Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Verdict: DCnU 52- Animal Man #1

Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman

One of the unqualified successes of the first week of the new DC Universe has to be Jeff Lemire's reboot/launch of Animal Man. Lemire keeps a sliver of the Grant Morrison "Meta" Animal Man in the shape of an interview between Buddy Baker and Jeff Lemire. See what he did there? Lemire's story is very strong and does a fantastic job of setting the tone of what could be the creepiest and enthralling of all the new titles. It also creates the vibe set by Morrison's run on the title before the Vertigo imprint was created as a home for such types of stories.

Travel Foreman is a superstar in the making. His art previews for this book are what finally convinced me to jump onto this title. While Jeff Lemire has been a name in discussion for a couple of years now, I haven't really warmed to his storytelling. In Foreman, he has a perfect collaborator to drive his type of story forward. Foreman's art evokes many of the greats like Mignola, Keith, Sienkiewithhimer (Sorry, spelling Bill's last name is a nightmare. ) It is beautiful and unnerving.

I have read a review where the reviewer couldn't stand the story or the art, but based on her other reviews of the new 52, it became fairly obvious that she preferred standard, traditional superhero stories with standard, traditional superhero art. She gave it a 2.5 out of 5, whereas I call this one a masterpiece and the kind of book that DC needs to push hard as part of it's resolve to change the landscape of it's own universe.

Verdict: 5 out of 5.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

John Carter Teaser Trailer- Reaction!

If you want to see nerdsplosion, you need look no farther than the newly released John Carter trailer from Disney. I have blogged about John Carter before and my deep abiding love for the series, but this is the first true attempt to bring the world of Barsoom to life with any kind of muscle behind it. We can all forget the Antonio Sabato Jr./Traci Lords version. Better to pretend that one didn't exist.

So the trailer hits and there are a ton of questions. By admission, this is an adaptation. Director Andrew Stanton is bringing us a fully realized, breathing version of the hundreds of art prints by fantasy artists around the world. Keep that in mind. Every piece of art is an interpretation. So it goes with this film. There are plenty of people ready to leave this one on the doorstep and walk away based on a teaser trailer that lasts a minute and a half. Why? Because it doesn't have x y or z. They have already gleaned the entire story from this trailer and have decided it doesn't meet their needs. Excuse me if that sounds a bit ludicrous.

Others bemoan the look of x y and z. Again, this is an interpretation. I think a lot of people get caught up and assume that a film is suddenly new canon for a story that already exists. If you want the original with no changes and no deviations, then the books are there. They remain as accessible and relevant as always, but almost 100 years has passed since Burroughs created the original story. I would be angry if Stanton and company didn't make changes to match the culture we live in now just as Burroughs wrote for the culture of a 1912 society.

Having said all that, I feel cheated. Only a little and it is only because this is a teaser. I want the whole film now. Right now playing on my TV. The fact I have to wait eight more months becomes interminable. The trailer does it's job. It gives you just enough to make you say "What the F&*$ was that" and re-watch for the copious minute details. As I have gotten older my desire for strict adherence to a specific story has wained. I can already tell you that many of the things I saw in the trailer did not exist n the original novel or any of the first three for that matter. Thankfully I don't care. As I said, if I wanted to be slavish I can just reread the books.

Taylor Kitsch is in for a huge career boost if this lives up to it's pedigree. He is a charismatic actor that plays the reflective warrior well. I have only seen Lynn Collins in one movie, so I have no expectations of her, but the trailer shows off some good moments between them. Barsoom doesn't look quite as I expected it to, I thought they would put a bit more red into the shots. I think the flyers look very cool with their huge solar wings shooting off to the sides. I will be curious to see how the costumes look in the final film as I was surprised to see them stick John in his cowboy boots. Frankly, he looks a lot like a certain barbarian getting ready to make his own return to the screen soon.

All in all, I never could have anticipated what I saw. I knew this was an adaptation going in, I had read descriptions online, but seeing it was something else entirely. More than likely we can expect another trailer around the holidays to start fleshing out the story and show off the Tharks in greater detail. John Carter may open in March, but it will still feel like another hundred years to me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The beautiful chaos of 2000AD

Comics are most definitely an art form. If you can call a crucifix in a jar of urine art, then surely you can allow some room for comics, yes? One of my favorite parts about collecting comics and it's art is trolling through the vast amount of back catalogue available and discovering the early days of artist x, or the great inspirations of artist y. I think that beyond all, the early years of 2000AD and Judge Dredd encapsulate the former.

I have had a love for the Judge Dredd character and world since the early nineties. When I first learned about the character, the World was preparing for the all encompassing stink that was the Sylvester Stallone film. To be fair, it sounded pretty cool. I ended up falling into my standard obsessive behavior and began devouring what information I could. In the middle of Oklahoma, the choices were somewhat limited. This was in the dark ages of course before the advent of the internet.

I even have an old drawing I did of Dredd back in the day, which at the time was one of my better attempts. I never really knew the true joy of Dredd and his 2000AD brethren until recently when I started getting the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files from 2000AD and Rebellion press. It is awesome, campy, fanboy love. The stories feel like a lot of other independent comics of the time. There is a fair amount of corny humor and beat you over the head storytelling, but in the middle of all that, you see the writer's working towards some great social satire and the art is off the walls bonkers.

There is a book called, "How to draw comics, the Marvel way" full of the method used by the John's Romita and Buscema. Everything is orderly, dynamic and one of the better references of the time. It's a great intro into how to develop a cinematic feel for the medium. 2000AD acts if books like that never existed. Every page is eye blisteringly full. Characters fall out of panels. Each page is so crowded that at first you have no idea where to look because your brain is processing so much visual stimuli. the stories are all the better for it. It feels like the sprawling, claustrophobic megalopolis that Mega City 1 is supposed to be. You can see the spittle flying from the lips of the villains hurling insults at the Judges and the grim steely visage of Dredd's chin.

The true shame of all of this is that 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine no longer function in this manner. The stories are far more cohesive with modern dialogue, but the art no longer seems to push the boundaries in the fashion of old. It resembles the American comic structure, and it seems lesser for it. Don't get me wrong though, They are still introducing some of the great artists of the future who will leave their impression on the industry for years to come. Part of me still misses the chaotic independent style that permeated Dredd in his earliest adventures.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The love and hate... Assassin's Creed franchise

Love: The concept of Assassin's Creed, the story of Ezio Auditore in Assassin's Creed II, and in AC: Brotherhood.

Hate: The stupid-ass sci-fi plotline shoehorned onto the story to explain how we are watching events in the past unfold.

Let's be clear, I love playing the Assassin's Creed series. The first game was a beautiful broken mess, but it showed amazing potential. The fact that they not only lived up to the potential, but exceeded it for ACII is still astonishing. They also created one of the most charismatic characters in any video game ever. I would play Assassin's Creed All-Star tennis if it had Ezio in it. The very idea of following this character throughout his lifetime and not just over a period of a few days or even a few weeks gave the audience an emotional tether that has only strengthened with the continuation of his story in AC Brotherhood, and soon to be completed in AC Revelations.

I can play the games for hours just running across the rooftops of Italy. Then, I have to finish the game and I get ripped out of the blissful trance I spend my playtime in. The endings of all three Assassin's Creed leave a lot to be desired. Sufficed to say I end up rubbing my eyes and muttering to myself. And that can't be good can it? I think the worst sin of the franchise is loss of momentum once you reach the end. Ubisoft has crafted this engrossing storyline carrying you throughout some of the most important years in Italian history, and then they dump you into an anticlimactic poop puddle.

I don't know what it is about endings that is so hard. It seems like so many games fail to bring all of the game mechanics to play in what should be a test of everything you have learned in your experience with the game. In Assassin's Creed II, we got a fist fight with the Pope that is even sillier than it sounds. Then in Brotherhood, we got a much more thought out boss battle against Cesare Borgias, only to be sent into an extended platforming sequence that was just pointless and boring. All of this mind you, leads you to Assassin's Creed overarching mythology that makes you sit through a somewhat ridiculous story about mankind's alien progenitors. I don't care! I was having such a good time with the political intrigue. Why? Why, must I be forced to play trial and error platforming missions that do nothing but anger me and leave me with a rather weak conclusion?

Obviously, Ubisoft cannot go back and erase the past. But Revelations needs to deliver a satisfying ending for Ezio no matter what plate of steaming you-know-what they leave for us at the end to serve as the true 'ending' of the Apple of Eden storyline. Ultimately the game is no longer about Desmond. I know they have an extended sequence set up to play as Desmond running across a virtual landscape, but Ezio has taken on a life of his own, and is owed a conclusion fitting one of the great heroes in games.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Best worst toy year ever?

2011 will undoubtedly go down in most collector's minds as the year the economic realities hit the hardest. We've seen prices on figures sky rocket across all scales. the 6" scale alone has seen Mattel's Green Lantern Movie Masters hit shelves at a whopping $18.00 a figure. Considering that you throw in a "Collect and Connect" figure built in 14 pieces along with that and you have one of the most expensive mass market toy lines ever produced. While the 3.75" range is holding close at around $10.00, we are still seeing a steady rise as companies like Hasbro keep finding new ways to raise the bar on the industry's most dependable scale.

While it seems the 6" scale is hitting the average collector the hardest, the 1/6 scale collector is being priced right out of house and home. 1/g scale has always been an indulgence market, but now it seems like every new release from Hot Toys is coming in at an average of $180.00, with every DX release hitting at around $225.00. Of course, you get what you pay for, but the demands of such a high end hobby are beginning to take their toll. Most collector's now find themselves having to choose only the most near and dear figures to add to their shelves. Sideshow is keeping things relatively close with their G.I. Joe line, but as they begin to explore the more complex pieces of the Star Wars universe, their production costs go up, and so do the bottom line prices for consumers.

While we live in an enthusiast's nirvana, the sobering reality is that the market is saturated with product, and few can keep up. It is quickly becoming a rotational hobby as collector's acquire and dispense with their treasures nearly as soon as they receive them. Very little time is left to enjoy them before something new arrives to hoover the money from their wallets.

The year has also seen the death of two really promising lines that on a personal note, I will sorely miss. Due to unknown factors, Bioware has canceled the second series of figures from DC Direct's Mass Effect 2 line. It is an absolute shame as the first wave is actually very very good. Some great characters have been left on the table, and we are certainly worse off for not having them. The second blow was especially painful to me as we lost Enterbay's Prison Break figures. While they managed to get T-Bag out the door, Michael and Lincoln fell victims to unscrupulous factory practices, or at least that is what we were told. While Hot Toys versions will have to do, Enterbay was moving into sublime territory with the work that had gone into realizing Michael Scofield's tatoos from season one of the cult TV classic.

The year isn't half over and Hot Toys still has Indiana Jones, Thor, Spider-Man, more Iron Man, more Bruce Lee rolling out. In addition we are awaiting word on the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman, the Christopher Reeve Superman, and the revelation of a tease from months back regarding a galaxy far, far away.

Mattel is putting a lot of stock in Green Lantern hitting hard, and in the resurgence of Voltron. DC Universe is still being talked up after 19 waves of figures. WHo can say how far they willl go. Masters of the Universe Classics has proven to be a juggernaut for sure.

Hasbro continues their own uber toy lines in Marvel Universe, Star Wars Vintage Collection, and G.I. Joe. Having the Marvel film license gives them tremendous momentum through the next year.

Bandai pulled the big coup in nabbing the revitalized Thundercats brand. Mattel would have sold their sister for that license. Bandai looks to be pulling out the stops for this one, and the Classic 8" figure line looks fantastic despite the lack of depth in initial release.

Yes, 2011 is one of the best years for collecting ever, this after a 2010 where we wondered if it could get any better. The old adage of "Careful what you wish for" springs to mind.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thor, God of Thornder...em Thunder

I think I am about as excited for the opening of the Thor film as I am about any film this year. Early word is pretty positive. I worried Kenneth Branagh might get lost with all the effects work despite whatever great direction he gave to the actors. Branagh is Mr. Shakespeare and he can pull a good performance out of just about anyone (Keanu Reeves excepted). Having seen his super-lush take on Hamlet back in 1997, I knew he could handle the epic scale.

It is a huge relief that reviews are good, as I had any number of reservations about how this one would turn out. I am excited for my nephew to get to see this at 7 years old. His head will be swimming for weeks on end as my brother eggs him on.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blurging: Battlestar Galactica (the original)

I've decided out of sheer whimsy to start re-watching the old Battlestar Galactica series. Many of you would say "Why?!? It's terrible! Don't destroy what time you have left on this planet watching that garbage." Yes, but those people don't understand the siren song of late 70's early 80's genre television! Battlestar obviously owes it's initial popularity to it's proximity to Star Wars. In 1977 Star Wars was a game changer across all media platforms and that includes television. Suddenly everyone was looking for a successful copy to help rake in the moolah. Enter Glen Larson.

Larson had another series in mind when creating Battlestar, but Star Wars provided the vehicle to hitch his concept to. Debuting on September 17th, 1978 Battlestar Galactica premiered to a nation wide audience caught up in the grips of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In many ways, Galatica is viewed as an interstellar mash-up of Exodus and Noah's Ark from the Bible. While Galactica lasted all of one year on TV in it's original form, it's impact on the cultural landscape and underlying core concept were strong enough to support a brand new series that scored immense critical acclaim and popularity on the SciFi channel 25 years later.

Enough of the Wikipedia trolling! Get onto the review!

Episode One: Saga of a Star World, part one:


Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and so on...

For 1978 genre television, this is a hell of an opener. It is so much better than I remember it being. All the pieces get put into place pretty tidily and the obvious blueprint is established for many of the 2003 version's sub-stories. Your special guest star is Ray Milland! Also showing up are Ed Begley Jr (St. Elsewhere), Jane Seymour (Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman), and as the ill-fated Zack Adama... Rick Springfield! Yes, years before Jessie's Girl and General Hospital Rick got strut around flashing a killer smile, awesome feathered hair, and wear that awesome Egyptian Pharoah inspired flight helmet the series was famous for. Way to go Rick!

The plot: The full Armada of the 12 human colonies is on it's way with the full council of 12 and the President to sign a peace accord with the dastardly Cylons who consider humanity an abomination to be wiped from the universe. The President is hopeful that a new day is dawning as the Cylons have proffered peace. However Pa Cartwright isn't buying it. He knows deep down the Cylons want to run him and the rest of the Cartwright family off their lan... Sorry, not Bonanza, I know. Well, sure enough Commander Adama is right. While out on a scouting mission, the boys Adama; Apollo and Zack (Seriously? Your first child is Apollo and the second is Zack? Talk about an inferiority complex.) discover thousands of Cylon Raiders parked in a gas cloud with a tanker waiting to ambush the entire fleet. While Apollo makes it back in one piece, Zack couldn't quite make it back in his damaged Viper before succumbing to the Cylon's superior numbers. Cheer up gang, did I mention he went on to write Jessie's Girl? Meanwhile, the Galactica crew figures out the ruse and hightails it back to Caprica where a Cylon basestar is hovering in orbit raining down hot Cylon death.

Yep, they pulled the entire fleet into an ambush while all of the colony planets were sitting ducks with no defenses. For that matter, why did the colonies need to send every Battlestar to the signing of a peace accord? Better not to ask. Seriously though, the storyline is pretty well laid out with an aging President looking for validation of all his work at the same time being led down the primrose path by the traitorous Baltar who was in league with the Cylons the whole time. Jump to Starbuck. The series real standout character and the one fans got their knickers in a twist about having his gender flipped for the 2003 update. It's all there right away, the trademark cigar, wisecracks, the gambling obsession. All the trademarks that made Dirk Benedict a household name.

Meanwhile Athena is wrestling over the loss of her brother, the loss of everyone else in the colonies and Starbuck's devil may care attitude. We get our cheesecake scene as Athena is getting undressed after a long day of chest beating and hand wringing only to have Starbuck pop in mid strip to apologize for his roguish charm. We now get a scene where one character wanders around with his back to the other and the other standing behind a locker door for modesty's sake. When you think about the 2003 Battlestar's uni-sex bunks and bathrooms, it is all a bit quaint. If this were the modern version, Athena and Starbuck would have had at it, only to have Starbuck run for the hills as things got too intimate.

We end up with Lorne Greene and Apollo at the charred remains of their home on Caprica looking for any last mementos before they get the hell out of dodge and avoid the obligatory Cylon cleaning squads. Wait! What's that? Coming down the hill...is it? Yes, it is! People! Capricans who survived the assault lead by Dr. Quinn herself, Jane Seymour. They ain't happy though. Like me, they were wondering why there wasn't a Battlestar to protect the planet. Little do they know, there is no good explanation. Instead Apollo and Pa Cartwright spill the beans that they are indeed the last Battlestar. Greene gets to pull his Moses, and calls for any survivors to pack up, jump on any ship that will hit space and follow them away from the 12 colonies. Cut to the exodus as what remains of the colonies does indeed fly every piece of space worthy crap away from the Cylon purge. You even get a space moving company with painted logos on the side of the ship that says" We move anywhere!" A bit of unintentional Spaceballs style comedy.

You would think that would be a good ending for the first episode, but then we get some extra scenes with Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer inspecting ships and reassuring people that food and water are coming. Just like the 2003 version, the original does a really nice job of selling the plight of the refugees who have no clue what is going on other than they are being hunted to extinction. We also get Baltar on Caprica as the big reveal of his treachery telling the Cylon Centurions to hunt down and kill any remaining humans.

Overall: Like I said, a much better episode than I remembered. Richard Hatch is really good as Apollo which makes his turn as anarchist Tom Zarek in the 2003 version all the more fun and chilling. The episode holds up to the test of time whereas Buck Rogers looks pretty hokey by comparison. The special effects are really good considering this is 1978 television. The costumes are fairly iconic, and the look of the Cylon centurions continues to be one of the best designs ever. In fact the look of the whole show is pretty strong. The Vipers have a sleek look and the Cylon Raiders are appropriately menacing. Galactica herself looks incredibly impressive and heroic, explaining why the 2003 version didn't stray far. Lorne Greene and James Edward Olmos couldn't be further apart in performance style. Greene plays Adama as a reserved, wistful general forced to play his militaristic hand despite his doveish tendencies. Olmos's Adama is big, brash, and every bit the hawk. Both command your attention in very different, but equally effective ways.

I'm optimistic about the rest of the series even though I know the clunkers are waiting in the weeds.