Thursday, August 21, 2014

"God is Dead" and its "Alpha" and "Omega" Specials Were Quite A Good Read

I've been reading the trade paperbacks of Avatar Press' "God is Dead". Dreamed-up by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa it has been quite fun. I checked out the first two issues when they were coming out serially but decided it felt like it would read better as TPBs. Since that point I have read the first and second trades, collecting the first six and then the the second half-dozen issues. I enjoyed them, although I actually think that the later issues read better, e.g. the issues that were written by just Mike Costa with minimal to no involvement by Jonathan Hickman, whose first six issues are pretty good, but lack as much of a clear focus as the later issues seem to maintain.

For those wondering what "God is Dead" is about, basically all the Gods of every religion one day come to Earth and start fighting it out to determine who gets to be the boss of our planet. A group of scientists rebel against these Gods and eventually become Gods themselves through scientific means, with a single science-God prevailing. That's the first trade, and then the second one jumps forward a great deal of time later (a generation or two) to show the ramifications of all that happened and how some remaining Gods who have stayed hidden start fighting back with the assistance of mortals. It's pretty good stuff.

Despite picking up the trades I wanted to get the "Alpha" and "Omega" issues that make up "God is Dead: the Book of Acts" on their own because I heard of the who's-who of talent that were working on them and figured I didn't want to have to wait forever to get to enjoy the comics. Therefore, I picked them up and was able to follow them quite well, if for no other reason than they mostly seem to take place earlier-on in the series' time-line. Was I wise to not wait and instead pick these issues up earlier? Yeah, I would say so overall, with one issue definitely being a treat and the other being at least decent.

The comics are an anthology of sorts with their variety of comics, the story written by Mike Costa known as "Arts and Letters" serving as a bridge between the books, with its first and second parts taking place in "Alpha" and "Omega" respectively. It focuses on an ifrit (a sort of supernatural fire-jinn/genie) that is involved in the solving of a mystery of a murdered God that goes much deeper than it or its fellow Gods suspect. It is a pretty good story and answers some questions about just what caused all the mayhem the series has shown. It opens each book and serves as a good appetizer for the rest of the stories we get in each volume.
Alan Moore, in the flesh (ink?)!
I can say with no hesitation that I enjoyed the "Alpha" comic more than the "Omega" one thanks to its two stories (besides the just-mentioned opening one in each book) being dynamite yarns. The story "Grandeur & Monstrosity" is a delectable piece written by none other than Alan Moore himself and featuring...well, Alan Moore himself. Yes, this is a bit of a meta-comic as it features someone who is clearly Alan Moore dealing with the fact of how with all the Gods coming back its odd the God he and only he worships, Glycon, has yet to appear. The thing is, however, that as Glycon was created as more of a performance piece and a self-declared hoax, it takes Moore presenting Glycon on a stage for the "God" as it were to come into existence. It is a fascinating story full of humor and enough self-awareness to be clever but not overly smug.

The last story in the "Alpha" comic is titled "Pitter Patter" and is written by Si Spurrier. It focuses on a cherub bemoaning the fact that early on in history he and his fellow creatures were shown as terrifying things, but through the passage of time and various interpretations he has been reduced to being a cute little baby with wing. Sounding a bit like some of today's child-stars who want to convince everyone they are an adult now our cherub relates his sad tale over whiskey to a bartender about how no matter what attempts he makes people think of him as cute and adorable. The story is a fascinating treatise of sorts on religion and aspects of celebrity that can make life difficult for those who become pigeon-holed into a particular -role--be that acting in a film or acting as a piece of heavenly force.

When I say how "Alpha" was clearly my favorite comic that isn't to say "Omega" was bad. Its stories just were not as great in my eyes. "Omega" has the conclusion of "Arts and Letters" and brings it to a satisfying close, then follows that with "Alastor: Hell's Executioner" afterwards. Written by Kieron Gillen, "Alastor" is about a demon who despite being an awful and terrible creature is also logical and sees how another demon's plan to invade Heaven is just terrible, resulting in Alastor taking violent action to prevent it. It's a perfectly fine story but considering how amazing some of the stuff Gillen has put out is ("Young Avengers" being a recent example) it is kind of sad to have him turn in a "perfectly fine story" when a reader knows he can provide much more than something passable.

The last story in "Omega" is "The Great God Pan" and is by no means a bad entry, but a little annoying. Why is it annoying? Well, it isn't really a complete story so much as an taste of writer Justin Jordan's newly upcoming series, "Dark Gods". Whether this tale takes place in the "God is Dead" universe or the "Dark Gods" world (or if both comics take place in each other's continuity) is unclear, but it is obvious this is meant to be a sampler/advertisement for Jordan's upcoming series--and that results in a story that is good, but as I said, annoying.
Having your last story promote another comic is a bit annoying.
These "Alpha" and "Omega" comics provide good stories and also serve to show how a variety of writers can put their own unique spin on tales set in the "God is Dead" Universe. While I may have been more fond of the "Alpha" comic I did also have fun reading "Omega", and would of course recommend getting both as they obviously are designed to go together. The amount of talent on display in these pages is staggering, and I really had a wonderful time reading Moore's and Spurrier's stories. Should you not even be familiar with the "God is Dead" comics you could still enjoy the "Alpha" and "Omega" comics with relative ease and I would heartily recommend doing such a thing.
God is Dead, The Book of Acts: Alpha: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
God is Dead, The Book of Acts: Omega: 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014



I live near Ferguson, Missouri--at least in comparison to the rest of the nation. I have driven through it, and during a period of time where I had an internship with a health organization (while acquiring my Master's Degree) I spent a good chunk of time in one of Ferguson's neighboring areas, Florissant, and within Ferguson itself. Soon it will have been two weeks since the events that caused Ferguson to gain such National prominence, and everyone seems to have an opinion. On what? Well....

  • People have an opinion on Michael Brown, whether he was a "gentle giant" who was ruthlessly gunned down by a racist cop, or a supposed-thug who charged toward an upstanding police officer--which somehow warranted the man firing a bunch of shots directly into Brown in whatever version of the story we hear.

  • People have an opinion on Ferguson, a part of the Northern County of Saint Louis, a predominantly poorer area with a large number of black residents, whereas a mere 20 minutes away you find neighborhoods that are 99% white and have gates to protect their high median income. Some people say Ferguson was just waiting for an excuse to boil over, that it represents many poor cities of our country--living in the shadow of wealthier areas and sick and tired of being ignored at best and demonized at worst. Other people say that it has a population that is tired of being 2/3 black but with a police force that has three black officers out of all the other whites ones.
  • People have an opinion on the aforementioned police, whether giving them military-grade hardware is a good idea because the military fights enemies and the police protect and serve--so when you make the police the military the populace starts to look a lot like an enemy. People have an opinion on guns, with some wondering why the NRA is usually so nervous about the government bossing people around but is ignoring Ferguson (the general conclusion? The NRA doesn't care because it is black people).

People have an opinion, and it seems to be on everything. I'm not sure I do, but I have questions. For example:

  • I want to know why with so many supposed witnesses we keep hearing such differing versions of what happened? Why are some versions of the story that Michael Brown was basically assaulted by the officer and then murdered? How come some say Brown was threatening and charging at the officer, and even if he were why would that warrant lethal force in the form of six gunshots (or less with some re-entering his body, but at least the final shot apparently proving fatal)?

  • I want to know whether the presence of police in military-duty gear causes a riot or if to prevent a riot you need SWAT teams present--although I lean more toward the police riot theory. I want to know if after the media gets distracted by something else (remember how Ebola was dominating the news for a couple weeks until this happened) there will still be protests, a thorough investigation, and ultimately justice will be served--whatever that will end up meaning.
  • I want to know why so many people in the nation--including people who actually live in this region--continue to barely follow this story or not follow it at all besides the occasional news-blurb about looting. Is it because people think this doesn't affect them if they are white? Is it that people are exhausted hearing about black youth being gunned down and justice rarely being served (just look at Trayvon)? Could it be because it is easier to condemn looting than looking at the reasons that such a thing occurred--namely the poverty, rage, etc.?
I want to know why, and I think everyone else does too. What exactly that "why" is varies, but in the end regardless of what "side" a person is on I think we all want answers and the truth. How long it will take for that to come about is something I don't think anyone knows for certain.

What I do know is that a young man is dead, and we don't know exactly why. That is something that isn't an opinion or a question, it just is a sad fact. Now the time comes to finish having an opinion and start finding out the why.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You Can Rip-Off a Limb, but Don't You Dare Show a Birth AKA Much of The American Comic-Book Industry Treats Readers as if We Are Puritanical Sociopaths

I was doing some casual reading around on the internet the other day, and noticed how an issue of a comic all the way from 1986 that is currently being re-released by Marvel had something so shocking and apparently disgusting within its pages that even today, in 2014, Marvel has decided to put it in a poly-bag to make sure younger readers don't accidentally stumble upon the page while flipping through comics at the shop. What could possibly be so gratuitous that even these decades later it needs to be sealed-up? A scene of childbirth in "Miracleman" #9.

At least the content warning is pretty small.
If we're being honest it is one of the most anatomically-correct renderings of childbirth ever put to page, so I won't post it in case anyone reading this at work or the library fears getting in trouble. Still, isn't it odd that in this day and age we think showing something like the gift of life and birth in all its admittedly messy glory is something only mature-readers can take, while meanwhile on Free Comic Book Day the publisher DC gave away a comic to plenty of adults and children that featured super-heroes getting their arms cut-off along with the head of another character sewn into the body of Frankenstein?

Fun for the whole family!
Is it just me, or is it a tad odd that a comic where decapitated head is poking out of the body of another character is considered fine reading for all who want some of DC's offerings (they admittedly had more children-geared comics on FCBD also, but if you're a kid you know you would grab anything with your favorite heroes on the cover), yet showing the miraculous act of a baby being born is treated as if it is something shameful and pornographic? Now, I'm not saying all comics should be poly-bagged or something, because at the end of the day it comes down to the parents to decide if they are offended more by little Tommy seeing a baby being born or a woman's head grafted into a monster's chest. It just is bizarre, especially considering how so many readers of comics are grown-folk, that Marvel felt they needed to poly-bag "Miracleman" whilst Image has their "Black Kiss: XXXmas in July Special" sitting on the shelf without a care.

Doing a drive-by is okay,
but how dare you show the main character having sex!
Maybe it is a case that while a publisher such as Image feels they can have both images of sex and violence out in the open for readers, Marvel still operates under that weird view that seems so common in much of America that it is okay to have as much violence as you want in your films, television shows, or video-games, but dare show a nipple, talk about sex, etc. and everyone loses their mind. You could claim I'm exaggerating, but remember when "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" caused a scandal not because of the violence that every game had, but for daring to include a sex mini-game where the characters weren't even naked? Again, you can have your entertainment contain as much violence as you want, but hint at sexuality and suddenly we have an issue.

Another choice panel from DC's 2014 Free Comic Book Day offering.
It is kind of strange that we as a nation operate in a way where something so much of us experience--romance, sex, having a child--is treated as a taboo and gross topic, yet other acts which disgust us in real-life --assault, gun-violence, murder--are celebrated in our forms of media. True, other nations have violent movies, and some don't allow violent movies or too much sexuality, but we Americans in particular seem to want our entertainment to be made as if we are puritanical sociopaths. Look at  a movie such as "The Dark Knight" which is loaded with violence yet it gets a PG-13 rating (although I've seen and heard plenty about how our ratings system is broken for movies) and parents happily bring their kids to it because, hey, its got Batman and the Joker from those fun comics! You can have the Joker slicing up people's faces as long as with enough clever-editing you don't quite see the blood, yet the idea of two people making love and having a baby sends us into a tizzy. Really though, aren't parents who are dumb enough to take a five year-old to any movie that contains content they might find unsuitable (be it violence or sex) to blame because they lacked the foresight to read-up on if it contained things they disliked?

Thanks for helping us survive the winter!
Now, practice our religion or we will kill you all.
I'm not sure what my point is with this article other than to complain about an aspect of American culture that is so deeply ingrained within us that protesting it is pointless. We are a people who seem to be perfectly fine with extreme violence but freak out when the concept of sex is brought-up. Perhaps it traces back to how the nation as we know it was founded by uber-religious folk who came from across the ocean (we seem to forget the Pilgrims were basically religious zealots who attempted to convert the Native Americans and then murdered them if they didn't comply, although the genocide due to germs did a lot of the work too), as that is the best reason I can think up. Whatever the case, I just find it odd that in 2014, Marvel needs to take a comic written back in 1986 by Alan Moore--excuse me--"The Original Writer"--and seal it up in a plastic bag, and not for the usual reason of it being an event comic that  they're trying to raise the value of, but because they chose to treat it as if it were a dirty magazine. Meanwhile, that time The Sentry literally ripped another character in half during the event "Siege" is perfectly fine to have sitting out:

Ew, just ew.
I mean, how could anyone find that remotely as gross as childbirth? I'm going to go sigh and shake my head now.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tales From The Dollar Bin: The Question #18

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a  store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

"The Question" AKA My Favorite Denny O'Neil Series of All Time

I love The Question. Now, when I say that I mean the version from before the New 52. I have no clue what the Hell DC is doing with the character of Victor Sage and The Question right now. Apparently in this new continuity The Question is some sort of biblical figure from the past who is associated with the Phantom Stranger and that Pandora character whom DC introduced at the end of Flashpoint and then had fighting manifestations of sins...or something. It's all quite a mess. Oh, and there is now also a separate Vic Sage who is running a new iteration of the Suicide Squad in the comics. Whatever.

Now, if I'm so perturbed by the current version of The Question why do I love him? Well, The original Ditko stuff I've skimmed over and been mostly unimpressed by, but the 36 issues written by Denny O'Neil with art mostly by Denys Cowan are just incredible stuff. Now, as they came out back starting in 1987 and I wasn't born until 1988, clearly I have read the issues through methods other than new ones. Yes, I've picked up the trades, but when digging through the dollar bin I stumbled upon one of my favorite issues from the run, #18.

During the run of "The Question" it was a direct-to-comic-shops type comic so it could be more mature with swearing, violence, and sex, but through that it also was able to tackle other adult concepts, often exploring philosophy and Zen Buddhism a fair amount. Basically it was a Vertigo comic before Vertigo was founded (like "Swamp Thing" and "Animal Man") and as that was the case it interacted with the mainstream DC Universe more than later Vertigo Comics did. Hence, in this issue our hero runs into Green Arrow/Oliver Queen as they both are after the same men, a Butch Cassidy obsessed mobster and his side-kick. As Victor had been caught by some of the gang-members previously, he is pleased to be rescued by Green Arrow at the start of the issue but less excited when he learns how Arrow has no clue who Victor's alias is and doesn't quite trust him enough to cut him free from his bonds.

What follows in the issue contains the two men debating life, philosophy (such as Sun Tzu), and one of my favorite statements I've read in comics, namely, "Richard [Victor's trainer] says enlightened people are and the rest are becoming. I'm becoming. I'm somewhere between violence and tranquility. Or between violence and something yet to be determined." Observe:

Good stuff for sure.

Denny O'Neil's run on the question was full of fascinating characters and the moments between them, with the cross-overs with the "real" DCU actually helping the comic as opposed to hindering it thanks to how fascinating Vic is in relation to other characters. You have this Zen-warrior from a corrupt metropolitan-area known as "Hub City" and a supporting cast of other folk I haven't even mentioned who are also great--Myra, for one, and it is all just so deep and sad, yet with moments of joy too.

The only other time I saw Victor Sage and his Question identity done proper justice was in "52" where an older Sage teaches fan-favorite character Renee Montoya everything he knows so that she can take his place after he dies of lung cancer. That was fantastic, but nothing tops Sage back when Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan wrote and drew his adventures. Those times you strike gold on those comics that only cost 100 pennies (plus tax) is why I dig in those countless long and short-boxes that contain these inexpensive joys. Well, I also do it to bring you another quality....tale from the dollar bin!

Friday, August 8, 2014

I've Been Cataloging My Comics

I've got a lot of these.
Having built up quite a collection of comics over the years, I've been thinking lately about selling a chunk of them to clear-up space and start to pay on student-loans, bills, etc. Because I have such a mixture of comics I probably have a lot of issues that would go straight to the dollar bin for every one I have with some value. Therefore, lugging a bunch of boxes to comic shops and making them sort through my mess of comics to find what they want would be unpleasant for everyone, and I came up with a better idea--cataloging.

I did some research on the internet and decided I would use the Collectorz comic cataloging software as I was able to try a free demo of it and found it was complex enough to record all my stuff but not overly-complicated to a point where I would have no clue what I was doing. Using various filter-options in the program I  was able to assign groups of "boxes" which allowed me to figure out exactly which comic was in what box if I wanted to grab it later to sell (and of course I marked the boxes so I would know which one was Box 2 or Box 3, and so forth). I figured this was a good idea as actually taking all the comics I have here out of the boxes and trying to make an alphabetical order out of them would have quadrupled the amount of time it has so far taken me to record everything.
This program has been serving me pretty well.
Since getting the program set-up for my needs I have lately been cataloging my comics I have here in Missouri and feeling a mixture of joy and annoyance. I feel happy when I stumble across a comic I remember really liking for some reason, or see something I have that now apparently has gained some value. However, I get annoyed at the actual process of scanning bar-codes and manually typing in the occasional comic the software doesn't recognize (like some of my really obscure independent comics)--so yes, it is a mixture of emotions.

I have pulled some of my favorite comics to the side for re-reading, and marveled at how some comics I remember being excited for turned out to be horrible. What is interesting is that much of the comics I personally treasure and wouldn't want to part with may be quite low in value, and many comics I lack a strong feeling about have gone-up in value. There are plenty of comics I dislike which are worth nothing of course, and some with a bit of value that I also enjoy, it just seems more often than not my favorites are not that popular with anyone else, or so many copies exist there is little value to them.
One of my favorites I was happy to stumble upon,
even if I doubt most people cared about Daken's comic.
In my cataloging process I have not found anything of immense value, but just being able to see what I have on a handy computer screen is useful, and allows me to try and sell the items worth at least something. Many of the ones I have here in Missouri are also more recent purchases, with more comics resting at my folk's house in Upstate New York and just waiting to be brought to my home out here. When I start recording all of those comics then I'll truly have everything noted down into a tidy list I can give to people interested in buying my comics to survey and find what they want. Still, getting everything I have here in Missouri recorded is a good step and allows me to start already unloading some of my comics in the hopes of getting enough scratch to make a dent in various life-expenses. Plus I get to read some of my favorite comics again and keep them close for repeat enjoyment, so things are working out pretty well I would say.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mini-Run Review: "Magneto" #1-#7

Considering how popular a character he is, Magneto doesn't appear in a solo comic that often. He'll have a mini-series sometimes or such but he hasn't seem to had too much in the way of ongoing series.

Perhaps the reason it can be hard to give Magneto his own mini-series is depending on how he is being portrayed in Marvel comics at the moment he may be shown as a hero or a villain. Plus, often his power-levels have been so immense it makes it difficult to give him a legitimate challenge to go up against.

Well, thankfully the current Magneto series being written by Cullen Bunn with great art by various folk has given us a Magneto that isn't really a hero or villain, so much as someone so blind to his cause of helping and avenging mutants he lacks a care about whether his actions look like that of a someone good or evil. Also, due to various recent-ish events Magneto's power-levels are much lower and harder for him to control. The series has avoided being bogged down by the continuity of explaining his weaker powers, but I believe it relates to "Avengers Versus X-Men" and how some characters sound themselves altered by the event (although it really doesn't matter for this series).

So, Bunn is writing Magneto as a sort of violent anti-hero and has the character dealing with weaker powers, what is the result? A damn good series so far! Magneto may have less power which can limit the sort of missions the self-appointed protector of mutant-kind can do, but that has just resulted in a more grounded character almost like the Punisher, but with a mutant-bent.

The earlier issues saw Magneto looking into various murders of mutants by humans who were turned into half-sentinels against their will and hasn't hesitated to use lethal force in an effort to achieve his goals. This isn't the kind of Magneto who thinks mutants and humans can have the peaceful co-existence with humans the X-Men hope for, yet he is below the level of being someone who blindly hates all humans, something well represented in his partnership with a lady named Brair Raleigh (whom we meet in issue #5).

While suspicious of Brair and how she tracked him down, Magneto has been using her resources since the fifth issue to assist him. I suspect she is in fact going to turn on Magneto, but I could be wrong and look forward to finding out.

One thing I really like about this series has been it takes the Marvel Knight's series, "Magneto: Testament" and makes it clear that it is the in-continuity origin of Magneto. While I had always felt it was the definitive story about him, I had not seen anything in the comics making it abundantly clear that was the case but Cullen makes it official and I think that's a great choice as it helps inform certain aspects of the story quite well.

The thing that works about this series is that Magneto is clearly doing what he feels is best, but we as the reader are not supposed to necessarily be cheering for him. Magneto is walking and at times crossing a fine-line in his efforts to protect mutants, and his operating in a morally-grey area gives us an interesting character whom we can enjoy reading about.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Film Friday: Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw a Thursday-evening showing of "Guardians of the Galaxy" yesterday and will share my basically spoiler-free thoughts. First off, I just wanted to remark that it is nice that more movies are having debuts-of-sorts on Thursday nights lately instead of people having to go to a Midnight showing. Some say it provides less of a fun experience or dedicated fan-base for whatever movie is being attended, but I'd always rather be able to get back home by 10 than not even be tucking myself in till 3AM with work the next day (although maybe I'm just an old fogey). Whatever the case, I was glad there were evening-showings of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and am now pleased to get to tell you all why I liked it quite a lot, but wouldn't say it is my new favorite Marvel-film as some folk are doing.

It isn't spoiling anything to say a lot of the movie centers-around a mysterious orb that Star-Lord steals at the start of the movie, and which previews for the film have shown scenes of. This orb leads to a lot of characters coming into conflict, working together, and variations between those two options. The characters that are the "Guardians" are all well-fleshed out and interesting, with Gamora maybe getting the least amount of a back-story, instead mostly coming off as a slightly-generic "bad-ass lady". Despite previews for the movie showing Rocket Raccoon and Groot as being more of a comedic relief, they actually get some strongly emotional scenes in the movie and much of the praise for that goes to Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel for using their voices so well to give these characters immense life--with the rest of the praise going to the amazing animators who make you really believe a raccoon and talking tree are present in the scenes with everyone else.

We also get Drax who goes from being a dull killing-machine to surprisingly well-developed and the main hero of the movie, Star-Lord. Chris Pratt does a great job as Star-Lord, providing a good mixture of being a skeevy-jerk yet also having just enough humanity to not be someone the viewers hate. Sure, he's a mostly-dishonorable thief and horn-dog, but he still is at heart a kind and caring person.

Star-Lord and the Guardians get most of the screen-time of course, but there is in fact a delightful supporting cast, from the galactic peace-keeping force known as the Nova Corps having such superb talent as John C. Reily and Glenn Close, to Benicio Del Toro as the mysterious Collector. Probably the only characters that I found myself mostly unimpressed with were the more villainous ones. Ronan is a Kree who hates a whole planet enough to want to destroy it, but we never learn too much of his motivations, resulting in another Marvel-movie villain who seems to be full of rage and a desire to destroy everything, but with little reason for the audience to care. This is a problem that the 2nd Thor movie had with its villain being nowhere near as interesting as the sorta-evil Loki, and while "Captain America: the Winter Solider" had a cool antagonist in the form of now-evil Bucky, the closing of that movie made it clear that Bucky may end up being a good-guy too. Still, even if Ronan isn't that great as a villain isn't there the much talked-about Thanos? Eh, kind of.
Ronan is just not that interesting a villain.
In "Guardians of the Galaxy" we finally get to spend a little more time with Thanos, whom we last briefly glimpsed during the end-credits of "The Avengers". While it is good to see him finally speak, he mostly comes off as just an imposing and scary force without actually doing anything. Based on the past movies and some of the events of this one it is clear we are building to Thanos as some sort of ultimate big-bad guy, but for now all "Guardians of the Galaxy" can really do is have his character be tangentially involved in the events of the movie and give off a feeling of, "Hoo boy, this guy sure is scary and might cause issues later on." Still, for now Thanos seems like a huge dog that barks loudly but has no teeth to back-up its supposed threats. As more Marvel movies continue however this may change, but at the moment Thanos is a bit intimidating, but mostly unimpressive.

I've talked a lot about the characters, but what of the plot? Well, as I said I don't want to spoil the movie, so all I can really do is re-state how the orb at the beginning of the movie is important and leads to a lot of the adventuring, fighting, and joking that our heroes engage in. It also provides an excuse for our protagonists to team-up, as without the orb it would feel forced for these individuals to be working together, at least until awhile after first meeting as they start to bond. By having the strange orb there is a plot, making it a bit of a macguffin, but a bit more than that once we learn its true potential.

One aspect of the movie I really enjoyed and which others have commented on is how music plays an important part in the movie. This is because at the start of our movie, Star-Lord goes into space when it is 1988, so he always has his cassette tape with quality jams from the past by his side. This allows the movie to take place in a fantastical galaxy yet provide a grounded feel by having some good ol' Earth-tunes blaring while our heroes are fighting incredible space-battles. It almost seems counter-intuitive to have a song from the 1970's or mid-80's playing while special-effects that wouldn't have even been possible a few year ago fill the screen, but it somehow works and makes the movie all the better for it.

Speaking of things that make the movie better, the amount of humor in this flick is delightful. This is by no means a space-comedy, as there are plenty of serious moments, but Marvel cleverly advertised the movie well by playing-up the funny aspects. People out there who may enjoy Marvel movies but have no familiarity with the comics would basically be seeing this movie without any knowledge, but by having it be made clear this movie was fun and not an overly-dramatic space-opera (not that anything is wrong with the dramatic space operas of "Star Wars" or "Star Trek") people could go into the theater a bit more comfortably who otherwise might be intimidated by a big space-movie.
Quite the motley crew.
It is interesting to think how this film is in the same universe as the rest of the Marvel films, as other than the short-look at Thanos at the end of "Avengers" and a momentary appearance by the Collector at the end of "Thor: The Dark World" we haven't really seen much of space in the Marvel cinematic universe. That makes this movie quite the risk for Marvel, probably their biggest monetary leap-of-faith since the first "Iron Man" movie where they didn't know if their new effort to do movies on their own would succeed or fail. As this movie is quite the quirky delight I do hope it succeeds and encourages Marvel to take more creative and financial risks going forward.

There is a great cast, a solid plot, and some good humor. Basically, the only thing keeping this movie from being one of my favorite Marvel films is that Ronan is just kind of a dull villain compared to the much-more interesting Bucky of "Winter Soldier" or Loki in "The Avengers". Still, this is a fantastic movie and one I recommend fans of the Marvel flicks or outer-space movies go see. Because I said I won't spoil things I lack the ability to tell you why I feel certain plot elements of this movie will be important in future Marvel movies. However, considering how big a bad-guy everyone says Thanos will be in future flicks, and taking into the account the secrets the orb holds, I would say that while this "Guardians" movie only ties in with the main Marvel Universe a little right now, the Marvel Universe in the future will be building off of  this movie quite a bit. Regardless of all that though, this is just a solid movie all on its own and one you ought to see.
4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Eye of the Gods" Original Graphic Novel Review

When I attended Saint Louis Wizard World this year I met a variety of cool comic-creators, and one of the folk I mentioned chatting with and buying some work from was Gerimi Burleigh. After being quite busy I finally had a chance to read an original graphic novel he wrote and illustrated, "Eye of the Gods."

"Eye of the Gods" takes place in a potentially very-near future where a man named Sean Black is suffering from severe eye degeneration to the point where he is now going to have a new surgery where genetically-altered eyes are literally grown in a lab for you and used to replace your old eyes with more efficient ones that can withstand the sun or even be altered to appear to be a myriad of colors. The trouble starts arising when Sean begins "seeing" things through other people's eyes once he falls asleep--things he doesn't want to see, like murder (and then it starts happening while he's awake, which causes even more problems). This sets Sean and his girlfriend Amanda off on a story that is both a mystery and a thriller, because as it becomes clear some sort of conspiracy is happening it is readily apparent the lives of both Sean and Amanda are in danger.
I greatly enjoyed "Eye of the Gods" as it slowly built from seeming like maybe Sean just had a weird gift to learning that in fact a lot of bad stuff was going on. The art by Gerimi is good, illustrating the action-scenes quite well and telling the story with ease. Were I to complain about any aspects of the book it would probably be that while characters such as Sean are well fleshed-out, some are not. Sean's girlfriend Amanda seems ancillary to the story. 

This could easily be just a story about Sean, but instead we have his girlfriend whom I am not quite sure if we are supposed to consider her funny and someone we like, or a character who is annoying and which we are expected to hate. I myself didn't care for her as she is written as quite the obnoxious individual. Then when we start meeting some bad-guys their exact motives make sense, but some just seem evil to be evil. However, the way Sean is written-well makes up for these missteps, and the strength of the plot with its clever commentary on privacy and mass surveillance also results in a quality book.

"Eye of the Gods" is an enjoyable graphic novel that I am glad I bought at from Gerimi at Wizard World. I would recommend checking the book out (here is a link to its page) if you are looking for a suspenseful thriller with a slight sci-fi feel.
4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Television Tuesday: Big Brother 16 AKA The Guys This Season Cry a Lot

I wrote about the television reality-show "Big Brother" around this time last year during its 15th season and recommend checking that article out if you want to understand how the show works. That season was of course one of the more controversial ones due to the rampant racism that started emerging as the house-guests basically forgot they were being filmed and became horribly mean to each other. This season, the 16th, hasn't had the kind of drama that requires CBS put a disclaimer up before the show, but it has been a great show in its own way, if for no other reasons than this is a very interesting group.

There is often the stereotype that men aren't supposed to cry. A tough guy isn't allowed to let anyone see him sob in some people's views, but the guys on this season must feel differently as there has been a ton of "man-tears" as fans of the show have called it. The biggest and toughest men have been absolutely bawling about having to nominate people to get evicted, double-crossing someone, or how they miss their friends and family back home. I think it is actually a good thing these guys are in touch with their emotions as I figure "Big Brother" has always done a pretty good job of getting a variety of people together in a house, and yet despite all these men coming from different backgrounds they each enjoy a good cry be they a groundskeeper in their 40's or an undercover cop claiming to the house he is just in the recreation field.

The men being in touch with their emotions isn't only what makes this a fascinating bunch however, it is also how this show has gotten quite meta, with people on it talking about past seasons and how they don't want to do certain things as they've seen how people who have behaved that way on other years ended up. Also, while some house-members are so dull they barely get any screen-time when the show is on, others are quite a hoot. Caleb has gone from being a definite competitor to a lovesick puppy obsessed with another house-guest named Amber who at this rate is going to have a file a restraining order once the seasons ends. Donnie is the aforementioned older groundskeeper and one of the nicest and most straight-forward people you will ever see on "Big Brother", making it remarkable he has survived this long with his honesty--but it probably helps that he is so easy to like that everyone in the house loves him.

Perhaps the downside to all these interesting guys on the show is that the female players seem to be  getting relatively little attention. The most outspoken female who was also most likely to cause waves (Joey) was voted out in the first week, and now the females in the cast seem to just kind of operate as secondary to the men, creating a weird paradox of a show where the guys appear progressive with their ability to be in touch with their emotions, but the show comes off as regressive in gender-politics in other ways with all these passive women.
Donny is awesome on the show.
The last season of "Big Brother" brought us a house where people legitimately hated each other. Other than the despised house-member Devin who is gone now, this seems to be a household where everyone gets along but also is aware they are playing a game--although some people are starting to crack a bit and lose the niceties (look at Zach). While the people on this season may not actually dislike each other, that hasn't stopped them all from the usual whispering, back-stabbing, and conniving that makes up "Big Brother". The whole point of the show is to be one of two people left so of course everyone is making secret alliances and otherwise working against each other, but at least this season it doesn't seem as personal.

There are also all the silly competitions and such, but I always enjoy watching the house-members interact more than anything. Over the 90-ish days people slowly start getting more and more aggressive along with less and less nice. Considering how well this house gets along there may never be the inevitable melt-down of friendships that seems to happen every season,  but I'm counting on things getting ugly at some point--they almost always do (I doubt things will get as gruesome as last season though).

All-in-all,  "Big Brother" is something I enjoy as a bit of a guilty pleasure with its hokey reality-competition aspects, but also a show I find fascinating with its sociology-experiment aspect where we see what happens when 16 people are forced to live together and not interact with anyone but each other for three months. Every season is unique, and this one seems to be a season of men who aren't afraid to cry, a house that genuinely gets along, and of course the usual plotting and planning in secret. I would recommend tuning in as it is on CBS so you don't even need cable to watch it, plus the CBS website often has episodes and clips you can inspect too. I know I'll be watching tomorrow!

Monday, July 28, 2014

What I Found Interesting From SDCC This Year

Well, San Diego has finished its immense comic convention. A variety of pieces of news came out of it, and I'll now share my thoughts on what I think is worth discussing.

Stuff From SDCC Worth Mentioning
Besides the fact that I'm amazed "Multiversity" is actually going to finally happen, this map created by Grant Morrison to illustrate DC's multiverse is both fascinating and beautiful.

Image announced a ton of new comics that are going to be coming out from them. Some look more interesting than others, but I imagine each will be good in its own way, as Image doesn't really put out much that is flat-out bad.

ComiXology is now offering publishers the option to provide digital comics to readers without DRM--as in you can back-up your comic and read it on any device without annoying "protective" software getting in the way that actually doesn't stop pirates(my views on DRM are pretty clear). Some publishers are already on-board and others may soon be too.

Batman Versus Superman apparently had a trailer but it is all-but-impossible to find it on the internet due to Warner Brothers making anyone who posts it take it down, so I'm not even going to link to anything.

Could this be a start of a monster-movie renaissance? I don't know, but I am intrigued to hear that a sequel to the Godzilla movie I enjoyed is going to be made, and that a new King Kong movies of all things is happening.

Marvel is going to be putting out Star Wars comics soon that are officially in canon and everything. Plus they've got some good creative teams.

Speaking of Marvel, they have another original graphic novel coming out right before the new Avengers movie hits theaters, fittingly titled "Rage of Ultron".

"Star Trek" and "The Planet of the Apes" will be having a comic cross-over event thanks to a deal worked out by their respective rights holders, IDW and Boom. This is an announcement that is random but also sounds pretty cool.

That's All?
I can't think of anything else from SDCC that when I read news about it I found myself saying "Wow". I guess there just wasn't as much to grab my attention this year.

I forgot to mention how I am happy that "Mighty Avengers" is not getting canceled, but instead re-launched as "Captain America and the Mighty Avengers". That made me smile. Also, Image's publisher Eric Stephenson delivered quite the keynote speech.