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Island #1 (Image Comics, July 2015)

July 29, 2015 Leave a comment

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Risk. Not the strategy board game that made your cousin cry that one time, but real risk. It’s something that I feel isn’t seen much in the mainstream comic book landscape. Even some of what could be seen as the biggest risks taken by the big comic book publishers in recent years feel too carefully calculated. Like they boiled their risky idea down to a series of charts and graphs and then ran those through a few too many focus groups before deciding it was just risky enough to capture the imagination of their audience. One company who was built on risk taking is Image Comics. I have to say that a lot of my favorite comics in recent years, not all, but a lot, have been Image books. I’m not saying that charts and graphs and focus groups aren’t a part of their process, because it probably is. The creation of comic books is still a business, after all. But when the origin of your company, the very genesis of your entire business model, came from ditching the mainstream and focusing on giving true control of the art back to the artists, you kind of gain a certain level of street cred. Even when the company you created to rival “The Big Two” becomes one of “The Big Three”.

There are a lot of truly interesting things out there, if you look hard enough, great stories and some fantastic art. The independent comics scene has flourished in the digital age, even if the term “underground comics” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. In a world where more and more people are reading their comics on screens rather than on the page, and whether you view that as a good or bad direction is another discussion for another time, it’s obvious that what is considered “mainstream” isn’t what it once was. While Marvel, DC, and Image Comics continue to split a majority of the business in the comics industry, the little guy/girl isn’t as little as he/she once was, either. A good social media presence can make that number of followers translate to a number of paying readers, no matter what your clout in the industry is. Whether you work in the Marvel Bullpen, or you’re just someone with artistic talent and a regularly updated webcomic on Patreon, you can find yourself on almost equal footing in readership. Which is why the big publishers can be seen, in recent years, as less of an endgame for creators and more of another showcase for their work. One that can serve a much larger audience than they might be used to.

Image Comics can hardly be considered an independent publisher anymore, but they still have much of that independent spirit that made them such trailblazers in the early 90’s. And even though they might now be seen as part of the big comics machine, chugging away, they always strive to showcase talent and know when to take risks.

Island #1 feels very much like one of those risks for a couple of reasons. First of which, the $7.99 price tag might be enough to make casual readers and those of us who have a limited monthly comics budget keep walking. That risk pays off, however, when one realizes that they receive 112 pages of comic goodness for their money. The second risk is that not a lot of publishers make comic anthologies anymore. I’m not talking about trade paperbacks collecting story arcs, but anthologies that exist with the purpose of showcasing several different stories all beholden to a specific theme or even similar vibe. Heavy Metal is, of course, one of the first that comes to mind. A few others. But in terms of print anthology comic book magazines, the the field isn’t exactly cluttered.

As far as anthologies go, Island handles the format perfectly. Each of the five entries in this issue are great for different reasons, and their creators really let their creative juices flow.

I.D., as written and drawn by Emma Rios (who serves as co-editor with Brandon Graham), is a unique and captivating look at the concepts of identity and body image. The art is stunning, the story is a fresh look at important issues, though the dialogue stands out as the only real weak point of the piece. The imagery is what shines in this first (damn those “To Be Continued…”‘s!) installment of I.D.

Kelly Sue DeConnick contributes not a comic but an illustrated essay entitled Railbirds and it serves as a beautiful tribute to the late poet and author Maggie Estep. DeConnick draws on her personal experiences with addiction and self-doubt to encapsulate how deeply Estep touched her life and the effect her friendship had on her own personality and world/self view. It’s beautiful and stays with you long after you finish it.

Brandon Graham, the creative co-mastermind of this whole affair, delivers a visually amazing comic entitled “Multiple Warheads 2: Ghosttown“. As the title would suggest, this is a part of a larger story told elsewhere, so it can be a bit hard to follow at times, but the beauty of Graham’s art is enough for anyone to enjoy taking their time with.

Dagger Proof Mummy, by Ludroe, is just a blast. It’s fun and frenetic and really makes you want to ride a skateboard.

The issue wraps up with Polaris 1, in which Brandon Graham addresses us, the readers, and gives us an inside perspective into his process.

Image Comics has a very special thing on their hands with Island. After receiving my copy, I immediately checked to see if pre-order was available for any further issues. Island #2 through #5 are already spoken for and will arrive in my mailbox as they’re released, and I can honestly say that I’m very much looking forward to watching this project grow.

Even at $7.99, and even though it’s by no means flawless, Island #1 definitely offers a return on your investment. I highly recommend you take a risk of your own and check this out.

If you’re interested in seeing more from the creators of Island, check out:

Brandon Graham on Tumblr
Emma Rios on Tumblr
Kelly Sue DeConnick on Tumblr
Marian Churchland on Tumblr

There’s also this great interview over at AV Club.

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Categories: 2015, Reviews Tags: , ,

Ant-Man (Marvel Studios 2015)

July 19, 2015 Leave a comment

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While Ant-Man himself is one of the original Avengers, it took fifteen years and eleven other films before he would finally be granted his silver screen debut.

Marvel Studios’ latest film and the true end of “Phase Two”, the overlying arc spanning six films (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and finally Ant-Man) has had a rocky go of it from the get-go. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish were tapped to write the script, with Wright set to direct. This made a number of fans very happy, as his quirky style of writing and unique approach to film making seemed a perfect fit for what is such an arguably odd story. Wright and Cornish had been involved in the development of an Ant-Man script since as early as 2003, with them being officially brought on to the project in 2006. Development continued through the entirety of Phase One, as Ant-Man wasn’t considered a “tent-pole” character. Months after turning in the fifth draft of their script, however, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish left the project, citing “differences in their vision of the film”.

The story doesn’t end there, thankfully.

Filmmaker Adam McKay entered negotiations to replace Wright as director, though ended up backing out a day later. Marvel Studios would soon after name Peyton Reed as Wright’s replacement, with McKay contributing to the script. It was revealed that Paul Rudd, after being cast as lead character Scott Lang, would also lend a hand with the script. So, we have a movie that went from being written exclusively by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, to a movie that has four screenplay credits altogether. This was troubling to many, and it could be said a stigma was added to the film after that. Many doubted Ant-Man would meet the standards of quality set by the Marvel Studios films that preceded it.

Cast:
Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man
Evangeline Lily as Hope Van Dyne
Michael Douglas as Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket

Plot:

When career criminal Scott Lang is released from San Quentin, he vows to turn his life around. He’s given a very clear set of goals by his ex-wife: Get a job, get an apartment, pay his child support. Only then will he be able to spend time with his young daughter, Cassie. Walking the straight and narrow doesn’t pan out for Lang, and when his friend and former heist partner Luis (Michael Peña) offers him “the perfect job”, he decides to take his chances.

The perfect job ends up being more than Lang bargained for, though, when he crosses paths with Dr. Hank Pym. This mysterious older scientist inserts himself into Scott Lang’s life and makes him an offer of his own. One that takes Lang on a wild ride to redemption as he struggles to win back his daughter and, oh yeah, save the world.

Thoughts:

I will preface this by saying that there has not been a single Marvel Studios movie that I have disliked. There have been some that I truly loved (Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy) and some that I enjoyed but could have been much better (Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron). Even the ones that have been heavily flawed, have had some redeeming quality for me.

Now, to Ant-Man.

I’ve seen reviews comparing Ant-Man to heist movies like Oceans 11, and I could not agree more. At its core, this is two movies in one. A tale of redemptions and the story of a daring heist. The combination of these elements, along with the heart and charm of Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, are what really hold this movie together.

The cast is great and each member plays off one another very well. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas have an undeniable chemistry when on screen together. Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne is believably at odds with her father, Douglas’ Hank Pym. Michael Peña steals every single scene he’s in as Luis. Going in, I thought for sure that Rudd was going to get the biggest laughs, but Peña nails it every single time.

Even actors in smaller roles, like David Dastmalchian and rapper-turned-actor T.I., or character actress Judy Greer and Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale, shine during their brief moments on screen.

Corey Stoll, who can be seen on The Strain on FX, does a fine job as the villainous Darren Cross, though there was something about his performance that didn’t sit right with me.

I’m still blown away that Michael Douglas was in this film. Between Douglas being in Ant-Man, and Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s truly astonishing to see the caliber of actor being drawn to Marvel Studios.

Edgar Wright’s influence is still very much felt throughout the movie and I can’t help but wonder how much of his original script made it to shoot. I also can’t help but wonder what the finished product would have been if Wright had remained signed on as director. All of that said, between Wright and Cornish, and Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, all having their hands in the screenplay, the pace of the story is very smooth.

I go back to the combination of heart and humor that made me enjoy this movie as much as I did. While I would not rank Ant-Man with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s a solid heist movie and just a lot of fun all around. It’s certainly a better movie than you might expect considering it’s a movie about Ant-Man.

Both the mid-credits scene, which sets up some exciting opportunities for Phase Three and beyond, and the post-credits scene, which does a fine job of leading into next summer’s hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, are a blast to see.

Overall, I would say Ant-Man does a great job of being a fun summer popcorn flick and fits in to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe in subtle but promising ways. I absolutely recommend seeing it, if you’ve enjoyed the Marvel Studios films as a whole so far.

General Nerdery | No Spoilers | Happy Father’s Day

June 16, 2013 Leave a comment

GAME OF THRONES HIATUS: WEEK ONE

* First Sunday without Game of Thrones. The walls are closing in like so many White Walkers. I can hear the wind howling from outside and though it is bright and warm as the sun beams down from the heavens above, I know the truth. Winter is coming. I can feel it in my bones. I only wish it were not so far away.

* I was certain that I would handle this better. I was certain it would not hurt this much. I know now that certainty means nothing when faced with the unique adversity of being without one of your favorite shows for almost a year. I know now that the pain will not subside until I can once again see the beauty of Westeros on my television screen. I must deal with this pain until then.

* Luckily, as an avid Game of Thrones viewer, I have grown accustomed to pain.

The people of the internet are very divided in their opinion of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Half of the internet have called it the best Superman movie so far, while the other half refuse to call it a Superman movie at all.

Having seen it, I am in the latter half of the internet.

Once I stopped thinking of it as a Superman film and started looking at it as a summer blockbuster film involving aliens and big explosions, fight scenes and bloated visuals, I was able to enjoy it. But do not be fooled. Anyone going into this movie expecting a film about Superman will be sorely disappointed. The main character in this film is named Kal-El of Krypton, he goes by the Earth name of Clark Kent, he dons a red and blue costume with a large “S” on the front and flies around with a flowing red cape behind him. He is even referred to as Superman on more than one occasion, but none of that matters. This man is an impostor.

I will not spoil the events of the film that lead me to say these words. The only thing I will say to those of you who have not yet seen it and are confused by what I’m saying is this: The Superman in this film crosses lines the Superman we all know and love would never cross.

As I said, I was able to enjoy the film for what it was. The cast is amazing, Amy Adams as Lois Lane especially, and Henry Cavill need not shoulder the blame for the events in this film as he did the best job he could with the script he was given. That is the root of the issues with this movie, the true source of the many flaws that weigh down Man of Steel; The writing.

The fault, I feel, lay not with the director, Zack Snyder. Anyone who enters this movie with prior knowledge of his directorial style will not be surprised by how the movie looks. Snyder delivers an enjoyable summer blockbuster, but the little kid in me who used to run around his living room with a red cape towel hanging from his back was very disappointed.

There you have it, the line has been drawn in the sand. I am on my side of this heated internet debate, and now you must see the film and decide on which side you find yourself. But do not allow anyone to determine for you whether or not you should see this movie. I urge you to see it for yourself, with an open mind, and to only then decide how much of this movie you’re able to take.

And of course, today is Father’s Day. So I would be remiss if I didn’t commemorate the event with a tasteless Batman image:

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Thirty-One: Halloween (1978)

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

And here it is, the movie you all knew was coming. The one film that is most likely on everyone’s “Must Watch On Halloween” list. The movie named after the day itself.

I’m speaking, of course, of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic: Halloween!

Details:

Year Released: 1978
Written By: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Directed By: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence
Trailer:

Plot:

There’s a black sheep in every family. One person who drinks too much, or talks too loudly, or maybe spent some time in prison for reasons no one is willing to talk about. The Meyers family is no exception, only their black sheep is named Michael and he may or may not be the boogeyman.

At the ripe old age of six years old, Michael took his first life, that of his teenage sister Judith, one All Hallows Eve in 1963. It was at this point that Michael was shipped off to a mental institution, presumably for the rest of his life. But these things don’t always work out the way we want them to, especially in horror films, and fifteen years later, Michael escapes. He returns to his family home, the scene of the crime, to see what other family members are still hanging around, waiting to be brutally murdered.

Enter Laurie Strode, typical American teenage babysitter living in the suburbs.

Michael Meyers stalks Laurie, practically living in her shadow, until Halloween night when Laurie is babysitting a young boy named Tommy Doyle. It’s then, on the fifteenth anniversary of Judith Meyers’ murder, that Michael strikes at poor Laurie Strode and her friends. Will Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis be able to stop him in time?

Thoughts:

Halloween is the movie that launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, and for that, I will forever be thankful to everyone involved. But even putting that aside, even ignoring Curtis’ memorable performance, Halloween is just a fantastic horror film through and through.

The suspense builds very early on and keeps climbing until the climax of the film; The inevitable showdown between Michael and Laurie. Some of John Carpenter’s best work can be seen and felt and heard in this movie and it still holds up, nearly thirty five years later.

Whether it’s the jump scares, or the quick glimpses of Michael Meyers over Laurie’s shoulder, or the music, this movie keeps you feeling terrified from the first scene straight through to the closing credits.

As far as makeup/effects go, it’s mostly just blood work, but it’s good. The most memorable part of Halloween’s antagonist, Michael Meyers, is of course the stark white mask. Which was actually a Star Trek Captain Kirk Halloween mask coated with white spray paint, so really it’s been an albino William Shatner that has been scaring you since you were a kid. Go figure.

The writing, the memorable performances put forth by both Jamie Lee Curtis and noted James Bond villain Donald Pleasence, and even the original score (also composed by John Carpenter) all work together to make this film genuinely creepy and can also all be listed as reasons that we all keep coming back to this movie, year after year.

Should You See It:

For the love of all that is scary, yes. If you’ve ever celebrated Halloween, but have never seen the movie named after it, I suggest you do so. Dim the lights, pull the covers up to your chin, and make sure to have plenty of candy on hand.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Thirty: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Wes Craven is a disturbed individual. No, really. He read a string of LA Times articles printed in the 1970s about a number of men in South East Asia who died under mysterious terms while experiencing vivid nightmares. A normal person reads a few articles of that nature and thinks “Oh, how terrible.” or “Those poor men and their families.” or “That is very creepy and I wish I hadn’t read it.”

But not Wes Craven. A man like Wes Craven reads those articles and thinks “I can use this to scare the living hell out of children for decades to come!”

And so was born tonight’s feature: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Details:

Year Released: 1984
Written By: Wes Craven
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
Trailer:

Plot:

When all-American teenager Tina has a nightmare in which a grizzled and burned figure slashes her with a bladed glove, and she awakens with four slash marks across the front of her nightgown, she becomes a bit distressed. Upon telling her friend Nancy of her experience, Nancy reveals that she had a similar dream, though their other friends refuse to believe them.

That changes over time, as one by one, gruesome deaths befall each one; In their sleep.

Nancy soon comes face-to-crispy-face with the shadowy figure haunting her dreams, who calls himself Freddy Kruger, and he almost ends her. But as her friends and family all die around her at the claw-gloved hands of Mr. Kruger, Nancy has no choice but to take a stand and face him in a fight to the death. Will she survive the night?

Thoughts:

Ah, Freddy Kruger. The ugly bastard who stalked the dreams of teenagers through the 1980s and well into the 1990s. One of the most iconic movie monsters and arguably one of the scariest ever put on film, it’s not the outright terror that people tend to remember most about Freddy, but rather the over-the-top hilarity of his horrible actions. I mean, Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this movie. A bed. It eats him and throws up a fountain of blood. Just in case you fail to grasp what I just said, let me repeat it: Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this movie.

Granted, the truly goofy stuff (yes, goofier than a kid being killed by a piece of furniture) doesn’t happen until later sequels. Oh, yeah. There are sequels. Quite a few of them, too, and only a couple of ones I’d call good. Okay, not “good”, but “entertaining”. Still, a whole lot of silly in this movie, and that’s what I love most about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie does the scary stuff right. This is, after all, a Wes Craven film. Wes almost always does a good job of balancing the silly with the scary. The premise alone is terrifying and Craven does a lot with it in this first film.

The acting is pretty typical for a mid-80s horror film, and the standout of the crowd is Robert Englund as Freddy Kruger.

The effects are decent for the time the movie was made, a lot of the makeup work and prosthetics are actually pretty impressive.

Should You See It:

Listen, if the words “Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this film” are not enough to entice you, I just don’t know what is.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Nine: Friday the 13th (1980)

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The slasher genre of horror movie is a thing of beauty. You take a bunch of teenagers doing “bad” things (having sex, drinking alcohol, doing drugs) and toss in a maniac with a machete to “punish” them. To death.

The 1980s was lousy with slasher films, many of which are being remade today, but arguably the best is tonight’s feature: Friday the 13th.

Details:

Year Released: 1980
Written By: Victor Miller
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon
Trailer:

Plot:

It’s 1958 and we find ourselves at Camp Crystal Lake, where a large group of children are busy enjoying the sunshine and refreshing lake waters, while the two teenage counselors in charge of watching over them are busy enjoying each others bodies. So busy, in fact, that neither of them notice the young boy by the name of Jason Voorhees who is struggling to stay afloat in the lake. One year later, on the anniversary of young Jason’s watery death, the two camp counselors are found brutally murdered. The murders shock everyone and Camp Crystal Lake is close down. Forever.

Just kidding.

It’s now 1979, twenty-one years since the horrific murders, and Camp Crystal Lake is set to reopen to a whole new generation of young victims. I mean children. Young children. Since a camp isn’t a camp without a staff of irresponsible teenage counselors, a new batch of fresh faced is hired on the run the place. These fresh faces include Annie, a young woman with what can be assumed is a bright future ahead of her. Annie is hitchhiking to Crystal Lake, because apparently her parents didn’t love her enough to ever tell her not to, when she comes across a local crazy person who warns her that Camp Crystal Lake is cursed and tells her she should go no further. She ignores this local crazy person and enlists the help of a truck driver who agrees to give her a lift, but after learning her destination is the lake, tells her about the drowning of Jason Vorhees and the subsequent murders, and decides to drop her off halfway to the camp instead. He does so, leaving her outside of a cemetery because fuck her, that’s why.

While on her scenic walk past a bunch of headstones, a jeep pulls up and the unseen driver offers her a ride. Annie, being once again the victim of poor parenting in the “don’t get in cars with strangers” category, agrees and they go off on their merry way. Once they reach the entrance to the camp, the driver surprises Annie by driving right by it. Annie begins to freak out and asks the driver to stop, but her request is met with not only silence but also an increase in speed, at which point Annie decides to get the hell out of there and so she jumps out of the speeding car and makes a mad dash for the woods. She doesn’t make it far before she trips and falls, because of course she does, and when she makes it back to her feet, the faceless driver has caught up to her and slits her throat, killing her.

Annie’s blood is only the first to be spilled, as the other counselors at Camp Crystal Lake begin meeting similarly gruesome fates, one by one. Are these killings at all related to the deaths twenty-one years prior? Have you ever seen a horror movie before?

Thoughts:

Let this film be a lesson to you, teenagers: Don’t have sex. Ever. It just complicates things and causes little boys to drown in lakes. Also, if a crazy old man warns you away from a creepy camp in deep in the woods because he says a curse hangs over it ever since two teenagers were murdered there over two decades earlier, you should probably go ahead and listen to him. Maybe just this once.

Friday the 13th is the seminal 1980s slasher flick, in fact most would call it the first slasher film, though I disagree with that. However, I will agree that it kicked off the decade-long love affair with masked maniacs brutally killing sex crazed teenagers that seemed to grip American movie goers throughout the 1980s.

Should You See It:

If nothing I said in the above review has convinced you to see it, you might want to skip it. But if you want a true understanding of the “slasher” genre, specifically the string of movies released in the 80s, I recommend you give it a shot.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Eight: Night of the Living Dead

October 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve already covered zombies, with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but I felt it only right to go all the way back to the film that started it all, the film that changed the very meaning of the term “Zombie” and gave us all a genre of horror movie that remains popular even to this day.

I’m talking of course about George A. Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead

Details:

Year Released: 1968
Written By: George A. Romero, John A. Russo
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
Trailer:

Plot:

Poor Barbara. When she and her brother Johnny go to visit their father’s grave, Barbara feels a sense of unease while traveling through the cemetery. Johnny makes light of this, poking fun at her by saying “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” But Johnny’s words will serve, not only as a warning of things to come, but also as some of the last words Johnny will ever be alive to say.

A man of pale complexion in a disheveled suit shambles toward them and attempts to bite them. Johnny valiantly tries to save his sister from the overpowering creature, but dies in the process. Barbara flees the horrible scene she has just witnessed and takes refuge in a nearby farm house. It is at this farm house where she meets a small group of people fighting back against the reanimated corpses outside, it is at this farm house where everything will change forever. Not just for Barbara, but indeed, for the world.

Thoughts:

What can you say about this movie that has not already been said? It changed the way we talk about zombies forever. Prior to this film being made, the definition of zombie was steeped more in voodoo lore than the realm of reanimated corpses hungering for human flesh.

When all is said and done, this is still a 1960s horror film, and due to that fact the acting is less than stellar. In the case of the two leads, Duane Jones (Ben) and Judith O’Dea (Barbara), however, I feel the acting still holds up fairly well.

The creature effects are lacking, in terms of blood and gore, as this was made before blood and gore on film was even done, let alone as commonplace as it is today.

The revelation that there is something very, very wrong happens right away, with the attack at the cemetery, and allows the suspense to build throughout the rest film. The tone of the film is full of fear and dread and uncertainty as the characters clearly have no idea what is going on around them, nor how far it reaches or when –or if– it will end.

The character of Ben, portrayed very well by actor Duane Jones, holds the distinction of being the first African American character in film to be shown as a strong and cool-headed leader in a cast of mostly white actors. This was a controversial decision in 1968, but one that paved the way for more of the same in later films.

Should You See It:

Absolutely. Even if you’re not a huge zombie fan, you should still see where the whole thing started.