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I hope you’re ready for a hot take about Austin Powers, a movie franchise that is nearly as old today as the time period that it references.

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I recently attempted a rewatch of the films, because they feature briefly in the new Space Jam movie and I was wondering how well they hold up. The first Powers film is indeed quite good: It’s energetic and joyful; and when it feels hacky, it’s not the movie’s fault that catchphrases like “oh behave” became so overdone following its success. (“That’s a man, baby” does not age well.)

The movie’s economical reaction shots do a lot of the heavy comedy-lifting: Austin says something funny, then there’s the briefest of takes from him or a co-star, and the joke is left to settle naturally over the audience. It’s the same reason Airplane! and Sam the Eagle are funny — they never nudge the audience’s ribs and holler “GET IT???”

Austin’s subsequent installments, alas, are quite musty and sale. In addition to being inexplicably cruel — did the ‘90s love anything more than a mean-spirited fat joke? — the two sequels are loaded down with mugging. Austin proclaims a catchphrase; then he goggles his eyes at the camera; then there’s a cutaway to co-stars looking chagrined; then Austin gasps; then a minor character shrugs; then we cut back to Austin repeating the catchphrase as if he knows that half the audience probably missed it the first time because we were composing a grocery list in our heads.

Anyway, the reason I’m composing this timely hit piece is because my rewatch has me thinking about the importance of negative space in art — that is, often gaps and pauses and emptiness are much more effective than cramming muchness into the frame. That’s certainly borne out by the new comic book releases I read this week, one of which is loaded with too much; one of which is beautifully sparse; and the third of which strikes a perfect balance of empty and crammed. Thanks as always to Phoenix Comics for helping to find this week’s reading, and to the second Austin Powers film for explicitly instructing the audience not to worry about the rules of time-travel and to just have fun.

PAX SAMSON VOLUME 1

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I once had a writing teacher who described plot exposition as being like loading up the reader’s backpack in preparation for a hike up a mountain. Yes, you should of course include the essentials necessary for survival — water, sunscreen, snacks — but when you start strapping entire pieces of furniture to their backs, you’re making the climb extra-arduous and you had better make sure the view at the top is worth it. Pax Samson spends so much time packing that I’m not sure we’ll ever make it to the top. The setup is lovely: On a magical planet of fantasy creatures, the twelve-year-old son of superheroes would rather be a chef than fight evil. Oh, if only the premise ended there; alas, each page seems to introduce new bits and pieces of exposition, spelled out in lengthy “I don’t know why I’m telling you this” character dialogue. We barely get to know the characters because we’re always spending time in world-building and lore; I think I’d like them if they just had the room to show us who they are instead of telling us in overstuffed panels where the text eclipses the illustration. I think I’d like the setting if I could just see it more clearly behind the speech bubbles. I think I’d enjoy the hike if I hadn’t been given so much to carry.
Rating: 🔪🔪 (2/5)
Writers: Rashad Doucet, Jason Reeves. Art: Rashad Doucet

RAIN LIKE HAMMERS: SKY CRADLE (TRADE PAPERBACK)

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How can a book be so lush and also so sparse? Set in an unidentified future on unidentified worlds, Rain Like Hammers benefits from a generous peacefulness, presenting beautifully detailed sci-fi landscapes and intimate quiet moments with our main characters. We are introduced to Eugene, a low-level worker of some kind in a giant mobile city, and we see him go about his day-to-day routine. Later, we meet an adventurer whose consciousness is hiding in a temporary body; then we meet a young woman who has been selected as a candidate for immortality. Who are they, what are the rules of their world, and what does it all mean? These big questions are not answered. Instead, we see them struggle through day-to-day challenges, like grappling with a secret crush or escaping from a deadly chamber full of physical tests. Is this what would happen if Robert Altman made a sci-fi film? I struggled to decide whether or not I liked this book; on the one hand, as a fan of nuts-and-bolts science fiction, I wanted desperately to understand the history and rules of this dreamy futurescape; on the other, these stories aren’t about hard sci-fi as much as they are about the souls of the individuals, wondering idly to themselves what concerns occupy their neighbors or what it takes before one can feel at home in a new city. Rain Like Hammers shows us a sprawling landscape of a setting, but its story is about the smallest of details.
Rating: 🎵🎵🎵🎵 (4/5)
Creator: Brandon Graham. Editors: Shanna Matuszak, Trivial Ramos. Pre-press: Alejandra Gutiérrez.


MIRKA ANDOLFO'S SWEET PAPRIKA ISSUE #1

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I shouldn’t like Sweet Paprika, and neither should its heroine, but this is a story about the irresistible lure of forbidden desires so I’ll give myself permission. I fully expected to find this book exhaustingly overstuffed — every sentence ends with an exclamation point! Every face is wrenched with intense emotion!! Every scene shouts AT THE TOP OF ITS LUNGS!!! So why do I love it? The answer to that is simple: It’s simple. Gettable. Easy to read. Here’s the setup: In a world populated by horny demons and angels, Paprika is the head of a company that publishes naughty books; and although she’s a hardass girlboss and an expert in the business of romance, she’s secretly lonely and wracked by private shame. Paprika’s character is wonderfully summed up in a panel in which she tries to convince herself that sex is overrated because masturbation is much more efficient — okay, cool, got it! With the premise quickly established, we’re off to the races with a fun story of love, romance, and forbidden passions; and although the dialogue and art have a nonstop high-octane intensity, the book’s muchness never gets in the way of the careening plot. I can’t imagine how challenging this must’ve been to translate from the original Italian, but fantastic localization by Steve Orlando fills the characters with personality. And it also doesn’t hurt that the art (which is decidedly for adult readers and calls to mind the chaotic erotica of Mamabliss) is wonderfully titillating; my only wish is that the male characters’ bodies were bestowed with as much beautiful bulging curviness as the women. Oh well, maybe we’ll find that in Issue 2 — to which I look forward with great eagerness.
Rating: 😈😈😈😈😈 (5/5)
Writer and artist: Mirka Andolfo. Colorist: Simon Tessuto. Letterer: Fabio Amelia. Editor: Cristian Posocco. Associate Editor: Davide G.G. Caci. Logo & Book Design: Fabrizio Verrocchi. Localization: Steve Orlando. Cover Artists: Mika Andolfo, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Peach Momoko.

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ALSO GOOD: GIANT X-MEN, A SUPERHERO MOM, and A BISEXUAL BOXER

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There’s lots more to check out this week: I am not Starfire is the story of a superhero daughter fed up with living in her mother’s shadow. Knock Out is the true story of bisexual boxer Emile Griffith. And there’s a truly enormous new edition of Giant-Size X-Men, a collection of huge classic tales reprinted in a beautiful oversized hardcover for megafans. Also check out Issue #2 of The United States of Captain America, the beautiful new Black and Gold story with Wonder Woman; and I’m obsessed with a deliciously pulpy interpretation of Captain America in a Conan-esque aesthetic in Amazing Fantasy #1, the cover of which is simply breathtaking.

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Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.