Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Dredd (2012) Poster
2012 was a somewhat odd year for movies for a number of reasons, but one of the oddest was the fact that it featured a great number of enjoyable summer blockbusters...almost none of which actually opened in the summer.

I'm not so jaded that I can't enjoy a big fireworks display of a movie, as long as it's done with a certain level of inventiveness and panache, and Chronicle, The Hunger Games, The Cabin In the Woods, Looper, 21 Jump Street, Rise of the Guardians, John Carter, and The Pirates! all scratched that itch rather better than a lot of Hollywood's recent offerings in this arena. A couple of them are downright great, and even the ones that were merely passable diversions were loads more fun than the movies that opened during the actual summer season*, the soggy likes of Battleship and Prometheus and that Snow White movie (no, not that one, the other one). Even Pixar and Christopher Nolan let me down this year. Oh yeah, there was The Avengers, which was almost the platonic ideal of a popcorn movie, but that opened on May 1st, which, sorry, ain't summer where I come from. (I come from Canada.)

And then there was Dredd. (Spoilers follow.)

Dredd didn't do very well in theatres, though I'm told that it's the best-selling DVD of the admittedly young year. This fact has awakened some hope of a sequel amongst the film's nascent cult, and it's this fact that made me consider some issues about this film...which I'm not entirely comfortable with.

To get the obvious out of the way, Judge Dredd was created in 1977 by John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Esquerra (artist), first appearing in only the second-ever issue of the evergreen British comics anthology 2000 AD. The character is part of the wave of punk-rock comics of the time, created as a satire of the American fetish for rogue law enforcement officers who act as "judge, jury and executioner", and inhabiting a berzerk cyberpunk world that played a major role in defining "cyberpunk" in the first place. As with rock 'n' roll, Americans may have invented comics, but the British were the ones who really saw the art forms' potential, and a level of tongue-in-cheek irony of a kind foreign to contemporary American superhero stories pervaded the strip. Dredd became, and remains, a wildly popular character in the UK, but Americans mostly know him from the awful 1996 Sylvester Stallone movie. The fact that Dredd removed his helmet was the least of the movie's problems; more than anything else, it seemed like adapting Dredd into an actual big-budget American action movie had robbed the movie of its ironic, subversive charge. (Robocop was heavily inspired by Judge Dredd, and I'd argue it captures the strip better than ether of the nominal adaptations. Perhaps not coincidentally, director Paul Verhoeven is European.)

Dredd is a fun, quite well-made movie, and I enjoyed it tremendously. But it falls prey to a tendency that's become overwhelming in geeky adaptations: they labour under a weird, creeping sense of obligation that sometimes overwhelms the need to make the best movie possible, or even the best adaptation possible.

With this movie, director Pete Travis set out to make a movie that would be much truer to the character--which actually seems to boil down to the fact that they wanted a Dredd movie where he never took his helmet off.

Look, I get that this is a big deal in the comic, but this is a movie, people. In much the same way that geeks moan endlessly when an actress of the wrong hair colour is cast for a comic-book role, this seems like a weird fixation on a superficial detail. I'm not saying that it's not nice that Karl Urban's Dredd keeps his helmet on; I'm just saying that making that the lynchpin of the movie resulted in a rather underwhelming story.

Because if you switch out the character of Dredd, you'd be left with a relatively generic, though well-made, action story (as everyone keeps saying, the similarities to The Raid: Redemption are inescapable), and that seems like a missed opportunity. Travis and company were quite open about the fact that they were going to make a small-scale story due to budget issues, and while that's fine as far as it goes, the problem is that the script thinks too small. The vast, sprawling, nightmare world of Mega-City One is basically ignored (and what little we see of it just looks like a generic, modern metropolis) and the bulk of the action reduced to a single, admittedly huge, apartment building. Fair enough, but there's no sense of the personality of the city surrounding it either. Indeed, there's little trace of the tonal subversiveness or snotty nose-thumbing that makes the comic so memorable either. Even Dredd himself is given very little to play off of; sure, he's the authoritarian hard-ass we expect, but this isn't really explored by the story in any serious way. Dredd never, for instance, has to make a choice between following the rules and basic humanity, and the ramifications of this borderline-fascist legal system don't play a role in the plot at all, other than the shock of a cadre of corrupt Judges who pop up at the halfway point.

And therein lies the rub: this movie seems to have been made solely to validate the character after the Stallone debacle, to give fans of the character something to point to to show that he's actually good. In that way, it plays directly into the modern idea that movies are somehow "better" than other media, and that no matter how much you love that comic or novel or TV show, it hasn't arrived until it's been turned into a big-budget CGI-fest. Even this wouldn't be so bad if the resulting movies didn't end up feeling like they were made using a checklist, afraid to take too many chances, providing as direct a transcription as possible for the sake of the fans. We're a long way from the era when Jaws and the Godfather ended up being a vast improvement on the original pulp novels.

Which brings us to the possibility of a sequel. Again, the filmmakers are on record as saying that, should the first film do well, we'd be getting a sequel featuring some of the more unique elements of the comic. Again, I get the necessity inherent here, but this seems to be the standard approach for far too many comic-book and other "geek" properties--a small-scale, unambitious movie that sets up a potentially better sequel. This doesn't have to be bad, of course, but too often it seems like the filmmakers are shirking their responsibility by doling out the property in bite-sized chunks rather than straining themselves to deliver the best movie they possibly can. It's like if the first Star Wars movie had only hinted at the big Death Star battle, with Lucas promising we'd get to see it if the first movie made enough money.

What I really object to about this is that it puts a burden on the movie-consuming public--give lots of money to the corporation, and maybe you'll get a treat! Obviously this attitude popped up organically among film nerds over the years, but Hollywood has been quick to exploit it. Essentially they're trying to be rewarded for stretching the property as thin as they possibly can, and it smacks of a con job.

Don't get me wrong: if a Dredd sequel gets made, I'll be first in line. But it would be nice to get the sense that the filmmakers had given it their all the first time, that they weren't selling a promise as much as a movie.

*And then, just to compound the weirdness, the two best movies of the summer were Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild, both ultra-precious indie movies of the kind that usually haunts arthouses in the early fall. And they did well!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fourth World Fridays: Mister Miracle #6--"Funky Flashman!"

Funky Flashman, as we will learn on the first page, is a con artist, swindler, and all-round self-interested douchebag. As the caption informs us, he “preys on all things like a cannibal!! –Including you!!!” Well, by definition a cannibal would have to. Anyway, Funky, who bears an odd resemblance to Bob Hope in a couple of panels, lives in the crumbling antebellum mansion known as Mockingbird Estates. Somehow, he managed to get himself named Colonel Mockingbird’s heir apparent, but the deal came with strings attached: rather than gaining immediate access to a fat trust fund, Funky gets a weekly allowance, doled out in a very strange manner: every week, the hideous bust of the Colonel makes a loud “BAAAAW!” sound and the mouth flips open to reveal a small wad of bills.

Kirby, rather insanely, refers to this process as “waiting for Godot”. Yes, seriously. OK, listen, Stan Lee obviously had great success writing hip, Beat-influenced, pop-culture-referencing heroes, and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s natural enough that Kirby would want to try and imitate his most well-known collaborator. But Kirby really, really wasn’t suited to this, and the results aren’t just clunky, they actively make you fear for the man’s sanity. If Lee sometimes seemed hilariously square in his attempts to write “with-it” dialogue, Kirby comes off as borderline senile. I mean, “Waiting for Godot”? How pathetic is that name-drop, even in 1972?

OK, OK. Moving on. Funky and his fawning manservant Houseroy—yes, Houseroy--have an exposition-laden conversation about his plans to pull another con in order to shore up their measly funds. Their mark, of course, is Mister Miracle, who they’ve learned about from the performance he gave at an orphanage fundraiser.

…Wait, wait, wait. Mister Miracle? Performing his act in public, for an audience? And this happened off-panel?!? Surely this momentous occasion could have warranted a panel or two! But then, the whole thrust of this story seems to suggest that Kirby realized that the logistics of Mr. M’s act may have been a bit lacking. More on that in a moment. Although I am interested to know, given the nature of Mr. M’s stunts, how many orphans were killed during that performance.

Anyway, Funky slaps on a fake hairpiece and beard, all the while engaging in extremely, um, flamboyant dialogue. Houseroy says that he thinks Scott Free will prove “quite edible!!” and Funky calls him “Sweetie”. I have to wonder if Kirby wasn’t slipping in a whole other subtext on top of making him, you know, a two-faced conniver.

Meanwhile, it’s time for our standard Mr. Miracle opening splash—Mr. M in the clutches of some ludicrously awesome mechanical deathtrap that he’ll escape from once, let it destroy itself, and then never use again! This time he’s shackled into a crazy-looking rocket sled—it even says “NASA proving ground” on it—on a track that ends on a sheer cliff. The sled takes off in a blast of Kirby Krackle, and, with nanoseconds to spare, Scott…


Huh. The rocket sled had an ejector seat, complete with parachutes. I don’t know whether that’s shrewd or cowardly on Scott’s part. Oh, sure, he had to get out of the shackles in time to hit the eject button, but still. Do real super escape artists need parachutes?

Anyway, after the standard, “Oh God, he’s dead, those crazy contraptions finally killed him! Buh—WHA?!? You’re alive!” reaction from Oberon, Scott mentions that he thinks the crowds will enjoy this stunt…which broaches that taboo subject of money. “You’ve been hinting about going on tour!!” needles Obie. “Well!! –Why not!! It’s time this act began making money!”

Really, Oberon? Are you sure? We don’t want to rush into this, after all. Maybe Scott should wreck a few more NASA rocket sleds before he makes a rash move like trying to make any money out of his antics. Maybe he ought to purchase a few more antique civil war cannons, too. I mean, these things do grow on trees, after all. And risking your life in radical, foolhardy ways just isn’t the same if there are people watching. People who might inadvertently be entertained. It cheapens the whole act, man.

Whew. Well, while that bit of thudding obviousity is being taken care of, interesting events are unfolding back at Casa Del Free: Flashman has made the pilgrimage to see Scott, only to be met with Big Barda. I mentioned a while back that Barda was basically Kirby’s wife Roz in personality, and this scene is a variation on something that apparently happened a lot in the Kirby household: some shyster or corporate shark comes to the door while the King is trying to work, and his missus gently discourages him by, um, crushing a gun in her bare fist. Funky is apparently a hard one to dissuade, however, and Barda gives up and goes to take a bath (?) just as Scott walks in. Apparently splashing around in the water is one of her default reactions when she gets sick of hitting things.

Funky announces his presence and introduces himself to Oberon—“mentioned briefly in your letter,” as Funky puts it. And yes, that’s supposed to be a short joke. Can someone explain to me why it’s been OK to make little-person jokes long after we stopped making fun of people’s other disabilities? I mean, if you mocked a guy in a wheelchair by calling him “Hell on wheels” no one would think you were clever. They’d think you were a huge jerk. Of course, Funky’s a huge jerk anyway, pinching Oberon’s cheek and then suddenly attempting to drop kick him as soon as Scott’s back is turned. Charming.

As soon as Oberon’s departed to make some coffee, Funky launches into his spiel, declaring it a “tingly, wingly thrill!!—To actally be in the very setting where the hallowed Thaddeus Brown, like a warlock of ancient yore—conjured up his majestic manipulations!!” He proceeds to lay it on thick with flowery verbiage. More than a few people have commented that Funky seems to be channeling Stan Lee in this sequence, beard included. By the way, if he’s using his real name, why did he bother with a fake beard? That would seem to clinch the idea that Kirby wanted to evoke Lee. I mean, a pompous con artist with a grandiose way of talking---what else were we supposed to think?

We cut to Barda in the bath. This page was apparently scripted by Mark Evanier to fill space when Kirby accidentally came up short in the page count, and he claims it doesn’t add to the story at all, but I don’t know if that’s quite true—it includes a panel where her “warning circuits” detect a “carrier beam” from Apokolips, without which the next page would seem to pretty much come out of nowhere. She gets dressed (in her bikini-thing rather than her full battle armour) and goes downstairs to meet…MAD HARRIET!

Harriet’s one of the Female Furies, the Charlie’s Angels of Apokolips to which Barda formerly belonged. Her weapons are her freaky appearance, disturbing giggle, and a row of razor-tipped brass knuckles, and ruthless efficiency, and nice red uniforms…OK, sorry, I’ll come in again. She’s a homicidal maniac in a Geisha costume, is my point, and she’s here to take out Barda for her betrayal of Apokolips. As is her partner Stompa, who joins her a few panels later, and as of now is merely a disembodied boot. After trashing some furniture, they phase out, just as Scott comes barging in. Boy, that guy is missing most of the action in this issue, isn’t he.

In fact, it turns out he’s been closing a deal with Funky to manage their coming tour. “He’s a transparent second-rater—but he’ll have to do!!” Um, really? You aren’t going to bother looking around for a better option, Scott? Obviously this arrangement parallels Kirby’s partnership with Stan the Man, but that just makes it seem like he should have tried for something better himself…

Oddly, we now cut to a day later. Wow, the Female Furies sure like to take their time in toying with their prey. Funky’s apparently rented out a rehearsal studio (complete with…klieg lights?) and dressed himself up in what he calls his “Uneasy Rider outfit” which apparently has him under the delusion that he’s John Huston. Scott proceeds to strap himself to a wooden platform that feeds into a gigantic sawblade, prompting this reaction:

Yeah, thanks, Oberon, that’s much more helpful.

Scott immediately follows this with a second escape: he crawls inside a gigantic, clear-plastic fishbowl, tightens the hatch, and lets a concussion bomb drop into the bowl. This one he escapes, somehow, by curling up in “the proper position.” Funky, duly impressed, lathers on the praise, leading Scott to melt a little and reveal one of his secrets: namely, the Mother Box. “But no one can build her!!” Admonishes Scott. “She must be earned!!” I have to admit, I don’t really get what Mother Boxes are supposed to represent. They seem to be a symbol of immense power that’s bestowed only on the worthy, but, I mean, they are basically just a piece of technology. How does one “earn” a Mother Box, exactly? At any rate, it’s clear Funky isn’t worthy, and it’s just as clear that he’s suddenly eager to get his hands on it.

His lust for power is interrupted by the belated arrival of Lashina, another one of the Furies. (Barda mentioned that there were only four, but as we’ll see later, that’s completely inaccurate.) Lashina’s another neat character design:

But before her lash (capable of cutting through solid metal) can land on Scott, Barda swoops out of the shadows and engages her in a page-long fight. Barda STILL hasn’t bothered to put on her armour, by the way. I guess Kirby knew which side his bread was buttered on. Barda manages to subdue her, and she teleports away just as—you guessed it—Scott and Oberon come running in. Barda once again describes her battle and speaks warily of the fourth Fury, Burnadeth, who happens to be Desaad’s sister. They’ve been able to find Scott by tracking his Mother Box, but suddenly it’s gone missing—Scott left in such a hurry that he didn’t notice that Funky ran off with it.

I think you can see what’s coming, can’t you? Funky’s back at Mockingbird Estate, practicing his public speaking, when the Furies come for him and decide to kill him out of spite. Burnadeth fires a “fahren-knife” that will “penetrate dimensionally—and barbecue him from the inside!!!” Funky apparently avoids it, andthrows his faithful butler Houseroy into the fray in order to hold them off for a few minutes while he makes his escape from the house, which explodes behind him. After mourning the loss of his family (?) estate (which Kirby takes a moment to remind us was founded on slave labour) Funky, his hair and beard blown off, walks off down the road to new schemes, apparently unconcerned by all that’s transpired.

We get a brief epilogue here where we reveal that Mr. Miracle and Barda arrived on the scene to pull Houseroy from the flames (oh, comics code) and engage the Furies, driving them off with explosives. This all happened off-panel, of course. The issue ends with Scott and Barda finally making a decision: instead of waiting on Earth and taking on their Apokoliptish adversaries one by one in easily defeatable permutations, they’re going to head back to the planet itself and take on Darkseid, Granny, and the hordes of Apokolips on their own turf.

Gee. Good thinking.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The last two reviews I’ve done for Thor’s Comics Column (The End Times of Bram and Ben and Todd, the Ugliest Kid in the World ) have inadvertently been thematically linked. Both of these books are deliberately, gleefully offensive, something that’s become a time-honoured tradition in the medium of comics since at least the era of “Tales From the Crypt”…and really, it goes back to at least the days of 18th-century political cartoons. Or hell, dirty paintings on cave walls. Comics seem more inclined to this kind of assault on good taste than most other media, something I accredit partly to how few overseers the standard comic has in the production phase, and partly to how far beneath the radar the average indie comic is able to fly. But even without those aspects I feel like there’s something in the medium itself that lends itself to assaulting people’s delicate social mores—a certain underlying anarchy implicit in portraying reality in stylized form. (Animation has something similar going on, from the classic Loony Tunes to the modern slew of R-rated cartoon shows.)

As you might be able to tell, I’m generally in favour of pushing boundaries, but that doesn’t mean I automatically salute comics creators who publish whatever juvenile, offensive nonsense they can get away with. As I said in the reviews linked above, I think taking a scattergun to good taste can be a positive thing…if done in an intelligent context. The more over-the-top your shock value, the more carefully it has to be deployed, and there’s no quicker way to get on my bad side than being shocking for the sake of being shocking. Perhaps more importantly, if you’re going to talk the talk, I expect you to walk the walk.

I’ve been to the San Diego Comic-Con a few times, thanks largely to friend and collaborator Chuck Whelon. My first time there, in 2004, was juuuuust before the huge crowds of non-nerds caught on that this was a chance to catch a glimpse of big movies and their stars and directors before they were released, and it was still possible to get in to see them without spending most of the convention waiting in line. In later visits I tended to skip the madness of Hall H and focus on the actual comics, but that first trip was spent planted in the big lecture halls watching advance clips of The Incredibles and listening to the creators of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (it was a pretty good year for neat geek projects, in retrospect).

One of the presentations I saw that year was for Team America: World Police. I knew Trey Parker and Matt Stone were working on an all-puppet action movie that would lampoon the war on terror in the style of the Thunderbirds, and while I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of the duo, I thought the combination of the uniqueness of the medium and the subject matter made it sound like an exciting flick. What I saw on the stage, though, turned me against Parker and Stone for life. I understand that they were in the late stages of finishing the movie and were rather exhausted, but the hour-long presentation consisted of nothing but whining from the duo—whining about how much they hated actors, whining about how much harder it was to work with puppets, whining about how much hard work this all had been. When you factor in the incredibly simplistic, half-assed animation of South Park, it became clear to me that these were a pair of over-privileged jerks who thought it was the height of hilarity to mock everyone else but whose own inconvenience warranted a jeremiad. This was emphasized when the movie came out and large chunks of it were devoted to repetitive, tiresome “takedowns” of everyone in Hollywood Parker and Stone personally disliked, including a nonsensical plotline springing from their personal vendetta against Michael Moore.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “He’s only saying that because his political beliefs are being tweaked.” But actually it’s just the opposite. I’m a hardcore leftie, but I’d LOVE it if someone delivered a smart, incisive takedown of Michael Moore. That’s not what Parker and Stone did, though. The Michael Moore segments of the movie are simply Parker and Stone taking revenge on a guy who done them wrong (Parker and Stone were featured in Bowling for Columbine but refused to make an animated segment for the movie; Moore proceeded to make one in the style of South Park and place it right after the Parker and Stone segment, which the duo felt mislead people into thinking they’d been active participants in the movie rather than interview subjects). There’s no real criticism of Moore’s beliefs other than linking him to the movie’s half-baked “liberals are terrorists” theme, which isn’t any more well-thought-out than the kinds of idiocies that right-wing talking heads were spewing during the Bush years. What’s almost worse is that Parker and Stone present this whole thing as surrounded by ironic quote marks, dramatizing right-wing talking points with a veneer of ridiculousness so that if called on it they can say they’re satirizing it. It’s the ultimate in having their cake and eating it too.

For the record, I have enjoyed South Park in the past, and I’m not trying to argue that Parker and Stone are are right-wing lunatics. Actually that’s almost the problem: I don’t think they actually believe in anything, and are simply taking an aggressively contrarian stand to get noticed. Which wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, but combined with the aforementioned sense of privilege and whininess, it becomes excruciating. (A gay acquaintance of mine was extremely angry at the episode that called for people to ease off on criticism of “the f word”: “So, these privileged heterosexual Republican-voters are going to lecture me on being offended by a slur aimed specifically at people like me?” was the thrust of his complaint.) Apparently a recent South Park episode featured metacommentary on Parker and Stone’s growing displeasure at their need to be relentlessly cynical and negative towards everything, to which I can only quote Porky Pig: “You b-b-b-b-buttered your bread, now you can lie in it.”

Another guy about whom I have similarly mixed feelings is Garth Ennis. Unlike Parker and Stone, I don’t think Ennis is a nihilist, and in fact, I think he can be a really excellent writer. But as anyone who’s read a lot of his work knows, he can very definitely fall into the same adolescent contrarian stance. There’s his incredibly, often pointlessly graphic violence, his depiction of superheroes as out-of-control, amoral hedonists in The Boys, and his juvenile mockery of religion in Preacher. I’ve actually read Preacher multiple times and own the entire series; it’s unquestionably an engaging, entertaining story, but I’m consistently disappointed by how Ennis keeps trying to pretend he has something to say, about religion or America or anything else, when it’s pretty clear he doesn’t. Christianity only exists in Preacher as something he can bring up for a cheap, shocking gag once in a while; the only people who are going to be offended by it are the kind of fundamentalists who wouldn’t be reading the comic in the first place. It’s a nonstop parade of “Hey, you hold this stuff sacred? Well, fuck you, I’mma smear shit all over it! Ha ha!” Ennis never even really gets around to explaining WHY religion is bad; he just takes it as self-evident. He’s shooting fish in a barrel. (And no, I’m not religious. If I’m offended by any of this jive it’s not the subject matter but how much contempt Ennis has for his readers.) 

After all that, I probably come off as a hopeless prude, but I reiterate my original point: I’m a strong supporter of thinkers and storytellers who attempt to push boundaries. My issue is with people who take “causing offense” as a starting point. To stay on the religion thing, Charles Darwin didn’t sit down and attempt to destroy the bible by writing The Origin of Species (regardless of what certain fundamentalists seem to think); he simply followed his thoughts to their rational conclusion, and came back with a book that shocked half the world. The same is true of Alfred Kinsey or Friedrich Nietzsche. This may seem like a somewhat lopsided argument, that I’m holding up an impossible standard to pop culture storytellers, but you see my point—nothing is ever more shocking than ideas. An obvious provocation can garner attention in the short term, but all you’re doing is shoving something into the muck. Muck washes off. Exposing an existing rot within your chosen subject—that’s far more dangerous, and it’s what art should be doing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144--"A Big Thing In A Deep Scottish Lake!"

Word to the wise: if you don’t like Scottish accents, bail out now. You’re about to be subjected to the worst Scottish accents this side of Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. And for those of you saying, “But Adam, Costner was supposed to be doing an English accent,” I say--exactly.

This issue is credited to “Jock Kirrbie”, for crying out loud. And the opening splash features a dude in a speedboat, racing along the black waters of a certain well-known Scottish lake, yelling “Come out, y’beastie!! If y’rr truly doon therrr, Ian MacGregor would like a look at ye!!” Well, you have to admire Kirby’s restraint in not naming the character “Scotchy MacTartan”. By the way, I love how this guy thinks that, after remaining a mystery for decades if not centuries, he’s going to expose this Monster by blasting around in a speedboat and yelling at it.

Well, apparently, it’s a more effective tactic than you might think, because moments later, … something rears out of the water, smashing the boat to kindling. MacGregor escapes to tell the tale to the newspapers, which of course he does, since, as Kirby informs us, “No Scotsman will remain silent when his boat is wrecked!!” Um, I’m pretty sure that holds true for most nationalities, Jack. It’s not like those Kurds or Norwegians or Laotians are known for building an impenetrable wall of silence around their accidental boat-wreckings.

At any rate, I’m assuming Kirby’s coyness has been to no avail, and that everyone reading this has long since guessed what we’re dealing with here. I’m not sure why he even bothered to try and make it a surprise, I mean, hasn’t everyone heard of the world famous Loch Trevor Monster?...

…Wait, what? Must be a misprint. Moving on.

At any rate, Jimmy and the Newsboys are attempting their monthly confrontation with Morgan Edge over his attempts to, y’know, blow them up. I don’t understand why they’re not making more headway with this—I mean, their strategy is to march into his office and loudly accuse him of putting a bomb in their Whiz Wagon. Edge is too crafty for them, though—he (get this) denies everything. This puts an unexpected crimp in the master journalists’ plans. What’s a crimesolver to do when the suspect won’t just voluntarily confess the moment you confront him? It’s clearly stalemated the Newsboy Legion, but Morgan Edge outdoes them again by suggesting a new assignment. “I could assign you to follow up this new fish story--and--” “Fish story?” jumps in Flippa Dippa. “You mean fish—like in water??” Oh Lord, he’s off on that again. Amusingly, even Jimmy seems to be getting sick of him:

Well, at least Flippa has a forceful personality, because all the other Newsboys immediately fall into line on this dubious assignment granted them by a man who tries to kill them every time he sends them to cover a story. What makes it all the worse is how clearly sensationalistic and tabloid-esque the assignments he sends them on are. I could accredit this to a very subtle bit of satire on Kirby’s part, with Edge buying up the Daily Planet and turning it into a yellow rag, a la Rupert Murdoch. But then I’m forced to remember the kinds of non-stories the Planet generally covered before Edge bought them out—vital stories like “Jimmy Olsen receives medal” and “An interview with Superman, by Lois Lane, part 72856 of a series,” and I have to wonder if Edge hasn’t actually classed the joint up somewhat.

Besides, as is not hard to figure out, “tabloid journalism” in the DC Universe is a whole other ballgame, since alien love babies, werewolves, demonic entities, and other such folderol actually exist. In the DC Universe, the Weekly World News and the National Enquirer would be vital, respected publications, a point Grant Morrison made in his recent “Manhattan Guardian” miniseries, part of the Seven Soldiers project. Hey, and that story featured the Newsboy Legion as well. And Grant Morrison is Scottish!!! IT’S ALL FALLING INTO PLACE!!!

I don’t need to mention that Morgan Edge gets in touch with another Intergang operative the minute Jimmy and company have left the room and orders them killed again, do I? I assume not.

But where’s Superman? Why couldn’t he be bothered to provide backup for Jimmy’s confrontation with Edge? For a very good reason: he’s been invited to a discotheque.

Yes, in an odd attempt to drum up publicity, Terry Dean—the odd not-Lois Lane character who’s been popping up for a panel or two here and there—has invited Superman (and the Guardian, for good measure) to the opening of a new nightclub, where he’s immediately bombarded by autograph seekers and made to feel uncomfortable as “a charter member of the establishment”. Hmmm, I was going to ask why no one had ever thought to invite Superman to an event like this before, but I guess there’s your answer. By the way, I think it’s safe to say that Kirby was never in a discotheque in his life, judging by his odd portrayal of same: basically, it’s a mash-up of counterculture elements from many different eras, hippie, beatnik, and, um, seventies. In particular, the house band resembles a demented version of the Partridge Family—and “demented” may be the right word, as they immediately make it clear that they’re working for Darkseid and are concerned that Superman’s going to wreck everything.

As if this wasn’t enough, Dubbilex suddenly shows up. Remember Dubbilex? He’s the long-suffering, purple, horned mutant that The Project bred as a sideshow attraction, or something. He’s here to inform Superman about some suspicious goings-on that relate to The Project. Superman looks relieved at having an excuse not to have to do any disco dancing. You and me both, Kal.

Meanwhile, SHENANIGANS! As the Newsboy Legion is whisked to Scotland in, apparently, Edge’s own private Lear Jet. Scrapper dresses up in a full tartan outfit, complete with kilt, and they all pile into the Whiz Wagon, which is dumped out at Loch Trevor.

Son of a…yes, Loch Trevor. Not Loch Ness. They’re here to uncover the mystery of the Loch Trevor Monster.

It’s often hard to tell what Kirby was thinking when he made decisions like this. I doubt that Kirby was so skeptical about Nessie that he invented an entirely new creature—I mean, even if he was a skeptic in real life, the guy just finished a storyline about vampires and wolfmen who came from a microscopic planet. I do know that the citizens of Loch Ness are very, very protective of their “pet monster” and don’t like seeing it portrayed as smashing boats and eating people; it could be that Kirby got wind of this and decided to respect their wishes by moving the monster to a different Scottish Loch. Everyone knows that the Loch Trevorites are a bunch of jerks anyway, so they deserve to have a nasty monster.

Anyway, on landing, they almost manage to run over their contact, a cartoonish Scotsman by the name of Felix MacFinney. Naturally the dialogue that follows is full of “rrrrr”s and “ooo”s and “bless me tartan!” and oh just kill me now.

Oh, good, let’s go back to the disco with Supes and Dubbilex. Dub reveals that he found a tunnel leading from the Project all the way to this club—what, this specific club, or just Metropolis in general?—built by someone other than the Hairies. This is the cue for the House Band, known as “The San Diego Five String Mob”, to try and rub out the heroes with the power of music. Seriously. Their instruments, when played in conjunction with a heretofore unseen sixth member named Barriboy—who pops up right behind Superman’s table—can summon, like, bad vibrations, man. Vibrations which bring the club’s ceiling crashing down.

Meanwhile, back to Scotland, where, according to the caption, “Chaos is far from the order!” I don’t know wha that means, but I don’t begrudge it this time, because our first panel is of MacFinney introducing his ultra-hot miniskirted daughter, Ginny.

I should use this opportunity to mention that I’ve been to Scotland, and even have ancestors from there, and I actually *love* Scottish accents. Real ones. Especially coming from cute girls. It’s this ridiculous comic-book approximation I find dopey. But I guess if I imagine everyone talking in the voice of Kelly MacDonald I’ll be OK. Mmm…Kelly MacDonald…

An exposition-filled dinner reveals that MacFinney has built a sonar whistle that will, apparently, call the Loch Trevor Monster to them. Gee, that’s convenient. You’ve lived in Loch Trevor for years, and you’ve just now invented a device that will help you prove the existence of the monster. Also, he calls Big Words “Big Wurrds”. Oh, and by the way, Scrapper brought that little “Scrapper Trooper” he’s been carrying around since he left the Project, apparently under the belief that it will provide a magical solution to any problems that come up.

The next day, the whole gang is out on the Loch, and Flippa Dippa is, of course, in hog heaven as he gets to make himself useful for a change. Unfortunately, just as he’s turning on his searchlight, hands reach in and grab at his air hose. The above-water Legion members lose contact, and just as they’re preparing to go in after Flippa, MacFinney seizes the opportunity to reveal himself as a turncoat. Yep, he’s working for the Scottish branch of Intergang, or as he puts it, “Interrr-gaang”, as a “Prrofishn’l killer.” So…after nearly letting himself get run over by the Whiz Wagon as it landed, he took them home, made them dinner and gave them a pleasant night’s rest, let Jimmy sleep with his daughter (I’m assuming—Olsen is a playa, after all) and loaded up his special equipment on the boat, and THEN finally decided to kill them? That’s the most ridiculously delayed hit job I’ve ever seen. This guy works for Intergang, alright.

Jimmy tries to distract MacFinney by getting him monologuing, but surprisingly, it doesn’t work. However, it does give Scrapper a chance to employ his mini-me and activate the sonar device that will summon the monster. (By the way, there’s actually a decent reason for why MacFinney would have access to a device to summon a monster that supposedly no one’s ever seen clearly; it’s revealed in the next issue. But you’d think our ace reporters might be a little suspicious.) The Lake Trevor monster does indeed come when called, trashing their boat and sending them into the water; MacFinney is apparently dragged down by the monster off-panel. The Newsboys swim to shore, bemoaning the loss of Flippa Dippa, but it turns out he’s alive and well and waiting for them. Well, I’ll be. It turns out that Flippa Dippa really is actually competent in his native element, because he was able to overcome his assailant—it’s Ginny, unsurprisingly (though, to my chagrin, she’s not actually Scottish, nor is she really MacFinney’s daughter).

The story ends rather abruptly with Jimmy swearing to stick around Scotland until he gets to the bottom of what’s going on. That’s fine by me, Jimmy. Stay in Scotland for as long as you like. It’d be nice if I didn’t have to read about it, though.