Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Frank Review of "Drag Me To Hell" (2009)

The Short Version? See title, add "...but I don't wanna go."
What Is It? Horror Comedy.
Who Is In It? The Mac guy and other people you hardly know.
Should I See It? Yes.



Imagine a PG-13 remake of The Evil Dead. Once you've stopped vomiting, let me explain that isn't inherently a bad thing, especially when you've got the same director working in top form with a superior budget (after earning his keep with all those Spider-Man movies.) Also, remember that we've come a long way from 1987, when things like a girl accidentally swallowing a rotting projectile eyeball forced Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn to be released unrated rather than receive an "X" from the MPAA. Today, the exact same gag passed just under an "R" rating, and it isn't alone in the gore and gross-out departments. Let's just say there's a reason I assigned you vomiting as a reaction to this flick. What is lost in the near thirty years since the first Evil Dead is nudity, rape by tree, Bruce Campbell, severe mutilation, and the disturbingly gloriously stop-motion. What is gained includes a pretty young thing in the lead, a greater emphasis on character and comedy, way more daylight and cultural diversity, CGI, and gallons of fluids with greater viscosity than blood. Objectively, Drag is a better film than the first Dead, but all in all, still a lighthearted retread.

Alison Lohman plays the reformed redneck loan officer who makes the mistake of turning down a third mortgage extension on the home of the pissiest gypsy bitch in screen history, all in hopes of landing an assistant manager position at the bank. Her ambition earns a violent stalker, first in the form of the gypsy, then a demonic lamia intent on escorting her directly to Hell after three days of sadistic "grace" on Earth. Lohman does a fine job of straddling the line between sweet-natured country girl and career woman, making her a perfect identification heroine for the ladies in the audience. Ellen Page of Juno fame was originally given the part, but it was a boon that outside issues rendered her unavailable. Lohman lends her character a much needed vulnerability to smooth out the character's more aggressive plays and retain audience sympathy.

Justin Long overcomes the usual trap of portraying the disbelieving but supportive boyfriend by not sleepwalking, as most actors would, and just damned well playing the shit out of a part that's obviously slight on paper. Lorna Raver is an unholy force of nature as the gypsy. Dileep Rao is fun as a helpful psychic who likes to see to it the coin reaches his purse.

Once everything is set up, the movie coasts from one episodic scenario after another, thumbing through the horror movie rolodex to pull everyone's number to elicit squirms, yelps, and starts. There's an over reliance on loud noises and jump scares, but at least Raimi winks at the audience, acknowledging their awareness of the troupes and daring them not to be impacted regardless. There's nothing at all deep about Drag Me To Hell, but it showcases a capable protagonist and rarely insults the audiences' intelligence, which is commendable in this genre. In fact, its likely that you may for once go through a screening of one of these things without second-guessing the players, since everyone typically does what you yourself would consider under the circumstances. Aside from younger or less intestinally fortified viewers, this is a respectable horror flick that can be viewed by the whole family as a, dare I speak it, "thrill ride."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bad Covers: "Careless Whisper" by Seether



I think George Michael was a great songwriter whose pretenses got in the way of his talent, but I have no problem with people covering his work. On the other hand, does anyone believe Shaun Morgan's drunk ass has been taking anyone's hand and leading them to a dance floor? People do not waltz to grunge, for fuck's sake. Anyway, I'm not a big fan of deeply faithful covers, as is the case here, where the main differences are guitar in place of sax and the vocals being less polished. The lyrics don't suit the band, so the whole affair reeks of phony sentiment in pursuit of sales. Besides, I really like well placed horns in pop music, so regressing to the omnipresent guitar just me sad.

Friday, May 29, 2009

1990 James O'Barr's The Crow against barbed wire



Back in the early '90s, my access to comic shops was limited, so I got a lot out of my brother's keeping copies of CSN around his house for me to peruse. For instance, my first exposure to the Eric Draven Crow character was on the cover of the 1990 Comic Shop News Winter Preview!, pictured here. I think this is a fantastic image, which inspired all sorts of fevered dreams and imitations from my own mind based on my imagining of who or what this guy was. I didn't manage to read an actual Crow comic for another couple of years, when Tundra released the complete series in three prestige editions. You can imagine my sitting down to finally read the graphic novel after all that build-up, and being utterly disappointed by it. I saw the film at the theater in 1994, and haven't bothered with it again since. I sold the Kitchen Sink, London Night, and Image Comics series in my shops at an erratic trickle, even factoring in subscribers, of which there were few. I've known of many idiots who've dressed as the Crow for pretty much every Halloween for fifteen friggin' years now. All that devotion, based on a turgid comic, a tepid movie, a dubious "curse" and some admittedly wicked soundtracks. Oh, and cool as shit images like this, which explains why the Crow remains one of the only great comic book creations since the Silver Age, even if Jim O'Barr makes more money off licensing than anybody ever did off the actual comic books. Someone should really look into that.

Meanwhile, I couldn't find this exact image anywhere else on the internet, in part due to O'Barr's having drawn almost nothing but Crow pin-ups since 1989. I scanned and cleaned up the above from that old copy of CSN I've had in a box for decades, so sorry for the extraneous crap at the bottom.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wednesday Is Free Day For All I Care #33

The Freedom Collective One Shot
United Free Worlds #1
United Free Worlds #2




The Freedom Collective One Shot (Rough Cut, 2009, $3.95)
It takes a hell of a lot to get me to plunk down four bucks for a fucking comic book, and that's exactly what the Freedom Collective is. Imagine that in 1963, instead of New York Jews Stan Lee and Jack Kirby starting the Marvel revolution, they instead toiled in the same occupations under the watchful eyes of their fellow godless commies in the U.S.S.R. That's exactly what "Comrade Barr" and "Domski Regan" have done here, and they've done it exceptionally well. Nostalgic pastiche has been around since at least the Bronze Age, with most landing firmly on the side of patronizing (including you, Mr. Alan Moore!) Here though, not only do the creators capture the look and tone of early Marvel Comics, but also the unmistakable personality of those works, which is pretty much catching lightning in a bottle. The new Ruskie versions of Marvel archetypes are a blast, and the reversing of Stan Lee's red-baiting propaganda is at the perfect satiric pitch. The book is an absolute gas, and I highly recommend it to fans of the era.

On the cautionary tip, editor "Igor Sloano" leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to proofreading and balloon placement. You will often find yourself rereading panels where the sequence of dialogue is unclear. There are also a number of parody ads that take go a bit too deep into Yakov Smirnoff territory ("In Soviet Russia, comics collect you!") and would have been right at home in What The--?!


United Free Worlds #1 (Fantasy Prone LLC, 2008, $2.99)
On the surface, this is not a terrible comic. There's a lovely spot varnish on the detailed cover, and twenty-nine full color pages of story. These are followed by twelve pages of character profiles, plus three preview pages. Artist Jason Raines offers more panels than George Perez would prefer, background detailing that recalls Geoff Darrow, and a slight manga influence in his characters. Raines is that once in a generation artist of whom you can ask "draw me 200 spaceships in a 1/3rd page panel" and the crazy bastard will actually do it. Jesse Aronson and Michael Montaine offer quality computer coloring and effects. Writer Blake Leibel obviously has an epic in mind, involving a world of savage warriors aided by trained dinosaurs coming into conflict with Earth. All sorts of Machiavellian scheming and other political intrigues are hinted at.

So why is it so boring? I swear, it took me a couple dozen trips to the bathroom to get through the goddamned thing. Do you know how frustrating it is to go through 22 panels of a two page spread depicting what amounts to a few seconds of video game footage? All that portent, delivered with the gravest of tone, for a premise so laughably silly?

For instance, to prove how tough our hero is, he shows up at a bank robbery. He then calls the thieves from an outdoor phone, and at the merest invoking of his hallowed name, the robbers surrender themselves. It might have made for a great lampoon, except every indication is that Leibel's into this shit like an epileptic at a tent revival. To see such an effort and so much bread blown on a achingly awful vanity project is a travesty.

Worse, the entire exceedingly drawn out affair is nothing but wooden set-up that could have been established in a few well written panels, much less pages. These terrible characters are all interchangeable with their "whah whah whah" dialogue. The entire book is written as though Charlie Brown's teacher is giving a lecture. It's the worst kind of fan fiction dreck from someone who mistook the back of '80s action figure packaging for a creative writing workshop.

As for the artist Raines, despite the wealth of linework, everything still looks rough and amateurish. Regardless of how everything else works, he cannot draw decent looking human figures and faces, and there's an over reliance on cgi to cover everything objectionable up. He seems to have shot his load in the first outing as well, replaced in the next issue...

United Free Worlds #2 (Fantasy Prone LLC, 2008, $2.99)
...Drawn by Patrick Blaine with the look of something out of Zenescope or a lesser Aspen Studios release. Blaine is about as far removed from the work in the first issue by Jason Raines as you can get. His human figures are flashy and attractive, and he clearly loves two-page spreads and half-splashes. His backgrounds are vague, and he avoids the repetitious throngs of the prior issue. Aside from the dinosaurs and the cgi sequences, you could be forgiven for flipping through both books and assuming they were entirely separate titles. However, writer Blake Leibel's incessant droning on without saying much of anything should clue you in. All in all though, Blaine is professional and his work is appealing. I wish I had the spare dough to pay either Blaine or Raines for my shitty script, but we can't all be so lucky. As art director, Leibel also offers six pages of intricate art very much in the vein of last issue, pointedly described as "rejected concept sequences from the production." Bitter about a departure or just hypercritical, I wonder?

As with last time, the story is more blood and thunder shit, and most of the characters from those profile pages still haven't made a significant appearance. Again, this is a great looking package-- another varnished cardstock cover, this one drawn by the underrated Steve Skroce, but its all polish on a turd.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sylvia Kristel Emmanuelle Custom Barbie Doll




Here's one of those outrageous things you only stumble across through hard core web surfing: a custom made Emmanuelle doll as modeled by Sylvia Kristel for one of the 1974 film's best remembered movie posters. Juan Albuerne, Asun Merino and Vince Tibavido obviously did an incredible job with their recreation. Kristel was of course topless for the original image (and about half of the flick,) so Albuerne had to sculpt nipples (censored here) with Milliput paste. You can see the full size, uncensored images here, or be amazed by the complete catalog at JUAN ALBUERNE'S MOVIE STARS site. They're almost all female, and many are impossibly spot on. I particularly liked Diana Ross, Penelope Cruz, Whoopi Goldberg and especially Brandy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Frank Review of "Terminator Salvation" (2009)

The Short Version? "Come with me if you want to run from a killer cyborg for a couple of hours for the forth time!"
What Is It? Action/Sci-Fi
Who Is In It? Christian Bale, Marla from Fight Club, Gwen Stacy, Chekov, Ham Tyler
Should I See It? Maybe.



I saw the first Terminator on VHS around 1986 or 87, and as James Cameron was wont to do, it rocked my fuckin' socks off. It wasn't at all like seeing Aliens at the bijou, but definitely in the Beastmaster realm of bossness. I was certainly primed for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which molested my senses as never before, and during those awkward teenage years when you need those sorts of experiences. However, I revisited both films throughout the '90s, and found myself increasingly aware of diminishing returns, as I grew more sophisticated and action cinema played catch-up. Sans the newness and spectacle, the Terminator franchise was left with perplexing temporal paradox and endless repetitive scenes of cyborgs running and getting hit without falling down.

By the time Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines limped onto screens six years ago, my enthusiasm was already about dissipated. On the plus side, this allowed me to be entertained by a middling feature with miscast leads and an entirely too old Arnold Schwarzenegger. I got a lot more out of Kristanna Loken's nude scenes than Michael Biehn's, but a Terminator without Linda Hamilton's milestone performance as Sarah Connor was about as welcome as a remake of Pulp Fiction. The only really money moment (besides the fire truck sequence) was seeing that the film at least had the balls to finally nuke the world already. Sure it's fatalistic, but the only way up for the franchise was to get down with the robotic Armageddon.

Which brings us to the latest, and most likely last, installment of the original Terminator series. The is "Battle for the Planet of the Terminators." This is the one where the concept has completely been exhausted, paving the way for a wholly unnecessary reboot attempt in a decade or so that everyone will hate. All logic is tossed to the wind, so distastefully Shyamalanian that even the biggest dopes in the audience will cry foul. Everything that should be cool is limp, and all promises are whelched upon.

This time, a death row inmate in the near present named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) signs his body away to the science of Skynet, specifically to the terminally cancerous Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter, allowing Marla to finally earn her place in group therapy alongside Chloe, and just as hard up.) Wright wakes up in the cybernetic future, meets a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin,) and takes every opportunity to swagger like a badass. Meanwhile, the finally grown up and decently cast messianic human resistance leader John Connor (Christian Bale) does random shit that doesn't amount to much because Batman wanted to inflate his bit part (as originally scripted.) A very spoilery recap by Devin Faraci of the original script can be found at CHUD, if you're curious. From here, the movie builds stupidity to the utmost human tolerance until its retardation reaches the maximum allowable degree of are-you-fucking-kidding-me?

This is one of those movies where every single audience member rightly points out the cavernous plot holes and offers their own far superior revisions to the shitstorm on screen. Despite a several hundred million dollar budget, the majority of the props, sets, costumes and digital effects look low rent. For instance, I've been waiting decades for armies of T-600s to get fired upon by pulse rifles. Instead, many of the Terminators here look like cheaply made-up extras from Jean-Claude Van Damme's 1989 knock-off Cyborg, and the human's weapons are all modern military standard. Where I want to see tanks and crushed skulls, I get PG-13 visions that recall the Matrix sequels, Transformers, and of all things, Will Smith's The Wild, Wild West. Notably crappy director McG does a better Cameron impression than Jonathan Mostow, but the script is such absolute garbage that everything comes off as a mongoloid retread of past Terminator sequences.

Having already shat upon the movie at length, you may wonder why my recommendation to see it is set at "maybe" instead of "hell no." Like the also rather stupid new Star Trek, this movie's salvation is in its cast. These actors deliver the worst dialogue with such conviction and weight, you almost forgive them. Christian Bale isn't spectacular, but he sells himself as John Connor reasonably well. Despite slipping from a Southern drawl to his native Australian constantly, and being given no believable motivation, Sam Worthington has solid actioner chops. Anton Yelchin is fantastic as Kyle Reece, invoking Biehn while making the part his own in a manner not unlike Chris Pine's Captain Kirk. Bryce Dallas Howard takes a role with absolutely nothing on the page, and creates a more sympathetic and humanistic Kate Connor than Claire Danes managed with an entire film. Arnie's "appearance" is outstanding. And Michael Motherfucking Ironside is in this thing. Sure he's fat, old, and only in a few brief scenes, but we're talking General Katana here! Darryl Revok! Richter! Jester! Ham Tyler! Overdog! Darkseid!

Less worthy is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a creature that serves every inanity the script throws her way without the slightest hint of forethought or credibility. Bloodgood is pretty, but she comes off like she stepped out of an episode of Lorenzo Lamas's 1990s syndicated Renegade television series, and she actually did come off the starring role in the soon-to-be-notorious Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Jadagrace is alright as Lil' Black Newt/the Not-So-Feral Kid, a.k.a. Star, but she stays mute throughout. Helena Bonham Carter is a soulless machine that absolutely will not stop, ever, until you hear every ream of exposition.

So you take the goodish, you take the lousy, and there you have a barely passable "maybe" pseudo-recommendation. Still, as a helicopter flies away from a massive explosion in the last reel, accompanied by voiceover narration, I almost heard a vow to continue the fight against the sinister Umbrella Corporation after the cleansing of Racoon City. Literally, there's a sequence in this film right out of Resident Evil: Extinction, and I wouldn't hesitate to declare the very similar third Milla Jovovich outing in the video game-inspired film series as preferable in almost every way to Terminator Salvation, though Rotten Tomatoes currently places the critical divide between each's foulness at just 12%. Read into that what you will.

Monday, May 25, 2009

1981 Nautilus Dreams The Sorcerer Graphic Novel Ad



In 1980, after their acclaimed run on Iron Man, David Michelinie and Bob Layton decided to turn their attentions toward a creator-owned work. However, this was in the early days of the "graphic novel." Coming from Marvel Comics as they did, the creators' interpretation of the term was less Will Eisner and more "overlong super-hero comic book with profanity and excessive violence." The basic premise was "The Spectre meets the Executioner by way of Mandrake the Magician." As Layton himself would more charitably put it, "Our concept revolved around the story of Seneca St. Synn, a stage magician who had been disfigured by the Mob, after refusing to knuckle under to their demands. What was born of that botched assassination became the hooded and black garbed creature of the night called-The Sorcerer. The Sorcerer, using the magics taught to him by his Native American Grandfather, began a trail of vengeance against the mob that was ghastly, even by today's more accepting standards."

The intended publisher, Nautilus Dreams, fell apart before the graphic novel actually saw print. The creators shopped the property around for years unsuccessfully. I imagine it would have been right at home amidst the second wave of Image Comics like Trencher and Shaman's Tears, were the creators not themselves entrenched at Valiant Comics at the time. Eventually, Layton and company began a short-lived company of their own called Future Comics, where they reworked the Sorcerer into Deathmask.

Anyway, Layton presented the complete unpublished graphic novel on his web site a few years ago. The story itself is juvenile, featuring dialogue no human being would ever speak. The characters were all types, stereotypes or both: the grim "Indian" with Shamanistic powers, the flamboyantly gay master criminal, the driven investigator filled with personal integrity, the two Mex-i-cans with accents thicker than their mustaches, and so on. If you like your action extravaganzas heavily flavored with Gouda and not weighed down by reason, you could do worse than the Sorcerer. If you're averse to topless whores getting their faces blown off at close range, then maybe you should reconsider following the below links to the free content...

  • Unpublished Sorcerer #1 Wraparound Cover

  • Bob Layton.com's The Sorcerer Archive Part One (Pages 1-12)

  • Bob Layton.com's The Sorcerer Archive Part Two (Pages 13-24)

  • Bob Layton.com's The Sorcerer Archive Part Three (Pages 25-36)
  • Sunday, May 24, 2009

    nurghophonic jukebox: "Sick and Beautiful" by Artificial Joy Club

    Written By: All songs written by Louise "Sal" Reny, Leslie Howe and Tim Dupon
    Released: 1997
    Album: Melt
    Single?: #17 on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.
    Web site: Artificial Joy Club



    All the world’s your ashtray, I’m just your Marlboro.
    Light me up then butt me, you’re sick & beautiful.

    It’s Bamby meets Godzilla, a 3D free for all. Set me up then stomp me, you’re sick & beautiful.
    Squeeze me like your lemon, then mix with alcohol. Shake me hard then down me, you’re sick & beautiful.

    You’re gravy with gasoline & wicked with whipping cream.

    I need a quick fix, I’m flashing like an instamatic, crusted like a worn out penthouse, your junk is habitual, you’re sick & you’re beautiful.

    Bounce me hard & dunk me, I’m just your basketball. Lay me up then heave-ho, you’re sick & beautiful. Peel my bandage slowly, it’s psychological.

    You’re napalm with novocain, a kite in a hurricane.

    (chorus)

    Leave me in a ditch like roadkill, or maybe we could switch the driver. Have some mercy and Kevorkian me to sleep.

    You’re cockroach with cabernet, but taste like a Milky Way. You’re gravy with gasoline & wicked with whipping cream.

    (chorus)

    Saturday, May 23, 2009

    nurghophonic jukebox: "Like A Drug" by They Eat Their Own

    Released: 1990
    Album: They Eat Their Own
    Single?: #10 on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks in January of 1991.



    I don't buy your true life stories
    'cause I've seen the way you lie
    but I don't mind the things you tell me
    because I know we'll say anything to get by

    but when we're together
    somehow I feel better
    my disease always tricks me
    I believe you can fix me

    you're insane
    I love the drama
    tell the truth
    you love it too, I know you do?

    reason strikes
    we fight and break up
    'cause it seems
    the easiest thing to do

    but when I don't get your call
    I go into withdrawal
    you consume every thought
    but if you called I would tell you to get lost

    I need you like a drug
    I need you, I need you like a
    I need you, I need you like a
    drug

    it turns me on
    to say "I love you"
    but deep inside I know
    it's lust, not love at all

    one day we will leave each other
    but we pretend the end's not inevitable
    I require protection from my own obsession
    in the object of you

    one day I will rise above you

    I need you, I need you like a drug
    I need you, I need you like a
    I need you, I need you like a drug
    I need you, I need you like a...

    until then we'll stay together
    I guess things could be much worse
    I guess things could be much better
    but I don't really want to write another verse

    'cause when we're together
    somehow I feel better
    my disease always tricks me
    I believe you can fix me

    I need you, I need you like a drug
    I need you, I need you like a
    I need you, I need you like a drug
    I need you, I need you like a drug

    NSFW LIVE VERSION:


    Friday, May 22, 2009

    2002 Green Arrow "Ollie's Stupendous Chili Recipe (Just Like Mom used to make!)" Pin-Up



    Scott McCullar's recipe illustrated by Patrick Gleason & Michael Bair for Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins #1 (12/2002.)

    Thursday, May 21, 2009

    nurghophonic jukebox: "Sea Legs" by The Shins

    Written By: James Mercer
    Released: 2007
    Album: Wincing the Night Away
    Single?: 4th off album released in the U.K. to little impact.



    Of all the churning random hearts
    Under the sun
    Eventually fading into night,
    These two are opening now
    As we lie, I touch you
    Under fuller light.

    Girl, if you're a seascape
    I'm a listing boat, for the thing carries every hope.
    I invest in a single light.
    The choice is yours to be loved
    Come away from an emptier boat.

    'Cause when the dead moon
    Rises again
    We've no time to start a protocol
    To have us in.
    And when the dog slides
    Underneath a train,
    There's no cry, no use to searching for
    What mutts remain.

    Throw all consequence aside
    The chill aspire, people set alight.

    Of all the intersecting lines in the sand
    I routed a labyrinth to your lap.
    I never used a map sliding off the land
    On an incidental tide,
    And along the way you know, they try
    They try.

    And we got sea legs
    And we're off tonight
    Can I've that to which they've no right?
    You belong to a simpler time
    I'm a victim to the impact of these words,
    And this rhyme.

    'Cause when that dead moon
    Rises again
    We've no time to start a protocol
    To have us in.
    And when the dog slides,
    Open the door, and where'd she go?
    There's no time, no use to searching for
    The mutts remains.

    Throw consequence aside
    And the chill aspire, people set alight.


    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    1993 Marvel Masterpieces Jim Steranko Triptych



    Here's card #s 2, 9 & 15 from the set, which some idiot at Skybox failed to line up in sequence to create a glorious single image. The Golden Age Human Torch, Captain America, and Namor the Sub-Mariner before an iron eagle! I dig the missiles, which somehow recall both Schomburg and Kirby, though not in the same period. The dolphins seem like more of an Aquaman thing, but as a part of this majestic image, I'll allow them.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #32

    Air #7
    The Black Coat & Athena Voltaire One-Shot #1
    Soulfire: Chaos Reign: Beginnings #1 (a.k.a. Soulfire: New World Order: Beginnings)
    Viking #1




    Air #7 (Vertigo, 2009, $1.00)
    I went for the combo deal Vertigo offered one month of Air (Vol. 1): Letters from Lost Countries for just $10 and the first new issue after for a buck. The first page is a hard sell of pull quotes praising the series. I'm perfectly willing to disagree with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzarello, and USA Today, however. The next page was one of those awful text pieces where the author pretends like they know their lead character in real life, and amounts to a vague introduction to the series. The lead story deposits the mind of heroine Blythe in the body of her missing lover, Zayn al Harrani. This begins at Zayn's adolescence, so we get to fulfill that common feminine fantasy of truly knowing your fella from a young age. This is an origin story, showing how the Saudi first comes to America, and the experiences that shaped his extreme lifestyle. The story is pretty familiar, with details left out with the intention to preserve mystique, but instead just leaving gaps. By the end, the series' newly fantastical status quo is restored, and I'm left just as disappointed in the series as I was with the trade's anticlimactic conclusion. The title had promise as a conspiracy thriller, but the twists led it toward a Sci-Fi Channel Original Series level of romanticized cheese. I'm officially through with G. Willow Wilson. Brian Wood and The Onion can have her.


    The Black Coat & Athena Voltaire One-Shot #1 (Ape Entertainment, 2009, $2.00)
    So here's a fun premise: have a crossover between two period genre series, one an 18th Century swashbuckler and the other Depression-era adventuring, through an appropriate linking device. The Black Coat suffers the most from the necessary contrivance, as the onus of exposition and architecture weigh on its back. Still, Ben Lichius tells an enjoyable if not always logical yarn that doesn't feel like a set-up and stands fine on its own. Lichius' art isn't quite ready for prime time, but the script's charm and his obvious love of the material glosses over its shortcomings. Lichius accomplishes all that could be asked of him in just 14 pages, and that's a definite talent in these miserably decompressed times.

    Steve Bryant's Athena Voltaire is a lot more polished, with solid art that recalls Mark Schultz by way of Ron Randall, and the superior coloring of Jason Millet. The dialogue is sharp, and the heroine well defined. The only way the second feature suffers in comparison is that it really coasts on action halfway through. After the hard work of Lichius, it comes off like the grasshopper fiddling while the busy ant plans for winter. Nevertheless, when taken together both features deliver heartily at yesterday's prices, and come highly recommended.

    Soulfire: Chaos Reign: Beginnings #1 (Aspen, 2009, $1.99)
    Between the logo and the indicia I have two titles and four colons, none of which bode well. In fact, coming on the heels of Black Coat/Athena Voltaire, this book is a bit of a turd. There is a seven page story excerpt from an upcoming mini-series. The art by Francisco Herrera is very attractive, playing like a cross between Humberto Ramos and Carlos Meglia. Combined with the fantastic coloring of Leonardo Olea, the art could easily be confused with frames of very expensive cell animation. Regardless, Herrera's storytelling is awkward and often unclear, leaving it up to the reader to guess who's speaking in some panels. J.T. Krul's dialogue is only a wee bit less obnoxious than the text filler he supplies to a sketchbook. Most of those images are provided by the late Michael Turner, an artist I never much cared for, and here offered especially bare bones. Aspen is increasingly coming across like the estate of Tupac Shakur, absolutely scrapping the bottom of the barrel to offer unreleased works at a rate the less-than-prolific penciller couldn't manage while alive. All in all, an ephemeral waste of money on a product that offers little story and no cohesion.


    Viking #1 (Image, 2009, $2.99)
    I totally bought this book on discount solely for review purposes. I don't care about vikings, I didn't like the preview pages that were released, and I was prepared to write the whole thing off. Lo and behold, generic title aside, Viking is a quality production. Writer Ivan Brandon has been developing the project since 2005, so not only was it not at all inspired by the surprise performance of Brian Wood's Northlanders, but it is in fact a much better book from jump. While the lead characters aren't as detailed initially as Wood's, their dialogue has a lot more spark, and even the louts manage to hold your interest. The book is brimming with sarcasm and gallows humor, making it perfect for fans of Britain's 2000 A.D. and the like.

    Artist Nic Klein uses muted colors and zip-tones to give this ancient setting a curiously hip 1960s vibe. Much of the book is rough line art, with occasional shifts to a more vivid, painterly appearance. While attractive, the effect is distracting, and I'd rather he work in one mode or the other.

    Still, the story and art perfectly compliment one another, even through the anachronistic flourishes and sometimes jarring transitions. Also, I can't see how this title can ever be profitable with these production values. The dimensions of the book are oversized, with a spot varnished cardstock cover and heavy weight interior pages. It's an absolute steal at $3, and puts other publishers to shame. This is probably the only Icelandic comic I'll ever recommend, so have at.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    A Frank Review of "Persepolis" (2007)

    The Short Version? Iran So Far Away
    What Is It? Animated Biography.
    Who Is In It? Voices of Catherine Deneuve, Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, and Gena Rowlands
    Should I See It? Yes.



    I haven't read Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical comic books about growing up in Iran under the Shah and the Islamic Revolution, but I'm glad I saw the movie. Familiar, comic episodes are set against a thankfully foreign backdrop. Really though, isn't the difference between the heroine's liberal upbringing amidst fundamentalism and life in the States in the same period, surrounded by the "Silent Majority" that demonized Iran, mostly a matter of degrees? I don't mean to diminish the author's harrowing experiences in wartime, but to point out, as the film does, that we're all humans of not-so-dissimilar stripes. How do you not feel a kinship to a protagonist who idolizes Bruce Lee, watches Godzilla movies, and headbangs to Judas Priest?

    My first instinct was to watch the English dub with subtitles, but the disparity between the two versions was immediately obvious. The English language edition is inadequate. The script is altered throughout in painful ways, removing most curse words and the superior flow of dialogue in the original French. Where the French version is matter of fact, the American tries to awkwardly embellish; almost in a sense trying to give a more exotic ethnic quality, but missing the point entirely. The dialogue is often turned too literal, and even the more accomplished American actors sound like they're dubbing anime. Sean Penn's voice is affected, while Iggy Pop's is achingly more so. Gena Rowlands fares better.

    Gabrielle Lopes Benites plays Marjane as a child, and is reminiscent of the young actors from old Peanuts cartoons. There's a lot of Charlie Brown groaning at the inequities of life as well, usually done tongue in cheek. Chiara Mastroianni is perfect as the teen and adult Marjane, especially her gloriously off-key take on Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" at a pivotal point in the film.

    The animation is gorgeous, taking advantage of the high contrast black and white to render the figures lushly and the characters universal. Art deco, German impressionism, graytones, scrapings... the decision to go mainly monochromatic allowed for a great many interesting techniques to meld seamlessly with the otherwise accessible presentation. Persepolis can be viewed by just about any audience, with some taking in only the personal narrative, while others can enjoy the politics and allusions to dark turns never made too garish. It's a wonderful film that deserves a broader audience.

    Special features on the DVD include The Hidden Side Of Persepolis, about the tedious process of animation. As can be expected, it makes for a tedious documentary as well, especially the overly long Foley sequence. Apparently, drawings on paper are expensive to animate, and hadn't been done in France for twenty years. I could have sworn there was some bad bits of computer animation at times in the production, but overall the effort paid off. Behind-The-Scenes Of Persepolis is a misnomer, as it's really a brief conversation with the American voice actors. It's fine at less than a third of "Hidden Side's" length. The Canne Press Conference Q & A is another half hour you need not devote to reading, as the film explains itself fine without the effort. The film's the thing, and you'll be well served by watching it alone.

    Sunday, May 17, 2009

    A Frank Review of "Rudo y Cursi" (2008/9)

    The Short Version? Hick half-brothers struggle through sudden soccer fame.
    What Is It? Mexican Sports Comedy.
    Who Is In It? Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna.
    Should I See It? Maybe.



    A dirt poor Mexican family is filled with half-siblings who don't share a father. Beto (Luna) is a low level supervisor at a banana plant. Tato (Bernal)is his younger brother and underling. Both kick a football in their spare time, and have a talent for it discovered by roaming scout Batuta (Guillermo Francella.) The hicks find themselves on competing major league soccer teams, with nicknames alluding to the toughness of Tato/Rudo and the corniness of Cursi/Beto. Both end up proving you can take the boy out of the farm, but not the farm out of the boy, and the inevitability of their delusions shattering lends a bitter fatalism to the otherwise fairly broad comedy.

    Bernal and Luna, childhood friends who broke in the States with the erotic drama Y Tu Mamá También translate their natural chemistry well in this amiable little piece. However, the set-up and most of the beats are right out of the generic comedy playbook. While slightly darker and more pointed than the average mainstream domestic fare, it's only just so, and I can see a fairly simple Hollywood rewrite if it came to that. It's an enjoyable diversion, and should have probably been cut to a more general audience friendly PG-rating. There's lot of small chuckles, but the best gag is the music video by tone-deaf Cursi, available free online.

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    nurghophonic jukebox: "Phantom 309" by Red Sovine

    Written By: Tommy Faile
    Released: 1967
    Single?: Hit #9 on Billboard's U.S. Country Chart



    I was out on the West Coast, tryin' to make a buck And things didn't work out, I was down on my luck Got tired a-roamin' and bummin' around So I started thumbin' back East, toward my home town.

    Made a lot of miles, the first two days And I figured I'd be home in week, if my luck held out this way But, the third night I got stranded, way out of town At a cold, lonely crossroads, rain was pourin' down.

    I was hungry and freezin', done caught a chill When the lights of a big semi topped the hill Lord, I sure was glad to hear them air brakes come on And I climbed in that cab, where I knew it'd be warm.

    At the wheel sit a big man, he weighed about two-ten He stuck out his hand and said with a grin "Big Joe's the name", I told him mine And he said: "The name of my rig is Phantom 309."

    I asked him why he called his rig such a name He said: "Son, this old Mack can put 'em all to shame There ain't a driver, or a rig, a-runnin' any line Ain't seen nothin' but taillights from Phantom 309."

    Well, we rode and talked the better part of the night When the lights of a truck stop came in sight He said: "I'm sorry son, this is as far as you go 'Cause, I gotta make a turn, just on up the road."

    Well, he tossed me a dime as he pulled her in low And said: "Have yourself a cup on old Big Joe." When Joe and his rig roared out in the night In nothin' flat, he was clean out of sight.

    Well, I went inside and ordered me a cup Told the waiter Big Joe was settin' me up Aw!, you coulda heard a pin drop, it got deathly quiet And the waiter's face turned kinda white.

    Well, did I say something wrong? I said with a halfway grin He said: "Naw, this happens every now and then Ever' driver in here knows Big Joe But son, let me tell you what happened about ten years ago.

    At the crossroads tonight, where you flagged him down There was a bus load of kids, comin' from town And they were right in the middle, when Big Joe topped the hill It could have been slaughter, but he turned his wheel.

    Well, Joe lost control, went into a skid And gave his life to save that bunch-a kids And there at that crossroads, was the end of the line For Big Joe and phantom 309

    But, every now and then, some hiker'll come by And like you, Big Joe'll give 'em a ride Here, have another cup and forget about the dime Keep it as a souvenir, from Big Joe and Phantom 309!"


    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    1990s The Keep Overpower CCG Captain America: Heroes Reborn Character Card



    Back in the '90s when I played the Overpower collectible card game, there was a little grassroots fan organization called "The Keep" that created their own cards. Since Marvel's Overpower card art was mangled by shitty CGI pissass early on, and further befouled by plain amateurish crap line art later, The Keep felt compelled to offer their own mocked-up cards to ease the pain. Sometimes, they just applied the official stats to art that didn't look like it could give you a bacterial infection, but often they offered variations and entire characters Fleer turned a blind eye to. Like Fleer, the Keep skewed heavily Marvel, so no one ever offered me a Blue Devil Character Card, I'm afraid. I can't find any trace of them on the internet today, and their domain is no longer registered. I figured, might as well throw this neat little Cap card I was given lo those many years ago.

    The official Captain America Character Card had the Sentinel of Liberty looking like he'd just caught the Falcon, Nomad and D-Man in a heavily marinated salad toss, so let's all give a round of applause to Jim Lee's take here. The revised stats were based on the year long Heroes Reborn alternate universe event where former Image creators offered their take on classic, and more importantly, then-under-performing Marvel heroes. Throwing a shield was only worth an Energy rating of 2 on both cards, and Fighting remained at the maximum score of 8. The big difference is that his Strength rose a point, and his Intellect dropped one. Seeing as Rob Liefeld initially reworked this Cap, its a wonder his I.Q. held as well as it did.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    Understanding "Emanuelle in America" (Part 1)



    Make no mistake, the primary goal of Emanuelle in America is to be sleazy soft/hardcore porn, depending on which cut you see. However, I strongly suspect historically awful filmmaker Aristide Massaccesi, more widely maligned as Joe D'Amato, was actually trying to mingle art and social commentary into his typical genre-goulash. Right off the bat, these are hedonistic Italians setting their gonzo romp in the puritanical United States. Besides, D'Amato had three writers on this instead of hacking out something on his own, so he must have taken it seriously. Indulge me...

    The very first image is of the Roosevelt Island sky tram, then of Emanuelle inside, taking in the view like an angel surveying Sodom as she descends into the mire. The name Emanuelle is a feminine derivative of the Biblical Emmanuel, meaning "God is with us."Emanuelle as always represents the sexually empowered female, yet she next strides uneasily past the neon lights of a peep show. Emanuelle walks the streets of New York City in a stylish and stark white suit. Perhaps the white represents her unadulterated, enlightened being, and the cut her sophistication. She is juxtaposed against the gray, grimy city of hustlers and eccentrics. Emanuelle struts down a busy street, surrounded by skyscrapers like randy cocks on the boulevard.

    Scenes are intercut of Emanuelle in her achromatic studio, taking photographs of beautiful, liberated nude women astride a black motorcycle. The decor is provocative, artistically interpreting the female form through fruits and ornamentation. Emanuelle is the beholder, capturing the world through her lens, and adjusting the lighting as needed. When the film finally settles in at the studio, we see it through the eyes of a voyeur glancing in on Emanuelle's Heaven, but our line of sight is entombed by an ebon border.

    We next see a fellow named Howie looking at himself in the mirror, then bidding the girls adieu. How is Howie? He seems fine, and represents a healthy, good-natured homosexuality. However, even though Howie clearly has a place in Emanuelle Heaven, that role must be denied in the eyes of America, and he vanishes.

    Emanuelle talks with the models as they dress, balancing their obvious objectification with their Earthly reality. One model is named Jane, a feminine derivative of the most common male name in Christiandom, John. Jane mentions her John, or rather Tony, her new intellectual boyfriend who refuses to have sex. Everyone then exits Emanuelle Heaven for the city, and our heroine gets into her blue car, representing calm emotions, the sky, and even the Virgin Mary. She is almost immediately thereafter held at gunpoint by Jane's boyfriend. This is Tony, an abbreviated version of Anthony, as in the Catholic saint who founded Christian monasticism. Tony is a chaste religious nut who believes killing Emanuelle will somehow strike back against the pervasive and perverse sexuality of the 1970s. Like many Americans, Tony believes his conviction will prove his righteousness to the entire world, regardless of his means. Tony barely acknowledges the rule of law, assuming he will be judged innocent of any crime through the truth in his actions.

    Emanuelle tries to be reasonable, offering her money and car, to no avail. While the beau rants, Emanuelle plays with his mind and his tallywacker, until he doesn't know whether he's coming or going. The entire time, Emanuelle is behind the wheel of a big American automobile, symbol of the emancipation of Yankees from the farm and the flock to urban life. The gunman leaves his pistol behind as he runs from the sexual responsibility Emanuelle and the car represent. Through her worldliness, Emanuelle has taken Tony's surrogate penis, never fired, and initiated him in the use of his actual member. It's worth noting that "Anthony" was once routinely confused with the Greek word for "flower."

    Besides representing America, Tony also raises the subtext of Emanuelle's symbolic nature to text and offers his interpretation for dispute amongst the audience. Tony informs the viewer that Emanuelle is not just a lusty heroine, but an icon for the modern sexuality he views as evil. At the same time, Tony desires Janet, offering Emanuelle a look at a nude magazine cover of his ladylove rather than a wholesome wallet snapshot. Despite Tony's assertions of his piety, it was he who hopped into Emanuelle's "back seat," shoved his "pistol" in her face, and wasn't satisfied until Emanuelle broke down his facade. Tony represents the hypocrisy of the religious right, as he flaunts his second amendment rights and lusts in his heart. Tony's jacket is beige, representing his generic, common, Caucasian being. However, under the jacket is a black and white checkered shirt, revealing the struggle with polarity that grips his chest. Emanuelle is ethnic and exotic, with a worldview foreign to his own. She is draped in the whiteness Tony seeks, while his own hand clutches a black gun. While Tony is erratic and aggressive, Emanuelle is calm, and gently explains her and Jane's world like a priestess to a hesitant convert. Further, Tony recalls a memory associating his mother with an unnamed sexual act. This by extension associates his maternal love with Jane and Emanuelle, projecting his Oedipal confusion onto them. In the end, after receiving Emanuelle's kiss to his nether regions, Tony finally connects his emotions to his libido. He runs away until he can resolve this realization in his mind, but shouts "I love it!" Tony flowers, and turns his anger into a sexual love for women.

    Emanuelle brings the discarded "pistol" to the favored man in her life, Bill. This can be explained through the entomology of Bill's name. Derived from the Germanic "Wilhelm," the first syllable means "will" or "desire," the second "helmet," or "protection." Clearly Bill is insecure in his masculinity, and desires a surrogate cock of his own with which to protect Emanuelle. This is represented visually by Bill's awkwardly receded hairline, his "helmet" proving inadequate. Emanuelle has no penis envy, and encourages Bill to work out his own through the "pistol" as he sees fit, mostly through posturing. Emanuelle wanders their apartment topless, and expresses her disgust at the experience, offering Bill guidance to accept his own "helmet." Yet, she recognizes Bill's developmental issues, and through her expressed forgiveness and best wishes for Tony unobtrusively extends the same grace to Bill.

    Bill wears blue jeans and a shirt buttoned down to his navel, mimicking Emanuelle car and fashion while betraying his crude Western understanding. His entire apartment is colored green, alluding both to the natural life in him that attracts Emanuelle, as well as his childish naivete and jealousy. There are books and artwork along the walls, but these are affectations. More prominent is his bar, displaying the type of fixation with alcohol found in adolescents, confusing the trappings of maturity with its actualization. This is made all the more obvious when his coffee table, which looks and functions like a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, proves to also function as a bar. It is his racing car-shaped bed, and the dazzle of consumer culture.

    Emanuelle laments her relationship with Bill, an endless cycle of trysts and underdeveloped affection. Bill makes mention of marriage, but Emanuelle makes jest of it, salvaging his self-esteem with platitudes about personal freedom while recognizing her absence of desire to commit matrimony with a man-child. Bill jokingly threatens to shoot himself in the head, an unsubtle reference to masturbation should Emanuelle refuse him. Emanuelle accepts the circumstances of her relationship with Bill, and submits to his sexual needs, but not without first asserting herself as a responsible adult by rescheduling an appointment on the phone. Bill is giddily enthusiastic, while Emanuelle, even nude, is matronly.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #31

    Batman: Battle For The Cowl: The Underground #1
    Buck Rogers #0
    Destroyer #1
    R.E.B.E.L.S. #3




    Batman: Battle For The Cowl: The Underground #1 (DC, 2009, $2.99)
    For the most part, I've chucked deuce on the DCU, and it goes without saying I've given the latest Batman megacrossover a pass. Still, this came my way cheap, and it should be able to stand up to criticism as a one-shot, right? But of course, it can't.

    The story opens midstream, with a bunch of stuff having gone down before I arrived involving the latest "death" of Batman and the 73rd mass escape of Arkham inmates. The Penguin orders the Riddler to uncover the identity of the current Black Mask, as the previous model was assumed dead. Exposition gets dealt out lightly, so it will help if you're at least vaguely familiar with the last six or so years of Batman family comics.

    From there, a bunch of Batman villains brush up against other Batman villains. A new Batman for whom the 2nd Amendment is dear shows up to try to kill Catwoman, even though she's currently on the side of angels. Things get hinted at, but not one single goddamned thing gets resolved here. Besides adding "color" to the crossover, there's an anorexic-thin set-up for the upcoming Gotham City Sirens series.

    Despite the whole affair being pointless, Chris Yost's script didn't bother me. The art by Pablo Raimondi had a wonderful, sleek, European mood greatly enhanced by the coloring of Brian Reber. Raimondi is a great fit for the characters and scenery of Gotham, so it would be wise to keep him working in that town on future books.


    Buck Rogers #0 (Dynamite, 2009, $0.25)
    In a bid to offer some steak with the sizzle of the low-low introductory price, writer Scott Beatty offers a script taking place in the final moments of a very important adventure. Beatty tries valiantly to make me give a shit about the character and plight of Not Flash Gordon. Whether it was the skew toward action, the silly villains, or Buck Roger's unoriginal voice, the story didn't quite do it. It wasn't bad, as far as that goes. The art's by Carlos Rafael, and compliments the quality of the script. The all-star here is colorist Carlos Lopez, who gives the book a pop the other elements lack. Next time out, I'd recommend leaving the jodhpurs in the closet, though.

    Destroyer #1 (MAX, 2009, $3.99)
    DC Comics launched Vertigo in the early '90s as a mature readers line for '80s Goth fantasy geeks. It seems to me Marvel Comics launched its MAX imprint in the early '00s as a mature readers lines for 80s aging action hero fans. Instead of Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris, MAX has offered Fury, The Punisher, and now Destroyer. This is sort of like DC's '80s vigilante riff Wild Dog worked over by the Mark Millar School of Writing. It's so cartoonishly violent that the gore has no dramatic impact, but not funny enough to play for yucks, either. Falling in between is a problem throughout the book. The premise is that a superhuman geriatric badass prepares to die by taking on every bit of unfinished business he can think of. You could take the mournful, human interest route of Kurt Busiek, and writer Robert Kirkman tries that, but neither long nor deep enough to hook emotions. Kirkman then goes back to wiseass brutality, but lacks the space for momentum to build. Aside from Irredeemable Ant-Man, Kirkman's Marvel work has always seemed watered down and gimmicky, this being no exception. Cory Walker's art suffers through the script, giving Kirkman what he asks for, and as a result feeling inconsistent.

    I expect the main problem I have is that even though I'm fairly youthful and energetic for my age, I still feel the years on my body. The Destroyer would have to be three times that, but wrinkles aside, he still seems more capable physically than your average super-type. The character could have been thirty and dying from a slow-acting poison rather than aging, and the only real change would be to the art. Kirkman's main hook is squandered, so why bother bringing it up?.


    R.E.B.E.L.S. #3 (DC, 2009, $2.99)
    The gloriously detailed and nuanced art of Andy Clarke is more than enough reason to buy this book on its own. Thankfully, Tony Bedard's script is solid, and Vril Dox remains a delightful bastard. I confess that I'm beginning to tap my fingers at the still progressing gathering of the team, whose members aren't exactly bowling me over besides. There's also a laughable old school villain in use, making me worry the book might be taking its time because the destination ain't such a hot spot.

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    A Frank Review of "Star Trek" (2009)

    The Short Version? Ultimate All-Star Trek
    What Is It? Action Comedy.
    Who Is In It? PYTs.
    Should I See It? Yes.



    Like most children of my generation, I was a Star Wars fan. I saw every movie on the big screen, followed the silly television spin-offs, owned scads of action figures, and just really wanted to have a lightsaber duel whenever the opportunity presented itself. My enthusiasm led me to the wealth of rip-offs, and I'm still proud to say my mother wasted good money on the theatrical run of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century before it went straight to television a few months after release. It therefore stands to reason then that I would naturally gravitate toward the considerably less kid-friendly Star Trek.

    While I may have gone to sleep on Star Wars after the heroes rescued the Princess and escaped the Death Star (not fully understanding why they had bothered, beyond that's what you did for pretty ladies,) I was unconscious in my seat at Star Trek: The Motion Picture not long after the Enterprise left port. In fact, I have yet to stay awake for the running time of that film after multiple attempts, one within the last five years. I don't recall if I saw Khan at the cinema, and never followed the syndicated reruns of the original series very closely. It wasn't until The Search For Spock that my brain had developed sufficiently to begin appreciating what the franchise had to offer... Which isn't to say it's all been wine and roses since, as I've hated every Trek pilot episode except The Cage at first blush, and only warmed to a couple of the television series thereafter (TNG and DS9, if you're curious.) All of this is to say that I'm not exactly a devout Trekkie, and I recognize that there was nowhere to go but up after the last Trek movies and series failed to generate the interest of even the faithful.

    As with Star Wars, Trek has sought new life and new marketability through prequels casting pretty young things in familiar roles. However, Wars and Trek have officially swapped identities in this pursuit. Star Wars became overly enamored with its own dense continuity, suffocating on minutiae and drained of all life through stiff acting and general pomposity. Worse, Wars tried to forget its fantasy roots and focus more on hard science and politics, little realizing it lacked the structural integrity and intellect to in any way work under those terms. Star Trek has in turn shed quite a few I.Q. points and heaps of baggage to become a pretty, fast paced action vehicle. Once again, I'm reminded of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, never really science fiction nor fantasy so much as a tongue-in-cheek lark allowing sexy people to be athletic in tight uniforms, and if Star Trek's new trajectory is similar, I can live with that.

    The new Star Trek is at its best when it follows its predecessors less dogmatically than intuitively, and this is most true in the casting of Chris Pine as Jim Kirk. No one could ever compare to the sublime badness of William Shatner in the role, so Pine is wise enough to steer his performance as far from Shat's territory as possible. Pine instead embodies everything you would expect from a character like Kirk; the swagger, the physicality, the sex appeal; but takes it off the page instead of taking cues from another actor. In a more perfect world, Pine would have his own character and ship to avoid comparisons, but as it is his portrayal of Kirk transforms him into a James Bond, where you can now imagine a variety of actors all offering their own debatable takes on a more malleable character than existed before.

    On the other end of the spectrum is Karl Urban as "Bones," who turns in an affectionate DeForest Kelly impersonation. Urban is the comfort food for Trekkies not entirely comfortable with all the changes wrought by this chapter in the saga, but he's also the most artificial and plainly out of place component in the venture. "Bones" figures heavily into the early going as expected, but it seems like as the movie's confidence in itself increases, the torch is passed to the less faithfully interpreted crew members. Unless this take on Bones is reconsidered, I expect the dynamic will continue to shift away from the once central character in future installments.

    Falling somewhere in the middle is Zachary Quinto as Spock, who lacks the trademark voice and bearing of Leonard Nimoy. The scripted take on Spock is an intense departure from what has come before, but Quinto seems so intent on downplaying everything and offering a mild variation on Nimoy that he waters the effort down. Instead of taking an unusually conflicted and adversarial role amongst the crew, Spock comes off more like overbearing middle management. For me, Quinto was the most disappointingly off the mark, especially and ironically during a couple of emotional moments requiring him to emote toward a mark on the floor. It's so silly it gives me hope Quinto might some day be unintentionally bad enough to hold a candle to the Shat.

    A true Trek geek might take exception to Christopher Pike going from a contemporary of Kirk to a father figure, but Bruce Greenwood is so inspiring in a modest amount of screen time, its easy to dismiss the issue. Uhura plays a more important role in this one picture than pretty much the entirety of the decades Nichelle Nichols played her, so its a good thing Zoe Saldana gives the character presence enough to more than hold her own. There's nothing wrong with John Cho's performance, but he's still just Harold with a ridiculous sword, while George Takei remains Sulu. Simon Pegg on the other hand so overwhelms any resistance to his being the new Scotty that I could see him taking Bones' place in the new Trek trinity. Pegg comes in under highly dubious story circumstances with an Ewok in tow, and just goes balls out from there to the point you forgive it all to have him on screen. Anton Yelchin is a cute Chekov, but a bit too forced as comic relief, so hopefully they'll pull back the accent next time out. Eric Bana doesn't have much to do as the main villain Nero, aside from looking terrible compared to Ricardo Montalban's Khan. There's nothing on the page to work with.

    In the WTF cameo department is Tyler Perry as a Admiral Richard Barnett, but I didn't even notice that he wasn't a typical Trek bit player until it was pointed out to me, so there's no hint of Christian Slater there. A lot of attention was paid to early casting reports of Winona Ryder as Spock's mom, which in hindsight fairly reeks of stunt casting, since what little she's given to do could have been handled by anyone. Ben Cross is far more potent as Sarek, a fine replacement for the late Mark Lenard. Faran Tahir makes a strong impression with his brief screen time as Captain Robau. Rachel Nichols looks really good in green body paint.

    The script is no gem, and it is not logical. There is time travel, the really not good kind. Your best bet is to recognize that this is all an alternate reality in a multiverse that co-exists with all previous Trek-- a little Valhalla for one original series character. We're treated to stock origin material featuring Kirk and Spock as kids right out of the Goonies for maximum audience identification. Nero is a terrible, boring villain whose entire role is a pastiche of Khan moments without embellishment. The hard science isn't-- soft and limp and plain dumb more often than not. Things happen because an action beat is called for or a reintroduced character needs a spotlight moment. Because of the lack of emotional and intellectual weight, the movie is forgiven a lot of its irreverence due to its irrelevance. This is Trek Lite, a popcorn movie with lots of CGI and gags, but after so much bad Trek proper, being entertaining alone is good enough. J.J. Abrams' direction is mostly solid, though he sometimes throws the camera around to make sure no one calls him out for static television staging. Awful Tony Scott fight scenes creep in, cut so that you can only just follow the action, an awkward fit with the smoother look overall. The cast and direction works more often than not though, shaking off the clunkier script elements, and earning good will toward the future.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009

    DC Challenge #7 (May, 1986)




    Previous issue writer Elliot S! Maggin moaned about how the confusion in earlier scripts was "multiplying exponentially issue to issue, so it was clear that it was time to bring some order to the chaos." He then went on and on about his love of Albert Einstein, who is not a copyrighted DC character, but who he had do away with all the other writers' subplots. "Paul, I effectively said, go forth and disassemble no more and you will be saved." He had imagined his Nazi story taking precedence, with Jimmy and Adam joining underground resistors like Ollie Queen, Uncle Sam and Perry White. Maggin then complained his follow-up writer didn't ignore the efforts made in previous issues to concoct an admittedly convoluted story by dismissing and hijacking it with one tale of his own devising, as he had done. Maggin wasted two columns of the letters section to defend his hack job, and another half went to his bio. At least he rightly called out Batman's otherworldly rescue being unnecessary.

    • The Joker disregarded the Einstein "resolution" of last issue, reinstating the alien invasion, Aquaman and Zatanna's desert doom, the conflict on Rann, and the heroes trapped in a "nasty dimension of holes!" He then recalled the complications of Batman's freefall and the Nazi conquest of the world. Rip Hunter, Time Master and Dr. Kemeny's medieval adventures with the Silent Knight were forgotten, as was Captain Comet


    • "The United Nations Plaza, New York City, 1986:" Nazis had conquered the world, and captured the reality displaced Adam Strange and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. "Obviously, Jimmy, the alien spaceship our little fuzzy-haired friend sent back through time accidentally with the Blackhawks fell into German hands-- and they used it to turn the tide... and win the Second World War!" Jimmy struck out at a commandant, much to Adam's chagrin, but Strange pressed the attack anyhow. Adam and Jimmy then used Strange's jetpack to escape, claiming a Luger along the way. From a nearby window, the pair were spotted by the aged Fuhrer, who wanted them in his clutches immediately.


    • Batman was still in the jungle, presumably due to Zeta Rays wearing off, but with no Hawkwoman in sight. A phony demonic Robin the Boy Wonder had dropped the Caped Crusader into an active volcano. Mr. Mxyzptlk appeared from the Fifth Dimension to turn the lava into rubber. The imp was looking for Superman with no luck, but was nice enough to return the Dark Knight to the Batcave. Alfred had contacted him to inform that the code from the first issue had been cracked by the Batcomputer. Mxyzptlk vanished, leaving Batman wondering how his magical powers still worked on Earth.


    • Elsewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, Plastic Man and Woozy Winks were on the aliens' case. It seemed the pair were from yet another Earth in the Multiverse, but Woozy's curiosity at a time/space warp hole landed them in this story. Plas went off to investigate the aliens, leaving Woozy to fall through another warp hole...


    • On the planet Rann, the effects of the Zeta Beams must have worn off, or maybe it was all Einstein, sending Hawkwoman, Captain Marvel and Dr. Fate off-world. Sardath fretted about his world's lack of heroes to face the horde of monsters still present. No new Zeta Beams would strike Earth for days, but Alanna had a plan. While the aliens siphoned away Earth's magical and scientific energies, the opposite effect hit on Rann, intensifying magic to the point of manifesting mythological creatures. Alanna studied an occult scroll, and directed Rannian flyers to effectively halt the horde through magic. Space Cabby happened by, answering a beacon set by Sardath, and took for him vital information to Earth.


    • Aquaman and Zatanna were still trapped in the Sahara Desert, lying flat on their bellies, roasting under the sun. According to the Sea King, all Einstein had done was send them "...from one desert to another... somehow!" The enchantress had no water to offer. "M-magic gone... all of it... from Earth...!" Suddenly, the Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk appeared, as though a mirage. "Say, you folks look parched! Have a drink! Anyway... I thought I could have a few giggles with all the trouble going on-- but everything's so screwed up that nobody even notices my pranks! And just try to find Superman in all this...!" Aquaman thought the aliens might have killed the Man of Steel, which appalled Mr. Mxyzptlk so much he teleported after them. Sadly, he neglected to take the stranded, but at least now rehydrated, Detroit Leaguers with him. "...Now we've got a longer time to wait to die..."


    • Woozy Winks landed in the Plane of Holes, still inhabited by Deadman, who launched into a stream of fat jokes. The Anti-Matter Man, Darwin Jones, Bobo the Detective Chimp and Dr. Terrence Thirteen, Ghostbreaker were long gone. Woozy stumbled through yet another warp hole, Deadman followed, and the pair landed in WWII Nazi-occupied France. The Blackhawks were in the skies above, first fighting the alien spaceship, then pretending to escort it to draw Nazi anti-aircraft battery fire against the ship. Woozy cowered in the bushes, claiming to be 4-F. Blackhawk himself took damage, knocking him unconscious and sending his plane in a dive right toward Deadman and Woozy


    • Plastic Man slithered aboard an alien spacecraft, where he eavesdropped on Dr. Xhytg giving a report to "the master," as preparations were made to implement the final plan on Earth. However, an invader dropped heavy packages on the disguised Plas, revealing the hero's presence. The master then turned out to be the Joker, and "I've got every last hero on this planet twisted around like a pretzel with their own problems! By the time they get unwound... it'll be all over except for the coronation! Mine!


    • "Don't Bogart That Grape... Hand Me The Gas Pump" was by Paul Kupperberg, Joe Staton and Steve Mitchell

    Saturday, May 9, 2009

    July, 1991 Amazing Heroes #192 X-Men Cover



    Not one of the better issues of the magazine of mainstream comics before Wizard ruined everything. The Jim Lee "Mutants Of The Year" cover was fantastic, as you can see, commemorating the release of X-Men #1 with separate milquetoast interviews of creators Lee and Chris Claremont. After that was a look at the uniformly bland !mpact Comics, Andy Mangels Backstage (spotlighting the unproduced Brigitte Nielsen She-Hulk movie,) Heidi Macdonald's look at the Harvey Awards, and oodles of reviews and solicitation copy.

    There was a fun piece from Adam-Troy Castro's Infernal Gall column questioning the wisdom of various comic book movie options. One of a series of "The Reverse Casting Game," the writer poo-pooed the Silver Surfer and Galactus (the former turned out not so bad in the Fantastic Four sequel,) Archie, the Simpsons, Werewolf By Night, Any Super-Team (about half right,) Elektra: Assassin, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Who's Who In the DC Universe (direct-to-video Robin Leach documentary,) David Lynch's The Angriest Dog In The World, and finally, Nancy and Sluggo. So clearly, this was written back in that lost time when comics and newspaper strips were still covered as interchangeable. Also, when people read newspapers at all.

    Anyway, wasn't that cover fantastic? Just fantastic? I like the coy, concealed Rogue best, while Beast is just sort of there. Wolverine before microphones predicted the success of Hugh Jackman's portrayal, while the short-lived flirtation between Cyclops and the barely restrained cleavage of Psylocke dates the piece. Meanwhile, $3.95? When Jim Lee was arguing the relative merits of comics formatted for $1-1.75? No wonder the full color Wizard killed this mag.

    Friday, May 8, 2009

    Air (Vol. 1): Letters from Lost Countries




    I've talked before about how Vertigo is always out to replace their completed hits with reconstructions both full bodied, like David Lapham's Young Liars 1: Daydream Believer, and pale like Outlaw Nation. I'm rather annoyed to hear about the imminent cancellation of the former, and it isn't helped by Air's more closely resembling the latter.

    Like Preacher, we have a blond woman and her mysterious brunette paramour taking on a global conspiracy that would crush their love and lives. This time, the emphasis is on the heroine Blythe, an acrophobic airline stewardess. Blythe is tipped to strange goings on in the sky by a handsome, enigmatic world traveler she keeps running into in his different guises. While attracted to this man, coming into his orbit brings her to the attention of the Etesian Front, a tattooed cult of vigilantes who guard the airways. Blythe is unsure who to trust, tensions mount, and before long she's tied up in a skyjacking.

    The opening chapter in this collection of the first five issues is an excellent oversized teaser of the series' premise. There was a lot of promise there, but the series seemed poised to jump the shark with the very next issue. A supernatural component is introduced, as events become increasingly more fantastic in nature. The book begins to favor action and intrigue over exposition, but a pointed observation comes into view: neither the writer nor the artist are especially adept with action and intrigue. Scenes shift without warning, characters appear and vanish without explanation, and violence is rendered in a stilted, awkward fashion. The invisible hands of the conspirators are all too apparent, and the creators are just plain hamfisted. The fourth issue deals in metaphysics and the origins of Blythe's phobia, by way of a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion to prior events. The issue ends with a big leap into nonsense, leading to a final chapter where a levy of bullshit breaks. There are big revelations, but they're silly and end about halfway through the issue. Then there's a mercilessly moronic action sequence involving Heckle and Jeckle analogues leading to a "surprise" guest appearance that's been done so often, its only impact is in its stunning predictability. You'll get flashbacks to the final seasons of X-Files, and it's the worst possible way to halt an introductory trade.

    This isn't my first bad experience with writer G. Willow Wilson, who also subjected me to the clunky Vixen: Return of the Lion mini-series. Wilson is desperately in need of polish or a co-writer, because while she has ability, it isn't enough to provide a well rounded graphic novel narrative. Her strengths seems to be in her dialog and concepts, but her ability to translate them to panel work leaves a lot to be desired. Artist M.K. Perker comes off as Julie Douchet providing layouts for Ian Churchill. The book looks as good as that combination of disparate influences can allow, but it's a queer combination regardless. That's somewhat indicative of my issues with the book as a whole-- too many ingredients that don't quite relate to one another thrown into a soup.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    Sat. Was FCBD For All I Care #30

    Attack of the Alterna Zombies Volume 1
    Blackest Night #0
    Free Comic Book Day: Aliens/Predator
    Mighty Archie Art Players, Free Comic Book Day Edition
    Savage Dragon #148




    But first, my personal Free Comic Book Day 2009 story, re-edited from a comment on another blog...

    I gave up brick and mortar comic shops for monthly mail order at a hefty discount years ago, but my virtual shop started forcing me to pay $5 extra UPS shipping if I ordered a Previews. I've opted to pick one up at a shop near my girlfriend's house instead. It was actually the last physical shop I subscribed at, but under different management. I still don't like it much, though, and typically just raid their cheapie bins.

    We happened to show up on Saturday, because those UPS fucks didn't appear at my place until 7:45 p.m. Friday night to confirm my lack of Previews. The shop is small, but had security to insure only one free comic per customer and a lengthy schpiel about the merits of a lousy fuckin' 10-15% discount subscription service.

    I took about five FCBD issues anyway, figuring I'd pay some nominal fee for the extras. I also picked up $2 worth of dime comics. The clerk told me he was supposed to charge me $1 each for the FCBD books, which I o.k.'d, but he then waived the exorbitant fee (wholesale each is what, a dime? A quarter?) I thought he was being a good guy, but I suspect my girlfriend's having bought me a high ticket item on the sly to surprise me in the parking lot might have factored in.

    In conclusion, I don't overly much care about FCBD, and I'm glad I don't have to deal with gaming geeks and obnoxious kids on the regular. Considering what a grouch I am, FCBD books left on the table should count their blessings, unlike these poor titles...

    Attack of the Alterna Zombies Volume 1 (Alterna Comics, 2009, $0.00)
    This was the most independent skewing book on the table, and as an 80 page squarebound digest, the one with the most potential. Alas, it's mostly shit.

    1. The 15 page original lead story features comparative headliners Jesus and Abe Lincoln fighting flesh eating versions of the line's characters in a mushroom-enhanced haze. The fact is, none of these characters are recognizable enough to carry a nothing story, and Christ written "out of character" is just a grungy action star. Without humor, I'd have much rather seen the space devoted to extended reprints, especially as brevity cuts the knees out from under the rest of the book
    2. Birth is blessed with the best looking artist of the book, Michael S. Bracco. However, the excerpt's six pages involved two silent alien races massacring one another and one captioned line of narration.
    3. Novo is also by Bracco, and has much more to say, but no space.
    4. H.C. Noel's Mr. Scootles caught my attention a ways back during an internet preview. The premise isn't bad, though there's grievous refusal of the rule about "show, don't tell." The art is open and animated, but rather stiff in some panels, reminding me of Matt Martin. This is the only incomplete preview that feels like it gave enough information to base a buying decision on.
    5. American Terror: Confession of a Human Smart Bomb is the exact opposite. The art of Jeff McComsey is intentionally rough, with heavy shading and plenty of detail, feeling out the dystopic setting. However, the five pages of script by McComsey and James Cooper offers virtually nothing substantial to go on with regard to the premise, just an action beat that would make about as much sense without dialogue.
    6. The Chair by Peter Simeti and Kevin Christensen is a prison piece that feels like it was created with only vague recollections of prison movies as reference. The amount of effort put into making the tale grim n' gritty only makes it all the more ridiculous. Probably the most unintentional entertainment value in the book.
    7. Jesus Hates Zombies: "300" by Michael Bartolotta and Jeff McComsey offers a complete short story that in quality and content pales the awful lead tale and makes it all the more redundant. That doesn't make this entry good, but by comparison it's a massive improvement.
    8. Lincoln Hates Werewolves by Stephen Lindsay and Steve Cobb is four pages of lead-in that seems to be here to remind just who Honest Abe usually fights, and that his solo stories aren't as lousy as the lead feature. There's some wild perspective, but the art is overall outshone by the computer effects layered over it.
    9. Risers by Martian Fisher and Kurt Belcher got a positive write-up at AICN a while back, and the too-brief preview does nothing to dispel that, but not enough to make me want more, either.
    10. Morbid Myths is an anthology that contributed the supposedly complete short story"What Dreams May Come," by too many hands to mention. There's a decent sci-fi/horror premise put forth, but then it abruptly ends with a terrible denouement leaving way too much in the air to be remotely satisfying. Not the way you want to end an already frustrating book, even for free.


    Blackest Night #0 (DC, 2009, $0.00)
    When I heard about the Sinestro Corps, I thought it was about damned time the Green Lanterns had their evil mirror universe parallel, with the perfect villain at the helm, and decades of groundwork laid. The same was true with the Star Sapphires, a pluralization of the concept that makes a lot more sense than it taking every Zamaron just to make one mid-level villainess. I didn't even mind Agent Orange as a one man corps of avarice. But now we've got every color of the rainbow with an unimaginatively named corps of its own and slight variations on the same basic designs. My feeling is that it should take years and a variety of creative minds to construct one of these organizations; to diversify, define, and contrast them against one another. These Mighty Morphin' Power Ringers instead seem increasingly homogeneous and rushed on the path to Geoff Johns' true interest, the retarded Black Lantern Corps.

    Death is an emotion now? Shouldn't it be the absence of emotion, and that being the case, shouldn't they be the Black Hole Vacuum or something? If they all bend to Black Hand's will, shouldn't they take his name? If they have their own goals, that would indicate emotion, right? Have they bonded together for the sole purpose of making the posters in potheads' rooms glow in the dark? Most importantly, hasn't the goodwill toward zombie superpeople long since burned out? So yeah, I'm not impressed with the new oath-takers.

    That being off my chest, on to the issue on hand. Ivan Reis really is DC's Bryan Hitch at this point, and God bless him for the pretty pictures and ability to hit a schedule. The book looks absolutely gorgeous, consistent between two inkers and lovingly colored by Alex Sinclair. The story is all about an introduction to the modern DC Universe for newbs, and serves reasonably well on that front. Nothing much for the seasoned reader to bite into, though.

    After the twelve page original story, there's a text pitch by Johns, and then nine pages of pin-ups by Doug Mahnke. These serve as a good character guide for each Corps, and an attractive preview of the incoming penciller's take. Not only will the main titles have a consistent style, thanks to Mahnke's strong influence on GLC artist Patrick Gleason, but Mahnke himself has never looked better than under Christian Alamy's inks. Mahnke's long been the DC superstar that wasn't, but with this endeavor looks to finally overwhelm the consciousness of fandom.

    Free Comic Book Day: Aliens/Predator (Dark Horse, 2009, $0.00)
    The 10 page Aliens segment by John Arcudi and Zach Howard was tantalizing, offering a nod to one of the licensed series that Dark Horse was built on in the '80s, while providing a new beginning for the comics. This portion is more about mood and acquainting readers with the Giger Alien than forwarding a narrative, so that's all I can comment on.

    The 10 page Predator segment by John Arcudi and Javier Saltares leans heavily on upfront action, which like the previous preview means the writer known the franchise's inclinations. I've liked Saltares since he relaunched Ghost Rider nearly two decades back, and he doesn't disappoint here. Well-- except there's a last page twist involving a redesign that owes too much to the '90s that spawned the artist. Otherwise though, if there were more pages, I'd have liked to have continued reading both tales. I don't know if that will translate to actual dollars trading hands, though.


    Mighty Archie Art Players, Free Comic Book Day Edition (Archie, 2009, $0.00)
    My girlfriend went "ooooo, Archie," so I picked this up for her, and would have felt like a real sucker if I had been stuck with a buck tab. I read some Archies growing up, and always found them to be modestly lame distractions, but never this bad. Were they always awful, or have they gotten worse? I recognize super heroes are a repetitive genre, so it's all in the execution. This book offers four stories with the exact same plot: Betty loves Archie, there's a complication (3 out of 4 times Veronica,) then Betty gets Archie (3 out of 4 times, the last a draw.) Along the way are bad puns, bland exposition, and "homages" to movies no younger than twenty years gone, most older than dirt. Every bit was obvious in the days of Dobie Gillis, a reference I myself am too young to make, much less get. The closest any of this comes to relevance is a two page movie quiz that name drops High School Musical 3, but is illustrated with Indy Jones, Princess Leia, Superman and Scarlett O'Hara. Ye Gods, Archie's out of touch-- which is about par, but by thirty years? When I was running a shop, I had exactly one regular customer for Archie: a middle-aged wife who tagged along with a Vampirella collector... and that was over a decade ago! Are geriatrics their base now?


    Savage Dragon #148 (Image, 2009, $0.00) I really enjoy Erik Larsen as an opinionated fanpro editorialist, and I've grown accustomed to his Kirby-with-erogenous-zones art style, but his scripts typically leave me cold. Here, he offers a detailed four page synopsis of the relevant series continuity to date, always welcome. However, he then has a ton of in-story exposition to the same effect, as if he second-guessed himself at the last minute and inserted the preview.

    Larsen has also reintroduced a bunch of public domain characters recently, as though Dynamic Forces rained on his "to do list" with their own ongoing revival. I've come to find the DF/Alex Ross re-imagining of the Golden Age characters terrible, because it throws out everything that made those creations interesting and turned them into Bronze Age Marvel douchebags, doing so through rather contrived means to boot. Larsen makes the exact opposite mistake, writing his take on the original Daredevil and the Little Wise Guys as though the Golden Age never ended, but in the context of the ultraviolent, oversexed Dragon series. Sure, that could have been intentional, but it tastes like a tofu taco-- two flavors that together sit on your plate untouched.

    To top it all off, the plot has no momentum, seeming to exist to give Dragon and Daredevil something to do together. Since the heroes have no chemistry, and what they get up to doesn't hold much interest, the highlight of the issue is a two page text piece on Daredevil's publishing history. A standalone Daredevil book guest-starring Dragon wouldn't have been much better, but certainly more honest. Instead, the Dragon readership was done a disservice by watered down content and Daredevil's spotlight hogging, while all-ages audiences get thongs in their faces.

    ...nurghophiles...

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