Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Justice League #1 - A Review




Reading Justice League #1, I'm reminded of a game I played at many a party as a child, where everyone reached into a box, felt around and tried to guess what it was they were touching. I make this comparison because coming into this Brave New World that DC Comics has created for us, I can feel out a few details and make out a general shape... but I'm still completely uncertain just what it is I'm holding. And that is a good thing in these days when on-line spoilers and Previews Catalogs take a lot out of the surprise out of being a comic reader.



We are put right into the middle of the action, with a narrator explaining that as this story opens, the public is largely ignorant of the existence of superheroes and what little they do know frightens them. This is already a dramatic shift from the status quo for much of the DC Universe, where super-powered protectors are largely beloved. Most of the issue centers upon Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Batman (Bruce Wayne) reluctantly joining forces as they both chase down the same mysterious figure in Gotham City - a figure that Green Lantern insists is an alien...


A lot of the characterization here will be old hat for Green Lantern fans. Geoff Johns had established an adversarial relationship between Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan once before in Green Lantern: Rebirth, continuing it into his Green Lantern series. The same conflict is laid bare here, with Batman depending on fear and shadows to operate while Hal uses light as a weapon and isn't afraid of anything. Put them together and hilarity ensues.



Thankfully, Johns does make both heroes accessible to those people who haven't seen either the Green Lantern movie The Dark Knight with Hal explaining his position as a Green Lantern makes him responsible for policing a whole sector of space and Batman explaining that he doesn't have any super powers... eventually.



The art by Jim Lee is pretty much what you'd expect - all-around excellent. If you're a fan of Jim Lee's art style (and I can't think of any person I know who isn't) then you'll love the art in this book. If you don't, then you won't. It's just that simple.

Are there any downsides to this issue? Well, yes. One big one is based on the expectation, coming in, that we'd be getting to see the whole Justice League as depicted on the cover in this first issue. There is No Flash. No Wonder Woman. No Aquaman. There is no big, epic superhero smackdown.

Instead, we get a fair bit of set-up, with Green Lantern and Batman forming an unlikely alliance as they journey in search for another new hero - the so-called Superman of Metropolis. There's also a brief break from the action as we focus on a young star athlete named Victor Stone, whom long-time comic readers will recognize as the boy that becomes Cyborg.



This is good stuff - don't misunderstand me. I had just expected a more high-action start given that this is the flagship title of the new line. Thankfully, though this issue wasn't quite what I expected, I enjoyed it immensely and intend to add this one to my pull list next month.

If you are a fan of good superhero stories, you must read this book!

Welcome To My Geeky Geeky Ways

Whether you're an old friend coming over from the old place or a new reader who picked up one of my business cards or heard about this from someone else... Welcome!

For those of you who are new here, I am Starman.

This is a new blog, but I've been writing about various geeky things on-line for over a decade now. Long enough that I've written roughly half-a-dozen introductions to blogs and sites I've worked for before this one. Most of that time was spent writing about comics for Fanzing, 411 Mania, Comics Nexus and my own comics blog, Looking To The Stars.

So why am I starting this new blog?

Partly it's because some of the places I've written for have vanished into the Ether and I wanted to have all my writing in one place. The other reason is that, as time went by, my interests have progressed beyond comic books and my writing has grown to reflect that.

I’ve roamed far; farther than any other man of my family ever wandered. I’ve seen all the great Cons of the Dal'Las - the AnimeFests, the All-Cons and the Wizard Worlds. I’ve roamed in the unknown countries south of the black kingdoms of Canada, and east of the Lake of Worth. I’ve been a comic shop salesman, a cosplayer, a shadowcaster, a Who-ligan, a gamer - hell, I’ve been everything except a writer for a professional company and I may be that, before I die.

So what can you expect to find here? Besides dragons, of course?

Comic reviews - both monthly titles and Trades. My thoughts on the most recent Doctor Who episodes and comics. Movie reviews, both good flicks and bad movies, suitable for Riffing. And whatever other geeky things take my interest.

I hope you have as much fun reading this as I have writing it. Let the fun begin!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Doctor Who, Series 6 - Episode 8 - Let's Kill Hitler

THE PLOT

Checking in with Rory and Amy, The Doctor reports that he still hasn't tracked down their daughter, though he is quick to point out that - logically - they know he IS going to do it eventually. Joining them unexpectedly is their old friend Mels, an dodgy sort who is driving a car that she admits isn't hers... just before the sound of sirens can be heard in the background. Fully aware of who The Doctor is (though he has no idea who she is), she pulls a gun, motions everyone into the TARDIS and suggests they go kill Hitler.

The party arrives in Germany circa 1938... just in time to save Hitler's life from a most unusual assassin. Nobody is particularly happy about this, even before Mels is accidentally shot by Hitler, starts to regenerate and then tries to kill The Doctor...


THE GOOD PARTS

* Moffat is a great idea man and is very good at developing those ideas in a brief span of time. One such idea is the assassin who comes after Hitler - a group of miniaturized people piloting a human-sized, shape-shifting mecha, traveling around time seeking out the most vicious villains in history in order to make them experience all the pain they ever caused others just before they died. That concept alone would be a wonderful story by itself, never mind being one aspect of a bigger story. And that is why we love Doctor Who so much.

* Mels' real identity isn't much of a shock but what comes after IS rather surprising.

* The scene in which The Doctor screams while being confronted with images of all the Tenth Doctor companions whose lives he screwed up is magical. Matt Smith nails the core of The Doctor in that moment, as we can see that the pain of the poison in his system hurts but being reminded of his past mistakes hurts more.

* Who would have thought that you could turn the phrase "You will die in 32 minutes." into a hilarious running gag?


THE PROBLEMS

* There are a few minor logical plot holes. It seems rather unlikely, for instance, that our time-traveling assassins would get so far as they did in infiltrating Hitler's offices only to just then realize they had come too early as they're about to torture him. This is the sort of thing you'd expect a bunch of experienced time-travelers to research well in advance. Also, why in the name of all that is good-and-plenty is the TARDIS able to crash through the wall of Hitler's office without anyone coming to investigate? You'd expect there to be two-dozen storm-troopers coming through the door in less than a minute!

* I suppose if you can steal from anyone you can steal from yourself. Still, I can't believe that Moffat wrote in the "Well, I KNEW that you knew..." scene as The Doctor and River try to one-up one another during their Mexican stand-off, mirroring the similar scene between The Doctor and The Master in Moffat's Doctor Who parody story Curse Of The Fatal Death.


THE FINAL VERDICT

A solid episode that, thankfully, has little to do with its' attention-grabbing title. Moffat manages to surprise us with the promise of one of the many important historical figures never directly dealt with in the show before only to ignore it completely in favor of a chaotic but enjoyable character piece.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

DC Retroactive: Green Lantern – The 90s #1 - A Review

Synchronicity - it’s more than the title of an album by The Police. It’s the force of coincidence. It’s hearing a word spoken out-loud at the exact instance you read the same word. It’s the call out of the blue from the old friend you were just thinking about. I mention this because of the role synchronicity has in this review.

I created this blog both as an archive for my old writings on comic books and a springboard from which to write about a variety of new subjects. Old and New. Past and Future. Looking Back and Moving Forward. And I thought to myself how fitting it would be symbolically if the first comic review of My Geeky Geeky Ways were to echo that theme in some fashion

How fortunate that the invisible hand of fate has seen fit to give me such a book in a title that just came out this week - DC Retroactive: Green Lantern – The 90s #1. This title is doubly fitting: not only because the DC Retroactive Series was based around the concept of allowing classic creative teams to work once more with characters they worked with previously but because as I’ve noted before, the first book I ever bought when I first became interested in comics was a Green Lantern title by Ron Marz.

That is synchronicity in action, my friends.


There’s always a danger with nostalgia that a second glance might not match up with your memories. How many of us have watched an old cartoon from our youth and been left wondering what we ever saw in it? Thankfully, there are no such dangers with this book.

The story is a real treat for old-time Green Lantern fans, being set not too long after Marz’s last multi-issue Green Lantern story (GL Volume 3, Issues #120-124), where Kyle Rayner was kidnapped by The Controllers (Think The Guardians Of The Universe, only more fascist) and nearly converted into one of their shock-troops. One of those shock-troops, a young man named Martin Van Wyck (a.k.a. Effigy) attacks the JLA Watchtower and it’s up to Kyle to bring the villainous pyromancer to justice.

Marz’s writing is as good as it ever was, with his take on Kyle Rayner being instantly sympathetic and relatable to new readers. The action and dialogue flow well, with Kyle’s status - at the time of this story – as the last Green Lantern in the entire universe being established smoothly through Kyle’s internal monologue as he wishes that he had some way of calling for back-up.

Marz even manages to tie up a loose end from the plot of his original Green Lantern run. At the end of the original Marz story, Effigy was left a brainwashed pawn of The Controllers, marooned in deep space. Months later, after a new writer took over the title, Effigy was back on Earth with no explanation. This story, while not giving us the details of exactly how Effigy overcame his brainwashing, does explain just how he was able to return to Earth. It’s a nice little treat for those fans who remember the original story.

The art is just as amazing as I remember, too. The one thing I think most of us remember from the Green Lantern stories of the time was how amazing and intricate the constructs looked when Darryl Banks was doing the pencils. I don’t know what artist Darryl Banks has been up to over the past few years and information on-line is similarly sketchy (no pun intended) but we can only hope that DC Comics will offer him a regular position on a book sometime soon.

The one downside to this book is the $4.99 price tag. The second half of the book reprints a classic Marz/Banks story from the 1990s (GL Vol. 3, #78, to be precise) which most die-hard Green Lantern fans like myself are already likely to own. Mind you, it IS a good story but it does burn my gut to have to buy it a second time just to get the new material.

On the other hand, the price is less than the cost of two full comics and the issue reprinted is a good jumping-on issue for new readers. It’s also a story that has never been collected in any of the previous Green Lantern trades, making this book a great deal for newbie Green Lantern fans. So maybe the old men like me can bite our tongues, open our wallets and be thankful that some of the material that got us into the game is being passed on to the next generation.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Super - A Movie Review

When it first came out in theaters, James Gunn’s Super was dismissed by many as a rip-off of Kick-Ass – another superhero film based on the graphic novel of the same name by Mark Millar. This is both inaccurate and unfortunate. It is inaccurate because Gunn had been working on Super since 2002, years before the release of the the Kick-Ass graphic novels. (Thankfully, Millar has been quick to correct those who scream rip-off at Gunn.) And it is unfortunate since Super is a far more enjoyable story. Indeed – if I may break out a testing analogy – Super is to Kick-Ass as Man of La Macha is to Don Quixote.

I think most are familiar with the character of Don Quixote – a man enchanted by tales of chivalry, who decides to become a knight errant. What fewer know, however, is that Miguel de Cervantes meant for Don Quixote to be a satire of chivalric romances and a cautionary tale against such idealism. And yet most people think of Don Quixote as a charming figure rather than a comedic one; a character who may be mad but one whose madness has made him into something greater. Much of the fault of this lies with the musical, Man of La Macha, which said that Don Quixote’s mad quest was not in vain, so long as one person’s life was saved by the crazed knight.

Similar comparisons can be drawn between Kick-Ass and Super. At its’ core Kick-Ass is violence porn for teenage boys (or those with the mentality of one), disguised as a superhero satire. It has all the subtlety of a whoopee cushion. Like Millar’s other adapted graphic novel Wanted, it aspires toward deconstruction of the superhero genre while managing only destruction. In the final analysis Kick-Ass, as either a comic or a movie, is essentially heartless with no statement to make besides “Superheroes are stupid and you’re stupid for liking them”.

On the surface Super would seem to be the same kind of movie. Both films center upon a loser hero in a shabby costume. Both have scenes of our hero getting his ass-kicked as he realizes that a costume is not enough to strike terror into the hearts of evil. But that is where the similarities end, for the heart and message of Super is far, far different.

Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is something of a schlub. A simple, religious man, he works as a short-order cook and doesn’t seem to have any hobbies past watching TV and drawing. Indeed, he can only think of two good things that have happened in his life; his helping a police officer to catch a criminal and his marriage to Sarah (Liv Tyler) – a recovering drug-addict, who worked as a waitress at his diner.

Aware that his marriage is falling apart, Frank is still stunned one day to find that Sarah has moved out and is now apparently now staying with Jacques (Kevin Bacon) – a local vice lord, who operates out of the club Sarah had just started working at. With Sarah’s drug addiction readily enabled by Jacques, the police unwilling to take Frank’s story seriously (They think it far more likely that Sarah ditched her loser husband than that she’s an unaware captive) and Frank’s own attempts at rescuing Sarah ending in a beating, Frank is at a loss what to do next.

Inspiration comes to Frank while watching a children’s show about a Christian superhero; The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion). Having a vision where he believes he is touched by the finger of God, Frank is inspired to create a costume and become a superhero. Unaware of just what that might entail, for Frank is no fanboy, he journeys to a local comic book store to do research on superheroes without superpowers. It is here that he meets Libby (Ellen Page); a 22-year-old clerk who eventually becomes Frank’s girl wonder.


It is here that the parallels with Don Quixote become inescapable. Both Frank and Don Quixote view the world in simple, black-and-white terms. There is Good and there is Evil and Evil triumphs whenever good people do nothing to oppose it. But more than that, both men see things that others do not, with Quixote boasting an ability to see through the enchantments that mask the monsters of the world and Frank claiming a gift for visions. Indeed, in one of the film’s most artful moments, we get to see how Frank views Sarah – as a glowing angel, being held down by the devilish Jacques and his demonic thugs as her light grows dimmer.

However, Super differs from Don Quixote in one important respect: James Gunn is wise enough to let the audience draw their own conclusions about Frank’s mental state. Is Frank a madman who believes he is talking to God, finally pushed over the edge by his increased feelings of powerlessness and the loss of his wife? Or are Frank’s visions of evil in the world around him real and his belief that he has been chosen to fight that evil true? The movie offers enough evidence for both viewpoints to be valid, even in the closing narration when Frank defends his actions and their ultimate outcome.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether Frank is crazy or not. Gunn’s thesis is that of Man Of La Macha; that the battle is not against Evil itself but against the apathy to do nothing and just accept the world as it is. Gunn suggests that Frank will be victorious because at least he is trying to make the world a better place, even if he is a funny-looking fat man in a red suit. This further separates Super from Kick-Ass for while this movie does make light of how Frank goes about his holy mission, it does not often make light of the mission itself.

Does the movie suggest that we should all put on a costume and hide in alleys waiting for muggers to thwart? Of course not. But it does suggest there is something seriously wrong with a society so quick to question the motivations of those who have no hidden agenda in what they do to help others.

The cast of this film is eclectic yet perfect. Fans of The Office, will likely be stunned by Rainn Wilson’s portrayal of Frank and not just because of the violence involved. Frank is, like Terry Pratchett’s Captain Carrot, a man whose views are simple but not stupid and Wilson perfectly captures the conflict of a loving, spiritual man of peace who thinks he honestly has been called to smite the wicked in God’s name.

I was afraid based on the previews that Ellen Page would be playing the same stock quirky Indy Film heroine she’s portrayed so many times before. Yet, like Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth, she quickly transforms into something different. Delighting in the violence of her role as “Boltie”, she is astonished to find that Frank has deep convictions about not killing deeper motivations than revenge and doesn’t share her fetish for wearing a costume and hurting people. Despite this, she is still supportive of the quest to save Frank’s wife, even after her attempts to seduce him fall flat.

Kevin Bacon is delightfully douchey as Jacques, seemingly channeling John Travolta’s crime-boss character from the Thomas Jane Punisher movie but managing to stay on the right side of hammy. He is a sociopath who views everyone around him as a replaceable commodity, channeled through the filter of every rich jerk you ever knew in high school.