Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wednesday Is Magical For All I Care #144

Ragemoor #1
Saga #1
Smoke And Mirrors #1

Ragemoor #1 (Dark Horse, 2012, $3.50)
Jan Strnad and Richard Corben have been working together forever, but I never really followed them as a team or individually. They seem to compliment one another here, unsurprisingly. This is your basic Hammer horror haunted house action, except with a way bigger CGI budget toward the end. The story is solid for what it is, and ends well enough that I'm satisfied with it as a single serving with no burning desire to read three issues of continuation. The art is fucking sweet though, even/especially in black & white.

Saga #1 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
People have been lining up to suck Brian K. Vaughan's dick for years, but I've rarely made it past a single trade (Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man.) I guess I got through his Runaways, but only because I was getting the books for free and they were breezy reads. The only thing that really blew me away was Pride of Baghdad, which had tons of heart and was thoroughly compelling.

Saga #1 offered 44 pages of story for just $3, and is easily the closest thing I've read to meeting the quality of Pride. There are four splash pages, a spread, and several half-splashes that are all essential to the effectiveness of the presentation and are balanced by other panels heavy with content. The leads are immediately likeable and sympathetic. The story starts mise-en-scène, beginning an express train of plot while filling in the necessary background as the reader moves through the pages. The basic premise seems to be a galactic war between magic and science, but it isn't as simple or hacky as that sounds. There's nudity, cursing and sexual situations within the context of a mature title, meaning that it targets intelligent adult audiences rather than pandering to prurient interests. There's nothing new here, but where is this fountain of originality you speak of? I just want tales well told, and this book is off to a spectacular start. Fiona Staples' art is easy on the eyes and perfectly suited to the material. Her painted cover is instantly iconic, and I could see this being the next Walking Dead. With talent like this firing on all cylinders, I look forward to buying the first trade, and hopefully progressing from there. For me, Vaughan may finally be living up to the hype.

Smoke And Mirrors #1 (IDW, 2012, $3.99)
This book is kind of like the anti-Saga. It depicts a world virtually identical to our own, but runs on magical energy instead of electricity. There's still iPods and cars and security guards in button-up tees, but they just require crystals and chakras and shit. It's 22 pages for four bucks that ends just as things start to pick up. The characters are totally functional, but uninspired and not especially lifelike. There's some fairly dense tracts of dialogue to plow through that belabor points rather than adding value. The art by Ryan Browne is serviceable, and writer Mike Costa seems really into his concept, but it doesn't translate into any high water mark for reading enjoyment. This book is resoundingly okay, it was fine while I was reading it, and I will never buy another issue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Feeling Without Touching" by Glass Candy

Written By: Glass Candy
Released: 2008
Album: Deep Gems
Single?: Not Charted.

Feeling without touching
Oh, feel us, we're all laughing
With the angel clowns
Oh see me, see me laugh
Laugh, laugh myself away
Away, away from doubt

My crown is tipped up
My world is zipped up tight
That's how I'm sane and sound
With touchable ornaments placed around
Like eyes, and teeth
We shine like gold and diamonds, oh
We smile, we smile
We smile, we can't be ruined, no

Feeling without touching
Oh, feel us, we're all laughing
With the angel clowns
My crown is tipped up
My world is zipped up tight
That's how I'm sane and sound
With touchable ornaments place around
Like eyes, and teeth
We shine like gold and diamonds, oh
We smile, we smile
We smile, we can't be ruined, no

Feeling without touching
Oh oh, oh oh
Feeling without touching
Oh oh, oh oh
Feeling without touching
Oh oh

Bonus Track: "Digital Versicolor" from 2007's B/E/A/T/B/O/X

This is red, red, red, red, red
This is orange, orange, orange, orange, orange, orange
This is red, red, red, red, red
This is orange, orange, orange, orange, orange, orange
This is yellow
This is yellow
This is yellow
This is yellow
This is yellow
This is yellow
This is yellow

This is green, green, green, green, green
This is blue, blue, bluuuuue
Green, green, green, green, green
This is violet
This is violet
This is violet
This is violet
This is violet
This is violet
This is violet

This is the brilliance of white light
White light
It shines on roses and gardenias
White light
It shines on stars and houses
White light
The brilliance of white
White light
White light
White light

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wednesday Is Hack/Slash: First Cut For All I Care #143

The following stories were collected in the 2005 trade paperback First Cut, which included a foreword by Craig Thompson. However, I read these stories in the Hack/Slash Omnibus, which does not reprint that text piece. Meanwhile, First Cut does not reprint Hack/Slash/Evil Ernie, which the Omnibus does. Got it?

Hack/Slash ("Euthanized," 2004)
Hack/Slash: Girls Gone Dead
Hack/Slash: Comic Book Carnage
Hack/Slash/Evil Ernie

Hack/Slash (Devil's Due Publishing, 2004, $4.95)
Back in the early '90s, James Hudnall had a series set up at Harris called Twister about a serial killer who hunted other serial killers. I don't think it got past a one shot, and I never read it myself, but I liked the premise. Dexter got a lot more mileage out of it, and it was brought to mind when I first saw the solicit for Hack/Slash. I wanted to try it, but I hadn't seen much out of Devil's Due that impressed me, the price was prohibitive, and I just wasn't confident that the book wouldn't suck. It's a shame, because this first story, commonly referred to as "Euthanized," was already firing on all cylinders.

The lead character of Cassie Hack is introduced in a brief recounting of her origin reminiscent of how books like the Marvel Age Annual used to do it, and better than those too broad double-page takes seen more recently in DC books. Aside from being a social outcast with a smart mouth and lethal skills, you don't get much else about Cassie from this tale, but that's all you need. There's just enough background on Hack and her partner Vlad for the reader to feel oriented, and the rest of the book is about the done-in-one story.

The conceit of the series is that Cassie and Vlad will run around battling thinly-disguised analogues for famous movie monsters. Rather than short-change a Jason or a Freddy in an extra length special with so much needing to be established, writer/creator Tim Seeley smartly plays with a familiar but less trod threat, the reanimated critters of Stephen King's Pet Sematary. The lowered stakes allow Cassie and Vlad to show off their hacking and slashing abilities, but the less centralized threat also forces them to work through a mystery and means to deactivate the reanimating force. That means a second origin for the menace itself, so that the one book really offers through interrelated tales for maximum value. There's no room for meandering or unnecessary characters, so the book hits the ground running and never stops through to the closing. The attractive art of Stefano Caselli is given a painterly quality by colorist Sunder Raj, upping the production quality overall. This was an excellent introduction that makes me regret not sampling Hack/Slash back when I initially felt the twitch.

Hack/Slash: Girls Gone Dead (DDP, 2004, $4.95)
I was surprised to see a second special offered so soon after the first, and was conflicted by the novelty and LCD pandering that was association with Girls Gone Wild. Unfamiliar as I was with Seeley, I couldn't tell if it was a smart play or an attempt to cash in through titillation. Having finally read it, I was surprised what an entertaining and valid continuation of the trajectory of the "pilot" this was. Besides finding a new path to the bacchanalian excesses of '80s slasher films, Girls introduces a great threat, the plot is potent, and Cassie has an arc within the special that illuminates her core issues. While I preferred the visceral art of the premiere, new artist Federica Manfredi has a smooth style that sells the inherent sex appeal of the subject matter. Colorists David Amici and company also deserve commendation for giving the story a cinematic sheen with animation cell elements and "movie lighting." No sophomore slump here.

Hack/Slash: Comic Book Carnage (DDP, 2005, $4.95)
I don't watch TV anymore, so I don't know if this is still a thing, but they used to do special location shooting episodes as a ratings event. The Facts of Life girls go to France, the Brady Bunch visit a dude ranch; that sort of thing. In my experience, these typically extra length episodes were always among the worst in the series. Plot went out the window in favor taking advantage of the scenery, and I suspect everyone in the crew were treating the affair as a working vacation besides. It was most prevalent in sitcoms, which would throw out the laugh track (along with all but the easiest, lamest gags) and leave the audience just sitting there groaning.

While Comic Book Carnage isn't that bad, it suffers from a lack of comparative goodness when read alongside other Hack/Slash tales. See, the comic book characters go to a comic book convention where they meet the kind of people who read their comics, allowing them to cross-promote other then-current Devil's Due Productions. For instance, remember their short-lived super-hero line? Probably not. There are also a lot of moments where you're wincing as flatly characterized (in script and art) real life comic professionals making stiff walk-on appearances before being imperiled in a fairly unappealing manner. Steve Niles and Robert Kirkman are still relevant, but its weird how the story spends so much time with Scottie Young of all people, and its just sad that I had to google Messy Stench to find out if she was an actual entity (only just barely.)

All the con bits are nails on a chalkboard, but the basics of the story are okay. Cassie and Vlad are cool, when they're not bending over for the comicon stuff, and the villain continues the trend of analogues for classic '80s movie monsters in an amusing (not especially) subtextual fashion. When not drawing likenesses, Federica Manfredi's art is solid. Things could have been a lot worse, and the good points make it a passable read, but it hurts to see such a misstep after two superior entries.

Hack/Slash: The Final Revenge of Evil Ernie (DDP, 2005, $4.95)
One month in 1991, I was looking for something different to read. At the suggestion of my comic book dealer, I tried Eternity Comics' Evil Ernie #1. Ernest Fairchild was an abused kid who became an undead master of zombies. To appease his love Lady Death, he vowed to kill everyone on Earth. The creator was clearly a fan of '70s Marvel and horror movies, so it was easy to draw parallels between their relationship and that of Thanos to Death, not to mention the adversarial psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Price being a beefed up Sam Loomis. The book wasn't my bag, so I resold it, but I continued to follow the character's publishing history as he went from a minor indie to one of the central books in the CHAOS! Comics line. It amused me that the gratuitous T&A supporting character ended up dominating the line, especially since Ernie seemed somewhat like a writer proxy, which explains why the character's story remained the backbone of the line until its demise.

The property was resurrected in this one-shot special, in which Ernie revives in a new universe devoid of his motivation to live. Tim Seeley comes up with a twist on Ernie's m.o. that highlights how sick and wrong-headed the character is at his core. By extension, he takes a rather silly rock n' roll character questing for "megadeth" (did he ever consider Ticketron?) and reveals true horror beneath his leather jacket and glam hair. Aadi Salman is the perfect artist for this transformation, layering sickening painted flesh atop caricatures broad enough to allow for a proper Ernie manifestation. Cassie and Vlad work well for similar reasons. Hack is more gawky and believably flawed, rather than the mildly goth pin-up she's sometimes portrayed as. Vlad is malformed and creepy, rather than the big teddy bear in a modified gas mask some portray. This is one of those rare crossovers where everyone is in character and the interaction has a real emotional impact on those involved, and it was nice to see all those goofy CHAOS! characters again. It's a shame Seeley has had another crack at them, as the franchise remains in limbo (outside a Lady Death twice divorced from the lot of them.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Cabin in the Woods" and "The Hunger Games" (2012)

The Short Version? Evil Dead 4: Buffy by Dawn
What Is It? Horror-Comedy
Who Is In It? Thor
Should I See It? Yes

I saw two movies last weekend, one on Friday, and the other Saturday. The Cabin in the Woods was filmed three years ago, and then shelved during the MGM bankruptcy. It's a thirty million dollar horror-comedy by the makers of Cloverfield and Buffy the Vampire Slayer that skewers slasher movies and the (now largely past) trend toward "torture porn." The Hunger Games is the hotly anticipated film adaptation of a teener science fiction book series that cost 2½ times as much while targeting the Harry Potter and Twilight audiences.

They're kind of the same movie. Both were ultimately released by Lionsgate, and feature a slew of trailers for the distributor (or in Cabin's case, every single trailer screened.) Both involve female protagonists left in a wooded battleground to kill or be killed by stalking antagonists with the help of weaker male counterparts. Both involve a conspiracy in which young adults are doomed to die for the greater good in order to satisfy the demands of a sinister power. Each includes a lottery system to determine who and in what ways the people will perish. Both involve jaded, almost inhuman facilitators in a high tech bunker manipulating the subjects and triggering automated attacks. Both films feature a healthy amount of cameos, a Hemsworth brother apiece, and involve massive stakes. Both involve impromptu murder/suicide pacts. Nobody wins these types of games-- they only survive, as long as they are able. Of course, the devil is in the details, and where their core premisses are surprisingly similar, the executions (pardon the pun) are anything but.

The Cabin in the Woods, despite being co-written and directed by Drew Goddard, is very much the fruit of co-writer/producer Joss Whedon's loins. It is cynical, satirical, and self-aware to a metatextual degree. It mashes up The Evil Dead with Scream, and stars the Scooby Gang without Scooby. It is a great deal of fun to watch, especially for horror flick aficionados who will appreciate the tweaking of tropes and the very many in-jokes. On the other hand, Goddard doesn't have Whedon's heart or eye for casting. There's a real TV quality to the performances. It's hard to divorce Chris Hemsworth's dubious American accent from his (later) star turn in Thor, or ignore Fran Kranz's perfect/painful Shaggy Rogers impersonation. Given that this is a Mutant Enemy Production, it's weird how flat Kristen Connolly's character is, as is her "nerdy" hardbody beau Jesse Williams. Sexpot Kristen Connolly steals her scenes, but I'm guessing everyone's favorites when the lights come up are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the chief engineers behind the madness.

Cabin has a brain and a wicked sense of humor, but it takes part of its glee from playing fair with the audience. All of its jokes are telegraphed, especially to a knowledgeable audience. I saw the film on opening day because I was afraid its twists would be spoiled for me secondhand, but the truth is that there are no twists. There is a central conceit that is laid out in the opening minutes of the flick that plays out throughout its running time in a natural progression. You won't know everything going in, but if you spare half a thought, you'll figure everything out well before the movie blatantly reveals it for the slower audience members. Further, while the characters are nice enough, I didn't find myself rooting for anyone specifically. I was excited and I got my kicks, but everyone in this movie was a disposable pieces in service to circumstances and the games the filmmakers are playing. The whole thing feels like a bit of a joke, and it pays off, but it doesn't really linger in the mind after its telling. Great horror movies challenge and haunt. Others are bizarre in their construction and choices, with the Tobe Hooper one-two punch of Lifeforce and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 coming to mind, and their genre aberration causes then to linger in your thoughts. They go where angels and common sense fear to tread, while this movie is comparatively conventional, even in its final act bids for the outré. The movie clearly wants to make a statement about the sadistic voyeurism inherent in watching horror movies, but despite its gore, the movie isn't remotely horrifying, and doesn't take itself seriously enough for anyone else to be bothered. Cabin is crooked like the Rubik's Cube its poster references, holding your attention fiercely for a time, but ultimately cast into the drunk drawer as an occasional novelty to revisit.

The Short Version? The Running Girl
What Is It? Action-Drama
Who Is In It? Mystique and an all-star cameo cast
Should I See It? Maybe

The Most Dangerous Game is probably the earliest incarnation of The Hunger Games formula of a relative innocent forced to fight for survival as game in a hunting contest, but the film adaptation of The Running Man is its most obvious influence. Totalitarian government, forced participation in a televised death match, commentary on class strife, a pervasive and increasingly immoral media "reality," blah blah blah. Nothing you haven't seen somewhere else better. Even the teen lit angle had been thoroughly played, from Koushun Takami's Battle Royale to elements of O. T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City, or hell, even friggin' Lord of the Flies. The wheel is safely in its garage under the original schematics.

That having been said, and not to damn with faint praise, but I'd much rather watch The Hunger Games than its teen-and-like-minded-baiting contemporaries. For starters, it's an actual film. Gary Ross' direction is practically avant-garde when compared to the likes of Chris Columbus and Catherine Hardwicke. Lead heroine Katniss Everdeen has flashbacks that are full of emotion and imagery that convey enough of her experiences for audiences to understand without being fully, properly told. When Katniss is poisoned, you feel her disorientation without being nauseated or literally confused. When she walks on a stage and is surrounded by a grotesque menagerie of overly painted aristocrats, you comprehend her stage fright and the necessity of pleasing the lot. The movie is worth seeing for Ross' sure hand at telling a story intelligently and with the necessary affect. In direct opposition to Cabin, this is a movie that you feel first, then process intellectually.

The performances are also much more confident and potent. While a bit... maturely developed for an underfed adolescent, legal drinker Jennifer Lawrence possesses the conviction and earnestness to sell herself as Katniss. Josh Hutcherson manages to balance nobility and weaseling well as her partner, Peeta. Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Paula Malcomson, and Donald Sutherland are all swell in supporting roles of various sizes and sides. Elizabeth Banks is completely unrecognizable as tool of the state Effie Trinket. The kids are all alright. The sets and costumes are well realized, and most of the special effects are solid. Getting to know these people and their environment is the best part of the movie.

Things devolve once the actual games begin. One problem I had with both movies was the effect of video games on the narrative. Each features an indefatigable array of deadly threats appearing from out of nowhere to plague our heroes, as though they were ascending levels to a big boss. It's especially true in Hunger Games, which following several hours in a relatively low tech future allowed designers to manifest critters from out of the electronic aether for the final (and very arbitrary) battle. You feel every bit of the movie's 142 minute running time, and while I didn't particularly want it extended nor saw anything that could be taken out without detriment, the finale was deeply unnatural and abrupt. Key characters come and go too quickly, and there's an inescapable feeling of having viewed an outline rather than a completed journey into this world. While I'm happy to see an action movie with a female lead performing well, with all the racial controversy surrounding this movie, I can't help but notice how white everybody ends up being in the end. I also can't help but notice how dependent Katniss is on help, in ways her male counterparts in similar roles would never be. Kind of queers any feminism in the message, and recalls some of Twilight's throwback sexual politics.

I suppose the movie is an excellent trailer for the novel, but when Katniss is forced to consider her love triangle with young David Boreanaz (Liam Hemsworth,) I realize my y-chromosome prevents me from exploring it any further. I won't whine too much when the girlfriend drags me to the sequel, but I still wouldn't get there of my own accord.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bad Covers: "Eleanor Rigby" by Godhead

You have a song that's literally revered. It's a watershed moment in popular music, as its lyrics about depressing lives lived by rote in isolation somehow made it as a #1 single. Some feel it transcends pop music altogether with its symphonic backing. There have been dozens of faithful, feeling covers recorded, and it has been cited as one of the greatest somgs in modern music history.

So why not a soulless, clueless, emotionally blunted industrial rock cover? This is why not. This right here is exactly why not. And the worst part is how pathetically, obviously cynical the spectacle is. The band was after all signed to Marilyn Manson's Posthuman Records, who rocketed to fame covering the Eurythmics, Soft Cell, and Depeche Mode. Actually, there are so many worsts, I'm not sure which to choose. The grunge guitar riff at the chorus? The isolated "ahhh" toward the end, as the band appears for the final rawking? The distorted spoken word finale? The overwhelming narcissism of the singer only acknowledging his surroundings when confronted by his own self manifested in a "straight" body? Each deserves someone getting a whack somewhere tender with a tire iron.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday Is Archie For All I Care #142

Action Comics #7 (2012)
Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 (2012)
Kevin Keller #1

Action Comics #7 (DC, 2012, $3.99)
The smartest thing John Byrne did in his Superman reboot was to make him an ex-jock. Enough with the embarrassingly dorky Clark Kent. Besides correcting a lot of cringe-inducing moments in the Donner/Lester films, Byrne remembered the cool, laid-back Kent of the Fleisher cartoons and the George Reeves television series. Anyone interested in the nerd-champion paradigm had long since shifted focus to Peter Parker, who himself had found his hip groove with Jazzy Johnny Romita decades prior. In my experience, the person Superman has appealed to is the average guy of average intelligence and average accomplishments. Not so much a geek as a slacker or settler, perhaps with a sense that they were destined for greater things, living vicariously through the Man of Steel. They never want to see Superman fail, as they do, or even struggle overly much. They want to see him triumph; to dominate; with as little effort as possible. Look good, have fun, stomp ass. He can give speeches and be inspirational, but that's just cornball platitudes for the masses. Superman's better than everyone, and in the readers' dreams, they are Superman.

That said, it's cool to see a less powerful Superman running so fast that his boots rip apart, using a ramp to jump into outer space with only tattered civies and an oxygen tank. Of course he can have a nice little battle with Brainiac #Umpteen-Jillion. Sure, Lex can be on the sidelines, sowing the seeds of doubt in his adversary's abilities. Just don't have him go back to wearing Harry Potter glasses and living in a tenement, because Superman fans don't play with that shit, and it's hackneyed anyway. He's not a 99%er, he's the SuperMan, who's been living well and laying down the law since before our grannies were born. Also, trying to play like Superman's got a big decision over whether to save Metropolis or Kandor City, and citizens chanting his name to swing his vote-- that's amateur. Nobody's falling for that.

By the way, Superman's color changing indestructible armor? Spider-Man did that too, but he went black as midnight. Superman looks like a parody of Superman from an '80s TV show. Put that away.

Finally, there's the back-up, which is a huge "fuck you" to Cyborg being in the JLA. John Henry Irons builds his own armor and saves millions of people while caring for his family, being humble and recognizing the heroism in all those around him. His heart's as big as his brain, which is huge. Vic Stone's all "wah, daddy didn't love me and now I've got a robocock." Go-go gadget prick and shove it up your newfangled boom tube, you eternally whiny bitch nimrod. Steel's what Superman should be, much less Cyborg.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
Frank Cho is better than this. He's a lovely illustrator who wrote a comic strip that brought in new readers and could have potentially helped expand the audience as a whole. Where's his Strangers in Paradise? Where's his Walking Dead? Why is he still drawing random crap like the opening installment of a bullshit crossover whose media-fueled high sales will only lead to crushing disappointment when this isn't even the next Secret Invasion, much less Civil War. This book will continue and accelerate the well-poisoning of the print medium, and Frank Cho will be among the indicted. The only solace is that, like Before Watchmen, there are too many names involved to single any one out when the world court trials begin.

The actual story? After all that hyperbole, these are two short pieces by two writers that belong in an anthology title, which is all this prologue is. Brian Michael Bendis' Scarlet Witch tale reintroduces the woman and her crimes against mutantkind dating back to the House of M crossover. Cho wastes his talent drawing variations on M.O.D.O.K. and the asses of Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel. My favorite part is where Wanda confronts the Avengers, several of whom she indirectly murdered, and the essential result is a stern talking to. Spin them wheels, motherfuckers.

The second story involves not Jean Grey, who has not Rogue powers, because it's not the House of Ideas, anymore. Hope gets a stern talking to from Cyclops (theme!) in a tale by Jason Aaron that proves Alan Moore's dick remains firmly up his nose, but no creative splooge ever got shot across the man's brainpan. It's nothing but "fuck, I'll never be Alan Moore, no matter how vulgarly I cuss at big daddy comic writer Jesus for ignoring my contribution of another goddamned generic Serpent Society yarn to the creative collective." Frank, quit cashing the easy checks and do something worthwhile, before you're as sorry a piece of shit as Bendis and Aaron.

Kevin Keller #1 (Archie, 2012, $2.99)
I didn't buy his first appearance, because I didn't know better. I didn't buy his first #1 because it was really a tarted up Veronica #207, and a thought that was a faggot movie on Archie's part. Don't tease-- go balls deep or just eat a dick. Now that Kevin Keller has finally got an actual, factual debut issue, I decided the support my brotherloving homies and give this a taste. It tastes like, well, Archie. I read these now and again growing up, and liked them better than my personal bottom rungs like Incredible Hulk and Archie super-hero titles, but I didn't actually like them like them. They were resounding mediocrities, unfunny and unengaging, elevated only by not being a total drag and featuring caricatured hotties by Dan DeCarlo. Discovering Cherry Poptart killed what little interest I had, and discovering hentai killed that.

Anyway, Dan Parent draws a cute Veronica in a ridiculously short skirt for a few pages, but this is ultimately a book about pretty, utterly safe and wholesome boys who like boys in a non-tactile manner off-panel. Kev is to queers as Chuck Clayton is to blacks: a strategically non-confrontational, unobjectionable, idealized representative of a vocal minority demanding representation. Of course, Chuck Clayton never got his own series because hello negro, the white girls at the supermarket like their yaoi vanilla flavored. Well, maybe not this vanilla. It's a book length tale (huh-huh-- he said "length") about Kev's historical inability to get any. Amusingly, it reads as much more meaty (heh-heh) than mainstream super-hero titles, ironic given Archie's breezy anthology reputation. It's not like it's any denser than the old stuff, but it sustains a single narrative for twenty-two pages that retains about the same number of words per panel as twenty-two years ago. Without a bunch of silent splash pages, it reminds you that you can still get a satisfying (huh-huh) read out of a normal size one-shot (huh-huh.) Archie is not and never has been my bag, but in today's market, they offer more bang for your buck ("bang!" "buck!")

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

The Short Version? Men Who Hate Women
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? James Bond, Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp, the Princess Bride, Alex Skarsgård's dad, the Exorcist, Warlock
Should I See It? Maybe

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was produced by an award-winning creative team that includes the screenwriter of Schindler's List and the director of Seven, all based on the international best-selling series of novels that got a Swede racked at Wall*Mart. The acting is strong, with an exceptional turn by the previously unknown Rooney Mara as the otherworldly Lisbeth Salander. Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography demands the attention of the audience's eyes, the score by Trent Reznor is potent, and the credit sequence is fascinating.

It's a fucking cartoon.

Mikael Blomkvist has pussy flying at him, but have you seen Daniel Craig? Someone somewhere thinks he's handsome, I guess, but I don't know those women. Guy's face looks like a clenched sphincter. I don't think the dude who edits your local left-wing newspaper is a hit at the clubs either, especially if he's broke from losing a libel lawsuit. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander is crazy and violent, but despite trying her best to look like a punk rock Ziggy Stardust thirty years late (because of it?) everybody notices and wishes to have crazy violent non-consensual relations with her. We get to see that happen, because this is one of those Japanese cartoons, or a '70s rape-revenge exploitation flick, except with way too much money invested.

The two lead characters don't even meet in the first (second?) act. They just go through episodes in a parallel, connected narrative. When they do finally get together, it's to investigate a decades old Father Dowling Mystery with the modest CSI twist of shoving Biblical crap up fifties girls coochies. Aside from all the gross, creepy elements, it's kind of a quaint, Agatha Christie, locked island whodunit. By the way, spoiler, the guy you think did it totally did it, except the part he didn't. Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Max von Sydow, Stellan Skarsgård, and Robin Wright are people you've heard of that are in this movie, with Plummer being the most noteworthy.

You can tell this is an adaptation, because there are oodles of characters and plot elements introduced without being properly developed, and the economics of storytelling dictate their relevancy, so there's a good chance you'll figure the whole damned this out an hour before the investigators (unless you apply too much logic, because the resolution requires for a moronic development where a character leads the dicks in a direction they never should have been allowed near.) The movie is too long, especially since most of the fun stuff is front-loaded, and things degenerate to ridiculous extremes of perversion and hobby room decor by the fourth act. Yes indeed, you did read that right. Everything comes to a head an act after it should conventionally, and then there's a fifth act where Lisbeth Salander breaks into a prison, tortures Bernie Madoff to death, then hacks Bin Laden's internet carrier to guide SEAL Team Six to ultimate victory. The movie ends on a dour note though, when Lex Luthor weakens Salander with kryptonite and traps her in the Bottle City of Kandor with Frodo and Samwise.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid enough movie if you're hankering for Murder, She Wrote mashed-up with super-heroine torture porn, but don't try to tell me this was more than a mass of talented people putting great artistic effort into cashing phat residual checks.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wednesday Is New Fifty-Blew For All I Care #141

Aquaman #7 (2012)
The Huntress #6 (2012)
Stormwatch #7 (2012)

Aquaman #7 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I'd pretty much already decided this last month, but I'd like to make it public after reading this issue: the countdown to drop has begun. The art team (including Reis, Prado and a different Reis) are so pretty I want to tongue-kiss their work, but I'm officially over Geoff Johns' bullshit. Nine pages of a chick running through the jungle, seeing a vision of her demise, then getting a variation of it. 94 words are uttered, most monosyllabic, across 39 panels. The book in total has 34 silent panels, 21 panels with five-or-less words, and there are four splash pages (1/5th of the issue.) That offends me as a person who enjoys reading stories, as opposed to a collection of scenes.

The woman who dies? A Muslim super-heroine, killed by the only important black guy in the series so far, and he's been retroactively disfigured to boot. He also "cleans" her like a fish and states his intent to do the same to her family. That's not over-the-top in a cool or funny way. That's just being shitty. Anyway, off the unique heroine in a burka, but spotlight the generic jungle girl with power over the beasts. At least she's vaguely "of color," although I'm not sure which, given her Caucasian features and gray skin tone. All this offends my basic sensibilities.

Finally, there's the plot. It's ten little Indians all the way. There's the old squad Aquaman was tight with back in the day that we've never heard of before. The new characters aren't very well designed or differentiated from one another, one's already dead, and the rest have artifacts that line them up as future victims. Maybe Black Manta was "The Operative," or maybe that's the Racer-X of the lot who'll survive, but I kind of don't give a fuck. I'm glad Aquaman is finally getting the respect he deserves, and looks great doing it, but the stories have wasted the opportunity by being such thin, trope-happy tripe. Dropping Aquaman when he's on a career high offends me most of all.

The Huntress #6 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I enjoyed this issue more than any since the first, probably because everyone involved knows this shit is done. While still played subtly, we can now safely assume the Huntress will murder bad guys, months after Superman and Wonder Woman have been violently rending beings limb from limb. Big whoop. The Italian police and underworld have linked Helena to the Huntress, so she's constantly being pursued from all corners. That's certainly more exciting than another issue of the heroine spying on people from afar. The exposition-aiding reporters are around only long enough to reveal that they can't help any longer, though that's a semi-important last bit of exposition. Huntress beats up some more stupid guards in the most lame manner yet, unfortunately. The Big Bad is already dead, so the Little Bad gets to play a twist that's rather groan-worthy. After these sixteen alright if rote and slightly padded pages, the main story effectively ends. The last four are an epilogue that reveals the whole mini-series to be a backdoor pilot for a team book that I won't buy because I have to assume the disparity between great art and lousy storytelling will be that much more pronounced. Ultimately, this was a one-to-two issue inventory story for an anthology titled drawn out to exasperation. Where's Ivory Madison when you need her?

Stormwatch #7 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
My first reaction to flipping through this book was a major pushback against new artist Ignacio Calerro. Despite issues ranging from plagiarism to toes that looked like the back of Charlie Brown's head, I liked looking at Miguel Sepulveda's modern, digital-happy work. Calerro is very much a throwback to Wildstorm in its Image days. I spent a lot of brain power trying to spot esoteric influences from that period, like Liam Sharpe, Ryan Benjamin, Dale Keown, and even the late, little seen Nick Manabat. I kind of hated it at first, but it grew on me as I read the story.

Paul Jenkins seems to take his cues from the early Ellis material-- it's all Soviet radiation cosmic technobabble body horror type stuff. It's about gravity mining, which is downright metatextual, because this story has the density of a dwarf star in comparison to anything else in the New 52. I really felt like I read something when I closed the book. The plot is boilerplate and the characters are thin, but they bounce off one another in a fun way, instead of the constant bitchiness/creepiness of Cornell's issues. I especially liked Martian Manhunter's interaction with Jenny Quantum, which played very comic book mentor-pupil, and made it feel like he was bringing something to the team beyond being the green guy in the background of the Apollo & Midnighter show. Plus, if Jenkins is going to script him as Mr. Spock, he needs a foil like Jenny to take the piss out of him. There's also a kinda nifty/kinda fucked-up scene with Jack Hawkmoor and three cities.

As I was saying, my enjoyment of the story glossed over some of Calerro's rough spots, but he has his good points. Is Jenny supposed to be Asian? If so, this is the first I've been able to tell visually. Not to be crude, but Angela Spica finally has some spicy Latina badunkadunk that I approve of, and her interface with the sentient ship appears to be labia with a cyberclitty on top. There blessedly wasn't a lot of Martian Manhunter x-treme in the actual '90s, but I get a nostalgic kick out of him finally getting a good quality grade riff on that fashion here. That hi-top fade of flesh and bone needs to get sanded down, though.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Frank Review of "Blood of Dracula's Castle" (1969)

The Short Version? How dare you evict the Count Dracula?
What Is It? "Horror"
Who Is In It? John Carradine, Alex D'Arcy, Paula Raymond, Robert Dix, Ray Young, Barbara Bishop
Should I See It? No.

Some old guy dies and wills his Arizona desert castle to a young relative and his new wife. The pair are selfish and I suppose independently wealthy enough to decide to live in the castle while evicting its tenants of the last sixty years. Turns out the tenants are much younger than expected, because they're vampires. Not just any vampires mind, but the laziest, lushiest, most George and Marion Kerbyest of vampires. Poor old John Carradine takes care of the house and human sacrifices, while a hulking deformed creature named Mango procures for them the finest source of blood, nubile girls. The vampires don't have fangs and are far too couth to actually bite anyone, but even though no one can resist the Mango, the Mango is indiscreet. That's why the vamps paid a whole five thousand dollars to help their former assistant, a serial killer, break out of prison to renew his employment... starting with the asshole couple trying to evict everyone.

By no stretch is Blood of Dracula's Castle a good movie, but it isn't really a terrible one, either. It's this inoffensive thing that can play in the background until your attention is temporarily drawn by the antics of Gomez and Morticia or the attractive half-naked girls who peek in from time to time. At full attention though, it is boring, cheap, and lame-brained.

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