OPPLOPOLIS comes from the mind of Kit Roebuck and his brother Alec. If you were around in the nascent days of web comics, you may be familiar with Roebuck’s 2003 webcomic NINE PLANETS WITHOUT INTELLIGENT LIFE, an existential and experimental series of online comics, often utilizing the web browser as an infinite canvas.
OPPLOPOLIS premiered in 2012 and, as Roebuck notes it’s vastly different experience. While it’s still heady, it’s far more propulsive; a sort of ‘tomorrow paranoid thriller’. I remember finding it quite enthralling as each issue dripped out, but to my dismay, it rather abruptly ceased in 2015.
However, Roebuck opted to bring it back, presumably because he saw UNDER THE SILVER LAKE and said to himself: ‘Hey, I was doing this years ago and my take was far more interesting!’ and if that’s what he thought, I would certainly agree. It’s surreal while still feeling grounded; romantic without feeling pandering.
Also, let it be said that Kit’s command of figure work — while always great — has vastly increased over the years. You can practically feel the heft of the character actions as they poke and prod over the panels.
It’s a fascinating work, one that is absolutely free to you to click through, but one that I hope will fully find its way to print some day.
(Disney+) John Byrne’s SHE-HULK run absolutely blew my mind when it was initially published, and was particularly formative for me. It was one of those rare times where you encounter a work that opens your eyes, that makes you say: “Wait, you can do that?” It was unlike any Marvel comic I’d previously read; it focused more on Jen reconciling her personas and how she presented herself to the world, and repeatedly broke the fourth wall in smart, funny, sexy ways. There’s one moment early on in his run where She-Hulk literally tears through the page and traverses through a comic book buyer guide, and it was littered with in-jokes which still feels fresh even today (even if most young comic book readers wouldn’t know what a comic book buyer guide is).
My main qualm with most Marvel film/TV works is: it feels like they’re trying to re-invent the wheel, instead of working off and improving on prior narrative formats. With the exception of THOR: RAGNAROCK, they all feel extraordinarily clumsy to me, even WANDAVISION, an extended meta-riff on the history of TV that -should- know how to handle TV tropes, often felt like folks writing off of Cliffnotes.
SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW feels like Marvel’s stab at ALLY MCBEAL. That’s not a complaint at all, as ALLY MCBEAL doesn’t get enough credit for being a 90s version of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and, you know what? We don’t have enough of those shows. It’s fun, quippy, but also often confronts the issue of being a single woman navigating a male-centric workplace, and nothing has changed.
So, while I do gripe a bit to myself about Disney+’s SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW not being as much fun as it could be, not as inventive as it could be — after all, I doubt we’ll get a scene where she bursts through the Disney+ interface — I do sincerely love it. Every Wednesday I wish it were Thursday because I could really use the lift it provides halfway through my week. Do I wish they had dispensed with the CGI and just put Tatiana Maslany in green and lifts, because she can do anything? Yes, yes I do, and the CGI is distracting, and also: she could have retained her curls, because She-Hulk is unbridled. However, I will take what I can get, because it’s a thoughtful and comedic take on a somewhat horrific turn in life, and we need more of that in our cultural diet.
(HBO MAX) Despite being a pretty hardcore comic book nerd as a youth — I still have the long boxes to prove it — I never quite embraced comic book movies or TV. Apart from the occasional oddity like MYSTERY MEN or BIRDS OF PREY or THE SUICIDE SQUAD or LOKI or that one trauma-laden flashback episode of WANDAVISION, they’re rarely as weird or imaginative enough to keep my interest.
I’ve previously stated that I stayed away from comics for years because I thought they were just endless stories of people punching each other and, while I eventually found comics that consisted of something more that endless fight scenes — or at least used the fight sequences to communicate something larger — most of the MCU and DCU works consist solely of sexless, soulless, dull rope-a-dope tropes that exist solely to prop up future films; all sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Sorry, Will.)
This lead me to initially punt on the animated DC TV show HARLEY QUINN. Sure, BIRDS OF PREY was a sparky lark, and I ate up BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES when it aired waaaay back in the day, but I assumed HARLEY QUINN would be just as defanged as most of its film brethren.
How wrong I was.
I don’t know how the fuck this show got made, but it’s such a filthy delight. The pilot itself is a marvel of a mission statement: it scrutinizes the toxic relationship between Harley and The Joker, sees her free herself from him (kind of) and discovers a new found family of D-list villains, including who I know to be her one-true-love, Poison Ivy.
It’s kinetic, it’s weird, it runs a mile a minute, it’s extraordinarily punk, and it’s unapologetically smutty but it’s always in service of the story. It’s an encapsulation of being liberated from live-action. It fully leans into all of the potential of animation, which given that most comic book movies nowadays are essentially an array of CGI sequences, you think there’d be more experimentation, but nope!
It also, just like LOKI, acknowledges that the characters are smart but completely askew. It literally features the following exchange from Harley to herself:
“Ooooh. You’re smart.”
“I know. I’m you.”
It ticks all of my boxes, and I haven’t even finished watching the first season yet. (So far, there are three seasons. I would not be surprised if HBO MAX shelved it, which is why I finally pulled the pin on watching it.)
Now, a few choice quotes:
JOKER: “You know she has HPV?”
BANE: “Most sexually active adults do.”
POISON IVY: “That potion makes people fall in love with me, and then kills them.”
POISON IVY: “YES! What did you think, you kite-fucking-freak? My name is Poison… Ivy!”
KITEMAN: “This is why I stick with the kites. So simple.”
“I hate you, dad.”
“I hate you, too, son.”
HARLEY: “This is so fucked up, but weirdly moving.”
HARLEY to IVY: “I can’t listen to ya when you’re dressed like a 40s housewife who is fucking her husband’s boss.”
“You are truly the Shakespeare of the sea!”
AQUAMAN: “I prefer to think of myself as the Dickens of the deep!”
HARLEY: “Oh, I did it! Although no one said I could run a crew!”
IVY: “What? Hello? Hi. I said you could run a crew.”
HARLEY: “Yeah, but you’re my friend, I mean, come on, it’s like when your mom says you’re the prettiest girl in school.”
KING SHARK: “That’s what my mom said!”
HARLEY: “I just tried to touch myself! That is a stripper rule!”
To cap it all off, it has a banger of an intro/outro, one that I always have to fucking keep HBO MAX from skipping over because you can’t fucking prevent auto-play with HBO MAX.
I haven’t even touched on the amazing voice acting! Lake fucking Bell! Ron Funches! Kaley Cuoco! Alan Tudyk! Christopher Meloni! J.B. Smoove! Jim Rash! Tony Hale! Jason Alexander! It is an embarrassment of riches!
This show brings me so much joy at a time in my life when I’ve desperately needed it — although it is worth nothing that S01E05 deals with trauma-centric disassociation that is not fun if you’ve lived through it, but is still excellently well-played. And if you have lived through it, well, you’ll feel seen.
I once saw a post on Twitter from someone who said their partner once told them this:
“You think you’re the protagonist in this relationship. You are not. This is my story.”
THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, from Catherynne M. Valente (with illustrated plates from HAWKEYE and BLACK CANARY artist Annie Wu), reminded me of that stinging barb, even though it’s ostensibly focused merging the confessional honesty and anger of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES play with the ‘women in refrigerators’ comic book trope.
If you aren’t familiar with THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, Eve Ensler interviewed 200 women about their experiences about being a woman, which she then turned into a series of stage-based monologues.
Regarding ‘women in refrigerators’, it’s a term that comic book writer Gail Simone coined for when a woman is killed in a comic solely to heighten the dramatic and narrative potential of a superhero the woman is involved with, 99.5% of the time an uninteresting dude.
Valente was inspired by both but, instead of using the prefab characters of the Marvel and DC universes, she would weave her own, which makes for a far more inventive, insightful, creative commentary on how writers use intriguing characters full of depth as disposable props.
The novella takes place in Deadtown, a seedy literal Hell-hole of a town, at a bar populated by gargoyle bartenders. A clutch of misfit outsider young women gather there once a week, self-named the ‘Hell Hath Club’. The members come and go, depending on the circumstances of their place in the living world, but it’s always women who have been ‘friged’.
The Hell Hath members who tell their story range the gamut from a brilliant lab scientist who watches her lab partner turn into Kid Mercury (basically THE FLASH) to an Atlantean punk rocker-in-line-to-be-queen who falls in love with half-human/half-Atlantean Avast (basically AQUAMAN) to a talented photographer who has a sickeningly adorable relationship with a graphic designer/graffiti artist who finds a charm that allows him to draw things to life.
Their involvement with these men all lead to their death, and they become little more than footnotes in their prior boyfriends’ lives, but thanks to these monologues, they — and Valente — are able to detail their stories, their frustrations, their rage, their idiosyncrasies, and turn the limelight on to their trauma and troubles, to become the protagonist in their own story.
While I obviously loved this book, teenage me would have fallen in love with it. THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES is rebellious while being amazingly sharp. It opens your eyes to how so-called loved ones/characters are treated as disposable, how they only exist in service of the male character, and how that’s a reflection of society at large, and it does so all the while having a bit of fun, riffing on so many bits of pop culture, including a little snippet of an Atlantean version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ -Skid Row-!
One last note: Amazon had plans to adapt THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES into a series called DEADTOWN but, since that was back in 2019, it’s probably safe to say that the project has been friged.
(DVD/VOD) It doesn’t get more 90s than this. Look, this isn’t a great slice of horror, despite it being directed by William Friedkin, but it was vividly seared into my brain. In 1992, I didn’t have access to HBO, but my uncle — who my father and I traveled to Albany, New York to attend his second wedding — did, and my father and I were staying at his place. I spent most of my time that weekend binging HBO, including the 70s KING KONG. However, it’s this episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT that really sticks out in my mind because, at that point in time in my life, I’d never seen anything quite like it.
I’ll summarize this as quickly as possible, but there’s a hell of a lot of plot in this thirty-minute ep: Danny Darwin (Yul Vazquez) is the lead singer in the band EXORCIST (get it?), and he absolutely hates Nick Bosch’s — EXORCIST’s songwriter and guitarist — wife, Scarlett (Tia Carrere) and the feeling is mutual. As typical for EC Comics protagonists, Danny is a complete and utter shitheel and he treats most folks around him like garbage, but that doesn’t seem to keep groupies from wanting a piece of Danny.
After an EXORCIST show, one particular groupie not-at-all-subtly named Vendetta (Sherrie Rose) catches Danny backstage. She unlatches her top to reveal a snake tattoo that weaves across her chest. She begs him to look closer, and the camera leerily leans in as we see the snake take a life of its own, slithering out of her skin to snap at Danny. Danny demands to know who the tattoo artist is, and she says she’ll tell him for a price. (As this is HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, the price is obviously sex.)
Danny visits the tattoo artist, requests a tiger, but the artist says he’ll find the right tattoo for him. Consequently, he’s left with a giant tattoo of Scarlett across his chest. Danny goes ballistic and storms back to the home he’s sharing with Nick and Scarlett. Scarlett promptly tears into him, and Danny retorts that she’s trying to break up the band.
Fast forward a bit: Danny sees Vendetta at a club, then starts blaming her for setting him up, for giving the tattoo artist the idea to permanently pen Scarlett onto his chest. She recommends a plastic surgeon, and Danny follows through, but is left with a red and raw vague silhouette of the original tattoo that the surgeon notes is “bizarre”. Vendetta then tells Danny that, if he can’t get rid of the tattoo, he can at least get rid of her.
(Obviously, I’m about to spoil the end of the episode, but frankly, you’ve certainly figured out what is about to happen. Also, it’s probably taken me longer to write this summary than it would to watch it.)
Danny then pretends to make amends with Nick, but is intentionally late for their next show to make time to murder Scarlett. Danny then meets up with Vendetta, confesses to killing Scarlett — which she finds “so fucking hot”. Danny removes the bandage from his healing chest, looks at himself in the mirror and sees that the tattoo has fully returned, but instead of Scarlett’s pristine face, he sees it as bloodied and lifeless. He turns to Vendetta, who sees it as the original tattoo — Scarlett’s face clean of blood.
Danny finally appears at the show, goes on-stage to perform and, right as he’s about to let loose, he looks down and sees something visibly moving under his shirt. He runs to the dressing room and a serpent/demon dog creature bursts from his chest. Vendetta relays to Nick that Danny killed Scarlett and, when Nick goes to get revenge, he sees Danny with a gaping torso wound, holding his skinned tattoo in his hand.
Yes, basic EC material, but mostly new to me. While I’d read plenty of horror — I read practically everything that our local library stocked — I’d absolutely never seen anything as graphic as it. The closing shot is what did me in; I barely slept a wink before the wedding, and it’s a bit of horror that I will never fully forget.
(That said, oddly I remember the tattoo being on his back, not his chest, but uh, that’d make it quite difficult to skin off. Not like anything else in the episode fully hangs together, though.)
Please, don’t take this as a full recommendation. It’s rather by-the-numbers and wildly insensitive — even for its time — but that’s par for the series. However, it is stylish, and has some great practical effects work.
(Comics/Graphic Novel) CROSSED Vol. 1 is an extraordinarily unpleasant horror comic from writer Garth Ennis (PREACHER, THE BOYS) and artist Jacen Burrows (CHRONICES OF WORMWOOD, NEONOMICON). I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to horror — I’ll note that I’m not proud of that — but this made me feel terrible. I don’t even know why I still possess a copy of the collected first volume, because there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to read it again. Perhaps because I don’t really want to give it to anyone.
To summarize, it’s basically a take on James Tiptree Jr./Alice Bradley Sheldon’s short story THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION, but instead of only men becoming hyper-violent, it’s the majority of the world, and you can tell the ‘infected’ because of a cross-like rash that covers their face.
There aren’t many works I wish I could scrub from my mind, but I truly wish I could unread this one. There’s one moment where a couple are being closed in on by the Crossed, and their final exchange absolutely scrambled my brain. I thought about combing through my copy of the trade paperback to properly quote the scene, but then decided that I didn’t want to put myself through that, and I certainly shouldn’t inflict it on you.
So, you might ask, why the hell am I posting about it?
I’m posting about it because it was so memorable. It’s exceptionally nihilistic — even for Ennis — but it was damn impactful. You may be able to weather it better than I, or perhaps this may steer you away from it in advance. I don’t know, but I do know that it’s certainly an affecting piece of work, and that Ennis certainly accomplished what he wanted to. For better or for worse, I will never forget it.
I’ll note that there are subsequent volumes that are penned by David Lapham, who wrote and illustrated STRAY BULLETS, one of my favorite neo-noir comics, and despite my admiration for him, there’s still no way I’m spending more time in that world.
(Comics/Graphic Novel) You may not think you need to read a comic book adaptation of Fritz Lang’s classic serial killer horror noir M (1931), but this adaptation is from Jon J. Muth, who literally reframes much of Lang’s imagery with his unique, haunted painterly style.
It was initially published as a four-issue mini-series over two years — once you see Muth’s work, you’ll understand why it took so long — but quickly went out-of-print until it was collected into a trade paperback in 2008.
(VOD) Okay, yup, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is pretty good. My second favorite DCU film, behind BIRDS OF PREY, but I’ve seen very few contemporary DCU films.
It’s damn stylish, it embraces the unique weirdness of the quirkier DC comics — I never thought Starro would be a featured creature in a big-budget DCU film. (On a CW show? Perhaps.) — and it features a lot of great character work and moments! There’s also a fantastic physicality to the film — not just with the stunts, but the squad members all have visible wounds: cuts, lacerations, abrasions, which you simply don’t see in bloodless MCU films.
However, it’s overly long and drags at times — it took me three days to watch it, although part of that was attempting to watch it while working, which was a mistake — and it takes a while to go fully bonkers. Also, very bad decisions were made regarding their subtitles. I don’t know what they were thinking when they chose that font.
Oh, I loved this. I wrung every bit of web-slinging joy from Insomniac’s prior Spider-Man game, but never quite loved the story, given that Peter Parker was basically re-enforcing a New York City police state.
SPIDER-MAN: MILES MORALES takes everything that’s great about Insomniac’s prior SPIDER-MAN game and improves on almost every facet of it. The mechanics are just as silky-smooth, if not better, than the prior game. However, what really makes the game shine is the writing which, for a triple A blockbuster superhero game is a minor miracle.
(I’ll quickly note that I’m not at all familiar with Miles Morales apart from INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. I’ve read zero of the Marvel Ultimate comics.)
Miles (now a younger Spider-Man) and his childhood friend Phin are teenage nerds. Not contemporary nerds, but old-school smart nerds who get excited about science and space and tinker on projects together! They’re still struggling with finding their space in the world — as teens do — but they’re not too terribly awkward, and they have a very tight brother/sister dynamic. But really, these two are unapologetic brilliant nerds, it’s the springboard for the game’s arc, and I love it.
There’s also an earnestness and idealism that I adore about the game. Yeah, there’s a lot of overwrought conflict that wouldn’t feel out-of-place in a J.J. Abrams work, you have to suspend disbelief for the sheer amount of tech created within such a short period of time, and I’m a bit shocked at how some of Miles’ moves would -definitely- induce death — for example: you can turn human bodies into bombs — but overall it’s an extremely playable game about biological and adopted family and the love for your original and adopted boroughs.
Did I mention that the game is goddamn gorgeous?! Insomniac also lets you tweak what you prefer from your visuals. Want high-end visual fidelity? You’ve got it, locked at 30fps! You demand 60fps? You can have it with a few downgrades you’ll never notice! Want it to look like INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE? No problem, just make sure to bank some activity tokens first.
If there’s one flaw, it’s that Miles’ powers seem far too powerful, and the game occasionally tries to course-correct this with power-negating guns and/or throwing waves and waves of criminals at you, invoking occasional frustration, but that doesn’t last long. Eventually you’ll suss the proper rhythm.
This is blockbuster gaming done right and I hope other studios learn from it, and I’m very happy that I waited for a PS5 to play it. In fact, I’m still playing it, because I love the bodega cat costume so much, which is only available after starting New Game+.
(Disney+) (Apologies in advance for the length of this post.) Yeah, I know that this is the last show I need to go to bat for, but still, I’m gobsmacked by how much I’ve enjoyed it. I was a late-bloomer when it came to reading comic books. My inaugural comic was Marvel’s SILVER SURFER #50 (written by Jim Starlin — without whom NONE of Phase 3 Marvel would exist — and penciled by Ron Lim), I was barely a teen and it caught my eye solely because of the gimmicky platinum foil cover (ooh, shiny!) but when I flipped through it at my local drug store — yep, I’m old enough to have purchased comic books via local drug stores on a spindle-rack — I was fascinated with the Silver Surfer’s interiority. I thought to myself: ‘Wait, you can tell this sort of existential story through comics and so-called super heroes? I thought comic books solely consisted of people endlessly punching each other.’
(An aside: It’s no surprise that I’d later go on to fall in love with the films of Jean-Luc Godard, who would explicitly reference the SILVER SURFER in his movies.)
Sadly, as Marvel as pivoted from print to film, most of their movies have solely consisted of people endlessly punching each other, usually in non-descript factory warehouses. I won’t begrudge anyone for enjoying the MCU films but, apart from extreme examples — such as THOR: RAGNAROK and BLACK PANTHER — I’ve found them to be rather lifeless works.
So, when I’d heard that Marvel was finally folding TV into the MCU, I simply shrugged. (For the record, I adored AGENT CARTER, and the first season of JESSICA JONES is a fascinating scrutiny of abuse. Sadly, neither of those are technically MCU works.) However, WANDAVISION showed that they were taking far more risks by inventively showcasing the inner turmoil of a woman dealing with grief. I have yet to see THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, but have read that it’s a damning indictment of U.S. policing and being Black in America. Now we have LOKI, which is explicitly about an irresponsible narcissist reckoning with his actions and confronting himself (in more ways than one). It’s a surprisingly existential story and, yes, punches are thrown in just about every episode, but those feel more like MCU fan-service. The real hits that land are the show’s focus about one’s guilt and fatalism than spectacle. There’s an interiority to these MCU TV shows that’s lacking in the films.
As if that’s not enough, the show is pure object-porn if you love a 1970s sci-fi aesthetic. It also helps that LOKI has more than a few 12 MONKEYS-ish devices where there are a number of folks solely focused on literally blowing up time. This is a show that isn’t afraid to take smart swings, to upend what you expect from a ‘comic book TV show’, and it keeps you guessing in a number of thrilling ways. For a summer TV show, it’s surprisingly cerebral sci-fi, but never off-putting.
Oh, and there’s the cast: Tom Hiddleston is obviously brilliant, and he’s joined by Owen Wilson as a perfect buddy-cop (always has been, and yes, they confront the cop question you may have in your head right now due to the last year), Sophia Di Martino (from the severely underrated series FLOWERS) is a revelation as the headstrong Sylvie, and Wunmi Mosaku (watch HIS HOUSE, folks!) thunders through every scene she’s in. Gugu Mbatha-Raw seems a bit wasted in her role, but there’s one more ep left, so fingers crossed she gets more to do.
At only six episodes — again I’m only five eps in — it feels perfectly paced. It’s a cracking good time and has reminded me that serialized sci-fi is alive and well, even if it’s in Disney’s hands. I rarely want to write about a show in-progress, but, well, here we are. My only quibble is the usual sexlessness of the Marvel/modern Disney universe, because after watching one scene I turned to my wife and asked: “Am I terrible person if I want them to fuck?” (You’ll know the scene when you see it.) Spoiler alert, but not really because it’s Disney: you get a hand on a shoulder and that’s fucking it.
A few passing remarks in reaction to podcasts that have discussed the show:
I also love Indiewire’s MILLIONS OF SCREENS — I’ve been following Libby Hill for years, and she’s always been extraordinarily insightful — and I really thought they’d be 100% behind this. They were not. I understand why — they expect more from TV, and yeah, given Marvel’s resources, they could be far more inventive with their properties — but I’m more than okay with the mini-series bits that Marvel is serving up, because it gives creators far more latitude than the filmmakers, and what we are getting is actually interesting and engaging which, again, is far better than the bulk of the films! (Sorry, not sorry.)