Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Comics Review: November 29

1602: New World

I think this miniseries was doomed from the start. It's a sequel to Neil Gaiman's "1602", which may have been a quaint little story but was hardly a peak moment for the creator of "Sandman". Even so, if the original is remembered fondly at all it's likely because of Gaiman's narrative and descriptive skills - something "New World" writer Greg Pak tries to emulate, without much success.

To be fair, it's not that Pak is a subpar writer - he's more than proven himself with "Warlock" and "Phoenix: Endsong". But in attempting to continue the story of 1602, Pak makes all the wrong choices.

For example, Pak chooses to focus on Roanoke as the setting for the story... and in doing so, he discards Gaiman's entire cast, limiting himself to bit players Peter Parquagh and David Banner. Oh, and Virginia Dare's in there too. Pak adds Norman Osborn and Iron Man to the mix, but nothing really emerges from it.

And that's the fatal flaw of this miniseries: it's not offensively bad, just terminally dull. There's virtually no attempt to step outside either Marvel Universe standards or what Gaiman established in the original story: Hulk's got a split personality, Peter's working for an anal-retentive publisher (proving that J. Jonah Jameson is an obnoxious twit no matter what universe you're in). The situation in England (King James' persecution of the Witchbreed) is left mostly untouched. We don't know where the 1602 X-Men, Thor or Fantastic Four have gone. No sign of Inquisitor Magneto and his minions. Still no explanation as to why dinosaurs are running around the New World. It's just five issues spent accomplishing very little on the level of plot, and using characterization that's mostly derivative of the original versions.

It's funny, because Pak is one of those writers Marvel is trying to boost these days, yet the only assignments that come his way (or Sean McKeever's, for that matter) are miniseries that, on a purely conceptual level, are utterly condemned from the word "go" ("Mega Morphs", anyone?).


Ultimate X-Men: Magnetic North (61-65)

On the other side of the spectrum, this was the story I was simultaneously waiting for and dreading. It's the conclusion of Brian Vaughan's excellent run on "Ultimate X-Men", drawing together a lot of plotlines from previous arcs (even extending into the Bendis and Millar runs). At the same time, odds are it'll all go downhill from here - we've got a Kirkman run coming up, followed by Bryan Singer.

Anyway, "Magnetic North" features the return of Magneto - unlike the mainstream counterpart, "Ultimate X-Men" actually managed to do away with this particular X-Men staple for quite some time. He was brought down at the end of Millar's run (early 30's) and was kept out of the spotlight until now. Impressive feat considering he can't stay gone for six months in the main MU.

So Magneto's back, still imprisoned at the Triskelion (home base of the Ultimates). Meanwhile, we're reintroduced to Emma Frost and her Hellions, and this is one of Vaughan's greatest strengths as an Ultimate writer - he knows exactly how to play on his readers' expectations. After all, we're well aware of who these characters are (or should be), and even if we're trying to keep an open mind, there's something surprising about the idea of Longshot as a mutant supremacist, or a group of Hellions who bear more similarities to Claremont's New Mutants than you'd think.

Vaughan manages to accomplish a lot in his last storyline: one X-Man leaves the team, another is critically injured, a third gets a boyfriend, a fourth returns from hiatus. A new villain is introduced, and two old ones get a change in their status quo. Plus several battles between the Ultimates, the Hellions, the X-Men and the remnants of the Brotherhood. Excellent characterization all around, especially of Magneto.

All in all, Vaughan goes out with a bang. "Ultimate X-Men" probably won't be as good as this for a very long time. If you're looking for a jumping-off, this is probably it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Adieu, DC.

Or: "Of all the comics in the DCU, he had to walk into mine."

Dan DiDio has revealed that during "One Year Later", Mark Waid's "Legion of Superheroes" will be renamed "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes."

Apparently there's some debate as to whether this Supergirl is the Loeb version or Power Girl. I find I couldn't care less. For me, the fact that Waid's Legion has been so accessible and so detached from the usual cliches of the DCU has been a big plus; I'm not that anxious for a distaff Superboy to get top billing, particularly considering the fact that both options aren't much more than fanboy masturbation material. Not to mention the fact that it's yet another Silver Age retread, and people who don't share the view that the Silver Age was "Best Comics EVAR" might as well sod off as far as DC is concerned.

So if the next issue of Legion is a jumping-off point, I'm taking it. Unfortunate, because that was the only DCU title I was reading, and I was really enjoying it. But apparently, anyone who isn't a devoted, hardcore, walking DC encyclopedia has no place in DiDio's DC.

Very unfortunate indeed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Movie Review: Mysterious Skin

Or: "So THAT'S What Tommy Solomon's O-Face Looks Like. I'm Going To Hell."

Well... that was weird.

I'm really not sure how to review this movie, because it has a lot going for it, and a lot going against it, and a lot that could have made it better than it turned out to be.

Structurally, there are two plotlines running throughout the movie. The first concerns Neil McCormick (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with surprising conviction), a rent-boy who drifts aimlessly from client to client, trapped in his pointless small-town life. The second plotline concerns Brian Lackey, a withdrawn and troubled teen who spends every waking moment trying to figure out what's gone wrong with his life (a stark contrast to Neil).

In what appears to be an intentional move on writer Gregg Araki's part, these two plotlines never intersect until the very end of the movie, despite the fact that there's clearly some mysterious link between the protagonists. While this might have been an attempt to build suspense, it has the unfortunate side effect of rendering Neil's storyline pretty boring - aside from having sex every now and then, he doesn't do much of anything. Any relationships he has with other characters are maintained by them, not by him. There's one scene towards the end of the movie where he gets in way over his head and pays the price, but it doesn't lead anywhere. Overall he's a pretty flat character. Brian's journey would be the part that's meant to hold our attention, except...

Except that, at first glance, "Mysterious Skin" seems to be a psychological mystery: Brian and Neil both shared the same traumatic experience when they were children, yet they each recall it differently. Brian remembers it as alien abduction, while Neil remembers it as molestation. And Brian's the one who's trying to find out the truth. The problem, of course, is that the question doesn't necessarily need an answer. On a purely psychological level, it really can go both ways: either they were molested and Brian created an alien fantasy to cope, or they were abducted and Neil constructed an elaborate (and, more importantly, realistic) scenario in his head. Memory is unreliable, we know this and it's been the subject of many fascinating films, but in trying to resolve the issue, Araki inadvertantly makes it clear that there's only one way it can go. As a result, anything in Brian's storyline regarding his search for the truth is rendered moot because he's looking in all the wrong places, and we know this long before he does. His rapport with fellow abductee Avalyn (who initially provides support for Brian's theory) goes south at the drop of a pin, and not very convincingly.

To Araki's credit, he doesn't get caught up in cliches regarding sexual abuse: Neil has a pretty positive outlook on the whole experience, claiming he was in love with his abuser anyway, that getting deflowered at age eight made him understand the truth about his sexuality (though you could pretty much go for a "chicken or the egg" argument there). Brian follows the more conventional route of repressing sexuality altogether, to the extent that it's not clear whether he's into guys or girls at all because the thought of intercourse with another human being is repulsive to him.

At the end of the movie, the two characters finally meet, and Neil tells Brian exactly what happened, in excruciating detail. But again, Araki cuts the scene short at that vital moment where everything Brian ever believed in is lying in ruins. It's not enough of a resolution to the character arcs or to the movie as a whole, because Neil isn't much affected by Brian's breakdown (why should he be? He already knew, and never saw himself as a victim). There's no connection, no reason to care about what Brian's next step will be.

A few superfluous characters run about without adding anything relevant to the story: Wendy Peterson is played by Michelle Trachtenberg, who - years after her stint on Buffy - still arouses a desire on my part to slap her until her head detaches. Eric is Neil's best friend and, of course, is in love with him (another subplot that goes nowhere, because Neil doesn't know or doesn't care).

I can't really recommend "Mysterious Skin" because it spends most of its time building expectations that are never fulfilled. The moment you figure out what happened to those two kids, you've solved the riddle - and more likely than not, it'll be long before the movie's actually over.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Comics Review: November 22

This week also saw the release of three new books I'll be reviewing at a later date: "All-Star Superman", "Books of Doom" and "X-Men: Deadly Genesis".

But now, onto the main attraction: David Lapham's "Daredevil vs. Punisher: Means and Ends".

Generally speaking, these two Marvel characters have clashed before, most memorably in the "Child's Play" arc of Frank Miller's "Daredevil". The reason they work so well together is because of their similarities - they're both street-level vigilantes largely motivated by personal loss, and defending the same territories against the same enemies. The only thing that separates them is Matt's belief in the law and Frank's use of lethal force. This is something Lapham picks up on... we'll get to that in a bit.

Overall, "Means and Ends" is an interesting story, wherein Daredevil and the Punisher are after the same target for very different reasons, while in the background another victim of crime prepares to follow in Frank Castle's footsteps. Lapham portrays both title characters very effectively, without going over the top and making Punisher an unsympathetic monstrosity a la Ennis. In fact, Lapham really manages to find middle ground in that neither character proves to be "superior" to the other. Usually when you have this kind of face-off, a writer will allow his favorite to come out on top while the opposing party is torn down. That's not what happens here. Oh, the Punisher acknowledges that Daredevil has an advantage because they both know Frank won't kill Matt... but that doesn't make the Punisher less than his opponent.

The problem with appealing to both fanbases, though, is that both characters come off as a bit flat here. Lapham can't really develop either character significantly - on the one hand, this is rarely a requirement in an extraneous miniseries, and as such, it doesn't really impact the quality of the story (ie: David Hine's excellent "Daredevil: Redemption"). However, it's a bit of a problem here because Lapham does try something here that doesn't play itself out.

Specifically, he makes a bold attempt at breaking down that one line between the two - Daredevil discovers one of the Punisher's victims, who he thought innocent, was in fact guilty as sin, causing him to question his perception of Castle as some raving lunatic who needs to be put down (because clearly, he does know what he's doing). Meanwhile, an altercation with Daredevil causes Punisher to momentarily lose control, and he shoots an innocent man. That goes right to the core of everything he believes in, and it shakes him. For a few moments, you can almost see these two characters move beyond their firmly-entrenched positions, to consider the other side.

Except, if that were ever to happen, Daredevil and Punisher really would become interchangable. So Lapham only manages to scratch the surface before moving onto another track altogether.

The larger issue is that it's not clear whose story this is, when all's said and done. It's not Daredevil's story or the Punisher's story, because they're only bit players in the overall plot - in fact, the whole issue of Hammerhead trying to take over the underworld (which kicks off the first issue) ends up being resolved off-panel. Rather, it seems this is Martin Bastelli's story (the boy who tries to emulate the Punisher), or rather it's Martin's and his sister Mary's (the girl who looks a lot like the Punisher's dead wife Maria).

I say this because these two actually provide a relevant thematic link. Like Castle and Murdock, the Bastelli siblings find themselves victims of mob violence. Martin picks up a gun and plays at being Punisher Junior, and it costs him his life. Because he's not the Punisher, and not everyone can be the Punisher. Martin pays the ultimate price for his choice, as the Punisher might someday.

Mary, on the other hand, is subjected to an even worse fate, and would have every reason to seek revenge... but she doesn't. She's not the Punisher, because not everyone wants to be the Punisher. It's always been the cliche of the vigilante characters (Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) that ordinary tragedy leads to extraordinary reactions - but is that really the way people behave? Not always, as Mary proves: there's a lot of grief in her final words, a lot of pain, but she doesn't fall into the Daredevil/Punisher, law/justice quandary. She sidesteps it, and moves on with her life - something neither Matt nor Frank will ever be able to do.

Good story, if a bit self-nullifying in its conclusion. Definitely worth reading.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Newsarama reports that Jeph Loeb is joining the writing cast of "Lost", and his episodes will start airing in January.

It's like the schmuck is chasing me from fandom to fandom. I'll try to be optimistic and hope that in the best case scenario, he's not going to screw things up too badly.

Dammit. And I was really liking this season too. :(

"Don't Judge It Till You Read It!"

Or: "Brains? Who Uses THOSE Anymore?"

In the realm of debating comics, there are certain stock phrases that come up time and time again. Sometimes they're justified, usually they aren't. But every now and then I find myself faced with a particular, specific argument that's so wrongheaded I'm usually left speechless.

This argument basically amounts to "Wait till Product X comes out before criticizing it." For context's sake, this was most recently brought up in a discussion regarding the upcoming "Planet Hulk" storyline, where someone pointed out it sounds quite similar to a 1970's story wherein Hulk went to Jarella's world and everyone was green. It's pre-PAD, so I don't have direct experience with the parallel, but it's apparently recognizable enough that a lot of people are commenting on it.

The predominant response to this claim has been that people are judging "Planet Hulk" based on some teasers and images, without knowing anything more about the story. That they're presuming to write off the whole thing as Marvel recycling old stories, with no evidence to support such a theory.

Well, you know, except for those times Marvel does recycle old stories. Granted that being a Marvel/DC apologist these days requires a rather massive set of blinkers, but really, no one can get away with claiming neither company digs into the archives on a fairly regular basis. "Infinite Crisis" is a "Crisis on Infinite Earths" retread with some cosmetic changes made to avoid looking like a direct reprint. "House of M" was an inferior "Age of Apocalypse" inversion (and they went and dug up the original story for Akira Yoshida this year, didn't they?). JMS' "Sins Past"? "Decimation" being a wide-scale retread of the Alan Davis Uncanny story with the High Evolutionary, or the Claremont/Windsor-Smith "Lifedeath"?

The point is, you can only autocannibalize your own stories so many times until people start expecting that of you. If Marvel's stuck with being called "The House of Idea" (that's not a typo), they really do have only themselves to blame, because they do nothing to discourage these expectations. Instead of making "Planet Hulk" look distinct on any level, they do the opposite and make sure the only thing the readers know is that it sounds like a 30-year-old story with a new coat of paint on it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

That Time of the Month: PMS!

Or: "Previewing Marvel Solicitations!"

Lots of flat-out bizarre things this month, as well as some genuinely exciting stuff. I'll also be pointing out just how many times the word "event" is used per month, just so we can see the brick wall we're all speeding towards.

* Ultimate Marvel is still carrying that "Gold Standard" subtitle, though to this day I don't think anyone has actually explained what that means. If they're just talking about putting some gold on the cover, well, we get the point, there's no reason to keep hammering it three months in a row. If, on the other hand, they're talking about perceived line-wide quality, I despair for the medium.

* Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina begin a run on "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" with issue 23. Aguirre-Sacasa isn't a bad writer per se, but he's never written anything I was particularly inclined to read, and this series falls under that same banner. In fairness, I should point out that the premise seems interesting enough - Spider-Man villains who've patterned themselves after animals now find themselves becoming their moniker. Could turn out nicely.

* Over in JMS' Spider-book, Peter Parker gets a new costume "certain to raise eyebrows". Considering we've seen Paper Bag Spidey, Armored Spidey and Betty Brant as Spider-Girl, I seriously doubt we'll be too put off. Plus, you know, movie 3 coming out soon.

* Finally, Peter David's "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" breaks free of "The Other". I'll be checking out the first few issues to see how accessible it is; that aside, I'm expecting a fun read.

* Event #1: Apparently, "Black Panther" is heading for "an event of cataclysmic proportions". Which may or may not have anything to do with Panther's search for a wife, or guest-appearances by Blade, Brother Voodoo and Monica Rambeau. Care to guess what these three have in common? I'll give you a hint: it's only skin-deep.

* The solicitation writer vomits up an entire paragraph of bells and whistles for this month's issue of "Daredevil", but if there was ever a specific team on a specific book that didn't need an ounce of hype to sell itself, it's Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark on "Daredevil". Really, you don't need me to tell you to check it out, do you? :)

* Garth Ennis starts a "Fury: Peacemaker" miniseries. Keeping in mind what happened the last time he wrote Nick Fury, can you blame me for running away screaming?

* "Saga of the Squadron Supreme" recaps everything in the Supreme Power series so far, setting up for March's relaunch of the series as "Supreme Power: Squadron Supreme". Clunky as hell, but these are the people who gave us "X-Men: The End Book Three: Men and X-Men" and "Decimation: House of M: The Day After", so what do they know.

* Event #2: The theme for February is "I (Heart) Marvel", obviously a Valentine's Day cash-in. Apparently, the high concept is a return to the old romance genre in comics, which faded away when superheroes became the dominant force in the industry. Of course, these stories will feature mainstream Marvel characters. Once again, Keith Giffen launches a 5-month miniseries out of a one-month theme, though even with the solicitation text I still have absolutely no idea what it's about.

* Event #3: "Amazing Fantasy" #18 announces a "New Universe" event in March, heralded by a February backup story by Tony Lee featuring Mark Hazzard, Merc. *blank look* What-ever.

* Two issues of "Captain America" promise to ship in February. I'll believe that when I see it. #14 is, of course, the long-overdue conclusion to the "Winter Soldier" storyline while #15 picks up on a plot point from the first six issues.

* Event #4: "Planet Hulk" begins as Greg Pak takes over "Incredible Hulk" with issue #92. I'm... somewhat ambivalent towards this. Pak is a great writer, but it's still very unclear what kind of story this is - crossover? Self-contained "saga"? Nobody's written a Hulk I particularly cared about since Peter David's original run, but I'm quite open to getting my interest rekindled. A "wait and see" issue, then.

* Robert Kirkman brings in his old "Mutant 2099" character over at "Marvel Team-Up". I still don't care.

* "Giant-Sized Ms. Marvel" promises a new ongoing series for Carol Danvers by Brian Reed, starting March. Don't look at me, I didn't know anything about this either.

* "New Avengers" #16 tie into "House of M", some four months after the story ended. Uh-huh...

* A Frank Tieri miniseries called "Underworld" looks at a criminal's life in a world of supervillains. Nice premise, but Tieri's never really been one for following through with plots. More likely than not it's a waste of time.

* The good news: "Astonishing X-Men" returns. The bad news: it's bimonthly. Which means that, instead of getting two six-part stories a year, we'll be getting one six-part story a year for two years. That's... well, that's not quite right. Still, it's better than Claremont.

* "Exiles" reaches the old "Squadron Supreme" universe. And, by the looks of the cover, they've picked up the 2099 character I was hoping they'd get. :)

* Event #5: I've already commented about Eric Jerome Dickey's "Storm" miniseries, but here's a little something new: "Don't miss out on this story, True Believer, as it builds to a July Event that will shake the entire Marvel Universe." *sigh* The opportunity for snark is endless, and yet somehow I've reached the point of complete apathy. I don't care enough to be sarcastic anymore. The inevitable backlash will speak for itself.

* Apocalypse returns. In Peter Milligan's "X-Men". Oh dear. Well, it's Apocalypse - it's not like Milligan could do much worse than "The Twelve" on his worst day.

* Another Frank Tieri launch: an "X-Men: Apocalypse/Dracula" miniseries. I kid you not. Apocalypse vs. Dracula. On the other hand, this doesn't look like the puffy-shirt eight-foot-cowl Dracula of '80s Marvel, so who knows. It's still Tieri, but anyone who's okay with that might enjoy themselves.

That's it for this month's highlights! Full solicits and covers can be found here: http://www.newsarama.com/marvelnew/Feb_06/Feb06solicits.html

Until next time, this is Diana, asking you to PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP BUYING CROSSOVERS. The tenth anniversary of "Onslaught" is coming up soon; don't come crying to me when "Heroes Re-Reborn" is announced! ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Comics Review: November 15

Better late than never, right? ;)

"A History of Violence"

The only other book I've read from Paradox Press was "Road To Perdition", which is actually a pretty good parallel to this book in that violence is practically a character in its own right. Both "Road To Perdition" and "A History of Violence" begin with establishing two separate worlds: you have the domestic sphere, which more often than not is sedate, routine and somewhat idyllic, and you have the outside world where violence is commonplace, practically a supreme value. In both books, the main plot is triggered when violence transgresses into and irrevocably changes the internal, domestic life; we then see how characters who had straddled the boundaries of both worlds react to this loss.

In the introduction to the book, writer John Wagner gives several examples of this kind of disruption - if a man went crazy and started shooting up a crowd, could you push yourself to pick up a gun and shoot him? If you found a stranger in your house who insisted he was your husband, what would you do to protect yourself? This moral dilemma, he explains, is at the heart of "A History of Violence".

And the first part of the book does indeed play this paradigm out: Tom McKenna is living his small-town life, where he knows his customers by name and has them delivering food to sick neighbors. He's even accomodating the two thugs who try to rob his diner... until one of them decides to kill him for the hell of it. Tom reacts seemingly on instinct, killing one while seriously injuring another, without so much as a scratch.

Obviously, this is big news for such a close-knit community, and Tom is propelled to celebrity status. Unfortunately, his newfound fame attracts unwanted attention in the form of three gangsters, led by a half-senile and half-blind old man who may or may not have known Tom in the distant past. They stalk him, making veiled threats of the sort that don't hold up in court. Wagner perfectly captures Tom's helplessness, as well as the greater ambiguity: is this just a case of mistaken identity (as not even the aged gangster, Torrino, is sure whether this is the man they're looking for)? Or is there more to Tom than we thought?

This question is resolved at the end of the first chapter. The second chapter takes us into Tom's past, and we discover the truth about what's been happening. Like the section preceding it, this part of the story is also very grounded in realism; even the idea of two teenage boys eradicating the core of a New York mob (and escaping unscathed) seems like a stretch, but only until one of those boys points to the fact that because it's so unlikely, no one will be prepared for it.

However, "A History of Violence" stumbles at the third and final chapter, where a new antagonist comes out of nowhere and starts causing trouble. If, up until this point, the book had been true to life, Wagner now starts asking readers to suspend their disbelief... not an easy thing to do considering the tone of the story so far. Two characters in particular are displayed with almost cartoonish qualities; for example, can we really bring ourselves to believe in a man who's been tortured and mutilated every day for twenty consecutive years? Think about that span of time. Think about the effort required for such a concentrated period of abuse. It might be commonplace in superhero comics or something in the vein of the fantastic, but it certainly doesn't belong in a realistic book.

That said, "A History of Violence" is still a very well-written book, one that doesn't presume to solve the question of violence but demonstrates, with chilling effect, how violence could and does affect our everyday life. Highly recommended.


Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls (37-39)

"Y: The Last Man" is still going strong, one of the most exciting and interesting reads on the shelves.

Brian Vaughan has many skills as a writer, but one that serves him particularly well here is his ability to simultaneously introduce new plot threads and characters while never losing sight of what he's already established. You get long-running themes and angles that hadn't been considered before. You get new characters meshing with people we thought we'd never see again. It's a very enjoyable aspect of the ongoing story for someone who's been around since the beginning - every character means something, and just might pop up when you least expect them to. The flip-side, of course, is that it's not particularly accessible to readers looking for jumping-on points, but DC has been very consistent with TPB releases so it's not really a problem.

Another refreshing aspect of Vaughan's writing is that he goes against the trend of six-part arcs (which, more often than not, require a bit of padding). Story length in "Y" tends to range from single issues to five, but even in the standalone stories there's always so much going on that you never feel you're not getting your money's worth.

"Paper Dolls" follows up on the previous arc, with Yorick and his companions finally reaching Australia (last known location of Yorick's girlfriend Beth). Unfortunately, it's only a pit-stop to their next destination - Japan - and Yorick has twenty-four hours to try and track her down. Things become a bit more complicated, though, when relentless tabloid journalist Paloma West finds out Yorick's secret, gets tangible evidence, and exposes him to the world.

As Yorick himself points out, this isn't necessarily the catastrophe his secret agent bodyguard 355 immediately assumes it is. First of all, Paloma's publishers are notorious for faking photographs - they're tabloids, after all, there's always a degree of fabrication there. Beyond that, the existence of the last man on Earth was bound to be revealed sooner or later.

With only a year and a half to go before the issue 60 finale, Vaughan is still keeping up the pace, still providing those delightful last-page cliffhangers, and still maintaining a very high level of quality where most other writers would start to sag a bit.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Comics Review: November 5

Ultimate Spider-Man: Warriors (#79-85)

This series has become a curious beast. Even in arcs, it's one of the lightest reads on my list... and not a very satisfactory one at that.

Of course, this wasn't always the case. In earlier times, "Ultimate Spider-Man" was an effective demonstration of the positive aspects of decompression, and even when revisiting older concepts, there was usually some new and interesting facet to explore. For example, the Spider-Man/Black Cat relationship got a new twist because of the age difference - she was introduced in her mid-20s, same as the comics, but Peter's only sixteen. So there's all the sexual tension there was in the original story, except she doesn't know he's just a kid.

USM is another series where Bendis has been in decline, and this is particularly evident in the "Warriors" storyline, which amounts to a mindless orgy of fight scenes, dialogue that has crossed the line from mildly annoying to downright irritating, no particular resolution to speak of, and the introduction of a bunch of two-dimensional Ultimate revamps.

That last one in particular is a bit of an unpleasant surprise, because as I noted before, Ultimate revisions tend to turn out well for the most part. But in this storyline it's almost as if Bendis doesn't bother filling in the blanks at all, so sure is he that his readers will do it for him. For example: Ultimate Moon Knight turns up, fights Spider-Man, has split personalities and goes into a coma. Ultimate Iron Fist was in jail for using his powers, visits his friend Shang Chi and beats people up. That's it. No characterization. Nothing particularly in-depth. You'd almost think it's a Millar script. Bendis clearly expects fans of the respective characters to just assume they're otherwise identical to their original versions... but that does tend to spoil the whole point of the Ultimate line, doesn't it? Not everyone knows about/cares about Shang Chi, for God's sake. And "Warriors" certainly doesn't give us any reason to.

What's going on here? What possible justification could there be for six and a half issues of nothing? Yes, every now and then a nice twist comes along (ie: what we learn about Jean DeWolfe in the last part of the story). But it's starting to reach the point where I'm seriously wondering why I'm bothering. For every issue or interesting scene that comes along (I'm thinking of the USM annual with Kitty Pryde), there's a whole arc that just goes to waste.

The dialogue problem isn't new to readers familiar with Bendis' work; his style works when it's just one person talking, but having seven or eight completely different characters all stuttering and repeating themselves and using Yiddish phrases... it's too much. It becomes a chore to read.

It's unfortunate that "Ultimate Spider-Man" has lost so much of its energy to creative ennui. It's quickly becoming one of those series where I have to wonder whether I'm following it because I still like it or out of inertia (a pretty easy trap to fall into on a book with no changes in the creative team). If this keeps up, the next arc will be my last.


Spider-Girl #92

Continuing with the theme of "Do I still like it/Inertia?"... this month's issue of Spider-Girl is yet another done-in-one story that has a nice idea at its core but utterly collapses in execution.

The Avengers, still recuperating from a battle against the Hulk, call in Spider-Girl and a bunch of new recruits to deal with a major threat: Magneto's back. Or is he? Surveillance tapes show someone with magnetic powers and the old red-and-purple costume robbing banks (hardly an act worthy of the Master of Magnetism). Meanwhile, in her civilian life, May bumps into former supporting cast member Nancy Lu, now a neophyte X-Man. When Magneto strikes nearby, the girls team up.

It's another mystery that suffers from the same problems as last month's story. Specifically, any ambiguity about whether this Magneto is genuine gets tossed out the moment he appears - so "Is Magneto back?" isn't really the question at all, but rather who's masquerading as him. That's already a less-interesting question, because as the introductory exposition points out, nobody knows whether the real Magneto is even alive or dead in MC-2. Granted that he's not particularly relevant to Spider-Girl's world, but if you're going to bring it up you might as well address it.

Once again, May throws out an intuitive guess, with no particular clues in hand, and turns out to be absolutely right. After one encounter, she knows exactly what's going on. It's getting pretty silly because there's no cognitive process here; Spider-Girl doesn't even need to think about something, she just knows. All the Silver Age goodwill in the world doesn't make this any less contrived - especially when the real perpetrator turns out to be a bit character from fifty issues ago. I've been reading this series since issue 0 and I honestly had no idea who May was talking about. That's the major detriment to having a such a massive cast of characters - if they don't appear periodically, who's going to remember some minor "villain of the day"?

The issue concludes with May finally confronting Normie about his suspicious activities. It's pretty anticlimactic - she tells him she knows something's going on, but she's not particularly resolved to do anything other than "hate him for the rest of her life". Considering her uncle Phil just disappeared into thin air, you'd think she'd be a little more proactive.

Another series I'm pretty close to dropping. This has been a pretty uninspiring week. :(

Thursday, November 3, 2005

This just in...

Bruce Campbell was disturbingly hot in "Evil Dead".

I say "disturbingly" because it really takes a lot to look that cute when you're covered in what appears to be cottage cheese, milk and scrambled eggs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

I Like To Move It Move It...

I just saw "Madagascar"... cute film, standard feel-good animated movie a la "Monsters Inc." or "The Ice Age". Always nice to watch.

And now I really want a Dancing Julian icon. :)

Movie Mini-Reviews

There was a time when I thought Leslie Nielsen could do no wrong. Of course, this was a while back, when he was making some of the funniest slapstick parodies I'd ever seen (ie: "Wrongfully Accused", the "Naked Gun" movies, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It", etc.). So it's something of a crude surprise to discover that not even he could save "Repossessed", a strong contender for the worst comedy I've seen this year.

Humor being a very subjective thing, I imagine that someone somewhere out there gets a giggle out of an adult Linda Blair turning herself into an ice cream cone while shrieking "Lick me! Lick me!". But I sat through eighty minutes of vomit gags, repetitive punchlines and pretty offensive stereotypes without so much as smiling. It might have something to do with the film's utter lack of subtlety; instead of trying to tickle a laugh out of you, "Repossessed" smacks you in the face with a sledgehammer and waits for the reaction. Parody requires a certain degree of subtlety, which you're most certainly not going to find here.

It's a rather catastrophic misfire of a concept that, on paper, should have worked. "The Exorcist" is certainly a prime target for parody. They had Leslie Nielsen. They went the extra mile and got Linda Blair to lampoon her own original performance. Even the plot holds together: the Devil retakes control of an old victim of his, promptly setting up another exorcism. But a greedy televangelist hijacks the operation, and unknowingly plays right into Satan's hands.

But nothing quite works out: Nielsen is a marginal character, ostensibly out of misguided loyalty to the role he's spoofing (in the original, elderly exorcist Father Merrin isn't very prominent until the movie's final phase). As a result, it falls to Anthony Starke (yes, that seems to be his real name) to carry the movie, and he doesn't (maybe they should have given him a couple of martinis to loosen him up?). On top of that, while Blair has some mildly humorous moments as the Devil, overall she doesn't get much mileage out of her experience with the original movie.

A pretty horrid disappointment, not good enough to enjoy and not bad enough to make fun of.


"Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight" is much more successful in terms of following its genre guidelines: it's supposed to be a gorror (gore/horror) film, and that's what it is. No pretentions of being anything more. One interesting detail about this movie is that it was made in 1995; it missed the apex of horror cinema by about a decade (at which time we were introduced to such icons as Freddy Krueger). But it also fell just short of the pseudo-renaissance initiated by Wes Craven's "Scream" in 1996. In that respect, "Demon Knight" is one of the last of its kind, the way you might think of "Batman and Robin" as one of the last comic book movies before Bryan Singer's "X-Men" raised the bar.

What that means, for the purposes of reviewing "Demon Knight", is that while it certainly gets the gore portion right, I don't think it's a genuinely scary movie. It's basically a bit of a Buffy riff (predating the series but not the Kristy Swanson movie template) where a man "chosen" to fight off demons gets cornered in a hotel with six other guests. With the fate of the universe at stake, they have to take a stand against a small army of hellspawn determined to pick them off. At the same time, they have to resist the temptations of an soul-stealing demon known as the Collector.

There's a bit of fun at the beginning where the Demon Knight and the Collector face off, but you don't know which is which. Billy Zane and William Sadler really click as mortal enemies heading for one last clash. The rest of the cast members are made up of pretty formulaic stereotypes: you've got the tough-as-nails hotel owner, the washed-up town drunk, the asshole and his whore, the disgruntled civil servant and the young, rebellious woman who wishes she could walk away from her dead-end life in a dead-end town. Of course, this isn't really a problem with the movie; even in the prime of the genre, most horror/slasher movie characters were two-dimensional at best - anyone remember 22-year-old Kevin Bacon as Brainless Stud number Whatever in "Friday The 13th"? How about Jamie Lee Curtis as bland babysitter Laurie Strode from "Halloween"? The psychological approach to characterization didn't really take off until "Scream", so while it's difficult to get attached to any of the cannon fodder, it doesn't really damage the movie so much as date it.

As I said, scares are few and far between, but you'll certainly hit your "Ewwww" quota as limbs are torn off, eyes are gouged out, faces are punched through and bodies explode. It's worth mentioning that this movie basically plays out like an extended episode of "Tales From The Crypt"; in other words, it's pretty much the same level of black humor and blood fountains you'd find in the show. In short, it's a relic - a rather concise example of the genre at a recent point of decline. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but about average.


On "Saw" I will say only this: I liked it despite rather glaring flaws in the narrative structure, but it had some bloody weird subtext:

Where's Celine Dion and the sinking ship?