Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Look Back!

As we prepare to say farewell to 2022 it's a propitious time to look back and see how the last annum actually performed. Compared to the previous two years overwhelmed with anxiety and dread, I have to give it high marks. The Covid pandemic has been beaten back to some degree thanks to vaccines and while still a worry it's not causing the kind of disruption that it did for quite a while. 

On the political front the dullard who once occupied the highest seat in my land has dwindled and I hope is about to go into the West. November's elections showed that his ability to pull forward his acolytes is minimal at best and the party which sold its soul to him is now at long last prepared to move on. They are far worse for the experience, having for the most part continuing to offer support to the lout even when he sought to overthrow the very government he pretended to lead. Hopefully he can go back to bilking his willing slaves and let the public business get on with itself. And it has been doing decently under our current leader, a quiet but effective president who actually does things instead of only ever just braying on about them. 

Women are the worse for this year though thanks to a Supreme Court that now seeks to make them second class citizens without full command over their own bodies. The constant irony of halfwits clucking about being "forced" to wear a mask while simultaneously applauding a decision which forces women to carry a pregnancy to term despite their own choice is grating to say the least. But the upside is that such decisions create opportunities for long-lasting change in laws across the land which will be immune to interference from church-going judges. It is in the hands of the people to rescue themselves from this assault. 

Here at the blog, I've been pretty happy with the results this last year. I wrapped a number of projects which I'd been meaning to get to for some years such as the Tarzan comic strips and movies last summer, and I was happy to at long last get a chance to read the DC Shazam series and report on it. I'm proud of the posts which related to the Holocaust and the book We Spoke Out. With Nazis putting themselves unashamedly forward in the public debate it's wise to keep such vigils. Last February's look at "Blaxploitation" was fun and informative. And the recent foray into martial arts masters such as Thunderbolt, Iron Fist, and Judomaster was a lot of fun indeed.  I've really enjoyed catching up on my Alan Moore readings and there is more (pun intended) of that come in the new year. 

I'm a retired bloke now with lots of time on my hands which makes me happy that I've held onto so much of the reading and viewing I've enjoyed over the decades. Now I have time to enjoy it all again at my leisure and with greater insight and even sometimes greater wisdom. That said, I continue to buy arguably too much new material. I need to explore the existing stacks and I make a vow to do just that. 

So, let's press ahead into the new year (as if we had a choice) and hope that things will get even better. It's not the things which creep behind us that will get us, it's what lies ahead.

Happy New Year by the way! Be safe out there. 

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Friday, December 30, 2022

Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century!

This late 90's Sherlock Holmes in The 22nd Century cartoon series is not that bad actually given the nature of animation at the time. It's evidence that Sherlock Holmes can work in many different environments and eras, just assuming the creators are savvy enough to keep the essence of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories in some kind of recognizable form. This show is successful in this area to a great extent but also falls down in some basic ways which are largely due to the perceived nature of the medium. 

For one thing as an animated feature there is a perceived need for action and movement, so our characters are in nigh constant motion. The fighting in the most acrobatic ways against foes which attack with brawn more often than with brain. A Sherlock Holmes story certainly has action, but it is subservient to the thought process which is often expressed in periods of inaction and quiet. None of that here. 

On the plus side the creators cleave close to the original stories by using those classics as the basis for their own high-tech variations. Seeing how they make these changes is intriguing and keeps the show interesting even when it descends into 90's cartoon cliches. 

Holmes finds himself in the 22nd Century thanks to having been preserved in honey and revived by the police when they are confronted by a baffling case which seems just his cup of tea. Watson is a robot who after a few episodes, assumes the face of the detective's great biographer. Lestrade is a woman, a police officer who is prone to taking action and is not necessarily comfortable playing by the rules. Even the arch-foe Moriarty is revived thanks to clone technology to become the main villain of the series appearing many times, often as the mastermind of a crime and is revealed at the end. Holmes is often assisted by a version of his "Irregulars", street-smart kids named Wiggins, Diedre, and Tennyson. 

But what I admire most about this series is the setting or more specifically the design of the setting. The makers seem to have been influenced heavily by Syd Mead's designs for Bladerunner with many sequences evoking that classic sci-fi flicker. There are a number of stories set on the Moon and the installation there seems clearly to me to evoke the wonderful painting of Vincent Di Fate who did so many wonderful covers for many a science. fiction magazine. 

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Sherlock - Season Four!

Season Four seems to have put a pretty good little bow on the run and for the first time we don't have a monumental cliffhanger which is highly suggestive to me that new ones will be far off if ever. The shows in this most recent trilogy had the kinetic fun we've come to expect from the series and some pretty well-done deduction scenes for the classic Sherlock fan, but the constant twisting and turning gets a bit tiresome after a bit. It's rather like a roller coaster that goes too long, eventually the fun begins to wear off and the whole shebang becomes somewhat of an ordeal. These shows don't quite reach that point, but there were places in the storytelling where I did just want the plot to progress a bit more rapidly and to dispense with the quips.

More after this break for SPOILERS.

Of the three episodes this time, my favorite was "The Lying Detective" which delivered a proper villain played brilliantly by Toby Jones. The malignant Culverton Smith was the most odious TV villain I've seen since this same show gave us Charles Augustus Magnussen a while back. Sleazy and oily and just plain vile, he was a truly bad man. Now Sherlock's scheme to capture him seemed a bit overheated and wildly unreliable, but I guess his ability to read people and anticipate them was the point. Best twists of the season. And an immoral man who is too rich and famous and so powerful to be properly brought to heel by his fellows seems a very timely creation indeed.

"The Six Thatchers" began wonderfully, but the secret was a bit too apparent though the action sequences were very compelling. The death of Mary was a surprise but not a shock. Her continued appearances as a ghost giving advice to the two of them was a nifty twist and added a bit of heart to a show that can depend a bit too much on intellectual whimsy.

"The Final Problem" had the most potential, seeing as the we were on an island of madmen, but somehow the incessant games Euros played with Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft became tiresome before the final revelation and that seemed a tad overheated. The secret of Redbeard was properly gruesome, but the web of deceptions was a bit opaque at times. The death and mayhem were pretty strong in this one and the ending seemed a tad antiseptic given all of that destruction. Nonetheless the end of this series did leave a good feeling overall as the heroes are finally fully formed.

This marks the end of the SPOILERS.

What we have at the end of this series are a fully functioning Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson team, both men more emotionally stable than they've been in the entire run, both having to some extent come to terms with the torments of their personal lives. Sherlock's fractured personality seems to have healed itself as he allows himself feel, and Watson's survivor's guilt has transformed into a life of service which helps him and us all. They are properly heroes now, less concerned with themselves than helping others. It bodes well for any new ones they do decide to cook up. Personally, I like how it "ended" (or "began" if you prefer) and I'm satisfied if it ends on this exceptionally high note.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Sherlock - The Special!

One of the true absolute joys from the television world have been the infrequent but always fully packed episodes of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sturdy detective duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

This series has the conceit (shared by the also rather diverting Sherlock Holmes adaptation Elementary) of shifting the Holmes saga to the modern world and letting him have a go at our problems. This opens up the storytelling and we find that Holmes is of course a rather modern figure after all is said and done.

But the installment in the series for 2016 titled The Abominable Bride reverses that situation and instead gives us a grand old Sherlock Holmes mystery steeped in the Victorian era, rife with its fixed class structure, backwards attitudes about women and men, and noxious odors such as sweat, decomposition and horse shit. To be fair this story pays a lot of attention to the two former problems and less on the latter, but I'm always reminded of that particular nasal dilemma when folks wax on about the good old days which when we take a second or two to reflect were rich with singular banes we've kindly forgotten.

The story here is a lurid and gothic mystery in which a mad bride commits suicide then seems to many to rise from her grave and commit a range of murders. Holmes and Watson are brought into the case which stretches over many months and have to confront their own fears, attitudes and weaknesses to find a way to discover and reveal the truth which turns out afterwards to have been staring us in the face all along.

The story is brimming with the entertaining banter we've come to expect from this series, as Watson and Holmes exchange jibes and Holmes in his own snotty fashion snipes at the rest of the world. Mary Morstan Watson is along for the ride as well and the delightful Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade are on board as well. Molly Hooper turns up as does the enigmatic and excitable James Moriarty. The gang is all there, and believe it or not this does all fold back into the regular story line we've been following now for several years.

This impressive twist on the original twist is quite entertaining. It's a hoot and highly recommended.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Sherlock - Season Three!

The BBC series Sherlock which cast Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern version of Sherlock Holmes aided by his own equally modern John Watson played by Martin Freeman continues to be excellent in its third season. Both actors have moved on to significant success since this show debuted with gusto several years ago, Cumberbatch turning in a fascinating turn as a Star Trek villain Khan and the great dragon Smaug, and Freeman making a favorable impression as peripatetic resident of Hobbiton, Bilbo Baggins. Thankfully both have decided to return to the parts which made them stars. Getting them there becomes increasingly difficult. 

The third season begins where the last left off, with Sherlock seemingly dead but now necessarily returned to life to battle a significant threat to the heart of London itself. Watson having dealt with Sherlock's seeming death for two years is necessarily startled by this sudden resurrection. Watson himself has moved on and has found a wife, Mary Morstan who steps in and becomes a core part of the story.  Amanda Abbington is magnificent in the role and slides in alongside the quirky duo as a strong personality well capable of holding her own creating a whole new and highly entertaining dynamic. Also back are Gregory Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), and Mrs.Hudson (Una Stubbs), vibrant and distinctive characters who are often hilarious and in moments touching.  In fact humor seems to have been a key to this third season.

In a new trio of stories, we see the relationship of Watson and Morstan develop and its no giveaway to say their wedding is the pivotal event of the third season, in a story which adapts The Sign of Four in some very clever and imaginative ways.

The looming figure though in this saga is the heinous Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkleson), a villain based on Doyle's Charles Augustus Milverton a blackmailer extraordinaire. Like Moriarty before him, Magnussen proves to be an intellectual rival to Sherlock, but with a different most distinctive and exceedingly repulsive personality. His core secret is a true revelation and ties into the larger themes of the show exceedingly well. The banter between Holmes and Watson remains fervent and crackles with wit and humor, perhaps too much at times, but nonetheless its heady and you need to keep your wits as you watch this show which bristles with charm.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 
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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Sherlock - Season Two!

The second season of Sherlock picks up where the first left off, literally. Then we transition to three more wonderful episodes. Cumberbatch and Freeman never miss a beat, and if anything. are even more comfortable in the skins of their classic interpretations.

In the first story "A Scandal in Belgravia" (a take on "A Scandal in Bohemia" of course) we meet Irene Adler, a dominatrix who has embarrassing photos with royal interest. Sherlock and Watson are to get these back, but quickly learn there is much more at stake. "The Hounds of Baskerville" is a simply brilliant spin on classic and exceedingly familiar but in fantastically surprising ways. A young rich man comes to Sherlock to help him solve the twenty-year gone murder of his father by a giant hound and Sherlock and Watson find themselves investigating a government laboratory filled with mutant animals. "The Reichenbach Fall" (based on "The Final Problem") brings all of the stories to stunning climax when Moriarty returns to wreak his revenge on Sherlock, and that's enough said, save that the story begins with an assault on the Crown Jewels no less.

These are well-crafted television shows, with clever camera work and scripts which sing out with character. As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes as a modern man who texts and is adept with all things technological is still the character Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created so long ago. He was a modern man then in the waning days of Victoria's England and he became one again in the final years of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Sherlock - Season One!

Season one of the series Sherlock, originally aired on the BBC in 2010 and adapted three of the classic Conan Doyle stories for a new audience with a hero plunked right down in the middle of twenty-first century London. Played stunningly by Benedict Cumberbatch (also infamous as Star Trek's Khan Nonnian Singh and most recently Doctor Strange), this Sherlock Holmes has all the acid wit of the classic character along with the arid intelligence and fundamental misanthropy which define the character for me. He is joined by Martin Freeman (now at least equally famous for being Bilbo Baggins among other things) as a stalwart, brave, and even daring Dr. John Watson. This is a Watson with PTSD who finds in his dangerous association with Sherlock the juice he misses from his warfront days, which in a peculiar way heals his spirit.

The three tales in the first season are "A Study in Pink", "The Blind Banker", and "The Great Game". The first, clearly a spin on "A Study in Scarlet" introduces Sherlock and Watson as they meet and move into 221 B Baker Street just in time to try and solve a series of seemingly disconnected suicides.  The second has echoes of "The Sign of Four" as weird symbols left in peculiar places send a myriad of folks running in fear for their lives. Set in London's Chinatown this one has a real exotic flair to it. The final episode of the season reveals Jim Moriarty, a grinning ghoul of a criminal mastermind who openly pits himself against Sherlock by having him solve puzzles and crimes on a clock before innocents are killed.

It's all heady stuff, filled with mysteries with some real twists. The stories are plotted and told with a forward-thinking sense of detail which keeps you watching for clues in every moment. The two characters of Holmes and Watson are at once hilarious and compelling as they bolt around London trying to stay ahead of the criminals they seek to uncover.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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Monday, December 26, 2022

Let's Celebrate Boxing Day!

It's not really a holiday here in the U.S. but I can't pass up a pun. Here is a ring full of boxing-themed comic book covers for your viewing pleasure. While the "Sweet Science" has been reduced in our culture to a sideshow, with maybe one boxing match of any significance in any given year (if that) once upon a time boxing was a significant part of the pop culture of our society as evidenced by this wide array of comic book covers, adding up to a full fifty plus boxing covers. Enjoy and remember to keep your hands up and protect yourself at all times.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Holiday Classic.   

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