Black Hammer ’45 (2019) Written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes Art by Matt Kindt
Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice (2020) Written by Jeff Lemire Art by Michael Walsh
Black Hammer has been a fascinating experiment in superhero fiction, helmed by the immensely talented Jeff Lemire. Starting in 2016, he created a narrative about superheroes trapped in a small town who have to hide their powers. From there, he expanded and created a larger universe that serves as his personal commentary on all sorts of subgenres and archetypes within American comics. There have been some comparisons to Watchmen, but I don’t really think there are many similarities other than one writer’s voice at the center. Lemire has much more reverence for the medium than Alan Moore did or does. With both of these mini-series, Lemire can play around with tropes and, in one instance, DC’s superhero stable of characters.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Written by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, & Billy Ray Directed by Tim Miller
After recently rewatching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I became curious about the latest attempt to revive the Terminator franchise. At this point, we now have three separate timelines branching from T2 that all seem to fail to continue a story that feels finished. I watched the T2 Director’s Cut, and it has an ending scene with John Connor grown in the new future where he serves as a senator. It felt like the day had been saved; everything was wrapped up. But of course, Hollywood couldn’t let that be when there was more money to make. I had seen Terminator: Genisys, which is unwatchable, and wondered what damage control would be done in Dark Fate if maybe they had made a palatable follow-up.
Immortal Hulk Book One (2019) Reprints Immortal Hulk #1-10 & material from Avengers #684 Written by Al Ewing Art by Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Le Beau Underwood, & Rafael Fonteriz
When I was a five-year-old living in Central Illinois, I can vividly remember watching NBC Saturday mornings, and my favorite shows were Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends and The Hulk. I would play-act, by myself usually being these heroes, and the transformation from Bruce Banner to Hulk was always one of my favorites. The shoes splitting open as his feet grew, shoulders expanding to split my shirt. Hulk, like dinosaurs, is one of those empowering figures for little kids; they represent an ability to unleash anger & strength in a world where your size and lack of knowledge make you vulnerable. However, as I got older, I didn’t find Hulk to be that compelling of a character. There were moments during Peter David’s epic run that piqued my interest, but after he left the book, it felt like there wasn’t much to say about Hulk other than retread that territory. Then Al Ewing came along.
Violence Voyager (2019) Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Hawkman: The Awakening (2019) Reprints Hawkman v5 #1-6 Hawkman: Deathbringer (2019) Reprints Hawkman v5 #7-12 Written by Robert Venditti Art by Bryan Hitch
Hawkman: The Darkness Within (2020) Reprints Hawkman v5 #13-19 Written by Robert Venditti Art by Pat Olliffe, Tom Palmer, and Will Conrad
Hawkman: Hawks Eternal (2021) Reprints Hawkman #20-29 Written by Robert Venditti Art by Fernando Pasarin
How do you solve a problem like Hawkman? As I laid out in my Superhero Spotlight on the character, when you take on Hawkman, you are taking on a writing chore. There have been so many conflicting attempts to “simplify” the hero that led to him being a toxic continuity bomb. DC Comics are obsessed with continuity, so this results in a conundrum. I can’t say I am a fan of Robert Venditti. I read his X-O Manowar revival for Valiant, which was fine. I definitely didn’t enjoy his Green Lantern run, but he immediately followed Geoff Johns, who raised the bar so high it was nigh impossible to top. As this Hawkman series went on, I began to hear some surprisingly positive buzz, and when it was announced, it was coming to an end; I realized it was the perfect time to read through it.
The Climb (2019) Written by Michael Angelo Covino & Kyle Marvin Directed by Michael Angelo Covino
Two men toil up a road in rural France, barely enjoying the countryside, one more slightly out of breath than the other. A secret is revealed, and suddenly the friendship crumbles. This is one of many deaths and rebirths we will see of these two guys as they rekindle their bond, only for one of them to continually stomp it out through selfishness. The Climb is a remarkable indie comedy that manages to be quirky without falling over into the cliches around this genre. The two lead actors are genuinely hilarious, and the film is masterfully shot. Many Steadicam and long takes with hidden cuts make the story feel a little more sweeping than you would expect.
Villagers (2019) Designed by Haakon Gaarder Published by Sinister Fish Games
I’ve been quarantining myself during this pandemic since mid-March. I have literally only left my house once a week since then to the grocery store. Otherwise, I am occupying space in my house reading, writing, watching films and playing games. Villagers was a game I backed on Kickstarter back in 2019, primarily out of the beautiful minimalist art style and my love of playing city-building video games. This wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but I ended up loving it nonetheless.
Ready or Not (2019) Written by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Horror comedies are a hard sell for me personally. I love the horror genre, but my tastes lean more towards more somber, bleak affairs with hints of humor. I think Ari Aster is a perfect example of how much comedy I will accept in the horror films I like, little dashes, well-timed, and never ruining the atmosphere and tone. Ready or Not is a movie that looks fantastic, the color grading is beautiful and gives every frame a rich texture. It comes out of the tradition of shlocky horror movies with a wild premise that the filmmakers wholeheartedly commit to. However, the script and some of the acting take away from what could have been a great film and leave as just a passing bit of fun.
Little Joe (2019) Written by Jessica Hausner & Géraldine Bajard Directed by Jessica Hausner
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most recycled narrative tropes in cinema, and more often than not, those adaptations fall short. The original and the 1970s remake stand above the fray. Little Joe is a secret Body Snatchers picture, telling a very well thought-out variation on the official story. However, there’s so little to the script that its slow burn actually becomes a hindrance to the character development and tension that should be present in a picture like this. Technically and aesthetically, Little Joe has a lot going on that entices the audience, but ultimately it fails to deliver on the promise of these things.
Swallow (2019) Written & Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
They have sold Swallow as a body horror film, but it is by no means that at all. Instead, Swallow is a dark character study, grounded in reality and not really horrific, though very disturbing. The film’s visuals and sound design are right on point, but I think the narrative lacks any subtext. There are points in the movie where characters literally say the theme out loud and undermine any sort of tension or nuance that could have been. It’s not a bad movie, but not one really worth of repeated examination because it essentially lays everything out on the table without ambiguity.