A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Month: January 2010

Off the shelf: Chew, Vol. 1

One of the great things about comics is their ability to surprise you, to come up with an idea too strange for other media and make it work completely.

That’s the case with Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice (Image Comics, $9.99), which is most definitely one of the weirdest and coolest comics I’ve come across in a while. None of this will be news to the many folks who picked this up in periodical form. (It’s interesting that this series caused an old-fashioned back issue run when it came out last summer, with prices rising quickly as folks caught on to the series. There’s still some life in the old ways after all, it seems.)

This is the story of Tony Chu, a police detective with the unusual gift of cibopathy — he can obtain information on objects by eating them. This has obvious drawbacks, and Chu takes the vegetarian route to avoid constantly being exposed to the fate of most proteins.

All of which would be interesting enough, but writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory add an extra layer of strangeness by putting Chu in a world where the bird flu has made chicken illegal and made the Food and Drug Administration a major law enforcement agency akin to the FBI. Since “food crimes” are now serious, Chu’s talent comes in extra handy. And it just gets weirder and more fun from there.

While this is in some ways an old-fashioned indie comic on the insanity scale, it also is a polished book that makes it of its time. Guillory handles both art and colors and gives the book a nice, modern, slightly cartoony look that fits Layman’s skewed sensibilities quite well.

Future volumes will definitely be worth checking out, as will the back story of what happens when Chew goes to Hollywood. Cannibalism has never been a terribly popular subject for movies or TV shows — the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are the mid-1990s movie Alive and the “Our Town” episode from season two of The X-Files — and think this is a property where trying to make it palatable to a mainstream audience is likely going to make some studio executive’s head explode.

That alone justifies the existence of this comic. But even if we lived in a world where cannibal movies were de rigueur, this still would be a very cool read.

Trailers: Planet Hulk and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

In case you missed it, last week Marvel premiered its upcoming original animated movie Planet Hulk at the Paley Center in both New York and Los Angeles. I live-blogged the post-screening panel out west for Newsarama, which you can read here.

I quite like these animated movies, especially the ones that are wildly inventive like Batman: Gotham Knight or adapt specific comic stories like Planet Hulk. I will confess to not being terribly familiar with Planet Hulk prior to seeing the screening, but I came out wanting to pick it up and read it. (It’ll have to wait until I find a deal — the trade I spotted at Comics Factory in Pasadena this week cost $35!) And I just got the Blu-ray to check out for Animation Magazine.net (you’re all checking out that site, right?)

Here’s the trailer to Planet Hulk, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 2, and is well worth checking out.

If there’s one area where the Warner Bros. folks solidly beat Marvel on these things, it’s in the animation. It’s just too hard to top the crew they have over there, loaded with guys like Bruce Timm. My knowledge of these Crisis stories isn’t very deep, but I still am looking forward to checking out Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and figuring out how close it is to the comics. Plus, there’s a cool-looking Spectre short on this disc written by Steve Niles that also should be fun.

Here’s the trailer for JL: COTE, out Feb. 23.

Webb on Spidey; AMC taps Walking Dead — a turning point for comics and Hollywood?

It’s kind of interesting to note the attention that’s paid to comic book movies and TV shows these days because the tone of everything shows just how deeply comics have penetrated the culture and business of Hollywood.

The classic example is the announcement by Columbia Pictures that Marc Webb has been hired to oversee the next Spider-Man film, which will reboot the franchise and focus on a Peter Parker still in high school.

By coincidence, I watched Webb’s current movie, (500) Days of Summer, almost simultaneous to the announcement (and thanks to the magic of awards season DVD screeners). It’s doing quite well on the awards circuit, though not well enough it seems to win too many of the awards its nominated for — it is, after all, a comedy.

What struck me the most was a scene after the lead character of Tom Finn, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has had sex with and fallen in love with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer Finn and he walks though downtown Los Angeles, seeing himself as Han Solo in a window reflection and dancing in synch with a large crowd to the tune of Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” My first thought was to compare it to a nearly identical scene — minus Han Solo and the animated bird — from Spider-Man 2 in which Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker walks through the park and everything goes wrong to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

There’s a bunch of questions to ask about this film, not the least of which is why reboot and the second being whether it’s reasonable for Columbia or the fans to think Webb can deliver a satisfying film on a budget rumored to be about $80 million.

On the first question, the reboot does a couple of things, not the least of which is discouraging comparisons to the previous films. Ditching a popular director and pretending like nothing changed was a key factor in fans approaching X-Men: The Last Stand predisposed to not liking it. And rebooting the Batman franchise with Christopher Nolan in charge did the near impossible and (almost) got fans to forgive Warner Bros. for Batman and Robin.

Obviously, Webb (pictured at right) can make it work when it comes to the Parker stuff — the awkward romances, dealing with the sickly aunt, the humiliating job taking pictures for a blowhard boss, etc. But is it necessary to start all over to do that? Why not do what the comics do: ignore the parts you don’t like and keep the ones you do. The most important thing I think would be to move forward. Repeating previous movies only invites comparison and given the generally great job Raimi has done that’s inviting criticism and disappointment.

But when we get to the second half of the equations, whether this can work as a Spider-Man film of the type audiences and fans expect after seeing the first three and reading the comics, is a much harder one to ask.

That’s where the second question comes in. If it’s true that Columbia wants to make this film for only $80 million, then I find it hard to imagine that it’s going to satisfy anybody. For reference, when X-Men was being made with Bryan Singer back in 1999, it had a budget of about $75 million — and it was considered low back then.

And Spider-Man outdid X-Men as a movie franchise on pretty much every level, from the record-setting opening weekend for the first film to positive reviews for the second and even record-setting box office on a third film no one though was as good as the previous two.

Putting it in perspective again, Spider-Man 3 had a reported budget of more than $250 million. The first Spider-Man was made for an estimated $140 million back in 2002. What could Columbia’s rationale for this be, considering the immense box office the series has generated to date?

It’s definitely a vote of no confidence, either in the series to be able to continue without Sam Raimi, in Spider-Man specifically or in comic book movies in general.

There’s also the X-factor of Marvel now being owned by Disney. Both Marvel and Disney surely would like to take back the rights the film rights from Columbia, even though it seems like Columbia can keep those rights as long as it wants without much hassle.

Either way, it could be a sign that studios are willing to move on from superheroes and comic book movies — or at least expensive ones. That could be a big mistake, should Marvel’s slate of movies and the upcoming Green Lantern movie do as well at the box office as previous superhero pics have. But if either of those falls short, expect to see lots of articles about the death of comic book movies and watch Hollywood move on to making toys like ViewMaster and Stretch Armstrong into the next wave of blockbusters. I personally can’t wait to see the board game Sorry! turned into a movie.

Maybe the future for comic book movies lies in TV. The announcement that AMC is going to make a Walking Dead pilot with Frank Darabont directing and serving as executive producer alongside creator Robert Kirkman is definitely an exciting one. And having just watched the premiere episode of Human Target, based on the classic DC Comics series created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, it’s got potential to be a cool, if somewhat traditional, action series. It’s better than what I remember of the Rick Springfield version of the same name, which aired sometime in the early 1990s.

I’m interested in Walking Dead even though I’m not a fan (at all) of zombie stories, simply because Walking Dead is so well done. To succeed in TV, series need to work on an ongoing basis and I can’t say it would be bad creatively for comics if Hollywood’s interest in adapting its stories moved from the big screen to the small. While we might get more shows like Smallville, there’s plenty of good. off-beat TV-friendly comics material to mine for years to come.

Off the shelf: Captain Canuck, Vol. 2

Growing up in Canada as a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I always knew about Captain Canuck. When I was in Grade 3 or 4, a friend of mine used to have a yellow T-shirt with the artwork from the first issue’s cover on it that was very cool and the envy of the rest of the boys at Grandview Heights Elementary School. Given my interest in Canadiana as well as comics, you’d think I’d be an expert on this comic.

But the truth is, I have never read a page of Captain Canuck until now. And I have to say thanks to IDW Publishing for putting this one back into print, even though I missed that they’d published it all up until now.

I’m starting with Vol. 2, which just came out, and collects the Captain Canuck Summer Special and issues 11-14. These are from, according to John Bell in Invaders from the North, “the period that saw Captain Canuck become of the finest superhero comics ever published.” And while that claim may be a bit over the top, there’s no arguing that these are some damn fine superhero comics.

The best stuff is in issues 11-13, a three-parter called “Chariots of Fire” (this came out before the 1981 Oscar winning movie of the same name). This story has a dual plot, one in which Canada has, in the 1990s, become a world superpower due to the value of its natural resources and leads the world’s efforts to repel an alien invasion. Meanwhile, Captain Canuck, who exposed the invasion and was set to lead it, stumbles back in time about a thousand years in an encounter with one of the aliens. The modern world believes the good Captain dead and simultaneously mourns him while using his death to rally the world to the impossible cause of defeating the aliens.

Perhaps my favorite part is the segment with Captain Canuck stuck in the past, where he meets up with a tribe of Micmac natives and helps them fend off their own invasion from the Vikings. This art and writing in this sequence is a tribute to the work of Halifax-born Hal Foster on the classic Prince Valiant comic strip and is extremely well done in both regards.

These stories were written by Richard Comely, who created and drew the first Captain Canuck comics in the mid-1970s, but by this point has focused on his talents as a scripter. The art is by George Freeman and Claude St. Aubin, and is really a joy to look at because, when it shines, it’s pure comic book cartooning at its finest.

And there is something Canadian about it — and the only reason I can come up with for this is the similarity in Freeman’s style to the early work of another Canadian artist of the era, John Byrne. And I’m talking about Byrne even pre-Marvel — Doomsday +1 and the other Charlton stuff he did at the time.

The production value on this book also is great. I don’t know if original films were available, but the art is very crisp and clean and the colors evoke the feel of those 1970s comics while also looking modern.

This beauty package, well worth the $24.99, and I’m definitely on the hunt for Vol. 1. All I need is this book, some jelly doughnuts from Tim Horton’s, a two-four of Labatt’s Blue and an Oilers-Flames game on TV and it’ll be like 1981 all over again.

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