Friday, October 28, 2005

Comics Review: October 28

Kicking off this week's reviews is Young Avengers, with the two-part story "Secret Identities" (issues 7 and 8). Heinberg proves his successful debut was no fluke; having met the Young Avengers in costume over the last six issues, we're now starting to delve into their civilian lives. Heinberg's approach remains carefully balanced: on the one hand, he's only giving us very small glimpses at who these kids really are. On the other hand, revelations come in all sizes: little things like explicit confirmation that Teddy and Billy are boyfriends, and a rather significant exposing of one Young Avenger as a complete fraud. This is precisely why "Young Avengers" has been maintaining reader interest: Heinberg knows he has a winning deck, but he's setting the cards down one at a time. Based on solicitations, it seems we'll be spending an arc delving into each character in turn. But this is no padded, decompressed sales gimmick; "Secret Identities" does, after all, manage to work in an additional subplot where the Young Avengers bust up Mr. Hyde's MGH operation (at no cost to the running character arcs). Things are happening in the present while we're looking into the recent past, and Heinberg is keeping his promise: none of these kids are what they seem to be. Eight issues in, this series has lost none of its charm or energy, and I'm still completely into it.


"Legion of Superheroes" continues with issue 11, and again, there's not much I can say about it that didn't apply last issue. We're still building to the climax of Lemnos' attack on the United Planets; it's still an exciting read, with some very touching moments (ie: Brainiac spending the entire issue standing still, trying to calculate a way to bring the murdered Dream Girl back to life - and failing). I think this is also the very first issue to feature all the main characters in the Legion at once - there's a rather formidable roll call when the issue begins, but Waid has done his job well in prior issues, and you know just enough about every single member to make them distinctive.

There's a backup story in this issue where a Legionnaire is trying to collect scattered issues of DC comics in the rubble of Legion HQ (the idea being that these "historical artifacts" are priceless because they inspired the new heroic movement). There's a nice effect in the artwork where poses and actions seen on various covers play themselves out in a mirror effect (ie: someone points to the sky, cut to a cover of Superman doing the same thing). However, it's a bit more muddled than Waid's usual efforts: the point, at first, seems to be that Elastic Lad is desperate to preserve the past, a valid concept when their future seems so bleak. But when he's confronted with the casualties around him, and those that need his help, he tosses them away with a dismissive "It's just comics". So what is Waid saying here? That the past isn't as important as the present? But if that's the case, why are these people unknowingly acting out scenes from various comics? How can history repeat itself if it's meaningless? And if they are important, why discard them at all?

Still, a slightly off-kilter backup story doesn't compromise what continues to be an excellent saga. I look forward to the next issue.


The Luna Brothers, Joshua and Jonathan, won me over last year with their spectacular debut miniseries, "Ultra: Seven Days". I was specifically blown away by how well they wrote believable female characters, and I certainly count "Ultra" as one of my favorite reads of 2005. So when they announced a new ongoing series at Image, I didn't hesitate. Not even at the grimace-inducing titles, "Girls" (as in, "Hi, I'd like an issue of 'Girls', please... I've got six 'Girls' in my longbox back home..." and so on).

As it turns out, "Girls" is as strong an entry as "Ultra" was, even though the two could not be more different. Whereas the latter was a bit of superheroes mixed with a bit of "Sex and the City", the former is more of a toned-down, quiet mystery. The pace is slow, but not padded; the characters are varied (though some stand out better than others); and the enigmatic Girl at the center of the story is eerie, invoking curiosity without testing the reader's patience.

In issue 6, the Lunas seem to deliver a very convincing explanation of the Girl's origin; whether it's what it appears to be remains to be seen. This revelation sends the town into a panic, but an attempted evacuation goes terribly wrong and the remaining refugees discover they have nowhere to run.

We're currently at a point in the series where plot movement has overtaken characterization for the time being; as such, when we're introduced to new players such as the female Reverend we don't get to know them very much. One flaw the Lunas are trying to overcome here is how to deal with a cast made up of an entire town's population. As I said before, some characters are distinct (protagonist Ethan, the Picketts and Sheriff Wes to name a few) while others are so obscure they're interchangeable (Cole's parents, the various women injured during the prior attack). I think one thing "Girls" could really use is a dramatis personae; all we get in the intro page is a map of Pennystown (the setting of the story), and a list of the citizens and their homes. It's very difficult to match the faces to the names.

That aside, "Girls" still succeeds at building an interesting riddle from the ground up. The first issue wasn't much more than Ethan's problems with his ex-girlfriend, and his encounter with a silent, wounded girl on the road. In six issues, we've had fatalities, hysteria, unexplained events and tangible evidence that something otherworldly is at work. I don't think the Lunas are going to lose me anytime soon. :)


"Vegas: Play To Win" (Amazing Fantasy 13-14) was a pretty disappointing read for me. I've never been one for Karl Kesel's writing, but it had an interesting angle: moving away from the traditional urban, metropolitan trappings of the Marvel Universe, this story concerns a grifter named Vegas who comes to Texas looking to avenge his murdered sister. We quickly learn that Vegas has a vaguely-defined ability to manipulate luck, gained by the same accident that took his sister's life; bullets miraculously miss him, keys to his handcuffs just happen to turn up in his hands, etc. The catch is that Vegas siphons good luck from people around him, so any use of his power results in disaster for someone else (although who it affects, when and why, is left unclear).

Unfortunately, the lack of coherent description isn't limited to Vegas' powers. We don't learn just how his sister Jane was killed, or precisely what happened to give him these abilities. We're given a painfully brief description of how superhumans behave in this environment - no gaudy tights for this bunch - but there's no mention as to whether these people are mutants, aliens, or something else. Vegas' characterization is lacking, with no discernable qualities that could maintain the reader's interest. On top of all that, Kesel only barely scratches the surface in terms of what life in a Marvel Universe version of Texas would be like.

Realistically speaking, it was perhaps optimistic of me to expect a satisfying read out of a two-issue standalone story. But Kesel doesn't take advantage of the space he does have, to the point that he runs out of pages before the story's over. There's no conclusion at all - rather, the issue ends with Vegas reaching the mid-point in his journey following a startling revelation. And... well, that's it. There's a vague promise of a further adventure "if you liked this one" (read: "Buy this comic if you want to know how the story ends"), but I'm not holding my breath. An insufficient ending is just the icing on this bad, bad cake. Better luck next time, "Amazing Fantasy".

Addendum to "When Novelists Attack!"

This just in: Rambo creator David Morrell will be writing a Captain America project for Marvel next year. The press release is as follows:

"In his first comic book writing effort, Morrell will bring his action writing talent to Captain America, in the story of a young Marine, Corporal James Newman, who is on his tour of duty in Afghanistan. In the midst of a brutal fire fight with enemy forces, Captain America leads him out of the battle while helping him rescue his wounded comrades who are trapped by enemy fire. When the smoke clears, Newman is unsure if Captain America was really there, or a hallucination in the stress of battle."

Now that's more like it! A Captain America story that might not be a Cap story at all; rather, what the character represents, particularly in contemporary times. That's something we haven't had recently - the significance of Captain America from the perspective of an outsider. Again, Morrell is a writer I haven't had personal experience with, but based on the idea alone? This easily has the most potential in the novelist circle. Definitely something I'll be looking forward to.

When Novelists Attack!

Or "New Recruits Tell Old Stories"

Marvel has just announced the addition of two critically-acclaimed authors to their ranks: Stephen King and Eric Jerome Dickey.

They've also announced what projects these two will be working on. Prepare to be bowled over (or not). King and Jae Lee will be doing a monthly series based on King's "Dark Tower" series, while Dickey teams with District X artist David Yardin for a six-part Storm miniseries that isn't actually a Storm miniseries (more on that in a bit).

But first... Stephen King. This announcement has sent up quite a burst of controversy lately. The argument seems to break down into the following: on the pro side, snagging a writer of King's calibre and fame is certainly a coup for Marvel. It provides a level of visibility that even DC couldn't obtain with Brad Meltzer. Also, by having King's project tie in to his "magnum opus" book series, Marvel could hypothetically snag most, if not all, of King's readers (who, last I checked, numbered somewhere in the millions). Quite frankly, this is an almost-assured financial and commercial success for Marvel.

The con side, however, points out that Marvel has basically told their own audience that, Dark Tower readers aside, they've got nothing to look for here. Accessibility obviously isn't going to be a factor when you've got seven novels as the base; not to mention, a lot of King fans (myself included) tend to draw a distinction between his work in the fantasy genre and his work in the horror genre. If you haven't already been reading "Dark Tower", you're probably not the target audience.

Which, I suppose, is fair enough if you look at it solely in terms of the money. There's no question that Marvel can only gain by ditching their readers in exchange for King's. But one criticism I'm very much inclined to agree with is the larger problem, which is that Marvel and King aren't bringing anything innovative to the table. "Dark Tower" has been around for twenty-five years. New story or not, there's nothing original here. I'm not saying they should have saddled King with the X-Men or something mainstream, but one does have to wonder why go this route, as opposed to something completely original that could appeal both to King fans and to the regular audience; something along the lines of JMS' "Dream Police", which has no ties to the mainstream but also no explicit ties to past works of the writer. That's the creative ideal, because there are no pre-requisites for any reader who jumps aboard. And King is certainly capable of that.

Unfortunately, this theme of "someone new doing something old" seems to have become a theme across the board. Damon Lindelof is doing Wolverine vs. Hulk. Daniel Knauf is doing an Iron Man story where his technology is stolen and used for evil. We've seen all this before. And it doesn't stop there, as Eric Jerome Dickey's "Storm" miniseries proves.

As I mentioned before, it's not really about Storm at all. Rather: "Dickey's Storm story arc will present an epic romance, revealing the untold love story of the world's two most popular African American Super Heroes, Ororo (also known as Storm of the X-Men) and T'Challa (a.k.a. The Black Panther), the world's first African American Super Hero... As the story and romance unfold, the duo come together to fight against a mutual foe who seeks to put them in a cage and exploit them toward wicked ends." (quoted from the press release)

So it's a Black Panther/Storm love story. An "epic" love story, no less. Except that, if we put aside the recent Milligan/Hudlin crossover, Storm and Black Panther? Not exactly Cyclops and Jean Grey, or Superman and Lois Lane. If I recall correctly, they shared one story together back in Ye Olde Days, and that was about it. And personally, I always felt there was something very artificial about the basic concept of a Panther/Storm relationship, because no writer has ever convinced me they're together for any other reason than they're both African. That's certainly the vibe I get from Reginald Hudlin, who gleefully lumps together Black Panther, Blade, Storm and Luke Cage despite the fact that the only thing they have in common is skin color. It's forced, and it doesn't convince.

And the annoying thing is that the press release regarding Dickey is utterly contradictory: first it promises to be a Storm series, then we find out T'Challa shares the billing. Dickey expresses his admiration of Storm, then explains how the series is about African Prince T'Challa meeting street girl Ororo, who gets along more because she's a sneak than because of her nascent powers. Hell, at least the older story had them on equal ground (he a prince, she a "goddess").

Which brings me to the same problem as before: Dickey isn't showing us anything new. We've seen Storm/Panther. It wasn't very convincing then. And for all that Dickey might be able to wrangle some kind of love story out of it, it's unlikely he'll be able to get past that instinctive sense of artificiality, precisely because - aside from him, Hudlin and whoever wrote that first story - it's not as if that many people find the relationship believable in the first place. Again, it's a waste of talent (though I'm not personally familiar with Dickey's work, so I can't comment on whether he has any talent to waste).

I've expressed hesitation regarding this influx of non-comics writers before. Primarily because there's not much indication as to whether these new recruits can actually write comics; but also because it's becoming increasingly clear that they're not really trying to think outside the box. And maybe the reason star power isn't translating into off-the-chart sales is because however well Lindelof pulls off a Wolverine/Hulk fight, it's still a Wolverine/Hulk fight. A rose (or pile of excrement, depending on your tastes) by any other name...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Movie Review: "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark"

Or: "Putting the 'Tit' in 'Titillation'

This movie is exactly why I try very, very hard to keep an open mind as often as I can. Because if you judge "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" by how it looks rather than what it says, you probably come away with a completely different - and much more negative - opinion of it.

Ethan practically begged me to watch this with him. Apparently it's a relic of his childhood, one of those movies you're always so nostalgic about even though you only remember a scene or two. I made him sit through "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" (he's not a Mel Brooks fan, go fig), so fair is fair. I should note here that I was only vaguely familiar with the character of Elvira before watching the film... mostly through the old PC game back when DOS ruled the world. So I didn't really know what to expect aside from the fact that it was labeled a comedy.

He was expecting me to start snarking as soon as Elvira turns up looking like this:

And I probably would have, if the movie had continued with the tone it establishes in the first minute, painting Elvira as another vapid bint with more boobs than brains. But then she starts harping on the lame movie she just hosted, and it becomes pretty difficult to muster any vitriol towards her. There's something very genuine and light-hearted in the way Cassandra Peterson plays the part, to the extent that I couldn't help but like Elvira and laugh with her.

A big part of that is, I think, the fact that while Elvira may be a few clones short of a Star Wars movie (as the saying goes), at the same time she's never a victim. She's highly and overtly sexualized, and objectified by almost every man she meets... but they can't touch her if she doesn't want them to. In that respect, her appearance is almost empowering rather than demeaning; it's a choice she makes not to draw men in, but because it's how she wants to express herself.

The plot is stock B-movie quality: Elvira is summoned to a small town in Massachusetts (called Fallwell, hah hah) to receive an inheritance from her deceased great-aunt. Unfortunately, she gets herself stranded there, and finds out the town is dominated by a "morality club" that never quite let go of their Puritan heritage. Naturally, someone like Elvira sticks out like a sore thumb. But the oppressed, repressed teens see her as a symbol of rebellion and freedom, which sends the whole town off the rails. Meanwhile, Elvira's great-uncle Vincent is trying to steal an item of magical power left in her care, and he plans to kill her once he receives it. Cue mayhem, firebreathing demons and a homage to Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. There's even a nice, upbeat ending where Elvira finally achieves her dream of performing in Las Vegas.

It turns out rather better than you'd expect; one of those movies, perhaps, that's "so bad it's good"? A charming effort... not Oscar material, but certainly a pleasant surprise.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"In Therapy"

Or: "Why I'll Never, Ever See A Shrink"

Okay, this is sort of a "nyah nyah nyah" moment, because if you're not living in Israel, chances are you're not watching "In Therapy". We're one of those countries that don't mind importing but export so rarely (though, in fairness, we very rarely have anything worth sending out there, and no, Dana International wasn't one of them).

So why am I reviewing this series? Because it's one of the few television dramas that hooked me from the pilot and, after months, has yet to lose me. It's subtle yet biting, clever yet not exclusively so, and it's mesmerizing. Forget religion, other people's problems are the opium of the masses.

"In Therapy" is about people. Lots of people. Their stories, their pain, their secrets, the lies they tell each other and themselves. The focalizer is a psychologist named Reuben Dagan, and through him we're plugged into the lives of five of his patients. The series is structured in such a way that his sessions are sort of real-time; since he only sees his patients on a weekly basis, each day of the week features an episode aligned with that specific character. It's a rather clever way of giving us multiple character subplots without getting them tangled in each other. At the same time, since Reuben is the one we follow every day, it's interesting to see how each session and each patient affects him differently. The smallest details mean something.

Being a series about therapy, each 30-minute episode contains about 29 minutes and 30 seconds of dialogue. This is obviously where the series would live or die, because it's so heavily dialogue-oriented. Fortunately the scripters are at the head of the class, gently prodding you with the Exposition Stick (as opposed to bashing your brains out, as other shows are wont to do). Verbal clues are dropped, then picked up and explored. Very true to life, and that's what makes it work.

So... his patients. My first reaction is "Ye Gods, these people make the Osbournes look like the Bradys". Except we're already six or seven sessions in, and looking back I realize just how toned down each character really was. When you first meet these people, you don't know their issues, and in some cases you're left to wonder why they're wasting their time on a couch, there's nothing wrong with them. And then they slowly, exquisitely start unraveling.

On Sundays we have Neama, a 32-year-old woman who's been in Reuben's care for a year. She's developed an obssession with him, and she's utterly convinced he feels the same way. Of course, he writes it off as transference, and really, she comes off as the Icky Slutbag in the first few episodes, talking about sex like she's getting paid for it. But it turns out she's harboring a deep trauma about her childhood that completely screwed her up, and while that's a big part of her current state of mind, something on Reuben's end may be encouraging her.

Monday nights give us Yadin, an Israeli fighter pilot. Unlike Neama, he's never been to Reuben before, which means he doesn't know anything more than we do. Yadin starts off as a pretty obnoxious character: arrogant, defensive, a real jerk. On a faulty intelligence tip, he bombed a Palestinian kindergarten, killing thirteen infants rather than the terrorist he'd targeted. This doesn't seem to bother him, since - as he tells Reuben - he did his job to the best of his ability. It's not his problem. That statement gets pretty warped when we find out Yadin's parents were Holocaust survivors. But the big thing with this guy is that, the day his military hiatus ended, he drove himself to a massive coronary and died. Clinically dead. And when he came back, everything felt different for him. Of course, he doesn't actually see any connection between this and the failed bombing. It all spirals pretty out of control for the poor guy, whose irritating air of superiority gets dismantled, bit by bit. And to top it all off, his latest breakthrough in therapy has kicked off a full-fledged sexual identity crisis (beat that, Brad Meltzer!), as the promo for tomorrow's episode seems to indicate he's slept with the doctor who saved his life. Who happens to be his best friend, but more importantly, a man. I smell overtime.

The most sympathetic patient to date is 17-year-old Ayala, who turns up on Tuesdays. Again, this is a tabula rasa character, so she's unknown both to us and to Reuben. Ayala's story is the one with the most intricate structure; she originally comes to Reuben for a professional evaluation, after she got hit by a car and the insurance company denied her claim by saying she jumped into the road. Ayala, of course, is furious at the suggestion that she attempted suicide, but she can't prove otherwise without a legal affirmation from a certified psychologist. Reuben decides to play along, thinking that if he gets her to open up (ostensibly for the evaluation) he might find out what's going on. And it's a doozy. I couldn't fit this girl's baggage onto a 747, but the thing is, it'd be impossible to care for her if she wasn't the most sympathetic cast member. The actress, Maya Maron, infuses her character with so much vulnerability that, from the moment she steps into the clinic with both arms in casts, you can't help feeling for her. Neither can Reuben, who is almost instinctively driven to help her face her demons and overcome them.

Wednesday is Couples Therapy, and these are the characters I care least about because it's a little too color-by-numbers. A thugalicious cowboy and a banker have been married for years (she cheated on her first husband with him), they had a kid, and because of complications in labor she couldn't have another. They worked at it for five years, torturous fertility treatments and such, and she finally got pregnant. Only now she doesn't want the baby anymore. Reuben deduces that who she really doesn't want is her husband. IMO, the problem here is that, unlike the rest of Reuben's patients, there aren't many surprises here. He thinks she's having an affair (she might be), she thinks he's paranoid and abusive (he probably is), and the only reason they've stayed together this long is because fighting each other gives their lives meaning. It doesn't matter if they love each other, or if she just doesn't like the idea of having her career waylaid by pregnancy; their whole relationship is founded on their differences rather than whatever they might have in common.

But Thursday is where the series really gets brilliant. At the end of the very first week, Reuben calls up an old colleague of his, seemingly on a whim. And so we meet Dr. Gila Abulafia, his mentor and supervisor back when he was a student of psychology. There's some bad blood between them due to a life-altering feud they had in that period, but when he shows up, it's almost like two colleagues getting reacquainted... until you realize they're slowly moving into actual psychological therapy. With Gila treating Reuben. I can't stress how effective this is, in that it completely deconstructs Reuben as the supposedly-flawless listener who knows the answers to everyone's problems. Gila, the superior therapist, breaks through that surface and brings out shocking, personal issues that Reuben himself is dealing with. Just like that, the veneer of calm, oracular knowledge is shattered and we see Reuben just as frail, just as problematic as anyone he's treating. It breaks down the facade in a way that makes him a human being in our eyes, but also that much more unreliable as a therapist, because how can he advise a couple in a marriage crisis when his own marriage is falling apart? His patients need to see him as the guy with all the answers, and that's how we're inclined to see him too, at first. And when we can't do that anymore, it changes everything.

If I knew how, I'd encode and subtitle every single episode of this sublime, sophisticated and enrapturing series and share it with the world. :)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Comics Review: October 23

Another short one this week: just the debut of Keith Giffen's Marvel series, "Nick Fury's Howling Commandos". This week also saw the conclusion of Ed Brubaker's "Authority: Revolution" miniseries, but I'm saving that for an upcoming retrospective on the series, from Ellis' Stormwatch to today.

So... "Nick Fury's Howling Commandos". I had hopes for this series based on its premise: SHIELD, premier spy organization of the Marvel Universe, has assembled a commando squad comprised entirely of monsters. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, mummies, it's all fair game. Their job is basically to go where SHIELD can't (or won't) send human operatives and wreak carnage. The underlying idea is that these monsters are somehow more expendable than human beings, at least where Nick Fury is concerned. It's a disturbing notion that Giffen points to, but doesn't really discuss at any length.

October has been declared "Marvel Monster Month", another one of those dreadful navel-excavating stunts where Marvel talks up some random, not-particularly-well-written projects, and then utterly abandons them a week later. They then mourn the need for premature cancellation, blamings fans who'd never even heard of said projects for low sales and lower interest.

Of course, this is a perfect demonstration of Marvel's inability to think beyond the short term: granted that assorted one-shots will probably, at the very least, recoup printing costs, but series like "Howling Commandos" bear the onus of carrying the themes once the fad (and the hype) is gone. It didn't work for Tsunami, it didn't work for the Young Guns initiative, and it didn't work for Marvel Next. So, all things considered, it's very unlikely Giffen will make it to issue 12, much less go further than that.

How does the issue itself stack up? Not very well, sadly. The story begins with this "monster squad" - comprised of new character Warwolf, Nina Price (Vampire by Night, from "Amazing Fantasy"), a clone of Frankenstein's monster (no, I don't get it either), a mummy, a zombie and a talking ape (apparently the latter three are all established Marvel characters) - infiltrating and attacking a terrorist cell. This sequence is very muddled, due in part to the artwork and in part to a lack of narrative focus which has the plot bouncing all over the place. Following their victory, the Howling Commandos are airlifted out of the region by a dragon who looks a lot like Fin Fang Foom, but apparently is not (it's also unclear whether they hitch a ride in his mouth or whether his stomach has been hollowed out).

Half an issue later, Nick Fury places Clay Quartermain in charge of the squad, and gives painfully brief descriptions of the characters. Apparently Giffen is counting on you to recognize these characters on sight; given their age, that strikes me as a touch too optimistic. And then someone called Merlin escapes from a warehouse. The end.

As introductory issues go, it doesn't quite get the job done. I came away from it utterly disinterested, and to be fair to Giffen, it's not so much that his writing is bad, it just lacks any hook. I didn't really see anything that compelled me to come back for a second issue, and I wouldn't recommend anyone else do the same.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Oh my GOD.

Or: "I Can't Believe It's Not Diana!"

I think I've found my online counterpart:

Not only does she have a lot to say about comics art (which I've never really been able to evaluate to any considerable extent) as well as stories, but she reviews DC comics. On top of all that? She's bloody good at it. Observant, detailed, clearly intelligent.

I'd be in love if I swung that way. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Highlights from Marvel's January solicitations

Let's get right in there, shall we?

* Warren Ellis kicks off the last part of his Ultimate Galactus trilogy by introducing... Misty Knight. Uh... yes. Well, best of luck to him, then.

* Mike Carey's Ultimate Fantastic Four/Ultimate X-Men crossover ends, followed by the first issue of Robert Kirkman's run. At this point I'm seriously considering dropping Ultimate X-Men - Kirkman's never impressed me in any capacity, and considering Bryan Singer's slated to follow him, the future looks bleak indeed. Still, on the off-chance that Kirkman might do something interesting, I'm still labeling this as "wait and see".

* Seems "The Other" has been expanded to a fourth month of Spider-book crossovers. Well, that's just another month I'm not reading "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man".

* Kevin Smith's "Spider-Man/Black Cat" miniseries promises to conclude. Strangely, the guy who writes the solicits seems very proud of the fact that the sixth issue has come out at all, promising a story that'll have us all debating and discussing. Personally, I think it's a little late in the day for that. If this story meant anything at all, its reprecussions would've turned up by now.

* Mike Oeming starts an "Ares" miniseries. Yes, Ares. I'm stumped too; another "wait and see", then.

* Bendis and Maleev's run on "Daredevil" comes to an end. I'd be leaving too, except the next team promises to do an even better job: Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. Happy happy joy joy. :)

* "X-Statix" is back with a five-issue miniseries. Welcome back, my darlings; I've missed you.

* A six-issue "Daughters of the Dragon" miniseries begins. I'd check it out, but the writing team is Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and they're on my "Don't Bother" list.

* Conversely, Paul Di Filippo starts a five-issue "Doc Samson" mini, and my interest is piqued. Could go either way, of course.

* "Amazing Fantasy" continues the "Death's Head 3.0" story; the backup story running through this arc is revealed to be a Morbius tale by Steve Niles. No mention as to whether it's a revamp or not, but didn't we just finish a vampire story a few issues ago?

* Ellis begins his twelve-part "Nextwave" miniseries, and it strikes me as a little too acidic, a touch too tongue-in-cheek to enjoy. Ellis is very vocal regarding his hatred towards superheroes; so whenever he writes superheroes, it never turns out very well. I'll pass.

* The New Avengers go public. In issue #15. Hmm.

* Jessica Jones' baby is born in "Pulse" #13. I still don't care, even if "Jessica Jones and Luke Cage's life will never be the same again!!" If I had a Mandy icon from "Grim and Evil", I would use it here.

* Brendan Cahill (never heard of him) starts a six-issue miniseries starring Silver Sable, apparently in the superspy genre. Another "wait and see", though I'm not expecting much.

* "Astonishing X-Men Saga" promises "the entire story in one easily digestible 48-page one-shot!" If I didn't like AXM so much, I'd ask why it took twelve issues to tell a 48-page story, but I do, so bygones. :)

* "Exiles" #75 and #76 comprise the 2099 segment of the "World Tour". I can't wait. :)

* Paul Jenkins' "Mythos" miniseries begins. Apparently the remit is to retell the origin of Marvel mainstays, mixing movie and comics so it fits neither. And they claim it's the perfect jumping-on point for new readers from any camp. Whatever...

* Two Decimation miniseries, "Sentinel Squad One" and "X-Men: The 198", launch. They're both "House of M" follow-ups, which is a big check in the minus column, but they're written by John Layman and David Hine, respectively. I'm still very uncertain as to which books I'll be following, given that I've utterly rejected "House of M" - more "wait and see", then. Meanwhile, "Colossus: Bloodlines" (another Hine mini) concludes.

* Claremont's "X-Men: The End" begins its final six-part mini. Does anyone still care?

* "Supreme Power: Hyperion" concludes. "Nighthawk" doesn't, having been extended to six issues.

* Curiously, "Powers" #17 is solicited, even though #16 was delayed into January as well and #17 isn't on the Marvel catalog at all. *shrug*

And that's about it for my highlights. You can find the full solicitations text at Newsarama:

Comics Review #3: October 18

First up is Exiles, and to be honest, I wasn't quite sure how to approach this. On the one hand, issues 69-82 essentially constitute one 14-part saga; on the other hand, said saga is clearly broken down into segmented arcs as well. So I figure I'll review "World Tour" arc by arc, with a retrospective at the end.

Some background first: after a string of hit-and-miss adventures, Tony Bedard brought the status quo of "Exiles" crashing down in a five-part story called "Timebreakers". Having resolved most of the loose threads from his predecessors' runs, Bedard devised a new direction for the series, the high concept of which amounted to a tour of some of Marvel's more popular (or, in some cases, infamous) alternate realities.

The first arc, 69-71, kicks off the "World Tour" with a visit to the main Marvel Universe. Now this has already happened twice in the series' history, once at the start of Bedard's run and once during Chuck Austen's reign of error. But there are two mitigating factors at work: first, the Exiles actually have a reason for dropping in this time - they're sending their most recent (and, some say, most useless) member Beak back to his native reality, to his wife and children.

The second, of course, is that the main universe is currently in the grip of "House of M", which means it's changed beyond recognition. "Exiles" is, perhaps, the most successful tie-in book to the Marvel event du jour, because - from the perspective of "Exiles" readers and the characters themselves - this bizarre reality isn't much different from anything the Exiles have seen before. To them, it's just another "stranger in a strange land" moment.

As an aside, it should be noted that removing Beak is basically an acknowledgement on Bedard's part that the character's presence in this series never turned out quite the way we'd all hoped. It was a well-intentioned attempt to preserve a fragment of the ever-fading Morrison run, and also an interesting approach to the seemingly random Exiles roster - there's no reason they couldn't have been saddled with someone who could barely defend himself. The problem, of course, is that having put Beak in the group (not without some very awkward moments), Bedard couldn't figure out what to do with him. Consequently, he pretty much just hung around in the background and saved the day by calling for help. Having played that card, the decision has been promptly - and wisely - made to get rid of him and move on.

This storyline also features some very interesting character moments. Having absorbed Deadpool's healing abilities in the previous arc, Mimic finds he's also taken on Wade Wilson's disfiguring scars and can't get rid of them. Blink reacts with understandable disgust, and this makes her seem a little shallow at first - until she later explains that she's just sick and tired of the enormous drama she has to put up with every time she and Calvin are together. If they're not bouncing around realities, she's being impersonated by Mystique and he's eating cheese danishes (long story).

As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, we see Heather adapting rather nicely to her new role as Exiles mission control. Morph's humor gets a major upgrade, with new artist Paul Pelletier going for visual gags that leave departed original Mike McKone in the dust. Sabretooth is still playing overprotective father for Blink, which means he and Mimic are still snarling at each other every chance they get.

Everyone has a moment to shine (I'll go into details in a bit) but one thing this story does successfully is finally put Beak in the spotlight. Having retired, he's all set to put the weirdness behind him... only to find his home isn't actually there anymore. His wife is a supermodel who claims she never met him, and his children don't exist. Bedard, taking a final stab at making Beak's presence matter, at last succeeds.

Ordinarily, this would be the cue for the Exiles to step in and set things right. Except they quickly realize that, as far as they're concerned, they've pretty much landed in a perfect world. Though Beak is despondent at his loss, the others wonder if they should just leave things as they are. Frankly, that's a realistic approach to the situation, one that rings truer than anything Bendis or other "House of M" writers have used to any significant extent: the idea that, though humans have become a minority, it's not like they're being hunted in the streets like some inverted "Days of Future Past" (or so it seems at first glance). For characters like Blink and Sabretooth, survivors of the Age of Apocalypse, it's hard to balance one friend's tragedy with a whole world seemingly redeemed. Of course, Mimic is quick to present the counter-argument: it's easy for the Exiles to pass judgment on this world. They don't have to live in it, they're not emotionally invested.

While this quandary is being discussed, we learn that a serial killer dubbed "Mutant X" is making the rounds, exterminating mutants. Readers of Claremont's early (pre-Dark Phoenix) X-Men run will immediately recognize the codename as belonging to Kevin McTaggart, AKA Proteus. Proteus is one of those characters Claremont introduced who had a lot of potential that never really went anywhere: a thoroughly evil, reality-warping mutant who is forced to jump from host body to host body, since his power is so great it burns out most physical shells that contain it. Possession instantly destroys the host mind, with no hope of recovery.

Choosing Proteus as the nemesis of the Exiles is a stroke of brilliance on Bedard's part, for several reasons. Firstly, it's a classic X-Men villain that none of the cast could possibly be familiar with: Proteus didn't exist in the Age of Apocalypse, nor would Beak or Heather recognize him, and Morph only joined the X-Men as a New Mutant, long after Proteus' demise. Mimic's position is a bit unclear, since we don't know much about his time as an X-Man in his own reality, but it's not too much of a stretch to establish he never encountered Proteus either. Secondly, as someone with a penchant for manipulating reality, Proteus keys into the Exiles' mission perfectly. He makes the mess, they try to clean it up. And since he can travel across multiple worlds without using technology, this effectively sets up a chase, where the Exiles have to hunt him down across the Multiverse. Thirdly - and perhaps most importantly of all - Proteus' only weakness has always been metal. In the original story, Colossus was forced to kill him, and for the Exiles this means that Mimic is the only one who can finish the job. But Mimic has sworn never to kill again. It was, previously, a rather irritating mindset that never really served the stories - in fact, Bedard had to twist quite a few plotlines so that Mimic wouldn't have to compromise his position. Now, however, against so grave a threat, the dilemma becomes much more immediate.

In any case, the story mostly moves in a straight line from there: Proteus, having possessed (and thus killed) Beak's wife Angel on a whim, sees the Exiles from a distance and senses something odd about them. He kidnaps (birdnaps?) Beak and starts interrogating him, while the latter, ever slow on the uptake, is wondering if his poor lost love is on drugs or something. The Exiles, meanwhile, meet Moira McTaggart, who gives them (and the readers) the basics on Proteus: his history, his powers, his weaknesses. It's an exposition infodump that would feel clunky if we didn't know the Exiles are hearing this for the first time too.

Sentinels abruptly attack, trying to get to Moira, and they ruthlessly execute any human in their way. This is where Blink's idealization of the House of M comes to a fiery end - for someone who spent her entire life in one of Marvel's more dismal realities, this is an uncomfortable reminder of Apocalypse's policy regarding people he dubbed "expendable". The House of M, she realizes, may look perfect, but underneath it's the same old corruption she's always known.

It's been commented that the Exiles pretty much lose track of the "House of M" question (ie: should they fix it or let it be?). On the one hand, there's something to this - the team has basically elected to continue fixing realities that have gone wrong, and this certainly qualifies. On the other hand, in purely logistic terms, Bedard can't really follow that plotline to its natural resolution, because "House of M" can't be concluded in an issue of "Exiles". And yet it's a conflict that had to be addressed for the sake of characterization. So Bedard does what he can, and pretty much pulls it off: "House of M" pretty much falls aside because the threat of Proteus is much more immediate.

And that threat turns out to be a very credible one, as Bedard and Pelletier dedicate the last issue of the arc to an extended battle against Proteus. Who, of course, completely trashes the Exiles. It's almost disturbing how easily and casually Proteus achieves the impossible, stretching bodies like taffy, conjuring up long-dead and decaying teammates, and even breaking into the Exiles' home base. All done with no visible effort on his part.

Ultimately, Bedard sets up the parallel to the original story, with Mimic (in armored form) set to kill Proteus the way Colossus did all those years ago. This moment works on its own, but is greatly enhanced if you're familiar with the original story. Colossus, at the time, was characterized as your basic Soviet Russian farmer. When ordered to stop Proteus, he did so, without really thinking about what it meant. The emotional turmoil, the doubt, came later, after it was over. But Mimic isn't Colossus. And in the same situation, he does the one thing Colossus could not have afforded to do: he hesitates.

This leads to what seems to be the death of an Exile. I say "seems to be" because, while Bedard has followed Proteus' depiction very closely and has stressed that being possessed effectively destroys the host's mind, it's unclear whether this was really it for the character in question. If it is, I have to applaud Bedard for having the guts to get rid of what he himself considers a primary, "core" character. It's a daring move, and one that adds weight to the story without being artificial or forced.

The story concludes with Proteus escaping moments before the "House of M" reality starts changing again. The Exiles are teleported away, sans Beak - who ironically gets his wish and stays home, just as the world fades to white. Letter pages indicate we'll learn his fate next issue.

If Bedard manages to maintain this tremendous surge of energy and quality for the duration of "World Tour", it promises to be a saga to remember.


From the moment of its conception, I've always had an affinity for "Marvel Next". I know, I know... it was a poorly-defined imprint that, as a result of negligible marketing, sold fuck-all in the monthly format and consequently crashed and burned. On top of that, I can't honestly say - much as I'd like to - that any of them were spectacularly written.

That said, I confess that most of the Next stories have been at least above average, and certainly fun. I'm thinking here of "Livewires", "Scorpion: Poison Tomorrow", "Machine Teen", "X-23: Innocence Lost", "Spellbinders", "Vampire By Night" and the latest offering, "Gravity". Two more are in the pipe - Karl Kesel's "Vegas" and Simon Furman's "Death's Head 3.0", after which it's most likely the imprint's going belly-up.

Before I go into my review of "Gravity", a few words about this soon-to-be-expired project. I think one reason I've been unusually tolerant towards various deficiencies in "Marvel Next" is because, when it comes to Marvel, I'm so very, very desperate for new characters. I mean that in both senses of the words: new characters, and new characters, not Layla Miller, Prepubescent Plot Contrivance. Sometimes it feels like the last genuinely new character who stuck around long enough to make an impression was Wolverine, and that was in the '70s. So for Marvel to dedicate an entire imprint, or directive, or whatever the bloody thing was, solely to creating new characters was a welcome initiative. Of course they bungled it by not doing their absolute best to make their characters every bit as potentially compelling as Spider-Man, and by completely failing to promote the characters. Still, they did manage to put out a nice - and at least mildly interesting - selection of various characters, even if we all knew we'd never see any of them again when their respective miniseries came to an end.

Now, granted, a rather large number of the new characters produced by "Marvel Next" were generally derivative of a pre-established character, ie: X-23 as Wolverine's female clone, Scorpion as a female analogue of the Spider-Man villain, Vampire By Night as a distaff Werewolf By Night... have you spotted the pattern? :) But again, I'm somewhat forgiving when it comes to that specific critique, both because derivative characters don't necessarily mean they're poorer than their template (look no further than "Watchmen" for proof), and because, realistically speaking, if there wasn't some potential connection to Marvel history, the majority of change-fearing, circle-jerking fans would be even less inclined to give it a shot. As it is, the average number of readers for a "Marvel Next" book hovered somewhere around six to ten thousand. This, while All-Star Batman and Robin got over two hundred thousand. You know, the comic that gave us this:

Anyway... "Gravity". This is actually a very simple comic, but to describe it solely as such takes away from the fact that simplicity, in this specific case, works to its advantage. There's no overwrought technobabble here, no foreign set of rules the hero's powers operates upon. This is a "baptism of fire" superhero story, following newcomer Greg Willis from his very first night as Gravity.

Generally speaking, these types of stories have been done before. But I think there's always been this cliche attached to them where the hero undergoes all these trials and tribulations and growing pains, only to eventually achieve either a perfect synthesis between his dual identities or something that comes close enough (ie: Spider-Man). It's a paradigm that does its job well enough, but Sean McKeever goes one better here and gives us the story of a hero who does not find that balance. Greg Willis has a good heart, but once he decides to use his newfound abilities as a superhero, everything you could realistically expect to happen to him happens. He gets beaten down at practically every opportunity, people take advantage of him, his first year at NYU quickly deteriorates into an academic nadir, and a potential romance shatters apart after he pulls one too many disappearing acts. At one point he just decides "Screw this" and gives it all up. But, of course, that's not the end of the story. :)

Again, this isn't necessarily new territory - we've all heard "Spider-Man No More" every now and then. But it took Spider-Man fifty issues of being down on his luck and suffering every curse the Fates could toss his way - McKeever compresses this into the space of days and asks the serious question: why would any sane person, no matter how well-intentioned, suffer such abuse, risking his life for a thankless job? That's where the simplicity of the story comes in: Greg's motives aren't enmeshed in some dark past, some hideously byzantine psychodrama. Not that I don't like psychodramas - hell, I love 'em - but every now and then it's nice to try something a little different, and "Gravity" is certainly that. It's almost like a Silver Age pastiche that simultaneously connects to contemporary, 21st century values while maintaining a certain degree of light positivity you don't normally find in a DC or Marvel comic. There's even a predictable streak or two where you clearly can guess what's coming, but that makes it no less enjoyable when the moment you've foreseen comes to pass.

McKeever's always been great at creating characters that instantly click with readers, because he infuses his cast with traits you could reasonably see in yourself, or in people close to you. There's not much room to explore, given the five-issue limit, but within those five issues we're introduced to a small group you can't help identify with. Even the villain of the piece, Black Death, has a moment where you can almost understand why he does what he does.

Apparently the miniseries doesn't constitute Gravity's last appearance, as he's set to appear in a Marvel Team-Up arc with Arana, X-23 and others as the Legion of Losers. And it's by Robert Kirkman. Can you tell how thrilled I am at that prospect?

But McKeever's work stands very well on its own. It's accessible, it's light yet true to life in many ways, and it's entertaining. There's a digest coming in December, and quite honestly I can't think of a reason not to buy it. :)

Monday, October 17, 2005


Or: "The Day The Nuts Sent The Doctor Home"

I've apparently been banned from Millarworld.

On the one hand, there's something vaguely insulting about being kicked out of a place that's populated mostly by drunken toadies who think "Wanted" was the epitome of supervillain deconstruction in the 21st century.

On the other hand, I wasn't an especially active poster - mostly I just heckled the Ijit Parade from time to time. So it's no big loss; whether someone's there to point it out or not, the emperor is still buck-naked.

In related news, "Fanboy Rampage" is closing down tonight. It was a delightful source of snarky commentary and I had so much fun there; I'm really going to miss it and all my fellow Rampagers. Graeme McMillan, I salute you.


Or: "Don't Worry, It's Just This Once"

Okay, I usually don't engage in memes. But this one was pretty interesting as a writing exercise, so let's go for broke.

The first part involves randomly listing 12 characters from various fandoms. So here we go:

1. Jack Shephard (Lost)
2. Faith (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
3. Johnny Smith (Dead Zone)
4. Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)
5. Cole Turner (Charmed)
6. Sawyer (Lost)
7. Dr. Gila Abulafia (Israeli television drama "In Therapy")
8. Tai-San (The Tribe)
9. Ares, God of War (Xena: Warrior Princess)
10. Death (Sandman)
11. Sam Gamgee (Lord of the Rings movieverse)
12. Jessica Jones (Alias)

And now, the questions:

1) Have you ever read a Six/Eleven fic? Do you want to?

Sawyer and Sam? *LMAO* I'm thinking that would only work out as a comedy, really.

2) Do you think Four is hot? How hot?

I'm sure most male FF7 gamers appreciated the fact that Tifa's breasts took up more pixels than her head...

3) What would happen if Twelve got Eight pregnant?

Well, Tai-San would get philosophical about it, tell everyone it was a manifestation of love and hope, yadda yadda. Jessica, on the other hand, would probably use this opportunity to get drunk, but at least she wouldn't be whining about being pregnant anymore.

4) Can you rec any fic about Nine?

I never really delved much into Xena fanfic, but as I understand it there's an entire school of Ares writers. Someone somewhere must have pulled it off...

5) Would Two and Six make a good couple?

Faith and Sawyer? Oh my GOD yes. They're so compatible it's scary: both on the run from dark pasts, involving accidental homicides. They'll use anyone they can if it means they win. Plus, Sawyer likes getting beaten up by tough women, and Faith likes guys who don't get all mushy the morning after. It could totally work out for them.

6) Five/Nine or Five/Ten? Why?

Cole and Ares or Cole and Death. Why not both? Something for everyone! Cole and Ares would have that whole alpha-male black-leather gimme-pain thing going on, and since Cole dies every season anyway, he and Death are probably on a first-name basis now.

7) What would happen if Seven walked in on Two and Twelve having sex?

If Gila walked in on Faith and Jessica, she'd be subtle about it, and quickly apply the psychoanalytical interpretation to the situation. She'd probably come up with a pretty accurate portrait of why it's happening. Though I'm not so sure anyone could pretend not to notice these two characters going at it; they'd probably bring down the roof.

8) Make up a summary for a Three/Ten fic.

Johnny Smith finally kills Greg Stillson, and is mortally wounded in the process. As he's dying, his powers trigger one last vision where he and Death have a chat about life.

9) Is there such a thing as One/Eight fluff?

As a rule, "The Tribe" is a pretty non-mainstream show; I don't think much fiction has been written about it at all, to say nothing of crossovers.

10) Suggest a title for a Seven/Twelve hurt/comfort fic.

Gila/Jessica? That's easy: "My Shrink Thinks I'm Crazy".

11) What kind of plot device would you use if you wanted Four to deflower One?

Yikes. Well, the Island would probably have to start switching genders around for it to even be biologically possible...

12) Does anyone on your list read Seven slash?

Doubtful, it's probably not a well-known show outside the country.

13) Does anyone on your friends list read Three het?

Probably not.

14) Does anyone on your friends list write or draw Eleven?

If they do, I'd very much like to know about it. :)

15) Would anyone on your friends list write Two/Four/Five?

Faith/Tifa/Cole? Ugh, sounds like a nightmare to coordinate. Hell, I wouldn't do it myself.

16) What might Ten scream at a moment of great passion?

"A little me! A little me!"

17) If you wrote a song-fic about Eight, which song would you choose?

Cynthia Harrell, "I Am The Wind".

18) If you wrote a One/Six/Twelve fic, what would the warnings be?

Warning: Smut, slash, threesomes and character death. Not necessarily in that order.

19) What might be a good pickup line for Two to use on Ten?

"I'm your biggest fan!"

20) When was the last time you read a fic about Five?

Never read a Cole Turner fic. I feel somehow deprived. :(

21) What is Six's super-sekrit kink?

He likes it rough. Very, very, very rough.

22) Would Eleven shag Nine? Drunk or sober?

Never. Sam's... well, whatever hobbits have, I'm not too clear on that, but like the rest of his body parts, it's got "PROPERTY OF FRODO BAGGINS" stamped on it.

23) If Three and Seven get together, who tops?

Probably Gila. By all accounts, Johnny seems to be a rather lousy lay.

24) "One and Nine are in a happy relationship until Nine suddenly runs off with Four. One, broken-hearted, has a hot one-night stand with Eleven and a brief unhappy affair with Twelve, then follows the wise advice of Five and finds true love with Three." What title would you give this fic? Name three people on your friends list who might read it. Name one person who should write it.

Okay, let me see... Jack and Ares, then Ares runs off with Tifa (I can believe that). Jack has a fling with Sam (again, *LMAO*), an unhappy affair with Jessica (ooh, that has potential), then follows Cole's wise (wise? The guy that married Phoebe Fucking Halliwell?) advice and finds true love with Johnny Smith (nobody finds true love with Johnny Smith. It's like, a law of physics!).

I would title this fic "The Crossover From Hell", and while I could probably convince some friends to read it, I would never inflict it on them. This is one story that should not be written, by anyone. :)

25) How would you feel if Seven/Eight was canon?

Gila and Tai-San would be weird. There's the age gap (Gila's in her sixties, Tai-San's barely eighteen), plus Gila is more into the scientific way of life than Tai-San's mystical voodoo. But Tai-San has always been characterized as having an "old soul", so who knows.

Well, wasn't that fun? :)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Game Fever

Or: "Have You Seen This Woman?"

To those wondering where I'd disappeared to... well, I don't celebrate Yom Kippur, but Israel basically shuts down for the duration of the holiday. This means I had Wednesday through Saturday off.

On Wednesday morning, I got the PC version of "X-Men Legends 2". On Wednesday evening, Ethan gently informed me that I'd been sitting at the computer for over six hours. This process repeated itself throughout the holiday.

In my defense, I very rarely get so caught up in a game. I think the last time something like that happened was "Legacy of Kain: Defiance". But "Legends 2" is an incredibly captivating and appealing game, for many reasons.

First of all, it's an X-Men game. I'm something of an X-Men fan - even though I'm not, at the moment, actually reading any X-books (that has more to do with the general quality of the line). So on that level, it certainly held some interest for me.

But it's not just an X-Men game; it's a good X-Men game. Hell, it's a great X-Men game. And I don't think I've ever played a great X-Men game in my life. There was the Super Nintendo "Arcade's Revenge", which was really limited in terms of gameplay and selection; the old DOS "Fall of the Mutants", the logistics of which was a nightmare to decipher; and even very energetic ones like the arcade game and the Mutant Academy series were really just smash-em-ups.

XML2 is different. It's akin to the Diablo games in that it blends action with aspects of the RPG genre - on the one hand, the crux of the game is beating up a whole bunch of bad guys, but on the other hand you also control how your characters develops their various powers. Which means that, essentially, the player determines how the slaughtering of enemies is to work out. And the best part is that, if you're not inclined to engage in RPG-ish mechanisms, you can set the game's AI to handle all leveling-up and equipment.

The second reason for its appeal is the sheer variety of possibilities. The PC version offers you twenty characters from both the X-Men and their rival group, the Brotherhood of Mutants. Seventeen of these players are immediately playable (Pyro and Sabretooth are exclusively available for PC; I understand the PSP version offers Cable, Nate Grey and Cannonball). Of these seventeen, you're to build a team of four which you then take into battle. The available selection ranges from the obvious (Cyclops, Wolverine, Magneto) to the not-so-obvious (Bishop? Scarlet Witch? TOAD?!). Each character also has a nice selection of costumes, dubbed "skins" - outfits from the Age of Apocalypse, Claremont era, Lee/Kirby era, Ultimate X-Men... it's a nice little bit that allows you to customize your team further.

The villains gallery is pretty impressive too: you've got Apocalypse, his Four Horsemen (Abyss, Mikhail Rasputin, Holocaust and Archangel), and an assortment of characters including the Stepford Cuckoos, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red, Mister Sinister, Deadpool and more. The major boss fights are interesting because they're usually comprised of several segments, which makes for longer and more interesting battles.

The plot isn't particularly innovative: Apocalypse's latest evil scheme involves finding and kidnapping four mutants with specific DNA. The first two are Polaris and Quicksilver, and their capture coincides with an invasion of Genosha. Under the circumstances, and realizing Apocalypse is too powerful for either group to handle alone, the X-Men and the Brotherhood forge an uncomfortable alliance to deal with the greater threat. It's basic, but at least it's coherent and makes sense.

In terms of length, the game has five acts. Like the aforementioned Diablo games, each act is basically one map broken down into smaller areas. Additionally, the maps get bigger - Act 3 is considerably larger than Act 2, and both are dwarfed by the size of Act 4. Act 5 is smaller, if only because the endgame battle is very long and very complex. But replay is a major factor here: you have the ability to return to any area in the game, even in past acts you've beaten, through a system of save points/teleporters. These points also allow you to change your team lineup, which means there's very little limitation: you could conceivably play any given act with the entire cast, switching as you go along. The game is also full of secret items, some of which enhance your gameplay considerably (ie: the homing beacons which eventually allow you to unlock a very special and very powerful character). Even if you beat the game, you can continue from that exact point - after vanquishing Apocalypse - and go wherever you want, building your levels further. And then you have the option of starting a new game... with your characters maintaining the levels and powers you finished the game with. I haven't done that yet, but I'm expecting it to be just as enjoyable as the first run through.

So, do I recommend XML2? Hell yes. The RPG crowd will enjoy the various possibilities for developing their characters; the action gamers can let the computer handle that aspect of the game and just crush their enemies with Phoenix blasts, lightning bolts and adamantium blades. It's a game that can rarely be played twice the same way, and certainly allows for multiple repeats. And it's really, really fun. :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Movie Review: Hercules

Or: "What A Man, What A Man, What A Man, What A Mighty Good Man"

Before getting to the review, I have to clarify something:

This is Paul Telfer, who plays Hercules:

And he spends most of the movie looking like this:

So it's somewhat conceivable that I might be the tiniest bit biased in this review. ;)

But in all seriousness, when dealing with mythology, you're inevitably going to find that no two interpretations of the same story will match. Measure this up with the Kevin Sorbo television series, Eric Shanower's "Age of Bronze" depiction of Hercules, or, God forbid, the Disney movie, and you come away with four very, very different stories, with four different protagonists all named Hercules.

So how does this one stack up? Pretty well, actually. Telfer plays a Hercules that falls somewhere between Shanower's barbarous thug and Sorbo's saintly muscle-man: this Hercules is a man of both rage and compassion, someone shaped as much by the tragedies of his youth as by the plots against him in the present. He respects the gods, but refuses to follow their edicts blindly. Granted, Telfer's acting range is a bit limited - there are moments in the movie where he doesn't quite manage to pull off the emotion necessary for certain scenes. But my God, does he look the part.

The twist in this film, and something it shares with "Age of Bronze", is the questionable existence of the gods. At no point in "Hercules" is there any direct evidence that Zeus, Hera or any other deity is actually out there, actively involved in how the story unfolds. There's Deianeira, who is supposedly a wood nymph, but she doesn't display any visible supernatural powers at all. Which means that, when Amphitrion (played by Timothy Dalton) tells Hercules he's the son of Zeus, we don't actually know if that's true or not. He's strong, but as one of the characters says, it could just be because he's been bench-pressing horses since he was a teenager. The film conveniently straddles both lines of probability - that the gods exist and their influence is self-evident (ie: Hercules' aborted suicide attempt), or this is a story of a very powerful man who is just that, a man. It's a layer of ambiguity that adds a lot to the film (because, really, if the gods don't exist, then Hercules spends most of his life being tortured for absolutely nothing - and wouldn't that be the perfect Greek tragedy?).

Another interesting addition is the plot being predicated upon a war between Zeus and Hera - a war that, on the mortal plane, breaks down among gender lines, with the female characters aligned with Hera (high priestess Alcmene, Hercules' mother, played to perfection by Elizabeth Perkins; Megaera, Hercules' nurse, first love and most bitter enemy; the Harpies, etc.) while the alpha male characters like Alcmene's husband Amphitrion worship Zeus. Two characters blur this gender distinction. The first is Hercules' twin brother Iphicles, who is schooled by Alcmene in the ways of Hera. He promptly matures into an effeminate man who seduces his cousin, King Eurystheus, solely on Mommy's say-so. The other character is the hermaphrodite prophet Tiresias, whose metaphorical castration by Alcmene (she blinds him) ends up placing him in the role of the Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful seer in Greece. Fortunately, the film eschews such cliches as barely-clad lesbian Amazons in favor of a more subtle approach to the issue of sex and power in this recreation of ancient times. After all, it's certainly debatable who is the most powerful character in this film: it could be Hercules, who kills all these horrific monsters through sheer strength and determination, or it could be Alcmene and Megaera, who manipulate Hercules so easily, so effortlessly, that he never even suspects them at all until it's far too late.

Of course, there are a few missteps here and there. First and foremost, Sean Astin. The role of Linus is one that he absolutely should not have taken, because it's nothing more than a reprisal of Sam Gamgee from "Lord of the Rings". Yet again, Astin plays the (mostly) useless, bumbling sidekick who tags along out of devotion to his friend, even into the volcanic wastes of Hades. Of course, it's only a two-hour movie, and there's a whole cast of relevant characters to deal with, so Linus doesn't get much screen time anyway. He's just there to ramble about poetry and follow Hercules up a mountain while the majestic vista dwarfs them in the background. You could almost here the flute melody of the Shire.

Secondly, it does feel like the film was slightly abbreviated in terms of Hercules' labors. In this version, he only has to complete five - all of which involve some mythical creature or another that has to be killed. It would have been nice to see some more trials, albeit with the caveat of a bit more variety. If the idea of the labors is to prove Hercules' heroism, there should be more to it than going out and killing things. Not that the monsters weren't adequate, but it did get a little tedious at some point.

Still, all in all it's an enjoyable film in its own right. Telfer is gorgeous, the political intrigues are just complex enough to hold interest without getting overly byzantine, and best of all, you don't have to endure any Sorboan moral proselytizing at the end.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Dead Zone: Season 4 In Review

Or: "We're On A Road To Nowhere"

All in all, it's been a pretty disappointing season for "Dead Zone".

I've been watching the show since the pilot, so I'm not under the illusion that the previous seasons were flawless, not by any stretch. Basically, the main problem with "Dead Zone" is it has never had a proportionate ratio of important episodes vs. filler. You'd have these crucial storylines sandwiched between consecutive strings of stock plots - in which Johnny has a vision, gets involved with a bunch of people we know we'll never see again, saves them with some motivational speaking, and the day is won when Walt and the police ride in to arrest the bad guys. Wash, rinse and repeat.

As patterns go, it's not an entirely bad one - sure, most of the victims du jour have very little effect on Johnny and his life. But every now and then the writers manage to pull together a pretty compelling mystery with some genuinely sympathetic characters.

I say "every now and then" with the implication that, as far as Season 4 is concerned, it's really just "then". Because, for every episode that worked out this season, five didn't.

Let's take a look at the overall story for this season. Apparently, the remit was to drop the focus on the Stillson plotline altogether. Which, okay, I suppose is a justifable request: it had been slowly simmering, either at the forefront or in the background, for two seasons straight. And since the show has deviated so much from the plot of Stephen King's novel, it's not impossible to think that maybe, everyone wanted to try something a little different.

However, it's considered tradition - or at least good form - to close up old storylines before you start new ones. Which is probably what the season premiere (part 2 of season 3's finale) was supposed to do. A reminder: we'd left Season 3 with psychic Johnny encountering, through future psychic Christopher Wey, the post-apocalypse version of himself, who urged him not to stop Rebecca Caldwell (Johnny's girlfriend) from assassinating Greg Stillson (the politician who would, on his ascendancy to the White House, plunge the world into nuclear war). This, despite the fact that Rebecca will die in the process, and she and Johnny are lovers.

Okay. So, clearly, the best and most dramatic way to end the Stillson story would be for Johnny to accept the sacrifice necessary to save the world, and let both Stillson and Rebecca die. The future is averted, and a new one - completely unknown both to us and to Johnny - is created. Which gives the writers enormous leeway to pretty much do whatever they want.

Instead, what we get is at once tediously formulaic and shockingly silly: Johnny saves Rebecca (and, by extension, Stillson) despite the warnings of his future self. And at the end of the episode, Rebecca, Christopher Wey and Future Johnny are all written out of the show anyway. We're obviously not supposed to think Rebecca will be coming back, since a new love interest is brought in two episodes later... more on that in a bit.

So the fourth season pretty much gets tangled in its own net: on the one hand, the Stillson story still isn't finished, but on the other hand, with most of the major players summarily taken out of the picture, it can't really go anywhere either. And that's exactly what happens - for the next nine episodes (out of ten remaining), Stillson just isn't a factor. Sure, there's that episode with Danny Masterson, but let's face it, they could have done that with your stereotypical hard-ass military general and it would've turned out exactly the same.

And when it finally goes back to Stillson? The story still goes nowhere. There's a brief moment where it looks like Johnny may have finally averted Armageddon... and then, of course, it all goes back to status quo, AKA "exactly where we were at the end of last season", with Stillson gaining power while Johnny sulks. Hence, going nowhere and not particularly quickly either.

Let's talk characters. Because it's often been the case where you don't necessarily need plot movement to make a show interesting - exhibit A, "Lost". So this season might have been redeemed through character arcs... except there weren't any.

I'm not kidding. Not a single pre-established character actually developed in these eleven episodes. Nobody grows. Nobody changes. In fact, complexities the characters used to display are seriously downplayed: there's nothing between Sarah and Johnny, J.J. is practically non-existent so we don't see anything more of Johnny trying to be a father, and Walt is turned into a one-note cop who performs the same function episode after episode: he tells Johnny he can't investigate a vision without evidence, then he rides in with the cavalry. Bruce is Bruce, but there was never much else to him anyway. And Purdy... well, I haven't quite figured out why he's still on this show, since he's probably the character that does the least out of the entire cast. He preaches. And preaches. And preaches some more. Oh, and his golddigging skills would send Anna Nicole Smith into epileptic shock. In related news, Dana Bright is still MIA. Nobody seems to care.

And new characters? Well, there are a bunch, but only two seem to be given any real importance. The first is Malcolm Janus, introduced in the season premiere. Basically, it's an X-Files pastiche where the shadowy man with the mysterious-yet-foreboding signet ring lurks around making cryptic threats and knowing things he can't possibly know. Naturally, he's part of a group of people we don't know and don't see. Plus, he's a Bible-thumper who spouts scripture like he's proselytizing to the audience. They overshot "enigmatic" by about half a mile and ended up with "annoying". In fact, the fourth season ends with a message from Janus to Johnny where Janus asks him to make a choice. About...? He forgot to mention that part.

The other character is Alex Sinclair, a female psychic introduced in the third episode as a new potential love interest for Johnny. It's interesting that, while Johnny has met other psychics in previous seasons, they were never really fleshed out as characters: Bonnie from Season 3 came closest, but even then there was never any real interplay between the characters. Alex, on the other hand, seems to be a perfect match for the show: she's got her own "secret origin" story which left her with empathic powers, which she can use to see the future (though in a more intuitive, less visual way than Johnny). But what really shines with this character is her motivation: ever since childhood she's had visions of her own death, and she's determined to do as much good as she can before that happens. There's a wonderful twist to her vision (remember, Johnny can't see everything either), but the point is that she has something Johnny never had: a reason. Johnny's a very passive character: trouble finds him and he works it out largely because he's got nothing better to do. Alex is altruistic, and that makes her instantly likeable.

So, of course, it makes perfect sense that at episode's end, with all this chemistry built up between her and Johnny, she gets in a car and drives away, never to resurface. Well, duh. God forbid they shake up the cast list a bit.

Again, it's not like previous seasons featured consistent development, but at least there was some forward motion. Bruce lost the dreadlocks. JJ found out Johnny was his biological father. Johnny gave up Sarah at last and actually gained a friendship with Walt. Purdy got stuck in Stillson's web and got busted for it. Season 4, by contrast, is an exercise in futility, a placeholder that doesn't even put up the pretense of doing something important. There are moments where you think to yourself: "This will matter. This is HUGE!" For example, in the penultimate episode, "Babble On", Johnny not only discovers that he was having visions as a child (something we already knew courtesy of flashbacks), but he learns that his father could see the future too. That's a major revelation. It should make Johnny question everything he knows about his powers. Instead, it's dropped and never mentioned again. By the time the next episode starts, it's like nothing happened.

That kind of self-nullification, combined with a general sense that the writers were just spinning their wheels waiting for Godot, made the fourth season of "Dead Zone" the dullest one yet. Here's hoping the fifth picks up a bit.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Crazy-Ass Weekend

First off, let me apologize for not updating lately; it's just been an absolutely hectic couple of days. But I've got a lot to talk about today, so let's get right into it.

Comics Review #2 for October 8 consists of Spider-Girl #91. That's two weeks in a row where, of all my monthly reads, only one was actually giving something approaching a done-in-one story. But that's where the industry trend is at the moment, so there's not much that can be done about it. Truth is, I'm very ambivalent when it comes to the "6-part story vs. done-in-one" argument... on the one hand, you could make the claim that the reason most books are losing sales is because, in effect, readers are only getting two storylines per year. As sprawling or decompressed or eventful as they are, they're still only two stories. Alternatively, the main reason why "done-in-one" stories fell out of favor is because there's only so much you can do in 22 pages; more often than not you end up being forced to tell, rather than show, events that deserve more space.

Which leads us to Spider-Girl. I have to confess that my enthusiasm for this series has dwindled in recent years; I was, at one time, a very vocal advocate for its continuation when it was faced with cancellation. It's never been a high seller, but it held consistently in the 20K range and seems to do well in digest format. But the problems started when Marvel just refused to give the book any kind of stability, threatening a forced conclusion every six issues.

Of course, it's damn-near impossible for any creative team to work well under the assumption that every story you make just might be your last. Writer Tom DeFalco would end up going for bigger, more grandiose plots each time but always found himself reverting to status quo, just in case another stay of execution would arrive. As a result, the last two years of "Spider-Girl" have been dominated by stories that go for big bangs, but end up being utterly inconsequential. Oh, the creative team certainly goes through the motions - such as Spider-Girl's switch to a black costume to commemorate the series' 75th issue - but that plotline ended up fizzling out, with no real effect on the character. Spider-Girl herself has settled into something of a rut, and that makes it very hard to care about the Mystery of the Day because you know that whatever the story is, it's not going to matter.

Of course, it's possible that I'm approaching this from the wrong angle. After all, "Spider-Girl" is a series very much in touch with its Silver Age roots: it's retro, applying conventions that were standard fare before I was born, and before modern sensibilities overtook classical narrative styles. In that context, I suppose Spider-Girl is no different from any other superhero, in that the stories she participates in don't necessarily have to have any consistent or consecutive effect on her.

Taking that into account somewhat mitigates my feelings towards "The Shocking Secret of the Spider Shoppe", in which May "Mayday" Parker, Spider-Girl, enters the treacherous world of... high fashion. No, that's not a typo. Apparently, Daniel Kingsley, brother of Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley, has started a line of clothing based on Spider-Girl's costume. This happens to threaten a local "Spider Shoppe" that also offers spider-based outfits for every shape and size (except May's). At the same time, a new vigilante, "La Fantome", has arisen and is threatening to destroy Kingsley, while Shoppe clerk Sandi organizes a rally to support the little business being faced with the huge conglomerate. Spider-Girl must determine La Fantome's identity, and find out why she's not getting a cent of royalties from the Shoppe... and then, of course, there's the question of just who owns that shop.

As mysteries go, it's a pretty clumsy one - you've only got one possible suspect for the Fantome, and it turns out to be true. And there's no real investigation into the identity of the Shoppe's owner: May hazards a guess on the last page, and gets it right. The Fantome is a really annoying character who keeps repeating how she and Spider-Girl are on the same side and should team up, and May refuses because innocent people could be hurt; it's the same reasoning she's used against any potential allies who turned out to be loose cannons. Even if you agree with her, it's so repetitive after four or five times that you wish May would consent, if only to do something unexpected.

And that, I think, is the biggest problem currently facing Spider-Girl: granted that it's old-school, and represents a haven from the incessant rapes and murders currently rampaging across the mainstream, but somewhere along the way it also divested itself of drama in the process. This hasn't always been the case; rather, it's like all the major storylines - the romantic tension between May and Normie, the deterioration of May's social life and her relationships with her ex-boyfriends, her struggle to get out of her father's shadow, her expulsion from the New Warriors group she founded and more - gradually trickled to a halt without actually being resolved, with no substitute in sight.

But... "Spider-Girl" is precisely the kind of "feel-good" series that makes it hard to genuinely dislike it, warts and all. If you take a charitable perspective, you could say that any book that reaches 91 issues, with the same writer, is bound to hit a slump or two sooner or later. And with #100 coming out next year, it's still possible that the current problems will be rectified.


Next up, a brief comment on the movie "Timeline". It would have been a review except I didn't make it through the whole thing.

You know, there are certain things you can do to make sure your audience is entertained by your movie. Ideally, you round up some really talented actors to hold our attention. Failing that, you can make sure your scriptwriter has put together a workable, exciting plot. If that doesn't work out, you can always take the character-centric route and at least give us a cast with stories we want to hear. And if all else fails, just get a bunch of attractive men and women to take their clothes off. It may not be intellectual, but at least it gets smiles.

"Timeline" miraculously misses the mark pretty much everywhere. The actors are subpar, woodenly reciting terrible dialogue. To make things worse, they're constantly talking over each other, so the movie is dominated by this mass of indecipherable babble. The characters are cardboard cutouts who fail to pique interest. And to drive the final nail in, they've got Paul Walker in a leading role and he spends the first half-hour of the movie fully dressed.

Well, that's just adding insult to injury. After twenty-five minutes of tedium, I stopped watching. On the one hand, I suppose it's possible that the movie picked up after I tuned out; on the other, I'm reasonably patient when it comes to movies which take time to develop, and if I couldn't be bothered to sit through "Timeline" anyway... well, that says something too, doesn't it?


I've been watching episodes of "Xena: Warrior Princess" lately. I missed the show the first few times it aired, but a local channel has been running it daily for the past few months and I found myself tuning in every now and then. We've just completed the third season.

Generally speaking, it's pretty entertaining stuff. The show seems to fall into a very interesting dichotomy: episodes seem to randomly fall into either comical farce or serious drama/action. While most of the episodes I've seen tend to belong to the latter category, if the comedies are all as amusing as "Been There Done That", a third-season "time loop" episode, the balance certainly works out.

The cast is pretty diverse; Lucy Lawless is exquisite as the experienced, sometimes world-weary warrior woman redeeming her dark past. And unlike other would-be feminist icons like Buffy Summers or Ally McBeal, Xena manages to get by just fine without making men the center of her existence. Of course, that might be where the alleged lesbian subtext comes in, but - and keep in mind I haven't been watching consistently so I might be totally off about this - I don't really see any homoeroticism between Xena and Gabrielle. At least not deliberately, not consciously on the part of the writer. In fact, the only character who really gave off a quasi-lesbian vibe was Callisto, but I'll get to her in a minute. :)

Gabrielle strikes me as a slightly less interesting character, particularly because - unlike her partner - things have a way of happening to and around her without any real action on her part. In the first season, she becomes an Amazon princess just for being at the right place at the right time; in the second season she gets married, but only because the guy seeks her out and proposes. And in the third season she apparently has an evil demon baby. She is, in a way, the perpetual victim, and the type who preaches against killing but has no problem if Xena dirties her hands instead. But it's clear why she's needed: her naivete and innocence are a direct counterbalance to Xena, who at times seems like she's seen too much. Of course, in another contrast to Xena, Gabrielle is actually the character who grows through the seasons while Xena is immutable. And, based on summaries of the series finale I've read, it seems that, in the end, Gabrielle becomes Xena, or something very similar to Xena. Interesting way to conclude her character arc.

Joxer is the comedy relief, but it really is best if you take him in very small, very infrequent doses. I had the misfortune of watching three episodes in a row heavily featuring him, and it wore thin, fast. The gimmick here is that he's a wannabe; the thing he desperately wants is to be a warrior like Xena, but he's so pathetic he ends up playing the court jester instead. Rather stereotypically, he also has a heart of gold, which is supposed to make us not want to rip his throat out after hours and hours of his antics. Ted Raimi plays the part a little too well, IMO: he's ultra-annoying when he's supposed to be, and somewhat sympathetic when he needs to be, but really, not a guy you want to see much of, at any frequency.

As for the villains... well, there are two primary antagonists that pop into mind when I think of the show, although the "archvillain per season" pattern wasn't really applied here. Ironically, both villains are fixated on Xena; an attempt was made to give Gabrielle a nemesis in Velasca, a rogue Amazon, but she never reappeared after her introductory episode.

The first villain is Ares, God of War. We gradually learn that he was Xena's mentor when she was a conquering maniac; naturally, he doesn't approve of her departure from that path and is constantly trying to pull her back into darkness. Kevin Smith (no, not THAT one) starts off nicely, very slick and seductive with an undercurrent of malice... but as time went on he seemed to lose a lot of his potency. Whether it's because he was entangled in a subplot with Xena that couldn't be resolved - ie: she'll never return his affection, but if he loses interest there's nothing to stop him from killing her - or because he was used so often that the threat diminished is hard to say.

But regardless, the other primary villain outshines him on every level: Callisto, played masterfully by Hudson Leick. The basic idea is one that's so simple, and yet undeniably clever: when Callisto was a young girl, she witnessed the murder of her parents and the utter demolition of her village at the hands of Xena. Fast-forward about ten years later, and Callisto is a grown woman, utterly and incurably insane, molded by her rage into a warrior of almost equal ferocity and strength. In the process, she becomes even worse than Xena: she assembles an army that kills men, women and children, not for the sake of conquest, but just because she can. The irony, of course, is that she's so busy focusing her fixation on Xena that she doesn't even notice what she's doing. Leick and Lawless click on every conceivable level, playing characters who are mirror images of each other. And, of course, there's the lesbian subtext I mentioned earlier: hints that Callisto's madness reaches the point where her fixation on Xena is a thing of unquenchable hate and unbearable love. All kinds of creepy, there. :)

Callisto's character arc is also one with distinct forward movement: she goes from warlord to murdered specter to immortal to goddess. There's a wonderfully poignant moment in the third season where Callisto finally gains her revenge on Xena, killing her enemy's only son... only to discover that it doesn't diminish her own pain at all. Instead, the completion of her quest leaves her adrift, without direction. Unfortunately, her character weaved in and out of XWP's companion show, "Hercules: The Legendary Journey", so her progress isn't always consistent from episode to episode. But still, she makes a very memorable archrival.

All in all, "Xena: Warrior Princess" seems to be a fun show. Not one that demands you take it seriously, at face value, at all times, but a nice way to kill forty minutes every now and then.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Movie Review: "The Machinist"

Or: "When The Atkins Diet Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong"

"The Machinist" is, in my opinion, the perfect example of how sometimes, it all comes down to the payoff.

If I had to categorize the movie in terms of its genre, I'd probably go with "psychological mystery"... but this isn't a typical mystery where you're given clues along the way, and have the tools to at least hazard guesses.

Rather, "The Machinist" is the OTHER kind of mystery - the kind that gives you absolutely nothing to work with, the kind where nothing is what it appears to be.

I'll admit, it's a paradigm that can really stretch your patience - because you effectively spend an hour and a half wondering what the hell is going on, and the answer pops up in the last five minutes of the movie. That kind of storytelling is always a big risk, because if that crucial revelation doesn't go over, if it doesn't fit, then the whole thing bombs.

"The Machinist" pulls it off. It's not overly complex - when the mystery is unraveled, everything clicks into place without necessitating a second or third viewing. It's straightforward in that respect... but it's also very difficult to predict, because the film constantly avoids giving you anything concrete. Without spoiling, I'd like to call attention to the scene where Stevie the prostitute insists the man in the picture is Trevor, our protagonist. It is, without question, a very conscious decision on both the writer's and the director's part that we never see the picture after she says this - we don't know if she's lying or if she's telling the truth, and what either of those possibilities mean.

The movie's plot isn't particularly hard to follow: the focus is on Trevor Reznik, a blue-collar worker who hasn't slept in a year and, as a result, has become an emaciated skeleton. After an accident at his workplace, he suddenly finds himself at the center of some undefinable plot, wrestling with phantasms who may or may not exist. Fellow ladies, a word of warning: if you're watching this movie because you want to see Christian Bale with his shirt off, for God's sake, run hard and run fast. Because he looks like Calista Flockhart after liposuction. Seriously, it's disturbing. ENORMOUS props to Bale for applying a physical training regimen that wasted half his body away... too few actors have that kind of dedication these days. And, of course, he plays his role well - bewildered, dazed, vulnerable, and spiraling ever so slowly into paranoia. But ye gods, it's disturbing.

I definitely recommend "The Machinist" to anyone looking for a good mystery. It's a movie that, in the final analysis, rewards the viewer's patience.

And the "You Gotta Be Kidding Me" award of the evening goes to...

Or: "Watchoo Talkin' 'bout, Robert?"

Robert Kirkman, who's scheduled to take over Ultimate X-Men in January.

I get that Kirkman's a critical darling, but he's always seemed so bland and uninteresting for me. And he's following up Brian Vaughan of all people. Who followed up Brian Bendis. Who followed up Mark Millar.

This is turning out to be one of the most schizophrenic books Marvel's putting out. Soon they'll have Dave Sim kill off all the women, followed by a Gail Simone fem-fest. Then they'll have back-to-back runs by Chuck Austen and Alan Moore.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Comics Review: October 1

Brief note before we begin: I read most of my regular series by arcs, and mini-series only when they're complete. So while I'm reading "Young Avengers", I won't comment on the current storyline until the last part of it is out. I'll also try to get these reviews up on a weekly basis (Saturdays or Sundays), though I might add some during the week if anything interesting comes up.

With that in mind, it's been a pretty slow week overall: the only issue I'll discuss for this post is Mark Waid's "Legion of Superheroes #10", which doesn't really take an arc-by-arc approach, so I read it as I get it. For future reference, other books I'm currently reading that follow this paradigm are "Girls" and "Spider-Girl".

So, anyway, "Legion". I have to admit, this is one book I never thought I'd be reading; previous incarnations of the LSH had always seemed too unwieldy for me, too caught up in its own continuity with a cast too bloated to be explored sufficiently. But I like Mark Waid's work, and I'd heard this series would be a ground-up reboot. So I figured, what the hell.

And I'm glad I gave it a chance. Because it's a genuinely enjoyable book that avoids every possible pitfall this particular series could have fallen into. The cast is still rather formidable, but rather than try to cram thirty characters into twenty-two pages, Waid expands the roster of the Legion to a number of thousands... and then spends each issue featuring a handful of characters at a time. It's a stripped-down, back-to-basic approach that does wonders for the accessibility of the series (especially crucial considering DC doesn't offer recap pages for its various comics). There's no ludicrously complicated time travel here, no 30th-century versions of 20th-century characters... rather, Waid takes a bit of time to explore what the 30th century would be like socially, culturally, and portrays the Legion as something akin to a youth movement, infusing a strong political context into the superheroics.

The Legionnaires themselves are a varied bunch, apparently slightly more heterogenous than past incarnations. Their characterization also takes into account their individual alien nature: Brainiac 5, for example, is a cold, calculating intellect without a shred of interest in humanity. If past incarnations of the Legion were built on the similarities these varied people share, this version highlights the differences between each member. It's a more complex method, which yields equally more rewarding results.

As mentioned before, this is one of the few DCU books that eschews both the inevitable "Infinite Crisis" tie-in (as Waid has confirmed, multiple times, that this is one of three DCU books that will not, at any point, touch upon the current crossover), and the trend of structuring plots into story arcs. Of course, this makes for a slightly more difficult read, as there's no real jumping-on point for readers who didn't start at the beginning... but on the other hand, we're only ten issues in, and Waid can afford to continue using this technique for a while longer. The advantage, of course, is that the story receives a much wider scope - while each of the early issues contained individual stories looking at various members of the Legion, there's also been a particular subplot concerning an impending galactic war that's been building to a head, and is now reaching what appears to be a cataclysmic climax.

Ultimately, that's why I haven't gone into detail as to what exactly happens in issue 10; it's pointless to summarize without summarizing the previous nine issues. But I can tell you that, generally, Mark Waid has pulled off a rather surprising coup, streamlining the Legion of Superheroes for new readers while providing an exciting array of plots and subplots and characters. This Legion is, I think, the most realistic take yet on a group of disparate, disaffected youth fighting against the complacency of their zeitgeist; a bunch of kids who are as different from each other as they are from the adults they're fighting; a legion of superheroes up against the wall and facing annihilation.

Highly recommended: two thumbs up. :)