Writer, Editor, Author

Month: June 2013

At the Movies: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel.

I pretty much only get to see movies I am writing about these days, so it’s a good thing a lot of those are movies of interest. Here are some notes on my summer blockbuster viewings so far, including Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim.

I saw Man of Steel a few days before it was publicly released, as I wrote an article on the VFX in the movie for Animation Magazine. (It’ll be in the issue out at Comic-Con, as well as online, but more about CCI in a moment).

There was a lot I liked about the movie. And, honestly, I’m surprised it’s generated as much debate as it has. My first reaction was that the movie was really good. I very much liked the new take on Superman that Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder had come up with. I liked Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams was a terrific Lois Lane. Those are all very hard things to do. If I had one complaint, it was that the fights could have been trimmed back as the destruction becomes a bit overwhelming even though it’s done incredibly well. I particularly liked one shot in the final fight between Zod and Superman where Zod punches him through four or five buildings, with the interior workings of each building exposed in incredible detail.

A lot of Superman fans really dislike the movie, and its more modern portrayal of Superman. I, however, was very glad to see a different take on the character even though I understand that his movie doesn’t give him the heart or idealism that, say, Christopher Reeve brought to the role. But we’ve already had that movie, and a decent sequel and two not-so-decent ones and a disappointing attempt to revive that style. I also am glad someone can strip away a lot of the barnacles that have attached themselves to the Superman mythos over the year. It helped tremendously to ground the movie in today’s world. Superman is still a somewhat distant character, but the world’s reaction to him in this movie and his actions all make sense for a story set in the 21st century instead of the 1930s. Those who want a simpler, happier Superman shouldn’t look to today’s feature films, which operate under economics that require such broad global appeal to audiences of all ages that this kind of PG-13 take on the character is the only type a studio would even attempt.

In the weeks since I’ve seen the movie, I have to admit my enthusiasm for the movie has cooled. I will look forward to seeing it again when it hits Blu-ray, a process that softened my takes on movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus.

Moving on: I loathed Star Trek Into Darkness. You can take a look back at my comments on J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek feature for my overall take on the reboot, as most of the same comments apply to the sequel. I will add that there’s some incredibly sillyness in this movie, most of it coming from the ill-advised elements borrowed from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I think it shows a staggering lack of imagination for the filmmakers to spend all this time and money rebooting the franchise for the future and then so emptily going back to ape the great moments of the past in the vain hope that the original’s emotional resonance would somehow carry over and be amplified through their eyes. Ugh.

Iron Man 3 was not a great movie, but it was a lot of fun and it was a big improvement over Iron Man 2. It’s interesting to see the movie franchise take on a life of its own and essentially outgrow anything and everything done with the comic book version in nearly 50 years of publishing. In this movie, the big bold personality Robert Downey Jr. brings to Tony Stark has outgrown the character’s alter-ego, and he spends much of the latter part of the film outside of his armor, calling it to him only when needed. Downey is an ideal match for this role and I think he can take it to even more interesting places in future films.

I liked the pace and humor in the film, which I think comes in large part from director and co-writer Shane Black and his rapport with Downey. There were, however, a few moments where Stark and Rhodey were huddling under fire that I expected Don Cheadle to say “I’m getting too old for this shit!” I think that would have been awesome. Also, the twist with Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin is inspired and funny; and Guy Pearce makes a great villain and I don’t know why he’s not in more movies. I have no idea where Iron Man 4 could go, but I’m sure we’ll all find out in a couple of years.

Read what I wrote for Animation Magazine about the VFX on Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness here.

I can’t say too much about Pacific Rim — another film for which I’m writing about the visual effects — because it’s not due out until July 12. But so far, this is my favorite film of the summer. Not only is it an original story, it’s got a lot of style, is insanely fun when it comes to the extensive action sequences, and tells a complete tale! It’s like Guillermo del Toro is reminding Hollywood of the sort of movies it used to make and that were once its bread and butter. I hope it’s a hit.

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 2


It’s interesting that X-Force, once the most laughably unnecessary re-launches in X-Men history, has become surprisingly fertile ground for the franchise in the past five or six years. Beginning with the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost revamp of the team as a covert operations unit for the X-Men, X-Force has been a consistently good and interesting read. (I will exempt the X-Force: Sex and Violence series, which painfully included not-so-subtle scenes of Domino offering — and giving – oral sex to Wolverine.) 

Marvel Now! turns X-Force into a franchise with the franchise, splitting the idea into two books: Cable and X-Force and the second series of Uncanny X-Force.

Starting with Uncanny X-Force, the covert ops concept mostly continues here, though with a mostly new cast including Storm, Spiral, Cluster and Puck along with returning mainstay Psylocke. This is a pretty messed up bunch of characters, with Psylocke having serious issues with Spiral over that whole blinding and bionic eyes episode way way back somewhen in the character’s Marvel UK days. And then Cluster is a clone of Fantomex — and is in some way romantically involved with him.

Writer Sam Humphries does a nice job keeping things fun and action packed, but what I liked the most was the dominant role for Storm. I’ve said before that the character has seemed frequently lost since Chris Claremont left the X-Men in 1991, but reading Humphries version, it’s almost like she never left. I do have reservations about Puck, a character I always liked best when Byrne wrote him in the original Alpha Flight run. I really despised the ridiculous origin Bill Mantlo came up with for the character, where he sacrificed his full size body to keep a demon genie trapped inside himself. Mantlo’s run on Alpha Flight remains atop my list of Most Destructive and Regrettable Runs.

But, I digress. I like that Humphries makes Puck fun again, but I’m seeing near enough “eh’s” in his dialog. Also, I don’t recall him ever being quite so cosmopolitan, or even being from Saskatchewan. I always thought he was from Toronto, but whatever.

Oh, and Bishop is in the book, too.

The art is very solid and nice looking, with the vastly underrated Ron Garney on the first batch and the last couple of issues by Adrian Alphona of Runaways fame. I also like the redesigns on the costumes, with Psylocke in particular getting a nice full-body redesign that finally gets her out of the purple bathing suit Jim Lee designed in 1990. Overall, this is an entertaining and solid book, although I wouldn’t say it’s setting the world on fire.

Cable and X-Force on the other hand reads more like a straight Cable book. That’s not to say there’s not good stuff going on with the other characters, especially Colossus, long one of my favorites. But the supporting cast, which includes Domino, Forge, Doctor Nemesis, Hope Summers and Boom Boom is pretty nondescript. Domino and Boom Boom never really stood out as especially interesting characters, while Forge has lacked direction since 1987’s Fall of the Mutants and Doctor Nemesis has always seemed like a bad caricature of Warren Ellis, if Warren were a member of the X-Men. This book comes in second to Uncanny X-Force for me, saved in large part by the excellent artwork of Salvador Larocca, who has long been one of the better pencilers at Marvel.

Moving on to Wolverine, there’s two new series here, including a new main Wolverine title by Paul Cornell and Alan Davis, and Savage Wolverine, which looks to be more of an anthology series in the mode of Legends of the Dark Knight. On Wolverine, Cornell and Davis do a solid job of telling a good Wolverine story in more of the superhero mode. Davis’ art is always worth looking at. Cornell’s story works mainly as an action piece, giving Wolverine some cool stuff to do like bring down an airplane before it hits Yankee Stadium. If we’re going to have this many Wolverine comics, at least these are a bit of fun if not much else.

Frank Cho writes and draws the first five issues of Savage Wolverine, which feature Logan in the Savage Land with Shanna the She-Devil. That gives Cho a chance to draw what he is best known for — attractive, well-endowed women. The story is not bad, but it’s definitely on the lighter side of Wolverine. A bit of humor is always welcome in comics as grim as the mutant books often are, I just wish the attempts weren’t so clumsy and were a bit more, you know, funny. This is a lot of eye candy, and it’s really nice looking eye candy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Savage Wolverine #6 features a new creative team, this time writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Madureira. As you might expect with Joe Mad back on an X-book, this feels like a nostalgia trip back to 1997 or so. I overall like Madureira’s art, which is expressive and shows the influences of animation and video games. But there’s a cartoonish quality to it that has always seemed at odds with the general grimness of its tone. Anyways, this so far features Wolverine teaming with Elektra and Spider-Man and the Kingpin’s in there, too, along with some new characters. It’s a fast-paced comic with lots of fun quips and cool posing and it’s a reminder that not everything about 1990s superhero comics were bad.

The light — with that being a very relative term when it comes to X-comics — tone of the Wolverine books is interesting given the thing that made the character popular in the first place was his edgy elements and the promise of real violence. I don’t think a Wolverine book needs to be graphic, necessarily, but nothing about the character really stands out or works the way it could without more serious elements. Wolverine was always all about pain — managing his own and inflicting it on others. He should always be a bit uncomfortable and out of place, and these tales are awfully safe. This is certainly nothing new in the way Marvel has managed the character, but with so much of the company’s output reading very solid and entertaining these days, it’s a shame they couldn’t take a little bit more of a chance with these books.

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 1

All-New X-Men #1

The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.

All-New X-Men #11

All-New X-Men is the book I was fearing the most. Why? One word: Bendis. As Marvel’s go-to writer, Brian Michael Bendis has had a pretty amazing run overall at Marvel, though I found his work on the various Avengers titles became too, well, cutesy, for lack of a better word. I’m not a big fan of the kind of rambling, pop-culture filled dialog that Bendis likes to fill entire issues with when he can. I thought that stuff worked great when Bendis did his own comics, like Goldfish, Jinx or Fortune and Glory. But he’s surprised me here with more action-oriented stories and a good focus on character.

The premise of the book is, however, pretty silly. It starts with Beast thinking he’s dying (he really just evolving again) and picking up on something Iceman says about how the young Scott Summers would never become the monster that the current Cyclops is. So he goes back in time and brings the original, teen-age X-Men into the present. What’s amazing is that this is nowhere as bad as it sounds, and is actually pretty good. The jokes about anachronisms are kept to a minimum, and the younger versions all come off as very interesting takes on the characters, especially Jean Grey. That last part is even more astounding given how long it’s been since the ever-morphing Jean has been interesting.

What really helps this book is the art, most of it by Bendis’ former Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Stuart Immonen with inks from Wade von Grawbadger. The other artist in the rotation, David Marquez, is up to the task of keeping the book moving along at a quick pace and maintaining the slick look Immonen and von Grawbadger have established.

So far, the original team has met its older versions (the ones that are still alive — sorry, Jean!), the Avengers, as well as enemies like Mystique, who don’t always appear as bad at first to the young, time-displaced mutants. After 11 issues, I’m not sure exactly where this title is going or what its long-term prospects are because it seems clear the teenage X-Men have to return to the past at some point or else completely change the timeline and invalidate years of X-Men stories (not a good idea; see the Spider-Clone saga for reference).

Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 3) #1

The flip side comes in the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, known as Vol. 3. This book follows Cyclops’ team and features some interesting character dynamics, especially with Magneto. The art by Chris Bachalo, with help from Frazier Irving, is worth the price of admission all by itself. The stories are moving along slowly, but there is a nice counter point to this comic — it complements All-New X-Men without making either series redundant.

X-Men: Legacy (Vol. 2) #1

X-Men: Legacy is the one book I decidedly did not like after reading the first four issues. This series is about David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the son of Charles Xavier whose mind is full of split personalities, each with its own power. While I like the craziness the cover designs promise, this is just not a character I’ve ever found interesting and an entire series about him battling with his inner demons — and is largely disconnected from other X-Men series — just doesn’t cut it for me.

X-Men (Vol. 4) #1

The simply titled X-Men (is this Vol. 3 or Vol. 4? I can’t remember!) from writer Brian Wood and artists Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales got a solid launch from the apparent novelty of it being a team of all-female mutants. Of course, Wood has his own fans and they bring some high expectations to this title, most of which he easily meets. The debut issue focuses on Jubilee, apparently no longer a vampire. She’s on the run with a little baby and turns to the X-Men for help. She gets it from Storm, Kitty, Psylocke, Rogue and Rachel Grey. That’s a good lineup for an X-Men book, no matter the gender politics, but that’s been the focus of a lot of the publicity surrounding this book’s launch. I happen to like all those characters (Jubilee can be a bit annoying, but she’s better by far than, say, Marrow), and it’s a solid book. I think Storm benefits the most from this title, being a character who really dominated the series back in Claremont’s days and has since struggled to maintain her popularity. I love the return to the old 1980s mohawk look, and the overall take on her is quite promising. Rogue, Kitty and Psylocke all have received plenty of attention in recent years, but I have to say I do like the new costume for Psylocke. Rachel has been a confusing character almost from the start, but I’d like to see what Wood can do with her.

Next: We’ll get into the X-Force and Wolverine titles.

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