Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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Wonder Woman was pretty great, folks. Forget about all the expectations, all the symbolic weight it had to carry. It’s a good movie that had me on the edge of my seat multiple times. Yes, it’s a corporate superhero movie, with the requisite tropes and cliches. None of that mattered to me, though, when I was in my seat and I was presented with the first shot of Themyscira. When I saw that gorgeous paradise, a hundred stone buildings climbing up a rolling hill, surrounded by trees, that was the first of many times that Wonder Woman grabbed me in the gut. Something about that shot made that place feel real to me, even though I knew it was nothing more than CG effects. It felt true to me. And it was that delicate illusion of reality that resonated with me all the way through the movie. Wonder Woman is a fairy tale with warrior princesses and ancient gods and tragedy on a global scale, and it succeeds because it embraces its four-colour origins instead of setting it at arms length. It’s a comic book myth that still resonates.
A large part of the movie’s success is that Gal Gadot is basically a perfect fit as Wonder Woman. Even before she puts on her iconic costume she radiates power and strength. But it’s more than that. Her Diana is one of those rare things in modern superhero tales: a truly good person. Not without flaws, certainly, but unashamed to stand on the side of right without a trace of irony. The only other superheroic performances that captured that feeling for me are Chris Evans’ Captain America and Christopher Reeves’ Superman, and Gadot deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those greats. Chris Pine takes what could have been a thankless role as Steve Trevor and knocks it out of the park with a combination of charm and idealism, and also above-average handsomeness. Really, almost all of the actors in the movie are a treat to watch, especially Robin Wright’s raw and powerful Antiope, Saïd Taghmaoui’s charming and endearing secret agent Sameer, and Connie Nielsen’s conflicted and regal Hippolyta. The supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches, and each character’s interactions with Diana gives another insight into her character and propels her on her hero’s journey.
Wonder Woman wears its heart on its sleeve, in the best way. The film is almost entirely without irony, and it’s that more than anything that made me fall in love with it. There were action scenes that made me pump my fist with excitement, but it was the quieter moments that really hooked me. It was in those scenes, where the characters are more important than the explosions and fight scenes, that the movie has its biggest victories. Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air for the superhero blockbuster genre, and I hope more movies follow the example of its character and its tone.
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Black Mask Studios have been putting out some truly great stuff lately. Everything I’ve read from them has been at least good if not great. The first of their comics that I tried was Black, a superhero story from Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, and Jamal Igle. Set in a world where only black people have superpowers, Black establishes a setting that echoes 21st-Century America, and all the inequality and tragedy that implies. Underneath this sadly familiar world, there are warring secret societies and government agencies out to control this newly-emerging group of people. Jamal Igle’s art is sharp and dynamic in a way that I’ve never really seen it before, and it keeps the series exciting and fresh as each issue reveals a new layer in Black‘s complex story.
Magdalene Visaggio and Eryk Donovan’s Quantum Teens Are Go, by contrast, is a sci-fi adventure romance series set in a future where mad science is the Next Big Thing. Nat & Sumesh are two teenage sweethearts who are engaging in dangerous adventures in their quest to build a time machine, in between all the stresses that a teenager’s home and school lives put on them. At the end of the first issue — SPOILERS — they manage to find the final part that their time machine needs. But after they turn it on, they’re suddenly faced with anonymous figures in black masks and goggles, figures that can’t be touched and that only Nat & Sumesh can see. Visaggio has a great ear for dialogue, giving the characters a real sense of verisimilitude, and Donovan’s art is angular and expressive (and given some real pop by Claudia Aguirre’s colours). Definitely worth a look for sci-fi fans.
For my money, though, my favourite Black Mask offering is The Dregs. To be fair, though, it’s a book that checks a lot of my favourite storytelling boxes. A noir set in a futuristic dystopian Vancouver that’s stratified and gentrified to inhumane levels, The Dregs is a powerful and gripping story about how our society treats the least fortunate among us. It’s a story about homelessness and the opioid epidemic that homages Raymond Chandler, artfully paced by co-writers Zac Thompson & Lonnie Nadler. The art, too, by Eric Zawadzki and colourist Dee Cunniffe, is masterful in its sense of design and page layout. Each issue is a punch to the gut, in a heartbreakingly good way, and I can’t recommend it more strongly.
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Director Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) is a stellar comedy-drama about family, full of heart and powerful performances that wrung every emotion out of my big, dumb heart. Sidharth Malhotra and Fawad Khan play two estranged brothers, Arjun and Rahul, who both return to their hometown of Coonoor after their ninety-year-old grandfather Amarjeet (Rishi Kapoor) suffers a heart-attack. There, they are reunited with their parents Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah), in one of those family gatherings that is bittersweet on the surface but increasingly bitter the more they spend time together. Harsh and Sunita are constantly at each other’s throats; Amarjeet resents Rahul for being the favoured son; Rahul is just barely coping with the family pressure as well as his difficulty writing a follow-up to his recent bestselling novel. There’s a lot of humour too, as Amarjeet is a feisty old man who is trying to enlist his grandsons’ help in getting high and watching “blue movies” on his new iPad while he’s cooped up in the hospital. And there’s romance, too, as both brothers independently meet and bond with Tia Malik (the always-stellar Alia Bhatt), who quickly falls for the handsome and successful Rahul but then finds a more lasting bond with Amarjeet. Kapoor & Sons is a brilliant movie, buoyed by truly remarkable performances (especially Malhotra, Khan, and Shah), and a story that slowly unravels the family dynamic, with the characters coming closer together and further apart as past wounds are revealed. Powerfully acted and heartfelt, it reminded me of David James Duncan’s novel The Brothers K, another brilliant piece of art that completely understands the complicated shared joys and sorrows that bind a family together.
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That’s going to wrap things up for me this week. Until next time, don’t forget to stretch your legs as well as your mind. (That’s mostly a reminder to me, as I’ve been doing a lot of sitting this past week as I’ve been reading and watching these pop culture offerings.) I’ll see you in seven days.