Thursday, May 17, 2012

I'll Tumble For Ya

Some of you may know, I actually have two blogs. The other one was meant to be a music blog, but not really. It was meant to be about how music affects me. Anyway, I won't even bother directing you towards it, because I've decided to merge both blogs into a tumblr. I've imported all my past posts from both blogs already, so they are all available at If you had subscribed to the RSS feed, I think I've redirected the tumblr, but if not, shoot me an email and I'll try to fix it. Anyway, there you have it. This should open up the gates for me to blog more often about different things.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Comic of the Week - Wolverine and the X-Men

I said I wasn't going to read Avengers vs. X-Men and I meant it. However, there's at least one book I read monthly that ties in and I'm not dropping it, either. The good news is, that Wolverine and The X-Men does not require you to have read any of the AvX books in order to get what's going on here. It also doesn't completely go into dealing with that event and put aside any of the threads that were going on in this book. Instead, what Jason Aaron does is show us characters dealing with tough decisions and changing relationships while dealing with the things that they were already dealing with. Logan is struggling with the reality of having to fight against his fellow mutants since he sided with the Avengers, when Scott and his team show up at the school to talk. He confronts Logan about his choices and, it seems pretty clear to me that only one of them is actually thinking clearly, even though both have good intentions. I still won't read AvX, but this conversation, this tension, was interesting and engaging in the way that the Xavier and Magneto relationship always was. Meanwhile, Angel, whose mind was completely wiped in the pages of Uncanny X-Force is coming to terms with not being a real angel and Genesis/Kid Apocalypse, is coming to terms with who he really is. Also, several of the teachers, including Ice Man and Rachel Summers, decide to join Cyclops, much to Logan's surprise. I can't speak for the rest of the event, but if all the tie ins are handled like this, then they are actually delivering on the promise that you don't have to read everything. This was self contained and had enough hints of the big events that I never worried I was missing anything. AvX seems to be about broad strokes anyway, so all you need to know is that everyone is fighting about the Phoenix force. Coming into the tie in books should really be about specifics, and in this case it's about the ramifications of it all. Hopefully, this doesn't change, since I do enjoy this book and don't want to have to drop it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Avengers - Earth's Mightiest Superhero Movie

I couldn't have planned this any better. My 100th post and it's about The Avengers movie. Anyway.. . .

I was probably one of the only people that wasn't too excited about the movie at any point. I liked Iron Man. I didn't like Iron Man 2. I liked Thor. I liked Captain America. I'm one of the only people who actually liked both Hulk movies. But I didn't LOVE any of them. So the idea of putting all these characters in one giant movie, seemed to me like it could only end in Awesome or Crap. There would be no middle ground, and in my mind, it would be much harder to pull off Awesome. Then Joss Whedon was announced as director, and I'm not really a big fan of his, so the equation didn't change either way for me. Another big worry was that we were just seeing too much before the movie opened. If there's one thing that I am nostalgic for (and I hate nostalgia) it's the days when you didn't know every single detail of a movie before a single frame has even been shot. I miss going to the movies and not knowing what I'm about to see, at all. I can't be certain, but I'm sure no one knew who Luke's father was until that scene came up (although, "Darth Vader?" How did we NOT see that coming?). Imagine the Internets blowing up with spoilers telling the world "Rosebud was his sled!!" But today, it seems like spoilers are how movies are marketed. It's almost like the old essay writing tip about telling them what your going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. The last part might be what I'm doing now, so I guess I'm participating in the cultural essay about The Avengers. But I'm getting ahead of myself. so I'll bury the lead at the end of this paragraph and say, yes, I liked the movie. A lot.

And what's not to like? Unless you come to this movie expecting The Godfather with capes, you know what this is. It's big. . . no, huge. . . no, enormous. . . no, I don't think there's a word for this, yet. Blockbuster movies were pretty much invented by Spielberg's Jaws and have just gotten bigger and bigger and, lately, dumber and dumber (Thank you, Michael Bay). But this is gigantic and not dumb. What it is, is fun, pure and simple. And the strategy of having the solo films lead up to this is part of the reason why it works so well. Sure, you don't need to have seen any of the previous movies to enjoy this, at all. You could easily come into this blind (if that's even possible) and totally be on board. But, if you did see even some of the previous movies, you have an understanding of the characters that will give this movie a depth that the big action would seem to contradict. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking high drama here. It's not Masterpiece Theater, but it is good storytelling. And it's Comics, with a capital C. It's what those of us that love the medium of comics, not just superhero comics, but all sequential, serialized comics, love. It's like each movie was one issue in this comic book series, and this was the big climax to this particular story arc. More than any set of sequels, I think that the Marvel movies capture that idea, without being obvious about it. It just sort of flows in that way, organically, and I'm not sure if it was done intentionally that way, or if it's just that Marvel approached it this way because it's the only way they know. Either way, that's the crowning achievement here and I hope it gets recognized as such. And I hope it brings readers back to comics.

So, what exactly was great about the movie? The action was fantastic, for sure. The effects were everything they needed to be and more. The banter was excellent. There was enough going on with every character to keep them on your mind. But the clear winner here is Hulk, though. As I said, I liked both Hulk movies. They were different takes on the character, and I'm OK with that. But I'd love to see this Hulk get his own movie now. He was scary and lovable and funny and menacing and the strongest there is. And Ruffalo gave us a Banner that I could totally believe as a tortured genius with a guilt trip, without being a whinny old man. And you know who else should get a movie? Black Widow. Badass, brave, almost to the point of stupidity, and bearing the guilt of a cloudy past, Scarlett Johansson gave her a depth that I didn't think would be there in this testosterone fest. For that, I think we can all agree, Whedon is to be thanked, given his record with female characters. I want to see more complex female heroes like this in the future. The potential for more is there with the addition of Maria Hill to the mix, who will hopefully be further developed as well.

I could go on, but I'd really rather not spoil anything. There's a lot of comic book movies coming. I don't like to compare too much, so I can't say this will be the best one or not. The fact is, the other movies that are coming are doing very different things. The Amazing Spider-Man looks like it's something I'm going to like as well, but it's a beginning. The Dark Knight Rises is going to be grim and gritty and it's a clear ending. But as far as Summer Blockbuster movies, this is not just winning the Season, it's (hopefully) redefining what the blockbuster movie is going to be from now on. It's certainly opening a lot of doors for more comic book movies, but that's not necessarily a good thing. I just hope the makers of future superhero movies take note of the details here, and not just the broad strokes. This took careful planning to pull off and it shows. Man, I want to see this movie again now, which says a lot, because I don't normally want to do that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Comics of the Week - They Can't All Be Winners

I'm going to call this proof that being a successful novelist does not make one qualified to write a comic book. I've never read a China Mieville book, but I've heard the name and a big deal was made about him writing Dial H for DC. I also never read Dial H in its previous incarnations, but the premise is something that seems interesting. Characters dial the word "hero" on a phone and are randomly turned into a hero with bizarre powers. Well, I guess if I really want to explore this idea I'll be going back to the older versions, because this one did not work for me. The writing on this seemed to be all over the place, tonally and structurally. I got the sense that maybe the writer wasn't taking the story seriously on some pages, and maybe too seriously on others. If not for the art, by Mateus Santolouco, even the sequence of events would have been lost. This may get better as it goes, but it's not for me.

When DC announced that they were introducing Earth 2 into the new universe, I wasn't sure the time was right. We haven't gotten to know the new versions of the characters in the regular universe well enough yet to introduce alternate versions. All that being said, I was still going to read it because, soon or not, I'm a sucker for alternate universes. Here we have a book that I guess takes its cues from the new Justice League series, and twists the details. On this Earth, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and I guess all the heroes, fought Darkseid's forces later in their careers and while they manage to save the world, let's just say sacrifices were made. By the end of the book, we are introduced to Jay Garrick and Allen Scott (the original Flash and Green Lantern in the old continuity) and the last page gives us a provocative new origin for one of them. This series looks very promising. I only read some of Robinson's work on JSA, but I did like what I read. He wrote those versions of these characters well, so it will be interesting to see how he develops these new versions as we go on. Nicola Scott makes this book look enough like Jim Lee's Justice League to bridge the gap between the two Earths, but I hope his style changes a bit as we go forward. Either way, I already like it more than I liked the few issues of Justice League I read. I'm on board for now.

Along with Earth 2, we get Worlds' Finest, staring Huntress and Power Girl, who used to be Robin and Supergirl back on Earth 2, but are stranded on our world for reasons we don't yet know. This picks up right after Paul Levitz' Huntress miniseries, which was pretty good. This book was a lot of fun and looks to be a good way to reveal some of the history of Earth 2. A bonus is that we have some more strong female characters here. I think this book can easily become one of the top titles of the new universe as it goes on. I'm excited to see where it goes and what happens when the ladies meet some of the other heroes of the DCU.

I think my excitement for this book was based on how much I've liked most of the new creator owned books Image has been putting out. I didn't really know enough about the premise going in and the only other thing I can think of that I read of Jim McCann's was Return of the Dapper Men, which I did like. Mind the Gap is basically about a girl who is attacked(?) and winds up in a coma where she meets several other disembodied coma patients. She was apparently involved in some sort of experiment and there are mysterious characters doing mysterious things. Basically, there's a mystery here. I'm just not sure it's one I care to solve. There were moments here that reminded me of Morning Glories, which I enjoy, but I don't think I want to be on board for another slow burn mystery book like that. The thing about Morning Glories is that the characters carry the thrust of the narrative so that I'm now invested in their stories, regardless of the greater mysteries involved. But this book, while it did have some interesting character moments, also had some things that seemed a little forced and took me out of the story. Maybe it's because this first issue was too long and not enough really was revealed for so many pages. Maybe we should have gotten to know the coma patient before she was in a coma. Either way, this was not for me.

Young girl assassins are their own genre at this point. I would trace this back as far as La Femme Nikita, but it possibly goes back even further. In recent years, the girls have gotten younger, with Hit Girl being the youngest I can think of. But there are common elements, even if they all don't share them. There's an older man who trains the young girl. There is often some sort of amnesia that may or may not be the result of brainwashing. The young girl is usually operating on instinct. And, of course, there's vengeance. While all these things have become cliched, I still picked up Epic Kill by Raffaele Ienco, because, well, why not? I guess the twist in this story is that the revenge the girl is seeking is against a man who is now the President of the USA. Nothing groundbreaking here, really, but the book was entertaining. The action moved along well. Although there wasn't much character development, that's OK since I wasn't really expecting there to be much. But I suspect that Ienco, who is writing and drawing the book, is well aware of the archetype he's working with, because in the back, there were several pages of pinups where he drew his main character, Song, as various other female assassins from comics and movies. So this could turn out to be a fun exploration of the concept, if it's not taken too seriously.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Comics of the Week - Odd Couples

Seems like every week, I'm going to be writing about a Jonathan Hickman book. This week, it's FF #17, which continues the one shot stories he will be giving us in both Fantastic Four and FF until he is off the titles later this year. The epic story done, what we are getting now are stories focused on individual characters and relationships. While the last issue of Fantastic Four was a tearjerker, this issue of FF is a romp. Johnny Storm has moved in with Peter Parker and this is the ultimate Sci Fi Odd Couple right here. Pete just wants peace and a closet that doesn't lead to the Negative Zone. Johnny wants to party with Magical Horse People. There isn't a lot to say except that this was so much fun to read. And it's an aspect that Hickman has only hinted at in previous issues. There have been humorous moments throughout his run, but never a full on issue's worth of laughs. It just goes to show that there's still a lot Hickman can show us in the little that's left of his work with these characters, and in whatever he does next at Marvel and his creator owned work.

Speaking of guys I write about a lot, I haven't said much about Scott Snyder in a while. And it's not because his work hasn't been good. This month's American Vampire #26 just stands out to me because it seems almost like a fresh start for the series (not that it needed it). I'm not sure there's been an issue of this series that I haven't loved, but it seems like each story arc just gets stronger. Much like The Wire, we see characters we haven't heard from in a while pop up and become central to the story again, in unexpected ways. Different aspects of American history get intertwined with Vampire history, with one commenting on the other. In this story, race seems to the focus with a black vampire who hunts other vampires coming across what appears to be a new breed of werewolf/vampires terrorizing a southern town. As is usually the case with this series, and most of Snyder's work, this really can go anywhere at this point. It's never predictable, but always makes sense. His literary style continues to suck you in from page 1 of each issue. And, also as usual, Snyder teams with a stellar artist in Roger Cruz. I am not familiar with his work, but it fits in perfectly with what Snyder cooks up in this book. If you love vampires, real ones, you should be reading this. If you're tired of vampires, this is different, and you should be reading it. Just read it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Books - Ready Player One

The premise to this book had me conflicted. It's about a dystopian future (good) in which everybody interacts and plays inside a giant virtual world called the OASIS (good) where pretty much anything is possible. The catch is that the OASIS is littered with references to 80's geek culture (hmmm, I don't know). None the less, I was intrigued enough to check it out.

Ready Player One is Ernest Cline's first book. The story kicks off with the death of James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, a Steve Jobs/Bill Gates type who had no heirs. Instead, his will is a contest, open to the whole world, for control of his fortune and, more importantly, the OASIS. We follow Wade/Parzival as he becomes a "gunter" or egg hunter, looking for the Easter egg of Halliday's fortune. Along the way, he makes friends and enemies, including an evil corporation who wants to control the OASIS for obvious reasons. There are good times to be had in this book, but I am not sure who it was written for, or why exactly.

The 80's references sometimes come on too strong to be believable for this to be 2044. Trends are cyclical, for sure, but when they come up again over the years, they are usually watered down and re-interpreted in the context of the current time. But the kids in Ready Player One could easily be pulled directly out of the 80's, since they know the references so well. There is a reason for that in the narrative, but it seems the author's nostalgia is the main driving force at times, particularly when the characters have to play through specific 80's movies inside the OASIS as part of their hunt for Halliday's egg. Those scenes play out like a narration of the movie, with little added in terms of the book's narrative. So on that level, it would seem that the intended audience would be people my age, who grew up in the 80's and get a kick out of the nostalgia porn. But then the book is written almost like a young adult novel, rather than something for an older crowd, and this might actually be on purpose. It's almost like it's written for that adolescent living inside us Gen Xers that never grew up. If that's the case, this might be a genius book. But for me, the last half of the book, where we get to see our heroes outside of the OASIS and the 80's references aren't as heavy, was the stronger part of the book.

All in all, I don't think this was meant as anything other than fun, so I can't seriously knock any of it. I'm notoriously predisposed to dislike nostalgia but I still had fun with this book for what it was, even if there were sections I felt could have been trimmed down somewhat or replaced by something else. It would be interesting to see if this book is popular enough to be turned into a movie, and it might actually work better visually, anyway.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Comics of the Week - Beginnings and Endings

True Story: On November 24, 1971 a man who referred to himself as Dan Cooper, hijacked a plane in Oregon, claiming to have a bomb, and demanded $200, 000 in cash and a parachute. The plane landed in Seattle where his demands were met and the passengers were released, at which point Cooper demanded to be flown to Mexico City following a specific flight plan. At some point during the flight to Mexico City, Cooper parachuted out of the plane with the cash, never to be seen again. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla is a fictionalized (I hope) account of this man leading up to the events of 1971. The first issue introduced us to some wild concepts, as this man works for the CIA as a "dream assassin." This month, the second issue expands on those concepts and begins to give us a glimpse of some of his personal motivations. This book is pretty out there, particularly when Cooper is in the dreamscape. I'm not sure where it's going and that's a good thing. If you're looking for something completely off the wall, but grounded in the cold war spy/assassin genre, that is what this is.

As Irredeemable wraps up, I have no idea how it will end. Just when you think these characters are headed one way, there's a turn and then another and you have no clue where you stand. Is Tony really going to get a second chance by the end of the series? Is he actually going to contradict the title and be redeemed? I doubt it, but who the hell knows, except Mark Waid, who made a smart decision in ending the series, rather than have it go on too long. The next issue is the last one and I can't wait to see what happens. This, and Incorruptible, are required reading for anyone who wants to see how to play with the superhero genre in a good way. There a lot of stories about heroes gone bad, but for my money, this beats them all. Waid didn't simply create a Superman analogue here. He created a character that stands on his own in a fully fleshed out universe with a wide range of fully developed characters. It all holds together well, with cause and effect rippling across both titles. I've said before I don't care about continuity, but the continuity Waid created and maintained in these two books is outstanding. It would be easy to go back and tell "classic" stories in this universe (Before Irredeemable?), but then, this is so fully fleshed out, that it's not necessary. We know those stories already.