his themes. I often found myself rocking back and forth as I read his words, their rhythms burrowing into me. It’s a dense, powerful book, and there are images and moments that will stay with me for quite some time.
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That’s all for me this week, friends! Until next time, take time to stretch your body and your mind. It’s good for you and also you’ve probably been sitting still for too long anyway. I’ll see you in seven days.