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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Comic Reviews: Weeks of July 28, Aug 4 & 11

DC:

Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #1: Why does DC feel the need to include Ma and Pa Kent in almost every story about an alternate world of Superman? This time, the entire El family is survives the trip to Earth, and they go on to become a rich and powerful family -- but they need to send their son to live with humans? And DC seems intent on daddy issues because this book is chock full of 'em. You can see where this is going because the story always ends the same way, with Superman becoming the Superman we know: a good person with a good heart and good morals. Yawn. This is why Superman is struggling to keep readers interested. DC never tries anything new (although Straczynski and Cornell are trying -- and doing well if you ask me). If you folks want to read what I think is the best Superman Elseworlds story, pick up "Superman: Speeding Bullets." THAT, my friends, is a good Elseworlds. This is canned and predictable and disappointing.

Action Comics #891: Paul Cornell's Superman story (starring Lex Luthor) is a surprisingly well written tale. Read below for a greater description on what is easily one of the best things to come out of the Superman in the past few years.

Batman: The Widening Gyre #6: Whereas I enjoyed the mystery revealed in Grant Morrison's Batman story (where the Joker was posing as the British detective Sexton), the final page of Kevin Smith's Batman story made me angry. Batman is the world's greatest detective and he couldn't figure out this mystery? I don't buy it, and neither should you.

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1: There's a lot going on with Guy Gardner, and for fans of the character, Emerald Warriors is the comic for you. Guy is front and center, and the rest of the corps takes a supporting role. There's a bigger mystery here, but if you're not familiar with what's happen in the GL Universe in the past two years, this story wouldn't make sense. Tomasi is taking tips from Geoff Johns in terms of creating rather than answering questions and this series may get frustrating after a while. But Peter J. Tomasi is easily one the best writers on staff at DC, so I would keep an eye on Emerald Warriors. Green Lantern has the most interesting band of supporting characters, and the story will make good use of them.

Marvel:

Ultimate Spider-Man #13: Painful to read, frustrating to watch, and incredibly written. This is the best story to come out of Vol. 2 of Ultimate Spider-Man. Plus, Mark Millar needs to see how a cliff hanger is done. The final page of this issue gave me goosebumps. It must get boring to read continuously positive reveiws, but Bendis keeps continuously writing incredible stories.

Ultimate Avengers 2 #6: It's great that this series wraps up just as Ultimate Avengers 3 begins because it's like seeing one piece of shit connected to another. Ultimate Avengers 2 was just an awful story. Millar wants to take the badasses of the Ultimate Universe and show what happens when you make them heroes. They play by their own rules. They do what they want. And they get the job done. (Cue AC/DC and shots of things exploding.) I enjoyed The Ultimates 1 and 2, so it's painful to see how far Millar has fallen. I asked my comic shop guy about this. He seems to think that when Millar is under pressure to turn in a story on time, he turns in mediocrity. So, we should give him no deadline? I don't think so. Millar wants to be a loose cannon, and right now he's soaring on his ego. But Ultimate Avengers 2 doesn't do anything to add to what was once an impressive resume. And if you thought this series was bad . . .

Ultimate Avengers 3 #1: . . . pick up Ultimate Avengers 3 #1. Mark Millar's idea of an Ultimate Avengers comic is to create an "ultimate" take on a 616 character, then have them create a NEW team to fight a new problem. The issue here, however, is that the problem has already been introduced in X-Men #1. Vampires. (Pause for crickets.) Plus, Steve Dillon's pencils are nowhere near as engaging as Leinil Yu's. The one positive is that we can look forward to another train wreck over the next six months. If they're not good, at least they're entertaining in their awfulness.

Misc:

Murderland #1
(Image -- Scott & Hahn): Violent, and hella entertaining, Murderland surprised me. First, David Hahn's art is incredibly clean and really off sets the violence. Stephen Scott's story is deep, introduces a new type of superhero, and creates a brand new mythos. What impressed me most about Murderland is that I had no idea what it was about (and still don't fully). It seemd like a spy story until the last six pages. Then, it became something completely different and that was when I became hooked. If every issue is this impressive, I'll continue to follow the series. I'm curious to see where this goes, so I know I'll be picking up issue #2 of Murderland.


Driver for the Dead #1 (Radical Comics -- Heffernan & Manco): at $4.99, Driver for the Dead is pricey, but is both story and art. The main concept is this: Alabaster Graves drives a special hearse, and his purpose is to bury bodies that have been cursed, infected, or vampiricized. And it introduces one of the coolest villains: Fallow. Fallow is a cowboy-zombie-demon. 'Nuff said. I was pleasantly surprised by Driver for the Dead. I recommend spending the $4.99 on this. It's worth the price.

Bannen's Book of the Weeks:

Action Comics #891: The thing that makes Action Comics so good is that for once, a writer has tried to do something different with Superman. This time, he's been removed completely from the comic. It's now "Lex Luthor's Action Comics" and I couldn't be happier. It's not so much Luthor pining about killing Superman. It's more about Luthor's quest for the ultimate weapon -- the black lantern -- and the lengths he'll go to get it. This is far more entertaining than any Superman story, and seeing as how in 9 issues, Action Comics will reach #900, I think this is all part of some big plan. I hope the end result of this story is as entertaining as its beginnings. Thank You, Paul Cornell, for injecting life into this stale universe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. Hollywood: a Scott Pilgrim Experience Review


Scott Pilgrim Trailer redone using comic panels.


I absolutely loved Bryan Lee O'Malley's '
Lost At Sea', from the teenager angst to the simply beautiful, solemn and quirky artwork, but when his next series, 'Scott Pilgrim' came out I thought it seemed to silly or something, and it never really caught my attention.

Until one day my good friend Reilly Brown said that I HAD to read it. There were just too many similarities between Scott's life and my own. Granted I wasn't an early 20's bassist in Canada, but I was a slacker with a young ex with a penchant for blades, and relationship drama mixed with oblivious comedy sounded about right.

The comic melted my brain. It was an indie book, with characters that just hung out, went to parties, and meandered through their lives. It was a battle book where suddenly a duel would take place with superpowered kung fu. Scott was clueless and yet you couldn't keep him down for long. It was rock'n'roll mixed with subtle video game moments. What was this?

The comic makes you love the characters, from the bitchy Julie Powers, to snarky Kim Pine, to vulnerable Knives Chau. Stephen Stills cowboy shirts, Young Neil's haircuts, and Wallace Wells dry wit, these were all iconic people in Scott Pilgrim's universe, well rounded and each given their moments, their personalities developed organically through the volumes.

Now, I must say, I love Edgar Wright. I've seen his BBC series Spaced at least three times through, and. Shaun of the Dead was brilliant in its skirting of the fine line between horror and comedy. Hot Fuzz was a sophmore dip, but it had tons of fun moments. This was an amazing storyteller of a director with a ton of geeky influences and a plethora of visual tricks.

So when I heard that he was directing Scott Pilgrim vs the World, it was like nothing I've experienced as a fanboy. My favorite superheroes have yet to make it to the big screen, and the closest I got to having one of my all-time favorite graphic novels translated to film well was V For Vendetta, which I quite liked. But this was different.

Here we had excellent source material with loveable characters, fun violent action, and a director that seemed to be perfectly suited for the lighthearted tone this adaptation would need. It features a bunch of actors I really enjoy, and with the teaser images Wright posted on his
Flickr all last year while filming, it appeared it was devoutly faithful. Would it live up to the trailer that gave me chills when I first saw it?

Yes. Yes, it did. But do I feel some sort of deflated feeling after following the internet media push that was almost as entertaining as the comic itself? Yes, it's done, out into the ether to be consumed by the masses. In a few weeks it'll be half-remembered, perhaps quoted, inspiring new fans to track down the books, sport Plumtree t-shirts, and maybe start their own bands (like me).

Around Christmas we'll get the DVD release, maybe some rad extra features, behind the scenes, video game samples, etc. I'll pick up the special edition collection of all six volumes, complete with unreleased material as soon as it comes out. And there it'll sit for future enjoyment at a whim.

This time will never be captured again. Like seeing that epic band performance at the coliseum where you got the tour shirt that'll be expensive vintage for futuristic hipsters who were never there in the moment. But there's something about films that makes them timeless, just as we can enjoy classics from the past on Blu-Ray.

Now, as for the movie itself, (I had to explain all the emotions and thoughts involved to properly process my feelings) the first half is perfection. This is Scott Pilgrim's comic/video game universe come to life. The fantastic camera movements, the interactive narration and title cards introducing our main characters, the true performances that sell them as their graphic novel counterparts, it's all there.

The first half is almost shot for shot the introduction, I remembered the exact angle and background when Scott first sees Ramona at the library. I got giddy. Then suddenly new elements pop up, or small bits skipped over (which is flawlessly handled by Wright as he cuts a sharp turn from scene to scene), and then you realize that this is a movie of Scott Pilgrim.

I tried to not be that elitist fanboy that makes mental notes about what's missing and lines that were different, but it popped up now and again. And I told myself that O'Malley hadn't even completed volume six until months after filming had wrapped, so of course it would be different. There wasn't time for Julie & Stephen's drama, or Scott & Ramona to move in together.



And though I had slight problems with the end of volume six, it felt complete, satisfying. So the movie would have to do the same. And logically, I feel it satisfying me, but emotionally, something wasn't there. The fights came fast and frantic in the second half, never really letting Scott & Ramona to settle into being a couple. Those scenes were Scott gets a job or has birthday were what makes them the couple I know them as.

But yes, it's a two hour film so, I try and take it as a complete story, and it works. There's conflict and resolution and we're given an identical ending to the comic really, if not slightly stripped down and amped up for a more one on one style fight. What matters is the spirit is there. Scott earns the power of love and levels up, Sex-Bob-Omb rocks out, and Evil Exs are defeated.

I'd call that a flawless victory.

Ps- you can stream the
soundtrack and the score, and my takes on those are that between them both is a solid album, if only the kickass Sex-Bob-Omb songs were on the score. My particular favorite is 'Summertime' which has been stuck in my head for days.

Now, who wants to start a band with me?


To find out how I even got into the screening and reflections on what it must feel like to create something that becomes comsumed by pop culture,
check out my personal blog.

You can also see all things Scott Pilgrim (including the video game pitch trailer, the remix videos, interviews and more) over at
Write Club's Tumblr.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

THOR: Marvel's Return to Greatness


I have just read the first 12 issues of Thor and the finale, as well as Thor 600 & 601 (going along with Marvel's return to original numbering, the flipside to the constant new issue #1s). This run by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Olivier Coipel & Marko Djurdjevic, chronicles the return of Thor and all of Asgard from the post-Ragnarok void that the God's rested in when I guess Marvel didn't know what to do with the character (along with the Avengers) and killed them all off.

JMS does an amazing job resetting continuity while moving the series forward story-wise. Thor is called forth to protect Midgard (Earth) and is once again bonded to Dr. Donald Blake (who are two seperate conscious beings). He's got the gnarled walking staff which he uses to transform into the God of Thunder. And he's brought back into Man's world to re-create Asgard on Earth to reconnect with humanity.

Heimdall, Balder, Loki, the Warriors Three, they're all back (although Loki in female form which works to unsettle and regain trust with the Asgardians just enough to manipulate them all, and later is revealed as a plot to keep Lady Sif from Thor). Everyone is back except Odin.

Though it appears Thor is purposefully not bringing back his father, he tells himself it is so the kingdom may not repeat the cycle of Ragnarok once more. It will be a fresh start for the Asgardians. But perhaps it is because Thor truly wishes to lead, to come into his own, to surpass his father.

To that end Thor journeys via Odinsleep, into the realm that now houses Odin and Surtur, who are locked in eternally repetitious cycles of violence against each other. Here we are told a tale of Bor, Odin's father, and how in defiance of him Odin created man, who his father plagued with monsters and beasts to punish his son and his creation. Odin understands the need for the cycle to begin anew with new leadership.

This tale of Bor also sets up an interesting twist on the origin of Loki and how he came to be adopted son of Odin, the guilty poison let into the kingdom. I won't spoil it past that as it is truly one of the most clever bits in this run. It also sets up the return of Bor who is brought to NYC dis at the hands of Loki, and then beset by Thor, who ends up killing his own grandfather.

A move that allows Loki to place Balder as King (after slyly revealing the truth that Balder is half-brother to Thor), and to have Thor exiled. This brings the Asgardians into Latveria, and Doom experiments on them, and there's a big fight with Doom's own version of the Destroyer suit. It's pure comic book here.

But it also has nice moments of the Gods interacting with humans, and even sets up a heroic death for Bill Jr. (aka William the Third) who fell in love with a female winter goddess. It's pretty well done and you really do root for the character and his death is handled exceptionally well if not blunt. But these are gods here. Depowered a bit on Earth, but gods among mortals.

There's even a bit at the end which makes it so Dr. Donald Blake once again is wounded and left with a limp so he needs the cane. It's all very neatly tied up with a bow, leaving us with a well developed story, an entertaining and engaging return of the great characters from this part of Marvel, and prepares us for Siege.

A small plot hole I found was, what was Loki's plan for Sif, it almost seemed as if he were just using her to distract Thor, or perhaps just using her mortal form to regain trust? I'm not sure, but it wasn't to remove her from him forever. Ahh wait, maybe it was in hope that Thor would use all of Odin's power to drain him somehow? For on his way to save her, Mjolnir damaged from the fight with Bor, he must go to Dr. Strange to repair the hammer by removing the Odinpower from himself and imbue it into his hammer, thereby linking him to his hammer as never before. Hmmm.

Either way, it's great to have Thor back, and the scene where Thor gives Iron Man what's coming to him for the Civil War/Thor clone debacle, and the Captain America memorial, well this really helps build up the need for a return of the Avengers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Write Club Music Monday

Central Park Summerstage:

St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, Basia Bulat

I’m not a huge music lover. I don’t have a favorite band. I don’t have an artist that I grew up with, was embarrassed of, or saw grow into a full fledged musical genius. I don’t have a band who I followed, went to tiny clubs to see, bought obscure t-shirts of, and watched sell-out to a giant record company and then become less relevant to my personal taste. I’m not a huge music lover. I do, however, listen to music. I’ve always listened to music. At first whatever the parents had on the radio; usually pop, disco, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Yes, Meatloaf…whatever. My dad worked in a record store when I was a kid, so he had a lot of albums. Albums that I never listened to. As I got older I started listening to my brother’s music; REM, The Cure, Morrissey, 10000 Maniacs…whatever was on WDRE (on the radio), or
120 Minutes & Alternative Nation (on MTV).

I can’t say that I ever really
got music, though. That is until Tom Waits. That’s a story for another time. Point is, now I’m very interested in music, though I’m still not all that interested in rock shows. I’ve been to them. I go to them, but few and far between. I did happen to go to a show this weekend at Central Park’s free Summerstage series.


I accompanied ArtSparrow, who is way more into music than I am, and the musical line-up was diverse and worthy of exploration.

Basia Bulat
If you had told me that there was a woman/group named Basia Bulat out there, and that I was going to see her perform, I would probably call you a liar to your face. Yet, there I was, at Summerstage, watching a young woman from Canada, a young woman of Polish descent, a young woman named Basia Bulat and her band performing right in front of me.
Bulat’s music is heavily inspired by Americana and Roots music, with almost militaristic drums, melancholy violin, and melodic string instruments like mandolins and auto-harps; I could almost see a lonely and grim cowboy galloping over the plains. It’s American Roots music channeled through a very grateful Canadian, and it turned out to be a great set. But some of these songs, particularly a cover song titled “I’m So Depressed” (written by Abner Jay) fit Bulat like a suit that’s too big. Some of these songs are clothing she needs to grow into, but add a few world-weary years to her vocal chords and she’ll be downright amazing. An accomplished musician for a woman so young, Bulat ran from guitar, to ukulele, to autoharp, to hammered dulcimer, to piano all without skipping a beat. Definitely one to watch!

While it was probably St. Vincent that everyone else was there to see, ArtSparrow and I came to see Merrill Garbus’ sound experiment tUnE-yArDs. It’s hard to explain Garbus’ music; it’s almost as if Ella Fitzgerald was raised by Riot Grrls and then trained by African Wizard-Shamans. She’s an amazing talent, and I’ve never been to a show where a virtually unknown performer held such sway over both the crowd and her own band. Coming to the stage in blue warpaint, and wearing what looked like her grandmother’s party dress, Garbus created full background percussion and vocals using samples and loops done right there on the spot. She conjured up noises, sound, and melody, all with an infectious grin on her face. Then she brought out the band: A three-piece horn section, a three-piece drum section, and a guitarist. I’ve never seen a band so enamored of their lead until now, they seemed hinged on her every move, taking her cues with ease, adding layers to her layers and creating something simply unique. They also wore warpaint.
I can’t recommend tUnE-yArDs highly enough, and while the album is excellent, I think that one needs to see her perform in person to get the full experience. If even just to see that energy in action.

If tUnE-yArDs is a band that you need to see live, then St. Vincent is a group that you can safely sit at home and enjoy. I’m almost tempted to say that the allure of St. Vincent seems to begin and end with front woman Annie Clark’s beauty. I suppose I just did say it, and while I’m sure she has a some fans based solely on her looks, she’s definitely got fans based on her musical talents as well; because she’s got those in spades. I just don’t feel like she’s pushing herself enough. Each time it seemed as if she got to the point of full-on rock out explosion she pulled back into the safety of her signature sound; an almost Disney-ish guitar rock. The whole first portion of her set sounded like one long song and the most interesting thing about it was that she was having some trouble with her guitar levels and it was producing a high wine of feedback. Repetitive music, played by distracted musicians. It was about when she brought out a string section, which I can only assume she did to really cement that Disney quality, that ArtSparrow and I left the main field and hit the bleachers to grab some beer and pizza.
A few more songs in the set got better, a bit darker and a little less constrained, as Clark and crew worked out the technical problems. A good performance, but not a great one, and definitely not a headlining performance in my opinon.