NIMONA (2015)


As ND Stevenson’s NIMONA film adaptation has finally made its way into the world — thanks for nothing, Disney — I thought I would revisit some of his prior works.

If you haven’t read NIMONA but have designs on watching the film, I highly suggest that you watch the film adaptation first and then circle back to the book. You’ll thank me later.

I was lucky enough to start reading ND Stevenson’s NIMONA as it was doled out online. It’s was a webcomic tale that takes place in a future-medieval-ish world focused around a young mercurial shapeshifter (the titular character Nimona, often defaulting to the appearance of a teen girl) who — right out of the gate — immediately imbues herself on the most prominent supervillain in the land: Ballister Blackheart. The two of them go up against the tyrannical Institute and Ballister’s “ex-bestie” Sir Goldenlion who — worth noting — cut off Ballister’s arm. Matters escalate in a brazen way.

Then it was released as a colorized graphic novel, and it shot to the best-seller lists, and rightfully lit the world on fire.

NIMONA is grounded in a way that I feel is rare with most fantasy works. While the story takes place in a fantastical land, that land is mostly ancillary to the story; what really matters are the relationships in the story: Nimona’s push-and-pull with Ballister, trying to feed his worst impulses while also trying to understand why he pushes against them; Ballister, meanwhile, has no idea what to make of Nimona, doesn’t know whether he’s taken her under his wing, or whether she’s taken him under her wing (both literally and figuratively).

While NIMONA started off as a college art project, it is confident out of the gate. Does it have all of the trapping of an old-school webcomic? Yes: 1) It focuses on the type of characters eschewed from most mainstream comics 2) It immediately cuts to the chase and lays everything out swiftly instead of indulging in the sort of visual storytelling decompression that’s been all-too-popular as of late, 3) The character design is so exacting and memorable with its shapes and sizes, even though one of the characters is a shapeshifter, and 4) It is first-and-foremost an outlet for what the author is dealing with.

It’s very difficult to discuss NIMONA without noting that Stevenson has gone through quite a bit since he started working on it over a decade ago — he is trans — I am not the right person to discuss it, so I’ll let you read about his experiences revisiting his notes and sketches and process of creating the work instead.

Since NIMONA, Stevenson has gone on to a number of other projects — most of which also has him on art duties — but he’s become better known as a writer and show runner (see: Netflix’s SHE-RA) and rightly so. He has a very unique voice that manages to be glib and hilarious but also meaningfully contains so much subtext and pulls at your emotions.

However, I really miss his art. I love his scratchy thin line-work, his effortlessly energetic layouts — how he mapped out Nimona’s transformations across the page is seamlessly eye-popping — and simply how he captures so much emotion and agility and expression in the slightest, and largest, of character poses. I’ll also note that the original webcomics were in black-and-white, but he did such an amazing job imbuing his works with what may look like simple flat colors, but are so vivid and shine volumes. It’s comics at its finest.

If you didn’t take my advice and read this before watching the film: again, please watch the film again after reading the collection. I’ll have an addendum with my post about the film in which I’ll detail the ‘why’ but I’d rather save it for that as opposed to this work.


As always, I’ll preface this by saying that I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn.

That said, there’s so much Quinn content that I have no idea where I even am in her storyline now.

Apparently she’s hooking up with Ivy now, which yes — her one true love! — and that’s great! But somehow I missed that along the way of oh, say, the number of collections I’ve already read (except for NO GOOD DEED, which takes place far later and I still have no idea what happened there). I recently was under the impression that apart from the animated series (and the animated series comics) that they were never formally partners. Nonetheless, no complaints here!

I realize I brought this upon myself by willfully ignoring the numbers on the spines of the collections, but it used to be that comics followed a pretty straight-forward numbering system: #1, then increment that number until you’re cancelled. It’s how DETECTIVE COMICS (you know: exactly what DC’s acronym stands for?) has over 700 issues.

Nowadays, it’s reboot upon reboot and apart from creative teams and endlessly trawling comic book websites — which I do not have the time for — it’s very difficult to figure out exactly how to follow along with these storylines unless you’re buying them each-and-every-month.

(Also something I don’t have the patience or attention span for.)

Regardless, a book that features Harley Quinn doesn’t quite care about continuity. It’s reckless, prior actions are hand-waved away, and it’s simply chaotic fun. That said: while I’ve been digging into just how many Quinn collection I have left to read, it is daunting and confusing in a way that could be made far more simpler. I love comics, and every time I dive back into them I wonder why I ever stopped, but geez, I’m well-versed in this publishing world and if I’m confused, just wonder about those who are newbies.

With that rant out of the way, this is yet another banger from Conner & Palmiotti and artist John Timms. There are mobsters, corrupt mayors, surprisingly uncorrupt cops, a lot of a violence and dismemberment, and all of the puns and verbosity from Harley you’d expect. However, it also features an entire issue that — unless I’m wrong — owes a significant debt to the very memorable anime series MAZINGER G, even down to uh, bombs and missiles being launched from body parts you ordinarily wouldn’t expect to serve up loaded vehicles of gunpowder.

As always, it’s a joyful thrill ride, and exactly why I always look for Conner & Palmiotti’s names when trawling through my local comic book shop’s back-catalog.


Yet again, I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn, and this Conner & Palmiotti volume (number five, for those keeping score at home) is one of the best of I’ve theirs I’ve read. (I’ll note: I haven’t even come close to reading their oeuvre, much less the entire panopticon of other Harley works, so please bear that in mind.)

I’ll admit: I have no fucking clue where Harley and Ive are relationship-wise in this series. Ivy seems to be very invested in Harley, but Harley is off fucking Madame Macabre’s son and Ivy is visibly very happy for her. They talk to each other like a couple, but apparently they aren’t? Maybe I’m dumb at interpreting this — wouldn’t be the first time — but it’s hard to tell solely based on this volume.

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have skipped volumes number two and three — inevitably I’ll circle back — but it’s more fun this way.

All joking aside, this volume is not flip. I will not spoil anything but it goes dark and Harley goes through a lot of shit. Tonally, VOTE HARLEY departs quite a bit from the Conner & Palmiotti Harley works I’ve previously read. Actions have significant consequences, Harley tries to rectify them and, in traditional Harley manner, it falls apart.

The six issues of this arc takes turn after turn, culminating in a wild fourth-wall breaking scenario that I did not see coming, and it was utterly delightful while also being quite disturbing.

While I always miss Connor’s pencil work, I always welcome John Timm. His renditions are always vibrantly expressive, focusing more on eyes and grins than T&A, although his fluid body language also helps to amplify some of this volume’s heavier moments.

I don’t want to say that this is a great introduction to Harley — after all, it is the fifth volume of a long-running character — and while it’s far more somber than we normally see Harley, it’s a very well-crafted story that, while not exactly self-contained, also isn’t inaccessible for newer readers. It’s a hell of a ride, albeit probably not one Harley wanted to take.



In honor of the latest season drop of HARLEY QUINN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, I couldn’t help but make another Harley Quinn post because I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn.

It was my birthday recently and I traditionally treat myself to some new books. This year, I dropped into my local comic book store — I’m lucky enough to live in an area that still has one within walking distance: Alleycat Comics and they’re fantastic — and I perused the Harley Quinn section because, yet again, I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn. (So much so that I’m thinking of making this a weekly feature, as there’s certainly enough Harley Quinn material out there.)

They had re-stocked Conner & Pamiotti’s Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 — which I have yet to read — but then I saw it, something I didn’t even know existed. (I’ll note that’s not out of laziness or a lack of research, but simple willful ignorance as I like to have some small surprises in my life.)


THE HUNT FOR HARLEY is from spouses Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, who penned and Conner often illustrated Harley Quinn’s iconic run, the run that let Harley be her best self. (Well, at least a better self.)

I’ll note: their Harley, while being very close to the recent animated Harley I hold near-and-dear, is not my favorite Harley, but it is a very quality Harley and my favorite Harley wouldn’t exist without them. Yay, comics!

This collection consists of four issues of the DC Black Label mini-series, and it is a gorgeous collection. Super-luxurious paper stock, brilliant and vivid colors, and it’s gleefully over-sized. I am always a sucker for magazine-sized graphic novels. I felt like I was reading an EIGHTBALL collection as opposed to what’s normally a substandard comic trade paperback.

If you aren’t familiar with DC’s Black Label, it’s yet another attempt to recreate DC’s Vertigo imprint; it’s ‘for mature readers’ and leans heavily on pre-established characters. In the case of Harley, it means she’s not Harley Frickin’ Quinn or $#@!ing Harley Quinn, but Harley Fuckin’ Quinn, and there are even more beaver jokes. (So many beaver jokes.) Also, a lot of bloodshed. (So much blood.)

This is Conner & Palmiotti unbridled, and it’s glorious. Conner is (mostly) back on artist duty and it’s a comfort to see her Harley renditions. However, the real pleasure of this series is the character work and the humor. Conner & Palmiotti leaned on a lot of innuendo in their initial Quinn run to barely be PG-13 smut; there was a lot of tip-toeing around language and acts, but they were very good at doing so in a winking manner.

They no longer have to hold back with THE HUNT FOR HARLEY.

What I really appreciate about Conner & Palmiotti is how they delicately thread the needle between fun lewd and outrageous lewd, without ever actually being distasteful or exploitative. Are they mostly portraying deviant folks on the outskirts of society that don’t feel bound by societal norms? Yes. Do they still portray them as humans, and Conner do so in a way that is visually striking and isn’t just for the male gaze? Yes.

Anyway. I’m getting sidetracked.

THE HUNT FOR HARLEY reads like an Earth-2 version of the film BIRDS OF PREY. (I’d normally say that HUNT is the Earth-1, but the film BIRDS OF PREY predates it.)

(Yet again, I’ll note: I’m still working my way through all of the Harley Quinn stuff, so please don’t fault me for not knowing the entire history. There is a lot of Quinn material out there!)

The gang’s all here: Montoya, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, and Harley is — as noted in the title — being hunted. Cassandra Cain and Montoya are …different. Costumes and backgrounds do not necessarily match. However, at the heart of it of the tale is what I know and love as Quinn and her interactions with The Birds of Prey.

It’s a sparky lark and relentless fun. My only quibble is: I’m so fucking sick of the Joker showing up in Quinn’s tales, especially to re-introduce her trauma. (A brief aside: that’s one facet I love about HARLEY QUINN: THE ANIMATED SERIES; they quickly dispense with him being Harley’s edgelord. While he does pop up most unexpectedly in Season Three, he is, well, I won’t spoil matters but he is radically different.)

THE HUNT FOR HARLEY is a spectacular and mostly self-contained work that I would recommend to anyone of age to read it. (Or, hell, anyone who isn’t of age because youths will discover this stuff on their own.) Everyone is firing on all pistons and it’s such a propulsive, while also heartfelt, work.

If you’d like to read Conner’s thoughts on the work, I highly suggest this BUST interview!


I don’t love the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films. I don’t begrudge anyone who does — they’re (usually) finely crafted patchworks of set-pieces, but it’s not emotionally evocative for me and usually too spectacle-laden. Sorry, but I prefer small, intense melodramas instead of bombastic spy-craft.

I am not the target audience for most of these films, and that’s fine!

I quite enjoyed MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, which some folks have rightly said feels like ALIAS: THE MOVIE due to J.J. Abrams’ direction, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman is so brilliant in that role; all huffing and puffing in a way that puts James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano to shame.

Also, there’s that one scene where Ethan is battling his way through a building and instead of watching him do his thing, the camera stays stationary on his partners as they shoot the shit in an idling car, waiting for him to finish the job. I love it when works take a dramatic shift to the unconventional like that, subverting expectations and explicitly denying audiences what they think they want.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING PART 1 (henceforth know as MI:DR1 because I’m lazy and also that title is way too much) has a lot of very thrilling, very memorable set-pieces, and is well-worth watching solely for that. (There’s one protracted scene near the end which liberally cribs from both Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL and Preston Sturges’ SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. Yes, really.) It also has a lot of faux-emotional beats that fail to land, and a ton of template potboiler dialogue. Give a little, get a little, I suppose.

However, MI:DR1 greatly excels at showing off foreign locales. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Rome and Venice, both of which are prominently featured in the film, even if they only were allowed to film on four blocks of Rome. (Seriously, keep an eye out for how many times the Colosseum appears in the background. That said, I have no idea how they finagled one of the car chase scenes without destroying cultural landmarks.) I kept elbowing my wife saying: “We’ve been there!” It wasn’t gloating. We were reliving the experience through the veracity of the film stock, the angles, the alleyways, and the broad public spaces and copious stairwells.

There’s one fight scene in MI:DR1 that features Ethan in an extremely narrow Venice alleyway that essentially is a vertical take on the iconic horizontal fight scene in OLDBOY, and it’s emblematic of the city in general. While most folks think of gondolas and bodies of water when Venice is mentioned — and I’ll note: MI:DR1 does feature some scenic gondola moments — I think of the maze-like nature of navigating the city. It is absolutely byzantine and bewildering and if you are not a local, it is so easy to get lost. GPS? Not gonna help ya here, and there’s no A-to-Zed to detail the webwork of their streets.

Venice is an amazing city. It shouldn’t exist and, within a hundred years it’s doubtful it will continue to exist. It’s an island that is constantly fighting a losing battling against the heartless, unending pressure of water. It is a singular, very special spot that has so much history, but very rarely is that essence captured on film. Apart from MI:DR1, Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW is the only other film I’ve seen that comes close to fairly portraying the history and claustrophobia that the city evokes.

I’d be remiss to neglect the Orient Express in all of this. While not a locale, per se, it is its own sort of traveling sort of a town; the inside of the train is iconic, and has been made indelible by so many works. (Granted, most of them feature Poirot, but not all of them!) The final set-piece takes place on said train, and mainstay MISSION IMPOSSIBLE director Christopher McQuarrie goes to great lengths to literally walk you through the entirety of the train before, well, before matters escalate.

Again, these films rarely move me, but they are a fun rollercoaster of a ride, and they are steadfast about paying attention to detail. These are meticulously crafted works that can be appreciated in a number of ways, and I prefer to read them as the modern travelogues that they are.

BARRY (2018-2023)


No spoilers here, just (hopefully) a succinct bit of word-garbage.

BARRY’s premise initially seemed a little too sweaty and off-putting to me. It was as if creator Bill Hader got high and turned to his friend Alec Berg and exclaimed: “Now, now, now! Hear me out! I have the best idea! An ex-soldier turned hitman wants to be an actor! Do you want in?!”

I was thrilled to find that it was far more considered and thoughtful than that.

BARRY was stylish without being showy — long shots whenever action became intense (technically harder to pull off!) — and comedic without undermining the drama.

It’s worth noting: Hader loves film. He loves everything about film. Just read this New Yorker interview with him and he comes across as a young(-ish) Scorsese — someone who knows how to write, direct, and shoot films, even down to the lenses he wants to use.

So, it’s a shame that BARRY’s series finale was completely over-shadowed by SUCCESSION’s (brilliant) finale, as it was a thunder-blast. Some found the last season to be treading water, but I didn’t; it was a reckoning and meditation on what it takes to come to terms with your past.

Also, goddamn, the set-pieces. BARRY is very, very good at solitary and dramatic moments, but it absolutely kills (no pun intended) when it comes to action sequences. Absolutely nothing like it on TV now and, sadly, probably won’t be for a while.

Lastly, I’d be remiss to neglect to mention the cast. Everyone here is amazing, but especially the chaotic energy of Anthony Carrigan, Stephen Root (who goes through an amazing transformation), Sarah Goldberg who is revelatory and was really put through the wringer, and oh yes, Henry Fucking Winkler. It’s an embarrassment of riches.


I’ve repeatedly said that I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn.

However, I’ve never quite said why.

It’s been rare for me to identify with a fictional comic book character. (Yes, I know Harley started off in the animated Batman TV series. That’s not my Harley.) Aspects of ‘em, sure, but fully? No, not at all. (Silver Surfer came close, though!)

Seeing Harley in BIRDS OF PREY was like watching a sunrise. The light took a while to hit me, but when it did, I was gloriously blinded. (Then I was completely floored by HARLEY QUINN: ‘Being Harley Quinn’.)

While BIRDS OF PREY and the animated Harley Quinn series is essentially an ensemble action/adventure tale, it’s mostly about Harley Quinn — an ex-psychologist who has been consistently hypomanic since her acid bath — coping with a toxic, bad, breakup from a terribly abusive relationship and finding a quality support network.

I’ve been through enough shit to relate and I stumbled off of the ride each time and hated myself after. I won’t go into the details — they’re boring to anyone but me, and I will note that I’m not nearly as much fun as Harley but I do love to throw myself around like she does. Related: when I was tasked to pen my trauma list, it was far longer than I expected.

What’s different about Harley than other tales of this sort is: she doesn’t want to be normal. She wants to be Harley, not Dr. Harleen Quinzel. She wants to be weird and lean into her wants and literally finds herself as a transformed person. She doesn’t want to return to her old self; she can’t, not after what she’s been through.

That’s what I appreciate about her, because so many stories about trauma are about restoring what most consider normalcy — attempting to be the person you were before your traumatic experiences — and that’s simply not going to happen. Harley’s experiences fundamentally changed her, and she’s not capable of going back (although she realizes she needs to reel certain facets in a bit).

As you might have surmised, I’ve been seeing a trauma therapist. Upon our initial meeting she asked me: “What do you expect from seeing me?” I responded: “I honestly don’t know. I can’t forget what I’ve lived through. I am the person I am today because of those experiences, and I’m just here, trying to get help and trying to continue to exist.”

Harley Fuckin’ Quinn provides a balm. Is her story a fictional superhero redemption fantasy? Sure, but fictional stories and characters constantly prop people up — it’s part of why I write — and she’s a damn inspiration for me, obviously mostly due to the amazing team of writers who have made her the person she is today.

Which leads me to this very stupid endeavor. I have no tattoos. (Yeah, again, I am a misfit but while you might think I’m covered in ink? Nothing. Not even a self-inflicted ankle ankh.) For my first (probably not last) tattoo, I opted for Harley’s wraparound-arm. (See above.) I even got a temporary tattoo, just to test it out — because I’m taking this seriously, oddly more seriously than I normally treat my skin — and I couldn’t stop glowing and staring at it.

I’m thankful that my wife has patiently listened to me hash this out — she even found me the temps — and has been very accepting, as she’ll have to see it quite a bit and I feel better talking about potential body modification with a partner than solo. Also, I am middle-aged dude who will be wearing a tattoo that mostly teenage girls identify with so, uh, I know that’s not great. However, I’ve made my peace with that! I just know that I would regret not attempting this task, as inane as it may sound.

I am not proud of it, but I feel the need to hold onto the symbols and icons that aid a life’s journey, as pseudo-spiritual as that may sound.


MAX PAYNE 3 (2012)


This post includes links to, and discussion of, severe depictions of violence.

(PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox) I’ve never loved the faux-noir of MAX PAYNE or its sequel. (Don’t even get me started about the film adaptation.) Those games felt terribly adolescent, which isn’t the vibe you want from noir or neo-noir. Even BRICK, directed by Rian Johnson — an entire neo-noir film about adolescents — feels far more mature than the first two Max Payne games.

MAX PAYNE 3 is a completely different beast. It’s neo-noir by way of Michael Mann in COLLATERAL mode, all hedonism and nihilism and neon-soaked coastal digital backdrops with rude black drop-offs, letting you know you’re just so close to falling off the precipice.

MAX PAYNE 3 came out around the time of KANE & LYNCH 2 which, while KANE & LYNCH 2 is an extraordinarily remarkable visual triumph, it is also a terribly unplayable game (and I actually enjoyed the first one despite the fact that it was one of the first games to cause a major rift in games criticism), and both share a very stylized, very heightened but also very surveillance look to them. (Also, both clearly owe a debt to the missed action director Tony Scott.)

Are you playing as an irredeemable shitheel? Yes, yes you certainly are. Is there any fun to be found in this personal hell that you’re playing through? No, not really — you’re barely an anti-hero — however, there is one fucking amazing set-piece scored by electro artists HEALTH featuring a looped version of “Tears” that I will never, ever forget. I play a lot of games and, while I am normally prone to hyperbole, this moment is absolutely in my top 10 gaming moments of all-time.

There’s a specific melancholy to it while, yes, it has a lot to do with HEALTH’s initial “Tears” video which is definitely NSFW and features a lot of dystopian zombie toddler stuff, but the devs finessed it slowing down and back up and looping, and the level is designed in a certain way that is emotionally evocative.

You can go long stretches without seeing anyone. You simply feel beaten down, like you’re on your last legs, but you still have to circle around the airport. There is no hope for Max here, but he’s trying to do the right thing, get to the exit, and the brutality of trudging through the endless folks in the airport is a testament to that.

(Again, I will note that this excerpt is very violent.)


KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003)

There are a lot of memorable moments in Tarantino’s KILL BILL, but the most memorable for me is:

“Wiggle your big toe.”

Yes. I know Tarantino definitely has a foot fetish and isn’t necessarily the greatest dude. No shit. It’s not subtle. Also, I realize it’s probably a riff on a film I’m unaware of — I can’t watch ’em all, folks!

However, I love that he features a grounding technique so prevalently in an action film, and it’s something I think about constantly, despite definitely not having a foot fetish. (No shame in that as long as there is consent and understanding: I’m just stating!)

“Wiggle your big toe.”

Some days I just feel mentally incapacitated. I can barely summon the strength to even move in bed, much less get out of bed.

“Wiggle your big toe.”

Thinking of The Bride motivating herself stupidly helps. That struggle, the pain she’s gone through, the trauma. I can’t help but to relate to it, even if I haven’t lived through that exact sort of pain.

“Wiggle your big toe.”

All you need to do is convince yourself to commit to one small act, and then another, and another, and before you know it, you’re presenting as a functional adult for as long as you need to.

“Wiggle your big toe.”

I realize I’ve been spending a lot of time — perhaps too much time — writing about media as therapeutic means and I don’t love that about myself, but it really fucking helps; to watch, to realize what is a salve, a personal balm.

“Wiggle your big toe.”


This was the last film I saw in a theater with my wife prior to COVID lockdown and we were enthralled by it. Before this, I hadn’t really experienced much of Harley Quinn apart from a handful of early BATMAN ANIMATED eps from my youth.

For reasons previously touched on, I’ve stupidly identified with Harley Quinn over the past few years, and this was the first glint of that.

Director Cathy Yan’s vision here is extraordinarily vibrant, extremely well-edited, features a pitch-perfect ensemble, an amazing Marilyn Monroe dissociative recreation, and absolutely nails the dubious nature of hands. Seriously, watch for that visual motif. (It’s not subtle! But the subtext works so well!)

I’d be remiss to mention Margot Robbie, who basically willed this production to life and is astounding in the role as Harley. I can’t imagine a better live-action Harley. There’s a physicality here that perfectly exacts how Harley would move.

(Also, I desperately want all of the live-action spin-offs: BLACK CANARY; Renee Montoya THE QUESTION; THE HUNTRESS! A pre-BATGIRL!)

I find it extremely upsetting that it was so rejected at the box office — to the extent where producers truncated the film’s title — because it was so well-done and, culturally, we need more of this.

“Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It is nothing without a master. And no one gives two shits who we are beyond that.”

I also really, really want an inverted version of her self-emblazoned shirt.

“Harley. Focus.”

I endlessly rewatch this trailer (and film, when I have the time); it’s my filmic comfort food.


This is one of the most spectacularly fucked-up comic book adaptations of all-time and I am 100% here for it. Apart from a bit of a rushed third act, I have no notes. Fuck all of you Nolan-lovers — this is the real deal.