Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #3

Welcome back, fellow nerds, geeks, dorks, and doofuses, to another installment of Bryant Has Issues, an ongoing series of blog posts wherein I buy comic books, read them, and write about them with a minimal amount of wit and insight.

Can I take a moment to be enthusiastic about the word "doofus"?  It's one of the great words in the English language, as far as I'm concerned, even better than "galoot," which is also frickin' awesome.

Speaking of awesome, there are eight comics I'd like to cover today, as well as a couple of trades, some of which are kinda awesome, one of which definitely is NOT awesome, and most of which are somewhere smack-dab in the middle.

Since this is a Stephen King-centric blog, I'll -- as always -- start with the titles that are the most patently King-related, and work my way down from there.  Floppies first, then trades.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - The Way Station #4

Batting leadoff this week is the newest issue of the awkwardly-titled The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - The Way Station.  Hard to get much more Stephen King-related than that.

As I've noted elsewhere, I've got occasional problems with the Marvel Comics version(s) of The Dark Tower.  Overall, I've enjoyed them way more frequently than I haven't, and we seem now to have gotten to the point where the series is going to deal almost entirely in adaptation rather than in expansion of the story.


This is both a curse and a blessing.  It's a blessing in the sense that we now know we'll be on solid footing story-wise, with King's original novels serving as a template.  It's a curse in that I feel like the best issues of the comics were the ones in which Roland's story was filled in a bit: The Long Road Home and Treachery were the best examples of that, and those seemed -- to me, at least -- like Robin Furth and Peter David had reached right into Stephen King's head and extracted bits of the story he simply hadn't gotten around to telling.  And for all I know, that's exactly what they did.

However, later arcs -- The Fall of Gilead and The Battle of Jericho Hill -- felt almost nothing like King's work to me; they weren't bad, exactly, but they felt like somebody making stuff up (kinda like semi-successful fan-fiction), whereas earlier arcs felt like the "real" Dark Tower.  The first arc of The Gunslinger, which was called The Journey Begins, was even worse; it felt not only like fan-fiction, but bad fan-fiction.

This is all highly subjective, of course, and you may have a completely different opinion.  As for me, I was distressed by the directions The Journey Begins took, and was extremely relieved when it was followed by The Little Sisters of Eluria, which I liked a lot, and which I felt put the series back on the proper course.

Following that arc was The Battle of Tull, and then the current one, The Way Station.  They've been mostly very faithful adaptations of the revised edition of The Gunslinger, but Furth and David have taken occasional brief liberties by adding scenes that weren't there in the original novel.  For example, in this latest issue there is a scene in which Roland has to shoot some vampire bats out of the sky.  It's a brief scene, one which doesn't change King's story in any fundamental way, but it adds a bit of spice and makes for a nice little minor inclusion.

Elements like that, in my opinion, are making the current run of this series work in a more efficient and compelling manner than did, say, The Stand, which was content merely to be a slavish adaptation of the source material.  Nothing wrong with that, of course: the primary reason to read something like The Stand in comic form is that you like the story and want to see a solid graphic representation of it.  It doesn't replace the novel; it merely complements it.

I'd argue that The Gunslinger -- currently, at least -- is going the same complementary course, but by adding little flourishes like the scene with the bats, it's also growing into its own thing and neatly avoiding the semi-stagnation that occasionally plagued The Stand.

I've got a complaint about the new issue, though: the prose section by Robin Furth at the end is pointless.  Those sections were, for a long time, a great reason to buy the comics in single-issue format (as opposed to buying the collected editions, which did not include the prose pieces); they offered terrific insights into the history and lore of Roland's world, and seemed kinda indispensable.  At other times, Furth would write nonfiction pieces that offered excellent peeks into the creative process behind the comics.  Lately, though, Furth's contributions have seemed a bit on the insubstantial side, and in this issue, it's nothing but a plot summary ... of the issue itself.  I just read the issue; I don't need for it to be summarized.  I can sympathize with the pressures of producing a workable piece of prose on a monthly basis, but if Furth could conjure up nothing more interesting than a plot summary, give me an interview with one of the artists, or more pages of art-evolution, or, really, anything else.

With that note of dickery concluded, allow me to finish this section by saying that I'm really enjoying the comic lately, and I'm in it for the long haul.  I look forward the finishing the entire saga, which by my calculations ought to happen sometime in the year 2030.

Which is fine by me, incidentally!

American Vampire #25: "Death Race" (Part Four of Four)

The latest issue of Scott Snyder's American Vampire brings the "Death Race" arc to a close in an entertainingly grim fashion.

Honestly, I don't have much to say about this issue, except that -- as always -- I enjoyed it.  This would certainly not be the place for a new reader to jump aboard the series, but for those of you who might have read the issues King wrote and then abandoned it once he left, I'll issue my stock opinion: it's well worth your time to go back and check out what came next.  There are now three volumes available in collected form, and I'd imagine that another one will be on the way soon.  It'll almost certainly conclude with this very issues, and won't that make for an open-ended ending...


Swamp Thing #8: "Eye of the Storm"
As much as I love American Vampire, I think Scott Snyder's most interesting work is happening at DC these days.  (And yes, I know that Vertigo -- the publisher of American Vampire -- is owned by DC.)  I'm not sure whether I prefer Batman or Swamp Thing, and it doesn't really matter, ultimately: I love them both.

What's not to love about Swamp Thing right now?  Criminy, just take a look at that cover!  Swamp Thing is slaughtering zombies!  And for the record, the cover is showing you nothing compared to some of the crazy stuff that goes on inside this issue.  I mention Snyder frequently, but in this instance, artists Marco Rudy and Yanick Paquette also deserve MAJOR kudos; their work here is top-notch.

The issue ends on a big ole cliffhanger, too, and you've got to love a good cliffhanger.

This one is pretty doggone good.


Animal Man #8: "Animal vs. Man" Part Two

There is a big whoppin' Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover event coming later this year, and I'm looking forward to that; it's the sole reason why I started buying, Animal Man, in fact.  I've not regretted it at all; this is a fantastic book, one that I enjoy almost as much as I enjoy Swamp Thing.  As I may have mentioned last time, this means that I'm going to have to check out writer Jeff Lemire's other work at some point.

Animal Man is Buddy Baker, who can -- I think this is what's going on with his character (with whom I was not even vaguely familiar) -- summon the powers of various animals at whim.  He's got a daughter, Maxine, who is kinda like him, but even more powerful.  Maxine has a GREAT scene this week, and that's all I'll say about that.

Buddy has some really good scenes, too, and in the middle of writing this sentence, I figured out one of the aspects of Animal Man that I'm enjoying the most: I think of the character as "Buddy," not as "Animal Man."  Rare is the superhero who is as interesting when out of costume as when in it: Bruce Wayne/Batman comes to mind, as does Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  They're few and far between, though, and the fact that Jeff Lemire seems to have managed it with a character whom I'd literally never even heard of before hearing he was going to cross over with another book I was reading ... well, that seems like a substantial achievement.

I mentioned that Swamp Thing #8 ended with a cliffhanger.  Well, so does Animal Man #8.

Boy, does it.




Next up, a new title which ought to be of interest to horror fans.  It's The New Deadwardians, an eight-issue story which is set in 1910 London, after some sort of zombie plague has happened.  In order to keep themselves safe from the zombies, many members of the London upper-crust have apparently allowed themselves to be turned into vampires (!), vampirism here appearing to be a fairly manageable condition.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

I first heard of The New Deadwardians when my local comics shop gave me a copy of a sampler comic Vertigo issued, which included several pages from each of four new comics they launched during March.  I figured, hey, free comic, so I gave it a read.  Two of the titles interested me not at all, but the other two -- The New Deadwardians and Saucer Country (about which I wrote back in issue #1 of this column) -- hooked me.  In the case of The New Deadwardians, it hooked me despite the eye-rolling premise.  

(I mean, really, let's knock it off with mashup culture; it's barely been born, and it's already tired as hell.  I don't need stories about Abraham fucking Lincoln killing motherfucking vampires, or stories about vampires fighting zombies, or fucking Marvel zombies.  I don't want to read about Charlie Brown fighting the Muppets, or about how Edgar Allan Poe is solving a series or murders based on his own works [DUM-DUM-DUMMM]. I don't need there to be aliens in my cowboy stories.  You can keep that bullshit.  Except when it's good, and when it's good, as in Alan Moore's superb League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tales, then gimme gimme gimme.  Yes, I am a hypocrite.  And yes, I will most definitely be buying the Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover comic book.  And yes, I most certainly DID list those two franchises in the proper order.  And no, there is not, so far as I know, a story in which Charlie Brown is fighting the Muppets.  But give it time; give it time.)

As for the mashup of genres that is The New Deadwardians, I was hooked by two things, and when I name them, you're going to think to yourself, "Well, THAT was obvious."  I was hooked by the writing and by the art.  (See?)  I immediately enjoyed the voice that writer Dan Abnett employs; very straightforward, unadorned stuff that is nevertheless highly effective.  I especially enjoy the way he writes the dialogue to delineate the differences between the classes.  It seems like I ought to have something more useful to say than that, but there you have it; I am but a poor blogger, and inspiration doth not always striketh.  Eth.

As for the art, which is by I.N.J. Culbard, my first impression was that it was overly cartoony, but I got over that real damn quick.  It is cartoony, I suppose, but it works, and it works extremely well.  

I'm just as apt to dislike comics art as I am to like it, and one thing that'll turn my opinion to the negative quickly is when I feel the artist has done a poor job of figuring out what stance/emotional state to depict a character in.  A panel in a comic, after all, is analogous to a still frame, or a photo: and if a photo of someone catches them in an awkward pose, then it's failed.  Multiply that across a series of photos that are being arranged in order to tell a story, and you've got a problem.  (This was my most frequent complaint about The Stand in comics form, by the way; Mike Perkins did a lot of good work on that book, but he also did some very, very bad work, especially in depicting Flagg.  This is, of course, only one blogger's opinion.)  With Culbard's work on The New Deadwardians, the exact opposite is the case: he has an excellent grasp on what to have the characters do in each panel, what emotions to have their faces convey.  I was consistently impressed by this aspect of Culbard's work throughout the first issue, and gradually I came to realize that it was succeeding not in spite of the "cartoony" style, but because of it.

I'm not versed in art at all, so I can't explain my feelings much more eloquently than that.  And really, there's no need to.  It'd suffice for me simply to say this: I loved the art in this issue.  Everything else is just me flappin' my gums again.

As you might have surmised by now, I really enjoyed this first issue, and I recommend it mightily.  In order to help prod you along the path to buying yourself a copy, I'm going to now post the first few pages, which are the same ones I read in that sampler from Vertigo.  If you enjoy them, you'll enjoy the rest of the issue, too.  Click on the pictures and you'll be directed to much larger and more readable versions.







Good stuff, that.  I'm eagerly anticipating the next seven issues of the series!

Star Trek #7: "Vulcan's Vengeance" Part 1
Boy, I hate that cover.  Don't get me wrong; Zoe Saldana is great, and hot, and all that stuff.  But these cast-photo variant covers that IDW has been putting out are lame and pointless.  I'm sure somebody likes them, but I?  I do not.

However, this one is useful in the sense that it gives me an option to post something other than the main cover for this particular issue, which gives away too much about the plot contained within.  I say this as though it actually matters to me; it kinda doesn't, though, because I didn't like the issue very much at all, and issue by issue I feel my enthusiasm for this comic waning into near nonexistence.

I won't give anything spoilery away, but here's what I'll say: whereas the first six issues were devoted to retelling original-series episodes through the prism of the new universe created by the 2009 reboot movie, this issue goes in a new direction and tells an original story.  It's a story which can be seen as a direct sequel to the movie.  Unfortunately, it's not a particularly compelling story.  There's a lot of talking, none of it interesting, and then there's a big reveal at the end.  Maybe that can develop into something good, I dunno; for now, I'm skeptical.  (Hopefully-amusing sidebar: did you ever notice how "new direction" and "nude erection" sound alike?  No?  Well, good luck not noticing from this point forward.)

I've been feeling lately that I'm spending a bit too much money on comics, and I'll tell you this much about that: Star Trek has officially moved onto the chopping block.  I'm not ready to swing the axe yet, but the writing on the book is weak, and the art is even weaker, and if at least one of those two things doesn't improve within the next few issues, then Ah'm goan be doin' some choppin'.


Angel & Faith #8: "Daddy Issues" Part Three

Not in any danger of being on my chopping block: Angel & Faith, which I'm enjoying reasonably well.  It's not a homerun for me, but -- between this and Season Nine of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- I approve of what's going on in the Buffyverse in terms of comic books.

On this book, artist Rebekah Isaacs is employing a style that is not dissimilar to what I.N.J. Culbard did on the first issue of The New Deadwardians: it's a cartoony style, but one that allows for a solid range of expression from the characters, and Isaacs, like Culbard, does a good job of depicting the movements and emotions of the characters.  She does a terrific job of making most of the characters actually look like their counterparts from the television show: her Faith looks a lot like Eliza Dushku; her Drusilla looks a lot like Juliet Landau.  She's moderately less successful with Angel/David Boreanaz, but she gets it more right than wrong.

This is an awfully important facet of a comic that adapts a film property.  It's a curse for a comic, too, let's have no doubts about that; but it's unavoidable.  With that in mind, let's return briefly to Star Trek, a series where the artists have failed over and over and over again to successfully make the characters seem like their movie counterparts.  Oh sure, they look like them, mostly; but the artists haven't been able to invest them with any of the spirit of the actors, and it is a major failing for that series.

Here, Isaacs not only makes them look like the actors, she makes them ... well, act like the actors.  The artists on the Buffy comic are getting that right, too, and it's a major factor in what I perceive to be the success of those two titles.  Star Trek, it's a major factor in that book's (perceived) failure.


Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9
Wrapping up this week's floppies, we have the latest issue of the adventures of Miles Morales, a.k.a. Spider-Man 2.0 in the Ultimate universe of stories.  As is typically the case, I don't have much to say about this series, except that I enjoy it.  This issue has some great dialogue, and the art by Dave Marquez -- filling in (I assume) for series regular Sara Pichelli -- is excellent.  A decent amount of the action is devoted to a confrontation between Miles' shady uncle and the Scorpion, and all that stuff is pretty good.

Don't let my lack of verbiage fool you: like Angel & Faith, this series is nowhere close to my chopping block.

*****

That's it for floppies, so let's talk briefly about a couple of trades I read recently, both of them written by the previously-mentioned Alan Moore.



I'm a big Moore fan, and lately I've been devoting a goodly amount of my reading energy to catching up on some of his early work which I'd never before read.

This brings us to Skizz, which was serialized in 1983 issues of the British weekly comic 2000 A.D. (an anthology series best known as the home of Judge Dredd). Moore created the character of Skizz for 2000 A.D., and the story appeared in 23 installments, each of four pages or so.

I don't have a ton to say about Skizz, except to note that in this tale of an alien who crash-lands on Earth, Moore -- along with artist Jim Baikie (with whom Moore would later work, to hilarious effect, on the "First American" segments of his Tomorrow Stories anthology comic -- is doing what would probably have been seen at the time as a mildly snarky take on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (which had opened the previous year and shattered all box-office records).  Skizz meets a child and forms a bond, but unlike E.T., Skizz meets a teenage girl in England, and unlike E.T., he falls into the clutches of a not-particularly-genial government agent.  He looks a bit like a kangaroo, has a tendency to meet humans who are a bit on the nutso side of things, and comes from a race of beings who seem to be vastly more advanced that us.

I suspect that many people would have seen Skizz as a rebuttal of the fairy-dust-laced optimism of Spielberg's movie, but I think what it actually is is something different: it seems to be heavily critical of the '80s political landscape of Thatcher's England.  Now, I'm no expert in anything political, so when I start trying to talk about the politics of another country from three decades ago, I'm on mighty fucking quicksandy territory.  So I'm not going to do it.  But my gut tells me that that's what's actually going on here, and if anything, certain aspects of Spielberg's E.T. are enforced rather than repudiated.

It's a good sci-fi story from Moore with very good art by Baikie.  It's not extraordinary or anything, but it's well worth reading for Moore fans, for fans of sci-fi, or for people interested in Thatcher-era politics.  It's seemingly out of print, but used copies seem to be available for relatively cheap.

And, for the record, lest I be misunderstood: I LOVE E.T., which is a masterpiece of a film.

Skizz is no masterpiece.  But it's pretty good in its own right, and that's good enough for me.



Finally, we come to Moore's run on the Marvel title Captain Britain.

Never heard of Captain Britain?  Well, that's forgivable: he's not exactly one of Marvel's better-known creations, at least in America.  His sister, Psylocke, is a moderately famous member of the X-Men, but that doesn't seem to have helped him all that much.

Captain Britain was not a super-soldier like the similarly-named Captain America, but a regular dude who was imbued with super powers by Merlyn, who in this version of the legend is a sort of mystical, godlike guardian.  None of this is present, particularly, in the comics I've read; I'm relying on the interwebs for that background info.

To be honest, there's nothing very interesting about Captain Britain as a character, at least as he is presented here.  In this particular tale, he starts off in some sort of parallel universe -- here's a Wikipedia page devoted to the Marvel multiverse -- where there's been an uprising against super-powered people.  They've all been slaughtered by The Fury, a relentless automaton created for that purpose by the mutant Mad Jim Jaspers.  (All of this seems to have been set in motion before Alan Moore took over the series, so he's playing a bit of cleanup during the first few issues.)

Then, shockingly, Captain Britain, who is a mere visitor to this universe, is killed by The Fury.

He's brought back to life by Merlyn, of course, and sent back to his own reality, but The Fury somehow senses that it has failed in its directive, and pursues him relentlessly across the very fabric of reality, setting up a grand old comic-book-style final confrontation.

All of this is pretty good, but what might surprise you -- it surprised me -- is how irrelevant Captain Britain is to the story Moore is telling.  Instead, Moore spends a good deal of time introducing an absolutely smashing team of time-traveling superheroes called the Special Executive.  Some of these characters had originally appeared in one of Moore's contributions to, of all things, a Doctor Who comic strip (in which he patently cared about the good Doctor even less than he seemingly cared about Captain Britain in Captain Britain!).

The various members of the Special Executive are kinda awesome, including Legion (a froglike being who can conjure different versions of himself by plucking them out of different points in his timestream, thereby having the ability to swamp his enemies with combatants, all of which are the same person from different points in time!) and other similarly amusing characters.

The Special Executive, sadly, don't stick around for as long as you might want for them to do.  While they're in the mix, though, you can feel Moore engaging with the material in ways he doesn't elsewhere.  There are also some excellent parallel versions of the Captain Britain figure from other realities; I don't know whether Moore created these characters or if they had already been present, but they feel like Moore creations to me.

In any case, with these characters and with the Special Executive, you can feel Moore learning to do the type of superhero-based storytelling he would do to much greater effect (most of it satirical) in later titles, particularly Top 10.  There are also ideas at work here which would find much -- MUCH -- grander expression in his classic tale Watchmen.

In short, Moore's work on Captain Britain is an excellent opportunity to watch as he is developing his own storytelling powers, particularly as they relate to superheroes.  It isn't a classic, by any means, but it's good, and the art by Alan Davis is outstanding.

Sadly, it's quite difficult to find a copy of the collected edition of this story arc (which is typically referred to as "Jaspers' Warp").  It's out of print, and used copies tend to run into the triple digits dollar-wise.

*****

That's all for now, kiddies!  Don't forget to buy your Sea Monkeys!

4 comments:

  1. Well, that was informative for me. Comic books aren't virgin territory for me but they are haven't-been-around-in-a-while territory. Which means I can't add much except my own take on the Tull series of the Gunslinger comics.

    My opinion?

    I don't know.

    The truth was the Tull arch didn't make any kind of impression for me all that much. Which you could argue is a bad sign for any work that aims to entertain. I've already read the81 book version of the story so there wasn't much surprise there for me.

    On brief side note, I prefer the 81 version.

    While I think the revised current edition makes some valuable added inserts here and there, the overall impression I get from the revised Gunslinger is that the book loses something by cashing in the surreal existential narrative of the original by the substitute of one more down to earth with too much reference to later elements of the story (i.e. The Manni along with too much Mid-World terminology, though not the Crimson King references).

    Here ends the digression; back to the Tull comic.

    Some of the add-ons were okay, others, like having the piano player come from Hambry, felt forced. One other complaint I had is keeping Walter looking like his Gunslinger Born incarnation. This may be a minor complaint, but I was must have benn expecting the artists to take the character's appearance in another direction, something more in line with the book illustrations Micheal Whalen or Bernie Wrightson (Wrightson's images of Flagg sort of fit the character I see in my head the most). After all, didn't they call him the Man with No Face (as opposed to No Name. har)?

    I don't really no much more to add than that. For me, what makes the 81 version of the Gunslinger go is the lingering shadow of all those acid gonzo westerns that were released in the sixties and seventies, a Good Example is a film called "The Walker", check it out.

    For me, the 81 version taps into the spirit of those head trip films with the all the freshness of recent memory. i know people have said the original is hard to read or get into, but all the strangeness is what propelled the book for me. Maybe it was just cause I could see the influences better than most. What do I know.

    As for favorite words? Well, right now, the name "Dilbert" seems to be my favorite, mainly used as derogatory term with Nerdlinger coming in a respectable second.

    ChrisC





    One complaint

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  2. Chris, you're not alone in preferring the original version of the novel: I do, too, and in fact it is, overall, my favorite of all the Dark Tower novels. As I wrote somewhere once, there's a sick, sick part of me that wishes King had never even bothered to write the rest of the series. Not because I dislike the rest of the series - I don't, I adore it -- but because the sense of mystery and majesty and wonder that came rolling off of that novel when I first read it in 1990 was about as palpable a sensation as I've ever gotten from ANY novel.

    Hard to top that. (Although the end of the seventh book came awfully close...)

    I hear what you're saying about the art as pertains to Walter's look. That didn't bother me all that much, but I have had a seriously mixed opinion of the art ever since Jae Lee left the series. His stuff was terrific, and I thought Richard Isanove did very good work filling in for him. During all the arcs that comprise "The Gunslinger" though, the art has been quite spotty: sometimes Roland looks about 25, other times he looks 40!

    I suspect these comics could be a lot better, but they could certainly be a lot worse, too!

    And you're right, by the way: "Dilbert" really IS a pretty great word...

    Thanks for reading!

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  3. Interesting idea about just cutting it all off at the first book. I assume because of the difficulty of sustaining that same style in a consistent way over a seven book period? (Tolkien was lucky in that regard. He was just trying to write one single book and succeeded.)

    A final note about comic depictions of Flagg. The Stand comics artists come close to my ideas of the Walkin' Dude, though there are times when they overdo it. At their worst, he comes off like a of kind of demented Ted Nugent or the one unwritten Ramone the rest of the band couldn't stomach, (not twisted enough).

    By the way, if you ever want to know more about that "Walker film I mentioned, be sure to type in The Walker (1987). It stars Ed Harris, I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say I wonder if King took a leaf from this film for his book.

    ChrisC

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  4. No, I wouldn't say it's a style thing: it's more a function of the nature of the Tower itself. I remember reading the first novel years ago and it just kinda blowing my mind when I would think about the Tower, what it might look like, what it might be...

    In the original novel, the Tower is, for all practical purposes, a dream. As the series went on, King could only turn that dream into a reality. (If that metaphor makes any sense, which I'm not sure it does.) And don't get me wrong: I LOVE where he took the series. I just also like it when the Tower was unknowable.

    It's a strange impulse, I know, and it probably boils down to nothing more complicated than wishing I could still believe in Santa Claus.

    That movie "Walker" sounds intriguing; I may have to check that out at some point. Nice King connections in it, by the way, in the form of the cast: Ed Harris (Crepshow, Needful Things), Richard Masur (It), Keith Szarabajka (Golden Years), and John Diehl (The Revelations of Becka Paulson).

    Here's a link to the IMDb page for anyone else who might be interested:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096409/

    Final note: I didn't like most of the depictions of Flagg in the comics version of "The Stand," and it came down to his facial expressions, his stance, etc. The artist tried as hard as he could to make Flagg look like THE MOST EVIL BEING IN ALL OF EXISTENCE!!!!! when it probably would have been just fine to draw him in a bit more restrained fashion.

    He was better than the Flagg in the movie, at least...

    ReplyDelete