Friday, July 31, 2009

2000 Warner Bros. Studio Store Exclusive JLA Mug

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

This embossed coffee mug was bought for me as a present from the late, great WB Store. It has stored loose change and/or pens ever since. For the record, only the figures are raised, not the JLA logo, but this is some of the most pronounced embossing I've ever felt. Very lumpy, at various degrees, that could almost be measured to a centimeter at the most extreme points.

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

Art appears to be by Eduardo Barreto, who was pretty much the Martian Manhunter artist of the '90s when it came to any type of merchandising. Pictured left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Wonder Woman, the Flash (presumably Wally West,) Batman, Superman and Golden Mullet Aquaman.

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Red Wolf by Christopher Tyner

So here's an oddity-- a costume redesign for Red Wolf, with art clearly based on John Buscema's work. Comparing this to Javier Saltares' Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe entry, Will Talltrees looks a might warmly dressed for a Southwestern hero. I guess he does make his way to New York every now and again, and there's the whole "naked savage" stereotype plaguing him. The skin cap does come across as silly outside that context though. I also detect the influence of Bronze Age Timber Wolf, but I always dug that look, so I'll let that pass.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

1985 Marvel Age Annual #1 Dreadstar Preview Art by James P. Starlin

Coming bi-monthly issues of DREADSTAR will see the addition of three surprising new allies for Vanth Dreadstar. Surprising has to be the word when two of them are his enemies Dr. Mezlo and Ultra Violet! The pair is joined by the enigmatic Omni, and what all this will mean for the rest of Dreadstar's crew is anyone's guess... but particularly that of Jim Starlin, who continues to chronicle their exploits with the help of inker Sam De La Rosa. And the DREADSTAR AND COMPANY title will continue apace, reprinting the earlier installments of the series in a format available at newsdealers everywhere.
I was introduced to this series through the newsstand reprints, which sadly only lasted six issues. I swear I've never in my life felt the wait between issues of a comic like I did when following Dreadstar & Co., and I howled when I read the cancellation notice in the last issue. Considering it was selling better than half as many copies as the new issues (through Capitol City anyway,) I wonder if the series' wrapping had more to do with Starlin's moving the property from Epic to First Comics midway through Company's run. Then again, did any of the Epic newsstand editions fare well? Elfquest, even? Anyway, check out the new characters and costumes! I don't recall Willow ever wearing that very '80s top, though her hair went that direction after Starlin stopped drawing the book. I think Vanth's suit was worn for the rest of the issues Starlin wrote, during his war criminal hunting days, but it looked quite different when drawn by Luke McDonnell. I don't recall what became of the late additions (didn't UV take her own life?) I never liked that bunch, as they seemed to switch sides as a plot device more than a natural development. Starlin was sick of drawing comics by that point, so I figure he was just rushing his magnum opus to a conclusion so he could dump the chore. I'd guesstimate the book was only selling about 20K by that point anyway, so he may have just needed work-for-hire funds.

Monday, July 27, 2009

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Gallery

I'm still mourning the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents being purchased and soon mangled by DC Comics, so I thought a memorial gallery was in order. The only way I see new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories working is with old school artists, preferably in a period setting. The first time I see, say, Ashley Wood or Scottie Young drawing these characters, I'll know their spirits have left this plane. Those final images are from the DC's last abortive pass at the characters, and looking at those designs, "abortion" really is the descriptive here.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents by George Tuska
Dynamo by Wally Wood
NoMan by Ralph Reese
Dynamo Pin-up by Dan Adkins in the style of Wally Wood
Lightning by Alex Saviuk
2000 Dynamo by Dan Adkins
Menthor and Dynamo by Dan Adkins
2006 Dynamo by Dan Adkins
Raven by Don Perlin and Bob Almond
Dynamo by Steve Sadowski
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents by Andrew Sheppard
Iron Maiden and Dynamo by Bob Layton
Lightning and Kitten Kane by George Tuska
Dynamo and Nick Fury by Darryl Banks
NoMan and Menthor by George Tuska
Dynamo and Iron Man vs. Black Maiden by Bob Layton
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Amazing Heroes #8 cover by Dennis Fujitake
Dynamo vs. Iron Maiden by Geof Isherwood
NoMan by Paul Ryan
Iron Maiden Defeats Dynamo by Buzz
Kitten Kane and the Black Panther by James E. Lyle
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents vs. Iron Maiden by Jerry Ordway
Dynamo (Bruce Timm Style) by Doctor Cyclops
NoMan (Bruce Timm Style) by Doctor Cyclops
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents by Fred Hembeck
NoMan by Ernie Stiner
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents vs. The Mad Thinker by John Byrne
Lightning by Tom Grindberg
The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents by Lou Manna
A Lady Menthor by Tom Tenney & Sam De La Rosa
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents & War Machine vs. Magneto
Lightning and Raven by Ron Adrian
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents vs. Deathstroke the Terminator by Cliff Richards
The New T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 cover by J.G. Jones
Dynamo by Max & Seba Fiumara
NoMan by Max & Seba Fiumara
Lightning by Max & Seba Fiumara
Menthor by Max & Seba Fiumara
The New T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 cover by J.G. Jones

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everybody's Tryin' To Buy My Babies

My biggest disappointments from SDCC09 may be found in some of the biggest announcements, acquisitions made by DC and Marvel. I've only read bits and pieces of what on my shores was known as Miracleman, but in its country of origin as Marvelman. This was the Alan Moore series that inspired most of his contemporaries to create deconstructionist super-heroes, who themselves ended up competing with Watchmen years later. I've always wanted to read the whole series, including the Neil Gaiman stuff that ended the run. Both writers can be a bit too remote/precious at times, so I've looked forward to seeing them at a more youthful, emotionally raw place. So long as securing the Marvelman rights from original creator Mick Anglo extends to the later revisions of his work, we've got some very desirable collected editions coming in our future. Heck, Marvel could even milk this thing by rereleasing the book as a maxi-series if they wanted to, so long as they promised the incomplete Gaiman/Buckingham trilogy of arcs would first see print in floppies.

On the other hand, this is Marvel we're talking about. How long after the series has returned to print before someone sees a new ongoing series as a perfect addition to the Ultimates imprint? How long before there are revolving arcs by Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and God help us, Garth Ennis? From there, how long until the obligatory throwdown with the Sentry in the 616? Marvelman vs. Marvel Zombies. I'm not saying Todd McFarlane's studio was the best home for the property, but at least there was a time a (technical) person was in control, rather than a corporate entity. Reprints aside, won't this all end in exploitation and tears?

I recall when I was a hard core DC fan, and a modest Wildstorm reader, but was ecstatic when the former absorbed the latter. I wanted to see DC pick up some of Wildstorm's edge and talent. Instead, DC poached the creators willing to stick around to grind out the s.o.s. big name books, then nit-picked and generally marginalized the rest. Soon, Wildstorm became a piss poor Vertigo-for-Super-Heroes, as well as a studio to pawn off licensed properties upon. Not only did I lose one place I enjoyed reading comics from entirely, but the appeal of DC has been steadily diminishing as well.

Which gets me to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I was first introduced to them through my back issue dealer in the early '90s, specifically David Singer's Deluxe Comics series on the mid-'80s. Singer brought together the finest artists of the day: George Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Jerry Ordway and more to honor the Tower Comics series that did the same in the '60s. Singer had claimed the property had fallen into to the public domain, but lost any moral high ground when it turned out he came to that conclusion while associated with the properties' alleged current owner, John Carbonaro. Previously, Carbonaro had taken several stabs at publishing new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, and to put it mildly, they did not feature the finest artists of their day (although Mark Texeira later improved enormously.) However questionable Carbonaro's claims might have been, and the debate left the door open for a slew of publishers to attempt their own T.H.U.N.D.E.R. revivals at the time, Carbonaro was tenacious enough in his claim to take all comers in a court of law. However, that claim led to one stalled effort after another, so that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents announced more returns to publishing than had actual issues produced.

I went back and found old copies and reprints of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, featuring gorgeous work by legends like Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Al Williamson and many more. They were perfect time capsule of swingin' sixties attitude, offering super-spy adventures along the lines of Bond and the Man from U.N.C.L.E., but with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as Matt Helm and Get Smart. In other words, already well out of step with the '80s, and absolutely foreign to the new millennium. DC already licensed the property once a few years back, offering a radical new interpretation that Carbonaro found so unpalatable that he pulled the plug on the whole project. Even if Carbonaro was tone deaf to the original material, offering sincere Silver Age pathos in his attempts, at least he wasn't post-modern.

Well, John Carbonaro died this year, and DC seems to now hold the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. To some degree, Jim Lee's Wildstorm was a successor to Tower, even if it traded more in overly sober military conspiracies (though the light-hearted cheesecake of Gen-13 would have done Woody proud.) It might have been nice seeing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. integrated into that universe, but I understand they will now be part of the DC proper. I guess I get to look forward to the rape of Kitten, the murder and replacement of the clumsy Dynamo, Iron Maiden becoming a sadomasochist (well, more so,) and NoMan no longer getting his kicks by wasting millions of government dollars on android copies of himself. In the geekiest depths of my heart, I'd always hoped I or some other fanboy could one day sort out the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents rights and do the concept justice. Instead, they've been gobbled up by The Man, and will be treated to inferior, limp efforts while Superman and Batman keep all the names. Just look at DC's much-ballyhoo'd Red Circle line, which was meant to see J. Michael Straczynski go all Supreme Power on it. Instead, he wrote four introductory comics, one for each character, and then passed the actual series on to nobodies.

Well, there's still Vampirella, and most of the Image founders still own their characters. There's a little life for super-heroes outside DC and Marvel. It just makes me sad that the ability to work with actual, built-in history on a property is limited to public domain figures from the Golden Age, and even then there's the compromise of those awful Dynamite Entertainment books.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

SDCC For You and Me?

I've been reading through the 2009 San Diego Comicon coverage, and have found most of the announcements pretty boring. There's a few spin-offs, a few revivals-- but neither anything original nor even the usual deluge of the same old shit repackaged. Most of the "announcements" had already been made through the Previews catalog, much less the internet. James Robinson's JLA line-up looks more like a Titans revamp, with a super-gorilla on board for added indifference on my part. Reggie Hudlin gets to continue his dumbed down version of Christopher Priest's Black Panther by having T'Chaka and Captain America meet during World War II again. Brother Voodoo is getting Spain's answer to Mike Mignola on art. Geoff Johns on a Flash ongoing came as such a total and complete shock. The JSA is bringing the Super Squad back and calling it the All-Stars. Robert Kirkman's ending the always shaky Wolf-Man series. Dynamite has Alex Ross' latest chance to fuck up Golden Age heroes with the perpetually short-lived Fighting American. Deathlok is getting another opportunity to fail. The cynical Gen-13 cash-in DV8 is reassurting its trademark. Planetary and Ex Machina are finally ending. I still haven't read Phil Hester's work on The Darkness, which tempers my interest in his Vampirella reboot. It's nice to hear Bob Schreck has landed at IDW, even though I didn't much care for what came out under his eye at DC. How sad is it when some of the best news for me was that Jim Shooter would get another shot at reworking the old Gold Key properties Turok, Magnus and Dr. Solar? I wasn't even all that big of a Valiant fan the first time.

The trend of pricing comic book dealers, artists, and small press publishers out of booths has continued, to the point where it's being projected that actual comic books on sale will have pretty much dried up in the next few years. Well, I guess the Twi-Hards needed more room for their waiting lines, or a video game developer wanted a bigger floorshow. I went to SDCC in 2000, and I'm thinking about digging up my memoir of that time. I think I went at just the right period, when the comics and outside media interests were in perfect balance to inspire wonderment, rather than revulsion. Making the trip and staying at the hotel adjacent to the convention center on somebody else's dime couldn't have hurt my enjoyment, either. My girlfriend has been talking about our making the trip next year, but I don't expect I could ever relive anything like my past experience, so maybe we'll try New York instead.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

2008 Mark Texeira Wonder Woman Commission

Click To Enlarge

One of my longtime favorite artists and characters, though not a combination I always enjoy. Tex has a particular take on women that's a bit too-- what's the word I'm looking for-- '80s hair metal whore-- to suit the heroine's superheroine. Here though, I love Diana's slight smile and gentle, realistic (referenced?) faced. She's also got those thick, well muscled Harry Peter legs, and isn't especially eroticised nor stand-offish. A damned nice piece, offering a Wonder Woman with more human spirit than most.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2006 Ryan Sook Valkyrie! Sketch

Digitally Altered. Click To Enlarge.

I had no idea Valkyrie was such an obscure anti-heroine/bad girl/villainess. I've been a fan since I read her late '80s mini-series by Chuck Dixon and Paul Gulacy, which I've been meaning to cover in Comic Box Trot for months. Truth to tell, I'm more a fan of looking at her than reading her, but we'll just set that aside. Valkyrie is lovingly rendered here by Ryan Sook, recalling Veronica Lake as a brunette.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1985 Grenadier Models Justice League of America & Adversaries Miniatures

These pewter figurines were produced as part of the set 9501 Justice League of America & Adversaries, for use with Mayfair Games DC Heroes role-playing system. The ten figurines were sculpted by Andrew Chernak and John Dennett, and stand roughly 1.25" tall on average. You can see them all in this PDF of Grenadier's 1987 Photographic Compendium.

Good luck making out the individual figures. I managed to find the original box art on the internet, as well as views of what the interior packaging looked like. I also stumbled onto an expired eBay auction with nine of the figures, and swiped the pictures below. Based on past knowledge, fuzzy online references, and supposition, I came up with Darkseid, Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Brainiac, the Joker and the Flash. I bought three of these figurines off eBay in the late '90s, Darkseid and two Martian Manhunters. One was to be painted for me by a former customer/friend, but was never seen again, so now I only have the pair.

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

Darkseid was just becoming a big deal in the '80s through his prominence in the Super Powers Collection.

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

He seemed pretty flush with the new success...

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

For more information and pictures of Martian Manhunter, click here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Batman #448 (Early September, 1990)


A disfigured hunchback was beaten and left alongside a road. The Penguin and Lark found him, and took him in. Harold turned out to be a technological genius. The Penguin had Harold create a device that could control birds, which Cobblepot then employed to disrupt the Gotham Stock Exchange. The Penguin caricatured the Dark Knight as a fascist to Harold, and claimed Batman despised the disfigured-- just look at his villains.

Oswald later played online chess with a longtime, unidentified partner before watching the soap opera Heartstrings. Oswald adored the character Heron, a lovely schemer and murderess after his own heart.

After the successful trial run, the manipulated birds were set upon Gotham City in general. A death toll mounted with citizens struggling through the chaos. Batman finished playing a round of online chess, then headed to work.

The Penguin used his birds to kidnap Sherry West, the actress who portrayed Heron, with the Caped Crusader in pursuit.

To Be Continued in Detective Comics #615...

"Pawns," part one of "The Penguin Affair" by Marv Wolfman, Alan Grant, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

nurghophonic jukebox: "Wait" by The Beatles

Written By: John Lennon/Paul McCartney
Released: December 3, 1965
Album: Rubber Soul
Single?: No.

Originally recorded for Help!, but didn't get pressed until Rubber Soul turned up a song short. This is a favorite under-appreciated Beatles tune of mine, and considering it's been over two months since the last jukebox selection (and July featured seriously spotty posting,) I figure appropriate.

It's been a long time
Now I'm coming back home
I've been away now
Oh how I've been alone
Wait till I come back to your side
We'll forget the tears we've cried

But if your heart breaks
Don't wait, turn me away
And if your heart's strong
Hold on, I won't delay
Wait till I come back to your side
We'll forget the tears we've cried

I feel as though
You ought to know
That I've been good
As good as I can be
And if you do
I'll trust in you
And know that you
Will wait for me

It's been a long time
Now I'm coming back home
I've been away now
Oh how I've been alone
Wait till I come back to your side
We'll forget the tears we've cried

I feel as though
You ought to know
That I've been good
As good as I can be
And if you do
I'll trust in you
And know that you
Will wait for me

It's been a long time
Now I'm coming back home
I've been away now
Oh how I've been alone
Wait till I come back to your side
We'll forget the tears we've cried

It's been a long time
Now I'm coming back home
I've been away now
Oh, how I've been alone

Saturday, July 18, 2009

2008 Red Wolf & Lobo Commission by Timothy Truman

Click To Enlarge

I've been a fan of Tim Truman since I first picked up on Grimjack in the late '80s, and I first got into Red Wolf through a short story that followed the first BWS Weapon X installment in the early '90s Marvel Comics Presents. Considering Tim's background with Native Americans on Scout and Wilderness (and general badasses besides,) the pair were a natural together. My synopsis of Red Wolf's first appearance in The Avengers #80 (9/70) a while back was meant to lead into coverage of his entire solo series, but you know what they say about the plans of mice and men. One way or another, I will write about the spirit of the Owayadota* again!

*No spell check required.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Shining" (1980)

The Short Version? All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy.
What Is It? Psychological Horror.
Who Is In It? The Joker and Olive Oyl
Should I See It? No.

As a boy, my mother and grandmother took me to see "Kramer vs. Kramer," a 1979 drama about the effects of the divorce of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep on their young son. I barely remember the flick, and haven't seen it since. What I vividly recalled for years after was the twisted fucking trailer that preceded it showing elevator doors opening to unleash a wave of blood. Having been raised by the aforementioned women up to that point, I was a little pussy, so my eyes were covered and my psyche scarred long before the screen was totally awash in the red stuff. In fact, I probably saw what I did through my mother's fingers, before closing my eyes and knowing regret. I didn't actually see The Shining until years later, when I finally began to man-up and embrace the world of horror. I didn't watch it all the way through, catching bits and pieces, but it seemed pretty damned creepy.

Finally, my girlfriend decided she just had to buy the two disc special edition DVD, and we watched it while cuddling on the couch in the dark. I fell asleep. About three times.

Stanley Kubrick is revered as one of the greatest directors of all time, and The Shining a genre masterpiece. The production is storied: Shelley Duvall's hair began to fall out over her anxiety from a rocky working relationship with the director. Nicholson would throw away the daily rewrites of the script, because he knew by the time he spoke his lines, they would have changed again. The hotel set was the largest ever built to that point. Kubrick was so meticulous, the movie was in production for over a year. Though author Stephen King initially hated the loose screen adaptation of his novel, both he and audiences eventually warmed to the picture as a separate entity. Much has been made of the film's subtexts, such as the consequences of American imperialism. Reviewers as revered as Roger Ebert gave the movie an initial thumbs down, but changed their minds with time.

None of the above matters. The Shining is shit.

The acting is shit across the board. Jack Nicholson mugs and hams his way throughout the entire picture, with all the nuance of Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura. He is clearly playing a madman from the onset. There is no slow decent as he and his family are isolated as caretakers of an abandoned off-season snowy mountain resort. Instead, all of Nicholson's worst, most cartoonish instincts are on display throughout. Shelley Duvall's performance as the enabling wife is so regrettably bad it seems like she's having trouble playing a human being, much less a specific woman. From her "awe shucks" hillbilly accent to her later hysterics, Duvall doesn't even seem to be in the same dimension as the rest of us. I'm convinced she was the basis for Mark McKinney's Chicken Lady. Danny Lloyd as their traumatized psychic son serves as an ambulatory prop while in character, and an irritating distraction when channeling his psychic friend "Tony" through a froggy voice and a wiggling finger. Scatman Crothers as the helpful "nigger cook" is the least embarrassing, though still rather broad, and exactly the stereotype the description implies. All of the characters are static, never moving far from their archetype, and the rest of the cast is so wooden, you could be forgiven for confusing them with set dressing.

The script is shit. That will happen when you constantly rewrite while veering far from your source material. It leads to actors repeating the exact same lines ad nauseum ("Hello! Is anyone here!" "Redrum" "Get away from me!") It also leads to nonsensical ad-libbing, despite the bullshit line "Here's Johnny" being wrong-headedly canonized by pop culture as a sign of menace. The dialogue is insipid, with exposition coming into play that is abundantly obvious to anyone watching, which doesn't stop anyone from restating that obvious incessantly.

The music is shit. What could have been an effective, nerve-shredding score in moderation is instead cut into every mundane goddamned scene. Paper pulled from a typewriter? Cue a string shriek. Walking through the snow? Lets get some thumping drums in there. Generic title cards? Cymbal clash! I don't believe there's ever been a more obnoxiously grating soundtrack in the history of film.

The editing is shit. There's nearly two and a half hours of people listlessly wandering around a friggin' hotel. Nicholson's breakdown goes on forever. Sequences are repeated to minimal effect. Move! Go! Please!

The special effects are shit. The woman in the tub is an obvious rubber suit, and most of the gore is just blood splatter. There's a sequence where a hall is filled with cobweb-covered skeletons that could have come right out of a cheapie William Castle production twenty-plus years older. Plus, this movie has such a low body count it's a few cuts away from airing on ABC Family.

The direction is shit. Stanley Kubrick is a visual stylist, and he can claim some wonderfully designed shots, but what reasonably competent director couldn't after fussing over scenes for a hundred takes each? There are just as many awkward and unintentionally humorous images. People, really, the freezing death? High comedy. None of it compensates for fatigued performances, pathetic dialogue, and Kubrick's pulling every cheap horror gag in the book. With the benefit of time, even Saw comes off less exploitative and more original than this tripe. The emperor has no clothes! Get over The Shining already!

Included with the DVD set are multiple documentaries in which famous people talk about not liking the movie, or personally loathing the director at first, but being talked into respecting the technical prowess and/or just blowing smoke about the pretentious shit posthumously. Also, The Making of the Shining, a rambling home movie by Vivian "His Daughter" Kubrick.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

1981 Amazing Heroes #6 Kevin Nowlan Doom Patrol Pin-Up

From the November 1981 issue of Amazing Heroes comes this piece, which complimented the article "The Life and Death of the Doom Patrol" by George Guay.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Frank Review of "Brüno" (2009)

The Short Version? Supergay on parade in the U.S.A.
What Is It? Mockumentary
Who Is In It? Sacha Baron Cohen and cameos-o-plenty
Should I See It? Yes.

Speaking as an especially socio-sexually liberal individual, Brüno is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. While not as subversive as Borat, and a much choppier, skit-filled film, Brüno overcomes comparison through the comedic genius of Sacha Baron Cohen. The movie is terribly ribald, though its overt homosexuality is less queezy than the nude wrestling sequence from Cohen's previous work. I personally found it less offensive yet more daring, as the situations Cohen places himself in are far more dangerous this time around, and his victims more deserving of ridicule. Brüno isn't as quotable or accessible to mass audiences, which should preserve its vitality in the long run, and thank God for that. I was part of a party of four intelligent film buffs who rarely agree on anything, but our love for and laughter at Brüno was unanimous. No green band trailer could do the film justice, and a more revealing look would only spoil some of the fun. No worries though, as the movie is jam packed with funny, and absolutely recommended to anyone who could possibly find the material palatable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Frank Review of "Juno" (2007)

The Short Version? Snarky 15-year-old gets pregnant in the Quirkyverse.
What Is It? Indie Dramedy
Who Is In It? Kitty Pryde, J. Jonah Jameson, Alias, that chick from The West Wing and the two biggest guys from Arrested Development
Should I See It? Yes.

I only just saw Juno, much to the amazement of most people who know me and my taste in movies. It's true that screenwriter Diablo Cody reads like the lovechild of Daniel Waters and Amy Sherman-Palladino, and she even reminds of ex-girlfriends. However, there's enough of the hipster in me to sneer at the obvious debts owed. "Oh wait, now you guys are suddenly down with sardonic wit peppered with pop culture references and lyrical wordplay delivered with the lightning speed of '40s screwball comedy? I mean, the premise is straight out of Gilmore Girls, a show you refused to watch when I recommended it nearly a decade ago! Didn't Heathers also invent new teenspeak so a thirty-something could sound cutting edge, instead of like a tin-eared old fogey?" So yeah, I enjoyed Juno, but I'm still too fucking cool for this room, okay?

Ellen Page plays the title character in her best performance to date, making unbelievable dialogue ring true and selling her twenty years at 25% off with the aid of her five foot frame. Michael Cera is the suitably bewildered unintended father of Juno's bastard child. J.K. Simmons is unimpeachable in his warmth toward his suddenly expanding family, while retaining the right amount of prickliness and obliviousness to serve as Juno's daddy. Olivia Thirlby is the most obvious actual teenager in the cast, so it's understandable her being older in real life than onscreen BFF Page would come as a shock to the uninformed. Allison Janney is an absolute delight as Juno's supportive step-mother, though her own biting comments make it clear from whence Juno derives her acidic tongue. The screenwriter has such a strong voice, it could have threatened the individuality of a lesser cast, but these superior actors never allow lines to blur. To Cody's credit, she also writes characters of clearly variant intelligences with verisimilitude, a rare ability in my experience. Some of her characters are smarter than others, but she rarely condescends or overextends anyone for the sake of a gag.

On the down side, Cody's obvious contempt for yuppies sabotages the couple intended to adopt Juno's unwanted child. Jason Bateman never comes across as anything more than a dude trapped in an uncomfortable situation, and the only reason Jennifer Garner's character couldn't foresee trouble is because of her own obsessive, one-note performance. Rainn Wilson of The Office also has an obnoxious cameo.

One has to wonder if Jason Reitman hates the work of his famous director father Ivan, because where the paterfamilias's oeuvre is aggressively mainstream and disingenuous, Jason seems intent on zeroing in on truth and independent sensibilities. Jason Reitman is excellent at keeping the somewhat extraordinary characters and circumstances real, and maintaining the proper tone throughout the production. On the other hand, he also plays right out of the indie comedy playbook, from the pseudo-hand lettered notebook titles to the aggravatingly twee soundtrack cues, even as his characters constantly reference punk rockers like Iggy Pop and the Melvins.

All in all though, Juno is a joy; the smart, feel-good quirky hit of whatever year it made the most money, and deserving of every penny.

Friday, July 10, 2009

2008 Walt Simonson Thanos Commission

Click Here To Enlarge

I'm extremely burnt out from work and a top secret blog project, so the nurgh has not flowed. Sorry folks, but we shall return. Anyhow, I've been pouring over tens of thousands of pages of comic art in recent months, and thought I might show off some of the obscure gems I turn up.

Below is the first time, or so I've been told, Simonson has drawn the Mad God Titan. Walt has probably drawn Darkseid more than anybody, possibly even including Jack Kirby himself, and I'd say his take is the best. In this one image, Simonson does more to dispel the under-cooked criticism that Thanos is a rip-off of the lord of Apokolips than anything I can think of in the last quarter century. Jim Starlin even has problems there. Anyway, I love this image, even if the torso looks more like John Byrne than Walt. Click here for higher resolution and more info.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Frank Review of "Videodrome" (1983)

The Short Version? Too much television rots your brain.
What Is It? Horror/Sci-Fi
Who Is In It? James Woods, Blondie
Should I See It? Yes.

I first saw Videodrome at a young age on basic television, and if I was normal before (doubtful,) I certainly haven't been right since. This movie introduced me to his scummy majesty, James Woods, and the very concepts of body horror, sadomasochism and snuff. At a time when Playboy and Penthouse magazines were formulating my perception of human sexuality while violence was defined by Stallone and Schwarzenegger action fests, this David Cronenberg masterpiece was like an atomic explosion of incomprehensible depravity within my developing brain.

In that sense, I'm not unlike the film's protagonist, small time television broadcaster Max Renn. His Civic-TV is known for its controversial softcore pornography and hardcore violence, but even Renn is blown away by a pirate broadcast he picks up of seemingly real sadistic torture. Renn is drawn further into this "videodrome" by his new ladyfriend, played by Debbie Harry of the band Blondie, who gets off on the kink of it all. It should be clear from the onset that Videodrome is sinister in nature, which might explain why my Jesus loving father made me turn it off after fifteen minutes during a recent viewing attempt, and why my left-brain girlfriend was dissatisfied by the affair's end. As the story becomes increasingly hallucinatory, the mysterious conspiracy surrounding Videodrome deteriorates into dream logic, but who needs rational explanations when Renn's belly sprouts vagina dentata that swallows the nearest phallic symbol?

It's true though, that the technology dates the production. References to cathode rays, enormous television units built into furniture, Betamax libraries, and the sometimes clunky early work of Oscar-winning special effects master Rick Baker come off more quaint than one might hope. The once edgy sexual violence is now quite tame
by internet standards, and the once disorienting narrative is fairly linear after years of exposure to David Lynch and his successors. Still, the threat of Videodrome remains, and some of the practical effects are still mind boggling and stomach churning. Videodrome has been influential to the point of plagiarism (I'm looking especially at The Matrix, and I'm saying long live the new flesh.) Woods is as great as ever, Harry's stiffness suits her affected character, and the supporting cast is solid. Over a quarter-century later, Videodrome still manifests the predictions of McLuhan and Warhol that ring ever truer in our increasingly media-obsessed and deviancy inclined culture. Come to Videodrome. It wants you.

Finally, here's a more revealing trailer for the film, though after the swank '70s/'80s cheese above, I can't imagine you're bothering to keep reading before hitting your Netflix queue...

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Frank Review of "Seraphim Falls" (2007)

The Short Version? Revenge! Long damned drawn-out revenge!
What Is It? Western.
Who Is In It? Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Michael Wincott and some cameos.
Should I See It? No.

Rob Roy plays an ex-Confederate soldier who has hired a team of guns (including Top Dollar and that character actor who always plays tough cops and bad guys) to hunt an ex-Union Officer (Remington Steele.) James Bond gets all John Rambo/McClane, surviving absurd amounts of bodily harm while perpetrating ridiculous bullshit kills against his pursuers straight out of a clever slasher flick. Then things slow way down, scenery changes, and moralizing pretense gets in the way of the movie's slight charms. Character motivations aren't revealed until the last reel, so all the violence and sermonizing lacks context to invest the viewer beyond a visceral level. Holding back may have been intended as a bait and switch for audience members getting off on the violence, but in truth they're the only ones serviced, as the rest of us are kept at arm's length by scant dialogue and overdue exposition. The film's near two hour running time feels like three, but the story only has the mileage of an old '50s television anthology of less than an hour's length. Worse, the paranormal comes into play toward one of those endings you think is right around the corner, again and again, to no relief. Oskar Schindler is grim and terse. Thomas Crown grunts and whines in pain. Michael Wincott croaks threats like a toad with a 'tude. Anjelica Huston plays the devil. Yes, the friggin' devil, which still isn't as retarded as Wes Studi's mystic Injun' revelation or Angie Harmon's burning revelation-- Aquarius! AQUAAAARIUUUUSS!

The film looks great, thanks to Oscar winning cinematographer John Toll. The script, co-written by first time feature director David Von Ancken, leaves so much to be desired it explains why he was sent back to cable television after this.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Frank Review of "Food, Inc." (2009)

The Short Version? Industrially Processed Food Is Bad. Here's your bumper sticker.
What Is It? Documentary.
Who Is In It? Hippie Tree Huggers.
Should I See It? Maybe.

Your Oscar Meyer wieners are filled with chicken lips. Surprised? Thought not. It's a message nearly as heavily circulated as "smoking gives you cancer," yet this doc still manages to dig up a chubby family who claim their only option to feed themselves is the drive-thru, based on time and the comparative price of a head of lettuce. I have trouble getting out of a Jack-In-The-Box or Subway for much under $10 just for myself, so I call bullshit there. By the same token, I've yet to suffer from dropsy or scurvy, so obviously there's some benefit to my not eating like people from a hundred years ago.

Point being, Food, Inc. is all about well-trod arguments regarding food safety, as well as the treatment of animals and workers by evil big business. If you care, it's preaching to the choir. If you care and need a pleasant, concise, visually stimulating video argument to present your case to the unwashed couch potato, here's your future loaner DVD. If you don't care at all, you're the average American, and without Moore/Spurlock shenanigans, you'll give this a pass (even as a loaner from your liberal friend.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 1: Disturbing Duckie

From the January 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men. Photography: Damien Donck.
"Sometimes, I watch you sleep."

Friday, July 3, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 3: The Conspiratorial Clown

From the March 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men. Photography: Damien Donck.
"No one ever has to know."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

2001 Stuff Volume 2, Number 13: "Why?"


From the December 2000 Stuff Magazine For Men. Photography: Jens Mortensen.


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