Monday, 30 July 2012

Missed Marvel

Or how The Avengers movie missed a great opportunity to introduce Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

I really enjoyed The Avengers movie: it was a big fun comic book rendered into film that managed to be smart (enough), funny, and very very charming. Joss Whedon and all involved have my undying thanks.

It should be noted we are going to SPOILER town.1

Despite how much I enjoyed The Avengers, one nit-picky thing about the movie still kind of bothers me. It isn't Ironman throwing a nuclear weapon at alien invaders or the alien invaders all collapsing enmasse upon the closing of the wormhole thing. It's that they failed to capitalize on the stupid number of chances they had to introduce Carol Danvers, the woman who gets alien Kree warrior powers (through whatever means) and becomes, in her current iteration, Captain Marvel.

A key part of the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel mythos is that she was a fighter pilot before the accident/magguffin that granted her super powers. The Avengers movie took place on a Helicarrier, basically a flying aircraft carrier, and featured at least THREE speaking parts for pilots.2 One of these pilots really ought to have been Carol. A simple female voice (distorted to allow for future casting choices) for one of the pilots could have been a nice Easter Egg for Danvers, instead of the generic southern-esqu pilot voices they used. Even a simple background shot of a woman fighter pilot, or a plane with Carol Danvers stenciled on it would have been awesome.

Of course, in a perfect world, the pilot who dropped in and fired on the Hulk in close quarters, which was a particularly brave, skillful, and  crazy thing to do, was Carol. In my imagination it was her.

Now, the other two pilots I’m thinking of were involved in nuking New York city, so they are questionable choices to be Carol (although, a story beat about her following orders/redeeming herself might be cool?). Also, Marvel may want to make her an astronaut or something for future movies. So you know, I’m willing to give some time on this. My point, though, is that Marvel really needs to have more female movie superheroes, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) ought to be one of them, and they totally missed a chance to start seeding her into the universe.

1: Population: frowns
2: It’s been a while since I saw the movie, so it may have been four. Although, one of the four I am thinking of was a transport pilot instead of a fighter pilot. I’m 90% sure that three fighter pilots had speaking lines.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Avery Cates Novels are Good Books

Or why you should read The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, and The Final Evolution by Jeff Somers.

The Avery cates novels are this kind of Crime Thriller/Noir Pulp mashed up with Cyberpunk Sci-fi series. The novels follow Avery Cates, a gunner1 of some reputation, in a dystopian future populated by filthy rabble, crooked system pigs,2 cyborg cults, psionic/telekinetic spooks
,3 nanotech plagues, android dopplegangers, augmented super soldiers, and a colorful array of vaguely and inexplicably Irish criminals. Basically, the Avery Cates novels are a bit like a televised street crime drama set in a Phillip k Dickian fever dream. If you enjoy these things, it’s a pretty satisfying mixture.

Now, these books are not capital L Literature and you'll be disappointed if you are looking for PKD4 existentialisms or Big Idea Sci-fi. What they are though, is an incredibly fun celebration of the aesthetics and tropes of Cyberpunk and Pulp Noir. I’d call them a CyberPulp romp series as much as anything. The Avery Cates novels are, thankfully, very well executed. Somers' writing is engaging and well paced and his characters are vivid and likable. Somers' plots are also surprisingly intricate with some pretty stellar twists, some straight forward ones you see coming as well as some truly unexpected and mind bending ones. At the end of the day it's still a Cyberpunk wankfest, but it is an exceptionally well crafted one.

Typically I avoid genre homage novels since they tend to not live up to the books they are riffing on. A lot of over-the-top genre romps fall into the trap of being as bombastic as possible and being transparently silly in tone or they take themselves much too seriously. Either way, these books come off as pointless (if it’s all for jokes, why do I care?) or as tremendously tone deaf and poorly thought out. Importantly, though, the Avery Cates novels know exactly what they are and play to that. Tonally, the novels take themselves quite seriously and commit to the material with a fiercely determined earnestness, while simultaneously winking at the reader to convey that yeah, these books are over the top and for fun. This manages, at least for me, to strike that rare and perfect balance of self-aware absurdity and total commitment that makes good rompy fiction fun.5

I’d recommend the Avery Cates books to anyone looking for a fun book where the protagonist calls an android doppelganger a “Fucking asshole” before emptying a clip into it from his Roon corporation automatic pistol. In other words, if you are the kind of reader who likes the odd smart but not particularly deep work of genre fiction, check it out.6

1: Hitman.
2: Police, basically.
3: Kind of a secret police/ espionage thing.
4: Phillip K Dick
5: Starship Troopers (the film not the book) does this very well. The book is just straight forward good.
6: I find the Avery Cates novels make for a nice bit of fun between super heavy, depressing books. I found The Terminal State (book 4) to be a perfect amuse-bouche between PDK’s Valis and Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five. See even snooty Sci-fi fans can appreciate these books.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

So I Read Ignition City

A 250 word (or less) review of the Ignition City collected volume
By Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani, Avatar Press

In Ignition City, grounded spacegirl Mary Raven travels to Ignition City, the last, isolated spaceport on Earth, to investigate the murder of Rock Raven, her legendary space adventurer father.1 The book is kind of a diesel-punk western mashed up with retro 1930s science fiction: “irons” are rayguns, instead of Indians there are Martian Longboys and Crabs from Venus, and the dusty streets of Ignition City are lined with flop houses built out of derelict spacecraft. It is a very neat aesthetic that artist Gianluca Pagliarani really brings to life; the man was apparently born to draw rusting sci-fi detritus. The script by Warren Ellis is predictably great, and I think one of his best written during my comic reading period.2 While the core plot, the murder mystery revenge tale, is tight and twisty, it’s the thematic heart of the story that really elevates Ignition Story for me.  The book begs the question, at a thematic level, of whatever happened to the old space heroes, humanities fascination with space, and that 1950s optimism concerning the future. Ignition City simultaneously demonstrates why 1930s science fiction is still so resonate to Ellis and how tragic it is that these characters and this sub genre are largely ignored by modern culture.3  Ignition City is good enough to recommend to anyone and, since it is only a single volume, serves as an accessible read for people interested in reading a Warren Ellis comic but unwilling to commit to his longer works.

Word count: 246

1: It’s kind of interesting that “solving the murder of a loved one” is the central plot device in Ignition City as well as Lawless (and many others), yet the two stories are radically different in execution and content. Probably a lesson about good writers or fictional archtypes. Or something.
2: 2005 and upwards.
3: Or at least mainstream pop culture and big two comics. 

The Dark Knight Rises Above Expectations

Or I just saw The Dark Knight Rises and I really liked it.

The Dark Knight Rises lives up to the potential of the previous two movies and is a fitting finale to Christopher Nolan's take on Batman, which is cartoonishly high praise. I try to check my expectations for things-I-am-very-much-looking-forward-to, but despite myself I had a very high set of expectations about the Dark Knight Rises... and the movie exceeded them. I think I liked The Dark Knight more (Heath Ledger's take on the Joker was epic)... but the fact I even have to think about it speaks to the quality of The Dark Knight Rises. It's a VERY GOOD movie. It's VERY GOOD Batman.

A few things occurred to me while watching the movie, and while I am sure that the majority of them have already been written about elsewhere, I *just* saw the movie and am excited enough to ramble them off anyway. My thoughts after the cut.


Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Goat

Or the real life goats with amazing spider-powers.

Scientists genetically engineered goats which produce spidersilk proteins in their milk by adding spider DNA to their genetic makeup.

Let me reiterate that: Scientists made goats that produce spidersilk IN REAL LIFE.

Producing milk with extra proteins admittedly isn't much of a superpower, but it is a genetically engineered goat that can do something regular goats can't. It's also a case of giving spider traits/abilities to a non-spider creature, which under the Spider-Man paradigm is superhuman (well, supercaprids).  Also, given the caveat that this is real life where things have to behave in scientifically valid ways and I think this is considerably awesome.

It’s also a hypothetical proof of concept for making humans that can produce spidersilk. (although they would have to be lactating females…)1

How did they create these sins against nature? The first thing they did was to create a synthetic chunk of DNA with a spidersilk gene (specifically for a dragsilk protein, which is the strongest kind) under the control of a mammary tissue2 specific promoter (a genetic on/off switch that controls how much a gene is turned into a protein). My money is that the promoter they used is one of the casein ones (proteins in milk, that are only made in mammary tissues). They then took the synthetic DNA and injected it into a bunch of goat embryos, some of which added the DNA to their genome.3 They put the embryos into mummy goats an got goat babies with amazing spidersilk milk powers. SCIENCE!!!

Of course Nexia, the Montreal based biotech company (which may or may not be a front for Department H) that made these goats apparently couldn't spin the spidersilk well enough to use it for industrial/medical applications and subsequently went bankrupt. Apparently they sold the last spidersilk goats, Sugar and Spice, to the Canadian Agriculture Museum. So you can go see the amazing Spider-Goats in person!

Also, apparently a researcher in Utah has made his own spidersilk producing Spider-Goats too... So the dream lives on? I hope so.

1: It would also be SOOOO unethical.
2: Udders in goats, breasts in humans.
3: It’s a bit more complicated than this… but that’s the basic idea of how it works. They have also used retroviruses, but that can be kind of messy/cancer causing.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Marvel, Captain

Or how reading Captain Marvel #1 out of order is the correct way to enjoy the comic.

As the record shows, I’m pretty excited for the new Captain Marvel series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy. This week the premier issue of the series came out… and I was a little underwhelmed by it. I was hoping for a great comic and what I got, while it was certainly a good comic (the writing was good and the artwork was enjoyable and there are some great ideas in there) everything seemed subtlety off, like the sections of the book were disjointed somehow. It lakes cohesion. As a result the book felt a bit like two stories sutured together, the result becoming a good but generic and maybe a little over ambitious superhero comic.

But here’s the thing, there is LITERALLY a great comic in there. It just needs a bit of reader surgery to be assembled properly.

If you don't know Kieron Gillen (writer of Phonogram, Journey Into Mystery, Uncanny X-me, etc) has a comics crafting podcast called Decompressed. His most recent episode (002) has Kelly Sue DeConnick performing a post-mortem on Captain Marvel #1. In it she humbly, and self awarely discusses the book and some of its problems. It’s really worth a listen.

DeConnick also informed us that the book was not published in the order it was originally written. The flashback section near the end set 14 years ago about Helen Cobb, was originally supposed to be the first bit. Thus, in the correct order, Captain Marvel #1 is bookended by the two Helen Cobb stories. Go read (or reread) Captain Marvel #1 in that order.

I cannot overemphasize how much better the comic is when read it in that order.

When you read Captain Marvel #1 in the right order everything suddenly makes sense. The disjointed nature of the book's sections coalesce, any somewhat perplexing events suddenly have better context, and the book develops this huge emotional resonance. Hell, even the gratuitous fight scene splash page becomes more effective as an introduction of Carol Danvers as superhero (look how far she has come).

Read in the right order it goes from being a good comic to a GREAT comic. Probably one of the single best comic issues I've ever read.

(Some SPOILERS in the next section.)

More than that, it becomes a great story about barriers and breaking through them, with a cool feminist slant.1 The proper first section lays that out with aviatrix Helen Cobb, Carol’s youthful hero, breaking the barrier of becoming a pilot but not breaking the barrier of entering space. The main story shows a critical scene where Carol breaks the barrier of entering space and then, while thinking of Cobb, makes the descision to break the next barrier and become Captain Marvel, an unqualified superhero.2 (Of course, both of these barriers were only surmountable because Cobb broke the barrier of flight, which allowed Carol to be a pilot in the first place.) The final part then becomes Carol breaking the space barrier posthumously for Cobb by carrying Cobb’s ashes into space. Thus in the correct order Captain Marvel #1 becomes a beautiful, meaningful story about empowerment and inspiration. I really, really enjoyed it.

It's a profound shame that it got fouled to show an exciting fight scene first.

(It’s also a shame how the final funeral scene, a particularly emotionally resonant and beautifully rendered part of the book, was cut in half by a double page spread of Avengers Academy ads.)

1: I also find it interesting that the book seems to lay out other barriers for Carol in the sense of misogyny in the superhero realm (The news paper title “New Captain Marvel, and He’s a She” and in the Absorbing Man’s taunts). Barriers surpassed, barriers yet to surpass.
2: I find it particularly cool that Carol decided to do this based on inspiration from a female icon as opposed to from Captain America, who is essentially an idealized paternal inspiration icon. 

Image-in all the comics.

Or how Image Comics is winning at everything.

It seems that Image has developed a strategy to relieve me of all of my moneys by making The Best Comics. Seriously, the line up Eric Stephenson introduced at SDCC consists of many of my favourite creators (in some cases creative teams) announcing super interesting new projects. I am ridiculously excited to read these comics.

But I think there is an interesting trend in this news story (beyond the coral of A-list creators flocking to creator owned projects). Look at the proposed (and some existing) Image titles and pay special attention to the genre of these books:

From SDCC:
Howard Chaykin/Matt Fraction: Satellite Sam (Mystery)
Greg Rucka/Michael Lark: Lazarus (Dystopian/Hard sci-fi)
Kelly Sue Deconnick/Emma Rios: Pretty Deadly (Western)
Brandon Graham: Multiple Warheads (Sci-fi/Fanatasy)
Gary Whitta/Darick Robertson: Oliver (Steampunk, Dystopian sci-fi)
Chris Roberson/Paul Maybury: Rain (Epic fantasy)
James Robinson/J. Bone: The Savior (Sci-fi/horror)
Joe Casey: Sex (Superheroes/Erotica?)
Joe Casey/David Messina: The Bounce (Superheroes)

From Image Con:
Brian K Vaughan/Fiona Staples: Saga (Sci-fi)
Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie: Phonogram 3 (Urban fantasy)
Jonathon Hickman/Nick Pitarra: The Manhattan Projects (Sci-fi)
Jonathon Hickan/Ryan Bodenheim: Secret (Espionage Thriller)
Brian Wood/Ming Doyle/Jordie Bellaire: Mara (Dystopian sci-fi)
Grant Morrison/Darick Robertson: Happy (???)
Mark Millar/Frank Quitely: Saturn’s Children (Superheroes)
Joe Keatinge/Andre Szymanowicz: Hell Yeah (Superheroes)
Howard Chaykin: Black Kiss II (Erotic/Thriller)
Jonathon Ross/Bryan Hitch: America’s Got Powers (Superheroes)

And since it makes my point:
Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips: Fatale (Lovecraftian Horror/ Crime Noir)
John Layman/Rob Guillory: Chew (Science Fantasy/Police Procedural)
Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith: Fell (Mystery Horror)

If we discount for a second the absurd level of talent in this lineup, we’re left with a pretty diverse collection of genres at Image (variations of: Superheroes, Sci-fi, Western, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Crime, Erotica). Contrast that with Marvel (variations of: Superheroes) and DC (variations of: Superheroes). It seems Image has figured out that part of the trick to doing well as a producer of fiction is to embrace as wide a variety of books as possible. Regardless of what your geeky fiction interests are Image has a comic for you (unless you are so into Pirates, and I’m sure the next set of announcements will have you covered). As someone who is burning out on the repetition of superhero comics, I am very excited by this. Also, as someone who regularly agitates for his friends to give comics a try I’m pretty excited, because I’ve found adults are more interested in smart sci-fi or crime comics than superhero comics (largely because if they were interested in superhero comics they would already be reading them). So it seems Image (and their independent comic creators) are trying to provide all of these underutilized kinds of stories and maybe grow the comics reading audience while they are at it.

Also, also: super talented creators + genuinely diverse subjects + the uncertainty inherent in true creative freedom is just such a winning formula. Add to that the bonus of creator owned projects (I get to get more cash in the pockets of the artists/writers I like and fund a company that facilitates this) and I can feel pretty good about reading this amazing content.

Image is going to get so much of my money, and I am going to enjoy it so very much.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

So I Read Lawless

A 250 word (or less) review of the second Criminal collection
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Icon Comics

Lawless is the second Crime Noir masterwork by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This time the story follows Tracy Lawless, a burn-scared special forces veteran, on a quest to find his brothers killer. To find the killer Tracy joins his brother’s old gang as a driver and, in doing so, becomes enmeshed in the life and crimes of his brother. Lawless, in proper Criminal tradition, leans heavily on Noir genre tropes of crime, vengeance, doomed romance, and the inexorable slide into chaos that occurs when events conspire against the protagonist. Unlike Coward, the first Criminal volume, which has a big action-movie quality about it, Lawless feels much smaller, character driven, and focused. The result is a story that is much more personal and textured which makes for a more relentless and engrossing read. It also feels more quintessentially noir… if that is a thing that can be said with any sort of authority. Brubakers writing in this edition is peerless; the script delivers thrills and tingle-inducing twists but is still organic and assured feeling. Phillips artwork is as moody and atmospheric as ever, and has a much more refined colour palette than that seen in Coward. Lawless, then, is a masterfully crafted comic book that tells a riveting crime noir story that comes to life on the page.  This book really makes me wonder why the Crime genre of comics died out: when well executed they are every bit as interesting as any superhero comic ever was.

Word count: 247

So I Read Coward

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Marvel Newly Organised Workers!

Or my thoughts on Marvel NOW!

So Marvel NOW!, Marvel’s newest scheme to win marketshare from DC, has arrived. Hurrah. Basically, the idea is to wrap up a bunch of their books and roll out new , relaunched on-going titles over the next few months. Marvel NOW! will also see the movement of creators  to new titles as well as a reshuffling of characters onto new teams  with a general strategy towards reintegrating the quasi-segregated sections of the Marvel Universe (X-men, cosmic, and Avengers characters all together). Also new (kind of ugly) costumes.

Is it a way to boost sales by launching new number ones? Yes.

Is it the result of authors who have written the same title for a very long time wanting to move on? Probably.

Is it about attracting new readers? They’d like to think so.

Is it about reshuffling creators and characters in a way that’s about highlighting properties for trans-media utilization? I wouldn’t put it past them.

But here’s the thing, I think Marvel NOW! is mostly about resource management. All other potential benefits are secondary.

Something that I’ve noticed (and I suspect nearly all comics people have noticed) is that Marvel seems really keen on double-shipping books every month. So where historically, you’d get your Captain America once a month, Marvel now intends to publish two every month. It’s kind of brilliant. Marvel, in this scheme can publish only their most successful characters, and pool their artists and writers onto a more focused line up and still sell as many (if not more) books. It also forces readers to pick up two books for every on-going they want to follow, potentially doubling the revenues/fan.

(The problem (well one of the problems) with this approach is it assumes that the reason that a fan buys x number of comics a month is because of limited interest in other comics/characters. Basically, they think fan only reads Ironman, Spiderman, and Thor because fan is only interested in those three characters. I’m sure there are people out there with this mindset and that they must be very happy with double publishing. That said, I suspect the majority of comics fans are in a situation where they buy x number of comics a month due to having a limited amount of disposable income to spend on comics. They are already spending all of the money they can/want to on comics. There isn’t any more. As one of those fans, I’m kind of annoyed by this as it forces me to choose between exceeding my budget or cutting the number of ongoing titles I read still further. I think Marvel may see a point of diminishing returns with this approach.)

However, to make this double shipping work, Marvel needs twice the content from creators per month. Now writers can only write a finite number of comic books a month. From what I understand, and for sake of argument, let’s say a comics writer can manage 4 books a month. In the old days, such a writer could potentially write 4 different books, but in the twice-a-month Marvel NOW! age that writer can only keep up with 2 on-goings. Marvel now needs at least twice as many writers for the same number of titles. Similar problems with creator logistics exist throughout the creative teams of comics: pencillers can do ~1 book a month, inkers are about the same, and colorists can do maybe two? (I have no idea how long it takes colorists… it’s kind of alchemy to me). The point is that for every title Marvel now needs twice the people hours of work.

I think Marvel NOW! is the result/means of ensuring sufficient people hours per title. Marvel has to streamline their publishing catalog or else hire many more creators. They also have to reduce the title load per writer (Fraction can’t simultaneously write Mighty Thor, Invincible Ironman, Hawkeye and Defenders + Event stuff + a Creator Owned project or two in Marvel NOW!, for instance)1 and set up artist rotations on all of their books (since very few A-list artists can, or want to, churn out two books a month). If I were trying to reset the entire creative machinery of The House of Ideas, a systematic role-out of new titles coupled with the ending of older unsustainable projects is exactly how I’d do it.

So yeah, I think Marvel NOW! is more of a technical, logistical overhaul than a creative one.

And no matter how Marvel NOW! works out, it’s certainly going to make maintaining a top-ten comics list/buying pattern (and this blog) more interesting for a while. So thanks?

1: He has children, god damn it!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

In Theory The Iceman Cometh

Or a Scientific Treaties on the Plausibility of Mr. Freeze

Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin. Campy!
I think Mr. Freeze is one of the more interesting characters in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. He has a cool gimmick (ice powers, has to stay cold to live), a chilling and tragic backstory (gets powers from lab accident while trying to cure terminally ill wife),1 and like all of Batman’s best villains Mr. Freeze acts as a foil for the caped crusader (loss of loved one motivates revenge instead of heroism). He is also one of the few Batman villains who can contend with Batman both intellectually and physically making him a good candidate for being a major villain in a potential future Batman film. Unfortunately, due to his supernatural/sci-fi nature and his campy Batman’66 and Schumacher escapades, it is very unlikely we will ever see him in another movie.2

I’m here to tell you that Mr. Freeze does not have to be campy and unrealistic. In fact, with some relatively cosmetic changes, Mr. Freeze can be made into a serious and Scientifically plausible villain.

An extensive treatise follows after the cut:

Thursday, 12 July 2012

So I Read Coward

A 250 word (or less) review of the first Criminal collection
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Icon Comics

Coward is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ first love letter to the genre of Crime Noir, it’s also superb comics. In Coward, Leo Patterson, a thief known for his planning acumen and caution, is offered a score too risky to try for but too good to pass up. What follows is a well executed Criminal tale rife with genre tropes: an elaborate caper, crooked cops, dangerous liaisons, violence and vengeance. The characters are vivid and likeable, the artwork atmospheric and dynamic, and the story suspenseful and well crafted, especially as circumstances in the story spin out of control.  The world of Criminal that Brubaker and Phillips create is very convincing and realized: you don’t so much read a Criminal collection as you temporarily inhabit it. That said, Coward is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips first Criminal collaboration, and to a certain extent it shows1: the distinctive colour palette of later Criminal volumes hasn’t been fully realized and the script is maybe less assured than later collections. This potential for improvement isn’t obvious though: Coward is a very well executed book by genuine comics superstars who clearly love the subject matter. Coward is a very easy book to recommend to any comics reader and if you at all enjoy Brubaker's mainstream comics work, the Criminal series is an absolute must read.

Word count: 220

1: I have had the pleasure of reading later Criminal stories (I started reading during Volume 3), I’ve come to Coward (and reviewed it) after the fact.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Amazing Spider-Man is neither Amazing nor Spider-Man

Or a brief discussion on the intrinsic flaws of Amazing Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a bad movie. The broad strokes of the story can be followed, the character’s motivations are clear enough, and the actors do a pretty good job bringing the characters to life. There are a few great moments in the film and some of the departures from Spider-Man dogma they presented were pretty clever.  At no point in this movie was I infuriated.

Amazing Spider-Man also isn’t a particularly good movie. The plot overall felt very unoriginal. If you saw Spider-Man, the Sam Rami film, you pretty much saw a bigger, campier and Spider-Manier film adaptation of Spider-Man with a similar collection of plot beats.  In fact, much of Amazing Spider-Man is an origin retread so a third of the movie is almost literally the same as Rami's Spider-Man. It also felt very… by the numbers? Things happened because the genre demands it without a lot of substance or explanation. I’d go so far as to argue that whole plot threads of the movie rely on our prior knowledge and expectations to make sense.1 So, while Amazing Spider-Man never made me go all geek-hulk, it didn’t really illicit any positive emotional reactions either. I’ve heard the whole Spider-meh joke, and I buy into that.

But there is more to my apathetic reaction to this film than its kind of lackadaisical take on the character. In my opinion Amazing Spider-Man is further brought down by two key general problems: it gets the soul of Spider-Man wrong and it makes ham-fisted attempts to tell instead of show. My analysis after the cut.

It should be noted that after the cut is going to be *SPOILER* rich… so go on at your peril.

Monday, 9 July 2012

This is how you remind me… of so many belt pouches

Or how Nickelback is the Rob Liefeld of music.

I recently had… the experience of going to a Nickelback concert. In my defence, I was told it was a Bush concert and only later, after tickets had been bought, was it revealed that Nickelback was headlining. Also, I didn’t pay for my ticket. (Please don’t hate me.)

In a moment of profound realization during said concert, it occurred to me that Nickelback, with its brashness and absurdity, is the musical equivalent of Rob Liefeld. Also: Bush is a much better band than Nickelback.

I also realized that both The Rob and Nickelback, as aesthetically unappealing as I find them, deserve to exist because some people seem to really like them and both, occasionally, provide moments of sublime absurdity that transcend their origins.

An in depth comparison follows after the cut:

Thursday, 5 July 2012

So I Read Moving Pictures

A 250 word (or less) review of Moving Pictures the graphic novel
By Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, Top Shelf Productions

"Comics are just words and pictures… You can do anything with words and pictures."1 Moving Pictures certainly argues to this thesis. The comic takes place during World War 2 in Nazi occupied France and is constructed around efforts by the French to hide their cultural treasures from Nazi art profiteers.2 Although, as the books dustcover synopsis helpfully points out: “this is (not) that story”. Rather the focus of Moving Pictures is Ila Gardner, a Canadian helping the French, who becomes embroiled in a dangerous affair with Rolf Hauptmann, a Nazi Art Commission officer. Kathryn Immonen’s script is constructed in an unorthodox manner, being built around the interrogation of Ila by Rolf interspersed with flashback sequences that serve as portraits3 of the events surrounding the interrogation. Stuart Immonen’s artwork uses this sketchy, minimalist cartoon line with heavy inks… kind of like a period film4 of a noir tintin. The result of the way the comic is structured leaves many key details happening off panel or implied.  To me this left some of the story open to interpretation, forcing me to revisit the flashback portraits to reach my own conclusions about the story. I think this ambiguity may have been a thematic choice: when looking at sculptures or paintings audiences use a single image and setting to construct their own meaning and narratives and I think Moving Pictures is commenting on this process. Of course I, like my interpretation of the book’s events, could be severely wrong. I’d highly recommend Moving Pictures.

Word Count: 250

1: Quoth Harvey Pekar via Warren Ellis…
2: Literally Moving Pictures to safety
3: Portraits that convey the emotionally resonate stakes of the story.  Moving Pictures.
4: A Film. A Moving Picture.

Okay, I kind of want to layout my interpretation of the ending of Moving Pictures on the off chance that someone who read the book reads this entry and wants to compare notes. This is going to be very SPOILER intensive, so I’m going to drop it after the cut.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Reamde is a Pretty Good Book.

A review of the novel Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is somewhat of an enigma to me. He has written some of my all time favourite works of Science Fiction: Snowcrash is easily a modern Sci-fi classic (if not a general landmark piece of fiction) and his next-most-recent novel Anathem was one of the most satisfying reads I've had in years. However, he has also written some books that are decidedly not my favourite books: from the punky missfire of Zodiac to the gargantuan, grinding, morass of his Baroque novel series. I mean, all of these are "good" books in the sense that they are thoughtful and interesting... it's just his best books are both keenly insightful and pleasantly engaging. His worst books are usually only one of these.

Reamde for me, falls somewhere in the middle.

Reamde follows the stories of Richard forthrast, millionaire MMORPG mogul and former marijuana smuggler, and his adopted niece Zula forthrast as they run afoul of the Russian mafia, Chinese hackers, b\British spies and Islamic terrorists in a globetrotting thriller. Reamde, therefore, is a kind of modern meta-thriller, designed around the tropes of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and/or Dan Brown novels. And when I say designed around the tropes (plural) I am being literal: this novel is an aggregate of ALL thriller plots simultaneously. To a certain extent the book functions as a mediation on the genre and its conventions. In a certain sense Reamde succeeds, in that it builds this quintessentially modern thriller story in a highly textured and plausible way. Stephenson's eye for research and his penchant for grounding the over-the-top implausibility of events in the sheer real-world banality that would make them possible (ie. several page discursion on air traffic routing, airline fuel limitations and international radar deployment)really elevates the material. However, the doing-so of this is also Reamde’s greatest flaw. The problem with the novel is one of suspense logistics: it’s hard for a thriller to maintain the kind of tension that is the engine of the genre over 1000+ pages, especially pages that are rife with Stephenson’s particular brand of discursion. Don’t get me wrong: the tangential riffing is some of the best writing in the book and is insightful and interesting which I love (said as a guy who listens to educational podcasts for entertainment while setting up experiments for his graduate studies), but it does bog down the pace of the action. But then again, these tangents are among my favourite parts of Reamde as they act as a direct conduit to the Stephenson-sublime voice that is more prevalent in my favorite books by him. Also, these information rich, laborious discourses are often involved in the mechanics of getting separate plot threads aligned in ingenious ways. Seriously, the character logistics in this book are incredible. It’s technically a very well written book.

Overall, I'd say I enjoyed Reamde, and that I will likely revisit it in a few years. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to a general reading audience (there are better, more accessible Stephenson novels to try first), but I would recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of Stephenson as an author or is serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Death-toll Comics

Or ten comics that were cancelled that I really wished were not.

The premise of this blog is that I have decided, due to economics and preference, to read only ten on-going superhero comics titles. As a result I am interested in reading the best comics being published at any given time to maximize my reading experience.  However, it occurred to me (while doing my annual comics sort) that during the five or so years I’ve been reading comics some remarkably good comics have been cancelled or discontinued. Each one of these titles could easily have made my top-ten Atoll comics list if they were still being published. This post, then, is in remembrance of some terrific comics by talented creators.

My top ten cancelled titles after the cut: