This is the kind of week I like best. Three reviews and every one of them is a pick of the week.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, like almost all of the movies in this series, it was hugely entertaining. The film stars Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Cate Blanchett (Hela) with key performances by Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange). It was written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, and directed by Taika Waititi, who also motion-acted and voiced Korg. Here’s the Internet Movie Database synopsis:
Thor finds himself in lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
The movie kicks off with Thor venturing into the fiery depths on a mission to subdue the fire demon Surtur and so stave off the coming of Ragnarok. But the return of Thor’s forgotten sister Hela brings that prophesied destruction of Asgard ever closer. Odin is dying. Thor and Loki end up on a distant planet. Hela conquers Asgard and, by the time the Odin sons and their allies reach Asgard, Hela has already slaughtered most of Asgard’s defenders and appointed Skurge as her executioner.
Thor: Ragnarok is a dark film. Despite that, it has considerable humor, terrific performances, thrilling action, great character play and a heroism that offers the viewer hope no matter how dire the circumstances might appear. There are life-changing moments for several characters and not one of those moments feels forced. It’s what we have come to expect from Marvel Studios: an epic adventure true to its comic-book roots.
On a personal note, I was pleased to see Larry Lieber’s name next to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, recognizing his role as the writer of the first Thor comic-book story. I couldn’t catch every one of the other acknowledgments and special thanks given to comics creators in the end credits – there were many of them – but I applaud Marvel Studios including these in its movies.
If you have enjoyed previous Marvel Studios films, I think you’ll enjoy Thor: Apocalypse. Every time I see a new entry in the series, I want to sit down and watch all of them again. That would make one heck of a fun vacation week.
The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell with artists Steve Pugh, Rick Leonardi and Scott Hanna [DC Comics; $16.99] is every bit as good as the first volume, which I lavished praise upon just a few months back. The witty Russell brings the modern stone age family face-to-face with today’s national and global concerns. Corporate greed and the lack of empathy for workers. Bogus religion used to promote base agendas. Demonizing the other to feed the war machine as a matter of political policy. Exploitation of minorities, which, in this series, are mostly animals pressed into service as bowling balls and appliances. Insane consumerism. This is hilarious comedy with a thoughtfully chewy core.
This trade paperback reprints issues #7-12 of the limited series. A dozen issues of this fresh new take on the classic Flintstones cartoon aren’t enough. If Russell gets a second wind and wants to write more, I’ll buy them.
The Flintstones Volume One and Two are recommended to the grown-up kids of my generation who can accept a different vision for these beloved characters. They are also recommended to somewhat younger readers who have enjoyed the cartoons in their constant reruns on various cable networks. Consider them as holiday gifts for members of either group. They are yabba-dabba-awesome!
The Flintstones Volume 1 ($16.99)
The Flintstones Volume 2 ($16.99)
The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends by Stan Sakai [Dark Horse; $24.99] breaks from the issue-by-issue reprinting of the great comic-book series to collect stories that took place outside Usagi’s ongoing timeline. It starts with the entire run of Space Usagi, a science-fiction series that took our samurai hero to a galaxy far far away. Sakai brought a “Star Wars” vibe to his classic characters with the result being a stunning thriller. Also include in this volume is the full-color graphic novel Yokai, a wild monster mash featuring Usagi in battle with a legion of demons and monsters; and a bevy of cool bonus features.
However, for me, the best story in this collection is the six-issue Senso. Imagine if the Martians from War of the Worlds had landed on Earth centuries earlier. Not in London, but in Japan’s Edo period and in the midst of a climatic battle between the warring factions of that time. It’s one of my favorite Usagi Yojimbo adventures of all time.
I recommend all of the Usagi Yojimbo collections from Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. As I’ve said, I consider Sakai our greatest living cartoonist. A gift of any of these volumes to those special comics readers in your life will introduce your loved ones to some of the finest comics work ever created. They’ll thank you for that.
That’s all for this installment of Tony’s Tips! I’ll be back here next week with another trio of reviews.
© 2017 Tony Isabella