Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: "Superman" (vol. 3) #32

Let's get a few things out of the way to begin with. First, I'm coming into this issue cold; I've intentionally avoided reading any reviews of it longer than 140 characters, and I'm fairly far behind on the other Superman titles (the only DC book I'm caught up on is Batman, I think). I'm also coming into this issue without too much bias. I quite like John Romita Jr.'s art, but the last series he helped relaunch thirty issues into a major reboot didn't exactly go very well. I've been pretty sour on Geoff Johns since a bit before the New 52 began, despite really liking his earlier work on JSA, Flash, and Green Lantern. His Superman comics have been generally well-regarded, though I never cared for how he discarded character development to tell more nostalgic stories. I did, however, re-read "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" recently, and quite enjoyed it aside from that linked Perry White line and Johns's signature move of having someone lose an arm. At least it didn't feel gratuitous there.

So, "Superman" #32. To begin with, the cover is gorgeous. It's dynamic, and recalls other classic images by folks like José Luis García-López. The background color scheme is similarly evocative, specifically of Neal Adams' classic "Kryptonite Nevermore!" cover. Also, it's just kind of nice to see Superman running. It's not something he's shown doing very often.

Let's start with the good: This issue sets up a pretty intriguing story. Ulysses has a cool design, and the mirroring themes of loneliness and loss are played out well. Not surprisingly, the book looks great. A great deal of that is due to Romita and Janson managing to make even the talking-heads pages visually interesting, but Laura Martin's colors really knock this book out of the park. Romita's style can sometimes come off as a little flat, but Martin's subtle variations in shading and lighting make everything pop.

In terms of plot structure, a lot of it feels very old-school. The flashback-to-title sequence bit at the beginning is an artifact of more modern, cinematic comic storytelling, but the way this issue lays down subplot threads hearkens back to the serialized stories of the '80s and '90s. I'm currently working my way through Simonson's "Thor" run, which follows that same style: a few pages of the main story, broken up occasionally (and sometimes suddenly) by checking in on the b- and c-plots. Here, those checking-in moments are more panels than pages, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially in this age of shortened page counts. Much as I love Simonson's "Thor," it's still obviously a product of a pre-TPB age, and sometimes the recaps do get a little tedious when you're reading the run straight through.

Speaking of shortened page counts, one of the things I found infuriating about Johns's Green Lantern comics toward the end of his run was his over-reliance on splash pages in a way that felt like he was padding out a too-short script. We get two double-page spreads and a splash page in this issue, but they're all major action or emotional climaxes. Each one feels earned, which is helped by the way that the non-splash panels change in size, growing larger on average as we approach each crescendo in the story. It's a great example of how aspects of the art that we don't normally think about can impact the feel of the story in major ways.

And hey, J. Wilbur Wolfingham makes an appearance! Who could have predicted that?

In terms of criticism, it's what you might expect from Johns: there's no subtlety to be found here. The parents at the beginning, sending their child into another dimension to survive, could only be more obviously allegorical if their names were Jordan and Laura. This motif would probably work a little better if I hadn't just re-read "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes," which opened with the exact same bit.

Repetition is working against Johns on a larger level here as well. Mark Waid expressed his relief on Twitter that this wasn't the same story as in "Superman Unchained," where the Man of Steel has been battling with another Superman analogue. Meanwhile, "Batman/Superman" began with a plot where the World's Finest team met their Earth-2 counterparts; we just wrapped "Forever Evil," which featured an evil alternate-universe version of Superman taking over; "Future's End" has an alternate "masked" Superman; we're barreling toward a crossover that's supposed to have Earths at war (inevitably suggesting additional Supermen); and Grant Morrison introduced no fewer than three Superman analogues in his "Action Comics" run, with the Earth-23 Superman, the Superdoom "killer franchise," and Captain Comet. That's a lot of Superman analogues for a universe that's not even three years old yet.

It's nice to see a softer Perry White here, even if he's basically an exposition delivery machine. His discussion with Clark is sledgehammer-blunt telling-not-showing, and while it's nice that it allows us to name-drop some supporting cast members (that line about Jackee Winters is so obviously out of place, oy) it probably could have been cut in half and replaced with a little more of the scenes we get on the next couple of pages, where we actually see Clark's loneliness. It's "show, don't tell," Geoff, not "tell, then show." With a bit more attention to showing, and a little tighter editing, we could have been actually introduced to Jackee and Lois, instead of having that single panel at the bar.

Altogether, it's a positive start. I'm really looking forward to the next issue, especially seeing some development on these subplots. I hope there's some follow-through on the promise of a robust supporting cast; that's an aspect of Superman comics that's too often overlooked to the detriment of the story and the characters. I'd like to see Geoff Johns letting his top-notch artists handle a bit more of the storytelling, especially outside the big action set pieces, but it's just nice to read a Johns comic where no heroes act like jerks and no one has any limbs severed. Definitely the strongest writing I've seen from Johns since the start of the New 52, and Romita knocked this first DC work out of the park. With Pak and Kuder over on "Action," this is arguably the best that the Superman line has been since the last time Johns was writing Superman regularly.

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Speaking Geek

I mentioned a few weeks back that I recorded an interview with the Chippewa Valley Geek podcast, and it's up now! Listen to me pontificate, because reading my pontifications was one sense too few!

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Friday, June 27, 2014

5 Popular Movies & How They Should Have Ended

5. Man of Steel
The recent superhero blockbuster "Man of Steel" drew a lot of criticism for its unexpected ending. A lot of people offered their own ideas for how it could have ended instead, but they all got one thing wrong.

How it SHOULD have ended: "Man of Steel" should have ended with a closing credits roll acknowledging all the people whose hard work made the film possible, from the writers, actors, and director to the catering staff and stunt doubles. Despite the criticism, this is exactly how it did end!

4. Flicka
The 2006 feel-good film "Flicka" told a touching story about a girl and her horse, based on the 1941 novel My Friend Flicka. In it, main character Katy and her wild mustang Flicka both help save each other's lives. But is that the way it should have gone?

How it SHOULD have ended: A movie as animal-intensive as "Flicka" should have ended with the note "No animals were harmed in the making of this picture" in the credits. Unfortunately, two horses died in the process of filming "Flicka," forcing the statement to be left out.

3. She's All That
"She's All That" was a popular 1999 teen romantic comedy featuring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook. Its classic plot about giving an unpopular girl a makeover was an update of stories like "Pygmalion" and "My Fair Lady." In the end, Cook and Prinze's characters get together, but is that the way it should have gone?

How it SHOULD have ended: "She's All That" should have ended with me and Becky Holt making out and dating for the rest of freshman year instead of her saying "no I don't want to go to the movies with you, loser."

 
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The third installment in the blockbuster Transformers film franchise by director Michael Bay continued the story of Optimus Prime and his Autobot warriors and their battle with Megatron and the evil Decepticons, with humanity--and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf)--caught in the middle. In "Dark of the Moon," we learn that the Apollo missions discovered alien technology on the moon, which leads to an epic battle and ultimately the destruction of the Transformers' home planet, Cybertron. It's a tragic blow to the Transformers, but that ending could have been very different!

How it SHOULD have ended: With a fire on set, tragically killing the director and star.

1. Back to the Future
Everyone knows the classic movie about teenage time traveler Marty McFly and his exciting adventure trying to return to his own time without accidentally breaking up his parents' marriage and preventing his own birth! We all know Marty was successful in his quest, but what you don't know is how it should have ended!

How it SHOULD have ended: Wait, hold on, Michael J. Fox? Two sequels? No, no, this is all wrong. "Back to the Future" was supposed to be a singular cult classic, the movie that led to the Eric Stoltz geek TV renaissance! Something happened, something changed the timestream! I need to set this right, before... before...

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blasting from the Past

I'm conducting a minor experiment, to see if anyone ever bothered to change the most annoying things about the Internet. I mean, animated gifs are experiencing a renaissance, far beyond what we might have imagined back in the days of:


and:

(and on my old homepage):

But I found myself wondering today: do blinking text tags still work? Those were always loads of fun.

(Answer: apparently not in my browser)

Of course the best kind of tag was the
SCROLLING MARQUEE

Oh! What about rainbow text effects?
THIS IS WHAT THE INTERNET IS FOR!

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

An Update

Things have been, as they often are, quieter here than I'd like. I've mostly been busy with work, and the remainder of my free time has been looking for other work. I'd much rather be writing blog posts than cover letters, but that's where I'm at right now. But now I have a moment or two to procrastinate, so have some bullet points! Spoilers for summer movies ahead.

  • I started reading Greg Rucka's novel Alpha. It's still pretty early in the book, so not much has happened, but I'm enjoying it so far. There are some interesting quirks with how Rucka describes and words things, and I'm trying to determine what's his style versus what's his choice for the narrator's voice. Aside from the way he refers to military minutiae like a seasoned expert, it doesn't feel much like any of the other stuff I've read of Rucka's.

    The lack of pictures may be a contributing factor to that.
  • I picked up "Scribblenauts Unmasked" and beat it in fairly short order. I was going to outline my thoughts here, but I think I'll put together something more substantial shortly. In any case, I quite liked it.
  • I saw "Amazing Spider-Man 2," and was underwhelmed. I quite liked the first installment, but this one was (as I might have predicted) overstuffed and rushed. The Electro plot, Harry's illness, and the mystery of Peter's parents could easily have taken up a whole flick without shoehorning in the Goblin and the bridge scene as well. I frankly would have liked another movie with Gwen in it before the inevitable end, and especially one without the college girl equivalent of being one day away from retirement. On top of all that, it felt like there was just so much dialogue (the entire graduation speech, for instance) that felt too convenient, too on-the-nose, too plot-driven. Sony's clearly on a mad dash to make their own "Avengers," without learning from the mistakes of "Spider-Man 3" or the successes of "Avengers"--specifically, laying the groundwork for that movie over the course of years, through several other films, where the worst of them also happened to be the one that diverted too much of its energy to laying the groundwork for the team film. Argh.
  • Seeing "Godzilla" made me realize that I haven't actually seen a Godzilla movie outside of the last American Godzilla movie. This new one was better by far. I especially liked how incidental the humans were to everything. They set the plot in motion by unleashing Muto, but humanity went mostly unnoticed by the creatures, which followed the basic drives of nature: mate and eat. Including another monster was a smart choice (making it look like the Cloverfield monster: doubly smart), because it shifts the narrative. When Godzilla is the only monster, the plot becomes humans vs. Godzilla, which in the "Godzilla" franchise, can end in a stalemate at best. "We drove the creature back into the sea! Yay, I guess? But, like, he's still right there. In the sea." Pitting Godzilla against a bigger threat makes us root for the titular monster, and just hope the humans don't screw things up too badly.

    I think the one thing I would have changed is letting the generic protagonist disarm the damn nuclear bomb. They were setting that up for the whole movie, only to have him stymied by a panel that he could easily have pried off with the harpoon he found there on the boat. It was tough to watch the happy ending reunion scene at the end knowing the radioactive fallout from the detonation of a nuclear warhead just off the coast of California was going to render half those happy families dead from leukemia within a few years. I get that part of the message is that nature points up the folly of men, but at least let some men solve their own follies maybe?
  • I was interviewed this weekend for the Chippewa Valley Geek podcast, where I talked way too much and way too incoherently about some topics regarding canon and comics. It was tons of fun, and I'll post a notice here whenever it gets uploaded.
  • I'm still working on that Superman QuizUp question set, though I hope to finally finish it up soon. If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Wallpaper

One of the ways I've been busying myself lately is by building a new desktop computer. It's way faster than my last model, and seems way more stable. Hopefully it'll also be able to run games that are more complicated than FTL. It'd become a bit of a tradition among my electronic devices that I give them network names that are Batman-themed, but make the wallpaper Superman-themed. I was having a bit of trouble settling on a new image that I really liked for the wallpaper this time, so I ended up making one. It started with this José Luis García-López image, which I already have on a fridge magnet:


I was surprised to find that on an image search, since I kind of assumed the weird clipart rainbow was added in by whomever made the magnets. I did a little Photoshop surgery, and came up with this nice, minimalist wallpaper background--sized for a 1280x1024 screen. Feel free to use it, if you like.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Collapse

Huh, for some reason the tags to collapse that last post didn't work. Sorry about that, folks. I've noticed that's been kind of hinky lately, but hadn't seen that particular variation. Looks like I'll be trying to clean up the HTML around here soon.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Soldiering On

Spoilers Ahoy for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"!


Look, I know "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Isn't very good, but it seems like there are easier ways to cancel it.

Seriously, what a movie. "Captain America: The First Avenger" was easily my favorite of the previous Marvel flicks, and this cements the Cap franchise as, I think, the best superhero movie series going. Some thoughts, in my usual bulleted list format:

  • Holy crap, Batroc the Leaper. And with plenty of leaping, too.
  • The fights in this flick were fantastic. I imagine it's hard to keep things interesting in these films, especially since Cap doesn't have any flashy powers to fall back on, but I thought the choreography was well-done, that everyone got a good moment in the sun, and that each fight felt like an appropriate escalation from the previous one.
  • I liked how much characterization Black Widow received. She's largely been the River Tam of the series, quiet and badass, but without much of her own personality up 'til this point, so it was nice to see her open up, be friendly, and show some vulnerability.
  • The same largely holds true for Nick Fury, frankly.
  • I liked the twists and turns that kept this feeling like a spy thriller. I also liked the little nods to Bourne and "Skyfall," between Steve's parkour antics and his plunge into the ocean. In that latter scene, I half expected Moby to start playing.
  • I thought the film did a pretty good job of knitting together several different stories from the comics into a coherent narrative.
  • I also really liked how at least a little attention and lip service was paid to the point that Allied actions in World War II weren't all heroic and virtuous. That kind of nuance gets lost when your film's about superheroes vs. laser Nazis, and the shift to the secret war and shades of gray in this film could have turned into a misguided commentary on the changing times, but I think they did a decent job of making it clear that things have never been quite so rosy.
  • I about lost it when Arnim Zola showed up. Somehow I had both forgotten he was around and forgotten he was announced in the cast some time ago. I love Arnim Zola, and crazy 1970s Arnim Zola is amazing. Though for a second I thought the AI was going to be Ultron.
  • Speaking of last-minute reveals, I'm really curious to see what the legal fallout of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch showing up here is. Conventional legal wisdom had held that whoever got them on the screen first was going to have the rights to them, which made it look like they were a lock for Fox, but here we are. I can't imagine notoriously-litigious Disney letting "X-Men: Days of Future Past" go by without some legal challenge, and I would be surprised if this weren't going to be leverage to reclaim some of those licensed characters. If there isn't a legal challenge, then you'd better believe Sony and Fox are going to be looking at what other characters they can potentially poach, as per precedent. Spider-Woman's a Spider-Man family character, right? And She-Hulk and Black Panther were in the Fantastic Four. It's gonna be an interesting few months.
  • Falcon was pretty great. I liked (and didn't notice until my wife pointed it out) the parallel between Cap's status as a man out of time, and the experiences of soldiers returning from long deployments. The war never really ends, and life moves on without you, whether you're in Kandahar or a block of Arctic ice. It's a great take on the character.
  • Speaking of takes on the character, I really wish we could get a Superman movie like this. You know, one where he's optimistic and inspirational and always doing the right thing, even when the world he lives in would drive anyone else to cynicism and despair. Superman and Captain America should be the unshakable moral foundations of their respective universes, not weepy angsty guys who struggle to be heroic.
  • I love how many hooks the movie left at the end for sequels. Nick Fury running an underground war against Hydra, Cap searching for Bucky and taking down Hydra bases, Arnim Zola doing whatever he's going to do...they could make Captain America movies forever and I'd be okay with that.
Overall, I loved it. Marvel is killing it on the movie front, and it's even getting me excited to see what happens on tomorrow's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Excited. About "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." I know, I'm surprised too.

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