GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Locke and Key Volume 5: Clockworks, by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

written by David Steffen

Locke and Key Volume 5: Clockworks 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 July 2011-May 2012. Previous volumes were reviewed here, here, here, and 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. But trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, much of it tied to their family estate Key House which has magic hidden everywhere in it, much of it in the forms of magical keys, each with their own extraordinary abilities: the head key that allows you and others to manipulate your own memories and thoughts, the crown of shadows that lets you command the very shadows to do your bidding, the giant key that makes you into a towering colossusus. And new keys are turning up all the time. And with a mysterious enemy, a mysterious woman from the well, attacking them to get the keys at every turn, it’s an arms race to try to stay safe and stay alive. But as they have discovered, their enemy has been closer to them than they have suspected, disguised as a friend.

This story detours from the main timeline to tell us more about the lore that established Key House as it is today. Kinsey and Tyler find the clock key which allows them to step back in time and learn more about what happened there before. They learn about their family that has lived in the estate since the American Revolution, and the making of the keys and the Omega Door that their enemy so badly wants to open. We also find out a lot more about Rendell Locke (their dad) and his history there when he lived there in high school with his friends, including Lucas “Dodge” Caravaggio who has since risen from the dead.

This happened to be the first book that I read in the series as I was doing Hugo reading and man was this a poor place to join the series, since it’s all based in the history instead of the main characters. But I certainly wanted more, which is why I’m back now.

Solid series, and this penultimate entry is no exception, diving into a lot of the worldbuilding in a very interesting way as we find out more about the history as the characters do in this penultimate entry.

MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther

written by David Steffen

Black Panther is a 2018 science fiction superhero film by Marvel Studios, based on Marvel’s Black Panther character established in 1966. This is the first film starring the Marvel hero, who has gone on to be featured in other Marvel films.

The story is rooted in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which keeps much of its culture and economy a secret from the outside world. Unbeknownst to most outsiders, they are the most technologically advanced country in the world, rooted in an early discovery of vibranium (a fictional substance in the Marvel universe that, among other things, is what Captain America’s shield is made from). For many generations, most of the subcultures of Wakanda have been united under the leadership of a king who is also the Black Panther, made special by the ingestion of a heart-shaped herb that grows only there and gives that person superhuman abilities.

The old king has died, and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir, is called back to Wakanda to become the king and Black Panther. But what would normally be a relatively smooth succession marked more by rituals of contention than any real contention is thrown into turmoil by the appearance of a man who calls himself Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American special operative that claims to have a claim to the throne among other attempts at the throne including attacks from black-market arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis).

This is one of my favorite Marvel films. There is a lot of special effects eye candy with the really interesting Wakandan technology that is inspired by African styles but with its own technological flare, intended to be its own thing apart from Western technology. The cast is wonderful, and is a rarity in Hollywood films for being majority of the African diaspora, which was refreshing. The story is compelling and action-packed. Highly recommended!

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Locke and Key Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

written by David Steffen

Locke and Key Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom 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 August 2010-April 2011. Volume 1 was previously reviewed here, and Volume 2 reviewed here, Volume 3 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. But trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, much of it tied to their family estate Key House which has magic hidden everywhere in it, much of it in the forms of magical keys, each with their own extraordinary abilities: the ghost key that can project your spirit from your body for a time, the head key that allows you and others to manipulate your own memories and thoughts, the crown of shadows that lets you command the very shadows to do your bidding. And new keys are turning up all the time. And with a mysterious enemy, a mysterious woman from the well, attacking them to get the keys at every turn, it’s an arms race to try to stay safe and stay alive.

As this story starts off, seven-year-old Bode finds a new key which can turn anyone into an animal form and soon he is off adventuring with it. This is one of my favorite sequences of the entire series, with much of the illustration in homage to Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, which is very appropriate since the animal transformation is very much in the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes. Of course, it wouldn’t be Locke and Key without its own dire and dark and compelling danger of it.

This series continues to be one of my favorites of all time and I’m looking forward to seeing the tv show!

BOOK REVIEW: Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls

written by David Steffen

Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls is a 2019 graphic novel for kids, the seventh 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 a hero and a very good boy, but sometimes he has a reputation for being… easily distracted. It’s hard to depend on a hero who chases anything that resembles a ball even when he’s in the middle of a chase. He asks his friends, Lil’ Petey and 80HD, for help getting over this obsession and they are so effective at it that his loving obsession turns into a phobia, which the city’s villains notice as a weakness they can exploit.

Meanwhile, the once-villain who has started to turn a new leaf decides to start a new life with his immature clone Lil’ Petey, whom he had originally created to help with his evil schemes but found that the young clone was so good-natured and loving and considered him a father. At first Petey had resisted the insistence of Lil’ Petey that he could be good, but he started to see that point of view. But now as he is ready to settle into a simpler life, Petey’s own father, a crook who instilled Petey’s criminal tendencies in him at a young age, has come to town.

More fun from the Dog Man and gang, if you liked the earlier books odds are you’ll like this one too!

TABLETOP GAME REVIEW: Dog Man: Attack of the Fleas

written by David Steffen

Dog Man: Attack of the Fleas is a cooperative children’s board game released in 2019 based on Dav Pilkey’s popular ongoing Dog Man series of books about a hero with the body of a policeman and the head of a dog (Dav Pilkey is also the author of the Captain Underpants series).

The board game follows some of the plot of Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (previously reviewed here) wherein some of the main villain Petey’s enemies from his childhood resurface and come back to terrorize him and the city in a robo-brontosaurus. The heroes of the game are the Supa Buddies: The Bark Knight (Dog Man’s superhero alter-ego), Cat Kid (his friend Lil’ Petey’s superhero alter-ego), and Lightning Dude (their mutual robot friend 80HD’s superhero alter-ego), and their enemy is the fleas piloting the Robo-Brontosaurus.

The fleas act as a sort of a non-player character in the game, starting on one end of the board and traversing to the other side of the board as you spin the wheel for them as if they were another player. They take turns with the other players who play as members of the Supa Buddies and their friends. The Supa Buddies have to explore the board to find items that may help them on their way, some items helping movement, but most importantly the shrink ray. When a player gets a shrink ray and can land on the same square as the fleas, then they can use the shrink ray to destroy one of the three parts of the robo-brontosaurus. When all of the parts are destroyed, they have to return home quickly to win the game.

The game is pretty fun, though driven more by the randomness of the spins and the item placement than by any skill. It is nice to have a cooperative, rather than competitive, board game for kid’s this age, especially since they’ll be more likely to get frustrated.

The overall game dynamic works pretty well, but in my opinion the “get back home in a limited number of turns” rule is both absurd and kind of wrecks the balance of the game. When your movement on the board is determined by randomly spinning the wheel it’s hard to get anywhere both ACCURATELY and QUICKLY unless you hoard a movement card for it, which seems like it would be harder for kids in the target age group to decide to do. (you could always make your own house rule to ignore this of course).

Audience
Early grade school or preschool would probably like this the most.

Challenge
Mostly based on chance, with a bit of strategy about hoarding movement card for the end.

Session Time
Pretty quick, probably 10 minutes.

Replayability
Except for very young players, I think the novelty would wear out pretty quickly, though those players especially if they are fans of Dog Man, may like it for quite some time.

Originality
Of course much of its appeal is in the character branding, I thought the dynamic was interesting with the adversary acting as an independent character.

Overall
The MSRP seems to be about $20–if you’ve got a kid who’s a big fan of Dog Man and in early grade school, you might want to give it a try.

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!