Friday, December 31, 2010

My Disappointments in Archie #616

I was very excited about the prospect of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin joining the Archie Comics stable of characters, but so many of my expectations were dashed in the debut, I must count the ways...

  1. Obama "endorsing" Betty instead of Archie, just to fuck with the rednecks.
  2. Palin "endorsing" Betty instead of Veronica, after Betty rebuffs Obama and turns out to be a closet case opposed to mixing with coloreds, illegal aliens and non-incestuous abortions.
  3. Veronica revealing to her father that she was secretly Obama Girl, and hopes to join the Liberal Media Elite after attending college at UC Berkeley.
  4. Dilton Doiley criticized as an intellectual elitist and drummed out unfairly from the Math Club on accusations that advanced calculus is witchcraft.
  5. Pop Tate breaks down after realizing Jughead Jones has put the Chocklit Shoppe so far into the black that he'll be taxed in the rich man's bracket.
  6. Willow Palin calling Kevin Keller a faggot on Facebook.
  7. Chuck Clayton revealed to be Obama's love child. Michelle throws Barack out of the White House. Hillary consoles.
  8. Reggie Mantle grilled by the media after applauding the peaceable negotiations skills of Riverdale's Spire Christian Purity League during the desegregation process.
  9. Bristol Palin puts lipstick on Ethel Muggs; enters her in Dancing With The Stars as a partner for Dustin Diamond.
  10. The Archies furious to learn Miss Grundy was denied necessary treatment by a Death Panel.
  11. Sarah Palin fills Moose Mason's face with buckshot.
  12. Midge Klump immediately impregnated by Levi Johnston.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Empowered Volume 4 (2008)



I’d like to issue a personal apology to Adam Warren. You see, months back I wrote a highly critical review of the third volume of Empowered, but then rolled right into volume 4, which was a massive improvement. Unfortunately, I’ve had that negative reaction sitting around the internet for about a half a year, and sat on the positive opinion I have for this edition. The character of Empowered gets nominated as “Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” in this story, and the book also warrants more positive word, so I feel like a jerk for laying down on the job.

The book opens by reprinting the color story from MySpace Dark Horse Comics Presents, a fairly average introductory piece for new readers. Speaking of color though, for some reason I always thought Sistah Spooky was an Asian girl that tried to act black, and it wasn’t until I saw her on the back cover here that I saw how unambiguously African-American she’s supposed to be. Call me obtuse.

The new material picks up with Ninjette recovering from the events of the previous volume. The hospital for “capes” where she’s staying offers a lot of opportunity for Morrison mad ideas, which Warren has a gift for communicating with much greater clarity and humor. The three principles (including Thugboy) then bond back at home in a more organic (and sexah) fashion than the karaoke contest last time.

Unbeknownst to the reader, those fifty-four pages of seemingly random episodes, exposition, and recovery have been lulling them into believing that the new tale hasn’t begun, when in fact Warren has been craftily threading in clues to a central mystery that will dominate the volume. Fun new characters are introduced, Empowered is subjected to her usual emotional battery, and sorting out the read herrings from the essentials may challenge the reader. Most of the cast is given an opportunity for action and character exploration. Once the shit starts hitting the fan at 17th Annual Caped Justice Awards ceremony, pay-offs come fast and furious, and our heroines truly show their worth.

I loved the first volume of Empowered because it was a collection of short stories/comic strips designed to satisfying at the end of each treat’s single-digit page count. Volume two worked because it was many of the characters’ first chances to entertain in extended tales. Three faltered because of the contempt of familiarity and meandering before the final fight, which had been teased too much and ran too long. Also, the balance of humor, tension, action and characterization was way off, feeling forced or slight depending on the individual segments.

Volume four works because Adam Warren manages to keep all of its balls in the air the entire time, an amazing accomplishment. Each chapter is fun, usually quite funny, and often enhances the characters. At the same time, the episodes are downright insidious is their stealth building of an overarching story which ties together and completes the volume. For the first time since the beginning of Empowered, Warren has delivered an edition that works in parts and as a whole, magnifying the pleasures of his work. He seems reenergized here, and the enthusiasm and focus grabs the reader by the boo-boo. Any reservations I had about continuing to follow the series were dispelled, and it is once again among my top recommendations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fire: The Definitive Collection (2001)

Back in the early ‘90s, I bought my comics at a flea market stand where the proprietor was savvy enough to order first issues beyond the usual speculator crap with informed judgment. For instance, there was a debut from Caliber Press called Fire with a photo cover of a floppy haired college girl with a gun, ala Le Femme Nikita. I’ve had a weakness for fumetti since that Marvel Team-Up cover where Joe Jusko dressed as Captain America, and a weakness for floppy haired brainy girls nearly as long. Surely the shopkeeper knew at least one sucker would buy the book, and that sucker was me.

The comic was about a male (drat!) university student who had been recruited by an intelligence agency. The story opened with his having run afoul of his boss, Murphy Brown, and ending up battered and locked away. The rest of the issue was then told in flashback, revolving around how the student was lured into the spy business and partially trained by a cute floppy haired spy girl (yes!) It was a pretty alright story that ended on a cliffhanger. The dialogue had a nice pop to it, with unusually strong character repartee for a comic of the time. I liked the moody high contrast art, which made up for some of the obvious photo referencing (especially Ms. Candy Bergen) with personality. The lettering was rather amateurish, though, and the writer/artist was pretentious enough to use his full name and merge the a & e in “Brian Michael Bendis.”

Anyhow, the dealer must have lacked confidence in selling a second issue, and if I asked him to reorder that half, it never got to me. I did keep up with the progression of this Bendis guy, and even tried odd issues of his crime comic A.K.A. Goldfish, but I never found anything strong enough to hook me. Bendis eventually became one of the biggest names in the industry, and I still don’t fully understand why, because even his best stuff (Alias, Powers, Daredevil) has consistently left me wanting. The worst stuff has been outright wankery, and I don’t think the guy “gets” the high profile super-heroes he now gets to write, so I avoid his stuff whenever possible.

Still, a few years back Fire came out in an affordable single volume, reedited/altered/expanded like it was George Lucas’ project instead of Bendis’. I can’t recall if I bought it myself or got a loaner, but after about a fifteen year delay, I finally finished Fire in its ultimate form. I guess after my various exposures to the writing style, a lot of the perceived originality novelty had worn off. That, and I’ve seen a bunch of Mamet and Tarantino since then. In fact, a lot of the circular exchanges of dialogue were grating as fuck today, and I hated the unnecessary repetitions of pages/sequences. I still like the artwork, especially when Bendis borrowed from Patrick Nagel for his floppy haired girl. It strikes me as a good book to show off some technical prowess and get your foot in the publishing door, but unsatisfying and derivative as a volume of some sort of froo-froo Brian Michael Bendis collection. In fact, I read this thing in the spring of 2009, it went multiple trips where I intended to get writing done, and I’ve only just now gotten around to the bother of reviewing the damned thing. I seem to recall having a lot more invective to hurl at its construction and excesses, but time has dulled that harsh critique, and I just don’t want the mediocre book hanging over my head anymore. Besides, this collected edition doesn’t feature either of the old photo covers, and that floppy haired chick was the only reason I bought the fucking thing in the first place.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Frank Review of "His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th" (2009)

The Short Version? Slasher flick icon gets discussed.
What Is It? Documentary.
Who Is In It? All the usual suspects, plus some completely random people, like that guy from Psych.
Should I See It? Probably.



Growing up in the 1980s, and I'm sure for decades prior, there were these TV specials featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews for upcoming movies. Even though they were essentially commercials, they were still heavily advertised 30-minute-to-half-hour events with their own hosts run on network television. At the same time, UHF channels and cable television were using similar material stripped to bare basics as bumpers between movies. The public generally became better educated about the mechanics of film production, so the "specials" seemed to fade away going into the '90s. They kind of got replaced by the geek documentary: fan/creators seeking to legitimize their dorky obsessions by getting deep into the sociopolitical relevance of Star Trek and such. Between the revelatory nature of the deeper meanings found in good docs and the amusement of someone pulling imagined weight out of their assholes in the bad ones, it was a really fun period for that type of material. Unfortunately, the rise of "reality television" economics has made the cheap ass pseudo-documentary exasperatingly common nowadays, so every pop culture dead end can be counted on to receive several feature length dedications to their dubious merits.

Take Jason Vorhees, for instance. The original Friday the 13th may have been a canny spin on Psycho that paid off the insinuated gore of Halloween, but by the third installment it was just a straight up Michael Myers knock-off in a rural locale. However, the character has turned up in twelve feature films and counting, so you'd think there must be something special to warrant that kind of longevity. Watching the direct-to-DVD His Name Was Jason, I suspect it's the same base, comforting, familiar formula that kept Married... With Children on the air for over a decade. It isn't that there's anything great about Jason Vorhees as a character, and his movies are fairly consistently lousy, but his potency as an iconic image is hard to deny.

Like your typical Friday flick, His Name Was Jason is crappy in the early going. Jumping quickly between film footage and an excess of interviewees, nobody is saying anything worthwhile. Tom Savini, who famously passed on Part 2 because he thought bringing back Jason was nonsense, comes off as as a bit of a low quote sellout as the host. He's also involved in interstitials depicting victims stalked/killed by Jason on a set. The cheesy devices used to cut everything together (CGI hatchets/blood spills/sound effects) are truly obnoxious, and there seems to be a real rush to cover each shitty, repetitive sequel as rapidly as possible. In fact, I switched the movie off after about twenty minutes and let it sit for a month before giving the flick another go.

The overly busy production eventually settled down, like an ADHD kid whose Ritalin starts kicking in. The interstitials start featuring actual kills and tits. Most of the stupid transitional effects get dropped. Individuals involved in the various productions start being given space to tell their stories. That last one especially makes the difference, because you start to realize part of the appeal is the shared experience of being in a Jason movie, and the usually positive impact that association has on their lives. There's a real feeling of community between fans and the decades of performs involved with the movies that seems to enrich their lives. The movies are still dumb formula, but the relationships are almost profound.

While the documentary itself may be too crassly commercial and mainstream, the special features more than make up for its faults.

Extras?

  • The Men Behind The Mask Forty-six minutes of interviews with every actor to play Jason Vorhees. Without all the garbage and quick cuts, plus full of information, I enjoyed this more than the actual documentary.
  • Final Cuts Same as before, except an 1 1/4 hour with the directors. It's almost as if the documentarians knew their work was getting chopped to shit, so they indulged themselves by offering everything they could have possibly wanted in a real doc as extravagant special features. I had my favorite Jasons, and there are some directors with much more insight than others, but as a whole this is a robust pair of worthwhile features.
  • Dragged From The Lake Twenty minutes of stuff cut for being too long or extraneous. Not bad, but I don't want to hear about Alice's stalker or art ever again. Too creepy and sad, not necessarily as expected. Also, I never saw Part VII, but it seems to have been the Freddy's Revenge of the series, so I oughta.
  • Fan Films I had a knee jerk reaction at first glance, until I hit the sub-menu to check the marquee. Freddy vs. Jason in 30 Seconds With Bunnies and The Angry Video Game Nerd: Friday the 13th Episode have made the internet rounds for years, and are pretty good. Jason Hurts is a solid enough skit that runs a bit long. The only dud is Rupert Takes Manhattan, about Jason's unsuccessful brother who wears a catcher's mask. That gag is old as shit, and poorly executed besides.
  • Closing the Book on the Final Chapter About ten minutes spent at the Jarvis house from Part IV with the director and a pseudo-Jason. After everything else, this was a bit of a drag, but not so much through fault of its own.
  • Fox Comes Home I assumed this would be some lame Fox trailers, but it's actually the actress from the 3D one (which I also haven't seen) showing off the location from her film for four minutes. For the diehards only.
  • Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes Three accomplished fans separately give a loose summary of the entire original series and have it edited together into a narrative. Cute. Inessential.
  • Jason Takes Comic-Con Dread Central.Com interviews cast members from the reboot's marketing salvo at San Diego. Lame as it sounds.
  • The Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide Everybody offers Scream-type advise for another four minutes, run though a cheesy "dated footage" filter.
  • Inside Halloween Horror Nights An tour of the Universal Studios Camp Blood attraction used extensively in the documentary.
  • Shelly Lives! Sketch comedy. No, it isn't.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Frank Review of "Return of the Living Dead 3" (1993)

The Short Version? Romeo meets Zombiette
What Is It? Horror
Who Is In It? Lady Heather, Officer Jim Reed, Ursa
Should I See It? Probably not.



Brian Yuzna directed the overrated Society, and not much else you’d want on your IMDb page. He specializes in horror movies that look like ambitious but underfunded stage plays with bad lighting, including those straight to video jobs that trailer movies you suddenly realize from their presence you shouldn’t have rented. It takes a special kind of ineptitude to release a two million dollar sequel to a classic horror-comedy as a melodrama that only recoups a quarter of its budget. Still, if only because of late night showings in my formative years, I have a very small amount of affection for Return of the Living Dead III. It isn’t in any way objectively good, but it is surprisingly watchable, and has memorable moments.

The movie opens on the set of a Wilson Phillips video-- no wait, that’s just the overpowering presence of the early nineties at work. Acid washed jeans, floppy boy hair, those stupid hats-- if such a movie were produced today, I would howl over how insanely on the nose of 1992 everything was. Anyway, this is the story of an army brat boy having fallen for a bad girl to the dismay of his widowed daddy. Pops is involved in a very loose continuation of the previous movies, his idea to have the military use zombies as weapons against enemy nations soon falling out of favor and replaced by zombies acting as meat batteries for exoskeletons controlled through medieval means. Half of what I just wrote made no sense, but there’s enough idiocy in the script that focusing on any one inanity requires an impressive amount of tunnel vision on the viewers’ part. The script is wretched, the characters are all ridiculously deserving of dire fates, and Pitfall Harry couldn’t get over this many plot holes.

The boy sneaks onto a military installation that must be run by Gomer Pyle to show his girlfriend the reanimated dead, until whoops, she joins their ranks. Forgetting all that stuff from the first movie about zombies needing to eat brains to relieve themselves temporarily of the agony of being undead, the bad girl instead uses pain to distract herself from wanting to eat whatever human body part is readily available, specifically her boyfriend's. On the run through South Central Los Angeles, the star-crossed couple run into all sorts of offensive racial caricatures, including a magical negro derelict who shelters them in his sewer home while growling every moronic line. He’s still better than the boy, an actor so bad I’m not sure I buy his respiration, much less his delivery. The girl actually went on to better things, and deservedly so, but she’s still finding her way here.

Prior to the hour mark, things start to drag, but the film seems to reach its anti-climax within a quarter past. Disconcertingly, the movie then continues for another quarter hour, which feels inorganic, but is actually where most of the money and fucked up imagery ends up. What makes it weird is that it's 9/10ths of a vampire movie, then suddenly becomes a true zombie flick about the time you're ready to check out.

In summary, the movie is a mess. Everything looks cheap, the script sucks, the acting eats dick, fans of the earlier movies will miss the yucks, and zombie fans will miss the yuck. Still, our heroine zombie serves as an early alternative culture/piercing/cutting icon, there are some clever bits, a surprising presence (if not quantity) of tits, and it's generally better than the sum of its parts.


Extras?

  • Director's Commentary Film geeks always appreciate tracks that go into this level of detail... unless it's for a Brian Yuzna production. So wait, you just kept repainting the same boxes and shining different colored lights through them to give the appearance of new set locations? Who'da thunk it? Besides everyone?
  • Cast CommentaryHoly shit! Two tracks for this turd? Someone's getting fired over this waste of company resources! Also, I don't know if you can technically call it the cast when one member and a technician shows up. Admittedly, it was star Melinda Clarke and Thomas C. Rainone (2nd unit/effects supervisor,) but still. It's fun to listen to the awkward silences whenever Tom hits on her or steers the conversation toward right wing politics. This would have been adequate on its own, but after a second viewing with the director, enough was enough.
  • Trailers Remember what I said earlier? All Yuzna features, including Progeny, Faust: Love of the Damned and The Dentist 1 & 2

Thursday, September 30, 2010

1968 DC Comics Showcase #73 "Beware The Creeper" House Ad



DC promoted the event of a popular artist moving into their stable with "Steve Ditko Strikes Again!" I suppose that would be a strike in the baseball sense, as like Jack Kirby, none off Ditko's DC creations ever caught fire like the Marvel ones. In fact, I'd say the Charlton heroes DC bought about fifteen years later have profited them far more than the Creeper, Stalker or Hawk & Dove... although the Vertigoized Shade the Changing Man had a longer run than any of them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D" (2010)



The Short Version? The Matrix with zombies in 3D
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Leeloo, the other blond from Heroes, the Prison Break guy, that black dude who does black movies your pale ass don't see, that asshole who always plays scumbags
Should I See It? Maybe.

I slag on most movie franchises-- hell, most movies-- but I have my weak spots. Resident Evil is certainly one of them. I'm up for unpretentious cinematic badness if the formula is right. I love zombies, and adore Milla Jovovich, so I'm Paul W.S. Anderson's meal ticket. I have warm memories of playing every damned variation on the incomparable Resident Evil 2 video game I and a group of friends could manage (Hunk's Run owned me,) and followed that series through until Codename: Veronica, by which point I'd given up on all gaming. I even read a few of the comics, and started one of the books. I didn't mind the liberties taken in the first Resident Evil movie, because it offered enough respectful nods while clearly being its own beast. I say that with full consciousness that the games were little more than a mutated mating of dozens if not hundreds of zombie movies, while the movie owed outrageously blatant debts to films from other genres. They're both totally derivative, and their pleasures run to the guilty side, but I indulge in them unapologetically.

I've seen every Resident Evil film in the theater, and I've run through the first on DVD better than a dozen times. Of the many "influences" you could slap across the franchise's face, I find the closest parallel for myself to be the Roger Moore Bond movies. No one ever confused the dubious quality of Moore's outrageous '70s spectacles for the better Sean Connery material, just like George A. Romero can rest easy knowing his first two Dead films remain the gold standard. Still, Connery made Diamonds are Forever, and not having seen Survival of the Dead, I can safely say Romero went at least thirty years without producing a good zombie movie (quiet, Day apologists!) Given my druthers, I'll take the cheap thrills of RE over any additional screenings of Diary of the Dead, not to mention any Brosnan Bond besides Goldeneye.

For the uninitiated, the first Resident Evil introduced Alice, an initially amnesiac heroine who worked with a commando squad to investigate a top secret laboratory of the sinisterly omnipresent Umbrella Corporation. This was followed by Apocalypse, the messiest, ugliest, and least interesting chapter, as an outbreak of the murderous undead sweeps Raccoon City. Extinction took the franchise into Mad Max territory, involving some entertainingly goofy sci-fi/super-heroic elements. Each has ended with a cliffhanger, even though the directorial vision is quite inconsistent, and nothing is sensible enough to lead anyone to believe the continuing story is given any thought until after the box office indicates a greenlit sequel. This is especially amusing when you realize this is the rare series written by a single individual, but it's Paul W.S. Anderson, so yeah.

Afterlife picks up in Japan, as Alice leads an assault on Umbrella headquarters that recalls Kurt Wimmer's Ultraviolet (also starring Jovovich,) which effectively ended his directing career. Anyone who tells you this is the high point of the movie likes their shit dumb, extending from the lousy acting to the stupid dialogue through the questionable CGI. However, it's in 3D, and the kind Jim Cameron used for Avatar, so I suppose the gimmick of throwing stars coming right atacha does it for some people. Paul W.S. Anderson is back in the director's chair, and still desperately wants his own Matrix, but at least this is better than a Matrix sequel. The patented "homage" and magical unclear resolutions of once dire circumstances will be familiar from past entries in this series, but there's an added dose of excessive bullet time slo-/non motion. Besides the gimmickry and a desire to start things off with a bang, the main purpose of this sequence is to hit the reset button on elements of escalating lunacy from previous chapters.

From there, Afterlife slows way down, a source of complaint for some. Tonally and as manifested, it falls somewhere between Apocalypse and Extinction. A bunch of new characters are introduced as cannon fodder for cartoonish action set pieces like the second flick, but as in the third, the pacing is more deliberate, with some returning characters lending tension to situations where someone who matters somewhat in imperiled. Some new mystery/conspiracy elements are introduced that will never be satisfactorily resolved, and the appearance of any characters originating from the actual game will continue to alert viewers of a dip in the already shoddy acting standard present.

I condemn Resident Evil: Afterlife in the same way I would admonish myself while enjoying a triple meat cheeseburger. I know it will attack my heart, do damage to my bodily systems, and could be easily replaced with something better for me, but I'm not going to stop chowing down. Zombies whose mouths split into tentacles just like the genetically altered vampires in Blade 2 means idiot characters getting ate in the face. Fast zombies swarm rooftops like cockroaches in a sewer, twelve foot tall medieval executioners throw meat tenderizing axes, Milla/Alice jumps off the usual shit while things blow up, and brains hurl at the audience's altered perceptions like watermelon at a Gallagher concert. If you don't know you're supposed to giggle when Alice steps out of a prop plane dressed like Amelia Earnhardt with the full Maybelline treatment after experiencing 177 days without any signs of human life, you're just not getting it.

I continue to miss the atmospheric music of the first film. The only song here I can recall is an incessant remix of A Perfect Circle's "The Outsider." How do we go from new Slipknot and inventive old Nine Inch Nails to a tired ass single from Bush's first term (the president, although I could see thinking of the band under these circumstances.) No one in this cast makes an impression beyond Jovovich, and the villain is flat out terrible (Agent Smith by way of Val Kilmer, with a reasonable approximation of the hilariously awful voice acting of the early games.) The movie runs long at 1 1/2 hours, because that silly ending will. not. stop. There's even a mid-closing-credits tease, involving a pre-existing character I didn't recognize (six years and a dye job will do that,) building off a cliffhanger too stupid to live. Resident Evil: Afterlife is an objectively bad movie that thrilled me, and I'll be back at the trough for part five, especially if they finally work out the kinks with Smell-O-Vision. What an olfactory trauma that would be!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Isaiah Mustafa as Luke Cage?



The Old Spice Guy has begun campaigning to play former Power Man and Hero for Hire Luke Cage, complete with a fairly stupid looking photo shoot. I'm on record as hating the shitty non-costuming Luke Cage has been pulling out of the hamper since joining the Avengers, which is only one part of what's wrong with this picture. I like Isaiah Mustafa, but he's probably the absolute least qualified Cage this side of Nick Cannon. Lots of wrong-headed actors champion themselves in super-hero roles (see Wonder Woman,) many of whom would be hard-pressed to sell themselves as sidekicks, much less the main attraction. I would be fine with just nodding my head and backing away from this, except that I think Isaiah Mustafa could actually be a fine choice for nearly any other Marvel super-hero of African decent. His Old Spice commercials demonstrate a very toned body, regal bearing, and a solid "hero" voice. Black Panther comes most immediately to mind as a casting choice, and the Avengers movie could use a Falcon, as well. Okay, nobody needs a fucking Falcon for anything, but make Captain Mar-Vell black and roll with that. Hell, if Marvel felt the need to recast Jim Rhodes yet again, Mustafa could rock the War Machine. What Isaiah Mustafa cannot work, from what I could dig up online, is street credibility. He looks good in a suit, he'd probably handle a costume with aplomb, he's funny, he's awesome... but he's so not Luke Cage it's just sad he could delude himself into believing otherwise.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Frank Review of "Dead Like Me: Life After Death" (2009)

The Short Version? Domestic Reapers.
What Is It? Dramedy.
Who Is In It? The series regulars, minus Rube and Daisy, and including Zod Jr., Whitley Gilbert, Hope Davidson
Should I See It? No.



I was turned on to Dead Like Me after the demise of the television series through a friend's DVD set. The short version is that chosen members of the recently deceased would return to something closely approximating life to serve as grim reapers. These individuals were charged with collecting the souls of those who died extremely, shortly before the big splat, and lead them to the afterlife. In their downtime, the reapers also had to maintain new living identities in the mundane world, operating inconspicuously and without contact with people from their past lives.

I liked the show enough to buy my own on sale, and just finished a nightly viewing of each episode over the past month, my second look at each. I also happened upon a used copy of the direct-to-DVD follow-up over the course of the marathon, and looked forward to finally catching that. I was put out by the absence of a few preferred cast members, but I'm not some devotee that would call that a deal breaker. It was a fun show that suited my sense of humor, but never essential.

Few revivals can ever capture the "magic" of the original, but there was only a three year gap between the cancellation of Dead Like Me and the initial production of this feature. Ideally, especially with a cult favorite, the creators would hew as closely as possible to the original, which in this case had a very distinctive visual and writing style. When the credits begin, and there's a new logo that would be at home on a Spooky Sounds of Halloween cassette tape. Then a faux Dead Like Me comic book materializes to relate the basics of the show, the only appropriate response bears the initials "W.T.F." It isn't even a good comic book-- just badly colored storyboards and the dreaded Comic Sans font. The natural assumption would be that the production budget must have been pretty skimpy, and that they maybe didn't have the rights to use footage from the television show to flash back to. However, in the commentary track, the director reveals that this was instead a way for him to place his own stamp on the show. His stamp reads "Clueless Asshole," and it'll cover this movie before he's done.

One of the series' gimmicks was to keep its reapers guessing as the exact identity of the soon-to-be departed, and to kill the unfortunate in a roundabout Rube Goldbergian manner. In this movie, there's only one brief scene where a reap's target is in question, and the flick opens with a scientist committing suicide through an entirely too literal Goldbergian contraption-- complete with an unironic last minute call rewarding his inventiveness that he's unable to take. The specific group of reapers the series followed specialized in violent deaths, but to the exclusion of suicides. In this instance, the divergence from the norm is explained, but the movie sets itself early on to the task of breaking as many of the series' rules as possible, succeeding in ruining a lot of what was good there while opening up a big can of worms that are left squirming about at the curtain call.

Comedy is timing. You can say something poorly thought out, or plain nonsensical, and get laughs-- if you do it quickly enough in the right moment. Wait five seconds to polish the joke, and the thought becomes a bomb or a non-sequitur. The timing throughout the movie is way off. Where the show's afterlife was represented by brief flashes of blue light that sometimes vaguely represented something, the movie offers saggy moments of the dead being applauded by auditorium crowds and-- wait, it's always cheering crowds here. What a rip!

Another major problem is found in the sets. Der Waffle Haus is burned to the ground off-screen, which symbolizes the strip mining of the show itself. Rube, the guiding light of the series, is pronounced dead, while Kiffany and Casey never appear. The new Daisy actress is introduced, and is so clearly not Laura Harris (or even reflecting the right fashion of the character, with her staid '50s ensemble,) you're immediately aware something is off. The cast is then whisked away by limo to a dimly lit high class restaurant, where they're presented with Palm Treo smartphones in place of Post-Its by some Eurotrash Brit that's the new boss. Meanwhile, the Lass home must have finally been sold, which might help explain George's seeming detachment from her remaining family in town. The most egregious change is to Happy Time, the sterile, florescent lit cubicle hell George worked at. In the interim, the piss-ant temping agency has become a stunning corporate office with byzantine architecture involving glass and orange-red natural lighting everywhere. It looks like heaven as imagined by Renny Harlin, and is so far removed from the aesthetic and purpose of its existence in the series that its appearance is to the detriment of the proceedings. Crystal shows up just to show up, though.

Sarah Wynter replaces Laura Harris as Daisy Adair due to a last minute scheduling conflict with Harris' TV show Women's Murder Club. Great pains are taken in commentaries to connect the two actresses, who played terrorist sisters in the second season of 24, but that's a show known for its implausibility. Harris is a stunning alabaster beauty, and Wynter is a rubber chicken that should have Wayland Flowers working her from behind. Daisy Adair was the most complex character on the show, with Harris navigating positively schizophrenic writing with grace. Wynter's career highlights involve showing her tits in a Species sequel and a lesser Schwarzenegger flick, her comedic timing is shit, and her performance is flat as a board.

One casting divergence from the series that actually works is Jennifer Rae Westley as Millie Hagen, George's living alter ego. In the earlier episodes, the actress portraying how the living world saw George, put indelicately, looked like a heroin addict on the down side of life. As the series progressed, George saw romantic attention from some fairly hot guys that would be out of that chick's league, where Westley is actually hotter than George, so that turn makes sense.

Inevitably, you have to cast about for blame. The veteran actors had varying degrees of trouble with finding their characters. Cynthia Stevenson and Britt McKillip fared the best there, as they were shielded from the mess of the reaper world, and could focus on their mother-daughter relationship. Both characters had matured and progressed in mostly believable ways, and were able to sell some clunky dialogue. Ellen Muth carried a similar trajectory, but because of her presence in the reaper entanglements, she is forced to carry out actions that don't fit even an older, wiser George. Callum Blue was on auto-pilot as Mason, while Jasmine Guy couldn't quite overcome the contrivances forced on her character. Christine Willes is still Delores Herbig, but seemingly sadder and more defeated by age.

I expect the actors all had confidence in their writers, veterans of most series episodes, which is one area where the movie goes astray. Every reaper except George is given short shrift, devolved to their most base character attributes and painfully manipulated to suit the needs of a coolly constructed story. Without the grounding presence of Mandy Patinkin as Rube, their amusing infantile tangents are never met by an opposing force, killing the humor for lack of tension. Roxy's failure to step up in Rube's absence sends the lot flying out of their usual orbit and into trouble, with repercussions that are never adequately explained. The new boss, Cameron Kane, is initially portrayed as a make-it-or-break-it shark who sacrifices humanity for efficiency. However, the organization immediately breaks down due to the incompetence and/or callousness of his oversight, which begs the question of why he was given a position of authority in the first place. Whether he was an active agent of evil or simply disinterested in his duties are never elaborated upon, and the seduction of the reapers is so easily initiated that everyone in the affair comes off as lacking sophistication. My best guess is that the series' strengths lay in lacing boring normal life with divine undercurrents, where the movie's script has fantastic aspirations beyond the writers' comfort zone.

Ultimately, the head to call for is director Stephen Herek, whose feeling the need to impose his style on the production spoils the soup. Constant use of slow motion. A desire to unnecessarily elevate the production values from the show, conversely making the movie look cheap. A fixation on expanding the scale of the premise without laying down a proper structure to support it. Soap operatic turns, saccharine melodrama, and incongruous sexual escapades. Awful attempts at broad comedy and third hand gallows humor that never should have escaped the cutting room. An attempt to pull a Shyamalan by sticking clocks in every scene. Fucking bullet time. Thanks to a moronic director, much of the flavor of the show is lost, and this debacle will only sully the memory of a pretty swell show that seems to have lived just long enough, and then a bit too much.

Extras?

  • Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Herek and Actress Ellen Muth Muth relates the story of filming her death scene from the series shortly after 9/11, sending bystanders dialing 9-1-1. There's some other anecdotal crap like that, but mostly it's just pretension and delusion.
  • Back From The Dead: Resurrecting Dead Like Me Featurette You know the usual interview bullshit on these things? That.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! (2010)




Before TV, print media and radio were the people’s forums, so you could find just about any kind of comic you might be interested in reading with a little effort. Other communication mediums took precedence, so now comics are mostly a ghetto for super-hero geeks. Back in the day, a Harvey Kurtzman type might poke a bit of fun at super-heroes, then move on to his next target. Today, there’s a whole genre of comics devoted to bitter, frustrated satirists who can only make a living in this industry by telling the most mean-spirited, hateful stories about costumed characters they can muster. Matt Sturges is one of those writers, and one of those books is Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!

Following on the set-up from a previous mini-series, a dumpy Silver Age villain who had appeared once half a century ago became among the most hated figures in the DC Universe. Through his connection to a hero’s murder and the betrayal of a host of villains, the Human Flame was left on the run from everybody and their mother. Joining a group of villains even less noteworthy than himself, the Human Flame takes a transformative journey toward realizing his ideal being. This is achieved through thinly veiled cursing, a supporting cast filled with junkies and other assorted reprobates, and the former bank robber becoming a full scale sociopath.

Run is one of those books, and it’s a good enough example of what it is, so Garth Ennis/Mark Millar fans may wish to take note. The Who’s Who reject super-villains throughout the book may be a little too silly for the hardcore, and the book lacks sexual situations or other prurient material its natural base may miss. The art of Freddie Williams II is broad and cartoonish, while mixing a Bart Sears type exaggerated anatomy, contorted posturing and meaty violence. Someday, Run will be pointed to as an example of the excesses of the aughts, but if you know what to expect, it can be a decent diversion.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

nurghophonic jukebox: "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies

Written By: Brad Roberts
Released: October 26, 1993
Album: God Shuffled His Feet
Single?: #6 on U.S. Billboard Top 40



Lyrics:
Once there was this kid who
Got into an accident and couldn't come to school
But when he finally came back
His hair had turned from black into bright white
He said that it was from when
The car had smashed so hard

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm

Once there was this girl who
Wouldn't go and change with the girls in the change room
But when they finally made her
They saw birthmarks all over her body
She couldn't quite explain it
They'd always just been there

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm

But both girl and boy were glad
'Cause one kid had it worse than that

'Cause then there was this boy whose
Parents made him come directly home right after school
And when they went to their church
They shook and lurched all over the church floor
He couldn't quite explain it
They'd always just gone there

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Frank Review of "[●REC] 2" (2009)

The Short Version? 27 Weeks Earlier... in an isolated building... zombies attack.
What Is It? Survival Horror.
Who Is In It? Spaniards
Should I See It? No.



Like The Blair Witch Project, [*REC] was a single camera movie in which the lens served as a proxy for the viewer’s virtual involvement in the proceedings. [REC] traded on the sense of the film being recorded live and in a reality too near to our own for comfort. Like The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows, [*REC]2 is a glossy Hollywood sequel that chucks everything that worked about the first film out the window so that the filmmakers could prove they were capable of hacking out the usual bullshit. Instead of a low-res real time environment, [rec2] is a multi-player first person shooter with shifting vantage points, flashbacks, and techno-tomfoolery.

A big part of what made [REC] work was its simplicity. Common everyday people found themselves in an extraordinary, terrifying circumstance. Tension built slowly, until the levees broke, and then the situation became bad topped by worse along a progressive trip through the infernal. The characters didn’t need to be developed, because they were, like you, innocents caught in a harrowing ordeal folks could sympathize with. [REC2] begins fifteen minutes after the conclusion of the original, in which a SWAT team enters a building full of 28 Days Later… Rage rejects to investigate the cause of a viral outbreak. Instead of taking the audience with them, the viewer is a passive spectator in a video game movie derivative of Aliens and Dawn of the Dead. The perspective camera constantly changes, gets dropped on its side, loses sound, blinks out-- incessantly reminding the audience they're watching various recordings from a prior time. Only one of the SWAT team members exhibits any personality, and that one is of an obnoxiously over-reactive nature, so the rest are essentially the players’ various “lives” in progressing through the game. First time players, I should say, because everyone in this flick is a nimrod of the type audiences impatiently wait to see die for their stupidity. Could someone please explain to bad "comedy" and "scary" movie directors that the only response having your actors shouting all their lines invokes is a desire for them to shut. the fuck. up?

One of the most common faults of horror movie sequels is to build on an ongoing mythology. The more familiar you are with something, the less frightening it is, and the better equipped you are to deal with it. Even if crosses or garlic fail to kill your particular vampire, just keep going down the checklist until you find something foolproof. Once you demystify a threat, you remove much of the horror, and are left with a fantasy or science fiction story. In [REC,} one of the more effective reveals toward the end of the picture was the true nature of the contagion. [REC]2 picks up from that point, and then negates its impact with a litany of direct swipes from other pictures/familiar mythos. “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell” is easily repurposed, as are visual ticks from the last decade of Japanese horror exports. Even [Rec]’s own technique of still creatures suddenly rushing the camera is abused so often and reproduced so exactingly that it begins to feel more like a replay than anything to shriek at.

[REC] 2 is a predictable franchise killing knock off of a shitload of other movies, right up to its unsurprising “twist” ending. If you found yourself haunted by [REC], this sequel is the perfect antidote, as it effectively neutralize any residual impact of the original. Unless you've been anxiously anticipating a truly faithful screen adaptation of House of the Dead, leave this lie.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Empowered Volume 3 (March, 2008)




Remember that feeling of euphoria at discovering the first season/album/etc. of something toe-curlingly great? How about the second round, when you notice that the stuff you were introduced to is now just being tweaked into variations? It’s still good—probably much better than whatever else is around, but that thrill of the new is seeping out. Next comes volume three, by which time the vitality is seriously compromised. Either the wheels start spinning, or after a sophomore slump, they progress in an undesirable direction. What was once novel turns contemptuously familiar and whether it’s the fall from lofty heights or actual mediocrity, that thing you loved isn’t all that great anymore.

So it went with Empowered Volume Three, which I probably should have reviewed when I read it last year. Somewhat put out by the seriousness and longer form stories of the second volume, I thumbed through this one when I first got it in early 2008, maybe read a story or two, but couldn’t commit once the sprawling began. You see, I loved the first volume because it was fun, genuinely funny, and compelled you to keep reading one very short story after another. Even there, drama and excess length crept in toward the end, as writer/artist Adam Warren had burned through previously crafted material and opened up the narrative. It’s so much harder to write tight, entertaining bits than to delve into the mythology, or whatever they’re calling Stan Lee’s old con of stretching out stories to fill pages these days.

The longest thread of the book revolves around Ninjette’s former clan finally catching up with her (sorta.) Warren eventually makes a point of mentioning all the nihilistic books he’s written where scads of major characters got iced in nasty business like that found here. My issue is that it mostly served to point out how similar a book like Empowered, which at one time would have been quite daring, is to current bloodthirsty DC Comics fare. Either you’re going to do the deed, which means snuffing a likable character that hasn’t reached their full potential, or you won’t, wasting as much time as an over-hyped crossover book. Empowered is best in its more intimate moments dealing with human frailties, not wasting page after page on silent action.

Much of this edition feels like noodling. There's too many stories about mundane events, puttering subplots, and revisited subjects. I also get the feeling some of these stories were commissioned, as there's a ridiculous amount of bondage fetish bullshit this round. The Superhomeys are generally background players this time. The Caged Demonwolf has officially jumped the shark here, going from a draw to an irritant. Warren also succumbs to the dreaded stylistic experimentation, doing a terrible riff on the Frank Miller Sin City chiaroscuro style entirely too many people shat out in the early '90s. Damn near three-quarters of the book reads like total filler. The best story revolves around an origin sequence for Thugboy, continuing a strong if pitch black strand from the previous edition. Otherwise, this edition was a misstep and a disappointment.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

nurghophonic jukebox: "Ain't She Sweet" by Gene Austin

Written By: Milton Ager and Jack Yellen
Released: 1927
Album: Ain't She Sweet
Single?: Yes, and is now a much covered hit standard.

Anecdote: Just one from my pappy's vault o' music. Ager wrote the song for his daughter, who grew up to become the 60 Minutes "Point-Counterpoint" liberal commentator Shana Alexander.



Lyrics:
Oh ain't she sweet,
Well see her walking down that street.
Yes I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?

Oh ain't she nice,
Well look her over once or twice.
Yes I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she nice?

Just cast an eye
In her direction.
Oh me oh my,
Ain't that perfection?

Oh I repeat
Well don't you think that's kind of neat?
Yes I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?

Oh ain't she sweet,
Well see her walking down that street.
Well I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?

Oh ain't that nice,
Well look it over once or twice.
Yes I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she nice?

Just cast an eye
In her direction.
Oh me oh my,
Ain't that perfection?

Oh I repeat
Well don't you think that's kind of neat?
Yes I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?

Oh ain't she sweet,
Well see her walking down that street.
Well I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?
Well I ask you very confidentially:
Ain't she sweet?


Monday, June 14, 2010

A Frank Review of "[●REC]" (2007)

The Short Version? 27 Days Earlier... in an isolated building... zombies attack.
What Is It? Survival Horror.
Who Is In It? Spaniards
Should I See It? Yes.



The better modern zombie movies have two things in common: fast monsters and exhilarating first quarters. Dawn of the Dead offered its opening ten minutes online, making it one of the most badass trailers of all time, because who didn’t crave more after that? Of course, the movie couldn’t sustain that momentum, and most of the characters, once properly introduced, proved rather unlikable. Regardless, it was still good stuff, and sustained the heat zombies had picked a few years prior.

[rec], on the other hand, is like extending that prologue to full length (though not quite feature length, coming in at just over one-and-a-quarter hours.) It’s about a television crew working on a puff piece finding themselves trapped in an apartment building with a deeply unhealthy element. After a deliberate build, mayhem erupts that runs through the end of the picture. The cast is made up of unknowns who speak in brief bursts of dialogue, and you really don’t get to know anyone. There’s a cute, toothy reporter that’s a bit more polished than the rest, and though clearly ambitious and somewhat opportunistic, she never beats the audience over the head with her character flaws. The true point of view character is the cameraman Pablo, through whose lens the viewer sees the proceedings, essentially turning the film into a virtual first person experience. That makes for a harrowing trip, as finding oneself in the path of mindless humans moving with the speed and ferocity of the rage carriers in 28 Days Later will twist your panties up tight.

It’s typically a backhanded compliment to refer to a film in “thrill ride” terms, but in the most glowing sense, [REC] is just that. When The Blair Witch Project was being ridiculously over-hyped, this was the movie everyone was expecting to see. [REC] is easily one of the finest straight horror movies of the past few decades, and will likely earn a place on a great many "all time greatest" lists. See it in the dark with someone you trust...

Extras?

  • REC: Making ofA fast paced documentary running a bit under 19 minutes gives you all the information you need about the production, from the actors not knowing what they were in store for due to having scripts withheld until the start of each chronological shot day, to real time takes lasting twenty minutes and from the ground to the roof. All killer, no filler.
  • Previews Not as bad as you might think for something like a dozen b-grade horror trailers, including the U.S. remake of this flick


Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Top Ten Steel Covers (John Henry Irons Edition)

John Henry Irons was introduced during the bestselling "Reign of the Supermen" epic. In and of itself, that was enough to make the character just about the most highly visible hero of color in DC Comics history. Unfortunately, he was then written as such-- the good negro Tom Robinson of the lily white Superman Family. Steel was branded with an S-Shield, given his own terrible token series, and was dutifully included in all crossovers for years thereafter. The salvation of the character came in the strength of his original concept as a working class armored hero, his glorious design, and a late term creative team change that redeemed the Steel series with just over a year's worth of compelling stories.

After his series' cancellation, John Henry Irons became a co-star/regular supporting character in Superman: The Man of Steel, which emphasized his engineering genius. Steel's presence was also a highlight of the Morrison/Porter JLA's second half, especially his infamous conversion of the Watchtower headquarters into a virtual armor, prompting the hilarious declaration "I am now wearing this building!" Unfortunately, Irons "retired" as a super-hero around the time The Man of Steel was canceled and the JLA pared down. This left Irons and his one consistent supporting character, precocious niece Natasha, to drift through one title after another.

Attempts to employ the Irons pair in recent years have left much to be desired. Natasha made use of her own Steel armor for a time, then acquired super powers from Lex Luthor, prompting the involvement of John Henry in an inevitable confrontation. The pair were part of the painfully misguided Infinity, Inc. reboot, and Steel once again played substitute Superman during the World of New Krypton hubbub. The essential appeal, and perhaps even a basic understand of the Steel premise, continues to elude writers. The further out the world gets from "Reign of the Superman," the less likely it seems Steel will ever fully come into his own, and I find that a terrible shame.

10) Superman: The Man of Steel #117 (October, 2001)

I was really up-in-arms about the apparent death of Steel, but he returned in the same storyline. However he was briefly burdened with an excessively powerful new armor built by Darkseid out of an Imperiex shell. I think it was called the Entropy Aegis, and I know it totally missed the point of John Henry Irons, but the cover was cool.

9) Steel #41 (August, 1997)

Racially charged much?

8) 52 #8 (June 28,2006)

I love a good propaganda poster!

7) Steel #34 (January, 1997)

After three years of increasingly bad stories and art, DC finally began to treat Steel as more than crossover fodder before the release of his motion picture. Unfortunately, from what I've heard, the movie was about as bad as the comic had been. It's a shame, because DC's premier black super-hero finally began to be shepherded by actual black creators, with writer Christopher Priest turning in probably the best scripts of his distinguished career.

6) Superman: The Man of Steel #26 (October, 1993)

Not recognizing the full implications of the moniker, I declared "Iron John" my favorite of the Supermen, and the most likely to embody the soul of the Man of Steel. If any of the Supermen could stand beside "the real steel deal," it was John Henry. Plus, no one ever drew Steel quite as well as co-creator Jon Bogdanove.

5) Steel #45 (December, 1997)

Into a comics world where it was often up to the colorist to assign race, Steel was undeniably a black man, even when covered head to toe in armor.

4) Steel #23 (January, 1996)

This was such a powerful image that the forgettable story within is doubly disappointing.

3) Steel #3 (April, 1994)

Friggin' awesome perspective! You're going to be eating that hammer if you don't move out of his way.

2) Steel #37 (April, 1997)

This one is quite literally iconic, with most of the image consisting of silhouettes and high contrast head shots. I love how the DC bullet has been turned into another gear in Steel's (or is it Dr. Villain's?) machine.

1) Superman: The Man of Steel #22 (June, 1993)


This one is a bit of a cheat, as there's technically three covers (regular, deluxe exterior, and deluxe interior.) Regardless, they're all cool, and this is the first full Steel story, which made me an instant fan.

Honorable Mentions:
52 #14 What's with all the black male heroes being stripped down to bare chests?
Action Comics #807 (The Natasha bot gets a lovely cover.)
Hardware #17 (Similar concepts with wildly divergent characterizations played off one another.)
Steel #1 (Too static to rate inclusion.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Top 10 Captain Comet Covers

My interest in Captain Comet started out as youthful curiosity regarding comics' original heroic mutant, the first post-Golden Age super-hero, and the only long underwear type openly active in the 1950s. From his modern age appearances, I came to know him as a lovable old school stiff, and dug that he was an obscurity brought back in the '70s to battle the Secret Society of Super-Villains from within. Only recently did I decide to finally take the plunge and try collecting his solo adventures, only to discover some seriously obvious gay subtext running throughout his early career. So, not only will this cover gallery represent what I feel are the character's best frontpieces, but also an opportunity to make lewd jokes and promote the queer agenda. Who's up for a trip to Uranus?

10) Strange Adventures #40 (January, 1954)


Shrinking and going bald! Every man's nightmare!

9) Strange Adventures #27 (December, 1952)


Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with himself, Captain Comet anticipates his aughts reboot. Plus, the two faces of Blake argue over whom the cop in the tight pants with the provocatively posed rifle will fire upon, until the piece officer chooses to blast them both. Up against the wall, pervps!

8) DC Special Series #6 (November, 1977)


The Man of Destiny presents his ass to the entire Justice League of America and the Secret Society of Super-Villains, exclaiming that he could be struck anytime and anywhere! En garde!

7) Mystery In Space #7 (May, 2007)


A proportionately childlike Adam Blake turns his back to the viewer while walking toward the crotch of a deviant alien priest, whose arms are outstretched in an ecstatically welcoming posture. Hail Mary!

6) L.E.G.I.O.N. #44 (August, 1992)


A vibrant Kevin Maguire cover that for once showcases Comet's mental powers. What?

5) Strange Adventures #17 (February, 1952)


Gil Kane drawing man-made-men rising up from puddles of seminal goo? Not only does this cover look great, but the only way it could play up the queer subtext of the series any more would be if Comet were pushing the girl "out of harm's way."

4) Mystery In Space #1 (November, 2006)


Adam Blake casts off his wrinkled old man flesh for a tight young body and a nice big phallic symbol. Note the streaking star seed and the smoke drifting out out of old Blake's crotch, as though he just ejaculated his new self.

3) Strange Adventures #33 (June, 1953)


Pink skies? Bondage? Miniature humans working out of a yellow hive pocked with entry points? Evil mocking giant sentient bug gently stroking Captain Comet's arm? This cover is what would happen if Freud and Kafka had a love child.

2) Strange Adventures #39 (December, 1953)


Gorilla covers are a monkey's paw full of win anyway, but Blake as the prosecuting attorney arguing to send Coco to death row? That's the face of awesome.

1) Strange Adventures #9 (June, 1951)


This image doesn't make a lot of character sense, because it isn't like Adam Blake was some dapper chap thrust into the role of spaceman. However, it is the first Captain Comet cover upon his original appearance, and striking besides. Also: Metrosexuality.

Honorable Mentions:
Mystery In Space #6 (Comet fighting his way out of an enormous flesh-eating space penis.)
Strange Adventures #10 (Captain Comet ignores hot space chick in a mini-skirt to focus on giant nude infantilized alien.
Mystery In Space #2 (Adam Blake is a wanted man!)
Secret Society of Super-Villains #10 (Getting beat-up by Grodd, Star Sapphire and the Wizard.)
Strange Adventures #35 (Chess board action!)
DC Comics Presents #22 (Captain Comet is out of control, and shoots himself at Superman!)
Secret Society of Super-Villains #2 (In another example of working through sexual frustration, Captain Comet decks that paragon of heterosexuality, Hal "Green Lamtern" Jordan.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Frank Review of "Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience" (2010)

The Short Version? Iron. Man. Two.
What Is It? Super-Hero Flick.
Who Is In It? The Pick-Up Artist. Shakespeare's Love. Woody Allen's masturbation fantasy. The Wrestler. Chuck Barris.
Should I See It? Yes.



I figured my girlfriend ought to see the first Iron Man movie before we caught the sequel, and she fell hard for the charisma, the cars, and the engineering geekery of that initial outing. We were both hella busy for the week afterward, so I called my Iron Man fan buddy to see if we could hold off on a screening until the sequel’s second weekend of release. In the meantime, I skimmed reviews, carefully avoiding spoilers, and determined the consensus was that Iron Man 2 was too busy and came up short of the original’s charm.

This is a constant issue with super-hero movies, falling under studio and licensor pressure for bigger, better, faster and more. It made me think that one of these days, a sophomore effort should buck the trend by embracing it. Make an episodic movie, broken up into half hour or so segments, spotlighting new characters. Instead of trying to give a villain an arc, give their origin(s,) then lead them directly to their one round defeat by the hero. You could almost do it as a concept piece, giving sections off to different directors and letting them make their own mini-movies with the super-heroic lead as a linking device. Iron Man could be the Keyser Soze of a film structured like Pulp Fiction with a group of former Soviet villains training for a segment, and maybe one of the Titanium Men buying it at the end. In the meantime, you could set up the Gremlin, Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, another TM or whatever for a sequel that could get straight to the story, as the set-up was already out of the way. Black Widow couldn’t support a whole movie, but give her and Hawkeye a segment where she steals plans for an Iron Man armor while seducing Hawkeye to pit his low tech archery against weak points discovered in the armor. It worked in Vietnam, its working in the desert wars, it’s how Stan Lee did it, and how a movie could do it again. Give the audience a series of smaller pay-offs, send them home happy, and then really own them come installment number three.

Well, Iron Man 2 didn’t do that. The main story is that the device that keeps Tony Stark alive is fairly rapidly poisoning him, so he’s got to find a cure. Unfortunately, he’s distracted by seventeen subplots that keep the movie from being about anything but set pieces and characters. Fortunately, those set pieces are fairly well constructed and diverse, as are most of the characters, so the movie manages to coast on those charms. Still, there are areas where the flick tries to be sober, but the gravitas isn’t there, and the relationships aren’t as strong this time out. This is the thinking man’s stupid popcorn movie, clever enough not to offend, and entertaining so long as you don’t pause to analyze anything.

I don’t need to tell you Robert Downey Jr. is awesome, so we’ll skip that. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t as enjoyable this time, as she’s forced into a role of such great responsibility that she has no time to flirt while cleaning up Tony Stark’s increasingly messy leavings. Sam Jackson’s looking a little pudgy as Nick Fury, but he’s having fun, and it was cool that both of Stark’s main bromances of the film were with brothers.

Jeff Bridges was so powerful as Obadiah Stane, that attempting to compete with him would be madness. There was a familial intimacy between Stane and Stark that couldn’t be replicated, and I loved how his firm hand on Tony’s shoulder usually mean his other paw was up the ass, working him like a puppet. In retrospect, there was a lot of Justin Hammer, the mafia don of technophiles, in Bridges’ Stane, so what did that leave Sam Rockwell? Well, this is Justin Hammer in name only, truly a poseur Tony Stark motivated by jealousy to overtake the real deal. Regardless, Rockwell steals every scene he’s in, partially because of his character’s awareness of when he falls short of the mark, whereas Downey’s Stark sometimes overestimates himself to the point of teasing an audience backlash. I love RDJ, but he’s not quite as cool as Stark is supposed to be, and Rockwell’s intentional posturing almost comes off as a mockery of RDJ’s arrogance as Stark.

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke’s physical presence may be bigger than Bridges’, but his screen presence is running at an unusually low wattage here. Usually, you don’t so much cast Rourke as unleash him in a role, but it feels like the lion’s share of his eccentricities were left on the cutting room floor. His Whiplash has moments, but never fully comes across as a threat, and has too few scenes to play of Downey.

I’ve come to appreciate Terrence Howard’s performance in the first film, but had he returned, Rhodey’s strained relationship with Stark would have come off more as quarreling lovers than friends. Blessedly, Don Cheadle has the stones to pull off acting as a War Machine, and is the best black super-hero the silver screen has seen after Blade. I do wish Cheadle would rock a goatee, though, but he has good tension with Downey, and I hope he gets to continue strutting into the Avengers movie.

The one unforgivable weak link in the picture is Scarlett Johansson, a performer so poor even Paltrow, one of the least worthy Academy Award winning actresses in recent memory, can run circles around her. Johansson has no range whatsoever, and even her face seems mostly frozen in sex doll mode. She’s about the worst reasonable choice to play Natasha Romanov, but her character is sort of a mash-up with Bethany Cabe anyway, though her personality vacuum means this is inferred more by her hair and how she’s positioned at Stark Industries than anything else. Things only get worse when the Black Widow suits up for battle, by which I mean a totally unconvincing Johansson awkwardly assuming positions intercut with a blatantly obvious stunt double. An effervescent Russian secret agent with a gymnast's body who can bring the kung-fu grip? Milla Jovovich was born to play this role, but barring that, any random Soviet Bloc model could have made a more lasting and legitimate impression, no acting experience necessary. Thankfully, Johansson’s prominence was massively overplayed in the advertising, as her role is both small and undemanding.

Finally, at my friend's insistence, we saw this in the best "IMAX" theater in town, but seeing as the picture wasn't shot in IMAX, it was a wasted expense. Unless you're seated middle center, and we weren't, you're only going to strain yourself unnecessarily to see the whole screen. I'm glad Favreau isn't a flashy director, because it was only during the most rapidly cut scenes I couldn't forget the IMAX and avoid eye irritation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2010 Professor Arnold Hugo & Marco Xavier Convention Pieces by Humberto Ramos & David Malki!



I hit my work area comic shop on Wednesday, which I don't like, and from which I only buy odd titles while killing time during my lunch break. I'd missed a very glossy, quality stock, four page pamphlet advertising Comicpalooza 2010 for however long it had been on display at their counter. It was being held at an unusually large convention center, with a unique multimedia line-up, making it quite the spectacle for Houston. The Bayou City has a bad reputation when it comes to cons going back to the '80s, with industry people and dealers getting ripped off big time by promoters and attendees (plus our agonizing summers.) I haven't even seen much traction in a comeback for the dingy old hotel showroom cons of the '90s, and hadn't been to anything myself since probably the 2001 San Diego Comic Con, so I figured I'd round up my buddies to check it out.

I've got a ton of stuff squishing me right now, but not only did that not stop me from attending, but the girlfriend and I were up until 4:00 a.m. gathering reference for the artists and printing them out. We were then awake before nine, and started gathering our group. We arrived after 1:00 p.m. today to $10 parking and a $30 door (internet purchased 3-day passes were about $40.) I really don't need any more dang comics in my house, so my main purpose for going was to get as many quality drawings of obscure Martian Manhunter characters as I could for about $300.00. I'd been spoiled by free sketches by folks like Phil Jimenez back in the day, so I was shocked to find that even the lowliest artists charged for their work at this cash-and-carry con. Since hardly anyone was buying anything, I guess this was the only way a lot of these guys could expect to recoup or profit from this venture. Well, the guys selling overpriced hipster decorative pieces did okay, based on the money my girlfriend dropped on glowing radioactive sheep, Tim Burton originals, and other pop culture ephemera. Anyway, for me it meant that I was faced to make a decision-- get a bunch of pieces for this blog from nobodies at $5-40 a pop, or shell out for some names. I chose the latter.

My first commission of the show was Ethan Van Sciver's take on Zook As I was figuring out who my second artist to pester would be, I ran into inker Rodney Ramos, who thought I looked just like one of the the Kids In The Hall (I assume Dave Foley, as he's not the first to make the connection, and preferable to my assumption he initially meant Jim Carrey circa Dumb & Dumber.) We talked for a bit about comics, movies and art supplies, and he seemed like a cool, opinionated guy. If I hadn't been so stingy with my funds this time out, I'd have gotten something from him, but the money flowed to the pencillers, I'm afraid.

Unlike most every other artist at the convention, Humberto Ramos (no relation) had a longish and slow moving line. I'd been a fan since his work on Impulse (what was with that book?), and especially dug his DV8. Clearly the man has fans, as I waited for an hour or so to reach him. Luckily, there were a couple of guys in line to chat with along the way. Since I'd brought inadequate supplies to get commissions with, I bought a copy of Ramos' sketchbook Fairy Quest: The Narrator's Book for $25 to use a glossy interior page for a $40.00 piece.

While Ramos worked off reference from a Joe Certa House of Mystery page, he and my girlfriend chatted in Spanish about Mexico City (his home town,) Monterrey (hers,) his family's dashed hopes he might become a civil engineer or architect, their mutual love of JoaquĆ­n Sabina, and her one-sided affection for Enrique Bunbury. I just watched Ramos work with a big grin on my face, as he outlined just the right outlandish proportions and diabolical grin on Prof. Hugo's face. I believe the whole process took just 15-20 minutes, and it was easily my best experience with hovering over a work in progress.



After scoring my first big piece (involving an hour-and-a-half in line,) I wanted to do some walking and make sure I wasn't missing anything in the dealer's room. I bought a couple of Heroclix, but the closest I could come to anything Manhunter-related was a Dr. Light, which I passed on. There were lots of cool shirts and other merchandise, but none at prices to entice. Trades/GNs were being offered routinely for 40-50% off with few takers. Regular comics were usually discounted, with a few dealers having large selections of fifty cent and dollar books, but I only bought a few (due to budget, time, and all the unread back issues I already own.) At some point, you must draw the line to avoid hoarding.

The pickings were rather slim, but there were more artists inside hocking their wares to be considered. As time and funds diminished though, I passed most of them up. I would have loved a Zook sketch from Phil Foglio, but I'd left all my reference with Van Sciver, and could see no signs Foglio was offering sketches anyway. He just seemed to be pimping his Girl Genius collections.

I was scoping out a table next to David Malki's, which was filled with amusing books and merchandise related to his Wondermark online comic strip. He was also offering "Mediocre Sketches for $1." I tried to ask him for something slightly better than that for only slightly more money, but didn't articulate the request well. With my poor planning of this outing, I'd neglected to buy a new sketchbook for the artists to work out of as needed. Just in case, I brought a twelve year old, poorly preserved, barely used spiral sketchbook of my own sorry work. Since Malki's comic strip is meant to evoke late 19th century newspaper art, down to the yellowed paper, I figured this was the perfect instance to make use of my crappy sketchbook. Malki began quickly scribbling out this amusing Prof. Hugo piece (I guess that's a cigarette? Tsk-tsk, Hugo. In this day and age? No wait-- is that a finger?) I gathered the first collection of his strips, Wondermark: Beards of our Forefathers (Hardcover) and a bumper sticker to bribe him into doing a second piece, Marco Xavier. Both turned out better than advertised, and I picked up everything for $20, so I couldn't fault my $2 art investment toward a totally adequate yield. The book is an absolute gas, by the way, and is highly recommended for fans of absurdist humor.



Back on the dealers' floor, one shop specialized in loose figures and old bubble gum trading card packs. This was the site of my first convention faux paus, mistaking a fanboy for my girlfriend and gently caressing his back. My girlfriend and I got a big laugh out of it, but the dude seemed a bit unsettled. The second epic fail on my part was, upon once again finding a set of escalators shut down to control foot traffic, I decided to ascend the downward escalators. My jeans were a bit tight, but I put forth quite the effort, and strode all the way to the top feeder. At that point, I did a belly flop onto the floor, eliciting cheers from the balcony. One of my friends, who was unaware of my whereabouts, heard the loud thud of my body and just knew I was involved. Another friend and my girl had waited for the elevator, and hearing the crowd roar while inside, cursed themselves for missing the show. I have a bit of a reputation of my own, you see.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, plus totally lallygagging on some stuff, we didn't finally roll out until 7:00 p.m. My friends have either gone to trades/loaned comics only or quit collecting altogether, so their good time came from my antics and openly mocking convention goers. For instance, there was the DJ room, filled with techno music, colored lights, and empty space. Some rollerbladers tried to get down in there, but it was carpeted, which cramped their style. Cosplay was pretty minimal. There was a short guy with a nice build in a very tight Spider-Man costume my girl devoured with her eyes. Some chick in body paint and a tied on top was running around with a sword, but I didn't recognize her reference nor ogle her. There were the usual Warsie dorks, increasingly among the lowest forms of fandom, especially when they dress as Anakin Skywalker in Episode 3: The Subtitle I Forgot and say stupid crap like "make way for the Empire." Your mother ate the Empire, nerd. I never caught so much as a glimpse of Bruce Campbell, but heard the lines were insane. Unsurprisingly, Chewbacca, Darth Maul, Cat Grant and Teen Wolf's dad were easily but irregular accessed.

My girlfriend passed on a couple of Bernie Wrightson prints due to the main one she wanted having sold out, but I shook the fellow's hand, so that was nice. A number of fantastic pieces were had, and I spent about $275 doing so. We all had a good time, and ate Greek afterward. More details to come (on the con. If you must know, I had the Chicken Souvlaki and a hazelnut gelato for dessert.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Batgirl Original Art



One of the things that will be changing around here once I get my shit together is more "bloggy" type crap. For instance, while I was trying to find someplace to protect some new original art I bought, I discovered some 15-20 year old Blue Line pages I never did much with, since I fucking suck as an artist. Still, I'm tired and I've allowed this blog to lapse from daily to whenever status, so I figure something's better than nothing. Here's Batgirl battling the Killer Moth, by me, drawn for reasons unknown after all this time. Some of the finer details didn't scan, and virtually none of my blue pencil layouts and text, so count your blesings, I guess.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2010 "Judd Winick Named DC Comics Editor-in-Chief" Promotional Art by Billy Penn

Click To Enlarge


I recognize there's was a lot of love for Denny O'Neil in the '70s for restoring Batman to "Dark Knight Detective" status and for coming up with Green Lantern/Green Arrow. An alternative view (mine) is that O'Neil was technically a terrible writer. I'd say he exemplified the growing pains between the Silver Age "middle aged white guys writing adventure stories for children" and the Bronze Age "twentysomething white guys writing adventure stories for man-children." Read today, O'Neil's scripts are cringe-inducing in their hoary dialogue, sensationalism and self-importance. In my opinion, it wasn't until O'Neil stopped drinking and embraced the hubris in himself and his characters that he finally earned his stature in the industry.

In a roundabout way, my point is that Judd Winick was the Denny O'Neil of the aughts, and maybe he should start drinking/drugging to improve his writing, before he drives his remaining audience to do so. Certainly, this news announcement has me wanting to call in sick to work and crawl into a bottle. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 Zook Convention Piece by Ethan Van Sciver



I remember when Cyberfrog first came out, and fans thought it was going to be the next big thing. I was running a shop by that time, and tossing through the book, couldn't see it. I figured it for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles riff as drawn by a Todd McFarlane clone, and dismissed it. I took note of the name Ethan Van Sciver though, so when he turned up looking a lot more polished on DC's Impulse series, I was impressed by his development. I think I liked his stuff here and there, but it was really The Flash: Iron Heights prestige special that made me recognize this was indeed a superstar in the making. Van Sciver is now one of the biggest and best artists in comics, and certainly the top name at Comicpalooza 2010. He was the first artist I approached to do a head sketch, explaining that I regretted his not finishing his run on the Superman/Batman arc "Enemies Among Us." While he drew excellent classic and One Year Later Martian Manhunters (he's one of the best modern MM artists, after all,) what I regretted was his leaving the first appearance of J'onn's other-dimensional pet/sidekick in decades to replacement Matthew Clark. I was promised EVS, dang it, and I was here after his Zook!

Not only did Van Sciver remember Zook, but he expressed regret at not having gotten to draw him, and thought it was cool to get the chance now. I handed the man a couple of reference pages I'd scanned and something like $40 for a head shot. I was asked to return in about three hours, and doing so, found that I was still a few names down the list. Later still, my friends told me Van Sciver was working on Zook, so I walked over to check it out. Van Sciver had been discussing his history with the character for the benefit of onlookers, and upon my arrival one made sport of me by asking slightly sarcastic questions. I addressed his questions with sincerity, though in a somewhat defensive tone. What I didn't know was that a friend of mine had videotaped some of this on his digital camera, so hopefully I can get that from him and post it here down the line.

The lovingly detailed image takes up better than 3/4th of an 11" x 14" rigid, bright white sketch page provided by Van Sciver. It is a thing of beauty, and I'm very proud to share it with you, not to mention very pleased to finally get my promised Zook!

Ethan Van Sciver was a mighty nice guy who does obviously outstanding work, far more valuable than I was charged. In case you were wondering, a friend of mine leaned in and learned directly from the artist that it's pronounced "Sky-ver." Now you know (and I'll have to remember to stop saying "Psy-ver."

...nurghophiles...

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