Friday, January 31, 2014

Film Friday--I Watched Some Of Those Movies I Said I Wanted To See

Four Fun Films
Those who read my blog may recall that at the tail-end of 2013 I made a post about the various potentially "best" movies of 2013 I had not yet seen, but wanted to view at some point. I've actually been able to view four of them since then and thought it would make sense to share my thoughts on the flicks and if they were in fact good. In alphabetical order (as I did on the initial post) I now present to you a Film Friday four-some! Yeah, that sound's dirty, I'll try to think of something better. Anyways...

Behind the Candelabra
I've discussed Steven Soderbergh before as I like how the man generally makes whatever sort of movie he feels like. A movie about a virus that kills countless people? A flick about male strippers? A fun remake of a famous casino-heist film? Soderergh basically will say, "Sure, why not?" As a result of Soderbergh's eagerness to do whatever he wants we have, "Behind the Candelabra", which is a movie Soderbergh did for HBO based on the memoir by Scott Thorson--one of Liberace's secret lovers. Liberace is played amazingly by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson is superb too. I also loved all the various people who popped up in the movie in assorted roles, from Dan Akroyd to Rob Lowe.

"Behind the Candelabra" is a fascinating look into the life of one of the least-closeted celebrities (but yet who still had to hide who he truly was) ever, made all the more interesting as it comes from the viewpoint of someone who is not Liberace himself, but a young fan who finds himself swept up into a glamorous life of luxury and celebrity--along with the potential dangers that come with it such as drug abuse.
Douglas and Damon are amazing.
While we feel for both Thorson and Liberace, the movie always makes it clear neither are completely blameless when it comes to just who is at fault for the substance abuse issues, rampant cheating, and other drama that seems to follow them around wherever they go. "Behind the Candelabra" shows us Liberace the entertainer, but also the Liberace that Thorson got to know, the man equally as giving as he was demanding, loving as he was judgmental, and above all struggling to live with the closet he was barely in, but still a resident of nonetheless. Both Douglas and Damon turn in stellar performances and the film is quite the fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of Liberace's fame--or Candelabra as it were. Highly recommended.
4.5 out of 5 stars.


Wow, this documentary is as eye-opening as it is depressing. This film starts with the famous incident at Seaworld some years ago where a trainer was killed, but then moves back in time chronicling how some of these water-based amusement parks came about, and the disturbing ways they acquired they Killer Whales. When you have a man who says he has seen some disturbing things in the wars he's been in, but the thing that affected him most was hearing the cries of the parents of baby-whales as he and his crew stole them away, you start to see why SeaWorld really hates this film.

This movie speaks with former SeaWorld trainers and audience members, focusing on the Killer Whale Tilikum and the question of if his famous attack on trainer Dawn Brancheau was as unforeseen as some claimed, or something that was inevitable due to the conditions Tilikum and other Killer Whales find themselves in.
Tilikum, the Killer Whale "Blackfish" spends most of its time discussing
You have an animal used to living in a community of fellow whales, swimming countless miles everyday, and you keep it in the equivalent of a bathtub and demand it do tricks in order to get fed. Is it really that surprising to think you may have a ticking time-bomb on your hands that could explode into violence at any moment? SeaWorld has plenty of material it has put out in attempts to counter "Blackfish" (here is one of their sites that says it tells the real truth about their whales--cunningly enough it popped up as a sponsored website when I searched Google for "Blackfish"), but the damage to their brand has already been done.

I don't know if after seeing this film I could go to SeaWorld, and if I somehow did, go anywhere near one of their shows featuring Killer Whales. This film really impacts you as a viewer, and anyone with a passing interest in the subject of Killer Whales or general marine life should consider this documentary mandatory viewing.
5 out of 5 stars.

Machete Kills
I knew this movie was going to be silly, but I didn't know it would be this silly. The first "Machete" was more of an action movie first, but one with its tongue firmly in its cheek thanks to all the comedy and political satire. "Machete Kills" takes the absurdity and just ramps it up to 11. From the opening "Trailer" for the (potentially) next movie in the series, "Machete Kills Again In Space," to how the rest of the movie brings us to the point where such flick could occur, this is one wild time. Blood is almost constantly being spilled, heads are being chopped off, and almost obnoxiously over-the-top violence is the order of the day. It all has a low-budget and silly feel though so it never feels like grossly-realistic violence as much as it is like watching a really bloody Saturday morning cartoon.

This is a movie where a terrorist with multiple personalities holds an America under President Charlie Sheen/Carlos Estavez (he's officially "President Rathcock", but he's really just playing himself) hostage with a missile connected to his heartbeat. This is the kind of flick where Sofia Vergara is the runner of a brothel who also has a gun that she wears as a bra and calls her "Double-D's". This is a film where Mel Gibson playing an insane bad-guy is one of the more understated crazy elements. To say "Machete Kills" is a silly movie is like saying Red Bull has a little caffeine--you basically respond, "Well, duh!"
A metal bra that shoots bullets? There are too many possible puns...
"Machete Kills" is enjoyable in its wild abandon, but in its process of throwing out every crazy idea it has and seeing what sticks you get a movie that sometimes feels bloated even if it is only an hour and 35 or so minutes not counting the credits. For every clever concept and joke you get at least two other moments that fall flat or leave you yawning. Seriously, how many times can Machete chop off someone's head with his titular weapon before it gets old? I'm not sure, but whatever amount it is, this film definitely achieved it.

 There is plenty to enjoy, but after awhile its just feels like the movie is droning on and on. The assassin named  El ChameleĆ³n who can change his/her appearance effortlessly is a clever idea with all the various celebrities playing the role (from Cuba Gooding Jr. to Lady Gaga), but the extensive time spent following the character that really has little to do with the plot makes it feel like just one example of some fat that could have been trimmed to make the movie leaner and meaner.
Lady Gaga as one of the "faces"/masks worn by the assassin pursing Machete
I enjoyed "Machete Kills" and truly hope they make the teased third film with Machete in space, but this movie definitely could have used some cutting to make it feel less lengthy and to get rid of the jokes and action scenes that were more of a yawn than a thrill. Still, I had a good time and would say this is a great movie to watch when you feel like seeing something just plain silly.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Warm Bodies
A zombie movie that is also a romantic comedy of sorts. Yeah, I know, I thought it sounded weird too, but upon seeing the film it is interesting how the whole thing works out pretty well, actually.

Apparently based on a book, "Warm Bodies" chronicles the life of a Zombie named "R" (he can't remember what his name was before he became a zombie other than that it started with the letter "R", as he goes about his usual zombie business, wondering if walking around aimlessly and eating the occasional human is all undead-life has to offer. Then he sees the girl of his dreams named Julia and actually feels something. This leads to him protecting her and somehow spreading his feelings of liveliness to the other zombies who still have the ability to reverse their condition(there are a group of zombies known as "bonies" who are basically just bones so therefore cannot be healed and serve as the primary antagonist). This all leads to a climatic showdown at one of the few alive-people outposts in the world.
A moment of bonding between "R" and Julie.
"Warm Bodies" never feels like a horror film, but has an odd mixture of dark humor, romance, and occasional shockingly-strong-for-a-PG-13-film violence. My girlfriend and I watched it together and found it pretty enjoyable, even if we never really get a good reason for why Julia made "R" start changing (the film literally has him shrug in an uncaring manner when pondering the question, as if the film is self-aware it doesn't necessarily matter).

Basically, "Warm Bodies" could best be described as  some kind of zombie-rom-com or a post-apocalyptic romance story. Whatever you want to call it, it is definitely entertaining enough to see and if you want a flick that combines zombies, violence, and love, and humor, this is not a bad choice out of relatively few options for something that specific (maybe "Shaun of the Dead" could scratch that itch too).
3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Joy of Cinema
These movies are all very different, but share in the quality of being entertaining or interesting. I hoped you enjoyed this film four-way...hrm, that's still too dirty...and try out one or all of these flicks as they definitely are worth seeking out at a store, on Netflix, or via Redbox. That's been this edition of Film Friday, thanks for joining me in this orgy of silver-screen delights (nuts, I just got dirtier as I went along it seems)!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Complicated Feelings About the CGC

What is the CGC?
If you're a reader and/or collector of comic books I imagine that at some point in time or another you have heard about the Certified Guaranty Company, or, "CGC," for short. They are an business entity which you can send a comic into and have "graded" based on its overall condition. After being graded the comic is sealed within plastic (a process known as "slabbing") and proudly displayed with its grade as a sort of conversation piece/item to be traded and sold.
An example of a comic once graded and "slabbed".
The scale of grading can go from basically atrocious to a comic being a perfect "10", with older and famous comics that get a bad grade still being valuable due to their scarcity. A comic that has been  graded can go for much more money than one which hasn't had any sort of official statement of quality. How exactly the CGC became the go-to source for a comic's grade and why their word is taken as gold is something I'm not sure of, but they are basically the first and last word when it comes to the grading of comic books.

Views on the CGC
I have feelings about the CGC that could best be described as, "complicated."

Some people absolutely despise the CGC, such as popular independent comic-maker Derf, who recently made some choice comments about the company. Other people who buy and sell comics as a business rely closely on the CGC so as to know the comics they have are actually worth something, and that any signatures upon them or such are authentic, etc. With so many strong opinions both for and against the CGC I feel a little awkward not having a definite stance, but I can see the uses and problems with the CGC at the same time, and it makes things a little thorny.

I've always felt the point of owning a comic is to be able to read it and enjoy it. If you take your comic and have it "slabbed" you basically now have something where besides the front-and-back cover you can never read the contents--unless you smash the thing out of its encasement, of course. This would make me sound like someone who dislikes the CGC, but if I were ever to get my hands on an "Amazing Fantasy #15", "Action Comics #1", or the first issue of "The Walking Dead", I wouldn't hesitate for a second to get that sucker graded, slabbed, and then either stored away safely or sold to someone who wants to give me lots of money.
Should I ever own a copy of this, it's getting "slabbed" and sold ASAP.
Don't judge, I have student loans to repay!
Whilst I would get certain comics graded and slabbed without question, I begin finding the whole thing absurd when you get a comic that maybe is worth 20 dollars or less being graded and then sold for hundreds of dollars if for no other reason than it was in "perfect condition". When something that like happens, the whole thing stinks of stupidity. Another example could be when a comic is worth less than it costs to grade it (prices can vary, but expect to spend at least 20-50 bucks); when that occurs I feel we've thrown logic out the window.

I don't own any CGC graded comics, and I don't think I have any valuable enough to bother getting graded. Perhaps some of my favorite comics could be slabbed if for no reason other than to preserve them, but then how can I read and enjoy these favorite comics now that they are stuck in plastic? There is the argument that with digital taking off people can have their comics slabbed but still be able to enjoy them by reading a digital copy. Fair enough, but I'd really rather be able to flip through one of my favorite comics than just stare at the physical copy stuck in clear frame (of sorts) while I skim the digital-version.

No Easy Answer
The CGC provides a service that some find vital in comics--they have a universal rating system all can rely on--but they also serve to take something I enjoy and make it little more than a commercial product people can buy and sell. Then again almost anything we do for enjoyment can be (and often is) made a commodity, so why should I bemoan the CGC when people have been doing basically the same thing with sports cards and other memorabilia for so long?

I may end up never using the CGC, and I may also have some hostile feelings towards it, but I can also see a use for it, and for that reason you won't see me protesting the existence of the company. I won't be singing praises of the CGC anytime soon either. As I said, my feelings are complicated. Probably because at the end of the day this is a complicated issue without much black-and-white answers. It's all various shades of gray...kind of like the varying levels of quality comics can be given--or did I just blow your mind?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reviews of Three Graphic Novels That Were Originally Released in Varying Ways.

Today I wanted to review three separate graphic novels (two trade paperbacks and one hardcover) that all originally were released in interestingly different ways.

The Old-School Way of Doing Comics
The first book I'll discuss is Sean Murphy's "Punk Rock Jesus", which was originally released over six print issues through DC's more adult-oriented Vertigo line. Murphy is a talented illustrator and has been doing a great job as the artist on "The Wake" with Scott Snyder as the writer. Murphy wrote and illustrated this series, and it is very interesting. It has quite the non-corporate feel between the black-and-white-styled art and the controversial subject of what it would be like if a corporation attempted to make a clone of Jesus, then made him the star of a reality show that chronicled his life. The book has many questions about religion, if the child is even truly a clone of Jesus, and just what it means to believe in something--be it a heavenly-father, science, or the (hopeful) innate goodness of human-beings.

Throughout the series it is clear the company behind the cloning of Jesus (OPHIS) and its head, Rick Slate, is only interested in making a money and doesn't care who has to get hurt in the process, and all kinds of conspiracies and trouble forms, with only our various protagonists, Dr. Sarah Epstein (the main scientist behind the cloning), Thomas McKael (the head of security with a violent background) and Christ/"Chris" himself serving as the counters to Slate and OPHIS' evil motivations. As I mentioned, Murphy's drawing style is abstract yet detailed at the same time (if that makes any sense), with his characters drawn beautifully and the near-future world looking familiar-enough to seem possible but with clear signs of great technological advancement.
I quite enjoyed this book, and even with its older-school way of being released in single issues and then collected, it still has a cutting-edge feel with its focus on issues that continue to inspire much fighting and arguments today. I'd definitely recommend checking this out.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Done Digitally First, Collected in Print Second, and Always Enjoyable
Now we have "Edison Rex: Into the White!" Written by Chris Robserson and Illustrated by Dennis Culver, this is the first volume of a series that had first been released digitally through Monkeybrain comics (and still has even newer issues coming out). Monkeybrain is an entity launched in the Summer of 2012 by Chris Roberson--who, fun fact, had been writing comics for DC and Vertigo before some...unpleasantness--and Allison Baker (Roberson's spouse and business partner).

Monkeybrain has put out a lot of good stuff, but the work I'm most familiar with is Edison Rex as it had me quite interested when I heard its concept. Starting out as a sort-of musing on the, "What if Lex Luthor was really able to kill Superman?" it takes that concept and runs with it in some very interesting directions. Edison Rex convinces his arch-nemesis, Valiant, that he poses a very real threat to the world and after Valiant dies Rex realizes it really is up to him to protect the earth.
"Edison Rex" has originally been released as 99-cent digital issues through Monkeybrain and this trade collects the first six chapters/issues. It's well illustrated with a clean style by Dennis Culver and both action-packed and quite funny. I wouldn't say this is a joke-comic, but it definitely is loaded with humorous elements that make fun of comic-tropes while also playfully engaging in them. This is a stellar book loaded with neat extras too, and if you enjoy heroics but wouldn't mind them being a little more self-aware at their absurdity, pick this up (or download it, if you prefer)!
4 out of 5 stars.

Originally Online for Free, and Then Collected into a Book

 Lastly we now have  Darryl Cunningham's "How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exploring the Myths of Science Denial". It collects his various info-comics he has posted for free viewing online where he takes to task those who would try to claim we didn't land on the moon, that evolution isn't real, or other absurd stuff that despite all the proof to the contrary people choose to believe (There also is a print-exclusive comic about Hydro-Fracking and the potential hazards it poses).

Lot's of Cunningham's stuff can be found around the web or on his own site as he does all of this independently of a big publisher or such (although he does team with them to put out books of his work), but "Moon Landing" as I will call it for short, is a stellar collection for those who want to have a bunch of his great works within one beautifully done package. Cunningham has a very methodological approach to each of his articles, taking the arguments of science deniers and breaking their claims apart piece by piece--of course, as the opening of the book encourages you to do, feel free to disagree with him! Science is all about taking past evidence and seeing if you can prove it wrong--the very thing Cunningham doesn't like about science denial is that goes against all clear evidence and proof that is contrary to what is believed by its followers.

"Moon Landing" is very interesting and taught me a fair amount of things (I didn't know Chiropractors had basically no medical basis for their work) and is without question very interesting. You should really look up some of his stuff on the web and if you like it get a copy of this book.
4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Print or Digital, Separate Issues or Collected, It's All Good
There are many ways a comic can come out, as is seen by the original manner of release of  these three books. While they all ended up as a trade paperback or hardcover, they each started life in a very different way. Be they released serially in print by a big corporation's smaller imprint, sold digitally by a growing online-comics company, or just created and released independently at first, all are quality pieces of work.

I like to think these three books show how there are many ways comics can be produced and released, with this trio only representing a few options out of many others (Kickstarter-backed comics, to give one example of a fast-growing movement)! I am also pleased that no matter how comics came out in the past, come out today, and will come out in the future, that at least one thing we can count on is there will surely be plenty of good stuff to enjoy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Overpricing Comics AKA Why I'm Not Reading the New Miracleman Re-Release in Single-Issue Form

The Looming Fear of $4.99
Pretty recently Rich Johnston over at the popular website, Bleeding Cool, made a post asking if in 2014 we will see a $4.99 price point for a comic the regular page-length (not counting ads) of 20-24 pages. The mere thought of such a thing sends me reeling, as if comics were to start costing that much on average I would have to basically give up on almost all the books I read, as 5 dollars just feels like such a high number. There already is some questionable pricing going on at the start of 2014 anyways, with the new re-release of "Miracleman" (also known as Marvelman) being a prime example.

Some Background on Miracleman
From all accounts that I have heard, "Miracleman" was a stellar comic. It featured Alan Moore doing his deconstruction-of-the-concept-of-heroes routine that he later continued to do with the seminal series "Watchmen". The problem was that ol' Miracleman was wrapped up in more confusing copyright issues than someone could shake a stick at, so being able to read it either meant finding a scan of the old issues online or buying highly-expensive back-issues.

Marvel bought the rights to Miracleman some time ago (2010, right?) and after further wrangling with the property's rights finally are able to reprint the classic Moore stories through when Neil Gaiman took over the character. Through an agreement with Moore he is never listed by name on the comic, just as, "The original writer," and all the profits are to go to his co-creators because if there is one thing Moore has made clear repeatedly, he is pretty fed up with/hateful toward super-hero comics, even the ones he has made.
So, the rights to Miracleman are finally sorted out and Marvel can now release a nice big book collecting all the classic stories, right? Well, first they have got to milk all the profit out of this they can so the comic is being re-released in single-issue form just like back in the olden days of the 1980s. I can't knock Marvel for doing that--everyone wants to make a profit--but here's the rub:  The price is atrocious.

Problematic Pricing
Marvel wants $5.99 for the first issue of Miracleman. Let that sink in, $5.99. I know it is kind of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but for that price you could rent a $1.20 movie from Redbox for 5 days after you add-in the tax of the comic, you can get a value-meal at a fast-food joint for around $5.99, and if you wanted to buy the Sunday edition of the New York Times, that hulking behemoth would be yours for the $5.99 and a penny. It just sounds horribly expensive.

Marvel may have re-colored the comic to make it look better (in some people's eyes, other folk are really mad about that) and there might be a bunch of supplemental material in the comic too, but how can Marvel justify a six dollar price-point for a comic, no matter how classic the series is? It just feels wrong--probably because it is wrong.
The re-coloring has pleased some and enraged others.
I know, I know, there is inflation to worry about, the  rising costs of paper, etc. However, if a comic is going to cost more, it is going to have to impress me to that much greater a degree for me to want to buy it. Something I would maybe pick up for $2.99 I'll scoff at if its $3.99, so Lord help us if $4.99 starts to become a standard.

I get having special big-issues of comics that are priced higher, the new "Detective Comics #27" cost eight bucks, but was also loaded to the brim with material. "Miracleman" costing $6.99 and throwing in a bunch of extra stuff people don't really want besides the Moore-written parts is different. With "Detective Comics #27" we want all the of the stuff in there, with "Miracleman" Marvel just seems to be taking advantage of people.
Once all the single-issues of the old Miracleman stories have come out, and Marvel is doing new ones, I think I may pick up the trade/hardcover collecting all the great early work by Moore and those who followed him. As long as such a book isn't also absurdly over-priced I think it would be a good thing to have, I'd be able to enjoy the saga of Miracleman and see why the people who have read it tend to speak so highly of the series. Right now, however, that $5.99 is just not a price I can handle.

The Question of Cost and Quality
We have Miracleman costing quite a lot, other comics inching up in price to the point where $3.99 is now almost basically the standard cost of a comic, and the potential for $4.99 to become more common before too long also. In the end it all comes down to the question of if the cost of a comic is equal to its quality. Unfortunately, I don't think there is that much stuff so high in enjoyment that it meets the threshold of $4.99 being reasonable. We'll just have to see what happens in the future though.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Leaving Megalopis Review AKA Great Talent And A Pretty Good Book

Megalopolis, (Once) a Good Place to Call Home
Megalopolis is a nice city and a popular place to live as all the heroes who call it home make it feel all that much more safer. The thing is, something has caused all the heroes to go crazy and now they are killing everyone within the city. If you try to hide, they will find you and obliterate you, if you try to fight back they will rip you into pieces, try to leave the city and they will definitely destroy you with laser beams. Basically all the regular citizens can do is try to survive, and hopefully escape somehow. "Leaving Megalopolis " focuses on a group of these folk with a bit more time spent on our sort-of protagonist, Mina, and what caused her to end up in this mess. How did this comic come about though?

Indie Enthusiasm and Professional Experience
Leaving Megalopolis is a mixture of the indie-eagerness and professional-sheen. It has folk who have done a lot of work in comics such as the excellent writer Gail Simone and the talented artist Jim Calafiore. Especially known for when they worked on the popular series, "Secret Six" for DC, Simone and Calafiore are by no means some unheard of duo pitching their idea for a comic on Kickstarter in the hopes enough people are intrigued to support them--there is a pedigree.

 However, while that may have helped get it some attention, Leaving Megalopolis is done in that indie-Kickstarter fashion all the way. Simone and Calafiore had a great idea for a comic, put it up on Kickstarter along with a detailed plan about how the book would come to fruition, and hoped enough people would be interested to fund the book. She and her team worked out printing, figured out who got what, offered snazzy backer-rewards, and otherwise really put in the effort that those successful Kickstarter campaigns are known to do.

Well, the funding was immense and Gail was able to reunite all of the former her Secret Six crew, such as the aforementioned Calafiore she created the project with and colorist Jason Wright who was brought on when a "stretch goal" was achieved through even more funding. Various cool extras were added too as the project became more and more successful such as every copy of the comic/graphic novel coming in a hardcover, with more and more story pages added to further flesh-out all the events of the comic.
So, the comic was easily funded and everyone was excited, but do Simone, Calafiore, and Wright deliver the goods? Generally, yeah, they do.

Some Great Stuff and Some Less-Than-Great Stuff
First off, the book and its productions values are beautiful. This could easily be something put out by a big publisher between the writing, art, paper quality, coloring, etc. I also quite enjoyed the story but oftentimes the elements I didn't care as much about seemed to get more attention, and the parts that I was more interested in seemed to be the aspects only briefly touched upon. For example, I didn't think we would actually learn what had caused all the heroes to go bad and become murderous, yet a fair amount of page-space is spent discussing whatever entity/force/creature caused them to become the monsters they are.

I was extremely interested in the "flash-forward" bits of the book where we see various governmental agencies discussing the confusion over what happened in Megalopolis , all the mistakes that were made, and otherwise injecting some fascinating political intrigue into how the rest of the nation might respond if a city full of heroes suddenly became a liability instead of an asset. Unfortunately, too little time is spent on this, and the question of if there are other heroes to potentially send into Megalopolis to try and fix things is never even touched upon. It feels kind of like an opportunity is missed to further explore this aspect of the story.
The characters we meet range from moderately interesting to being little more than cannon fodder for the now-evil heroes. I liked that we never actually hear things from the heroes point of view unless they speak to the regular folk, as it keeps things a mystery as to why everything has gone bad--until, as I said, the story reveals it to us and kind of leaves you wanting a better explanation than, "An evil otherworldly thing did it."

Seeing how people react when what was once their safety net turns into something trying to murder them is another interesting part of the story, with it illustrating how easy it is for seemingly nice people to become as monstrous as the very things hunting them in their effort to survive.

The End?
There is great art and some really interesting scenes, but then at other times things drag a bit and the big reveal of what caused this mayhem is kind of lame. This results in a comic that is by no means amazing, but still quite good, and worth reading when it comes into a wider release (as I assume it eventually will) and isn't just available to those who backed it on Kickstarter or buy it on Ebay from someone else.

"Leaving Megalopolis " has flaws, but also contains enough quality that I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the creators (Simone, Calafiore, and Jason Wright) or enjoys the popular trope of what happens when our heroes turn against us. The "1" on the side of the book's spine makes it clear there are plans to make future books, and I've had enough fun that I'll definitely at least check out/fund volume 2 when the time comes. If a comic is enjoyed enough I want to read more of it I suppose that means it has done a pretty good job, even if it is not a superb one.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tales From the Dollar Bin: Legends of the Dark Claw #1

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...

That Time Marvel and DC Melded Into Something Weird

Marvel Comics and DC Comics have occasionally crossed-over. It hasn't occurred for awhile now (the most recent time that springs to mind is "JLA/Avengers" in the early 'Oughts) and nothing much since then. However, back in the 1990s all sorts of cross-overs seemed to happen and one such event resulted in this strange mish-mash of comics known as the Amalgam Universe/Imprint.
Springing out of "DC Versus Marvel/Marvel Versus DC", one product of the event was something half-owned by Marvel and half-owned by DC, Amalgam. Amalgam was a surreal sort of alternate-universe of comics where for (fictional) decades there had been strange characters that were a combination of various Marvel and DC heroes. Some of the comics had letter pages from (again, fictional) fans, there were references to "past" events, basically everything was a strange printed piece of make-believe except for the writer and artists on the comics still using their real names (and the tiny legal print admitting that yes, this was a comic by DC or Marvel).
The initial cause of this Amalgam Universe was rooted in a story of Marvel and DC's Universes colliding in the form of two cosmic "brothers" or something which resulted in heroes needing to fight things out, followed by the merging and eventual re-separation of each imprints respective Universes. When the aforementioned "merge" happened there was a week where instead of Marvel or DC releasing their own comics 12 "Amalgam" comics came out. Later on in time there were other Amalgam comics apparently, but those were done more for fun than any story reason. One of the such initial Amalgam comics that I came upon when I was rooting through the dollar bin one day was this interesting curio of two extremely popular characters meshed-together, with the end result of Dark Claw.
Batman+Wolverine=Dark Claw
Dark Claw is basically a combination of Wolverine and Batman to result in a weird mixture of the two. His name is Logan Wayne, he saw his parents gunned down at the age 5, he works out of New Gotham City (New York City plus Gotham City, get it?), and his arch-enemy is still Creed, but instead of being Sabertooth he is the Hyena and clearly a close analogue of the Joker. It is mentioned he is a mutant and has a healing factor, and his side-kick is clearly longtime ally Jubilee, but here is known as "Sparrow". I could go on about all the interesting links (Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is basically Catwoman but called "Huntress", another DC hero), but instead I'll talk about the comic itself.
"Legends of the Dark Claw" is well-written by the very able Larry Hama, and well-drawn by Jim Balent who while now being known for his (extremely) sexually charged "Tarot" comic-series made some good comics back in the day while keeping cheesecake to a relative minimum.
Note: I said "relative" minimum.
Anyways, the plot of this issue consists of Dark Claw fighting Hyena, as well as teaming up with the Huntress and Sparrow to figure out the Hyena's latest plot, which consists of assassinating the President of the United States, who is in visiting New Gotham City. Logan of course succeeds in saving the President but Creed/Hyena starts to escape and the issue ends with...
This would never be continued of course, because Amalgam was a temporary thing and before long DC and Marvel were made separate worlds once more.

Seeing any of the Amalgam characters again seems all but impossible at this current moment in time with relations between Marvel and DC appearing to be slightly chilly at best. Still, seeing this glimpse into what almost feels like some other dimension's comics is fun, and it helps that "Legends of the Dark Claw #1" was a well-written and nicely-illustrated read.

While it may be highly unlikely we'll be visiting the Amalgam Universe again anytime soon, at least there are some interesting comics left behind from this crazy experiment, and they definitely make for a great...tale from the dollar bin!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why "Best Of Lists" Are Entirely Subjective

This article is going to kind of tear down "Best Of" lists. Considering I just spent a bunch of posts saying what various things I thought were the best in 2013 this may seem kind of hypocritical, but bear with me and it'll be clear what I'm driving at.

We are now a full two days into the "New Year" of 2014 (I guess it stops being a "New Year" and is just "a year" around February?) and many individuals have posted their lists about what was the best movie, game, show, comic, etc. in 2013. I always crack up when other individuals get extremely mad about someone else's "best of" list and starts going off about how, "Its stupid you didn't include _____!" or, "How could you pick ____ over ____?" The reason I laugh is that "best of" lists are entirely subjective. It is what that person, website, newspaper, television show, or whatever thought was the best out of everything else. It is by no means an impartial statement that has to be taken as the word of God. Just as it is an oxymoron for people to call for "objective reviews", everything a person says comes from their own opinions, experiences, and outlook on life.

We rely on reviews because we like to see what people thought of something, but until we experience that form of media for ourselves we can't truly have a full opinion about it. I loved the controversial and divisive "Django Unchained" and thought it was both insightful and great fun. Other people thought it was utter trash, but unless you go and see it you can't really say in your own view if it is a great work or terrible and offensive one.

When someone says they felt something was the best thing of 2013, they aren't saying it as if it is the gospel, they are saying that in their opinion, a certain thing beat all other forms of entertainment last year. Just keep that in mind next time someone says they think a piece of absolute trash is the best film ever, because they could very well think your favorite flick is atrocious. It's all relative.