Monday, July 18, 2005

First Response: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It's not a comic-related post, but it serves well as a springboard for news of a different sort.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is not a remake of the Gene Wilder film. Unlike 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Burton's new film follows the story and characters of Roald Dahl's 1964 novel almost religiously, even using Dahl's original Oompa Loompa song lyrics (no 'doopity-do' in this film).

The boat ride through the tunnel isn't nearly as creepy as it was with Wilder. Burton makes up for it by making the rest of the movie much, much creepier, something the property deserved.

I didn't like the changes made to the ending so much, mainly because it hurts my general interpretation of Willy Wonka as a stand-in for Satan, and the whole of the story as a children's version of Dante. Ddon't believe me? I've got a term paper in the works on this one, but keep this in mind when you see Charlie this summer:

Dante (Charlie) was led through his travels by the elder Virgil (Grandpa Joe). They entered Hell through a gate (the burning puppet show), and Hell proper was reached by a river (though not one made of chocolate). The third Circle of Hell was reserved for gluttons (Augustus Gloop), who laid face-down in the mud (fudge). The fourth was for the greedy (Veruca Salt), and those who indulge them (her father, who is the only parent punished). The fifth was for wrathful (overly-competitive Violet Beauregard), and the sixth was for violent offenders (Mike Teevee, fan of violent TV).

Notice too that Wonka is criticized throughout by the children, particularly Mike. Only Charlie, the one who displays faith in the magic and fantasy, survives and is rewarded. All the others are punished for their vices.

There's a lot more to Wonka than candy. See the movie, it's quite good.

Now, news: Jon Maxson and I have started up a new Blog based on the column we took over from the very talented Dan Finn for our college's newspaper, the Augustana Observer. The column and blog, Movies Schmovies, examines movies of various varieties. Mostly these are varieties of awful. Check it out, it's going to be a blast.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

First Response: All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder

Just flipped through the book right now. Maybe I was expecting too much from DC's All-Star (Ultimate) line, but I expected this to be a sort of all-ages affair. Cue the unnecesary second page splash of Vicki Vale in skimpy underwear. Good thing I'm not a young kid picking up a comic that's been advertised as a sort of jumping-on book with no ties to the continuity that you have to be older to understand.

Makes me feel a little bad for the 9(ish)-year-old who was looking for this particular comic on the spinner rack at Borders.

Cheesecake is all right in the right context and with a reason behind it. This was trashy. Mr. Miller, this ain't "Sin City." A comic with a ten-year-old sidekick highlighted on the cover and prominent in the title, which has been marketed to an all-ages audience, should not start with two full pages of innuendo and sluttish panty-clad ass shots.

Oh, and Vicki? Nice wedgie.

My $0.02.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Bloodlines: Delay

Gonna be a couple of days before there's anything worthwhile up here. I'm working on a project for school (and hopefully, publication) about the nature of literary heroes.

They're paying me to talk about Beowulf and Superman. I can use comic books as footnotes. This truly is the coolest thing ever.

Oh, and if you're not reading Filing Cabinet of the Damned, you should be. It's easily the smartest, most entertaining blog I've come across.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Panopticomic: Quick! Super-glue the Internet back together!

House of M Spoiler Alert!

So, the Internet was supposed to break in half because a popular character who suffered a recent, highly publicized, unpopular death, came back in the context of a major crossover? Why didn't I see this coming?

Maybe because Superman's done it twice in the last fifteen years (once more literally than the other). Maybe because it's par for the course in the comic world. Maybe because I'm not following House of M, I didn't follow Disassembled, I'm not an Avengers fan, and I *still* called this one a month ago:

    I can imagine some of the plot points already. Reality is turned upside-down, and familiar heroes in unfamiliar circumstances have to choose whether they want to put things back the way they were, or keep things the way they are. Characters who have been drastically changed, like the new FF, have a vested interest in the new universe. Others want things the way they were. At the center of it, Spider-Man must decide whether he wants to give up a life of fame and fortune, with his uncle and girlfriend still alive, for the life he had before, filled with death and pain and torment, etc.

    Meanwhile, Hawkeye discovers that helping restore the universe will result in his own death. In an act of stunning self-sacrifice, he strikes the final blow against the Scarlet Witch, and reality slowly goes back to normal. Clint has just enough time to say something heroic before he fades away.

    It worked out well in JLA/Avengers, not so well in Zero Hour. I expect to see a couple of new characters spawned from this, at least one of the HoM counterparts will become a regular in Exiles, and a few minor characters will step through the revolving door into Death Hotel.

    I'm not bashing Marvel with any of this. DC does the same stuff. I really don't expect Blue Beetle or Ronnie Raymond to stay dead any more than Hawkeye. Only Uncle Ben stays dead."

But, hey, who am I to judge? After all, it could still pan out differently. Right.

I shouldn't bad-mouth Marvel, but lately it's seemed like there has been a sort of desperate hostility from Marvel towards DC, like a resentment that DC seems (IMO) to be putting out more original, compelling material. No matter what your feelings on Identity Crisis or anything else, it got people talking and excited in a way that "Identity Disc" sure didn't, and "Disassembled" failed even more spectacularly, if net buzz is any indication. JMS made his needless comments on DC's originality in the pages of a needless, abysmally bad (and Identity Crisis-derivative) Amazing Spider-Man arc, citing one creator's nasty comment to another as grounds to denounce the abilities of an entire company full of his peers and companions. Now, with Infinite Crisis and Seven Soldiers in full swing, it seems like House of M is a feeble attempt at cashing in on the current DC crossover mentality. After all, it's not often that a company-wide crossover is supplemented by satellite miniseries instead of just dipping into the monthly books. Disassembled didn't have a special "Avengers Disassembled: Spider-Man" four-issue limited series, but Infinite Crisis sure does. I mean, it seems like quite the coincidence.

Oh well, I'm not buying it either way, I just find it interesting.

So, what else? Ah, right, Battle Pope. By now, most of you probably have heard, at one point or another, the basic concept behind the once-independent Kirkman/Moore collaboration. Now the first issue's out again, in color, and I picked it up out of my new love for Kirkman and my long-standing love for hilarious religious satire. I enjoyed Battle Pope, it's a fun idea and it's well-exectued, with nice riffs on various sorts of comics and buddy action movies. In fact, if I'd picked this up five years ago, I'd have thought it was brilliant and wonderful.

Today, though, I think it's Preacher without the thinking. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy BP, but it feels like the toned-down Preacher in just about every aspect. The gore is toned-down, the sex and violence is toned-down, and the depth and theology is toned-down. It's still a decent read, it's just nowhere near as risky or thought-out. The satire is more juvenile; it's the young readers' version of Preacher, if there were such a thing. I'd definitely recommend it if you haven't read the Ennis/Dillon series, but those who are looking for something in the same vein may be disappointed. 6/10.

Last note: Over at Comics Should Be Good, I read the first bad review I've ever seen of "Y: The Last Man." And, incidentally, it was quoted from another source, so that makes two people at least who dislike the book.

I guess, in comic fandom, there's enough people that someone has to dislike everything. And here I was, thinking that "Y" was the first ever example of pleasing all of the fanboys all of the time.

Or maybe it's just that the "Comics Should Be Good" folks should recognize what comics are good.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Deepest Condolences

I wish luck and a swift recovery to all those injured in the recent London bombings, and offer my condolences to all involved.

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First Response: Firestorm

I haven't read Firestorm #15 yet, though I did kind of flip through it. This post is really more about the Firestorm series as a whole than about any specific issue.

I'll be honest: a good deal of the reason that I was reading Firestorm from the start is because I wanted to find out what happened to perpetually well-dressed Ronnie Raymond. I like Ronnie Raymond, I didn't see the need for his departure as Firestorm (and did they ever explain why he lost his powers back in JLA: Trial by Fire?). But, Jason Rusch had some interesting traits and problems, with an interesting spin on the Firestorm abilities. While Ronnie Raymond originally had to combine with Prof. Stein to form the Nuclear Man, Jason could combine with anyone, but apparently only for short periods of time, or they would suffer various problems.

Now, this had potential for some cool stories, but the potential was almost completely wasted. There's the one where he merges with the guy who tried to kill him, but when they separate, he turns to mush. There's the one where the guy he merges with takes over, and Jason loses a hand or something, and then it crossed over into Bloodhound and I never saw how that story ended. Then, there were a bunch of random "oh, cool, we're flying, this is cool!" mergers.

So, when they introduced Ronnie Raymond as the "new Prof. Stein," a constant companion to Jason, who could take over at will (another new spin on the concept), I was thrilled. Clearly, this represented an interesting use of the new twist on Jason's powers, and character growth for Ronnie in the process.

So they "killed" Ronnie again. Why did they have to do that, honestly? It has zero permanence, and the writer knows it. Rather than give Ronnie and Jason both a chance for growth, Jason gets to take on Ronnie's old status quo. Now he doesn't have to combine with anyone.

Some reviewer called this a rejection of the only thing that made the new series interesting, and I disagree. The combination gimmick was a plot waiting to happen that never really manifested.

So, where does that leave us? Ronnie's gone for an unspecified period of time, and Jason's not appreciably different from the more recent Ronnie in any way whatsoever. The stories haven't been memorable, and Jason comes across as a more morally ambiguous Peter Parker. Fourteen issues of relative stagnation.

Jason-Firestorm would have been better off to embrace Ronnie's allies as wholly as he has Ronnie's rogues gallery. If the book had played off more like James Robinson's Starman, or even the Flash or the early Kyle Rayner Green Lantern comics, where the dynasty (small though the Firestorm dynasty is) plays a big role in the development of the newest member, then it could have been fantastic. Is it any wonder that the Ronnie Raymond issues, which featured little-seen Firestorm sidekick Firehawk, were the best of the series?

Here's my pitch: Jason remains the primary component of Firestorm, but Ronnie is his constant Stein-esque companion/mentor, who can take over the Firestorm body at will. Firehawk pals around with Firestorm, ostensibly to help train Jason, but really because she wants to be closer to Ronnie, for whom she still harbors some romantic inclinations. Jason begins spending more time with Ronnie's father, who wants to bond with his disembodied son, but he and Jason actually start forming a parental relationship. Throw in the godlike fire elemental Professor Stein, and you've got a diverse, conflict-rich, and interesting supporting cast.

Which is, unfortunately, much more than Firestorm seems to have right now. Easily the least memorable series on my pull bag.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bloodlines: Blithe Spirits

So, who's going to be the new Spectre?

Backstory: The Spectre is God's spirit of vengeance, who is bound to a human host who can keep its terrible power under control. After its first host, police officer Jim Corrigan, was allowed to finally rest, former Green Lantern-turned-mass murderer-turned-sacrificial hero Hal Jordan took Corrigan's place. Now Hal's a Lantern again, and the Spectre's host-less and corrupted by fellow vengeance-spirit Eclipso.

So, who's going to be the new Spectre?

Blue Beetle: The recently-deceased Ted Kord seems to be the obvious choice. The uproar over his death was more attention than the woefully-underused character has recieved in years, and it could certainly set the stage for his eventual return, as the position did for Hal Jordan. Then again, DC might not want the Spectre to look like the waiting room of resurrection. Either way, he's my pick for the new Spectre, and with the right writer playing off the difference between Kord's happy-go-lucky personality and the Spectre's relentless quest for divine retribution, a Beetle-Spectre series could easily be a superheroic Odd Couple. Throw in Booster Gold as a sidekick, and I'd certainly be buying it.

Booster Gold: Speaking of which, Booster's increased presence in the Countdown books has led to speculation that he's not long for this world either. I think he's a much worse fit for the Spectre's host than Beetle, even given their similar personalities. I could see it happening, but I don't want it to.

Sasha Bordeaux: For Hal Jordan, being the Spectre was supposed to redeem him for the slaughter of the GL Corps. If that sort of penance is true, than Sasha would certainly be a good choice. She's got quite a bit to atone for, at least in her own mind. I wouldn't be surprised if she kicked the bucket in the course of Checkmate's interrogation or something similar, and she'd be an obvious choice for Spectrehood. But, I tend to agree with those who think she's going to end up being the new Blue Beetle.

Max Lord: If anyone's got more to atone for than Sasha, it's Max. If anyone less deserves the nigh-omnipotence of the Spectre, it's Max. Slightly less chance than Sasha, but far less opportunity for good stories of the Spectre as a hero.

Sue Dibny: Boy, wouldn't that be in bad taste? I can't believe they'd do that.

Nightmaster: He really hasn't had enough of a role in Day of Vengeance to warrant being the new Spectre. The only reason I'd name him over Blue Devil and Ragman is that they're too cool to waste on being Spectre-hosts.

That little girl who was in the new Day of Vengeance: I guess that's what they're trying for, right? Either she's supposed to host, or she's somehow related to Jim Corrigan, or something. We're only three less-than-entirely-memorable issues into Day of Vengeance, so there's plenty of time left for twists and turns.

Detective Chimp: Ah...no.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Rocky Balboa: The Communist Ideal

In honor of the holiday, we held a mini movie marathon. After some fantastic Justice League episodes, we decided to watch the most patriotic movie we could find: Rocky IV. After all, it's all-American Rocky Balboa beating up the inhuman Communist, the Soviet enemy, Ivan Drago. How much more American do you get? Stallone's even wrapped in an American flag on the box!

So, imagine my surprise when I realized just how much Rocky IV espouses the Communist ideal. Ivan Drago has the best, highest-class, high-tech training available, while Rocky does his practice in the farms and rural areas, working in the natural world. He's the working man, the proletariat, coming up from the low class to take on bourgeoise Ivan Drago. Furthermore, Drago claims that he fights only for himself, while Rocky represents Apollo and the entire United States. Rocky fights for the people, not for selfish (read: capitalist) reasons.

Rocky Balboa is the people's boxer. Rocky IV is about the triumph of the Communist ideal over selfish capitalism. And you thought the Soviets were the bad guys.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Independence Day!

Hey, what does Uncle Sam think about White House officials who rat out CIA operatives and Presidents who persecute people based on sexual preference, erode the wall between church and state, gradually take away the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and irresponsibly send thousands of brave American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to their graves for an unnecessary war based on lies and deception?

Stick it to 'em, Sam.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Panopticomic: Invincible

Crap.

That basically sums up my opinion of Robert Kirkman up 'til today. The only works I've ever read by him up to this point have been the "Icons of Evil" one-shots from the Masters of the Universe series, which were high on cost and low on every possible facet of writing quality. They stunk out loud. And that was even compared to the regular MOTU series, which was no bastion of wonderful scripting itself (no offense to those involved, but it could have easily been much better, even within the strict guidelines set by Mattel).

So, I chalked up a good deal of the positive press that Kirkman's received over projects like Invincible and half of Marvel's current batch of books to the same type of people who keep Chuck Austen on high-profile titles. Granted, I like the concept of Battle Pope (haven't picked up an issue, but I like the concept), but that wasn't enough to wipe away the sour taste IoE left in my mouth.

But, after years of high praise and a 50% off sale that I couldn't refuse, I picked up the first two volumes of "Invincible," and I'm impressed. Very impressed.

I've read a good deal of classic Spider-Man comics lately, as well as the humongous Barnes and Noble collection of Ultimate Spider-Man issues, and I'm happy to say that Invincible captures that same sort of "teenage superhero vibe," without feeling derivative. Even the obvious Justice League analogues of the Guardians of the Globe feel new and interesting. 'Tis a shame they had to be dispatched so quickly.

Long story short: Mark Grayson, son of the world's leading superhero, Omni-Man, begins developing superpowers, dons a costume, and fights crime.

I absolutely loved Mark's reaction to his first realization of his new power. It's not the outright shock of a young Peter Parker, nor is it the wide-eyed wonder of Clark Kent in "Superman: For All Seasons," it's a typical, calm, arrogant "it's about time."

Besides great little moments like that, Invincible is also one thing that Ultimate Spider-Man is not: fast-paced. I don't envy people who buy USM month by month, because of how little seems to happen in each issue. Read arc by arc, it's pretty quick, but the decompression is clear. Invincible isn't the most compressed comic I've ever read, but that allows it to get in a lot of good characterization that might be missed otherwise.

The art is clean with a style that reminds me a little of the new "The Batman" cartoon series. The art really conveys the story and characterization well, and the character designs are fantastic.

My biggest complaint is how few issues are collected in each volume. The first has four, and I think there were five in the second. The stories are meaty enough to sustain the trades, and the sketches and background info give a nice insight into the series' early stages.

Invincible is what Ultimate Spider-Man wishes it were: an entertaining, fast-paced look at what life is like as a teenage super-hero, with the added twist of Superman-esque cosmic aspects and a legacy of superheroism in the family. I plan on picking up the next volume as soon as I can (i.e., as soon as I make up for spending $70+ at the comic shop this weekend). For those without access to 50% off sales, I recommend getting the new hardcover, which collects the first three volumes.

Rating: 9/10

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Friday, July 01, 2005

First Response: June 29th releases, comic store sales

This past weekend, Graham Crackers Comics, the largest comic store chain in the Chicago area, held their summer sale, where comics and such were 50% off. In a trip that also included seeing Batman Begins in IMAX at Navy Pier, I picked up Swamp Thing #79, something like twelve issues of Peter David's fantastic Supergirl series, and all but one issue of Grant Morrison's short-lived Aztek. Also, a fantastically awesome Hellboy movie figure.

This weekend, Tim's Corner in Rock Island, IL, a shop I've been going to since sixth grade, is holding his Summer Sale. I don't anticipate picking up many back issues, but I've got my eye on a stack of trades including Jack Kirby's Jimmy Olsen Vol. 1, the first two volumes of Invincible, Lucifer Vol. 2: Children and Monsters, Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 2, Starman Vol. 8: Stars My Destination (volume 7 should be en route from Amazon as I write this), and perhaps Flash: Terminal Velocity and The Return of Barry Allen.

Who am I kidding with this "perhaps" garbage? I know I'm going to talk myself into it. Half-off TPBs is too good a deal to pass up.

Furthermore, this week turned out to be a pretty big week for comics for me too, including Green Lantern #2, JLA: Classified #9, OMAC Project #2, and more.

The point of all this is that I should have reviews of some of this stuff this weekend.

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