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

Tag: Mutant Cinema

The 2013 Comic-Con Takeaway Post

It’s been a week, and I finally feel like I have recovered from my one day at San Diego Comic-Con.

Visiting the show for the first time in three years, it was interesting to see how little had changed. Most of the booths were the same, offering much the same kind of material. It made me feel less like I had been missing out by not being at the show every single year, and that in itself was a relief.
Marvel Team-Up #74

With only one day, I cruised around the floor most of the time and hit some key booths, including my pals at Animation Magazine. I did a tiny bit of shopping, picking up an advance copy of Alter-Ego #120 from TwoMorrows, featuring a cover story on the Silver Age X-Men. I also picked up a Wonder Woman bendable figure for my daughter, who’s become a big fan thanks to DVDs of the old Lynda Carter series, and a few inexpensive back issues, including Marvel Team-Up #74, featuring Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players (a.k.a. the original cast of Saturday Night Live). I’ve always been interested in this comic, but never had a chance to pick it up until now. I hadn’t realized Chris Claremont wrote it, making it an even more interesting oddity from the late 1970s.

I didn’t buy much more because, well, everything was so expensive. It seems every booth is pushing an “exclusive” item costing anywhere from $20 to $75 and up, and very little appeared to be discounted. Perhaps that’s just a function of exhibitors needing to recoup as much as possible the rather expensive booth rate at the show. Either way, it put a dampener on my shopping interests, especially since almost everything I was interested in can be acquired via a local comics shop or online, often for less and without the need for me to lug it around the show. 
The highlight of the day was the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, during which I talked about my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, in conjunction with the upcoming documentary Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men run on the series. Director Patrick Meaney and producer/cinematographer Jordan Rennert showed some footage from the doc. It was cool to see how well the shots they took of my original X-Men comics collection turned out, as they were going for a different look when presenting the work from an older, more analog era. 
I also jumped at the chance to join Patrick, Jordan and Sequart founder Julian Darius as they interviewed Louise Simonson for the Claremont documentary. I can now check her off my very short list of comics pros whose work I admire who have not yet had a chance to meet.
If there is one reliable result of attending Comic-Con, it is for me a revitalized interest in comics. I’ve been pulling out stuff to read ever since and have managed to catch up on some of my immense reading backlog to very enjoyable effect. I’ll write about some of the more interesting stuff soon.

Random notes: Comic-Con, Pacific Rim, Sequart and Drive-ins

Just a few notes to pass the time while I try to find some time to read a few comics to write about here.

  • I will be attending San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday only! This will be my first trip to the Big Show in three years, I think. Very much looking forward to it! Anyone know of any particularly good new COMICS projects I should check out while I’m there? I think it’s cool that Kazuo Koike is going to be there, though I doubt I’ll be at all inclined to stand in a long line to meet him. Anyway, if you see me, say hi. I expect I will be mostly on the floor and avoiding the lines to get into panels, with one exception …
  • That exception is the reason for my visit. I will be appearing on the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in room 24ABC. Sequart, in case you don’t know (and if you’re reading this blog, how come you don’t know?) published my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen. They also have gotten into the movie business, with Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, and a bunch of upcoming projects. I helped out a bit with their upcoming release, Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men. I was interviewed for the film and provided some additional assets for the shoot. I’ll be appearing on the panel to support this film and the filmmakers, Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennart, as well as Sequart founder Julian Darius. There should be lots of good stuff going on, so if you can attend only one panel at Comic-Con (lucky you!), make it this one!
  • Pacific Rim is a really fun movie. As I mentioned, I saw it a while back and wrote about the VFX work on the film for an upcoming issue of Animation Magazine (who also will be at Comic-Con, stop by booth 1535!) and with its release now imminent, I have to say I really had a fun time with this movie. It’s crazy insane in all the right ways. And it’s an original film! Not a sequel, not a reboot, not an adaptation — not a hoax! It’s really cool and I think anyone who gives the movie a chance will be pleasantly surprised if not turned into a big fan.
  • Additional movie fun: Both Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 are also a lot of fun. I wrote extensively about MU for Animag – check out the cover story here — and it’s funny and cool and looks great, through without rising to the level of Pixar’s best. Me 2 impressed me with the quality of its animation, which looks absolutely terrific. The minions are hilarious and Steve Carell is really good as the weirdo Gru. Again, not quite as innovative as the first one, but still worth the time. 
  • I caught both those films — along with The Internship and a second viewing of Man of Steel — at the Vineland Drive-In Theater in City of Industry, Calif. This is an ideal setting for parents like myself, as 2-year-old Kaya can make all the noise in the car she wants without disturbing anyone else and then, after she falls asleep, my wife and I can enjoy a second movie for less than the price of one at the Arclight or a similar arena. The image quality is quite good, and the sound comes in over the FM radio, and it’s a better experience by far than it was when I was a kid and you had to listen through those little window-mounted mono speakers. Drive-ins are few and far between these days, so I want to call attention to this little gem because it’s a fun experience that I think many movie buffs with young families would enjoy.
That’s it for now. Later.

Reminder – Mutant Cinema is FREE on Kindle! Plus, review it and get a prize!

Just wanted to remind everyone my Sequart book, “Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen” is available for download on Kindle for free. How can you not want to read it with a cool cover like this one, from artist Kevin Colden?

Click here to go straight to the download page!

Don’t dawdle, check it out now!

And while you’re at it, check out “Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen,” another Sequart book you can get free for Kindle. These offers won’t last long, so get them ASAP if you’re interested.

Again, the first five folks to email me with a link to a review (good or bad) on Amazon or elsewhere of the Kindle version of “Mutant Cinema” will get a free surprise comics treat from the extensive haul in my garage.

Get ‘Mutant Cinema” for your Kindle – FREE!

Just wanted to let folks know my Sequart book, “Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen” is available for download on Kindle for free. How can you not want to read it with a cool cover like this one, from artist Kevin Colden?

Click here to go straight to the download page!

Don’t dawdle, check it out now!

And as an incentive, the first five folks to email me with a link to a review (good or bad) on Amazon or elsewhere of the Kindle version will get a FREE surprise comics treat from the extensive haul in my garage.

Checking Out ‘Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts’

Last week, I had a chance to see the new documentary film Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts in its Los Angeles premiere screening at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. This is the second movie — I have to resist my tendency to call any movie a “film,” because very few of them are made with it anymore — from the Sequart Research and Literacy Organization, publishers of such fine tomes as my own Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen (buy it now!). Their previous film, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, was a bona-fide hit with comics fans and got a lot of attention in the mainstream press and was screened at conventions and film festivals. The Ellis version is made by the same filmmakers, headed up by director and film editor Patrick Meaney and d.p. Jordan Rennert — both of whom attended this L.A. premiere screening.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

Like the Morrison doc, Captured Ghosts is an engaging portrayal of the writer behind such huge comic book hits as Transmetropolitan, Planetary, StormWatch, The Authority, Global Frequency, Red, NextWave, Doktor Sleepless, Ministry of Space, Ocean, Desolation Jones, Strange Kiss, Bad World and FreakAngels. The film follows a typical path of starting at the beginning and detailing Ellis’ life from childhood through to becoming a writer and his extensive impact on the industry. Meaney and his crew do a great job of keeping a movie that is probably 95 percent talking heads moving at a fast and entertaining clip. There is a lot of ground to cover in this movie because Ellis is the most influential writer of comics since Chris Claremont (more on him in a bit).

I first came across Ellis’ work on Transmetropolitan, of which I picked up the first three issues after seeing some good reviews online in the ancient internet days of 1997. It instantly became my favorite series of the moment — due in no small part to the lead character being a kick-ass journo — and set off a bit of Ellis-mania. When the one-two punch of Authority and Planetary hit in 1999, Ellis had definitely arrived and the rest has been, as they say history. Though his presence in mainstream comics has dwindled in recent years — mostly by his choice to work with a publisher like Avatar that will allow him do anything he wants without the interference that working on Marvel or DC properties entails — he’s still one of the most popular and well-known writers in comics.

The movie has a slightly different approach than Talking With Gods, as Ellis himself is self-deprecating and even humble when talking seriously about his work and its impact. A lot of the portrait comes through from the interviews with writers and artists and editors he’s worked with over the years. Many of those tales are quite sweet and touching, most notably the story of how Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick first met on the old Warren Ellis Forum, began dating and now are married with two children.

The many interviews — Meaney says he did about 50 of them for the movie — is a who’s who of comic book creators and other celebrities, and runs a huge gamut from Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, John Cassaday and Joss Whedon, to Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt and Helen Mirren, who starred in the movie adaptation of Red and is from the same town in England as Ellis. The pacing manages to keep it all very entertaining and packs in a lot of information. It’s clear from all this that Ellis is much-admired as a writer and valued as a friend.

For those who know Ellis’ biography and bibliography, there’s not a ton of new information save for some details on Ellis’ life prior to his breaking into comics writing and some neat bits on Ellis’ reputation among serious futurists. And there’s not much information that puts his accomplishments into perspective, especially for non comics readers. It’s all a bit jumbled and even though you come out of it feeling entertained, it’s still not really clear from the film why what Ellis has done is of such note.

And it’s a problem compounded for viewers not familiar with Ellis, his comics work or the comic book industry in general. One Variety colleague of mine said the film was “interminable” for non-comics folks and a far cry from Terry Zwigoff’s classic Crumb. I can’t disagree on that point, but I also don’t think this movie is made for anyone other than fans of Ellis and his books who want to know more about both subjects. And as such, it’s a success, and a film well worth checking out.

In the Q and A after the screening Meaney and Rennert said they had interviewed Ellis in two day-long sessions a year apart. They shot at a Holiday Inn in England near Ellis’ home because it is the only hotel in the area that has a room that could accommodate Ellis’ cigarette habit. The bulk of the interviews were done in the intervening year, and the film cost about $10,000 to make, with much of the donations coming from Kickstarter.

To see the film, head over here and scroll down for a list of upcoming screenings or here to pre-order the movie on DVD; it’s due out in February.

Which is about as natural a segue as there is to mention Meaney’s next project, a shorter documentary on Claremont’s run as X-Men writer from 1975-1991. (The project has reached its funding goal on Kickstarter, which is good news.) The project is called Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men and will include a round-table discussion between Claremont and his former X-Men editors Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson in its 45-minute run time. It looks like a great project, and I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.

Check out this cool early look at the project:

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 5 – Comic-Book Movies and Mutant Cinema

I don’t have a lot of books about comic book movies, in part because I don’t think there are many out there that are not direct tie-in books. I have a few of those, including Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Making of the Movie, The Art of X2, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, and one or two more. Reference works are common, including Comic Book Movies by David Hughes and John Kenneth Muir’s comprehensive and readable (though pricey) Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Of actual books on comics movies, I only have a few, including my own. So I’ll start there with a quick recap of how Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen came to be.

I was attending the first New York Comic-Con in February of 2006, enjoying the show despite having to endure a type of winter weather that had long been absent from my life. On the final day, I walked the floor of the Javits Center and came across the booth of Sequart, manned by Julian Darius and Mike Phillips. Julian had just released his book Batman Begins and the Comics, now re-released under the title Improving the Foundations: Batman Begins from Comics to Screen. He told me about the book and how it analyzed the movie scene by scene citing and analyzing how the comic book source material was used through the movie.

I immediately liked the idea and asked him if they were planning any more books like this. Julian said he was planning one on the then-upcoming Superman Returns. I asked if they had any plans for X-Men, which at that point was also coming soon with X-Men: The Last Stand. Mike said that was a good idea but they were mostly DC guys and didn’t know anyone who could write it. My brain went off and I said I could do it, and after a quick listing of my credentials we agreed to talk about it after the show.

A few weeks later we’d worked out a deal and I started writing. I found writing it to be alternately enjoyable and aggravating. A structure came easily, but finding time to devote to writing it in between other gigs that paid the kind of money I needed to keep the lights on was harder than I thought. Revising it also was tough — I felt like I could have revised it endlessly and made it a bit better with each draft, but then it was never going to get done.

Getting the book finished and revised took longer than expected and the book’s original target release date of autumn 2006 quickly revealed itself to be optimistic. Sequart did a great job in getting a small batch of an early version  printed up under the title X-Men: The Movie Trilogy and the Comics for the 2007 New York Comic-Con, complete with a cool cover illustration from Kevin Colden. Concerns about trademark lead to the revised title of Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, as suggested by Julian, and another round of revisions was made before the book became final.

Reaction to the book at that NYCC was a surprise to me. Interest was limited among fans, most of whom already had strong opinions about the movie and familiarity with the source material.

The final version of the book was completed later that year and thus began a frustrating process in gaining distribution for the book. There was some technical issue with getting the book listed on Amazon — which took much longer to resolve than anyone expected. By the time all was repaired and the book was up on the site, a lot of key momentum had been lost as interest in the movies had dwindled after X-Men: The Last Stand.

Having watched each of the movies in the trilogy now dozens of times in writing the book, I think the X-Men trilogy will go down as a trendsetter that got the comic book movie off the ground. But they’ve been outpaced in terms of quality by subsequent, more interesting comic book movies.

The biggest puzzle for me is the strength of antipathy fans have toward The Last Stand. I agree with most that it falls short of X2 in most regards. But having watched it many times I also think it’s really not that much worse than X2 or X-Men. Most of the antipathy centers on Brett Ratner, whose public persona is about as far removed from that of Bryan Singer as you can get. But Ratner really was a hired gun on that movie, brought on just a couple weeks before shooting was to begin.  Ratner’s focus was on finishing the movie on time more than making a personal impression on the material.

The real fault for the movie’s problems lies with Fox, which set an impossible shooting schedule for the film and got cold feet when it came to following through with the Dark Phoenix storyline.

The movie works, I think, pretty well up to the point where Professor Xavier confronts Phoenix at her parents home and she disintegrates him. After that, the Phoenix storyline is dropped until the end of the film. And that ending changes the original story significantly from Jean as the hero, sacrificing herself because she knows she can’t control this level of power, to Wolverine becoming the hero and killing Jean even though he loves her. On the surface, it’s similar, but deep down, it’s quite different.

The other thing The Last Stand did well was to just unleash the characters into the action. On the first two films, Singer offered up inventive but short action sequences that always felt restrained. And it worked to keep the audience hungry for more because it gives the creators a place to go. But I don’t know that his instincts would have allowed him to deliver the kind of satisfying mayhem that Last Stand delivered.

In the end, I’m proud of the book, enjoyed the experience of writing it and learned a lot about my own personal strengths and shortcomings in the process.

If you’re interested in more, check out the book’s page on Sequart.com here, where you can read a sample chapter on previous movie and TV adaptations of X-Men and order the book. You also can get it from Amazon.com here.

Comic-book movies are definitely evolving. It’ll be interesting to see where Marvel goes once they’ve done two or three movies each with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Avengers. It’ll be just as interesting to see if DC can recover from the dismal reception of Green Lantern and figure out how to make the likes of Flash and Wonder Woman into good movies. And with Sony already re-inventing Spider-Man, the pressure will be on Fox to find some way to make good with new versions of Daredevil and Fantastic Four. Comic book movies are sure to stick around for a good ten years — it’s just what they will look like and whether audiences will tire of them that is up for debate.

Mutant Cinema interview at CBR

Check out Timothy Callahan’s interview with me about “Mutant Cinema,” now up over at Comic Book Resources! (Be sure to check out Tim’s book, “Grant Morrison: The Early Years.” It’s a terrific read … ) Looks like an interesting discussion is forming on the CBR message boards about the merits of “X-Men: The Last Stand” …

Also, the Facebook page has 24 fans and counting … If you’re not one of them yet, head on over and join up for all the latest updates.

‘Mutant Cinema’ in Previews! Arrives in stores April 29!

“Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen” is coming at last to comics shops!

The book is in the new edition of Previews, which arrived in comics shop this week, as a Featured Item! You can check out the solicitation online here. If you want to make sure to get a copy, ask your local comics shop to order you a copy using code FEB094600 by Feb. 14. The book is currently scheduled to ship April 29, which is perfectly situated right before the May 1 release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” on May 1 and Free Comic Book Day on May 2.

So the publicity push for the book is in high gear and I’ll post all the relevant details here. First thing to watch for is an interview I did with Timothy Callahan for CBR. (And if you haven’t read it yet, go grab a copy of his book, “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” for a great read.) An excerpt from the book should be coming soon, as well as a few chances to win a signed copy.

In the meantime, if you’re on Facebook, check out the product page for the book, become a fan and learn even more about the book.

There will be more to come in the next few week — and if you’ve got a website, podcast or column, and want to talk to me about the book, please feel free to contact me via the email or AIM link on this page and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

“Mutant Cinema” gets UK coverage

David Bentley, blogger for the Coventry Telegraph in the U.K., writes about my book, “Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen” — in particular some of the details about where “X-Men 3” might have gone had Bryan Singer not left the franchise to tackle “Superman Returns.” Check out his award-winning blog for the parts he finds the most interesting …

The version of the article that showed up in my feedreeder notes that Bentley apparently had some problems finding the book, so here’s the most up to date info:

  • The book is available right now through Amazon.com and BN.com.
  • The publisher, Sequart, also has copies available.
  • The book will be coming to comic shops in the spring. I believe the latest news was that the book will appear for ordering in the January edition of Previews and will come out along with a bunch of other X-themed merchandise tying in to the release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Tell your local comic shop to watch for it and to order lots of copies.

And for those who don’t know, the cover for the book is by Kevin Colden, who since drawing this has gone on to significant acclaim for his graphic novel “Fishtown.”

I’ll be writing more about the book as the PR effort for the Previews debut nears, so watch here for some excerpts and maybe even a few giveaways …

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