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Saturday, March 26, 2011

4:52AM - The Victimized Badass: Some Thoughts on Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch.

I've seen the latest opus of director Zack Snyder and let me say this up front: the man knows his cinema. I'll happily give credit where it's due, and Snyder is easily one of the most seamlessly adept genre filmmakers I've ever seen. Since Dawn of the Dead back in 2004 the man has shown a unique talent for conveying action and emotion through his visuals, harnessing the unique talents of the production team under his command to bring amazing things to light. Hell, he made the cinematic adaptation of Watchmen, a comic book I'd believed to be completely unfilmmable, transforming the epic into a new entity while simulataneously paying homage to it's prose and picture counterpart. The same can also be said for 300, his rich and glorious adaptation of Frank Miller's sword and sandals epic.


Simply put, the man can make movies, and when I heard he'd be creating his own unique story in the form of Sucker Punch, and seeing the bits and pieces doled out in teaser trailers and one-sheets, I was on board. I eagerly sat in my seat at an advanced screening, keen to see what Snyder could do with his psyche completely unbound, free to create without having anything to adapt. I saw the film, sat with it, then saw it a second time today. I've had some time to turn the film over and over in my head and I have to say that while it is an impressive spectacle, the film has also done something it clearly didn't intend: it ticked me off. Sucker Punch is the most amazing mysoginist film featuring strong women I've ever seen.


The plot (what there is of one) centers around Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning), a teenaged girl whose mother dies and finds herself and her sister the sole heirs to her mother's estate. This doesn't sit well with their stepfather, who in a drunken tirade kills the younger sister and pins the rap on Baby (we never get any actual names for our protagonists, merely labels). The sequence is really one of the movie's high points; heavy on mood, kind of gothic and score by an amazing cover of 'Sweet Dreams' by the Eurythmics. It ends with Baby being sent to the Lennox Home For the Mentally Insane(clever little shout-out there), and with the aid of a crooked orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) the young girl is slated for a lobotomy. The specialist will arrive in five days. The film then follows Baby as she struggles to escape, coping with the situation by envisioning the asylum as a Prohibition-era nightclub, the well meaning Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) teaching her to dance (i.e. work through her feelings) to survive, and the remainder of the protagonists: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) assembling around Baby in a mutual bid for freedom, using the newcomers amazing dance abilities to distract their captors as they assemble the items they'll need to escape.

This leads into a fantasy within the fantasy, where as Baby Doll begins her dance numbers we flash into various and sundry fantasy scenarios; from an epic battle in a Shogunate-era castle against oni demons armed with rail guns to pseudo-WWI combat against steampunk reanimated German soldiers to a raid on a dragon's lair to an attack on a robot-filled bullet train. These sequences are the centerpiece of the film and the craft and care that went into them shines through, our five heroines looking absolutely effin' badass as they plough through their enemies, meeting their objectives, and looking damned cool in the process. And if this had been the premise of the movie, that rather than dreams this was an elite female unit of dimension-jumping kickers of ass and takers of names struggling to save worlds throughout the multiverse to prevent dimensional collapse, I would have pumped my fist and said this was the most amazing thing since the application of peanut butter to bread. But it's not and I can't.

I'm doing my level best not to get into spoiler territory here, because I do believe the movie is fundamentally worth watching. But the thing that makes my molars grind is that the badass, empowered women we see on the one sheets and in the trailers. . .they're not real. Or rather they're part of Baby Doll's dream-within-a-dream. Or the dream selves of the characters, who ultimately (apart from the figure of Baby herself) are shown to be anything but self-reliant or badass or strong. There is a moment when you watch these characters go completely to pieces. Is it understandable, given the circumstances? To an extent, yes. There's been some trauma, the pressure is on, etc. But isn't the journey of the film supposed to be the discovery by the girls of their own inner strength and resources? That they are far more powerful than they believed possible? If yes, then why does the film make victims of the girls, having them break down at one minor setback (to the point where a character makes a decision that is just. . .baffling), and then become hapless at the drop of a dime? Much like Chewbacca being a wookie from the planet Endor, this does not make sense.

Why is it that a film that's selling point is badass, confident looking women kicking the absolute crap out of bad guys really about being a helpless victim with some mealy-mouthed message about finding some inner strength within to deal with the pain without. . .and then having that pain without completely bulldoze you into the dirt? Yes, those who have seen the film will argue it ends on a hopeful note. Hopeful? Perhaps. Satisfactory to this member of the audience? Hell no. In my version the girls get away, after some very satsifying Death Proof-style vengeance on Blue's sleazy ass, laughing all the while as the asylum burns to the ground. That is the note the film should've ended on.

I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking this thing, but the film's notion of the victimized badass really made my hackles rise. Why can't a female hero simply be a confident, strong, fully realized character rather than either a victim, a headcase, or some combination of the two? Is there a spectrum that I'm not aware of?


Is Sucker Punch worth seeing? Again, yeah, I'd say so. If nothing else it got me thinking, and in an age of sequels/remake repeat as needed that's something we really, truly need in our escapist fare. Ultimately it is an impressive spectacle, with eye-candy galore and one of the most kickin' soundtracks I've heard in ages, but I can't help wishing for a little more steak to go with the sizzle.

Stac


Current mood: contemplative

Friday, February 18, 2011

11:46AM - Villain Tune-Up: The Parasite.


'All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.' W.H. Auden

For the model upon which the entire genre is based, Superman doesn't have a lot of what you'd call 'name' villains. Sure there's Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but after that it doesn't take long before you're straining for more names. It could be argued that Darkseid has become an arch-villain of the man of steel (though mainly as an import from Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga), and there are more contemporary villains such as Metallo, Rampage, and Silver Banshee (although quiz most non-comics readers about the last three and you might get some recognition from Metallo via Smallville). Even Doomsday, the brutal force of nature that did what no other villain could previously, namely kill Superman, is hardly widely known. About the only character that might gain mass recognition is the infamous General Zod, and even then he wasn't tailored to be a regular foe of the man of steel, just an occasional menace that cropped up every now and again from the Phantom Zone.

At first glance it might seem that the Rudy Jones, aka the Parasite, is another one of these forgettable types. Good for a single-issue formulaic smackdown, then carted off to jail by the end of the story, curses foiled again, etc, etc. That's the impression, and I can certainly see how easily the character could be placed into that archetype. But in point of fact, the Parasite is one of the most potentially terrifying foes Superman could ever face. Let's break down why together.

First, a bit of backstory. Rudy Jones was one of life's losers, a guy always out to make a quick buck while secretly railing at a world that couldn't appreciate him and where people less deserving than him (namely everyone) got all the breaks cut for them. Working as a janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs (Scientific & Technological Advanced Research. I pulled that from memory people. MY NERD POWERS ARE SUPERIOR! Ahem), Rudy was convinced that there had to be something in those canisters marked 'hazardous waste' had to be worth selling. With that airtight bit of logic in his feeble mind, Rudy opened the container and exposed himself to a massive dose of strange radiation. This being the world of comics he didn't die a lingering death, but instead found himself transformed into a purple-skinned abomination with a drastically increased metabolism. Soon learning he had to feed from various living beings in order to survive (he could feed off electricity or nuclear power in a jam, but there's just something about the energy of other life forms). An early rampage through the streets of metropolis brought the newborn Parasite into conflict with Superman, and it was then he learned he could absorb metahuman abilities as well, draining Superman of his powers and finding the Man of Tomorrow to be the gourmet cuisine of his new diet. Since then Superman and the Parasite have clashed numerous times, often leaving Superman drained and weakened until his body can reabsorb sufficient solar energy to get him back up to par.

As time went on, Rudy's powers continued to mutate, allowing him not only to retain the energies of another living being, but also their memories as well. This was illustrated at it's most startling when the Parasite drained arrogant scientist Dr. Torvell Freeman dry, killing the man. . .but leaving his mind cohabiting the Parasite's form, Rudy oftentimes arguing with the 'Doc' in the middle of a battle. As bad as a large purple humanoid attempting to drain your life force dry must be, imagine one that's talking to himself in two entirely different voices. The Parasite's appearance gradually warped over time as well, becoming less human and more like a mix between a man and a lamprey. The two caused Superman no end of trouble, including one point where--after absorbing a shapeshifter and retaining the power to alter their appearance--they impersonated Lois Lane for several weeks in an effort to break Superman emotionally. Lois Lane. Superman's wife. See, that's creepy on a level I was barely aware existed.

Of course, this origin and background is pre-Geoff Johns' new take in Superman: Secret Origins. I've no idea what the Parasite's status quo is these days, but from what I have available it wouldn't be too difficult to give the character an upgrade from Menace of the Month to High Octane Nightmare Fuel.

Let's suppose that Dr. Freeman isn't the only consciousness that the Parasite's absorbed that has retained their individuality. Gradually all these personas begin to overwhelm poor Rudy, to the point that he's just one more face in the crowd. Over time these personalities begin to realize that they're not 'real', just copies of whatever poor souls were unfortunate enough to get in the way of the monstrosity they've now become part of. They get scared. . .they get angry. . .and then they get something far, far worse. They get organized.

The monstrosity that roars and lumbers through Metropolis, drawing in Superman and the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and the Science Police, that's largely for show. Rudy's mind has been confined to that form (with one or two monitors to keep his gibbering wreck of a mind on track) while the rest of the mass has used the powers of shapeshifting they've gained to split off into various individual forms. After all, being confined to one form and feeding one person or group of people at a time? That's small potatoes. What one 'probe' feeds from, they all can feed from after all. And once they absorb a victim, their knowledge, experience, and form (right down to the DNA) becomes a part of the Whole. Simply put, the Whole is getting smarter by the day, and pretty soon it's going to set it's sights on expansion. Infiltration into facilities like S.T.A.R. Labs, Lexcorp, Wayne Enterprises. . .maybe even the metahuman community. After all, who's going to miss a couple of those third-string heroes? And if they work hard enough, maybe they'll even get into the Justice League. So much food, so much hunger, but the Whole can be patient. Patient like a spider is patient, like a shark on the hunt is patient. Not only will the prey come to them, it will do so with open arms and a smile.

And from the beaming face it stole from a corpse, the Parasite smiles back.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2:44AM - Hero Tune-Up: Steel.




What atonement is there for blood spilt upon the earth?
-Aeschylus

Steel did it first.

Dr. John Henry Irons was an engineering genius with a simple dream: to create weapons that would make the waging of war entirely undesirable. Unfortunately his noble intentions led to the creation of armaments whose hideous potential for destruction made them the hot-ticket item for would-be warlords, despots, and gang-bangers when the company he worked for sold them on the black market. Faking his death for fear the immoral corporation would coerce him into making more weapons for criminals Irons went underground, building a new life as a steel worker in Metropolis. Saving a friend from a fall from a skyscraper under construction led to Irons' nearly plummeting to his death, only to be saved at the last minute by Superman. Wanting to know how best to express his gratitude, the Man of Tomorrow simply asked him to live 'a life worth saving' and then flew off. A few weeks later, Superman died fighting the monstrosity known as Doomsday(he got better, but that's another story).

Recovering from injuries sustained during Doomsday's rampage, Irons discovered to his horror that without Superman to protect the streets Metropolis was descending into a gang war, a war whose armament of choice was a weapon of his own design. Shaken by Superman's death and wanting to honor the legacy of the man who had saved his life and so many others besides, Irons designed a suit of powered armor and took to the streets, doing his best to protect the weak and the helpless in a world without a Superman. Originally dubbed 'The Man of Steel' by Lois Lane, the title was eventually shortened to simply 'Steel', and upon Superman's return from death (comics everybody), he became a valued ally. Steel would go on to fight crime in his native Washington, D.C., and eventually become a member of the fabled Justice League of America.

He's been in his own solo series, the awesome crossover event known as 52, and has been a member of the JLA during one of it's most glorious creative periods. He's an armored super-genius attempting to atone for the use of weapons he designed falling into the wrong hands. Sound a little familiar? He's the best parts of Iron Man and Superman(with a neat little nod to the legend of John Henry) and he gets to wield Thor's hammer(okay, not mjolnir, but Steel's hammer is nothing to laugh at; he can control it's trajectory and has kinetic enhancement technology embedded inside it that makes it's blows feel less like a sledgehammer and more like an oncoming train). So why is it this guy can't seem to break out from the minors to the majors?

There are very, very compelling elements to the character of Steel but for all that there's been a lack of what I would call a hook, something to hang the character's personality upon and build upon until he stands completely on his own merit. For me that hook is the need to atone, to make up for the lives destroyed by his own actions and creations. True he never fired one of his weapons, but he designed them, made them as lethal as he could from the (somewhat laudable) reasoning that if they were so horrible, no one in there right mind would dare conceive to use them. Unfortunately, not everyone shared John's world view and as a result his weapons caused death on a massive scale. Every action he takes, whether it be in his armor or as the head of the philanthropic scientific think-tank Steelworks is to build a better world, a safer and happier world. Much like Iron Man, Steel is a futurist and wants a better world. With a bevvy of some of the DCU's brightest minds and most philanthropic backers (Wayne Enterprises and KORD Inc. in particular) he's going to build it, one girder at a time

Marry to that a desire to redeem others as well. Given a second chance by the world's greatest hero, I think that John would reach out and offer the chance for others to get their lives back together, particularly when it comes to the various 'mad scientists' of the DC Universe. Working with various prisons like Belle Reve or Blackgate, Irons would gain access to some of the DC Universe's most brilliant (albeit unbalanced) minds. The deal offered is simple: work with Steelworks and not only gain years off your sentence and the possibility of an early parole, but gain the recognition and respect you feel you were cheated out of. Villain being villains there are doubtless a few who'd think nothing of playing the teary-eyed penitent in order to play Irons for a chump. That said, trying to outwit the guy who designed the defence grid for the Justice League's headquarters and provides the heavily-armed Science Police with a variety of weaponry (non-lethal) capable of downing Solomon Grundy in four shots. . .well, best of luck with that. Steel is optimistic, not naive.

Steel in many ways is the anti-Lex Luthor. Where Luthor uses his brilliance to ensure his wealth, power, and dominance of others, John Henry uses his genius to make his city and the world cleaner, safer, and more secure. He fills a role that DC doesn't really have much of; that of the Reed Richards super-genius. Most of the scientists in the DCU tend to either fall into the Mr. Exposition or Mad Scientist archetypes, but Steel provides an example of a scientist who is not only brilliant, but capable as well. If any of Steel's experiments were to run amuck, he has the tools to deal with it. Well, one really big tool anyway.

It's of interest to me that Batman and his extended family can have a slew of titles and yet Superman and his merry crew seem to have difficulty sustaining any book without a kryptonian (or half-human clone thereof). Steel is a character rife with storytelling potential, and in the right hands could be one of the DCU's starting lineup with very little modification from his core concept. It'd be one of the books I'd write for free and without hesitation. And I haven't even mentioned ideas for storylines, like the resurrection of Tomorrow Woman, or the ascension of Amazo from brute thug to master villain. . .those would be pretty awesome tales to tell, no doubt.

DC, have your people call mine. We'll do lunch.

-Stac

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

5:14AM - Admit it.


original to be found here.

Current mood: mischievous

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

5:32PM - The Chosen Meh.


I was watching television when an advertisement for Disney's upcoming cinematic abomination The Sorcerer's Apprentice(that high-pitched turbine sound you hear in the middle distance would be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spinning in his grave at a bastardization of his work created solely as a Harry Potter cash grab) and in those moments as the white-hot haze of contempt and rage worked their magic over me I experienced a moment of sublime clarity: I am rapidly coming to hate the concept of the Chosen One.

It's a staple almost as old as fiction itself: the one boy/girl/man/woman/dog/cat/pineapple who can save the world and defeat the Evil One, thus restoring peace to the land and blah, blather, bleh. The coming of this hero is usually foretold, most likely via a prophecy or an oracle or even an urban legend spread via word of mouth. He'll be meek an unassuming at first, maybe even an outright child, but gradually he levels up in badassery until he finally slays the Big Bad, the music swells and the credits roll and etc, etc, etc. . .Joseph Campbell noted the similarities between myths across various cultures and eventually created a term for this kind of story: The Hero's Journey. Basically, it breaks down as follows:

'A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.'

Within this pattern everything from Beowulf to Braveheart, from Gilgamesh to John McClane can be encapsulated. Which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to attempting to win over an increasingly genre-savvy audience.

Don't get me wrong, in the hands of a master storyteller this formula can be as gripping and engaging as anything you've ever heard but it seems of late that this story is the only one that can be told. As a result what was once a seemingly shock-proof, indestructible example of story is now beginning to show telltale signs of wear.

I've no issue with a hero being the last hope. Hell, it worked out just fine for my favorite non-kryptonian hero Luke Skywalker(and yes, I realize a lot of my bile from the earlier paragraph could easily be applied to Luke. Kinda. Maybe. Shut up) in his rise from whiny farmboy to the first of the Returned Jedi. The whole notion of one chosen throughout the world to battle the demons, the vampires, and the forces of darkness didn't bother me either, as Buffy Summers was part of a continuum of Slayers whose legacy spanned the centuries. These variants on the classic Hero's Journey work for me, as they worked for legions of Star Wars and Buffy fans the world over(and even Star Wars and Buffy took that formula and turned it completely on it's head: Anakin Skywalker may have been the Chosen One, but look how he went about it. Buffy took Destiny by the throat and shook it until the Chosen One became the Chosen Many).

No, it's the repetition of this cycle over and over in the wake of Pottermania that's making my teeth grind together, as Hollywood throws whatever it can up on screen in the hopes of squeezing a tired premise one more time in hopes of wringing blood from a stone. While The Sorcerer's Apprentice might actually be a decent film, and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief may well have rocked on toast, it's this continued reuse of a tired formula again and again that is a surefire kiss of death to your film, comic, or novel. Simply put, your audience knows the score. Give them some credit, and throw them the occasional twist to keep them amused and entertained(Deep Blue Sea contains my favorite example of this, as the Heroic Leader archetype in the form of Sam Jackson is suddenly and rather graphically cut off mid-sentence. Stone silence in the theatre save for me busting out laughing and thanking the screenwriter mentally for tipping his hat to me so jauntily).

If a story is well-told with passion then whether or not it's structure is familiar won't matter at all. But if it's just in it for the money, we're going to see the emperor's new clothes exactly for what they are. Nothing at all.

Stac

Sunday, June 6, 2010

9:23AM - Bullet Points 3: Season of the Witch.



SERENITY: FLOAT OUT One-Shot: Comics based on licensed properties are always a caveat emptor scenario, but I have to say this one was a pleasant surprise. Going into it my mind was put at ease by the knowledge that writer Patton Oswalt (easily one of my favorite comedians) was a long-time fan of the show and had pitched the idea to Firefly/Serenity creator Joss Whedon and met with his approval. The book's story is that of an Irish wake held by some of Wash's friends from before his days running with Malcom Reynolds and company, and helps fill us in on that period before he became a leaf on the wind. It's fun to hear these stories, though sadly this is not the 'Oh-hey-Wash-is-actually-alive-'twas-only-a-flesh-wound' story that we all secretly yearn for. Still and all, the last page had me grinning from ear to ear. It's a tribute from a fan to a character near and dear to the hearts of browncoats everywhere, and well worth a look. The bonus material is pretty fun too, but I won't dare spoil it.





HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD #1: I've been a bit leery of the promises of the Big Two with their Shiny Happy 'brightest days' and 'heroic ages', promising a return to the stately days of yore when in fact it seems to be just a new coat of lacquer that doesn't do a thing to conceal the latest round of shock tactics and gore porn. However, I have to admit this book surprised me as it actually manages to live up to the shiny THE HEROIC AGE banner atop the issue's cover. It's a fun read reintroducing the eponymous heroes, Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse, a couple whose long and storied past has recently been settled and a fresh start has them out and ready to kick butt and take names. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Marvel heroes, and to see him back in the purple and blue slinging arrows and wisecracks while Mockingbird kicks butt and looks damned good doing it. . .it was like coming home. Of course, it's not all smiles and sunshine, as there's threats from old enemies, new foes, and surprising twists from within the crimefighting partnership that promise to make for an entertaining first story arc. Haven't encountered Jim McCann's writing before but I have to say he has the character's voices down pat, and he handles the intrigue and action with aplomb. David Lopez's art is a nice mix of classic and contemporary, and I have to say I hope this team sticks around. H&M is a book I'd recommend to those looking for a comic that's actually fun. A good start Marvel, keep at it.





ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN & WOLVERINE #1: Yeah, I never thought I'd ever read a book with Spider-Man again, particularly in the wake of the character's stupidest story of all time, and if you'd asked me if I'd read a book starring GrrrSnktBub without the benefit of being held at gunpoint I'd have told you those recreational pharmaceuticals you were on must be choice. But at the recommendation of a friend I decided to gird my loins, grit my teeth, and read a book featuring two characters that hold about as much appeal for me lately as a trip to the dentist for a root canal or two. And. . .and it. . .and it didn. . .aggggh. . .the words keep catching in my throat, let me take a sip of tea first. Ahhh. Much better. Ahem. It didn't suck. I know, I'm shocked too. By rights I should revile this book for it's crass attempt to pair two media-friendly Marvel heroes together to get Marvel a little of that Superman/Batman money, but the fact of the matter is this book was a well put together and entertaining read. Jason Aaron provides us with versions of the two leads that each bring their own distinctive voices to the narration, and while I may dislike the wider versions of the characters at large, within this book it feels like a classic Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One of old. Adam Kubert's art doesn't hurt either, and while sometimes I his style to be a bit too gritty, here it's bright and crisp and serves to make the book feel. . .well, like a superhero comic. Another breath of fresh air from Marvel. This is getting spooky.




THE GREAT TEN #7: I will state this as simply and plainly as I can: if you're not reading The Great Ten, you're missing out on one of the most original and enjoyable superhero titles on the market. It's a ten(grrr. . .nine) part series, self-contained and starring the superhuman champions of China, heroes with names like The Accomplished Perfect Physician, Thundermind, The August General in Iron, and the Shaolin Robot. This series finds China under assault by what seems to be their ancient gods. Can the Great Ten stop the assault and unravel the mystery behind the gods' return? Each issue has been a spotlight piece for a member of the team, and herein we encounter the Seven Deadly Brothers, a warrior cursed with complete mastery of all the forms of Kung-Fu. . .and living seven lives simultaneously whether he's whole or split into his component selves. Writer Tony Bedard has been knocking his work out of the park on books like TGT and R.E.B.E.L.S. (another book you should be reading or you're missing out), and the art by Scott MacDaniel actually works with the stylized and fantastic setting where I've found it a bit of a poor fit in other comics. If you want a self-contained, enjoyable read with a lot of crazy action and crazier concepts, you'd do well to give this series a look. Get it now while you can; only three(grrr. . .two really thanks to executive meddling) issues remain in the series limited run and I'd be very, very surprised to see it collected in trade.






SIF #1: The Lady Sif, warrior maiden of Norse Mythology, has had a rough time of it lately over in Marvel Comics. A plot by Loki had him usurping her body and placing her mind in the body of a cancer patient. Thor discovered the ruse and restored her to her true form, but the outright theft of your own body isn't something you just get over. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick explores the consequences of some of J. Michael Stracynski's writings on Thor's title, and deals with a warrior woman seeking to recover her confidence and personal power in the wake of so potent and personal a violation. Of course, at the same time she's also fighting aliens possessed by a parasite that've taken over an alien space-horse's sentient starship, so it's not a complete gloomfest. Ryan Stegman's pencils really mix the world of contemporary Broxton, Oklahoma with the outer space shenanigan with style and aplomb, and the story left me entertained enough to want to see this team revisit Sif as she finds her place on Earth and Asgard alike. An entertaining enough one-shot comic, though the cover does the character a bit of a disservice by placing her in the shortest short-shorts I've ever seen. But if that's the most I can quibble about, we're doing all right.

That's all I've got for now. More as I work to slay the beast that is my To-Read pile.

Stac

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

7:32PM - Bullet Points 2: The Quickening.

All right, gradually whittling down my To-Read pile, here's what I've been into of late:

-BATMAN AND ROBIN #11: Up until Grant Morrison began his mad little romp with Dick Grayson as Batman and Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son Damian Wayne as Robin, I'd largely given up on the Batman books. I'm sure they were entertaining, but the depiction of Batman as Batgod over the years had worn down my enthusiasm for the character's comicbook adventures. Yes, I'm aware that Batman is a grim avenger out to get justice from the criminal element for the death of his parents and their deaths haunt him and he must walk alone without emotional ties a man of strengthblahblahblahblahBLAH. The apathy reached it's apex with the release of Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT which (hold on, put the pitchforks and torches down) while an amazing film and a powerful emotional study of both a man and city on the brink, wasn't really a lot of what I'd call fun. There's a reason I gravitate more toward the depiction of Batman in series like Batman: The Brave and the Bold these days: I'm tired of the sturm und drang when it comes to superheroes. What's wrong with good triumphing over evil while having a little fun in the process? That I think is what Grant Morrison gets. While sometimes he can wander far, far off the beaten path while on his peyote-induced visionquests dictated to him by the Lord High Space Coyote, when he's on the ball (and on his meds) Morrison gets superheroes. He knows that their adventures are larger than life, often almost but not quite silly, and that the primary mandate should be entertainment. His portrayal of Dick Grayson, the former high-flying boy wonder and longtime hero in his own right stepping into the role of the Dark Knight and honoring his mentor while still being his own man is entertaining, and it's just logical. Dick as Batman works, and I don't want him sent back to the second tier when Bruce Wayne returns. Damian Wayne is a little bastard, an arrogant little punk who I initially felt deserved a good smack to the mouth, but over the course of this series he's grown on me, and I like the interplay between the more laid back, slightly jocular Batman and his grim, ass-kicking, all-business Robin. Alfred is more than a mere gentleman's gentleman here; he's the anchor, doing his best to be a father figure to both heirs to the legacy. The book has three stars really, but BATMAN AND ROBIN AND ALFRED doesn't really have the same panache. This issue kicks off The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, and with the aid of masked detective Sexton Blake (whom Damian finds a little. . .familiar), the clues left by the time-lost Bruce Wayne are beginning to be unearthed. Also, a long-lost member of the Wayne family is set to make his own comeback, and he's not a very nice man at all. As I said, when Morrison is on point he knows how to bring the thunder, and the issue crackles with an enthusiasm that can't be denied. Andy Clarke's work on pencils is very good, a nice mix of the initial Quitely style with a hint of Aparo. I hope he's on board for the long haul. An entertaining book that I initally gravitated toward because of two words (flying batmobile), Batman and Robin is easily one of the few reasons I return to DC month after month. Oh, and what's better than a flying batmobile? A flying batmobile piloted by Alfred. Check it out.

-DOOMWAR #3: Hey, Doctor Doom is back! Latveria must've recalled that faulty Doombot taking orders from a glorified gangster/third-tier supervillain because this is the premier villain of the Marvel universe doing what he does best: terrorizing the planet. Doom has invaded Wakanda, home of the Black Panther and is out to get it's unique vibranium ore to forward his own plans for a world entirely under his rule. The new Black Panther and King T'Challa (the former Black Panther and the current version's brother) have called upon a band of heroes from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men to aid the King in liberating his land and saving his queen, Storm, from Doom's clutches. Okay, I have no idea who Jonathan Mayberry is, but this guy has given Doom his balls back. This is the Doctor Doom of the John Byrne era, the apex of arrogant assuredness in the belief that his way will provide a better future for all men and women. . .under his immortal and eternal rule. Scott Eaton's art provides widescreen action that puts you in the midst of a nation in chaos, and his depiction of Doom makes Darth Vader look like a 98-pound asthmatic. I will not give away this issue's twist, but it is so. Good. So good, that I grinned from ear to ear when this book was finished. If you aren't reading this book you're missing the best portrayal of the bad doctor to come down the pike in twenty years.






-THE SPIRIT #1: After the horrible, horrible, ho-rib-ble experience of watching Frank Miller's cinmatic excrement I had little desire to look upon anything based upon Will Eisner's classic creation. Nothing could wash the reeking filth of that corruption clean. But it was part of DC's new First Wave line of pulp-themed and inspired books, and looking at the pedigree (written by Xenozoic Tales creator Mark Schultz, with a backup by Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz) I girded my loins, handed my brother my hard-earned cash and say down with the title. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The book was neither insipid nor trite, but an entertaining romp that reintroduces us to the world of Denny Colt and Central City without overstaying it's welcome. The art by Moritat is stylized and fresh, with some nice little Eisnerian touches that I found fun. Schultz gets the character, and I like his rueful, slightly cynical voice as he has Denny narrate to us in the best gumshoe tradition. The backup by O'Neil and Sienkiewicz is very much an Eisner pastiche, and it has a nice twist ending in the classic Spirit style. If you've got a little money left over after buying the latest round of crossovers you could do worse than to pick this up as a fun little breath of fresh air. I say give it a look.





-GREEN HORNET YEAR ONE #2: I've been a fan of The Green Hornet since I was a kid, listening to C100FM's Theater of the Mind broadcasts of the classic radio program from the '30s. The Green Hornet and Kato were as easily accepted as superheroes to my young mind as the dynamic duo of DC, and I remember picking up the NOW Comics adventures of the emerald enemy of evil with enthusiasm. When I heard that Dynamite would be producing both the contemporary, Kevin Smith penned version of the character as well as the classic version from the early 20th century, I was in like Flynn. Sadly though. . .this book qualifies as another 'good but not great' for me. Matt Wagner has proven in the past that he can write the period adventures of a masked hero (if you haven't read his excellent work with Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis on Vertigo's SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER you missed out big time), but here. . .mm. It's a Year One book, which frankly I'm scratching my head over. I guess we need to explain who the Hornet is, but couldn't we do that during an actual adventure? It makes me yearn for the days when comics had that little blurb above the title page detailing the protagonist's mission statement then launching right into the action. The book is clearly meant to be The Story Behind The Legend. . .but I don't want that. I don't need it. I want the Green Hornet and Kato at the height of their powers being badass. I don't need to see how they got into the groove. I'm reasonably sure I can put that together for myself, thanks. The art by Aaron Campbell is another problem as well. . .it feels muddy and too contemporary. This art style might work for something like NEW AVENGERS, but a pulp story needs an artist whose got a pulp mentality, a feel for the work. It's not gelling for me. The book is competently done and if you're a newcomer to the Hornet mythos I suppose you might find it fun. But for $3.99 US a pop, I don't want to pay for 'good'. I want Great. Skip it and try SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL 1: THE TARANTULA.




-THE WARLORD #13: This. . .this one will be brief. The pain of loss is still healing. I have got to give Mike Grell his due; I legitimately did not see issue #12 of this title coming. Within the span of about 22 pages plus ads Grell took everything we found comfortable and nostalgic about the title and threw it into a garbage disposal. Simply put, he changed the game. There's a new Warlord in town, an event which takes the book's previous status quo and flips it upside down, and an entirely new twist on what we've been used to. It's gut-wrenching, it's painful, and it's awesome beyond the telling of it. If DC truly is planning to end this series with issue eighteen then they are fools, and will be sent by Lo Pan to the Hell Where Fools Are Skinned Alive. I've already reviewed the DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS WARLORD VOL 1 elsewhere , but simply put it's one of the best grindhouse movies the '70s never saw made. Buy this book and buy it quick, because all too often in this industry what's original and fun gets buried beneath the chaff.


That's all for now, more as the To-Read pile gets smote.

Stac

Current mood: amused

Sunday, May 9, 2010

12:51AM - Bullet Points: Thoughts in brief on the Comics I've been reading.






-DOC SAVAGE #1: Ehhhhh. . .not so good. Paul Malmont wrote THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, which rocks on toast but it's painfully clear in some of the staging and dialogue choices that as a comicbook writer, he makes a helluva dancer. Howard Porter's art--while amazing with contemporary fare--feels a bit too contemporary with something like DOC, which is clearly trying to straddle a pseudo-pulp/Batman: The Animated Series feel. The Justice Inc. story was a bit better, but I'm here for Doc Savage, not Richard Benson. Simply put, when the best item to come out of the issue is the Zatanna preview, we got a problem.








-MAGOG #8: As part of my effort to show I can embrace the new and different I gave reading MAGOG a try. The eponymous anti-hero spun out of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's quite excellent KINGDOM COME as the epitome of a brand of darker-edged 'heroes' that were little better than the scum they were fighting, until Superman's return to the scene inspired the Old Guard to rally and show the arrogant demigods what being a hero truly meant. Magog is really little more than a kinda-cool looking piece of visual parody(he's designed as pretty much a walking piece of snark against the Rob Liefeldian excesses of '90s superhero design), but as a potential series lead? There's not much to work with. Recently Geoff Johns (God-Emperor of DC Comics) decided to take the concept of Magog and build a full-fledged character during his run on JSA. Intrigued by the notion of longtime favorite writer Keith Giffen and penciller Howard Porter teaming up on an 'anti-hero' book, I decided to shop outside my normal comfort zone of talking apes, jetpacks and fins to take a walk on the darker side of the street. Truth be told, after eight issues I'm thinking of pulling the ripcord. The series is by no means wretched, it's just kind of. . .there. There's no real hook to it, apart from Magog(aka Lance Corporal David Reid) going John McClane on bad guys while having an internal monlogue about how silly most superheroes are with their outdated codes of conduct. While that'd be fun for a mini-series or one-shot, I can't really say it's worth your hard-earned comicbook dollar. There's the seed of a decent series in here, and Porter's art is well done but yeah. . .no pop here either. Let me put it to you this way; I've been readin this book for eight issues and I had to consult Wikipedia to find his real name. A fun visual? Yeah. Memorable? Not so much.





-R.E.B.E.L.S. #15: Buried beneath the miasma of MegaCrossovers That Will Change Things Forever, R.E.B.E.L.S. is easily one of the three best continuing series DC is putting out right now (THE WARLORD and BATMAN AND ROBIN filling out the other two slots). It's epic space opera with a band of unlikely misfits struggling to survive in the depths of space against nigh-unbeatable foes. It's the best of Star Wars, Farscape, and Firefly with a twist of superhero convention and scale. This issue makes for a suitable jumping on point as the series takes a breath between storylines, and the introduction of Starfire(the eye-candy that walks like a woman) is a pretty significant development, as writer Tony Bedard has this unlikely group of cosmic heroes come to terms with the fallout of their actions to liberate the Vega sector from the parasitic minions of Starro the Conqueror. Claude St. Aubrin and Scott Hana really cut loose with a mixture of cool visuals that make the various aliens and individuals come alive. It's fun, fast paced, and there's not a single Green Lantern in si--




--God dammit.



S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: Jonathan Hickman is one of those writers who came out of nowhere who just plain gets superhero comics; what they were and what they can be. Here we see him craft the history of Marvel's uber-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. as not only a globetrotting band of spies and soldiers but as a conspiracy that has woven it's strands from ancient Egypt through historical China, Florence, and Rome. A conspiracy driven to protect the world and ensure that it ends at it's proper time and not before. Hickman does a nice job of blending the historical romance with the scope and span of the Marvel Universe and the mix of influences is entertaining as all get-out. A story about the triumph of human ingeniuty and the victory of knowledge over ignorance (it can't be a coincidence that this story's 'contemporary' setting is the 1950s) that presents a heroic front whilst hinting at the darker shadows of a conspiracy is provacative and holds the reader's attention until the last page, which ends on a cliffhanger that had me grinning ear to ear. Da Vinci as the Tony Stark of his era? Gallileo vs. Galactus? Celestials running amuck in Ancient China? Yeah, you pretty much need to get on board with this book. It's awesome, new-reader friendly, and just plain fun in a way most comics just aren't anymore.

That's all for now. More as I make my way through my To-Read pile.

Stac

Current mood: thoughtful

Saturday, May 8, 2010

12:38AM - Writer's Dojo #4: Writer's Block.



"The easiest thing to do on earth is not write."
(William Goldman)

Yep. Talkin' about writer's block this time. Yessir. This is me, sitting down to talk to you about that most dreaded of writer pitfalls, and how ironically enough it might be to your benefit to be blocked.

Writer's block is defined as follows:

Writer's Block –noun
a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

The act of writing is a hell of a lot of fun. You're creating something entirely new from whole cloth, unearthing something from the depths of your subconscious mind that no one has ever seen before. It's a heady experience, and when it's going well it has a literal, physical feeling. I've felt when it's going well, that little thrum throughout the whole of my being as I realize I'm creating. It's amazing stuff. And then one day, or evening, you sit down at your desk, you take out your pen or boot up your word processor, you wiggle your fingers like that cartoon pianist you saw that one time on looney tunes, you reach down and. . .

Nothing. Crickets. The echo of a vast, empty cave.

Sometimes it's due to circumstance; we all have off days, or we're sick or travelling and our focus isn't what it could be. But when one day bleeds into another bleeds into another and you've got absolutely nothing, what starts as a minor hink in your work schedule becomes something else entirely, something that can utterly terrify the aspiring artist and fill them with that nameless dread, that utter certainty. It was a fluke. It's over. There's nothing left to say. The well's run dry. And as much fun as just dealing with the sudden blockage is, the fear is what will ultimately cripple you if you let it.

We each have something to say, something that's uniquely our own. Whether that expression comes through writing fiction, or through art, or dance, or even a well thought out piece of non-fiction posted to a blog, that expression has merit. The trouble is that--sooner or later--we come to the blank page or the empty screen, face the rows of lines stretching off into infinity or that blinking cursor amidst the vast plain of white space and we just freeze. Anxiety grips us, unreasonable expectation seizes us and holds us prisoner to standards and ideals that we can't possibly hope to attain, at least not right away. How do we work past this? How do we fight something that is, really, ourselves? I've been giving it some thought lately and here are a few ideas off the cuff to help the process of erosion along when dealing with writer's block:

1. Examine why you're blocked: I'm a natural daydreamer, a writer who definitely views writing as directed play. If I had to sit down and examine the moments I was most blocked up critically, I'd have to say the real reason I don't get anything done in those instances is the work starts to feel less like play and more like a chore. And nothing is guaranteed to have my subconscious dig in its heels and cross its arms in stubborn refusal to budge like the notion of Work. With this in mind, I can examine why I'm feeling it's a chore and ways to try and make it more enjoyable for myself.

Taking a step back from your work and examining how it makes you feel can also be an important step forward. Examine why you're blocked. Could it be because that last paragraph you were on feels like the end of the story? If that's the case, could it be expanded into a novella, maybe even a full novel? Examine the work and your feelings toward it. Chances are you know why things have slowed down, even if you haven't acknowledged it consciously yet.

2. A secret identity: Okay, so you're not going to go out and fight crime or anything but how about trying a pseudonym? This can work wonders to ease performance anxiety about writing and it can do a lot to spice things up in the study. While you've never written a Western in your life, Tex Jenkins was born on a cattle drive and busts broncos like they're going out of style. Or a horror story might be well out of your wheelhouse but for James Eldritch they're par for the course. Think of it as equal parts roleplaying and writing, trying on a completely new persona and just cutting loose in ways your regular writing self never would. You might find the sudden rush of ideas and play lead to something substantial. At the very least it'll help you prove to yourself that you can write if you get out of your own way.

3. A schedule: I covered this in my first WD segment, but a solid schedule can go a long way toward getting your mind geared up for writing. If you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that between the hours of 11pm-1am your butt is in a chair scribbling away, your mind and creative juices will sync gradually to accommodate that time frame. And bear in mind that as long as you're writing, it's a victory. A paragraph or a page, as long as you've got something down for that day, it's a step forward.

4. Read: Stephen King wrote in his excellent work On Writing (which if you don't have you should get for an examination of a master discussing the craft) that there are two key things a writer needs to do: read a lot and write a lot. If you find that you absolutely, positively have got nothing, maybe try picking up that paperback you bought a couple months back but haven't gotten the chance to read of late. You've got some time squirrelled away now, right? No sense in letting it go to complete waste. Sit in front of the notepad or the screen with a good book and let someone else do the driving for a while. If a passage strikes you as particularly striking, try transcribing it. Examine how it that passage works from top to bottom as you replicate the author's beats on your own keyboard and notepad. Hunter S. Thompson transcribed whole passages from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby on his quest to become a better author. Reading is the rain that keeps the metal soil nice and arable. Read everything you can, anything you can. Maybe even pull out a really bad book and read it, if for no other reason than to throw down the 'I can do better than that!' gauntlet. Read, and remember why it is you want to get into this racket in the first place.

5. Relax: Don't take it so seriously. Remember to try and find the joy within the work, and remember to put expectation, as well as what you feel the reaction of others might be on a high shelf in the back of your mind and leave it there until the day's work is done. It won't always be easy, as that mental image of Writerly Perfection is a hard one to shake. But just remember that as much as you may grapple with writer's block and the demons of self-doubt, chances are good your favorite author has too. As with all things, persistence will trump talent eventually. It's in finding the mix that you can go from minor to major, from amateur to professional.

Until next time, in the words of Red Green, keep your stick on the ice.

Stac

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

6:42AM - Warlord #12 - A brief review.



. . .take it away Darth. . .



Stac

Current mood: depressed

Thursday, April 29, 2010

4:58AM - OH MY GOD YES.

YES YES YES

I may be slightly excited.

ETA: All right, let me explain: After the balloon goes up and the world is left an iiradiated wasteland with mutants and giant monsters galore, a group of heroic scientists operating out of an underground complex wear medieval-looking armor and roam the countryside in defense of the remaining few bastions of civilization. Riding giant dalmatians.
Dear God, I want it right. Now.

Current mood: excited

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

4:04AM - Nocturnal Lunacy: The Essential Moon Knight Review.

'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.' ~Bible: Romans

Stop me if any of the following sounds a bit familiar: A wealthy millionaire, living in an opulent mansion on the outskirts of a major metropolitan city, wages a nightly war on crime and corruption by donning a cloak, going forth with the aid of his European man-friday to bring justice to the mean streets in a one-man war on crime. All of this is true of Marc Spector, the man known as Moon Knight. . .but it's not quite as damning a fit as you might think. Yes, Moon Knight does resemble a certain bat-themed hero from the city of Gotham, but scratch the surface and you find a much more interesting character than any mere knock-off.

In the beginning Moon Knight was little more than a cool visual, a one-off antagonist in Marvel's horror comic Werewolf By Night. Contracted by a mysterious Committee to bring in the eponymous hero of the book, Moon Knight went on to develop something of a growing fan following, enough to warrant a few one-off stories in Marvel Spotlight, and eventually his own backup feature in The Hulk's color magazine back during the peak of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferigno popularity. Under the pen of writer Doug Moench and the amazing pencils of Bill Sienkiewicz, the back-up feature would set the tone for the character's backstory, and eventually lead to the establishment of his own monthly series. The closest parallel I can bring you from contemporary pop culture would be the character of the bounty hunter Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back. What would start out as little more than a striking background image would eventually develop layers that made him a unique and rich character all his own.

Marc Spector is not a nice man. A paid mercenary and soldier for hire, he and his comrade in arms Jean-Paul DuChamp (whom he affectionately calls 'Frenchie') come into the employ of a ruthless soldier of fortune named Raoul Bushman. Coming across an archealogical expedition led by Doctor Peter Alraune and his daughter Marlene, Bushman decides the temple will provide an ample source of loot and plans to plunder it. Spector reaches his breaking point after Bushman murders Dr. Alraune, challenging him to single combat. It's a fight that leaves Spector a beaten, bloody mess. Wandering the desert wounded and without water, he's found by worshippers of the temple's deity and brought to the site. There, laying on the dirt-floor of a temple centuries old Marc Spector's heart stops. He dies. . .and is reborn beneath the statue of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. Donning himself in an ivory cloak Spector goes forth and defeats Bushman, this time seemingly a great deal more formidable than he was before. Returning to America with Marlene, Frenchie, and the statue of Khonshu, Marc becomes a super-hero. Utilizing the money gained from his years as a mercenary he purchases an elegant manor on the outskirts of Manhattan, creating the identity of millionaire playboy Steven Grant to better mingle amidst high society. To keep his ear close to the streets he crafts another identity, that of New York cabbie Jake Lockley. One man suddenly becomes four men as our stage is set: Marc Spector, the mercenary looking for redemption, Steven Grant, the altruistic millionaire who Marlene herself believes is the 'true' identity of the man she's fallen in love with, Jake Lockley, the cabbie and man of the people, and Moon Knight, the masked hero and possible avatar of Khonshu. Which of these identities is the real protagonist? Sometimes even Spector himself isn't too sure, and as the series progresses those moments of hesitancy and confusion burrow and entrench in his psyche from slight cracks into full-blown fault lines.

You see, that's the real trick of Moon Knight as a character, and as the character is examined in greater depth you begin to understand. Firstly, Batman--while driven--merely pretends to be crazy to provide him with an edge against the criminal element. With Moon Knight, there is a very strong possibility that the man may actually be insane. He believes he owes his life to an ancient god of the moon and vengeance, and has become a warrior acolyte in the name of his god. Batman is a crimefighter. Moon Knight is a warrior-priest. Batman fights for justice, to ensure that what happened to the eight year-old Bruce Wayne never happens to another helpless child. Moon Knight fights for redemption, to atone for the things he did as Marc Spector that he is deeply ashamed of, and to honor the god he feels he owes his life to. Batman is a superhero with pulp trappings, while Moon Knight feels more like a pulp hero with superhero trappings.

This first essentials volume introduces us to the character, and provides a fascinating look at how a concept like Moon Knight develops. From his origin as a one-off mercenary created by a criminal group to the eventual retcon of it all being a set-up by Marc and Frenchie, to the development of the character's backstory and his motivation for his nightly crusade, it's fascinating to watch Moench and Siekiewicz work, adding layer upon layer to the character until what results is an amazing mixture of concepts and ideas that come together in a whole that provides for an entertaining and surprising read. Those that feel that Moon Knight is little more than a dark knight doppelganger would do well to give this volume a look.

The character has undergone something of a second renaissance these days, with a recent series penned by writer Charlie Huston detailing the hero's return after a long absence, as well as further exploration of the character as a near-madman clinging to the edge of sanity by his fingernails. Artist David Finch made the book's visuals stunning stuff, and The Bottom is a favorite series of mine and one I point most of my friends to if they want something that has as much grit and assorted jaw-dropping amazement as Nolan's The Dark Knight. With Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1, we see the beginnings of the character, the seeds planted that took a simple mercenary antagonist and forged him into a character that people are still telling stories about 34 years later. Recommended.

Stac

Current mood: amused

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

3:26AM - Enter the (Young) Dragon: The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 Review


'The dance of battle is always played to the same impatient rhythm. What begins in a surge of violent motion is always reduced to the perfectly still.'~ Sun Tzu

The Martial Arts. A road to better awareness of the self, the seamless blend of mind and body moving as one in perfect sync, ancient wisdom handed down to provide the means to better the soul and broaden the horizons. Oh, and whip-kick someone in the face in one of the sickest things I have ever seen.

Let's face it, most people will never be quite on book with what the founders of styles like Kung-Fu or Karate or Aikido were trying to impart through their teachings, but we see the results in our popular media and find it to be, in the more common parlance, utterly badass. Martial Arts films still remain a draw at the box office, and as Batman: Arkham Asylum has clearly proven computer scientists are hard at work devising new and effective methods of conveying the giddy feeling of punching someone in the trachea, rearing back, and then driving your boot directly into their solar plexus sending them hurtling into a concrete wall. Simply put, the Martial Arts remains a keen source of entertainment for audiences everywhere. It was as true in the 1970s in the grindhouse theatres as it is today on the DVD shelves of your local Blockbuster.

One thing I absolutely, positively adore Marvel Comics for is it's ability to do it's best to stay current with trends in popular culture. It may not be as true now as it was then, but in the 1970s there was a feeling of mad science to a lot of Marvel's books. Where monsters were big, such as the Hammer Horror films, Marvel resurrected (heh) it's monster comics with titles like Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, Zombie, and Man-Thing. When post-apocalyptic dystopian futures were the rage, enter Marvel's Amazing Adventures, featuring the exploits of Killraven amidst the ruins of civilization in the wake of the second invasion from Mars. And when Marvel grew hip to the growing popularity of Kung-Fu Flicks, they immediately jumped in with both feet. Shang-Chi, the heroic son of Sax Rohmer's epic villain Fu Manchu, soon became the star of his own book with The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu. Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu was the second such title, but another character took the stage in Marvel Premiere #15 in May of 1974, one who has endured to this day as perhaps one of the Marvel Universe's deadliest warriors: Daniel Rand, the Iron Fist!

Daniel Rand is the son of a wealthy Industrialist, Wendell Rand. Together with his mother Heather and partner Harold Meachum, the three seek a mystical site that Wendell once visited years ago, the fabled city of K'un L'un in the Tibetan mountains. En route Harold Meachum seizes an opportunity to murder Wendell and attempts to convince Heather--whom he has always loved--to come with him back to civilization. Heather rejects him and mother and son fight to survive amidst the harsh cold and the savage animals of the mountain range. Heather gives her life valiantly to save her son and young Daniel finds himself taken in by the monks of the ancient city, a site that fades into and out of our reality every ten years.

Taken in by the warrior-monks, young Daniel is taught by the legendary martial arts instructor Lei Kung the Thunderer, who teaches him mastery of the martial arts. A rare honor is bestowed him as Daniel is given the rare chance to obtain the power of the Iron Fist by defeating the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying in ritual combat. Yes, Shou-Lao is an actual dragon, who must guard the still pulsing fiery heart that had been torn from his chest countless eons ago. During the battle Daniel's chest is branded by the Scar of Shou-Lao, and in his defeat of the dragon he staggers to the brazier containing the heart and plunges his hands in, granting him the power to channel his living essence or Chi into his fist until it becomes. . .like unto a thing of IRON!

Have I mentioned lately that I love comics? It bears repetition.

Passing his final test with his newfound power, Daniel prepares to re-enter the world of man as K'un L'un rematerialized onto the terrestrial plane. Leaving the fabled city, the Young Dragon seeks the man who killed his parents, determined to exact justice for their murder and see the guilty punished. Does he succeed? Yes and no.

Created by the amazing team of writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, Iron Fist went on from his humble beginnings to become one of the premier martial arts heroes of the '70s. Even when the Kung-Fu boom began to fade he was paired with Blaxploitation-themed hero Luke Cage to become part of the crimefighter/mercenary duo of Power Man & Iron Fist. The character has always been a cult favorite, and recently had a resurgence in the spotlight thanks to titles like New Avengers, spinning off into a title all his own in The Immortal Iron Fist written by the killer team of Ed Brudbaker and Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, which played with the mythology to delicious effect. The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 features work from writers like Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Doug Moench, and then Chris Claremont. The art chores went through a number of hands from Kane's skilled pen through to such luminaries as Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, and Pat Broderick before eventually introducing us to some of the earliest work by artist (later artist-writer) John Byrne. This first meeting of two such amazing talents would prove lightning in a bottle, and their earliest work together shows the initial sparks that would give way to the bonfire.

My enthusiasm for the work is as obvious as it is unabashed, and there are a metric ton of things I'm biting my cheek not to spoil for you; from battles with ninjas to cultists to supervillains alike. The inevitable battle betwixt the Fist of K'un L'un and a certain armored Avenger, the first meeting between Iron Fist and Power Man and the story threads that lead to an amazing showdown at the end of his initial title which is just pump your fist awesome. Were the Iron Fist stories meant to be ruminations on power and responsibility and the place of the individual in society and the inevitable letdown of high ideals versus modern cynicism? Of course not. They were meant to be entertaining adventure stories that did exactly what was promised on the tin; Kung-Fu action in the Merry Marvel Manner. And boy howdy did these talented men deliver on the promise. With 584 pages of black and white adventure for about $16.99, this book--like most of the Essentials line--is an amusement park's worth of pure reading fun that's both easy on the wallet and guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment. Recommended most highly.

Stac

Current mood: amused

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3:37AM - Batman for Quaker Oats.

'Hello, I'm Batman, World's Greatest Detective and professional badass. Before I spend an evening punching criminal scum in the soul, I enjoy a hearty bowl of Quaker Oatmeal. It provides me with the nutrients I need to bring justice to the mean streets of Gotham, and it can help you get through your busy days on the go. With such down-home goodness, it'd be downright criminal not to enjoy a bowl.

And you know what I do to criminals.'


(BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE May 12, 2010.)

Current mood: amused

2:01AM - Wisdom.

Could there be a Chris Nolan-helmed vehicle that could contain the awesome of a pirate batman, replete with bat-pommelled cutlass and bandoleer-style utility belt?

No.

No there really, really couldn't.

BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE drops May 12, 2010. Prepare thyself.

Current mood: amused

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2:07AM - Boba Fett mows his lawn.


Paying him a dollar every hour for the privilege.

Current mood: amused

Monday, March 29, 2010

5:17AM - The Old Fan.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum; I'm feeling a lot less bitter and jaded about comics in general these days. Maybe it's reading all these Marvel Essential and DC Showcase trades(we'll be talking about them in April. Boy howdy will we be talking about them), but there's a feeling of optimism and fun in me in regards to my hobby that I haven't felt in a while.

It's been said by my friends that the only things I enjoy about comics are that they're out once a month and in color. It's a funny little bit of humor between friends, but I'll admit that it's a role that I don't relish. I'm the Old Fan, the one who isn't happy with all the newfangled changes and whatnot and things were better back in my day and we didn't hold to all these scary new ideas and we read our floppies with a slurpie and a smile and we liked it! We lovvvved it!

It's a funny bit to be sure, but is it really anyone you'd want to be? Hell no. Old Fan's no fun. Old Fan is a killjoy and a seething cauldron of Bitter. Nobody wants to be the spectre at the banquet.

I'm passionate about superhero comics, this is true. I wear my love of the genre on my sleeve and make no apologies for it. But at the same time I don't think I should have to go to something I don't find myself all that interested in, which is what I am when it comes to the current crossover crop. It's not that I feel they're bad per se, though I do tend to riff off their elements that I find amusingly irritating (time bullets, the death/gore parade, assorted wheel-spinning), it's just that I'm tired of playing keep-up with the whole big show all the time. It seems these days that you can't just appreciate a single title very much anymore, everything seems geared toward pumping out the crossover issues and the multi-part storylines resolved in other titles and you have to buy this book because herein everything is explained and nothing will be the same again evar(until the next time)! Simply put I began to feel my hobby becoming kind of a second job, and I didn't get down with that. I go to comics for one key factor, one essential element that I absolutely, positively must have: escapism.

A recent article over at Comic Book Resources made me think about my position on certain storyline and moves by the Big Two. If comics truly are catering to me as the graying audience, why is it that I feel more ostracized than ever? Shouldn't I be happy that everything is all about me and my desire for nostalgia trips? Well I'm not. Let me explain why.

The thing I miss about the comics of my youth aren't the fact that they were about the minutiae of the hero's background or why this is the way it is when it's really about this, we just never talked about it. . .until now(DUN DUN DUN)! What I liked about the period of comics I grew up reading was that things were changing. Barry Allen died and Wally West became the Flash. Peter Parker went from a struggling college kid to a professional photographer and husband with his own book published featuring his Spider-Man photos. Hal Jordan got older and more seasoned and was working to pass the torch to the next generation of Green Lanterns. Superman was re-energized as a dynamic character and less of Your Dad's Superhero. It was in the wake of Crisis On Infinite Earths (an attempt by DC to settle it's past decisively before moving into the present) that I went from being a kid who read comics to a comics fan. It was in those moments of change and transition that I came to love the genre with a passionate (some might say too passionate) intensity that continues unabated through to the present.

These days I don't really get that feeling of forward momentum or change. Old characters are coming back, newer and more original takes get shelved, and any outright new characters are largely brushed aside in favor of the Tried 'n True. While I still read books from the Big Two (Power Girl, Warlord, Magog on the DC side, Hercules, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova on the Marvel) I by and large skip the mainstream titles, where the past is king. I read books like Atomic Robo or Invincible, Savage Dragon or Dynamo 5, where that feeling of movement, of dynamism is still alive to me. Does that make me an old bitter fart? I don't think so. I think it makes me someone who loves what came before, to be sure, but wants that same feeling of moving with the characters through their lives right now. I don't want the past rehashed. Acknowledged yes, embraced for all it's exuberant goofiness most assuredly, but I'm not saying 'Everything after 1989 is crap!' I'm saying that I want that dynamic feeling back in my escapism. That's what makes stuff like Marvel's The Heroic Age and DC'S First Wave line look so inviting. The chance to get in on the ground floor of something new and bold, something exciting. It's an intriguing time, to be sure, one in which storytelling possibility abounds.

Still if they could throw some gorillas with jetpacks in there? Yeah, that'd be good too. Just sayin' is all. . .

Stac

Current mood: contemplative

Sunday, March 21, 2010

7:11PM - Dispatches from the Desert of the Real #1: The bus.


All right this isn't my normal comicbook ramblings and ravings and for that I apologize, but I had to get his out somewhere before memory fades and I lose all track of yet another instance in life that struck me surreal as all hell.

See, my life has these moments. Not good moments per se, nor even bad, but what they can be called is weird. Really, really weird. And today certainly qualifies as one of the stranger ones I've had in a while. Let me set the scene for you.

I work night shifts at an office in the downtown core. Parking underground costs money I do not wish to spend, and parking on the street just gets me paranoid so I've settled on the compromise of public transit. After I shower, dress, and grab a snack I take up my Bag of Holding, slip the iPod on and head down to the corner bus stop to catch my ride to work. A simple enough routine, though sometimes complicated by the usual vagaries of public transportation. Today was a bit different however, as I'd lent my iPod to my brother on Friday for his night shift job so he could listen to some tunes and podcasts, and I hadn't yet called to collect it. I was just going to hop the bus and ride, maybe read one of my Marvel Comics Essentials trades on the way to work, so I didn't think anything of it.

I get to the corner stop and begin to wait, a few other folk milling about next to the glass enclosure on the corner. As I do a young woman ambles up towards me, conversing on a cell phone. Now please understand, I am no eavesdropper. It's never my intent to listen in on someone's conversation. For the most part I was drifting along in my day to day haze of thought, thinking about how cool a Michael Jai White/Tony Jaa Power Man & Iron Fist movie would be and who the villain would be, when gradually the conversation began to impose itself on my thought processes. This woman was not speaking at a private, semi-murmur 'I'm-in-a-public-place-and-am-talking-about-private-stuff' tone. She was at her normal speaking voice, which carried quite well.

Over the course of (her side) of the conversation I learned that her friend Mary was in jail. Apparently there'd been a bit of a fracas with the local constabulary and 'the crazy bitch' was now locked up in jail. Frankly she'd seen the writing on the wall for some time, as Mary had her issues with certain controlled substances and a boyfriend that was, apparently 'a total psycho'. Details of the arrest (learned second-hand from a friend of a friend) were discussed, as well as the possibility of her being out on bail. All this said without a trace of self-consciousness, not even a casual look over the shoulder to see if anyone might be listening in. My eyes remained locked up the street for some sign of the bus, which gradually approached. I got on board and prepared for a quieter ride, as surely the confines of the bus would have her speak at a reduced volume.

Apparently not.

As the bus ride began the topic began to gradually shift to another topic, one in which the young lady and her friend began to discuss something. . .else. It took my sleep-addled brain a few moments to process the babble, but gradually it became clear.

". . .well how long does he usually last. . .?" a giggle.

". . .it must be because you're tight."

For a moment my brain had nothing. Then the little troll that handles my perversion got back from his coffee break and connected the dots for me. Oh shit. There's no way. There's no way they're talking about--

'. . .you're on birth control right? At least tell me you're on birth control."

--yep, they're talking about sex all right. Sex. On a public bus. Right across the aisle from me. With all the Nimoyian stamina I can muster from my tired frame I somehow manage to lock my facial features into a neutral expression.

". . .well the pill, the pill's okay but it makes you fat. I swear. I seen a couple of my friends take it and they kinda ballooned. Me, I'm on the patch. It's making me thinner and my boobs bigger. . .yeah, my boobs are huge now."

I thank JesusAllahBuddha that I decided not to crack open the Red Bull in my bag, for I most assuredly would have done a spit-take all over the back of the head of the sweet-looking older woman sitting in front of me. Again, this woman is making no effort to conceal her conversation. As far as she's concerned, the contents of this phone call are as safe and secure as that of a church confessional, as though some bubble of inaudibility is trailing her and ensuring that none of us can hear her speaking at a normal tone of volume within a confined space.

". . .hm? Oh, about a 34C now. Getting bigger too. What's the bra size after C?"

I am dying. I am literally dying. I run a hand along my mouth, desperately trying to hold on. I share a glimpse with a woman sitting across the aisle from me and we both exchange a single telepathic message of 'What. The. Fuck?' I'm torn between my desire for decorum and my morbid curiosity to see just how far this can go.

". . .dude, dude, you totally need to look after that shit. You can't be having a kid that has like sixteen years between you. You need it to be like eighteen, twenty, maybe thirty years. . .dude I'm 19." that last said with the conviction of a veteran of a thousand psychic wars.

I sit there, gobsmacked, shaking my head a little as the bus comes to a stop. She rises, and walks out the door, continuing to hold court with her friend and talking up the street as she walks on and the bus pulls away from the curb. For a brief moment in time I looked through a window into an entirely different world, one that is as alien to my way of thinking as the sands of Tatooine or Barsoom. It was amazing, it was astounding, and most of all it was goddamnned weird.

This is my life. God but I love it so.

Stac

Current mood: amused

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

9:07PM - Sleepy.



I just got back from the Emerald City Comic Con a few days ago and I do plan to talk about it, but the need to write is currently buried beneath the strain of adjusting my sleep schedule twice within the span of a week and working at my 'real' job. Content to come soon, promise. As a teaser I had an absolute blast at the con, a great time had with friends in easily the most pleasant con atmosphere I've ever been in.

Talk to you soon,

Stac

Current mood: tired

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

3:14AM - And business? Booming.


Buy Essential Iron Fist Volume 1. It's more than worth it.

Stac

Current mood: amused

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