GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Locke and Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

written by David Steffen

Locke and Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows is a collected group of comics written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez and published by IDW publishing. The individual issues that make up the collection were published between November 2009-July 2010. Volume 1 was previously reviewed here, and Volume 2 reviewed here.

As told in the previous books, the Locke family: three kids (Tyler, Bode, and Kinsey) and their mother, move to Lovecraft, Massachusetts after the murder of their father by a couple of teenagers. One of the teenagers, Sam Lesser, escaped from a mental institution and followed them to Lovecraft to try to kill them again, with the assistance of a powerful but mysterious supernatural entity that is connected with Key House, the family estate in Lovecraft.

Key House has a lot of secrets, many of them taking the form of magical keys with incredible powers. More and more of them have been turning up, both to the kids themselves and to the entity that opposes them. It’s a magical arms race with high stakes, where their enemy is more powerful and knows all the rules.

The series continues to be riveting, creepy, and fun. Highly recommended!

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

written by David Steffen

Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games is a collected group of comics written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez and published by IDW publishing. The individual issues that make up the collection were published between January-June 2009. Volume 1 was previously reviewed here.

In the previous volume, the Locke family move to Key House, an old family estate in Lovecraft Massachusetts. They are a mother and their three kids: Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey, the father of the family murdered not long ago by a teenager who then escaped from a mental hospital and tried to kill them all again in Lovecraft with supernatural assistance from a mysterious and powerful enemy that has a history with Key House.

The kids have discovered that Key House is full of secrets: among other secrets they have discovered supernatural keys scattered around the grounds that have bizarre and mind-blowing powers: such as the ghost key which allows the user to separate their spirit from their body for a time and observe others on the grounds invisibly and silently.

Sam Lesser, their would-be murderer is dead, but the supernatural creature that enabled his escape is still at large and they don’t know what she wants. They can’t get any help from adults, whose minds are dulled to the magic of Key House. When a local teacher is murdered in his own home, signs start to pile up that it’s only the beginning.

This volume introduces my favorite of all of the keys in the series, the head key on the cover page, which sets up a lot of fundamental ideas for later books and really solidifies Rodriguez’s illustrations as chilling and bizarre and fun.

Highly recommended!

MUSIC VIDEO DRILLDOWN #11: Firework by Katy Perry

written by David Steffen

This is one of a series of articles wherein I examine a music video as a short film, focusing on the story rather than the music, trying to identify the story arcs and characters motivations, and consider the larger implication of events.

The film this week is the 2010 film Firework by Katy Perry, a fantasy story about people finding emotional acceptance of themselves and their life situations and harnessing that power in visible and fantastic and potentially hazardous ways.

The film starts with panning across a city-scape, and zooming into Katy Perry (as herself) on a rooftop singing: “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?”

As she sings this, we see other people dealing with their own life situations:

  • A brother and sister trying to stay out of an angry, loud, and violent conflict between their parents.
  • A teenage girl at a pool party, afraid to show her body enough to get in the pool with the rest of them.
  • A child in a children’s hospital with no hair, presumably a cancer patient.

Katy Perry sings: “You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine, just own the night like the Fourth of July.” As she sings this self-affirming mantra, a visible and dangerous change overcomes her as she literally starts shooting fireworks from her chest as her voice swells in volume and intensity, starting with minor sparks like sparklers but with larger bursts like Roman candles. In some ways, her choice of location for unleashing this firestorm is probably safe, in that she is on a rooftop shooting the fireworks into the open air, so the chance of fire is perhaps not too high, though I would like to see firefighting equipment and support staff on the rooftop with her. It’s not clear if these fireworks are something that she calls at will whenever she feels like it, or if it’s something that swells up and happens on its own and she just does the best she can to mitigate the risk. It seems to be an emotional outlet to some degree, presumably cathartic, but to what degree it can be guided or controlled is unclear.

What becomes clear, though, is that her condition is either contagious to the general population, or there is a subset of the population that has the same latent ability that is awakened upon witnessing her rooftop display. So, even if she herself is trying to prevent fire risk, there are additional potentially exponential risks. Others in difficult emotional situations start showing their own fireworks–the boy trying to avoid his parents fighting gets between them to separate them as fireworks burst from his chest (as a threat/dominance display apparently?) , the girl at the pool party sheds her cover-up and joins in the fun, a teenage boy who has apparently been afraid to tell people he is gay approaches his crush and they kiss.

In the most confusing but perhaps helpful variation of this spreading ability, a teenage boy is mugged by a group of other teenage boys but when they try to rifle through his clothes they find only an endless chain of handkerchiefs and a pair of live doves. They stand transfixed at the sparklers bursting from his chest as the boy does a series of card tricks. It’s not clear if the effort at the act is necessary to maintain the frightening display or if he actually thinks that what they are transfixed by is the card tricks themselves.

The child in the hospital wanders down the hallway and finds a room where a woman is giving birth and manifesting her own fireworks. Considering the size of the city that was panned at the beginning, this is a bit confusing, as most hospitals in major metropolitan areas will have large departments physically separated from each other–and it’s confusing that a birthing suite is just a couple doors down from a child’s hospital room, doesn’t the shouting and other noise from the birthing suite keep the children awake who need to be resting? And wouldn’t the expectant mothers prefer to not have random kids walking into their room in the middle of delivery?

When the girl at the pool party surfaces after jumping into the pool, her chest is bursting with flame as well. Thankfully whatever energy it is doesn’t seem to be conducted by the water, as the others in the pool don’t appear to be electrocuted, but we don’t see further in this scene, so it’s entirely possible that her manifesting powers will raise the pool temperature–hopefully just to make it a hot tub rather than raising it to boiling.

Finally, Perry leads an excited throng of people into an open plaza by what appears to be a government building where they dance in formation as they all manifest their own fireworks. This seems to suggest that she is intending to not only unleash this intimidating power in the youths but to teach them to use it as responsibly as she has, favoring open spaces where fire hazard is minimized. And, hey, if these people can express themselves, can discover something new about themselves, and the rest of the city gets a free fireworks display, that could be a net benefit to most. Though, for the sake of any pets living in the area or any veterans with PTSD I hope they don’t do this every night and I hope they announce their intentions ahead of time so people aren’t surprised by it.

The next Music Video Drilldown will be for the film Take Your Mama by Scissor Sisters.

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey

written by David Steffen

Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild is a 2018 graphic novel for kids, the sixth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants). The series so far has been reviewed here.

Our hero Dog Man (half dog half policeman) is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, robbing a bank, and he is confined to jail where he is ridiculed as a misfit. His friends work to free him from confinement while Dog Man tries to reconcile with his dual nature as being both man and dog but not entirely in either world. Meanwhile, Dog Man’s friend Lil’ Petey continues to insist to his “papa” (from whom he was cloned) is not irredeemably a villain, and the Fleas from the last book return to wreak havoc once again.

Another fun romp in this kid’s book adventure!

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Locke and Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

written by David Steffen

Locke and Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft is a collected group of comics written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez and published by IDW publishing. The individual issues that make up the collection were published between February-July 2008.

After the murder of their father by a couple of a teenagers, Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey Locke move with their mother to a family estate they’ve never seen in Lovecraft, Massachusetts known as Keyhouse. As if the trauma of their father’s death and uprooting of their entire lives isn’t enough, their lives soon get more complicated as they discover the house has secrets. Bode, the youngest of the kids, discovers a supernatural key that when used to unlock a particular door allows someone’s spirit to move invisibly and independently of their body, and he starts hearing voices from the well. Meanwhile, Sam Lesser, the surviving teenager who killed the Locke kids’ father, is receiving supernatural visits from a creature that can talk to him through the water in his sink in his cell.

This series is a horror fantasy masterpiece. The images are incredible and striking, the characters are well-defined and interesting even as they are flawed, and the magic system in the series is extremely fun and compelling to watch. I first started reading them mid-series when one of the volumes was nominated for the Hugo Award and although I didn’t read them right away I never forgot them and when I heard they were making TV adaptations I wanted to finish reading them before I watched the TV version. Highly recommended!

TV REVIEW: Star Vs the Forces of Evil Season 4

written by David Steffen

Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is an action comedy cartoon about an interdimensional mage-warrior princess (Eden Sher) who was sent to Earth for a while where she made friends with earthling Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur) . Season 1 was previously reviewed here, Season 2 reviewed here, and Season 3 reviewed here. Season 4, the final season of the series, aired between March 2019 and May 2019. This review will have spoilers for previous seasons.

Season 3 ended with the resolution of an epic threat against the kingdom of Mewni from the half-monster half-Mewman Meteora (Jessica Walter) is achieved when her mother Eclipsa (Esmé Bianco) casts a spell that reduces her to a baby. Star, who had been acting queen because her mother Moon (Grey Griffin) is missing, cedes the throne to Eclipsa who is the rightful queen of Mewni, who has been imprisoned in a crystal for hundreds of years, also giving her the family wand as her rightful property. Eclipsa immediately begins work reversing many of the laws that supported the royal family’s anti-monster sentiment, as Eclipsa’s beloved is a monster, and her daughter a half-monster. Meanwhile, Star and Marco search for Moon based on a series of half-formed rumors about sightings of her. Eclipsa’s beloved, Globgor (Jaime Camil), is imprisoned in crystal and she has not succeeded in freeing him.

Everything that the series has built up to comes to a head in this season. It still has a lot of fun and moments of levity, but the stakes are higher than ever. Again at the end of the last season the world as we know it has been upturned with the succession leaving Eclipsa in charge of the kingdom, and Star and her parents shown to be descendents of impostors to the throne. With the threat of Meteora gone, new threats arise, threats that put the very existence of Mewni in question.

I love this show so much, I highly recommend it!

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas

written by David Steffen

Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas is a 2018 graphic novel for kids, the fifth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants). The series so far has been reviewed here.

The story starts out as Dog Man (half dog half cop), Lil’ Petey (friendly non-evil immature clone of the villain Petey), and 80-HD (their robot friend) form the superhero group Supa Buddies where they each have alter-egos that fight crime. Shortly after, Petey arrives claiming to be the psychiatrist Dr. Katz to take Lil’ Petey too school, but soon is forced to reveal that he has done so under false pretenses because Lil’ Petey is in danger. Lil’ Petey’s history is coming back for him as he recounts a story from when he was a child when he and members of his scout group were stranded on a desert island. Those other members have a grudge against Petey for his actions that day and they have returned for revenge!

Very fun series for kids, and simple enough that kids learning to read can make a lot of progress with a book like this, motivated by the humor to learn more.

TV REVIEW: Star Vs the Forces of Evil Season 3

written by David Steffen

Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is an action comedy cartoon about an interdimensional mage-warrior princess (Eden Sher) who was sent to Earth for a while where she made friends with earthling Marco Diaz (Adam McArthur) . Season 1 was previously reviewed here, and Season 2 reviewed here. Season 3 aired between July 2017 and April 2018. This review will have spoilers for previous seasons.

Some context from Season 2: It is traditional for princesses in the Mewni royal family to have a princess song written about them when they come of age. Most of the songs are vapid fluff pieces, but Star insisted that the piece should have substance. But this idea backfires when the song reveals the major family secret that Star lost the book of spells that has been handed down from generation to generation, and Glossaryck the magical guide to the book, as well as revealing that Star has a crush on Marco. These revelations cause riots among the citizens of Mewni for their Queen Moon (Grey Griffin) keeping secrets from them, and the news of Star’s crush drives a wedge between her and Marco. Shortly after, the villain Toffee (Michael C. Hall) in control of their common enemy Ludo’s (Alan Tudyk) body manages to suck the souls from the Magical High Commission, the highest magical authority, leaving any sort of authority in shambles. Star leaves Earth to deal with matters on Mewni, leaving Marco behind.

The series has always had short episodes that often have seemingly random unrelated plots but has also had building of overarching consequences, and the end of season 2 is the most catastrophic of them all, breaking up the dream team of Star and Marco, leaving the Butterfly family’s most powerful villain on the loose with the magical authority disabled, Season three starts off with the stakes already high and our heroes’ support system in disarray. I loved the series since the start, but Season three shows how intense it can really be, while still having plenty of fun and silliness that is also a great part of the show. I highly recommend it!

MOVIE REVIEW: The Jungle Book (2016)

written by David Steffen

The Jungle Book is a 2016 live action plus CG action/adventure film by Disney Studios which is based on the 1967 animated Disney film of the same title which is in turn based on a collection of stories with that same title published in 1894.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a “man cub”, a human boy who was separated from his family when he was just a baby and raised by the wolves Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and her pack after he was brought to her by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who still visits them as a friend.

Mowgli lives peacefully among the animals for a number of years, until one year while at the watering hole during a drought they encounter a fire-scarred tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who has a vendetta against humans for disfiguring him. He tells the wolf pack that if the boy isn’t gone by the end of the drought then he will kill Mowgli. The pack debates what the best thing to do is, but Mowgli decides that he should leave for the benefit of the pack and Bagheera offers to guide him to the nearest man-village.

Shere Khan hunts them as they try to travel safely and Mowgli makes new friends along the way who help him on his journey, including Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). Mowgli’s clearest route to safety is to be returned to a man-village, but he doesn’t know their language or any of their ways and he doesn’t want to leave the wolf pack who have been his family his whole life.

This movie has a great set of voice actors, and it’s fun to see these actors apply their voice talens to a familiar franchise, though, as with many of the Disney live/CG remakes it did sort of leave the question “why did this need to be remade? Wouldn’t the time and effort have been better spent on something new?”

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey

written by David Steffen

Dog Man and Cat Kid is a 2017 graphic novel for kids, the fourth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants), the series so far has been reviewed here. The title character Dog Man is a half-dog half-policeman who fights crime with the strengths and weaknesses of both a man and a dog, often against Petey the Cat, but also against other villains that threaten the peace of his city.

In the last book Lil’ Petey, a young clone of Petey the Cat, was abandoned by Petey and decided to move in with Dog Man. As this book starts, Petey comes to visit Lil’ Petey and reveals his intentions to turn the sometimes-annoying but always-goodhearted young clone to join him in a lifelong mission of evil! Meanwhile, Dog Man has been getting more attention than ever, and is now the subject of a brand new feature film starring international actress Yolay Caprese. This book introduces Dog Man’s new alter-ego (which you can see on the cover of the book above) and you can also see on the cover that he teams up with Lil’ Petey’s new alter-ego mentioned in the title: Cat Kid.

The feature film plot was probably one of my favorites in the series published so far, the metahumor there with actor doubles of the main characters also playing roles was very fun. These are fun books for kids, especially in early grade school when learning how to read.