Category: Comics (page 2 of 8)

Me And My Spider

Courtesy Vertigo

As of yesterday, I finally have a complete set of Transmetropolitan. When the final volumes arrived, and I got home to pick them up, I immediately stretched out on the couch to finish reading the series. Then, last night, I started reading it again. I’m planning on reading through every trade paperback in sequence once a year going forward.

Why, you might ask?

Well, for one thing, it’s absolutely brilliant.

For those of you who don’t know, Transmetropolitan is a story set somewhere in our future. It’s an interesting future. It isn’t a good one, like Star Trek, nor is it a terribly bad one, like so many dystopias. Sure, there’s an underclass and poverty and police brutality and incredibly corrupt politicians, but we have that now. There movements for human rights and outraged citizenry and sex on street corners and incredibly inane television, but we have that now. What we don’t have is the technology to rearrange matter on an atomic level or the ability to download ourselves into nanotech cloud-bodies.

We also don’t have Spider Jerusalem.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Spider’s kind of like if Hunter S. Thompson came back from the dead and came back incredibly fucking pissed. Short, angry, blunt, manic, and unpredictable, Spider is described as an “outlaw journalist”. He barely tolerates rules regarding decorum or rights to privacy, as such things can get in the way of the pursuit of Truth. His column is absolutely scathing, completely undiluted, and takes no prisoners. His writing and his character make for an extremely compelling read.

On a deeper level, though, I have to say that I understand Spider Jerusalem pretty well.

Part of that is because Spider needs to write. It isn’t a profession or a hobby, it is a compulsion. Seriously, his necessity for expressing himself and pursuing Truth in the written word is only slightly an exaggeration of that of many writers. And he does with that need what all successful writers must do: he writes. Even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard, he puts himself in front of his machinery and he produces words. His two-fisted editor knows how to get the work out of him, with four little magical words: “Where’s my fucking column?”

In that regard, I envy Spider, and I see a level of production I wish to attain, which is the second reason why I want to read Transmetropolitan every year. Inspiration.

Not just for writing in general. I also get inspired to keep an eye on the Truth. Spider comes across as a very angry, bitter, cynical man. He pursues religious bigots and political powerhouses alike, with boundless zeal and merciless brutality. He’d be the first to break down why the tenets upon which your entire life has been built are absolute bullshit, and why you’d do the world a favor by jumping into an industrial wood-chipper right goddamn now. But he’d only do that if you’re an asshole. Spider, under all of the bluster and bravado, is a good person. He wants what’s best. He wants what’s right. He wants the Truth. And he will do what it takes to make sure the Truth wins out, no matter what.

While I envy and admire Spider in several ways, though, I won’t be shaving my head or getting an excessive amount of tattoos any time soon.

A very dear and close friend of mine describes Parks & Recreation‘s Ron Swanson as “my favorite person I wish nobody would try and emulate.” I see Spider in a similar way. I don’t want to be Spider Jerusalem, nor would I want anybody close to me to try and be him, either. I’d be glad for his presence, sure, but I can’t see him interacting with people around me on a daily basis in a way that’s conducive for staying out of jail or keeping my genitals intact.

I’m going to read Transmetropolitan every year because it’s brilliant, it’s inspiring, and it keeps the spirit of Spider Jerusalem fresh in my head.

People talk of having angels or devils on their shoulders. I think, sometimes, Spider perches on mine. He’s definitely on my shelf. Kind of like Bob from The Dresden Files, only instead of inhabiting a skull, Spider just ambles around my bookshelf. I see him being about six inches tall (which he hates). He’s smoking up a storm (not that I can smell it, his cigarettes are tiny). He’s glaring at me. And when I write something that isn’t to the best of my ability, he starts spitting nails and curse words and implications regarding my mother’s virtue at me. Spider’s never one to mince words. And I know he’s angry because he gives a damn.

The anger isn’t the point. What you do with that anger is the point. Do you sit back and complain at the television? Or do you wing your bottle at the damned talking box, grab your bowel disruptor and filthy assistants, hit the streets and do something about it?

Spider taught me that.

And right now he’s telling me we both need some goddamn coffee.

Pilot Review: Gotham

It’s officially Autumn. New television shows are starting to come out of the woodwork. After the season premieres of The Blacklist (which was excellent) and Sleepy Hollow (as delightfully and shamelessly fun and adventurous as always), I watched the pilot of the new series Gotham. With the sort of premise that guarantees a built-in fan base, a top shelf cast, and the promotional power of the FOX network, I was curious to see what the show might bring to the table every Monday night.

Courtesy FOX

Most stories involving Batman gloss over the years that follow the murder of his parents. Gotham opens with that event, and what follows immediately after. The focal point of the story is James Gordon, who is a recently-promoted homicide detective of the Gotham City Police Department. He and his salty, potentially dirty partner Harvey Bullock get saddled with the Wayne murders, and tasked with solving the case as quickly as possible to allay the fears of the populace. In their investigation, the detectives inadvertently become involved in the underworld rivalry of crime bosses Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney, and come across more than a few characters with names quite familiar to Batman fans watching the show.

While I have only seen a few episodes of Smallville, I got a very definite and similar vibe from Gotham. As much as stories that blossom from the fertile fields of comic books tend to be grandiose in scale and scope, this show is more intimate, more human, and more gritty than a lot of that fare. We’re dealing with the origins of a great deal of characters beyond Batman, which is definitely not a bad thing – it’s been said that Batman is the least interesting character in the Batman mythos. But as I said, the overarching plotlines write themselves, as they have already been written, and the end of the series is likely to be Bruce donning the cape and cowl, so the devil is clearly going to be found in the details.

Courtesy FOX

If nothing else, Gotham has an excellent cast. Donal Logue is doing fantastic work as Harvey Bullock. In the animated series, Bullock was mostly a fat slob bent on arresting Batman and being a pain in Gordon’s ass, but here, he’s a nuanced character who is not necessarily completely corrupt but nonetheless operates in a gray area between the law and the underworld. The nascent versions of the Caped Crusader’s villains are appropriately cast, from the sadistic and ambitious Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) to the quiet and meticulous Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). The incomparable Sean Pertwee plays Alfred Pennyworth opposite a young actor named David Mazouz who is already showing the sort of deep disturbance that would cause a grown man to dress up like a bat and fight crime. So far, the linchpin of the whole enterprise, Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon, seems a bit non-descript, but there are hints to more going on beneath his surface, so in spite of his dry delivery, I’d say I’m on board.

Gotham looks to be off to a decent start. The background of the city feels authentic, and rather than drawing direct parallels to the animated series, the Burton/Schumaker years, or Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, television’s Gotham City feels very much like its own urban beast. The characters have bite to them, and the performances come from authentic places. It’s entirely possible that this will fall off as the series goes on, and not every episode will be up to snuff, but this is a good start. I would recommend checking it out, even if you’re not that fond of the Caped Crusader.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It really feels like Marvel Studios can do just about anything. Back when it was announced as a film, Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a risk, an out-of-the-blue change in direction. Most franchises prefer to play it safe, sticking with the recognized story and character beats known to work. But Marvel’s big idea dreamers do not rest on their laurels. They looked outward from the world of the Avengers and began to pull in more threads from the greater universe. But they’ve done this before – several years ago, Iron Man was relatively obscure in comparison to other superheroes that have graced the silver screen, and now Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr are practically synonymous. Marvel takes chances. They try new things. And they went back to the well of obscurity and elevated a band of five cosmic misfits into this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Peter Quill was eight years old when he got abducted from his homeworld. Having grown up among a rather nasty band of pirates called the Ravagers, the Terran is on the trail of a mysterious orb people are paying good money to acquire. There are also those who would rather kill than pay: Ronan the Accuser, a Kree extremist, dispatches one of his chief lackey, Korath the Pursuer, to retrieve the orb. Quill (who for some reason calls himself ‘Star-Lord’) escapes to Xandar, home of Ronan’s enemies. Ronan sets the assassin Gamora on the trail, while the Ravagers post a bounty for Quill, a hefty sum saught by Rocket (an enhanced raccoon) and his best friend Groot. When they wind up in prison together, along with a well-spoken but driven maniac named Drax, they hatch a scheme to escape and split the reward for the orb, even as Ronan hunts them down.

As a complete, start-to-finish film, Guardians of the Galaxy has a consistent and strong storyline that is not difficult to follow. Its tone has a tendency to vary, but that is definitely a strength rather than a weakness. James Gunn, director of Slither and Super, is just as adept with comedy as he is with emotional scenes heavy with pathos. In the final equation, it balances out extremely well. The heavier scenes pulls us into sympathetic embraces with our characters, and their comedic turns let off some of the pressure to pave the way for more antics and action.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Something tells me they don’t want to talk about having a personal relationship with Galactus.

These characters, in addition, are definitely worthy of their places in Marvel’s cinematic universe. In particular, I was very happy with Gamora’s characterization. In my previous discussion, purely based on some erroneous conjecture, I feared that she would exist as the ‘token girl’ and disappoint in doing little more than rolling her eyes at the tomfoolery of the males. Thankfully, she is very much her own character, with agency, drive, and independence, from start to finish. I was wrong in what I said before; I couldn’t be happier to admit that. What we see on screens is most definitely the deadliest woman in the galaxy, and Zoe Saldana brings her to vibrant, captivating life.

The two CG characters, Rocket and Groot, are incredibly well-realized. Rocket, in particular, is a wonder just to behold. While we’ve seen mo-cap characters before, Rocket is easily believable with his attitude, outlook, pain, and power. You actually feel something for the little guy. Similiarly, Groot conveys a great deal without saying more than a few words. His expressions, actions, and presence all speak to an individual that means well, and that can’t help but stand out in light of other characters behaving in very selfish ways. As for Drax, I definitely need to see the movie again because I swear I missed some of his loquacious dialog in the middle of all the ray-guns and explosions. I like what they’ve done with him and I’m eager to see more.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
“I’d flash you my business card, but my hands are too full of guns.”

The glue holding the entire endeavour together, however, is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill. This man is going to be very busy in the years to come. He carries the mantle of leading man very well. His performance draws out the best in the cast around him, and he very much gets both what motivates his character and how the audience can relate to him. Under the flippant demeanor and die-hard nostalgia is some very real pain and more than a couple unresolved issues, and as I mentioned before, the whole film exists in the same balance between the two feelings. Both the actor and the story do more than just walk that line, however; they outright dance on it.

I could spend a lot more time discussing the villains, universe, and greater implications of Guardians of the Galaxy, as it is a surprisingly dense film in terms of lore and setting. There is a huge universe implied in almost every shot of the movie, and I am merely scratching the surface. What I will say is this: we have not had a romp through space like this since Serenity, and even that had a rather intimate scope within which to tell its tale. In many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy is the direct opposite of the previous Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that just makes them two sides of the same excellent coin. The previous film was a powerful story of intrigue and personal trial with a very modern bent; this one is a deliberate throwback to more whimsical tales like Flash Gordon or Star Wars, but bearing extremely modern sensibilities. The universe we behold has a very lived-in feel, is filled with color and wonder, and clearly contains perils and unknown terrors that are ripe for the exploration. It expands Marvel’s cinematic arm exponentially, and gives us just the right mix of heroes and villains to leave us wanting more.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Even minor characters have distinct personalities and memorable traits.

As a movie-goer and erstwhile critic, I would say Guardians of the Galaxy is exemplary science-fiction action-adventure storytelling that I unreservedly recommend. As a long-standing fan of the comics, particularly since I picked it up back when Dan Abnett was starting to write the team we see on screen, I could not be happier. Much like our first real shot of the Avengers, seeing these misfits, murderers, and makers of mayhem come to vibrant life tugs at all of the right strings in my heart. Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly what you want and precisely what we need in the middle of summer surrounded by drek and drudgery: a damn good time at the movies. It is definitely worth seeing. Just don’t be surprised if you do, in fact, get hooked on a feeling.

500 Words on Marvel

Courtesy Ms Sackhoff's Twitter

As I write this, San Diego Comic-Con, arguably one of the biggest gatherings of so-called ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ in his hemisphere, is taking place. The Marvel panel is, I believe, tomorrow, and there are likely to be announcements as to what is coming up for the studio behind The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I have this feeling of both excitement and trepidation. As much as I like what Marvel has done and is doing, I have some fears about the future.

Guardians of the Galaxy looks amazing. I’m intrigued by the implications of the plot being developed for Avengers: Age of Ultron. And the mere mention of a Doctor Strange film might elicit what can only be described as a ‘squee’ from Yours Truly. But in the midst of all of this, I have yet to see Marvel do something to truly push them into the forefront when it comes to universal appeal in excellent entertainment.

Marvel needs a solo female lead.

There are a few female characters that have shown well-rounded characterization: Pepper Potts, Natasha Romanoff, Maria Hill, Melinda May, etc. But none of them have carried their own story yet. In this, and pretty much this alone, Marvel and DC have something in common. While DC is still struggling to carve out its own identity, as they try keep pace with Marvel as well as emerging from the shadow of Nolan’s bat, Marvel distinguishes itself in almost every other regard.

This is also an issue when it comes to characters of color, but with the Falcon being such a breakout star in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Black Panther all but confirmed, I feel it’s been more addressed than the issue of a solo female lead. I would love to see it happen. And I would dearly love for it to be Captain Marvel.

Carol Danvers is one of my favorite ladies of Marvel. Kelly Sue Deconnick’s take on her in particular is an absolute delight. Despite being imbued with superpowers and having worked in the male-oriented military for so long, Carol is still very much her own woman, and a very human character. The image above, envisioning the incomparable Katee Sackhoff as Carol, fills me with hope. I know it may be a long shot – Fiege and company have yet to really address things – but the idea remains.

Another idea occurs: what if Doctor Strange was female?

While we’re talking about dream casting, if Strange remains male, I’d love to see Oded Fehr play the role. He has charisma, gravitas, and he breaks the mold of stereotypical white male protagonism. However, a female Strange would be excellent. Can you imagine a Sorceress Supreme battling cosmic forces that break the minds of lesser humans?

And what about Gina Torres or Aisha Tyler as She-Hulk? Think about it.

This is all speculation, but honestly, Marvel needs this. DC would have no hope of catching up.

Until Orci & Kurtzman write Iron Man Into Darkness, Make Mine Marvel!

Rise of the Guardians (Of The Galaxy)

Courtesy Moarvel Studios

I know there are folks out there who try to live spoiler-free. I can’t say I blame them. Walking into a new film with fresh eyes and clean expectations is a good thing. For them, I’ll be putting most of this post behind spoiler tags. In my position, I admit to a level of concern when it comes to the Guardians of the Galaxy film opening on August 1. Both Dan Abnett and Brian Michael Bendis have done great things with the comics, and I’m fine with an adaptation deviating from the source material if done well. On the whole, I’m cautiously optimistic and very enthusiastic about the film’s release.

For the most part, the sneak peek event I was fortunate enough to attend on Monday reinforced most of my expectations. Folks, if you have had faith in Marvel Studios so far, in terms of quality films that bring comic book heroes to vibrant life, as well as portraying them as characters with depth, that faith will continue to be justified. I’ll go into detail below, but I can honestly say I am not just excited about, but also confident in, Guardians of the Galaxy.

If you’re cool with spoilers, read on.

Spoiler

Right from the off, I’ve had good feelings about this film. The reason why was apparent in the opening of the footage shown on Monday: an extended version of the line-up seen in the first trailer. The big difference was that Thanos was almost immediately name-dropped when Rhomann Dey was going over Gamora’s rap sheet. While there is bound to be a bunch of exposition in this film, as the Guardians are relatively unknown in relation to the Avengers, what we’ve heard is handled pretty well, and a good portion of it is coming from Rocket.

Speaking of Rocket, it seems that when we open our story, the pint-sized gun-toting mammal is the de facto leader of this group of misfits, laying out plans and keeping spirits up. He’s described as a ‘tactical genius’ but we actually see it in action, which is good. Equally good is Bradley Cooper’s voice work for Rocket. The attitude is palpable, and the CGI is impressive. There’s a shot in the extended trailer where Rocket is calling out Ronan (more on him later) and his ears are back and his tail agitated. I love such attention to detail. Finally, there’s a quiet moment when we see Rocket’s cybernetic implants, and the scene in shot and scored in such a way that we get a vibe from Rocket not unlike Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution: he never asked for this. He’s very angry, and we start to see why.

Rocket is, of course, not alone. It’s easy to make fun of Vin Diesel and how he got handed the voice work for a ‘simple’ character – Groot, after all, has a three-word vocabulary. Thankfully, though, as in the comics, Groot’s language is actually very nuanced. Every time he says ‘I am Groot’, he is saying something different. This is clear in Diesel’s inflections and the facial expressions on the CGI-crafted walking tree. Again, this is impressive work. Be he flinging people around or letting Star-Lord climb him to reach a higher level within the Kyln (the prison to which they’re sent in the beginning), Groot moves with weight and has a definite presence.

Speaking of Star-Lord, I really like the fact that he seems out of his league surrounded by the others at first. These misfits with whom he’s been thrown are definitely the sort to bring out the best in him. I feel like he’s not only our point-of-view character, he’s also going to have a definite arc. He’s coming from a place of relative isolation and aimless wandering, clinging to what he can. The lines delivered when a Kyln guard takes his Walkman feel like they come from a very raw, personal place. He feels like a character audiences are going to get behind without much trouble.

Of the whole scene we saw, I have to say what impressed me most was the direction they’re going with Drax. Somewhat of a taciturn presence in the comics, the film has changed him from an uplifted human with a singular purpose – killing Thanos – to a member of an alien species that do not understand metaphors and are quite happy to get into a fight. Rather than simply brooding and smoldering, Bautista is given loquacious lines that describe to whom he’s speaking, allowing him to act as a straight man to the proceedings. I’m very excited to see more of this version of Drax in action.

I left Gamora for last among the principles because, to be honest, she’s the character I’m the most concerned about. As much as it seems they’ve nailed her attitude and approach to challenges – don’t ask how she got the remote off of that guard’s arm – I fear that they also cast her in the role of rolling her eyes at the conversations and antics of the others the way a mother would. However, that’s mostly from the trailer – in the footage I saw, her line is “I am going to die surrounded by idiots.” Better, but still worrisome. I could potentially be concerned over nothing, but Gamora needs to be an interesting and compelling character on her own, not just part of the mix so we have the token girl acting as a spoilsport around the idiot boys. It’s been seen quite a few times before, and I think she deserves better than that.

We also finally get a good look at our on-the-ground villain, Ronan.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

He looks a little terrifying. Ronan the Accuser is kind of a cosmic Judge Dredd. Considering that all five of our heroes operate outside of most galactic laws, and more than likely in direct defiance of Kree laws, Ronan has good motivation for hunting them, outside of being a lackey of Thanos. The Novas know that Gamora and Nebula were ‘loaned out’ to Ronan by Thanos, but we don’t know why. I suspect that the orb we see Star-Lord trying to pinch when he gets caught by Korath the Pursuer (another Kree, in case you didn’t know) was resting in a Kree vault, meaning Ronan definitely has an axe (or, in his case, hammer) to grind.

As much as I might have ‘spoiled’ some things for myself, there’s so much I don’t know. I can suspect, but I am not certain. My thinking is that upon escaping the Kyln, our heroes will flee to Knowhere (the big floating head seen in the trailers), and that might be where the Collector is hanging his hat. From there the plot would likely develop with Peter wanting to save the galaxy and needing to convince the others to help him do it. But I only suspect that’s the case. I don’t know what role Nebula is going to play – is she a spy for Thanos in Ronan’s camp? Will Ronan need to be put down as a war criminal, or will he realize that his pursuit of his vision of justice will mean the loss of innocent lives? I have questions, and a few concerns, but considering how good things look, the direction this seems to be taken, and the peerless quality of what I’ve seen and heard so far, only one question really matters.


Is it August yet?

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