Monday, August 29, 2011

A Frank Review of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011)

The Short Version? Man vs. Ape in the Bay Area.
What Is It? Science Fiction.
Who Is In It? Gollum, Harry Osborn, Dick Solomon, Hannibal Lecter v1.0
Should I See It? Yes.



For thirty-eight years, there were no good movies released in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Battle was a cheap, pointless cash grab billed as the "final chapter" of the series. It technically ended with the second movie, but for an Ouroboros timeline. The 2001 reboot was a prefabricated blockbuster no one especially liked that was long on spectacular practical effects but short on much else. Rise of the Planet of the Apes marks a long awaited return, if not to greatness, at least to goodness and relevance to modern audiences.

Rise begins a new continuity tasked with explaining in believable terms how apes could gain the intelligence to inherit the earth from an increasingly rare humanity. Now that terms like "mutually assured destruction" have fallen into disuse, the pseudoscientific vehicle has been updated. An Alzheimer's disease researcher breaches ethics in pursuit of a cure for his rapidly deteriorating father. The cure proves worse than the disease, as testing leads to ape subjects attaining full sentience and turning to violence in order to be afforded basic rights as thinking, feeling beings. Eldest among them is Caesar, the lone survivor of the original tests. Raised among humans, Caesar is forced to choose between being an inferior amongst homo sapiens, or helping to raise his fellow apes in the face of human cruelty and subjugation.

James Franco plays a rather disinterested and not especially credible scientist version of James Franco in semi-stoned douche mode. Freida Pinto plays a really hot looking chick whose take on a veterinarian is of only slightly greater believability than Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. Brian Cox plays the evil dude he plays in every second or third movie. Tom Felton plays a washed up Kentucky Fried Draco Malfoy, still dependent on a wand to represent the sum of his manhood. David Oyelowo's character is only interested in making money, while Jamie Harris is a sensitive but uselessly weak animal handler. David Hewlett is an asshole neighbor who is never not an asshole, while Tyler Labine is adequate in a perfunctory role. Unlike most movies, the cumulative effect of all of these threadbare characters and/or lackluster performances is not a bad movie, but the highly desirable effect of leading audiences to actively root against their own species.

The actual stars of the picture are the fantastic digital effects team of Weta Digital and their motion capture performance artists. It's funny that Freida Pinto is in this movie, because her previous greatest success was Slumdog Millionaire. That was ¾ of a great foreign language film sold to the masses through its corny one quarter English portion featuring Pinto. The same trick is pulled here, except instead of Indian children speaking Hindi with subtitles, it's apes with sign language. Both movies endear audiences through the Dickensian indignities suffered by the downtrodden protagonists as they struggle in an uncaring world.

Andy Serkis' Caesar progresses from wide eyed apelet to angsty adolescent to a confused adult in a world he's never known. It's a magnificent performance made all the more admirable by Serkis' ability to convey layered emotions and complex reasoning entirely through facial expression and body language. Caesar ends up being a more sympathetic, cunning, and inspirational figure than Benicio del Toro over the 4½ hour running time of Che. Then again, so was Roddy McDowall in the '70s, but he lacked the benefit of Weta's gorgeous CGI. Also benefiting are Terry Notary as Caesar's mother Bright Eyes, Richard Ridings as the gorilla strong arm Buck, and Chris Gordon as Caesar's dark reflection, Koba. Deserving special note is Karin Konoval as Maurice, an orangutan who reflects that species' role both in name and action as related to the prior series, and serves as Caesar's worthy lieutenant.

Of the humans on screen, only John Lithgow warrants singling out in his portrayal of an Alzheimer's sufferer who makes a lasting impression on Caesar. Not only is his character the individual most responsible for Caesar's nobility, but his progression through the film parallels and informs Caesar's. The film's script is often emotionally manipulative and grasps at the low hanging fruits, especially in relation to almost vulgarly obvious nods to the franchise's history. However, the relationship between Caesar and his "grandfather," when buoyed by the performances, marks high water marks in both the story and the marriage between life & CGI. Once Lithgow is shuffled off, it's all on the backs of the apes, and the weight of the production is carried admirably.

Ultimately, I would place Rise of the Planet of the Apes fourth in terms of overall quality within the franchise. The original remains untouched as a cultural landmark; a perfect storm of acting, directing, music, effects, set design, script, statement and concept. Escape has the most affective acting and sweet charm, while Conquest is the most politically charged and emotionally brutal. Rise's primary claim to the series' sociopolitical commentary is its exploration of the ethical treatment of animals and the absolute self-possession of man even against the good of mankind. Solid enough, and a good deal more meaty than the limp science fantasy of the previous two installments, but lacking the visceral punch of reflecting race relations in the midst of the civil rights movement. As impressive as the apes are, none are as memorable as characters like Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Zaius. With the exception of MacDonald, the human characters in these films have never been of such negligible value. Still, Rise remains impressive, appealing, and sets the stage for exciting sequels to come.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday Is Retroactive For All I Care #117

Justice League of America - The '70s #1
Wonder Woman - The '70s #1
Wonder Woman - The '80s #1




DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The '70s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
Confession? I bought this book purely out of geek completist imperative. I knew the Detroit League and JLI would be covered in successive editions, and I love those guys, so I went ahead and bought this. The truth is, I think the Satellite Era of the League was fucking shit, with boring ass Dick Dillin art and a revolving door of mostly crap writers. Basically, those books weren't fit to lick the boots of the contemporaneous Avengers. I didn't figure I'd like this affectionate look back, and I fuckin' called it.

The lead story is written by Cary Bates, whose work I generally enjoyed in the '80s, so this was completely hopeless. Unfortunately, not only does this read like the product of the regrettable era rather than Bates' better work, but it's also very much like a lost edition of those cheesy Julius Schwartz tribute books from years back following his death. The Andy Smith pages look okay, although he inks himself to look more like a Neal Adams knock-off, and by that I mean he seems to be aiming for the look of dudes like Rich Buckler. The Gordon Purcell pages remind you why he's best known for well starched licensed product from before Dark Horse pointed out that you could apply artistry to such ventures. The reprint features one half of a dreadful self-insertion yarn where Bates was joined by Elliot S! Maggin. The printing quality makes clear why that shit should have remained on browning newsprint.



DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The '70s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
I've always liked Wonder Woman, but certain runs of the character made me outright love her, and Mike Sekowsky's Diana Prince stories was one of them. Denny O'Neil contributed to that period, and took over entirely upon Sekowsky's departure, but his stuff was never as good. His politics, gender and otherwise, were rather screwy, and he's on record as apologizing for many aspects of his work there. I suspected his writing this special would see an attempt at contrition, and so it does, but in such an obtuse manner that it's hard to tell. The story starts off in a late Silver Age fashion recalling the pre-Prince period, until a psychedelic adversary transforms the Amazing Amazon into the mod adventuress. From there, the story runs as equal parts Silver Age flavor, O'Neil specific Bronze Age touches, and then the ambiguity of O'Neil's eighties work. It is an uneasy and not entirely satisfying blend, exacerbated by the unusual art by J. Bone. Typically, the artist works in a sunny animated style, but here seems to attempt channeling the coarseness of Sekowsky. It's interesting to see him work in a more realistic style, with the obvious intent of evoking the period, but that doesn't keep it from feeling off and indulgently experimental. The result isn't necessarily bad, just sort of funky, in the bleu cheese rather than chicken sense.

The back-up reprint is another kooky but decidedly more conventional tale from the early '70s, supported fantastically by lovely Dick Giordano art in full Adams-aping mode. It's a lot of fun, with a mystery guest villain in peculiar disguise, and the only major complaint a tire-screeching incomplete ending.



DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman - The '80s #1 (DC, 2011, $4.99)
First, a few little things:
  • I love the 1980s Retroactive logo, as it perfectly captures the decade.
  • The blurbs are a sweet blast from the past, so why the lame digital type for the price and issue number?
  • Roy Thomas debuted "The Sensational New Wonder Woman" in 1981 alongside Gene Colan with a fresh logo and the devising of the Whataburger double-w chest symbol to replace the fifty year old eagle.It was actually one of Wondy's better logos, so it seems a shame they used one of the late '80s variations on the Perez era Post-Crisis logo instead. I always found that font blah.
  • While it's fun to tease some continuity "to come" in a story explicitly set in 1983, there were some anachronistic elements that kicked me right out of the story (specifically the "Wonder Woman 2.0" line.)

The new lead story starts out pretty well. Rich Buckler was a fairly popular Bronze Age artist, although his legacy is one of infamy, given that his already Neal Adams derivative style was often employed for the most egregious swiping of other artists of his day. In retrospect, especially compared to Rob Liefeld or Greg Land, Buckler's lifts were relatively benign. Anyway, joined by all-star inker Joe Rubinstein, the unusually ripped Wonder Woman looks hard core. There are some swell nods to the era, and the mystery villain is fantastically rendered for a few panels. Thomas' script is cute, and draws on plot threads left over from his run, including a rather final finale that takes advantage of its setting in the days prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Unfortunately, the good artists ditch on page fourteen with five(!) seriously cruddy replacements in the second half. If fact, the art is so terrible, I suspect Thomas had to rewrite those pages, because the story quality seems to deteriorate around the same point into a dunderheaded slugfest. The grim coda is jarring, in part because Rubenstein returns to own those last two pages.

I very much preferred the reprint back-up, Wonder Woman (1st series) #288. For starters, it was from the days when DC seemed like a professional operation, instead of an art project thrown together over the weekend for college credit. I'm not typically a fan of Romeo Tanghal's heavy handed inks, but I think Gene Colan's usual moody style needed the conventional polish to perk it up on an assignment like this. Tanghal necessarily tarts up the super-heroine, but is wise enough to get out of Colan's way where it counts. Thomas' plot is nice and dense, recapping a sixteen page preview comic in two pages, advancing subplots left over from the previous creative team, and still working out his own material.

I'd never read Silver Swan's debut, but happened to buy the original comic a few months back, and really appreciate the vastly improved printing quality. It's much easier to sell silver coloring when your paper stock isn't brown. Swan was much more interesting in this first incarnation, even if the ugly duckling aspect of the character is as believable as the hawt geek girl from '80s movies, with her big blue eyes, lush lips, and "blemishes" that more resemble freckles. Silver Swan as I've known her since 1988 has been a bore. This story not only gives her the ol' ominous foreshadowing, but follows it with a well thought out origin that provides the character with strong motivation and a hook perfect for a Wonder Woman adversary. It also reminded me how much more effective a foe Swan could be when the Amazing Amazon is grounded. Since Wonder Woman can't just fly herself, you get a great display of physicality as she relies on acrobatics and her lasso as she's forced to adapt. It's fun hearing her trash talk, as well.

Reading this story makes me realize what a huge mistake ditching the Diana Prince identity and divorcing her from the military were. I'm sorry, but "peaceful ambassador from an island nation" isn't the best story engine. Wonder Woman was far more iconic and motivated while managing a dual identity as an agent of military intelligence working out of the Pentagon than hanging out with a widow and her daughter in Boston. I don't fault Perez for shaking up a tired status quo, but I do fault all the writers that followed him for not restoring some of the elements once Perez's angle grew stale. Steve Trevor's spy games and General Darnell's sexual harassment really draw a reader into the soap opera. I must say though that based on this one story, Diana Prince is the worst secret agent ever. She leaves top secret documents in a trash can, blows off Steve in the hospital to fuck off to Paradise Island for a random battle, returns to visit Steve, has a team-up with Silver Swan, is actually surprised when the documents go missing, and then, upon retrieving them, decided to take a shower straight away while they sit in her living room.

The reprint makes the book a good buy. I really enjoyed how much information was packed into 26 pages, and that's before the cliffhanger that reintroduced one of Wonder Woman's best villains after a fifteen year absence. Good show!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Frank Review of "Fright Night" (2011)

The Short Version? Not Another '80s Movie Remake.
What Is It?Horror-Comedy.
Who Is In It? Chekov 2.0, Bullseye, McLovin, the older sister from 28 Weeks Later and the Mommy State of Tara.
Should I See It? Yes.



An excellent rule of thumb in filmmaking is to never remake a good movie, much less a great one. You're just setting yourself up for unfair comparison, unrealistic expectations, and resistance from the fans. A few directors have managed to buck the trend and improve on the original, but usually a remake stands as a blemish on a resume.

Craig Gillespie hasn't been associated with any stellar pictures, and in the case of Mr. Woodcock, one so wretched co-stars Seann William Scott and Billy Bob Thornton reportedly feared it would end their careers while they were making it. This likely led to the unenviable position of remaking the second highest grossing horror film of 1985, a cult classic that spawned a comic book series, video game, and a sequel. However, not only was Fright Night no great film, but I've been arguing it wasn't even an especially good one since seeing it on VHS in the late '80s. Solid premise, likeable cast, swell poster, decent script, but for me the chemistry was never there.

I feel a lot of the original's appeal was its outreach to the nerd core; the first feature length fan wank love letter to all the losers who grew up on Zacherley, The Munsters, Hammer horror and early Stephen King. Charley Brewster was the hero who could be them, paired off with their favorite Saturday late night horror host against the kinds of vampires they read about in some monster compendium, stalking their own suburban neighborhood. The Lost Boys scored big with the same premise a couple of years later, and now this sort of 4th wall handjob is a cliché unto itself. Fright Night was an okay flick, but it was never a favorite of mine, and its few pioneering aspects were improved upon by those who followed. As a result, Craig Gillespie had an opportunity to make that rare superior remake, and in partnership with screenwriter Marti Noxon, did just that.

In the oldest horror movies, audiences were educated alongside the ignorant peasants onscreen exactly what type of monster wrecked havoc in the dark of the night. Remember, tropes like killing a werewolf with a silver bullet were actually invented for the silver screen. Both parties accepted what they were told about the supernatural. They just needed a gypsy or some such to lay it down for them. As film horror shifted away from isolated European villages centuries gone, the delaying tactic to fill screen time between monster attacks in more modern settings was denial that such foolish, superstitious notions could relate to any calamity faced. However, as audiences became more sophisticated, it was increasingly annoying to know that they were seeing a monster movie, but everyone on screen (but perhaps a true believer or two) dismissed the obvious until the final reel. Fright Night was among the last of those frustrating features where our hero figures out a vampire has moved into the neighborhood in act one, and spends ninety minutes on cat and mouse games of implausible length while trying to convince anyone else of the nature of his problem. However, it was also at the vanguard of a media aware generation of characters who would reference other films explicitly to determine a favorable course of action. This would progress to the Scream franchise, where the accumulated lore of other horror movies and their connoisseur's awareness of same would make the viewer a party to their thought process. These characters would speak out of both sides of their mouth, mocking the established conventions in anticipation of their viewer's criticism, yet still making bonehead mistakes so that they could die by the rules they espoused.

Fright Night 2011 is part of a new breed of horror written by learned fans whose characters unapologetically accept the supernatural when presented with convincing evidence, and seek remedy with the conviction of 1930s Universal villagers. They don't crack jokes about how if they were in a horror movie, they'd be killed for going into the basement, before getting killed like the smug assholes they are in the basement. Instead, when their acquaintances start turning up missing and their neighbor casts no reflection in a mirror, they sharpen stakes and prepare to do battle with the forces of Satan. Who wants to waste their time watching Charlie Brewster whine that nobody will believe him about the scary monsters? The viewers want characters who will react as they would in the same circumstances, so that they can see how that would play out while potentially being surprised by the outcomes. Charlie Brewster, despite being "one of us," is smart and heroic enough to hold a vampire at bay. Said vampire still plays some games, but is legitimately stymied by the hero's actions, so that he doesn't look like an overconfident tool in the final act. It's a lot more satisfying than shouting options at the screen to deaf, dumb characters.

A lot of current movies remain slaves to outdated storytelling techniques. For instance, if I'm in a car with a couple of friends, all of us will be carrying a cell phone, which offers three methods of contacting any one of us at any given time. You must therefore either incorporate this accessibility into a script, or come up with a convincing excuse for why none of the three cell phones work. Marti Noxon's clever script is practically built on this rule. Rather than a hindrance, Fright Night uses an iPhone as a tool to advance the story, correcting past errors. Instead of explaining contrivances, her characters can leap frog past obvious obstacles into ones that would try any of us. When the characters act as we would, with all of our expected resources, failure and tragedy impact on us because we would be just as flummoxed as the protagonists. In the new telling, we're not wishing Charlie Brewster well, but trailing behind him in trying to figure out a way out of this mess.

I'm fond of William Ragsdale, and Charley Brewster was one of his signature roles, but Anton Yelchin is more believable, entertaining and compelling. Colin Farrell's take on the vampire is one of his best performances to date; sexy, slithery and decidedly menacing. Twenty-seven year old Amanda Bearse was never remotely believable as a teenager, and her character was pretty much strictly an inexplicable object of desire. Imogen Poots is vastly more appealing in every way, including as a stronger heroine, even if she ultimately remains a distressed damsel. Toni Collette has quality good scenes as Brewster's mom, and unlike Dorothy Fielding's role in the original, she's more than just a minor plot device.

On the negative side, while it was obviously necessary to update the Peter Vincent character, David Tennant's take hasn't a fraction of the charm or weight of Roddy McDowall in the part. Stephen Geoffreys' "Evil Ed" was one of the '80s most memorable horror characters, and while Christopher Mintz-Plasse gives it his best, he's still McLovin the vampire arriving late to the game. Aside from the amusingly foul-mouthed Sandra Vergara as Ginger and a surprisingly strong turn by Emily Montague as Doris, most of the other new characters are unnecessary in the extreme.

Fright Night isn't just a remake, but a reinvigoration. It's clearly written by a fan who is as faithful to the original as is reasonable, but recognizes quarter century old tropes won't work any more. The director then follows through with superior casting, editing and effects, so that audiences new and familiar can be equally excited by the finished product. Fright Night is great fun, doing justice to the original while improving upon it, and comes wholeheartedly recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Doctor Strange" (2007)

The Short Version? A Doctor Strange cartoon wanting desperately to be anything but a Dr. Strange cartoon
What Is It? Cartoon Comic Adaptation
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.



When I saw Captain America: The First Avenger the first time, I went with three friends. One was a former customer I was touching base with after many years, so our post-film bullshit session veered into a broader discussion of comic adaptations in the 21st century. We agreed that Marvel had really raised the standard in live action, but DC was still easily the tops in animation. Features like the direct-to-DVD Dr. Strange cartoon bear that out. I've watched the show several times... not repetitively, but rather through becoming so bored and irritated that I would dismiss it before continuing where I left off days and even weeks later. It took me a month or so just to finish the goddamned thing. It's a major step backward to the days when Hollywood lacked any faith in the material that it was licensing, taking only surface elements and taking them onto a standard Tinseltown formula. As was the the case for much of the 20th century, the end result is to produce a movie that fails to meet fan expectations and serves the uninitiated the same old shit with unnecessary comic book associations.

A Hollywood pitch version for Dr. Strange movie would be "Gregory House training under Dumbledore to battle Cthulu as directed by Darren Aronofsky." This flick, likely taking cues from a widely and justifiably ignored J. Michael Straczynski mini-series, was more like "The Matrix in the House of Flying Daggers." Stephen Strange is supposed to be a windbag asshole, but he's also possessed of a quiet cool and an acceptable degree of pollution. He may stand upright and even seem a bit uptight, but he's less Mr. Anderson than Don Draper. The man has imbibed, he's fucked around with girls half his age, he's done hash in the Village. If Robert Downey Junior hadn't already stuck the landing on Tony Stark, he could have downshifted a bit for Stephen Strange. A stick up the ass penitent with a seriously generic hero voice trying to snatch the pebble from sensei's palm ain't gonna fuckin' cut it.

Less than two minutes into the movie, it's already fucked. Mordo leads a team of kung-fu warriors with glowing energy tattoos who use magic to produce swords for chopping on giant cat monsters. Despite enlisting actual Asian actors, the flick still earns major demerits for the thick stereotypical "flied lice" accents. Strange encounters the group by chance, and his ability to see through their mystical camouflage pegs him as a person of interest by his eventual mentor, Wong, who has a full head of graying hairs. Aside from the names, none of this bears the slightest resemblance to the source material

In the comics, Strange was a prick disinterested in the thanks of a grateful patient, preferring money, booze and fast cars. In the movie, he turns away the needy and comatose children because he's soul dead after failing to save his diseased kid sister when he began practicing medicine. Again, the similarity between the two stories is slight, and the difference between entertaining cockiness and a desire to pummel the protagonist is immense. The parallels are much closer after Strange's crippling accident and vain attempts at full recovery, but in the books, you miss the shitheel, where the movie Strange is so dull and rotten, you root for his degradation. It's worth noting that one of the filmmakers comments on how the original comic origin spanned only a handful of panel, and that there was an entire movie to be made between them. My thinking is that the creators recognized that such details were better left to the imagination, rather than spelled out over fifty fucking drag-assed minutes of screen time so wretchedly derivative as to reference It's A Wonderful Life with Charlie Chan in the Clarence role. Further, a far superior extended origin was available to adapt, but as there is no indication the filmmakers actually read a single solitary Dr. Strange comic, it's no wonder they missed that fact.

Besides the hoary Asian (India inclusive) stereotypes, tired character designs, and liberal borrowing from cheesy Saturday morning martial arts films, the clearest indication that the filmmakers have no idea of what they're doing is when Dr. Strange and company travel to another dimension. In the sixties, Steve Ditko created surreal Daliesque worldscapes where the laws of physics could not apply. They were so bizarre, readers assumed he dropped acid, and comics have continued to copy them for fifty years. With all the potential of animation, the movie renders these dimensions as caverns. Gray, rocky caverns. Period. Dormammu? Just animated fire with a horned skull silhouette in the center, voiced by some douchebag talking into a fan. It's as big a disappointment as the Galactus and Parallax of the movies.

In the comics, Dr. Strange's spells were a visual tour de force, but he was not above engaging in physical combat with a metaphysical twist. In the movie, Strange stands around with his dandy New Romantic looks catching other guys swords (*ahem*) and casting energy blasts. The coolest creatures he combats are green CGI piranha bats, which admittedly is kind of cool, but the exception proves the rule. Their impact is muted by virtually all the threats in the movie being legions of animalistic creatures. These include wolves made of shadows and more rampaging giant cat things, which could have easily been improved upon with Mindless Ones, but the film's infidelity is only outmatched by its lack of imagination. The final insult is comic images playing during the credits that strain to find the least visually interesting images from the sixties, and still manage to outshine the flick. In one and one quarter hour, anything cool about Dr. Strange is rendered banal.

Extras?

  • Marvel Video Game Cinematics What it says. Thirteen cut scenes without context from two games and a music video "best of" compilation. Still better than the actual movie.

  • The Origin of Doctor Strange Often the best part of comic adaptation DVDs are the behind the scenes interviews with the creators of the books over the years. While this is no exception, thirteen minutes is an exceptionally short running time, especially when half of it is shared with filmmakers trying to validate their going far astray from the seminal works being discussed. Stan Lee, Steve Englehart and J.M. DeMatteis are charming, animated, and informative. Combined with the art on display, they do an excellent job of informing the viewer of how ineptly their stories were translated to animation. To accentuate that point, the filmmakers are all stiff, semi-monotonal fucktards who name drop creators without a exhibiting a hint of their influence in the finished product. Hopefully, the first six minutes will get reused in a more worthwhile venue if the proposed Dr. Strange live action movie arrives in 2013.

  • A First Look At: Avengers Reborn Kid progeny of the Avengers in a dystopic future. I've seen worse designs, but this is all talking head interviews.

  • Doctor Strange Concept Art Not really. Just animatics.

  • Trailer Gallery Nothing signals a quality production like opening with the trailer to Delta Farce starring Larry the Cable Guy. Also, The Dresden Files, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, Ultimate Avengers 2, & The Invincible Iron Man.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care #116

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse #1
Flashpoint #3 (2011)
Ghost Rider: Fear Itself #1 (2011)
Roger Langridge's Snarked! #0




Dollhouse: Epitaphs #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
With the exception of Firefly/Serenity, Joss Whedon product is good enough to entertain me in brief chunks (2-3 hour spans max,) but then I'm ready to move on. The least of his efforts that I've been exposed to (with the exception of Alien: Resurrection,) was the television series Dollhouse. The show struck me as Alias without the charisma laboring under a quasi-feminist exploration of the institutional misogyny of the spy genre. In other words, it was rather boring without offering near the unnerving twists that it would like to have believed it could deliver. Unaware that the series wrapped on an apocalyptic note, Epitaphs was not what I was expecting, which isn't the same as being interesting. We've got a grade school Neo trained by Alan Tudyk and a bunch of people who have been brainwashed into believing that they're the same person fighting legions of zombies the crazies. Okay story and art, but the premium pricing doesn't help me feel better about supporting inoffensive mediocrity.



Flashpoint #3 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
This was a mistake on my part. Three of the five issues of this mini-series were offered to me at a dollar each, but I knew after the first and the events to follow that I did not want. I accidentally ordered this anyway, so it behooves me to poop on it some more. Seven of the first eight pages are devoted to saying "psyche" on the stupid shock ending to the previous installment, but I guess with fifteen friggin' spin-off books the actual world building and general scope is done elsewhere. There's a two page prelude to one of those books, then another six pages to forming a super-team that was supposed to have gotten together in the first issue, were it not for Bat-dickery. The final ten pages were spent rescuing a character so that he could appear in another tie-in mini, plus a totally limp cliffhanger. Oh my gosh, a bunch of red shirts have laser scopes targeting our super-heroes! However will they esca--zzzzzzzzzz. Your extra dollar supports a cardstock cover, decompressed story pages (i.e. more half-&-whole splashes,) plus four weak character sketch pages.




Ghost Rider (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
Marvel Comics has a program wherein retailers can send stripped covers from Flashpoint tie-in books to them in exchange for a Fear Itself variant cover. This is based on the premise that the books are not very good, were ordered in excessive quantities, and have been undercut by the "New 52" making the Elseworld doubly irrelevant. This comic is the glass house shipping address for those covers.

Under a mark of shame Kubert Brother cover are two of the worst Ghost Rider stories I've ever read in his already less than illustrious career. After a first page of grating first person exposition, there's a two page spread of GR villains where physics are damned, there's an awful lot of negative space between goofy looking characters, and I'm pretty sure someone gave the artist the wrong reference for Lilith. Following that is a badly constructed title page, and then story pages that prove Keith Giffen was totally doing uncredited layouts on Doom Patrol, because Matthew Clark's storytelling leaves something to be desired. A couple of early Danny Ketch period foes turn up, both of whom I thought were already dead, to be killed by a new Ghost Rider with breasts. They struck me as being out of character anyway, but it still sucks to throw a couple of decent bad guys under the bus after having already illustrated how lousy the Ghost Rider rogues gallery was, all in the name of the worst designed Ghost Rider ever. So many inglorious landmarks in this one book.

Of all the many things people have gotten wrong with the character in the past, the avoidance of adding chesticles and a corseted waistline to a flaming skeleton wasn't among them. Neither was carrying the handle of a motorcycle like a lightsaber until it was called upon to manifest a motorcycle. This bowdlerizing of Morrisonian mad ideas just amounts to an opportunity for the artist to draw a motorcycle in as few panels as possible in a book whose lead character counts riding a motorcycle as 50% of the appeal. After twenty pages of the thinnest and dumbest event tie-in possible (people punching people from that other mini-series,) we're "treated" to the origin of the new Ghost Rider with ovaries afire. She's some sort of Nicaraguan warrior monk chosen to be the new spirit of vengeance by a mysterious mystic. Again, the only reason people bought Ghost Rider comics ever was because he's a flaming skeletal biker who smacks people with a chain and rides a boss hog. Save the hoodoo for Dr. Strange. Even on its established terms, this book is garbage, but it's doubly useless when it's supposed to be Harley porn but reads like a rice rocket brochure.



Snarked #0 (kaboom!, 2011, $1.00)
My firm belief is that the printed comic book is a dying art form that has choked itself with its increasing insularity while alienated women, children, and general audiences. Like cigarettes, this is a habit best started young, so a kid's comic by the acclaimed writer of The Muppet Show, influenced by the timeless work of Lewis Carroll, should serve as an ideal gateway to new readers of all ages. Too bad this fucking piece of shit chokes on a goddamned meaty cock. The characters, truncated story and gags are all dog shit. Eight pages into this motherfucker and the anorexic story cuts out, leading to a premature letters page, a sketch gallery of Langridge's unimpressive art, a pair of diary pages from a barely introduced character, a three page poem from the 19th century, a faux newspaper page, two more pages of Victorian poetry, a couple of fun & games activity pages, and a wanted poster. This is like the Black Dossier of kids comics, and I mean that in only the most derisive, creator-up-his-own-asshole, molesting the target audience with artistic pretense way. For my dollar, I demand the opportunity to roll up my copy of Snarked #0 and beat Roger Langridge about the face and neck for being such a cunt.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Comic Reader Résumé: January, 1982



I don't believe I'll ever know for sure exactly when I became a comic book fan, most likely because I had a comic collecting uncle in the house in the early years of my life. I had plenty of stuff that stayed in print throughout the '70s, like Power Records and several Whitman coloring books (Captain America, Superman: "World without Water!" I saw Superman: The Motion Picture in the theater, and I can't recall there ever being a time when comic books weren't around. They were certainly always on my short list for purchases at garage sales and flea markets, as well. However, while working on a project, I visited the justifiably named Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics to take advantage of his "Time Machine." Mike took it upon himself to begin offering a chronological listing of every DC book by actual and cover dated availability. What's more, he's recently expanded his Amazing Worlds to include Marvel, Gold Key, and Charlton comics, with all of their assorted monthly titles available on a virtual "newsstand." This has allowed me to determine ground zero for the beginning of my collecting new comics by schlepping down to the 7-11 with my own pocket change: January, 1982.



I can't say for certain that I bought the given issues upon their release, and I'm not sure Mike's dates are ironclad, either. That said, there's a very good chance my first brand new purchase was The Amazing Spider-Man #227 by Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr. and Jim Mooney. It was a fun Black Cat story, and while Mooney's inks weren't choice, it was still a good looking book. I still have my original copy stewing in a polybag, the brown pages surely acidic as all hell and unrestrained by a cover or the first/last pages.

According to Mike, my second comic would be The Flash #308. It was kind of a neat story by the usually swell and highly underrated Cary Bates where the Scarlet Speedster's battle with a mummy was paralleled by some children at play. It may be heretical, but if there's one classic artist I never developed an appreciation for, it's Carmine Infantino. I hate his stuff to this day, as well as many of the people he influenced. However, the reason I bought the book was the embellishment of Dennis Jensen, who did a magnificent job of making Infantino look pretty. Yet, I suspect that despite the solid plot and inks, this would also be the beginning of a lifelong dislike of super speed characters. I could never get into Runs-Fast-Man, in any costume or at any company. The Dr. Fate back-up strip by Martin Pasko, Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt makes a liar out of me, because I could have sworn my introduction to the character was through the Super Powers Collection. I have no recollection of this story, except perhaps the vaguest impression of a half splash to start it off.



Since the Flash was undated, I can't be positive The Brave and the Bold #185 was my third comic. I parted company with the first book quickly, but that Batman, Robin and Green Arrow team-up was in my comic pile next to my grandmother's couch for years. I'd already been turned on to the O'Neill/Adams stuff, and after that Rich Buckler cover, I found the interiors by Adrian Gonzales and Mike DeCarlo quite disappointing. Gonzales mostly stuck to Arak and war comics, which helps explain why your first question was probably "who the hell is Adrian Gonzales?" Writer Don Karr had an even less impressive record, and his story probably helped drive me toward Marvel Comics for most of the '80s. It was just one of the overwhelming majority of Penguin stories that are underwhelming, involving giant bird cages and Ollie not getting his eyes clawed out, damn it.

I suspect that I had a copy of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #2, but my memory is too hazy to comment, if that was in fact the case. Not too bad of a month for my first as a certified collector, but not enough to make my bona fides, since I didn't stick with any of them going into February. That's a tale for another time, though.

How about yourself, dear reader? Any memories from your first month of collecting comics, or January, 1982 specifically?

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Frank Review of "Cruel Intentions 3" (2004)

The Short Version? Teens fucking over one another over fucking one another.
What Is It? Soap Opera.
Who Is In It? Some guy from Dawson's Creek and tight chicks you won't see naked.
Should I See It? No.



Cruel Intentions isn't even a reputable franchise, much less an esteemed one, but the third edition somehow manages to be a pale shadow of even the barely adequate prequel. Fairly reeking of direct-to-DVD, it features Kristina Anapau as the cousin of original series bad girl Kathryn Merteuil, who idolizes her kin's wickedness but clearly lacks her cunning. Kerr Smith plays the guy who wants to fuck her, but is not her stepbrother, and Nathan Wetherington plays a guy who does fuck her, and is certainly good looking enough to do so, but we're all supposed to pretend he's an ugly dork. Dude, at least put on some glasses and get a more repressed hairstyle, like the "nerd girls" in teen movies.

What made the first movie better than Dangerous Liaisons for the CW set was that it was witty and naughty in how it went about its business, while this trash operates strictly on porno logic. Every action ends in sex, and it's such a direct through line that every bit of dialogue is just a clumsy means to an end. It's all about as subtle as ordering pizza in a neglige. Unlike an actual porno though, the sex scenes are bereft of any fluids, especially blood. They're short, dull, light on skin and feel as forced as inserts.

On the plus side, there is a decent soundtrack of songs from artists no one has ever heard of, so at least this one sort of sounds like the first. Also, the film stock and cinematography are much closer to the original, so it doesn't look cheap. Unfortunately, this one takes a mean-spirited turn that's much too far beyond propriety to go down. The fun is in the seduction, whether of the innocent or their adulteration of the diabolic. This is simply too tasteless to know how to get to either place effectively, and crass enough to make sure to stay open-ended for a fourth run.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

USPS > UPS

The United States Postal Service is one of many essential American institutions targeted for downsizing thanks to ongoing porkbarrel politics, and some even look forward to its demise. There are plenty of great reasons to defend USPS, but I'll make my argument in the simplest, briefest, and most self-centered terms.

I get my new comics by mail order in one monthly shipment. The USPS recently decided that because of advertisements, comics do not qualify for media mail rates. That jumped my shipping costs from less than five dollars to less than nine dollars, comparable with the rates UPS has been charging for a decade. Besides the $60 a year I saved over UPS when USPS had the lower price, the latter also delivers on Saturdays. I could have had my books this weekend through USPS, or Monday at the latest. Since I accidentally shipped through UPS this month, my books will arrive Tuesday at the earliest.

Support the USPS. Brown is #2, and vice versa.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wednesday is a Hundred Penny Reprint For All I Care #115

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1 (2010/2011)
Fantastic Four MGC #570 (2009/2011)
Incorruptible #1/Irredeemable #1 (2009/2011)
The Rocketeer: Hundred Penny Press Edition (1988/2011)




Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1 Boom! Blast Edition (Boom! Studios, 2011, $1.00)
There was a time years ago when I would read an Advance Comics or Diamond Previews catalog cover to cover on a monthly basis. I'd spend a whole weekend going through it entry by entry, and this was years before I did it professionally. Well, we have the glorious internet now, which means I get to write as much as read, and I otherwise have better shit to do with my trek toward middle age. I still toss through each page, but I managed to be completely oblivious to the fact that this series is still being published. I thought it was a mini-series, but they're on the eleventh issue with a different creative team. I guess they're doing something right.

Writer Kurt Busiek manages to build up the absent Dracula through flashbacks, while also getting the reader involved in the book's human protagonists. It occurs to me that the first I ever liked a Busiek story was Vampirella: Morning in America, and I just might have to pick up Dynamite's upcoming reprint. Both stories remind me of Marv Wolfman's Tomb of Dracula, and I wonder if Busiek, like Wolfman, is known for super-heroes but better suited for horror. There was a lot more to interest me here than Kirby: Genesis, for instance.

Wait a minute! Son of a bitch! Busiek is only credited with "story," kind of like the starfucking Virgin Comics did a few years back. Daryl Gregory is the guy who actually turned this into a script, so maybe that's why I like it better. Plus, Gregory and artist Scott Godlewski, who has a passing resemblance to Tony Moore, are still on the book. Might be worth checking out...



Fantastic Four MGC #570 (Marvel, 2011, $1.00)
Here's a reprint of the first issue of Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham's run on the book, and possibly the first story I've ever read by the writer. My, but it's derivative. It starts out with a flashback to Reed Richards' daddy issues, and then we get the mise-en-scène super battle where the brainy writer gets to use his cute idea to jazz up a minor villain without being bothered to plot an actual story for them from beginning to end. Grant Morrision's great at that kind of thing, in part because he's better at mad ideas than plot anyway, but also because he gets in and out so quickly, like in a Bond movie. Hickman spends half an issue on it, so that by the time he started in on his actual story, it felt like an afterthought.

There's some forced "levity" with Ben and Johnny, and some presumed leftover business from Millar's run, but Hickman's heart seems to be with Mister Fantastic. Hickman tries to outdo Rip Hunter's chalkboard from 52, and then dives headfirst into Alan Moore's Supreme, essentially deifying the one iconic Marvel hero no one has never found interesting enough to give his own series. For the record, everyone at Marvel has had their own series but Mr. Fantastic, even his own school-aged son. That's fantastically boring.

It's funny, because Iron Man has been flagellated ever since Secret Invasion, and Hank Pym got free of it through Skrull impersonation and a dead wife, but nobody seems to call Reed Richards on the carpet for being the Karl Rove/Dick Cheney of the Marvel Universe. Nothing says republican elite like determining the person who is the most brilliant and knows what's best for the entire universe is yourself, so the most effective sounding board would be hundreds of duplicates of yourself to echo your every opinion. It's not like I ever loved Reed, but Hickman may get credit for actually inspiring me to deeply dislike Mister Fantastic. Congratulations on that, I guess.

The art is nice, even if Eaglesham continues to draw everyone as stiff hardbodied Adonises and Adonnas, or whatever. Reed Richards with Miami Vice stubble and rock hard abs only accentuates the right wing fantasy path the character is on. I wonder if Steve Ditko reads any Marvel comics, because if he does, I bet he's sad that it's one of Kirby's characters that ended up the standard bearer for Ayn Rand?




Incorruptible #1/Irredeemable #1 Boom! Blast Edition (Boom! Studios, 2011, $1.00)
In my review of the trade paperback, I already pointed out how unnecessary a long form telling of evil Superman was, since this year we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of 1986, and mourn a quarter century of depressing anti-heroic deconstruction. I'll only add of Irredeemable that taken on its own, what a shitty first issue it had. Seven pages of the Plutonian killing a family, eight pages of flashback to the guy meeting some other heroes at a baseball game, and eight pages of other heroes explaining that a pissed off immoral Superman is a bad thing.

Incorruptible is also pretty slight, but is amusing in a Bronze Age kind of clunkyness. Max Damage was a bad dude supervillain who had a heavy experience with the psycho Plutonian (explored next issue?) that turned him into a hardline born again type. Max refuses to feed the meat pipe to his underage girlfriend, named Jailbait and heavily reenforced through dialogue, because artist Jean Diaz draws her as a standard issue adult super-heroine. Max teams up with the cops to bring down his old gang. Max takes a flamethrower to his millions of dollars worth of dirty money, rather than launder it through charity, to emphasize that Damage is in his own way just as big of an asshole wackjob as the Plutonian. Truth to tell, the whole purpose of Incorruptible is to be the uglier, dumber sister title to Irredeemable, balancing the scales of a hero gone bad with a villain made good. Shame the same can't be said about either title and their role in the direct market, as they're both lame enough to be published for a buck cheaper at DC.



The Rocketeer: Hundred Penny Press Edition (IDW, 2011, $1.00)
This comic reprints Comico's 1988 The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #1, which as I recall was itself a reprint of serialized short stories first published in 1982 by Pacific. Dave Stevens was an outstanding and highly influential illustrator, but the guy was the Anti-Prolific Equation when it came to serialized storytelling. I don't think this tale wrapped until the third issue was published in 1993, by Dark Horse, two years after the movie adaptation came out. It's a gorgeous book, especially with the quality of printing, but the story is as lightweight as the adventure serials that inspired it.

Cliff Secord is kind of a jerk with highly questionable motivations. His personality basically consists of being selfish and jealous enough to steal government property ahead of World War II to hold on to his girlfriend. Admittedly, that girl is Bettie Page, and Stevens' depiction had a lot to do with her now being an inspirational, iconic figure, but that doesn't translate much into a character as scripted. I think this is a classic example of people reading into the book what they want, because it's so damn pretty, but pretty vacant. The Rocketeer never mattered to me before, and nothing here will change that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Frank Review of "Captain America: The First Avenger 3D" (2011)

The Short Version? When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and white and the blue’ll come through.
What Is It? Period Super Hero Origin Story
Who Is In It? Lucas Lee, Aliena, Agent K, Agent Smith,
Should I See It? Yes.



I love Captain America. I had the "1966" coloring book with Batroc that probably came out in 1975. Cap was to the best of my knowledge my first favorite super-hero, and is disputably still my favorite, although there were many others between now and then. His was one of the first series I collected by trucking down to the 7-11 with my own coin, and you know I had the Secret Wars action figure with the lame lenticular animation shield. Heck, it's one of the few toys from my childhood I've since reacquired as an adult. I watched the cartoons and the lousy TV movies as a kid, and subjected myself to the 1990 "theatrical" film that wasn't good enough to be released in the United States, home of American Ninja and the career of Frank Stallone.

I tell you all of this because despite my usual hypercritical tone in these reviews, it is impossible for me to be unbiased in discussing a Captain America motion picture.That's why I was so filled with hate at the disappointing teaser trailer and then posted an apology with the much improved international trailer. I've only ever reviewed trailers a few times here, much less two for the same movie. That is my love for Captain America.

This should explain why I sat through most of The First Avenger's running time with a big stupid grin on my face. Despite early indications and a lifetime of disappointments, someone finally got a Captain America movie right. It's earnest, patriotic, cornball, unsophisticated, goofy, innocent, and in summary, delightful. No one tried to "fix" Cap by making him sarcastic or blowing G.I.s to gory bits or having him show up to liberate Buchenwald. He's a simple, inspiring comic book icon in a movie to match. They did tone down a costume that was never going to translate to film and offer up some logical tweaks to satisfy modern audiences, but for the most part, there is a clear adoration and knowledge of the source material that is manifested as a love letter to fans. I would imagine any kid who bought Captain America Comics #1 in 1940 who survived to this point will be happy with this film, and as a fairly polluted cat from better than half a century after that, I dug it too. Captain America is not and never should be The Dark Knight, and for my money, is the more entertaining movie for it.

For reasons I don't fully understand, the movie begins in 1943, three years after his comic book career began as a guy punching Hitler before the U.S. were even involved in World War II. For reasons I totally get, Cap never actually fights the ancestors of the current Japanese or German ticket buying audience, preferring the faceless leatherboy terrorist gimps of Hydra. If the movie has any fault, it's that divorced from Nazi atrocities, the Red Skull is just kind of an asshole who wants to blow shit up with cosmic lasers for no discernible purpose. It kind of balances out though, since Captain America is motivated by innate goodness and a desire to contribute to society as a man. File under "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Chris Evans is pretty nearly the Christopher Reeve of Captain Americas. I watched Frank Miller's Gucci cologne ad with Evans, and it struck me how badly Cap needed to shave and treat Evan Rachael Wood a little more delicately. Evans fits Cap so well, there's a real danger of his getting typecast again, because his previous screen persona as the cocky smart ass now seems like a total put-on. As another voice in the chorus, the Steve Rogers special effects are flawless, but it's worth noting that Evans' mannerisms helped sell himself as a runty kid from Brooklyn. His stiffness in trailers as Captain America can be chalked up to bad editing, since he's typically quite fluid in the uniform.

Hayley Atwell sets Peggy Carter at "austere" and rarely varies, but after the almost too game Natalie Portman in Thor, it's nice to see a female lead with reserve and concerns outside of "will they or won't they." Tommy Lee Jones gets to play all the salty attitude of Sgt. Nick Fury without any of the physical effort, but they named him Colonel Phillips to avoid confusion with Sam Jackson's role. Stanley Tucci humanizes Dr. Erskine while still using him as a means of selling Steve Rogers to the audience. Dominic Cooper is fun as a less sexy Stark, and Sebastian Stan does what needs doing as a doomed sidekick. No one is bad in the movie, but almost everyone's role is stock, so they play their hand as dealt. This includes Hugo Weaving's Red Skull, Toby Jones as Toht Arnim Zola, and all of the unnamed Howling Commandos. They know their role, and this is Captain America's movie, so that is that. It's hard not to miss the eccentricity of a Micky Rourke performance in the mix, though, and there's something missing when you hate Obadiah Stane far more than the Red Skull.

There are a few twists along the way, and I'm sure a greater degree of unfamiliarity with the character could lead to more. I don't believe this movie was shot in 3D, but for a post-conversion, I think it plays well. Unlike most 3D films, I didn't forget about the process while watching, or take notice when the studios does so. There are scenes that are relatively flat, but when there's a call for 3D, particularly in a mildly claustrophobic train sequence, the depth is there. The action is a bit overblown at times, but I dearly love seeing bad guys get whacked with that shield.

Objectively, this is a better film than Thor and many other Marvel movies, but unlike the Iron Man and X-Men franchises, I don't know that it's built to reach out beyond the fans of this type of character. The movie certainly handles the continuity machine building up to The Avengers next summer better than most, even if the post-credits teaser isn't worth the wait. Probably because of its setting, it incorporates a lot of Marvel mythology without sagging from the baggage, at least until the abrupt ending. In fact, The First Avengers is three-quarters of a rock solid bit of self-contained entertainment, and only goes off track because of its obligation to other movies. After the first Captain America mission, there's a montage covering the rest of the war, and then Cap and Skull have to hit all their marks for a lackluster final showdown. I'd have much preferred leaving it to the Avengers movie to explain Cap's connection to modernity, and leave the door open for more 1940s fun. That said, the movie had built up plenty enough good will up to the last reel to see me through to the denouement. I finally got a Captain America movie to thoroughly enjoy, with a lead actor I expect will be able to stand up to major thespian competition next year.

...nurghophiles...

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