Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DC Villains Month/Forever Evil--The Good, Bad, and Ugly Aspects of the Event.

Because Villains Need Love Too
It was rumored to be in the planning for some time (the website Bleeding Cool basically spilled the beans on it a year in advance), but some months ago DC finally officially announced it was happening. "Forever Evil" also known as "Villains Month" (inexplicably without an apostrophe) is a mega-event where for the entire month of October a variety of comics will be "taken over" by famous and not-so-famous bad-guys in the DC Universe. There are aspects to this event that are good, bad, and downright ugly. Let's break things down!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Good: This is a "New 52" introduction or spotlighting for a variety of characters.
With DC having a "New 52" some characters now are different in their appearance, origins, etc. While we have met some "evil" characters since the big re-boot/re-launch (Mr. Freeze got a whole annual in one of Batman's comics) there are plenty of folk who have not appeared much, or if they've appeared have been portrayed a certain way that would make hearing their "side of the story" useful. It might be good to see what Doomsday is like in this version of the DC Universe, and why not hear Black Manta's views when it comes to his quarrel with Aquaman?

Bad: Do some of these characters need the attention?
Who is this Trigon character? Also, while I've enjoyed reading about The Creeper in the past is he really special enough to have his "New 52" debut take up an entire issue? As much as I appreciate more minor  characters like Clayface (whom is pretty interesting) getting some of the spotlight, I really don't know if we need to give Killer Frost that much attention. Then again there is probably someone out there who is thinking that Clayface doesn't need a comic and Killer Frost has been dying for her own issue, so I guess it all comes down to one's own personal preference. Plus, it isn't like I have to buy Killer Frost's comic.
Do you need your whole own issue?
Ugly: Honestly, these are basically fill-in issues.
Look at who normally provides the writing and art for the series that have villains taking them over. Now look at the people providing the writing and art for these Villain issues. With a few exceptions things don't exactly match up, do they? Hell, there are comics that aren't even appearing/being "taken-over" this month such as "Batwoman" while meanwhile Batman's comics are taking up a ton of the event. I am pleased this gives the creative teams on "regular" titles some breathing room but in some ways this event is just one big month of fill-ins.

Good: Events can be fun!
Big comic-events can be exciting and fun! You have all these comics that loosely tie together and a main mini-series (in this case the "Forever Evil" comic) with big world-changing consequences (at least until the next event). Events can get people talking, stimulate sales, and otherwise sometimes result in cool stories.

Bad: Events can be confusing for retailers and readers.
Due to the aforementioned fact that some comics aren't occurring for Villain's Month, and some have multiple issues (it is worth noting that despite this being "The New 52" there are more than 52 villain-comics) this is a nightmare for retailers when it comes to ordering what people want. For example, someone might read "Justice League" so they would be interested in the issue of that comic being taken over by Darkseid. However, there is also an issue of "Justice League" that is essentially an epilogue to the series "Dial H for Hero" that fans of the "Justice League" series probably have no interest in, but readers of "Dial H for Hero" would consider mandatory reading...but its labeled as a "Justice League" book with "Dial E for Evil" as what is taking over...so how is a retailer or reader supposed to figure this out?

I've seen many stores realize that just pulling the books according to a customer's regular orders probably will not work out well, so a variety of retailers are giving out little sheets with all the titles listed and asking readers to mark what they want. That is a pretty good idea, but if DC had thought things out a bit better it maybe wouldn't have been necessary.
Example of an order form from a store I've never visited.
This way I don't seem to be recommending any store.

Ugly: The numbering scheme is incredibly stupid.
Remember how I mentioned some books aren't going to have an issue for this event and others have multiple villains "taking over" the same book? Well, DC is addressing the risk of possible numbering discrepancies by having all these "Villains Month" titles be numbered as .1, .2, and so forth. Therefore, "Aquaman" maybe has a .1 and .2 issue for both Black Manta and Ocean Master, while some Batman books go up to .4 due to all the villains. This seems like an idea that works at first, but actually is incredibly stupid and convoluted. I hated marvel doing all their ".1" issues that were supposed to serve as easy jumping-on points for series, but usually ended up being fill-in issues (hmmm, I see a trend here), so I wonder what the reasoning was behind DC looking at that failure and then saying, "Hey, we should try that too!"

Everything would be so much better if instead of doing this .1, .2, etc. business they just made each villains book a "#1". Therefore we would have "Lex Luthor #1" instead of "Action Comic #23.3". That would make sense though, and when was the last time a big comic-book company did something that made sense?
Why label it "Action Comics #23.3" when
"Lex Luthor #1" is so much better?

Good: DC waited awhile to do a mega-event like this so it seems bit more important.
There are times when folk begin getting event-fatigue. It starts to feel like one big world-changing event simply leads into the next, and that leads into the next, and so on in one never-ending cycle of mindlessness. To DC's credit this is the first gigantic line-wide event they've done since Flashpoint and that event's leading into the re-launch (which was itself basically a big event). While there have been cross-overs between some comics, nothing as big as this has occurred, making it feel just that little bit more important.

Bad: Won't a smaller event, Trinity War, have just happened?
Even though DC hasn't done a huge event since they became the "New 52" there are in the midst of a smaller cross-over event called "Trinity War" which is affecting the "Justice League" titles a few others. While "Trinity War" may not be a gigantic event, it is likely it is going to lead into "Forever Evil" and the "Villains Month" titles, which starts to create that aforementioned appearance of events leading into events.

The Ugliest Thing of All: Every comic is seriously $3.99 for a gimmicky cover.
Every comic is $3.99 for not really many more pages, but these stupid little pseudo-3D gimmick covers. This whole gimmick-cover trend (and alternate "collectible covers")is basically what brought the comics' industry down to its knees in the 1990's and to see DC do it with every one of their "Villains Month" comics is just horrible. I remember when not long ago DC bragged about how they were "Drawing the Line at $2.99" and that seems to be a statement which basically has flown out the window. I would not be surprised if when some of these comics return to their "normal" states that we see a $3.99 price tag remain for little supposed "bonuses" outside of maybe a page or two (or some sketch-pages)--which in my book does not equal paying a whole dollar extra.
Remember when you said this, DC?
I bet you wish we didn't.
The cost of buying every single one of the "Villains Month" comics along with the first issue of the "Forever Evil" mini-series is immense due to that extra dollar (and the large number of comics in general), and  price is one of the major reasons there are quite a few books I'm skipping. I guess if I really wanted to protest this I wouldn't buy any of the comics, but I don't know if that would send as much of a message as only buying some of the comics, because if more folk do that DC will see that raising prices causes them to actually lose money as people buy less books.

In Closing
I guess we won't know if the good, bad, or ugly win out in "Villains Month", but I hope that we get more good comics than bad (or ugly). I also want this whole event to not just feel like one big fill-in issue. Plus, I really, really hope that DC doesn't use this as a springboard to raise the price on a bunch of their comics. We will see what happens, I suppose.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Film Friday (Ignoring How it's Saturday): The Wolverine

How do I put this? I I left the Wolverine satisfied, but not amazed. Please note there are small spoilers ahead, but basically if you've seen the previews you won't be surprised by anything I discuss.

Perhaps my expectations were just too high based on the stellar previews or positive early reviews, but I maybe was expecting a bit more than "The Wolverine" delivered. It was moving along quite smoothly but then when it reaches the last 30 minutes or so--around when Logan AKA Wolverine figures out what has short-circuited his healing ability and fixes the problem (there's a small spoiler as I warned, but you never thought Logan would actually die, did you?) things just go off the track. There are weird cyborg ninjas (which is actually kind of cool), characters suddenly changing their minds about whose side they are on, and all sorts of messiness that only is made up for by the amazing last scene that occurs during the credits (seriously, it makes the movie). Let's rewind a bit to that first hour and half-ish of the movie I really liked though and explore why.

Even if toward the end of the movie (before that last scene) I was a bit let-down, things start out pretty strongly. This movie clearly takes place after all the other X-Men flicks, as it has Wolverine dreaming about Jean Grey (whom he had to kill the in mostly-terrible "X-Men 3/X-Men: The Last Stand"). Thankfully, you need not have seen that movie to understand what is going on. We have a depressed Wolverine who wants to never hurt people again, but as advertisements for the movie have made clear, that isn't in the cards.
The fight atop a fast-moving train is quite impressive.
A Japanese man that Logan/Wolverine saved back during World War II is now a rich businessman who is dying due to old age (or some illness, it is never made exactly clear what is killing him). He offers Wolverine the gift of mortality, and even though Wolverine refuses, before long he starts having trouble healing. After some great fight sequences, sweet quiet moments with a love interest, and a bit of mystery-solving by Logan and a pseudo-sidekick named Yukio we arrive at that last half-hour of confusing nonsense and what seems like a clever plot turns out to be little more than a convoluted mess that hurts your head if you try to make sense of it.

Regardless of the plot problems I was at least impressed by the acting. Hugh Jackman basically is Wolverine at this point just as Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man--you just don't associate anyone else with playing the characters as they are so good at it. The supporting cast is mostly made-up of Japanese individuals (excluding Jackman himself, some folk in scenes at the start, and an evil American mutant named "Viper") and cleverly the movie often doesn't have subtitles for what is said, making us rely on figuring out what people are saying based on their tone and physical movements--kind of like Jackman's character (in the comics Wolverine speaks Japanese, but it seems in the movies he does not). Oh, and I mentioned in passing the character, Viper. There isn't much to say about her other than that she is evil, wants money, and has abilities like a snake. An underdeveloped character if there ever were one.
Viper's use in the movie is somewhat minimal.
Still, as the credits started to roll I decided it was still a decent flick and worth maybe 3 stars...but then that amazing extra scene  (as Marvel is known for doing now) kicked in and a whole half-star needed to be added. I won't spoil anything, but I will say I squealed with delight when certain characters showed up and made it clear that these Wolverine movies will be tying in with the previous X-Men flick ("First Class") and the new one much more closely than may have been expected.

All-in-all, "The Wolverine" was a fun enough movie that should satisfy fans of the character, comic-fans, and anyone out there who has the desire to see Hugh Jackman without a shirt on for extended periods of time. It was entertaining and left me wanting to see what comes next with the X-flicks, so I suppose it did its job.
3.5 out of 5 stars (that .5 is for the last scene alone which had me cheering loudly).

Film Friday (Although it's Now Saturday)--RIPD

R.I.P.D. (which is actually based on a comic book, interestingly) has already been out for over a week, and apparently it has "bombed" quite badly with few viewers, and mostly terrible reviews. The thing is, I kind of liked it and would at least say it was moderately entertaining. Let's explore why it possibly failed and how come I enjoyed it anyway.

I'm thinking people may be growing sick of Ryan Reynolds if no other reason than in basically every movie he just plays Ryan Reynolds. This guy thinks that at least:
I know what "abs" are but what are "abbs"?
The famous cat Tatar Sauce (also known as Grumpy Cat) may have had enough of Reynolds but I still find him somewhat amusing, plus Jeff Bridges is always entertaining, so I figured this was a movie worth checking out. Much to my surprise Kevin Bacon is in the movie (you wouldn't know it from the previews) and figures into the plot in a pretty big way.

I think one thing working against the movie is a lot of people felt it reminded them too much of "Men in Black," but upon seeing the flick I can say they are actually pretty different. True it has the, "Aliens/dead monsters" are hiding among us" shtick, but the way the agencies function varies significantly and I think the comparisons between the movies is due more to the poor handling of trailers for the flick than the actual content of the movie itself.

So, we have a movie with an actor some people are exhausted of seeing, a plot that at first glance is very similar to another series, horrid reviews, and advertisements that don't even acknowledge how Kevin Bacon is involved (and he makes anything better, so why they ignored his presence in ads I don't know). I guess the cards were just stacked against R.I.P.D. before the thing was even released. How is the movie though? As I said, pretty good.
A big chunk of R.I.P.D.'s plot as you've probably heard is that Ryan Reynolds is a police officer who is killed but if offered the chance to join a special police force (of sorts) that hunts down dead people who have found a way to hide out on earth. There are various plot twists and jokes, some impressive special effects, and by the end of the relatively brief 90-ish minutes I thought I had a pretty good time, at least the cost of a movie-ticket's worth (Do note I did NOT see it in 3D as I hate that format for movies, so I don't know if that's worth the extra cost for those of you who enjoy that headache-causer).

R.I.P.D. is not a great movie, but it is a good one. Should you want to kill some time there are worst ways to spend an hour and thirty minutes. Should you want some mindless fun it would be worth checking this out. Plus, it probably could really use the ticket-sales.
3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Television Tuesday--"Big Brother" Season 15 And Its Reflection of Racism in Society

I may have posted a Television Tuesday post a bit earlier today already, but I also wanted to share my thoughts on a show where what is happening this week could be dramatically different the next, so I might as well comment on stuff now. The show in question is half-social experiment and half-competitive game show to win 500,000 dollars, "Big Brother".
Here is the entire initial cast, in swimsuits for some reason.
Now in its 15th season, "Big Brother" is a show I started watching last season as my girlfriend had always been a fan and I figured it couldn't be any worse than most reality television shows. There are the more stupid elements where the house-guests/contestants do little challenges and competitions, but I find the most interesting aspect to be the aforementioned "social experiment" parts.

You see, the house-guests are really more prisoners in the sense that for 90 days they are stuck in this household with nobody besides each other as company. They don't even have a camera-crew to chat with as the house is rigged with a ton of cameras that capture their every move and statement, every day, all day. With no idea what is happening in the outside world, these people live in what is basically a surreal bubble where they only have each other and the occasionally beamed-in hello from host Julie Chen. She usually demands that they vote out someone for that week in a way that makes it seem like she's either going to have a nice interview with the voted out house-guest or devour their still-beating hearts once they walk out.
"Choose who you want to vote out, and then feed me their souls!"
There are all the intricacies of who gets voted out, how some people can "veto" their nomination to leave, and all that other junk, but as I stated, that stuff doesn't interest me. I get interested when the people start to "crack" in the sense that their fake-nice personality they came in with slowly disappears as their "real" self starts to emerge due to the stress of being stuck in a house with the same people, 24 hours a day, with little to do besides eat, sleep, or lounge by the pool.

Sometimes the cabin-fever (as it were) results in interesting romances on the show, or "showmances" as folk have taken to calling them. Other times, the stress of being in the "Big Brother" household results in hidden prejudices emerging.

This season of "Big Brother" started gaining some controversy when people noticed on the 24-hour live feeds (that can be accessed via the interne)t that some the house-guests weren't just the usual assortment of trustworthy folk, liars, and annoying contestants. No, some were flat-out racist. Like, calling welfare, "Nigger Insurance" levels of racist. GinaMarie made that comment, but it seems Aaryn has the most vitriol, often being hurtful to minority house-guests such as Candice or Helen, talking in a mocking "ghetto" fashion to them (Aaryn to Candice), or that they should, "Go make rice (Aaryn to Helen)." Weirdly the internet feeds have seen Spencer make some less-than polite comments about Andy (who is a gay) but those haven't seen airtime.

Speaking of what gets aired on Big Brother during its televised broadcasts, it seems at first CBS maybe was trying to avoid showing any of that on the air, but eventually the racism was just causing so much trouble (and enough people online were discussing it) they started to address it (and threw a handy disclaimer up which airs for a good 10 seconds before the show about how house-guests views do not reflect that of CBS).
Well played, CBS.
One must wonder if some of the house-guests have just completely forgotten that their every word is being broadcast for all to see, or are just at a point where they don't care. Either way, Aaryn and GinaMarie may not know how they have already lost their jobs and have a ton of people in the outside world hating them, but once they emerge into the real world they will get quite the rude awakening. Apparently Aaryn's mother has hired publicists to try and save whatever reputation of Aaryn's can be salvaged (I doubt any).

There have been calls by some to boycott the show due to statements made by the house-guests, or have those house-guests kicked out, but I think that is the wrong thing to do. I think we as a society need to see how this melting-pot of people forced to live together reflect what we as a country are like. We may not all live in a house with one another, but the United States is a place where those with differing views share the same "space" in the sense we all share this country. It should be seen that even though it is 2013 there still are those who carry hurtful and racist views, and instead of trying to ignore the problem by not watching "Big Brother" or kicking those who say terrible things out of the house, we should study what is going on and see what we can learn from this reflection of us--the good and the bad.

 After all, Howard (who is black) consistently has shown he can be the bigger man when seeing the racism coming from other house-guests and literally had to pick-up and carry Candice out of a room before she, Aaryn, and GinaMarie came to blows (I would embed the clip but CBS won't let me, so go to the scene here if you want to see some quite intense moments).

Things have settled down since then but I bet it will only be so long before things get ugly once more, or at least it will be interesting to see how Aaryn and GinaMarie react when they are voted off (because they clearly aren't going to win) and are told how pretty much all of America hates them.

"Big Brother" is a show all about back-stabbing, lying, and doing whatever it takes to be the last man/woman standing and "win"--kind of like real life. "Big Brother" is also about what happens when you have genuinely good people stuck with terribly unpleasant and prejudiced ones and they have to try and not kill each other--exactly like real life. There may be silly moments like in the various challenges/competitions, but those scenes are less important in this microcosm of the world known as the "Big Brother" household that those that reflect everyday life's struggles. That is what keeps me coming back.

By facing the harsh realities of how there are some genuinely hateful people in the world we can work to overcome all that negativity and instead of hiding away the ugly side of ourselves, expose it for all to see and work toward healing the long-present wounds of racism, homophobia, and sexism. That or we could just keep on pretending prejudice doesn't exist and ignore the parts of "Big Brother" that make it apparent and instead just focus on the silly bits like when the house-guests had to eat a ton of frozen yogurt...
However, I like to hope we are a bit deeper than that.

Television Tuesday--Assorted Thoughts On TLC's "Sister Wives"

I've talked about TLC's show "Sister Wives" before in a big post about the channel in general. In that post I was a bit critical of TLC and wondered what exactly I was, "learning," from what was supposedly, "The Learning Channel." I did however think "Sister Wives" was an interesting show that actually taught me something. Namely, it taught me that those who are polygamists are not necessarily members of some kind of dangerous cult, but basically regular people who happen to hold a differing view on marriage and religion.

Random Thoughts
I don't really have a solid article about "Sister Wives" so much as some scattered thoughts, so here goes:

"Sister Wives" is a show that can quite interesting or horribly dull--but in a way even the dullness is good. This program shows that just because there are families that are polygamists that does not mean they lack normal everyday struggles. They have to work, clean around the house, and basically all that boring stuff which illustrates they are essentially normal folk who happen to face a few unique challenges (like trying to get four houses next to each other).

As I said, before I ever saw "Sister Wives" I only knew about polygamy from the news reports about cult-like compounds full of child-abuse and all sorts of horrors. "Sister Wives" shows there are people who just want to live their lives in peace, loving whom they want. I myself would never want multiple wives, as I feel my girlfriend is the only person I need. The fact that I lack the desire for multiple wives does not mean I want to deny others that right though. Just as I feel gay people should be allowed to marry the person they love, I feel if a woman loves two men or a man loves two women that is fine for them too (although legalizing polygamy would probably play havoc with the tax code).

I see the family of "Sister Wives" being told by other individuals they are horrible people, not morally sound, and shouldn't raise children. When I hear that I think of when interracial couples were told the same thing and how many gay couples hear the same thing today. Seeing people picked on for their beliefs bugs me if they aren't hurting anyone.

Kody and his sister wives.
Speaking of persecution, it must be hard for Kody and his wives to identify as types of Mormons but be basically disowned by the Mormon church (which no longer allows polygamy). The very thing you want to say you are a member of wants nothing to do with you, that sucks.

It is worth noting I don't agree with Browns on everything. I may not like a variety of views held by the four families--I'm pretty sure they are Creationists and Kody has talked about thinking pre-martial sex is bad (I don't care if people do that either), but I feel they have a right to those views, and to love each other in the way they desire.

It cracks me up I've heard some people say the show "glamorizes" polygamy, because considering all the challenges Kody and his sister-wives face I would say this show discourages some people from wanting multiple spouses, if it does anything.

I also find it a bit funny to think that the most common polygamists seem to be these more conservative households that marry multiple spouses and super-liberal people who don't necessarily get married but engage in polygamous relationships.

In the end I think "Sister Wives" is a good show because it is both interesting, and helps dispel the idea that all polygamists are terrible, abusive (or abused), and brain-washed. Some are just everyday folk.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Glowing Review of the 3rd Issue of "The Standard"

In a previous post I discussed some of the comics coming out from new publisher Comixtribe. My favorite as of only its first issue was "The Standard" and with it now on its 3rd issue, I continue to greatly enjoy the comic. I find it a pleasurable read not just because the characters are interesting, the art is good, and the main plot is intriguing, but also because of how the comic subtly explores and comments on the classic tropes of super-hero comics and how they have evolved over time. As I discussed in my previous post, the first issue dealt with a protege of the famous hero "The Standard" who later assumed the title. Named Alex Thomas he took over the mantle some time ago but was often more busy being a reality T.V. star (that reminds me of my other post today about super-heroes and the media) than fighting crime, even if his heart was in the right place. If I may spoil how the first issue ends, Alex Thomas ends up murdered mysteriously and as of the 2nd issue the original Standard, elderly Gilbert Graham, has taken his heroic mantle back-up.

The things about the series that are most interesting are seeing how Gilbert's past exploits compare to today's conflicts. In scenes set in the past right around when the cute innocence of heroic comics started to end it is seen how Gilbert went up against silly villains such as, "The Skunk" who would say cute puns--whereas today Gilbert is fighting super-powered people abducting children and committing all sorts of heinous crimes.
The most telling scene of meta-commentary is where one of Gilbert's foes, the aforementioned Skunk, is almost murdered by an overzealous police officer and in the process of defending himself accidentally kills the lawman. He bemoans, "I've never killed anybody before. I never wanted to, that's not what I do this for. This is supposed to be fun. There's some thrills, some bumps and bruises, but no one gets hurt. Not really. No one is supposed to get hurt! What's happening to us? How did it come to this?" It is as if the comic is showing us what might have been going through the minds of our fictional characters had they been real heroes seeing as their world slowly went from foiling simple bank robberies to horrible crimes. These elements of "The Standard" are what take it from a pretty good comic about heroes to a great comic about heroes and how we as a society view and treat them in our fiction.

As the latest issue of "The Standard " comes to an end some sub-plots have been resolved but the overall mystery of just who or what killed Alex Thomas remains. If "The Standard" keeps providing not only great storytelling, but clever commentary on super-hero comics, I'll be extremely excited to follow this story to its conclusion.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Brief Musings on Super-Heroes and the Media

Back in September of 2012 I discussed the first issue of a comic and how it got me all busy thinking. The comic was "Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt". It took the slightly-known character and dedicated a story to him about what would happen in a world where a hero wasn't really needed anymore and instead became something more like a celebrity.
Over time the series went dramatically up and down in quality, at times being very thought-provoking and entertaining, and at other points seeming so cliche it hurt. In the end the series sort of ended how I predicted, with Cannon's lie about actually being "The Dragon" exposed. However, in this issue Cannon is able to fake his death and the world carries on at trying to be more peaceful with UN talks of weapon disarmament. Its a decent end to a series that always varied between really good and really bad, so it makes sense it would finish in a somewhat middling way. Still, the interesting messages were there throughout the series and kept me thinking about Peter Cannon's portrayal as someone who wasn't so much a super-hero as a media-star and pseudo-religious icon.

I enjoyed the new version of the series "Animal Man" by Jeff Lemire for awhile, but grew tired of all that, "The Red," "The Green," and "The Rot," stuff. The more recent issues have had some of that in them but also have expanded the view of the series in interesting ways. After the unfortunate death of Buddy Baker's son, Cliff, Buddy has started getting more press attention and even though he is just trying to go out and fight crime, suddenly social media is talking all about him and the media is hounding him. It is an interesting take on how a super-hero who is public with his identity would be harassed by everyone (Brian Michael Bendis addressed this some in his famous "Daredevil" run when Matthew Murdock had his heroic identity outed).
Both "Peter Cannon" and "Animal Man" have addressed super-heroics and the impact the media can have on them in interesting ways. Cannon's series has ended but Buddy Baker's exploits as Animal Man continue to garner critical acclaim and seem to show no sign of slowing down. I enjoy seeing how comics discuss the rise of the "always connected" culture we have and hope to see more series do so.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Uncanny X-Force and Fearless Defenders AKA One Series Is Getting Better, One is Getting Worse

I've been reading Sam Humphries "Uncanny X-Force" and Cullen Bunn's "Fearless Defenders". I started out unimpressed by "X-Force", and somewhat enjoyed "Defenders" as I will call them for short. It got to a point I was seriously considering dropping "X-Force" but then something weird started to happen with the series. With issue #7 "X-Force" suddenly improved in quality exponentially and "Defenders" seemed to be less and less enjoyable with issue. In other words, one series is getting better at a startling speed and the other is decreasing in quality at a noticeable rate.

The Rise of  Enjoyment in "X-Force"
Sam Humphries took over the re-launch of "Uncanny X-Force" and had some big shoes to fill considering how amazing Rick Remender's run was. While there were two comics that sort of spun out of that original series ("Cable and X-Force" is the other) this one actually picked up plot points from the old series while Cable's book is more a throwback to the original X-Force mixed with some newer characters.

Perhaps it was the big expectations I had for the book but I found those first six issues quite lacking. All the ingredients for a good story were there with Fantomex (now split into three people, Fantomex, Weapon XII, and the female Cluster), Storm, Psylocke AKA Becky, and even the oft-hilarious Puck of Alpha Flight fame. Everything was just messy though. You had Bishop coming back from the future, an evil force causing trouble, that multi-armed lady from the Mojoverse who always is up to no good, and there was just too darn much going on. Then suddenly the seventh issue came out.

Issue seven and eight of Uncanny X-Force are focused solely on the complex relationship between Becky and three aspects of the original Fantomex. There are jumps in time between the present and past, with the past involving a summer she spent with Fantomex (the one of the three who kept the original name and has the thief aspects) and Cluster (a female version of Fantomex that has the more personable aspects). The present is about Becky and Cluster teaming up to try and rescue Fantomex from the clutches of Weapon XII but with the complication of how because the original Fantomex loved Becky, all of the three new ones do, even the "evil" one.

The interesting aspects of all this is how in the seventh issue Becky realizes she loves both the new Fantomex and Cluster as they are all parts of the original Fantomex she loved. This is one of those rare times a comic has seriously explored polyamorous relationships and the fact that Cluster and Becky are women isn't treated as any sort of, "Look, two females in love, how shocking!" plot aspect but just casually introduced as, "Yeah, Becky is basically bisexual, who cares?" The complexity isn't in how Becky is interested in both a man and woman, but how she is involved with a man and a woman at the same time. Plus, the fact that the man and woman are essentially clones of the man she originally loved makes things even more complicated and soap-opera-esque, but in a good way.

The way Sam Humphries is introducing all these interesting concepts of sexual fluidity and polyamorous relationships into a super-hero comic is wonderful and a series that once was overly confusing with a bunch of plot points now is focusing in on the relationship between four people and how it impacts their lives, along with lots of awesome fighting scenes. I was surprised to find I enjoyed the seventh issue of "Uncanny X-Force" as much as I did and that the eighth issue continued the trend was even more of a treat. The way this comic has improved makes me also reflective of the sadness at how another series that showed promise has become pretty subpar.

The Decline of Fun in  "Defenders"

Cullen Bunn is a friend of the blog (I've interviewed him) so I take no pleasure in speaking ill of his writing. The thing is, when I started this website my goal was to speak the truth about my opinions no matter what, so it is with sadness I report that while "Fearless Defenders" started out as a pretty good read, as of the sixth issue I'm thinking I am done with the series. Between the villain who always has her plans go wrong while insisting it is all part of her master scheme, to how we had one of those, "Everything you know about this character is a lie," moments with Valkyrie, I've found "Defenders" to be slowly devolving into a dull slog. It also didn't help that most of the main characters were coming off as less-interesting versions of themselves...except for one new character I really liked.
The one character whom I found interesting was brand-new to the Marvel Universe, Annabelle Riggs. Introduced in the first issue of "Fearless Defenders", she was smart and funny, plus, as a civilian thrust into a world of super-heroes she was able to provide a grounded view on everything that hero-comics sometimes lack ( what with all the action and explosions going on). She also was gay but it didn't completely define her character, meaning we had a well-balanced, interesting individual who also helped bring some more diversity to the comic's world. Then in the sixth issue she was killed off. Yeah, seriously:
Her death basically happened to stop Valykire from rampaging around, but considering how fast she was introduced and killed off this comes off as the fridging of a character. We have "Uncanny X-Force" introducing all kinds of interesting ideas to its series with Becky's bisexuality and her polyamorous relationship with Cluster and Fantomex, as opposed to how "Fearless Defenders" introduces a bit of diversity in Ms. Riggs and kills her off less than a year after the character comes into existence. Basically, with Riggs killed I've lost the last reason I was still reading "Defenders".

Diversity and Quality
Both "Uncanny X-Force" and "Fearless Defenders" have been telling stories that involve a diversity of sexuality, and both have changed in overall story-quality too (for better and worse). Both introduced sexual diversity in a natural way, but then "Defenders" suddenly killed their diversity off while the other series is only getting more and more interesting. Plus, it doesn't help that the diversity introduced in the form of Riggs to "Defenders" was the only aspect of the comic I was still enjoying.

Clearly, I'm going to continue picking up "Uncanny X-Force" and I eagerly look forward to reading more of it. Meanwhile, next time I go to the comic shop I think I may skim through the seventh issue of "Fearless Defenders" but unless something within its pages especially jumps out at me, the odds are very good it won't be taken home.
Uncanny X-Force #7 and #8: 4 out of 5 stars.
Fearless Defenders #6: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My 3rd Guest Post on Caffeineforge

My latest guest post on Caffeineforge was posted recently and I encourage you to read it here. I discuss how the "stretch goal" that Kickstarter projects occasionally have can cause more trouble than folk would expect. Do please give it a look and enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Examining The Recent Past of the Character "Legion" AKA David Haller and Why You Should Read His New Series

A person with a ton of amazing powers often bores me. For example, I make no secret of the fact that Superman usually is dull in my eyes. He can do almost anything and is well-adjusted and happy...eh. Give me a character who is so powerful that their own abilities work against them, or they are powerful but have trouble using powers appropriately, and I'm intrigued. This is why, "Legion," or David Haller as the character prefers to go by, is a fascinating individual to me--besides my having a soft spot for characters with the name David, of course.

The son of one of the most famous mutants around, Charles Xavier, David Haller has incredible powers, the kind that can alter all of reality and possible destroy the world or make it a better place. He also has crippling mental-health issues in that each of his powers manifests itself in his mind as an individual character with its own motives. He bounced around various comics for some time, sort of disappeared, was found again by the New Mutants, and then we reach the point in David's recent history I'll discuss, from the "Age of X" event  to now.
Anyways, David had gone to live on the X-Men's island-nation of Utopia, and he was not doing well psychologically. Then suddenly the world shifted into a comic event called "Age of X". Things were odd though, the characters felt a strange sense of repetition, memories didn't quite make sense, and before too long it was revealed that one of David's personalities/powers had altered all of reality into this little world where David was a big hero and everything was perfect for him. It of course had to end.

Normal reality was restored, but some of David's personalities got away, with the comic "X-Men Legacy" following he and a handful of X-Men working to get them back. Mike Carey wrote the "Age of X" stuff and David's  "Legacy" adventures quite well and then David just sort of disappeared.

After the "Avengers Versus X-Men" event there was a newly re-numbered "X-Men Legacy" starring none other than David Haller. Oh, and it has been one of the best comics coming out from any publisher. It is revealed that at some point after his shenanigans in the old "X-Men Legacy" David's dad put him in a remote camp high in the mountains to work on gaining better control of his powers. Well, those who read AVX know that things didn't work out well for the professor and that is reflected in this comic by David basically having a meltdown when he senses Xavier's death.
The thing is, he gets better though, and realizes he needs to do something the so-called "super-heroes" never do, be proactive instead of reactive. This new comic written by Si Spurrier is just incredible. It drips with contempt for modern super-heroes in such a blatant way I can't believe Marvel publishes this series. It points out that if someone were to go and fix the threats faced by Mutants instead of just letting them percolate and build, something positive could actually get done.

The comic also is full of introspection, with David reflecting on good, evil, and if he is in fact a hero or a villain. Plus, the comic often is just hilarious. The 12 issues I have read (I haven't had time to get to the 13th that came out recently) are just sheer genius. Between David's mind being shown as a prison for his multiple personalities, to the way some of the most recent issues seemed like little one-off tales that actually all linked into a killer climax at the end of the 12th issue, this is just an amazing series people really need to be reading.

David's personality and sarcastic attitude really shows in the comic under the skillful writing of Spurrier, and Tan Eng Huat's artwork is just stellar with its quirky appearance, perfectly matching the comic's tone. Plus, the covers by Michael Del Mundo are just pure awesomeness. Seriously, go get the first trade and the newest issues or the second trade when it comes out shortly. You will be in for some awesome comics courtesy of Spurrier's stellar writing, Huat's amazing art, and Del Mundo's fantastic covers.
5 out of 5 stars (for issues 1 through 12 overall).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Links and Updates on Recent Stories

Let's do some links to new things that are happening and some updates on past happenings I may have discussed.

There is going to be a new comic about Marvel's Inhumans and it will be called "Inhumanity". It looks like it basically is going to add a ton of powered people to the Marvel Universe as a new minority...which is what mutants were until "House of M" took away most mutants' powers and "Avengers Versus X-Men" sort of tried to fix it but not completely.

At one point I mentioned how it appeared Warren Ellis' story, "Dead Pig Collector" would not be seeing release anytime soon due things falling through with Ellis' publisher at the time. Luckily, that has changed and it will be out as an ebook single before too long.

After hearing a bunch about this short movie titled simply "The Flying Man" I decided to check it out and was pretty impressed. Within its relatively-brief 9 minutes it successfully imparts how we as a society would actually most likely react to a flying vigilante--not with excitement but immense fear and paranoia.

For some inexplicable reason I almost-kind-of-liked Marvel's "Age of Ultron" event (I at least didn't hate it), but Timothy O'Neil was a not a fan. He expresses much distaste here and also here where the epilogue issue does not escape his wrath either. I may not fully agree with all he says, but he's a damn good writer at saying it. To his credit, Angela popping up at the end (Um, spoiler for the one person that didn't hear about that) really does make zero sense.

I mentioned how Microsoft basically reversed everything they had said they were going to do with the Xbox One, and sadly that still hasn't helped with the bad press. At a fighting-game tournament event the new version of "Killer Instinct" found itself being booed when the crowd was reminded how it could only be played on Xbox One. I myself am kind of over being all "down" on Microsoft because they realized they had made some terrible decisions and changed what was planned. It seems others are not as forgiving as me, or are still creeped-out by the idea of Kinect's potentially ever-watching eye.

Generally I don't swear much, but seriously, fuck Texas--well, not all of Texas, but anyone in its Congress and within the state that supports this bill that tries to put a woman's right over her body back to the 1960's. I thought this had died but then the anti-choice legislators basically cheated to get their idiotic law through.

I have a weird soft-spot for the Martian Manhunter so I was pleased to hear he finally is appearing in the "Injustice: Gods Among Us" video-game that I've reviewed (with assistance from my girlfriend) in the past.

The Comic-Con that has grown so big many folk just call it, "Comic-Con" instead of attaching the "San Diego" to it is approaching rapidly. I of course won't be there. Why? Well, if I had the money to fly out and attend the 'con I honestly would probably spend that cash on a cruise--so in other words I can't afford it and am not known enough to get free press tickets and/or rooming. Someday I'll go maybe, but until then I can look at the site and sigh with heavy heart.

Lastly, I was very pleased by the positive reaction to my post about the lack of Muslim super-heroes and the question of just what sort of "ideal" super-beings represent. I'm glad people like my big essay posts I do sometimes as they can take forever to write and I worry if anyone really cares or would rather see me just rag on the newest crappy thing from Bluewater Comics. Speaking of which, Bluewater is putting out a Paula Deen biocomic. Yeah, I'll leave you with that mind-obliterating thought.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Film Friday: Pacific Rim

Huge Robots and Monsters Fighting? Okay, I'm Interested
"Pacific Rim" was a movie that sounded great when described to me, but I had concerns about if it would be good. I shouldn't have worried as this is one dynamite flick.

This film takes the best ideas from the Godzilla movies and the Transformers films but manages to avoid seeming like a rip-off of either, and instead is an amazing improvement over those past films (and pretty much all the Transformer flicks have been horrendous so "Pacific Rim" didn't even have to try hard; the fact it did is all the more impressive).

I saw Pacific Rim last night at one of those day-early showings theaters are starting to have for various new releases instead of midnight-showings. I guess studios realized they could make more cash having movies play Thursday evening (which is easier to people to go to) instead of right when the clock hits Midnight for Friday (which only huge fans of something will do, such as me with the "Avengers"film.). My girlfriend came with me and she enjoyed the movie a lot too for similar reasons, e.g. the action and humor.

I won't say too much of the plot as there isn't much complexity to it besides, "Humans build robots to fight monsters, but the people piloting the robots have some personal issues," but I will point out that in a film where the main draw is huge machines, both actors Charlie Day and Ron Perlman inject a lot of humanity and humor into the proceedings. Plus, Idris Elba imposes with his often-steely yet slightly vulnerable demeanor as the leader of the program that fights against Kaiju.
The brief screen-time Perlman gets is stellar stuff.
While neither Day nor Pearlman spend a ton of time on-screen (Perlman is almost criminally under-utilized), Charlie Day's obsession with the monsters (called "Kaiju") and determination to learn more about them is great fun to watch, with his enthusiasm being so contagious I was as excited as he was to learn more about the strange creatures attacking earth, plus he and Perlman bounce lines off each other with ease. Perlman plays an eccentric black-market dealer named Hannibal Chau, and his mixture of aggression and eccentricity fills the screen almost as impressively as a rampaging Kaiju. The aforementioned Elba is also great with a seemingly-cold personality in fact masking a myriad of emotions.

Oh, and there is a main character who is dealing with some tragic events from the start of the movie and his love interest, but I didn't really care that much about them except when they were piloting the huge robots (called "Jagers") and beating up Kaiju.

I've talked a lot about the characters, but the main reason I went to this movie (and the main one you probably are too) is to see some Jagers smash-up some Kaiju, and this movie sure does not disappoint on the action-front.
I said I was worried if a movie about robots fighting monsters would be able to sustain a full-length feature, but I should have trusted in Guillermo Del Toro as while the man has had some less-than-awesome flicks, his work generally is quite solid. The film imparts a sense of enormity from the Jagers and Kaiju through clever camerawork and startlingly amazing special effects that clearly cost a ton of money (but are totally worth any price tag), and it is evident that Del Toro was as excited to make this movie as we are to be watching it.

Whether it is a Kaiju that spits acid or one that can swim incredibly fast, these things are as impressive in appearance as they are terrifying. The Jagers are equally imposing and seeing them come to blows with the Kaiju is such a thrill that multiple times during the movie I couldn't help but exclaim, "Cool!" a bit louder than I should have in a theater. The sheer force illustrated by the fights is visceral enough you can almost feel the rumbling of the earth when a Jager is crashing around with a Kaiju.

"Pacific Rim" is funny, action-packed, and just plain gorgeous. I had a ton of fun watching it and would eagerly see it again if just for the amazing fights between the Jagers and Kaiju. I wholeheartedly recommend you see this movie and have your friends join you too. Whether you love monster movies, sci-fi films, or just want something fun to watch for bit over 2 hours, "Pacific Rim" should more than satisfy your urge for some Summer fun. Get a ticket, relax, and prepare to yell, "Cool!" as I did.
4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 5, 2013


I've been on vacation, visiting the family for the 4th of July holiday and such. Expect regular-ish posting to resume before too long.