Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to "Mimi's Dollhouse" for this free image,
The have a variety of neat stuff.
Regardless of the questionable history when it comes to Thanksgiving (Was there even actually a dinner or such?) and how afterwards the Native Americans were basically wiped-out by the very people they had at first helped, I do enjoy this holiday. Putting aside all the political and moral issues with this event, it is nice to spend time with family, relax, and otherwise be thankful. So yes, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and stay safe on Black Friday if you're going shopping--e.g. don't get trampled!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Examining "The Multiversity" and Its Four Issues so Far--A Mini-Run Review

A Long Time Coming (With Plenty of Waiting Beforehand)
Grant Morrison's "The Multiversity" was a project a long-time coming. First discussed back as early as 2009 when it was just called "Multiversity", it sounded like quite the concept, taking ideas and exercises he had did in other comics and putting it together to form a majestic creation.

This "Multiversity" would have two book-ending issues with a series of loosely-related one-shots taking place between them (not unlike his "Seven Soldiers of Victory" comic with its barely-relating minis). It would be about a Universe-threatening evil force that only the power of good could defeat (a topic he later touched-on with "Final Crisis", a series "The Multiversity" makes some allusions to). It would discuss concepts of meta-fiction and break the fourth-wall, what with the stories in one issue being actual comics in another issue, with various worlds all linking in strange ways(just as Morrison did with "Animal Man"), and it would be quite the mind-bender, not unlike my favorite comic of all time, "The Filth". Yes, this long-gestating and even longer-delayed series sounded like a magnum opus, possibly Morrison's biggest and wildest thing yet.

And then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more to the point we would forget this whole "Multiversity" comic was even a thing except for when the occasional piece of concept art would leak out.
A piece of concept art that was revealed.
But then, suddenly "The Multiversity" was a solicited title, and it became apparent that yes, Morrison's crazy comic-event would finally become a thing just as promised, with its book-end issues and series of one-shots all written in a different style with very different artists for each issue.

So now, "The Multiveristy" has been coming out, with its first book-end issue and three subsequent one-shots allowing us to start to draw a clear picture of where exactly Morrison may be going with all this. Each issue has had websites thoroughly dissecting them--not unlike Nix Uotan in the debut issue with his own copy of a Multiversity comic.
A map of the Multiverse, as it relates to this event
This all leads to what may be the most important question of all though: Is "The Multiveristy" any good? To that I can say, "Yes, oh yes," with no hesitation, and tell you that even a weaker-issue is still of a high quality, and the best issues so far are mind-blowingly stellar. To make that task a little simpler though let's discuss each of these four issues so far, in varying detail.

"The Multiversity #1: House of Heroes" 
"That's One Hell of a Start"
The debut issue of "The Multiversity" lays it all out there for the reader, explaining things quite clearly in a way that requires no background knowledge of Grant Morrison's other comics or the DC Universe, but rewarding those who have read some of his other works with nods to past comics (Nix Utoan was the last living "Monitor" at the end of "Final Crisis" but kind-of shouldn't exist as it isn't clear whether "Final Crisis" occurred due to the New 52 re-launch and oh dear I've gone cross-eyed).

Besides Nix Utoan and the President Superman (who also appeared in "Final Crisis" and an issue of when Grant Morrison was writing "Action Comics") there are all kinds of Easter eggs, but as I said, you don't have to know much of anything other than a love of comics to greatly enjoy "The Multiversity" as it starts-up with this first issue.
The Gentry are the evil force threatening basically everything.
Basically an evil force known as "The Gentry" is threatening the entire Multiverse and only a rag-tag assortment of heroes can save it. This is done through bringing in characters from various Universes in order to assemble a team that could possibly face, "The Gentry" with the interesting twist that all of these folk exist as comic-book characters in each other's Universes.

I'm greatly simplifying things as if there is one thing Morrison is good at it's making complex stories, but basically this issue features our introduction to Nix, glimpses of a ruined world, a switch in focus to President Superman, discussion of the threat facing all known realities, and a jaunt to an Earth suspiciously like Marvel's comic-Universe where the comic ends on a cliff-hanger that it is slightly annoying to think may not be revisited until some months from now when the final issue and other book-end of "The Multiversity" comes out. 
Regardless of the extended wait for a conclusion, it's a good issue and Ivan Reis is an artist whom is incredibly capable of illustrating the various earths we visit, be they ruined husks of a planet or Marvel-in-all-but-name. A fabulous taste of what "The Mulltiveristy" is going to be like, but the real test of course comes in examining the quality of the following one-shots that make up the bulk of this mini-event, and now I'll continue my overview/review discussing those in the order they have come out.

"The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes #1" 
Delightful Pulp-Comic Adventures
The "Society of Super-Heroes" entry in "The Multiversity" has the unenviable task of being the first one-shot in the series, and therefore carries some weight on its shoulders as it is in essence the "true" start of what "The Multiversity" is all about--namely, Grant Morrison giving us fascinating extended-glimpses of other Universes while telling a loose over-arching story. You wouldn't think "Society of Super-Heroes" knows this burden though, as it flows quite effortlessly, whether through the narration of the Immortal Man with its self-assured style, or how penciller Chris Sprouse supplies art that is both pleasing as a piece of modern comic-art but expresses an old-school sensibility that makes the early-to-mid 20th century setting of the comic work wonderfully.

This issue touches upon the macro-scale story of comic--Universe's invading one another--and discusses the threat of The Gentry, but as these one-shots are supposed to do, it stands alone quite well in its telling a story of a group known as the Society of Superheroes (S.O.S.) coming together to fight some evil-folk from a parallel planet who mean them severe harm.
References to the over-arching plot of "The Multiversity" occur.
This issue also makes it clear that much of these stories involve Morrison taking various ideas and characters he likes and in essence re-mixing them in a sense to create something new. We have an Immortal Man, Doctor Fate (or in this case "Doc Fate") and a Green Lantern, but they are quite unlike what you may have witnessed before in other comics, and this is all the better for it.

"The Multiversity: The Just #1" 
Super-Heroes as Celebrities in the Twitter/Facebook/Etc. Age
Plenty of writers have written about the idea of super-heroes in a more modern-age with our concepts of technology and celebrity having an immense impact on the idea of what a "Hero" is. Hell, Joe Casey has done it in slightly different forms multiple times (his run on "Uncanny X-Men" "Wildcats 3.0" and so on). There also have been writers who have taken the idea of what it would be like for the children of super-heroes to inherit a world in which their parents had basically made them redundant because of making stuff too perfect (Mark Millar seems to be doing this in his super-delayed "Jupiter's Legacy", to give one example, with art on that interestingly enough being done by one of Morrison's collaborators on the next comic I'll be discussing). That said, I haven't seen too many comics take both ideas and run with them at once, so having Morrison do that here results in something that while feeling a bit familiar also has enough "fresh" within it to not feel like a retread of old and worn concepts.

Here we of course yet again discuss comics from alternate worlds invading this one, this time with the idea they are carrying a thought-virus of sorts, one that is making this world be on the precipice of mass destruction--a climax we only see a hint of in the last issue, almost making the whole issue feel like a bit of a tease, what with it's leading up to immense catastrophe but only giving us a glimpse on the last page. 

The ending of "The Just" leaves you wanting more of a conclusion than is delivered.
Then again, this issue is perhaps more about the journey towards the mass destruction than it is end-of-everything itself. We have Damian Wayne in his 20's or so and hiding his girlfriend, Alexis Luthor (the daughter of Lex Luthor, who likes to claim she isn't evil like her father), and his best friend Chris Kent  showing up to request his help in investigating what led a fellow super-hero to commit suicide. Meanwhile some other young heroes plan a party--because what else are you going to do when the world is basically perfect thanks to the original Superman making robots so powerful they can quash any threat, even another Universe invading?

Then again, that Universe-invasion failing in this comic unlike in "Society of Superheroes" may be why the other method of the comic infecting people's minds happens. Hm, maybe I've stumbled upon something in regards to how The Gentry operate? I can't say for sure, but if it turns out their destroying of world's follows a certiain blueprint of plans I'm going to claim credit for being the one who, "Called it."
Anyways, trouble is brewing in how Alexis seems to be scheming and it becomes evident everything going to Hell at the end of the issue is her fault (albeit with her under-the-influence of the evil comics). It's a somewhat predictable direction to take that the daughter of the evil villain turns out to herself also be evil, but Morrison just pulls it off by basically being able to say to the reader, "Come on, she's Alexis Luthor, couldn't anyone have guessed she'd be bad?"

This issue is by no means sub-par, but I found it a tad more lacking than the two preceding issues and the next one I'm going to discuss. Perhaps this was because it seemed to meander a bit before finally getting to the point of how the comics are "infecting" the mind of people and ending on its explosive finale. Still, I just wish it felt like "more" had happened. Perhaps the sensation of dullness was done in an effort to replicate the boredom the young heroes feel--I wouldn't put such an idea past Morrison. Whatever the case, "The Just" is a solid comic even if not my favorite so far, but the next one might be (my favorite, that is).

"The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1" 
 Morrison and Quitely Kinda-Sorta Present Their "Watchmen"

It's no secret I and many others thought "Before Watchmen" (Also known as, "Fuck you, Alan Moore" was a tasteless cash-grab expanding on a story that didn't really need anything else written--especially if it was against the wishes of the original writer (the aforementioned Moore) and given an exhausted, "Okay, whatever," by the artist (Dave Gibbons). What DC could have done was a new idea, or even if they really wanted something like "Watchmen" take the idea of how it was originally going to use the Charlton-imprint heroes DC had acquired and done a comic like that but different enough to also feel at least a little "new". Well, Morrison was smart enough to stay far away from "Before Watchmen" but takes that idea of using the original Charlton characters in a story that kind of riffs on Watchmen, but also is an interesting take on the concept of heroism in general.

This has probably been the most anticipated of the "The Multiversity" one-shots as it reunites Morrison with his friend and often-collaborator, Frank Quitely. They've put out some amazing stuff before, the kind of material that you only get when a writer and artist work perfectly in-sync or of course in those rarer cases these days where the writer is the artist, too (See Side Note 1 for more thoughts on that). Therefore, it is a good thing "Pax Americana" doesn't just deliver, "the goods," it exceeds expectations.

Anyhoo, "Pax Americana" is basically Morrison and Quitely firing on all cylinders to make a comic that is equal parts a comment on Watchmen, another piece of the puzzle that is "The Multiversity", and its own unique artifact. While all the comics could stand relatively alone, this one especially could be considered to do so, with the whole business of comics-from-alternate-Universes being touched upon, but not nearly as important as in something like "The Just" where they formed the crux of the story (what with the comics warping minds). 

Here, the story is more driven by the characters themselves,  the comics just happen to pop-up so Captain Atom (here behaving not unlike "Watchmen's" Doctor Manhattan as opposed to his usual DC-self) can deliver some strange meta-comments about the ways two-dimensional papers function in a unique way before basically addressing us, the reader, with the question of how we might think our three-dimensional world might look to him (there's some of that classic Morrison 4th-wall shattering).
The story really is fascinating, jumping around enough in time and with clever page-designs that while reading this for the first time it occurred to me I hadn't been this overstimulated by a Morrison comic since "The Filth", and that over-stimulation with the incredible pencils (and inks and colors), complex story, and otherwise awesomeness is indeed a wonderful thing. Too often a comic can seem dull, but when you're reading something and upon finishing it you feel like you need to read it again forwards, then backwards, and upside-down even, something incredible has been made beyond a mere piece of entertainment, no, what you're holding is a piece of art.

"Pax Americana" is just an incredible thing to behold, and even if the rest of "The Multiversity" for some reason turns out to be a bust, the fact that we got this comic out of it would make the entire event still incredibly worthwhile. I imagine other entries in "The Multiversity" are going to be at least great and at best also amazing too though, so that probably isn't a worry one needs to have.

Some Good Stuff Is Done, But There's Even More Coming!
We are basically now half-way through "The Multiversity". There are three more one-shots set on various Earths left and the other book-end issue (plus a guidebook comic, but see Side Note 2 for some thoughts on that matter). It still is too early to say how great "The Multiversity" will be when all is said and done. It also probably won't be entirely clear what points Morrison is trying to make until the series ends either--if even then (folk still debate a lot of "The Filth" to this day, for example). Still, I would wager the rest of  "The Multiversity" is going to be just as good as the earlier issues (although I don't know if anything could be any better than "Pax Americana") and end satisfyingly, or at least as satisfyingly as Morrison can choose to end it. I for one am excited to see what comes next!

Reviews of the Individual issues:

The Multiversity #1: 5 out of 5 stars.
Society of Superheroes #1: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Earth Me #1: 4 out of 5 stars.
Pax Americana #1 : 5 out of 5 stars--Possibly the best comic this year.

He is real!
Side Note 1: Funnily enough, there have been rumors that Frank Quitely uses a pen name because it is actually Grant Morrison posing as someone else. It's a fun rumor but one made hard to prove true considering there is actually a guy actually named Vincent Deighan who has been seen in the same room as Morrison doing his unique-drawings. Then again, Bruce Wayne has always had doppelgangers to keep people fooled, so go ahead and keep theorizing!

Side Note 2: There will be a guidebook comic that elaborates on the various Universes, but some folk are counting that as an official part of this event and others are not, hence some referring to this as an eight-issue mini-series with an additional guide and others simply calling it a nine-issue mini-series--I have no strong opinion either way and probably won't form one until I actually have a chance to read the guidebook and see how integral it is to the "The Multiversity" experience.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Only Comment I'm Going To Make Regarding What Happened in Ferguson Last Night

"And America is Now Blood and Tears Instead of Milk and Honey."
That above statement is a quote from, "Who Will Survive in America?" the last song on Kanye West's "My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy" where he sampled Gil Scott-Heron. It sums up how many may feel about America after it was announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. There was grief, people got mad, and Ferguson literally burned. I wasn't surprised by the verdict, and having not heard all the evidence I am unsure if I could say he should have been indicted (although some articles say indicting a police officer is all-but-impossible). I can say I am absolutely positive that I had hoped Saint Louis and the surrounding areas would react calmly and peacefully regardless of what the decision was. That of course did not happen and last night rioting ensued.
Undoubtedly some people were legitimately trying to protest the jury's decision peacefully, other people just wanted to loot and set fires, and many folk fell in various spots of that spectrum. It was a night worse than anything witnessed in August (when some rioting last occurred), and I watched with sadness as a crowd of people angry at the verdict began rocking police cars, breaking windows, and eventually burning businesses to the ground. There is so much rage, so much anger, and I along with no one else has a good solution.
Well, I do have a solution, but it won't happen. It is that we as a society move past race and instead value each other as human beings regardless of the color of our skin or income-status. That taking place anytime soon is about as likely to happen as meatballs raining from the sky however, so instead our nation will continue to struggle with racial tension, economic tension, and basically any form of tension you can think of that pulls people apart instead of bringing them together.
For days, weeks, months, and probably even years there will be media scrutiny about what happened last night--why Wilson wasn't indicted, if a Federal case could occur, if the rioting was warranted--but I have nothing else to say and plan on having this be my only statement about what happened last night. I have nothing else to say because as a white person I honestly can not imagine what it is like to be a black man in America, facing the profiling and persecution my friends of color deal with every single day. Being Jewish I've faced some hatred in my life, but never at the level I witness towards anyone whose skin color happens to be anything other than white.
So yes, all I have to say is that it saddens me that so much anger was evident last night, and that rioting occurred. I don't know what will happen tonight but hope for less violence. I also am trying to see where the rage comes from but due to my position of privilege I was born with I probably will never truly understand. I just hope something positive can come from all of this--that a dialogue can finally start in this nation about race. I truly do hope for such a thing, but if history has shown us anything it is that America has a long and painful racial history, and it isn't one that is going to be, "fixed," anytime soon. I can keep hoping though, right?

Television Tuesday: Has the Charm of the Duggars Worn Off?

Here We Go Again...
If you read my blog somewhat often you'll know on many occasions I talk about The Learning Channel (and joke about how the name is ironic at this point) and have discussed the Duggars before. Well, the family behind "19 Kids and Counting" has gotten me thinking again, this time about how having, "Traditional values," can make you seem outdated more than anything else.

The Duggar's first appeared on TLC with their show, "17 Kids and Counting," (Then 18, now 19) back in 2008. In just the span of time from then to now we as a society have seen our views evolve a great deal, but the Duggars have stayed the same. This, "Staying the same," may be why what once was considered charming now is just looked at as bizarre. After all, they still don't think it is appropriate for their children to kiss until married (even if legally adults), they continue to refer to the concept of evolution and the act of abortion as things that can be compared to the Holocaust and they still are full of anti-gay views, with people seeming to conveniently forget their eldest son works for a glorified hate-group. We as a society are more accepting of those who are different from the supposed, "norm," but the Duggars won't hear any of it, going so far as to recently delete any photos of same-sex couples who chose to post an image of themselves smooching for the Duggar's "Kissing challenge."
Michele Duggar
There have been people annoyed with the Duggars before, but it seems movements against the family being allowed to appear on television are getting more traction, with a trasnphobic robo-call featuring Michelle Duggar talking about how she's against an anti-discrimination proposal being enough to help a petition to cancel the show get started and obtain a bunch of signatures. Interestingly enough a counter-petition was started by a Michelle Duggar fan-page and it is getting a plenty of signatures too (with some efforts to defend the Duggars spectacularly backfiring, however), basically leading to online petition warfare, as one website puts it.

What started as one group of people being mad at the Duggars and another group defending them has turned into some sort of epic battle with people acting as if our very existence as a world hinges on if the Duggars are allowed to keep their TLC reality-show. All of this has me asking if we as a society are to a point where we are so fractured and angry at people who hold views different from ours that we now turning everything into a fight. The Duggars themselves do still bother me a bit though.
The eldest son and his own wife and children.
In my past post I detailed how the Duggars made me feel uncomfortable. I don't mind the huge-family aspect as I have parents who come from semi-large or big families, but other things bug me. I just feel ill-at-ease seeing the Duggars inform their children the Universe is only thousands of years old, that kissing before marriage is sinful, and otherwise seem to encourage blind belief moreso than actually thinking and debating what we as a society think. After all, if we never questioned anything or used the scientific method we would still think the world was flat with the sun revolving around it, and be unable to have some of very medical advancements that helped keep the Duggar's 19th child alive when she was born premature.

My discomfort with the Duggars made clear however, I don't necessarily want to see them cancelled, and think TLC won't really care about any petitions for or against the Duggars. No, what TLC will use to determine how long the Duggar's show keeps going is if more people are tuning into it and their other programs than aren't with it still being on-the-air. If not enough people watch it or the rest of TLC that it is cost-prohibitive to make the show, they will cancel it. TLC could instantly tell the recent "Honey Boo-Boo" fiasco would do more harm to their brand than good, so they dropped that like a hot pie being handled with no gloves, to give one example.
This controversy will more likely increase viewership rates for "19 Kids and Counting" than doing anything else for the simple reason that currently the continuously-shrinking demographic of super-conservative folk tend to rely on each other. I can't recall where I read an article that summed it up extremely well, as it pointed out how the super-religious and conservative are now ironically starting to claim they are being persecuted for their beliefs despite the fact that for the longest time they--the white, conservative majority--enjoyed persecuting everyone else. The article I read pointed out that no, "You aren't being persecuted, you just no longer have enough power to continue forcing your ignorant views on everyone else," or something worded like that. It is basically a persecution complex.

This really isn't a freedom of speech issue either. People often seem to misunderstand what that means. "Freedom of Speech," simply refers to how you can't be arrested and taken to prison for expressing your views. It does not mean an employer lacks the option to choose to let your contract expire because the espousing of your views is upsetting others. Therefore, if people are tired of hearing what the Duggars want to say, it is fully within their rights to ask TLC to quit paying the family to speak about their opinions. The Duggars then can continue to have their beliefs, they just won't have cameras on them whilst saying them.
If you don't like the Duggars, don't watch them.
It's as simple as that.
As I've been saying though, I don't feel the need to argue for a boycott or something like that. Should someone really be mad about "19 Kids and Counting" all they need to do is not tune in. Just change the channel until the show is done and then resume watching TLC for all your "90 Day Fiance" needs (yes, that is a real show). Should enough people do that then "19 Kids and Counting" will find itself cancelled and the Duggars will no longer have a National platform on which to state their views (unless some other network picks-up the show, of course, but it probably would not be as a popular as on TLC). So yes, if you don't like the Duggars, ignore them. If you love the Duggars, go ahead and watch their show. As for me, I'm just going to enjoy the new, "Risking it All," where families go into the wilderness and try to make their own little house for random reasons such as saving their marriage (again, a real show). Because in the end, isn't the true American dream to enjoy trashy television?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two Asylum Press Comics I Read and Shall Review--"Heavy Metal #271" and "Fearless Dawn: Eye of the Beholder"

Introduction to Asylum Press
Asylum Press has released a variety of comics I've read over the years. They don't have a huge output, but I've generally enjoyed their horror-comic anthology titles and would say I'm a fan of the "Fearless Dawn" comics by Steve Mannion. I've never really talked about Asylum Press on the blog before so I thought it would make sense to do so considering I just recently actually read two titles by them--well, one fully by them and the other through a special guest-editor edition of "Heavy Metal".

Heavy Metal #271
A comic magazine that tends to at least entertain if nothing else.
Ah, the long-running "Heavy Metal". While it may have been home to the more interesting and experimental stuff back in the past I've found more and more recently it has had a little of that creativity, but a lot more of what seems to be its bread and butter--gratuitous T&A and extreme violence. Now, sometimes a little T&A and over-the-top violence in comics can be nice, especially if it is well illustrated, and the thing that keeps "Heavy Metal" from seeming like just another random trashy comic (or comic magazine) is that generally the art is quite good throughout the anthology series.
This issue features art which is almost always good with only a few missteps (the "Dangerous Curves" story-art seemed a little too computer-driven and static despite being an action-tale), and a good deal of great-looking stuff--the famous (infamous?) Tim Vigil beautifully illustrates an otherwise somewhat generic zombie-yarn, for example. The only thing that made me a little uncomfortable are the stories that hint at forced sex between characters (such as when a strange squid-monster copulates with a woman bathing naked in the pond) but usually then turn-out to have everything as being consensual--except for the "Mutation" story which basically hints at a rape with the end of the story and therefore left me feeling some unease.
Overall this issue of "Heavy Metal" was essentially what you would expect to get from the series--sex and gore, with slight hints of something more creative (the "Warlash" story reads as an intriguing take on what you would get if you meshed Judge Dredd with Batman and gave him a noir-styled inner-narration). For acheving what it set out to do and at least being entertaining in a guilty-pleasure sort of way I would rate this...
3 out of 5 stars.

Fearless Dawn: Eye of the Beholder #1
Don't let the "#1" fool you!
Despite the #1 next to it and declaring it is a one-shot, this issue actually ties pretty closely into some other one-shots that have preceded this as a bit of a series. I actually think I unfortunately missed the "Hard Times" issue that came before this, but still was able to follow things pretty well, if mostly thanks to a "recap" page at the start of the book that helped fill-in any details I may have missed since the "Jurassic Jungle Boogie Nights" issue.
I  haven't read all of Mannion's comics featuring Fearless Dawn, but of the ones I have I've always been struck by how expertly his art can vary between looking cartoonish and silly to having a disturbingly realistic appearance. He honestly is just a master draftsman and his artistry skills make-up for the fact that the story-lines featuring Dawn can at times be a bit lacking. It is usually just her fighting against some evil Nazis, be it in space, in the aforementioned jungle full of dinosaurs, or whatever it seems Mannion feels like drawing.
This issue actually does have a somewhat stronger plot than some others however, as we actually see some cracks in Dawn's usually strong facade of being as emotionally strong as she is physically capable. Basically, her best friend and sidekick Betty has died along with Dawn's beloved dog, and it has resulted in her being extremely emotionally unstable. Seeing the fragile humanity of a character who normally has seemed to let little phase her is refreshing and makes Dawn seem infinitely deeper than the "Mary Sue" she would at times seem to be in previous issues. There is the usual Nazi-fighting and such, but it seems more, emotional, with Dawn's sadness and anger making her feel just that much more "real".
This is a comic I would call extremely enjoyable. Whether enjoying the stronger storyline in this issue or admiring the always-impressive artwork, "Fearless Dawn: Eye of the Beholder" is another great entry in the "Fearless Dawn" mythos by Steve Mannion.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

An Interesting Publisher
A modern-day telling of the "Sleepy Hollow" legend that looks potentially intersting.
Asylum Press is an interesting publisher, having slowly put out a strange assortment of stuff ranging from horror, to sci-fi, to a bit of heroics. Lately they seem to have been ramping up more in their release schedule, be it with the guest editorship of the latest "Heavy Metal", or starting to put out more stuff in physical and digital form. I've read things in the past by them I didn't like, but these two issues were good, so that hopefully bodes well for the future too. I myself am interested to see what comes next from Asylum Press, and will probably always be especially eager for more "Fearless Dawn" if nothing else.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Links to Peruse For Fun and Learning

As I'm always finding interesting links on the internet I of course occasionally like to share the ones I think are especially worth reading with you, my dear readers. So dig in to this feast for your eyes!

The Links You Should Look At
The cover is the first warning sign.
The 35-issue run on "Wonder Woman" by Azzarello and Chiang has been considered by many to be one of the best takes on the character in some time. That makes it all the more depressing that the new creative team of writer Meredith Finch and artist David Finch (they're a married couple, in case you wondered about the same last name) is apparently God-awful and entirely misses the point of what makes Wonder Woman great in favor of making her a generic whiner. Yeah, DC done messed up and has ruined any goodwill for Wonder Woman they may have had.

For some time Bill Cosby has had some extremely depressing details about his personal behavior whispered about, but it also seemed that he had somehow been able to quiet the dull roar about how he quite possibly was a serial rapist, basically getting away with it. Well, lately that dull roar has become too loud to ignore, and now he may finally have to actually own-up to the claims or at least have the courtesy to deny them as opposed to just shaking his head and refusing to talk about it. All of this also raises the question though, what does it mean when someone who was a childhood hero to so many may very well be a monster?
In my last link-post I talked about how the launch of "Assassin's Creed: Unity" has been a comedy of errors (it's so bad people have made pieces of art based on the especially bad glitches). That makes it all the more surprising that the entirely different game in the AC-Universe that launched on the same day but only for last-generation consoles, "Assassin's Creed: Rogue", is in fact apparently pretty good according to some people and awesome in other's eyes. Apparently it serves as a nice link between the 3rd and 4th game while also doing some unique things such as making breaking through ice-breakers a fun little hobby. On a side-note about the Assassin's Creed-series, this piece on the representation of race in the AC-games is really good and worth a read.

Sometimes when applying for a job we've been asked to make a PowerPoint presentation, example of a press release document, or something like that. This article makes applying for certain jobs sound absolutely nightmarish, however, with examples such as basically being asked to make an issue of a magazine in 72 hours with 30+ examples of articles or other extensive projects for a job that may not even hire someone for all this work--even possibly using it without paying them or giving any credit.
McConnell has mastered the art of looking cranky.
It's funny to hear Republicans complain about how Obama taking Executive Action with Immigration Reform will immediately damage any potential relationship he would have with the newly-fully-Republican-controlled Congress. It is funny because it is not as if there would be a snowball's chance in Hell of Republicans ever doing the slightest thing for Obama considering how the previous six years went between everyone. It makes it kind of a "Oh, now you claim to want to foster a bond," moment where you basically roll your eyes as hard as possible at the GOP. As this article says, it is probably going to bring both sides plenty of pain--we will just have to see if it's hopefully worth it in the end.

I still don't really understand Uber. I suppose it is like taking a taxi but instead you're getting in the car of someone who isn't necessarily officially licensed to be a form of commercial transportation? Whatever the case, some people love it but the executives at the company seem to have a propensity for making stupid comments, with one man's remarks at a dinner he thought was off-the-record being especially disconcerting, even if it was supposedly meant more as a joke than anything else.

Finally, for all of you who think your washing-machine might smell a bit funny, there is a good chance it could actually have a problem. Apparently front-loaders in particular can build-up mildew or other nastiness (although top-loading washers aren't exempt from this either) and doing certain things to keep your washer clean can assist in avoiding any nastiness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Film Friday Double-Feature: "A Million Ways to Die in the West" and "The Purge: Anarchy"

Two Movies That Discuss Death, But In Extremely Different Ways
 "A Million Ways to Die in the West," talks about death, and how it basically lurked around every corner back in the times of the Wild West that we often romanticize but forget were actually quite terrible and full of illness, violence, and general unpleasantness. "The Purge: Anarchy" is about death being a constant risk too, but in a near-future where in order to help people get-out their violent urges a night of extreme violence is authorized by the government where for twelve hours once a year basically all crime--including murder--is legal. Although, in the case of "Anarchy," there is occasionally political commentary about how the supposed goal of The Purge to cleanse people is in fact an excuse for government-sanctioned murder of the poor.

Basically, one movie is about how in the past we were ignorant jerks who died from disease and our own violent tendencies towards each other, and the other movie is about how we as a society could very well let our own ignorance allow us to be violent towards each other in the near-future. It's just that in one nature plays a big role in killing people and in the other its an effort to reduce a population no longer affected by disease as much. The big question of course is if they are good movies, and  I would say yeah, they're above-average if not amazing. Let's discuss them both now!

"A Million Ways to Die in the West"
Seth MacFarlane is of course best known for his role as the director/main voice actor for the popular television program, "Family Guy." While I haven't watched that show in awhile as I felt it has gone a bit downhill as its gotten more bitter, I did quite enjoy MacFarlane's directorial debut, "Ted." Hence, I went into "A Million Ways to Die in the West" with some hope he could again pull off that mixture of warmth and crass humor he somehow delicately balanced in "Ted". Well, perhaps I should have had some trepidation as "West" seems to be a bit more in the realm of "Family Guy" and its angry cynicism than the hopefulness of his first film. That isn't to say "West" is bad, it has many enjoyable moments--it just seems to be a bit more angry than it needs to be, like how I've said "Family Guy" seems to have gotten more mean-just-to-be-mean over time.

Basically MacFarlane plays a nerdy guy who is kind of a loner except for his girlfriend who towards the start of the movie leaves him for a jerk obsessed with his fancy mustache--played deliciously by Neil Patrick Harris. However, MacFarlane meets a nice women in the form of Charlize Theron's character, but what he doesn't know is that she's actually the wife of an evil bandit played by Liam Nesson (who used to play sweet roles like the dad in "Love Actually" but since "Taken" seems to portray a lot of rough fellows).
The movie basically works it way through various jokes about how the past sucked, but even today we're still sort-of jerks too, and occasionally advances the plot a bit. I never laughed out loud particularly hard as I did with "Ted" but there were moments I smirked or giggled. Therefore, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" may not be hilarious, but it still is moderately funny and deserving a score of...
3 out of 5 stars.

"The Purge: Anarchy"
"The Purge" was quite small in scale, focusing almost entirely on a single household and how it deals with the ramifications of the yearly Purge. "The Purge: Anarchy" could therefore be considered much more expansive, focusing on a variety of individuals who are stuck out on the streets during the Purge (or one protagonist out there willingly) and how they struggle to survive the night between various roaming gangs, government kill-squads, and the general mayhem. While I liked the first "Purge", certain aspects of it bothered me that I found less of an issue with in this entry of the series.

The problem with the first "The Purge" movie was that it wasn't quite sure if it wanted to be a piece of social commentary or a horror film about a home invasion. "The Purge: Anarchy" moves away from the horror-angle into more of a straight-up action film with dashes of the social commentary. It works these message into the movie in a style a bit more elegantly than the first one with its occasionally ham-fisted, "Hey, we're making a statement here!" style.
By making some pointed observations about society and how we treat our poor but not overly-harping on it except in a few cases (the closing monologue by a man known as, "Big Daddy," is a bit over-the-top with its pointing out what we had already picked-up on throughout the flick) this film is able to show us it isn't too unrealistic a step to think that there are people out there who could think systematically wiping-out the poor and sick is a smart choice. That is probably what makes the concept of these "Purge" movies so terrifying, is that it all seems just ever-so-slightly possible that people would be in favor of a such a thing as the yearly Purge.

These movies are made on a relatively tiny-budget in terms of wide-release movies and go on to do gangbusters in the theaters, so they seem to have touched enough of a societal nerve that a 3rd entry in the series is assured. I suppose by appealing to the part of us that wants to see violent action whilst also giving us a little bit of food-for-thought a successful formula has been stumbled upon-- e.g. "Let's give them violence but with enough of a message it doesn't feel like mindless blood and gore!" That said, the formula does result in a pretty enjoyable movie even if it still feels like the concept of the Purge is more interesting than "The Purge" movies themselves currently. Perhaps the fact that the 3rd film might be a prequel will shed some light on the origins of The Purge and be even more interesting--we can honestly only wait and see. That said, this is a solid...
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Quite Good, Just Not Great

"A Million Ways to Die in the West," and "The Purge: Anarchy" both tackle the subject of how we treat our fellow human, albeit in greatly different tones. Both show that even in a miserable world there can be good out there, but to be careful whom you trust because you could very well end up dead. Each movie also isn't necessarily great, but still quite good and a pleasant enough way eke out some entertainment. So yes, check them out should you need to fill a couple hours.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rant-Review Mayhem Part 3: Marvel and DC

So, We Have Reached the End
We now of course come to the top dogs, the major players, the, "Big two." I am of course talking about Marvel and DC. While I have expressed more and more irritation with these entities for seeming to put out nothing quite new or great, there are of course still newer titles that look promising and some comics I still greatly enjoy. Then again, of the four comics that have been around awhile which I review, three are in fact cancelled due to low sales--with me actually reviewing the concluding issue of one. Perhaps there is a message there, in that the smaller and quirkier titles I enjoy seem to be the ones the ubiquitous force known as, "The market," chooses to reject in favor of the, "Same ol', same ol,'"of repetitive events and pointless relaunches. Well, having already gotten us off to such a cheery start in this final segment I suppose we should proceed to the reviews now.

Why Does Almost Everything I Love Die/Get Cancelled?
Thunderbolts #32
The 32nd issue of "Thunderbolts," is also its last, which sucks because I liked this comic even when a lot of people didn't, and loved it when it started to really get its groove going around when Charles Soule came on the book as the writer with issue #11 and did a great job for a bit until Ben Acker and Ben Blacker took over writing duties to see the book to this, its current end. This issue brings things full-circle, taking the team back to the island nation they had their first mission on at the start of the series and basically restores everyone's status quo to how things were before they joined the team--e.g. off doing their own things. The comic has a bit of meta moment where some characters point out to General Ross/the Red Hulk his idea for this team never was going to last as they were just characters that shouldn't work together--it's strange and almost feels like the old story of the fox declaring the grapes he's unable to reach as probably being sour. Regardless of that weird moment, this comic ends the series in a way that is moderately enjoyable and a bit funny in a dark and cynical way. It's too bad, but at least most of the characters who made up the team are doing fine in their own solo books or other team-comics (Venom left awhile ago to join-up with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" comic of all things). At least this got in 32 solid issues.
3 out of 5 stars.

All-New X-Factor #15
Remember how I said pointless re-launches bother me? Well, this comic is an example of how Marvel took a moderately successful and long-running series written by Peter David, the "X-Factor" that launched shortly after "House of M" and went a number of years, and proceeded to re-launch it for little reason, with the result being much lower sales that resulted in it being cancelled. I know the 16th issue is out already but I haven't picked it up yet, and therefore I am reviewing this one. I may not even read any more issues until the final 20th one comes out and I can gorge myself on the last four whilst sobbing as if I were downing a pint of "Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream." What, you think you have the right to judge how I spend my weekends?

Anyways, how was this issue itself? As always, a pleasure, if a bit hindered by the fact that it sort-of ties into all this "Axis" business which I have almost no interest in reading. It isn't officially a tie-in although when first solicited it in fact was. Therefore, I suppose this means this issue and however many after it that involve "Axis" won't appear in the "Axis"-related trade paperbacks, but this clearly was written with that event in mind, as it features the team trying to maintain calm throughout the Washington D.C. area whilst everyone freaks out due to the mind-altering powers of the evil Red Skull. Basically, we get another really good issue of the X-Factor team, but a tad hobbled by its kinda-sorta tying into "Axis". This makes for a comic that is still solid, but not quite at the level of other issues. Still, it's an easy...
3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #16
The penultimate issue of this series, depressingly. For awhile it was a bit of a running joke how everyone thought it would, "Get the axe," but somehow kept surviving, with solicits for some issues even proudly exclaiming, "Still not cancelled!" Well, with issue #17 this title is indeed over, and its a shame as this is yet another entry that showcases the talents of Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber wondrously. The artwork has moments that remind of "Acme Novelty Library" in their creative design, and to compare someone's artwork to Chris Ware is high praise, no doubt. That isn't to say Lieber's stuff doesn't stand on its own as a glorious piece of work, because it does, with its peppy style complimenting the fact that this comic is absolutely hilarious. Besides being hilarious, it also is super-clever, always introducing a new twist almost every issue in the series to a point where you aren't sure whom you can trust--which is sort-of the point as when it comes to this team, ain't any of them particularly trustworthy.

This has been one of the consistently best titles Marvel has put out (except for that weird two-issue break that didn't tie-in to the normal going-ons with a different writer whose name escapes me) and it is a shame to see it go. Spencer clearly is building up to something quite huge though and I for one am extremely eager to see what the conclusion will hold for our, "Sinister Six," which actually only has ever had five members. It'll be some quality stuff, I bet.
5 out of 5 stars.

Superior Iron Man #1
A newly-debuted title spinning out of the events of Marvel's earlier-mentioned latest event, "Axis," I picked up "Superior Iron Man" with some trepidation as I haven't been reading, "Axis," but hoped that the talents of writer Tom Taylor (whom writes another comic I love and review below) would overcome any hurdles being related to an event this comic would have, and possibly even utilize the events of, "Axis," in a way that results in an even better comic--the heroes are having their moral, "axis," twisted a bit, or something I believe? Well, having read this issue I can say that this stands on its own pretty well in regards to any events, but as just a comic is...okay, I suppose?

Basically we have Tony Stark, but as a bit more of a jerk than usual, being all self-interested and creating an app for the phones in San Francisco that lets people look gorgeous thanks to a modified version of Extremis (that virus that helped him out in the comics and was a part of "Iron Man 3"). The twist is how Stark is planning to charge them one hundred dollars a day for the privilege of looking and feeling good after a brief trial-period. This doesn't sit right with Pepper Potts and leads to her colluding with a mysterious figure at the end of the book. It's a pretty basic first-issue in that it simply establishes the initial idea (Tony Stark is being an ass), introduces some characters (Pepper Potts, oh, and Daredevil shows up because I think he's in San Francisco now too in his comic) and introduces a, "Hook," in the form of the aforementioned mysterious figure. This results in a comic that is perfectly fine but a bit by-the-numbers except for how it makes it clear that despite the book being named for him we aren't supposed to be rooting for the newly Superior Iron Man so much as all the folk who want to take this unpleasant version of Tony Stark down a peg. So yeah, it's okay.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Injustice: Year Three #2
Another comic by Tom Taylor, and one of the incredibly small number of DC comics I'm still reading. I also greatly have enjoyed this series throughout its seasons and in a miraculous twist others have loved it enough that its sold to a degree that it isn't cancelled! I know, isn't that crazy how a mainstream book I love is actually doing okay in the market? That said, this issue continues the trend of carefully walking the high-wire of discussing the serious topic of Superman-gone-mad but also working in some funny moments--Harvey Bullock pointing out how awkward he feels as a regular cop standing in the room with people such as a talking Chimp who also is a detective is one example. If I were to have any complaints it would be that Constantine so far in this "Year Three" of "Injustice" has been written moderately well, but just never feels as authentic as the one we know from the Vertigo days when he could swear up a storm instead of just referring to Superman as a, "Motherlover." At least he still says, "Bollocks," and has his nasty habit of smoking, making him feel somewhat familiar. Still, that issue aside, this is a great comic that quite frankly has grown into something even better than the enjoyably off-the-wall video-game.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Concluding Comments
It may be depressing to see many of the mainstream titles I like end-up cancelled, but the occasional successful title that also happens to be good (such as "Injustice") allows me to not fully give-up hope. Plus, as my earlier rant-reviews of various independent publishers and Image have shown, there are still plenty of wonderful books out there to be found with companies who could be argued as possibly more willing to take creative risks. In the end I suppose as these reviews illustrate, all you can do is try new things out, support what you love, and hope enough other people like it too for it to keep coming out. Such is life.

Rant-Review Mayhem Part 2: Image Comics

Part Deux
When it comes to comics, probably the biggest name besides Marvel and DC would be Image Comics. Around since the early 1990's, Image at first put out what one could argue were mostly hokey knock-offs of the Big Two's comics, but over time this publisher has grown into a force to be reckoned with, featuring a wider variety in content than you will probably find anywhere else. To illustrate what a unique publisher Image is let's examine some of their titles from the popular and somewhat traditional to the newer and more, "Esoteric," as one could say.

Reviews to Enjoy
The Fade Out #3
Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips almost always do good work. True, I may have found "Fatale" to not be my cup of tea, but when they have almost always "hit" more than "missed" that means any new project by them will at least be worth trying out. I'm glad I have given, "The Fade Out" a chance as only three issues in it is shaping up to be quite the intriguing comic. The first two issues focused on some particular characters and their stories, but this one shifts the focus entirely, making it clear this isn't just one individual's story, but in fact moreso an epic tale of Hollywood in the 1940's with characters that may be fictional, but who aren't too far removed from the reality of those times.

Philips is just an amazing craftsman when it comes to creating noir-styled art, so it isn't any surprise that "The Fade Out" is as gorgeous as it is intimidatingly moody. All of that said, the story is still clearly in an early stage that I think needs a bit more feeling-out before I can be certain this comic will be something as stellar as "Sleeper" or end up letting me down as "Fatale" did.
4 out of 5 stars.

Tooth and Claw #1
Hrm, I'm just not feeling this. Kurt Busiek is a great writer, Benjamin Dewey turns in some quality art, and stellar colorist Jordie Bellaire are all generally wonderful, so it is just odd I don't care for this comic that much. It has a cool concept with talking anthropomorphic animals who utilize magic panicking over how the magical force seems to be drying up, but I just found the characters mostly uninteresting, and the mystery of who this great champion is they are attempting to summon to present-times to be--again--mostly uninteresting. I mean there is a hint of a twist that the champion could be something unexpected, but meh. I just found myself thinking the art to be good, but the story to just be unimpressive despite coming from someone with such a good pedigree as Busiek. I guess they can't all be winners.
2 out of 5 stars.

Saga #24
Ah, good ol' "Saga", the comic you can basically always count on to be at worst enjoyable and at best utterly jaw-dropping amazing. This issue is somewhere between that, not being as incredible as some but still pretty damned good. Plus that adorable seal I love pops up in it...
This issue checks-in with a number of characters we haven't seen for a bit, and wraps up some elements of the plot I was wondering about while giving us all plenty of new questions. Basically, it is more stellar stuff from the comic that everyone should be reading. I know I'll probably be giving some people that upcoming big hardcover that collects the first 18 issues if I need to find any good presents and have enough money to afford it.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Humans #1
Remember when I said some of the titles were newer and a bit stranger than others? Well, here is a prime example of that. Any comic that features a humanoid biker-Orangutan having graphically-drawn oral sex performed on him at the funeral of a fellow ape-man clearly is going to be a strange and wild ride. Basically, we see this biker gang as they are attending the funeral for their departed comrade, Mojo. Such a simple description doesn't do the comic justice however, as the writing of Keenan Marshall Keller is both humorous and heartfelt (you really do feel the sadness of everyone mourning Mojo), and Tom Neely turns in artwork that is just stellar, be it a quiet moment at the ceremony or some action-packed fight scenes when The Humans end up getting into a brawl with The Skabbs (an opposing biker-gang). The way he breaks-up the panels during a fight imparts the confusing and uncontrollable nature of when a bunch of people are punching each other, and it's just really, really cool.

There is some neat back-matter too, such as a section that declares how every month there will be a link to a new song or two people can listen to, requests for letters, an address you can send money to for a neat patch of The Humans logo (which appears to be a real address as it is also the one for snail-mail letter to "The Humans"), and a note about the artist behind the pin-up on the back of the comic--which features a drawing by none other than Benjamin Marra himself, an artist I've written of enjoying for his over-the-top style. I found this comic extremely enjoyable and would encourage you to pick it up if you like stuff that is a bit weirder, because you will probably love it too!
5 out of 5 stars.

Zero #11
Before actually talking about this comic I just wanted to note this one also has some surprisingly explicit oral sex performed on a male for a mainstream comic. Is this becoming the new hot trend of stuff to illustrate, like in the 1990's when a character carrying around a ton of guns was hip? Anyways, "Zero" has been a strange beast since the start. Always written by Ales Kot with coloring done by the phenomenal Jordie Bellaire (who also has colored the sadly underwhelming "Tooth and Claw" I discussed a bit above), each issue has purposely had a different artist illustrating various points in the titular Zero's life, to fascinating and highly enjoyable results.

The series started out more as the usual spy-drama jumping around in time to various missions in the life of Edward Zero, but slowly morphed into something quite strange. Between the interesting melancholy of Edward just wanting to be left alone, to the hints at various points in the comic's run that he was at fault for some kind of global disaster, this went from seeming like a James Bond-type comic to being an interesting examination of one man's humanity and how he lost it, tried to regain it through a life of peaceful solitude, and as we have seen from scenes in the later-future, failed at it. I'm interested in seeing how things turned out the way they did and that's why this comic gets...
4 out of 5 stars.

Closing Section
Image has some great stuff coming out, along with things that I don't really like but others might. Up in a little bit we will close-out these rant-reviews with a look at works from Marvel and DC.